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Tuesday, March 28 2017
John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14; I Samuel 16:1-13
Did you like that clip we used at the beginning of worship? Wasn’t that hilarious? It is if your name is Randy. The first time I saw it I nearly bust a gut. I turned to my beloved wife Nancy and I said, “Did you hear that? Randy is like one of the most trust-worthy names.” With a very straight face she said, “I heard it.” And then I said, “We need to back that up and listen to it again.” And we did – I mean – I did. And I cracked up again. Nancy did all she could to keep a straight face. But I thought, “I’ve got to use that my first weekend back at Zion.”
Hey! It’s good to be back. And for those of you who didn’t notice that I was gone – I’ve just returned from a twelve week Sabbatical. In Phoenix, Arizona. It was 95 degrees there this past weekend. And I came home to – well you know what I came home to. Let’s just say it’s just a tad bit colder here. And just so you know that I haven’t been goofing off these past twelve weeks – well – not the whole time anyway – I’ve been writing a book based on the seven part sermon series I delivered three years ago that I called “Examining the Evidence: Why We Believe What We Believe.”
Do you remember that? How many of you remember that series? Anybody? For those of you who either don’t remember – or you weren’t here with us yet – you’re just going to have to buy the book! Actually – I found writing a book far more challenging than I thought it would be. Since the book is based on the sermon series – something that I had already completed three years ago – I thought it would take me just a few weeks to knock out seven introductions – one for each sermon. Wrong! It’s taking much longer than I thought.
I have six and a half of seven chapters written. And it’s still just a rough draft. I have two people serving as readers – reading what I have written – offering comments and suggestions – you know – for clarity; asking questions that challenged what I am saying – or encouraging me to say more about what I am saying. That kind of thing. I’m thankful I have just two readers! It’s going to take another Sabbatical just to incorporate what they have suggested! And all I’ve given them is the first two chapters!
So I have no idea when this book is going to be finished. But once it’s finished, I’ll need to look at getting it published – and into the hands of the public. And by the way – if you want a copy – whenever it is I get it finished – I promise to give all Zion members a 10% discount. Actually, I’m hoping members of the church who want a copy will be able to download it for free. But only if you promise to pass it on to someone who you think might need it.
And let me tell you why. You know at least one other person – and probably more – who need to hear what that sermon series, and soon I hope, what this book I’m writing has to say about God and the Bible and Jesus and his resurrection. The sermon series and the book provide evidence to support not just what we believe about God and the Bible and Jesus, but why. And the evidence is absolutely overwhelming.
By the way, I’m not looking to earn a single dollar from this project. I’m looking to earn lots of dollars! But not for myself. This book is not for my benefit. Well, maybe I’ll do a reverse tithe. You know – give away 90% of the proceeds. If there are any proceeds at all – I hope to divide those proceeds between here and LCLC. Sound like a deal?
But if this book gets finished – and if it ends up in your hands – I want you to pass it on – after you’ve read it, of course. Examining the Evidence – Why We Believe What We Believe.
Now, when I wrote that sermon series, and now the book based on that series, I was thinking it would be for those who might be skeptical about this God, church and Jesus stuff. You know, Agnostics. Atheists. Skeptics. But one of my readers said, “You know, it was also good for those of us who already believe, but who struggle – for people like me who are critical thinkers.” And yes, I am grateful for that kind of feedback. Quite frankly, Pastor Becca and I would welcome more feedback on our sermons. And more than just, “Good sermon, Pastor.” Of course, we get that all the time. But we want to know. We want your feedback. You know – just send us an email with your comments or questions. Or send a text. Turn your phones on. As long as you have them on vibrate, it’s okay to have them on in church. So you can text me. You can text me now if you want to, or before you leave today. Tell me what you think. 716.984.9582. It’s printed in the Mission Minutes. Bottom. Front page. On the left.
Because this is important stuff. It’s important for us to know not just what we believe, but why we believe. It’s important for us to know who Jesus is, and what Jesus does for us.
Let’s go back to that video clip we ran at the beginning of worship. It’s form a TV commercial. You’ve seen it. And I laugh every time that guy says, “His name is Randy. That’s like one of the most trustworthy names.” You can think whatever you want to think of someone you know named Randy. But you know something? I’m here to tell you – that the reason we are here today – is because of Jesus. Jesus… is one of the most trustworthy names – no – Jesus is THE most trustworthy name.
