July 25, 2021 – Future Grace, Grace Now

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July 25, 2021 – Future Grace, Grace Now

A reading from Matthew chapter twenty-four:

“About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.

That is how it will be at coming of the Son of Man.

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.

Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

And again, from the Gospel of Luke chapter seventeen:

“I tell you, on that night two people will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left.

Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

Now after hearing this teaching from Jesus what is better – to be taken or to be left behind??

The answer is that we don’t know.

At the time that Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels on the life of Jesus Christians were being taken by the Romans to be executed.

To be left behind meant that you were saved from the terrors of the Roman army.

The Romans would come at any time of the day to capture and to take Christians away.

To focus on whether it is better to be left behind or taken is a terrific exercise in missing the point.

Here Jesus is making the critical point that we need to be ready at all times for his coming.

Just like how the Romans could come at any time to take you away Jesus will come at a time when we don’t expect it and because this is true, we need to be ready for him.

Do you see how this teaching from Jesus would connect with Jesus’ followers?

They would have seen this teaching of being taken as a great warning to be alert at all times for Jesus.

And the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians that those who are left will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

Here Paul is encouraging Jesus’ followers that if we are left behind and have not died yet we can still have hope that we will be gathered with all of God’s people when Jesus comes again.

And this leads us once again to the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is both a warning to Jesus’ followers to keep the faith and it is a letter of hope to Jesus’ followers who are suffering persecution for their faith that God has not left them behind and that God is with them.

Last week I spoke about how the book of Revelation has some parallels to modern day apocalyptic stories such as the story a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

What do I mean by that?

Both books tell of both warning and hope.

Warning that we might miss the purpose and the intention of life and the hope that the intention and purpose of life can be found.

Just like a great treasure that is discovered we have hope that God’s truth will be revealed to us.

For John in his book of Revelation he takes us on a series of profound visions on behalf of his seven churches.

In his book he gives us contrasting visions of two cities.

He sees Babylon which is code for Rome.

Christians are to reject the evil empire of Babylon.

And then there is this beautiful, alternative, new city.

This city descends from heaven.

John compares this new city like a bride.

We are invited into this city.

In this city God dwells among God’s people.

Even now we are to hope for and pray for this coming city.

And in this in-between time that we find ourselves in now we are to be faithful to God.

We are to reject and to renounce the forces that oppose God.

Like John’s churches we are to turn away from Babylon, meaning those things that are against God, in order to turn to God and God’s future kingdom and God’s future city.

So, this is John’s message of both warning and of hope.

Revelation, which means to uncover or to reveal, showed the persecuted Christians that the Roman empire, as powerful as it is, is not the power it claims to be.

And through a cosmic, spiritual battle John’s churches were to take a new Exodus out of Babylon, which again is Rome, and they needed to take that exodus journey towards Jesus.

You might say that in Revelation we take a spiritual journey through earthquakes, great and terrifying plagues, terrible disasters and battles in order to wake up to the ways of God.

Just like how Scrooge was led on a transformative journey one night in order to wake up we too are led on a transformative journey through the book of Revelation.

And just as there was still hope for Scrooge there is still hope for us.

There is still hope for God’s creation.

There is still hope for the next generation.

There is still hope for us to join God in what God is doing in the world – we have hope to plant a tree, to care for a child, to rescue an animal, to love the world that God has made.

There is still hope that God is making all things new and turning death into resurrection.

Jesus came to bring about a new kingdom here on earth that was marked with love, grace, and forgiveness.

The Romans tried to silence Jesus and his message.

But something happened when the Romans tried to silence Jesus.

And this great happening changed the world.

And to talk about that now I first want to go back to the very beginning of the Bible once again to the book of Genesis.

In the book of Genesis there is this man named Joseph.

Joseph’s brothers are extremely jealous of Joseph and so they decide to sell Joseph to be a slave.