Let me tell you something about Jesus. Our reading from the Gospel of John today tells us something of who Jesus is, and what Jesus does. Of all four Gospels – I think John does the best job of telling us who Jesus is, and what he does for us.
In this reading, Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man. Now, whenever you read or hear Jesus being called the “Son of Man,” this is the same thing as calling him the Messiah. As I’ve told you before, Messiah is a Hebrew word meaning, “Anointed One.” In the Greek the word is Christos; in the English it’s Christ. Jesus the Son of Man is another way of saying Jesus the Christ.
The second thing we learn is that the man born blind who has been given the gift of sight by Jesus bows down and worships Jesus. What does this tell us about who Jesus is? Yeah, he’s God! Deity. And notice, Jesus doesn’t tell him, “Stop doing that!” If Jesus were just a man, he would not have accepted this man’s worship. Since God alone is to be worshipped, this tells us something else about who Jesus is. He is God. And he proves it by what he does. He gives the man born blind his sight.
A pastor by the name of Kent Crockett wrote a book some years ago called “I Once Was Blind, But Now I Squint.” Catchy title. I almost used it for my sermon title. Well, I used a part of it.
You know, I used to squint. I knew it was time for glasses when I would be standing in the back there waiting for worship to start. And you know how we project announcements on the front wall before the service? Yeah, I used to stand back there and I had to squint to see what we were announcing. So I knew it was time. I finally gave into wearing eyeglasses when I was 53 years old. That was ten years ago. Two years ago, I finally gave into wearing these bifocals. And you know what? It’s a good thing I did, because now I can see. You know what kept me from getting them any earlier? Pride. It was pride.
Well. I’ve not read Crockett’s book with the catchy title, but I understand that he talks about how we look at the world through various glasses. I think the hip phrase to use today is we look at the world through various lenses. He lists twelve lenses or glasses that we use, and he says, we all – all of us – look at the world through at least one of these pair of glasses. And it’s usually more than just one. See if any of these sound like you.
Discontentment, pessimism, rejection, envy, jealousy, inferiority, a wounded heart, bitterness, a judgmental attitude, lust, worry, and discouragement.
I read that list, and I thought, “Yeah, I’ve experienced all twelve of those things. Thankfully, not all at the same time. But I’ve looked at the world through all twelve of those glasses at one time or another in my life.”
Let me ask you. Are any of those glasses the way you look at the world? Are any of them the way you want to look at the world? Are those the kind of places where you want to be? I don’t want to be in those places. And yet I know I have a judgmental attitude. I worry; I have felt discouraged, rejected. I’ve suffered from a wounded heart.
And I don’t like being there. I don’t like looking at the world through those glasses. There’s gotta be a better way. What I need – what we need – is a new pair of glasses.
I wear bifocals these days because they help me see. I don’t have to squint anymore. Well – not quite as much anyway. These things – they’re a good thing. They help me see things the right way. What we need is the ability to see things the right way.
I like the story of a man who “…was working a crossword puzzle and asked, ‘What is a four letter word for a strong emotional reaction toward a difficult person?’ Someone standing nearby said, ‘The answer is hate.’ A lady interrupted and said, ‘No, the answer is love!’”
What pair of glasses was the first person who answered wearing? What pair of glasses was the woman who answered wearing?
Can we choose the glasses we want to wear? Yeah, I think so. Like choosing to love or to hate. I also think it’s hard sometimes because we’re so used to looking at things through those bad things that happen to us. The glasses that Jesus wants to give us are – well really – they’re called the fruits of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. That’s from the book of Galatians by the way.
And then our reading today from the book of Ephesians puts it this way: “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.”
Listen! This is important stuff. We are living in a world of fake news and alternative facts. That’s why we have got to get this right! It’s important for us to know not just what we believe, but why we believe. It’s important for us to know who Jesus is, and what Jesus does for us. Jesus wants us to see who he really is. He is God – he is the Christ, the anointed One sent from God. Sent to heal, and to forgive. That’s who Jesus is. That’s what Jesus does. Sent to give us a new set of glasses – to put a new heart – and a new spirit within us.
Monday, March 20 2017
3 Lent A; John 4:5-42
Zion CC; 3/18 & 19/17
The famous baseball player, Yogi Berra, was giving directions on how to get to his house once. He said, “When you come a fork in the road, take it.”
Now I don’t know about you, but that direction makes me lose my mind. What do you mean, take it? Which way, left or right? I don’t know which way to go! GAH!
How many of us have felt this way at least once when having to make a decision??
Choices in life can be hard. Sometimes decisions are cut-and-dried. But other times, when the choice to be made isn’t as obvious, we can feel like we are standing at a fork in the road, with Yogi Berra’s words in our heads: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Which way?? What do I do??
And a lot of times, these choices directly affect how we live out our Christian faith. We live in a world where being a Christian can mean maybe going against the grain, or doing something different—and that means having to make some choices that aren’t so cut-and-dried all the time.
Well, we’re not alone! There are many people in the Bible that had similar situations. They had choices to make in their lives, too. We’re going to look at one person in our Gospel reading from John today—the Samaritan woman at the well.
The scene begins--Jesus is by the well, and a Samaritan woman comes to get water. It’s a bit weird that she comes by herself, and at noon, the hottest part of the day—most women back then would go to the well and draw water, together, in the cooler morning time, and catch up. So since she’s by herself at the well at noon, it’s clear she’s unpopular. And Jesus asks her for a drink.
This is a big deal, because Jesus was a Jew and this woman was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans hated each other, with a fire-y passion. They were not allowed to talk to each other, let alone share water with one another. So she makes her first choice—to talk to this guy even though she’s not supposed to. Good choice, or bad choice…?
So then the woman asks him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And Jesus takes this opportunity to tell the woman about his gift of living water that he offers, that will never run out. They have a conversation about this for a while, and then Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”
Her response? “I have no husband.” And Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
Woah. This woman seems to have made some… interesting choices in life. We don’t know why she had so many husbands/significant others, but we do know that because of this, she’s less than popular. She is a woman of the Samaritan faith, who worships God, but she has very few friends because of her personal choices. Her life was probably very difficult. Her choices did not have the best consequences.
A new missionary recruit went to Venezuela for the first time. He was struggling with the language and didn't understand a whole lot of what was going on. Intending to visit one of the local churches, he got lost, but eventually got back on track and found the place.
Having arrived late, the church was already packed. The only pew left was the one on the front row.
So as not to make a fool of himself, he decided to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate. He chose to follow the man sitting next to him on the front pew. As they sang, the man clapped his hands, so the missionary recruit clapped too.
When the man stood up to pray, the missionary recruit stood up too. When the man sat down, he sat down. When the man held the cup and bread for the Lord's Supper, he held the cup and bread.
During the preaching, the recruit didn't understand a thing. He just sat there and tried to look just like that man in the front pew.
Then he perceived that the preacher was giving announcements. People clapped, so he looked to see if the man was clapping. He was, and so the recruit clapped too.
Then the preacher said some words that he didn't understand and he saw the man next to him stand up. So he stood up too. Suddenly a hush fell over the entire congregation. A few people gasped. He looked around and saw that nobody else was standing. So he sat down.
After the service ended, the preacher stood at the door shaking the hands of those who were leaving. When the missionary recruit stretched out his hand to greet the preacher, the preacher said, in English: "I take it you don't speak Spanish."
The missionary recruit replied: "No I don't. It's that obvious?"
"Well yes," said the preacher, "I announced that the Acosta family had a newborn baby boy and would the proud father please stand up."
Clearly, not all choices are the best ones! The woman at the well made some not-so-great decisions, as did that poor missionary in Venezuela!
So back to the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well. The woman and Jesus talk a bit more, and—this is BIG—Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah, the one who she and everyone have been waiting for. She goes back into the city after drawing her water and says to the people: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” So then the people who hear this go to see Jesus for themselves.
This is where the story gets even more interesting. It says at the end of chapter 4 in John: “39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
So this is really great. Even though this woman had made some bad life choices, after meeting Jesus she made a really good choice—she told people about Jesus. These peoples’ lives were changed forever, because she chose to tell everyone about him. She could have just gone home and said nothing. But she chose to tell people—and then they, too, wanted to meet Jesus. And when they met Jesus, they became believers and knew that he was the Savior of the world. Pretty big stuff!
So what can we take home from this story? Why do we still read this story today??
It’s because we are that woman at the well. We’ve all been there. We’ve made bad decisions and had to suffer the consequences. We may not have ever been a social outcast because of our choices (or maybe you have?), but either way, we can definitely relate to having some less than great results of some decisions we’ve made.
But here’s the thing—even though that woman had made some bad life choices, her encounter with Jesus changed her life. Her new decisions changed based on their experience of Jesus. She had made less than stellar choices in her life, but her encounter with Jesus helped her to make decisions and live out their faith in new ways. She started the ball rolling for a TON of people to become followers of Jesus! How cool is that??
Jesus does the same for us. Like we said, we all have made not-so-great decisions in our lives. It’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.
But the good news is that-- like the woman at the well— Jesus invites us to experience his presence so that he can help us make decisions and live out our Christian faith in new ways. Jesus wants to change YOUR life, help you to make good choices and to live the life God is calling you to live.
This week, I encourage you to listen for how Jesus is doing this in your own life. How is Jesus showing you new ways you can live as a Christian? How is he helping you to make decisions that will honor him and benefit Christ? How is Jesus showing you his presence and love and helping you do these things, like that woman at the well?
Pray about it. Talk about it with someone you trust. And stay open to what new things Jesus may be doing in YOUR life, helping you to make decisions that honor him and benefit God’s kingdom here on earth. Amen?
Monday, March 13 2017
Ah, John 3:16. Probably one of the most, if not THE most recognizable verses in the whole Bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
You may have seen this Bible verse pop up in sports— in signs at games. When I was in grad school in Philadelphia, I went to a Phillies game with one of my friends from class. In the section next to us, there was a man who was dressed like Jesus— you know, long white robe, purple sash across his chest, long brown hair, a beard, sandals, the whole bit. And he had a sign that he unabashedly held up: JOHN 3:16 I HAVE FAITH. GO PHILLIES! And throughout the game the people in his section and the sections around him were having mixed reactions to his fashion choice and his sign.
So this went on for a while, and as you may know, between innings there are camera people wandering around, capturing people up on the big jumbotron screen. And between one of the innings, wouldn’t you know that the Jesus guy made it up on the jumbotron. In a split second he realized he was on the screen, in front of thousands of people, and excitedly he jumped up and down, holding his sign high. I looked around me, waiting to see what the reaction would be. And believe it or not, the whole ball park started chanting, “JESUS! JESUS!” My friend and I looked at each other, unsure whether we should be thrilled or weirded out.
When I mentioned John 3:16 in sports, Tim Tebow, the quarterback who caused quite a stir a few years back, may have crossed your mind. He constantly made the news because of how open he is about his Christian faith. He even put a Bible verse in his face paint one time. When making a good play, he was known to fall on one knee in thanks to God. And according to Christianity Today, when Tebow threw 316 yards in a playoff game, there were 103,923 Wikipedia searches for John 3:16.
Sports games and players aren’t the only place this verse pops up. The In-N-Out Burger joint surprises customers—when you get to the bottom of your fries, there is a Bible verse written in the bottom of the paper container-- and typically the verse is John 3:16. When I was on a roadtrip down the East Coast to Florida, I stopped on I-95 to grab a snack at a gas station in North Carolina. When I got back in my car and turned the popcorn bag over to read the nutrition facts, I was surprised to see the John 3:16 verse very clearly on the back of the bag. Popcorn outreach—who knew?!
So, what makes John 3:16 such a big deal? I mean, it’s obviously important, if it keeps showing up. And it keeps showing up in even our leisure activities like sports, fast food, and snacks. What do you think? Why is this verse so important…? Many people like to say that in one sentence, John 3:16 gets to the heart of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“For God so loved the world…” I think sometimes it’s easy to skip over the first part of this verse. We skip to the part about how God’s son was given so that followers of Jesus would have eternal life. And that’s definitely an important part! But those six words that start the sentence, “For God so loved the world” actually explain the rest.
Because, if we are perfectly honest, our world is not easy to love. There’s human brokenness and sin, crime, addictions, death, disease. Some Christians go so far as to say that because the world is so bad, we must refrain from engaging in the world as much as possible—only watching Christian TV shows and movies, only listening to Christian radio, only experiencing a Christian school or being home schooled. And although most of us don’t go to that extreme, for the most part none of us could really say that we love this world as it is.
You know the phrase “He has a face only a mother could love?” Our world is like that. Only GOD is able to love our world, exactly as it is. Only God is able to love US, exactly as we are. Because, quite frankly, we humans are the main cause of many of the bad things in this world.
But John 3:16 tells us that “For God so loved the world.” And the rest of the sentence tells us that God doesn’t just love the world, God loves the world SO MUCH that God gave up God’s son for us. That’s a huge sacrifice for a world that’s broken. Only God can love us that much. Only God loves us so much that Jesus died on the cross-- so that our sin no longer means death-- so we that even when we die, we are able to live with Jesus forever.
So God’s idea of value, and our idea of value, are two different things. God sees our world and us as so ridiculously valuable, that Jesus is willing to sacrifice his life so that we can live. Where we see awfulness, God sees redemption. Where we see hopelessness, God sees a hope-filled future.
So here’s a 20 dollar bill. Would you want it if I offered it to you? What about if I crumpled it up? Would you still want it? What if I stepped on it, ground my heel into it. Would you still want it? What if I sat on it? Dragged it through the mud? Licked it? OK maybe I should lick it and THEN drag it through the mud! But chances are you’d still want this $20 bill because it still has value. That’s how God sees our world and us—even at our worst, at our most disgusting, we are of infinite value to God.
The thing is, it’s really hard to wrap our minds around this amazing gift of God’s grace. Lutherans tend to throw that word around a lot—grace—because Luther was big on emphasizing it. Grace is all the good stuff God gives us—love, forgiveness, mercy, peace. And God gives us these things for nothing, or as I like to say, on the house.
Nothing?? You may ask. I don’t have to do ANYTHING to earn God’s grace?? Yup, that’s right. How contrary is that to our world! Americans live out the philosophy “Good things come to those who work.” We work hard to get a promotion. We work hard to make enough money that we can travel, or do other things. We work hard because it’s in our DNA to work hard. It’s part of what is expected. One could argue that our identities are wrapped around our work—which can be a problem when we retire or lose our job somehow. One time when I traveled to Europe, a Greek woman told me, “Europeans work to live. Americans live to work.”
So coming from a culture of hard-workers, it’s really hard for us to get that God gives us grace and salvation, for FREE. No charge. No catch. God basically functions in a completely different way than we’re used to. ““For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
God loves you so much and believes you to be of so much value, that Jesus died for you. Jesus took on all the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain on that cross, for you. If you were the only person on the planet, Jesus would have died for you. You are worth it. You are loved. And you can’t earn that love—Jesus gives it to you, no strings attached.
Paul’s version of John 3:16 is in a famous passage from Ephesians, 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” We are saved THROUGH FAITH, it’s a GIFT FROM GOD. It’s not our own doing! God hands us the gift and says, “I love you so much that I want to be with you forever. Enjoy!”
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to the story! In the next verse, Paul says “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” So being saved by grace through faith also means that we are made to do good things, to help others.
This makes sense. Jesus says the famous John 3:16 verse in response to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, coming in the night to ask Jesus questions. Nicodemus is sincerely curious. And what drew him to Jesus was what Jesus was doing and saying. He saw Jesus serving others—healing people, feeding people, teaching people, changing people’s lives.
And what drew Nicodemus to Jesus is what continues to draw others to us, and to the Christian faith. We don’t serve others because it’s something we HAVE to do, we serve others because it’s something we WANT to do, because of Jesus’ love for us. Because Jesus first loved us and gave us that love as a gift, we are able to show his love to others, by doing those things that help them.
Paul says we are built to serve others—God loves us and created us to love God and to serve others out of that love. Our actions flow out of our joy and thankfulness to God. And by showing God’s love in our broken world, we are showing others a glimmer of what God’s kingdom is really like.
And that’s when we can proclaim to everyone: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Amen.