Years later when his brothers come back to Joseph -after Joseph rises out of slavery to great power in Egypt -Joseph says this to his brothers in Genesis chapter fifty:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

God takes something bad and turns it into something good.

In a similar way… the Romans try to harm Jesus and even to kill him but God takes what happened and makes something new.

God transforms the cross.

God makes the cross the place where we receive forgives for all of our sins.

God makes that which was death into something which is life for all of God’s creation.

Jesus lived at a time when there was a sacrificial system in place.

You atoned for your sins by sacrificing an animal at the temple in Jerusalem.

If you wronged your neighbor, if you have some guilt, if you broke one of the ten commandments then there was a sacrifice that you were to make.

At the cross Jesus becomes the sacrifice.

In his sacrifice we receive life and salvation.

We no longer need to offer a lamb or a bird or a cow at the altar for a sacrifice.

When you come to worship on Sunday mornings, I don’t see anyone bringing a bird or a cow to sacrifice on the altar.

No, Jesus does away with the whole sacrificial system of blood and violence.

In his death and resurrection, he comes to us now as the new conquering king.

What does he conquer – he conquers death, sin, evil, destruction, killing, blood, violence – his death does away with it all.

Isaiah’s prophecy comes true in Jesus’ presence the wolf lies with the lamb.

And there is no more hurting or destroying on God’s holy mountain.

In the Bible the mountains were seen as the place where God meets God’s people.

Jesus’ new kingdom will embody God’s shalom.

Shalom remember is God’s dream for the world – healing, restoration, and renewal of all things.

The judgment will happen which will be a judgment on all things which do not bring life.

God will act quickly and decisively.

Greed.

Injustice.

Violence.

Division.

Exploitation.

These things which disrupt God’s shalom will come to an end.

God will cleanse the world.

Why?

Because God is life-giving.

In fact, it says at the end of Revelation:

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes to take the water of life as a gift.”

God provides the water of life because God is life-giving.

And just like in the gospels of Matthew and Luke when Jesus gives the warning of those who will be taken and those who will be left behind there is this great urgency to the message in Revelation.

This urgency to the message is the announcement that God’s future grace which will be given to us at the end of the age impacts us now.

Knowing the end of God’s story impacts how we live today.

And as I said last week in my sermon it is not as if we can usher in God’s future kingdom.

Only God does that.

We don’t even know the time or the day in which all of this will happen.

Today we are to simply to trust and to lean into God’s kingdom.

We are also to listen to the urgent call and warning that we receive from the Bible to be awake because the coming of our Lord will come at a time when we least expect it.

And life can pass us by very quickly and suddenly we miss what Jesus was trying to tell us.

In other words, Jesus is saying to us in the Scriptures that the life that we have to live today matters and how we live our days matters to God.

It is not as if this life doesn’t matter and all that matters is God’s coming kingdom.

The grace that God will give to us in the future is the same grace that God extends to us today.

We don’t have to die in order to know God’s grace.

We don’t have to die to be in a relationship with God.

We can receive grace and know God in this life as well as the life to come.

Our lives here on earth is a precious gift from God.

As difficult as life can get from time-to-time life is still precious and life is to be lived in God honoring ways.

This is the conclusion that the Israelites and the first Christians came to.

Life was hard for them.

I have been preaching about how difficult it was for them beginning with the Israelites being held in slavery by the Egyptians and ending with the Christians being killed by the Romans.

But there is this steady theme of hope throughout the entire Bible.

God hears the cries of God’s people and God does something about our cries.

The grace that we will receive in the future is the same grace that we live with each and every day.

And what grace is this?

The grace of the cross – on the cross Jesus was faithful to us even to death and in his death, we have life – future grace, grace now!

Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.

Amen.

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July 18, 2021 – River of Hope

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.

-Psalm 46

We are now into our second week with the book of Revelation.

Last week I spoke quite a bit about the context of Revelation.

The pastor and author, John is writing his book from the place of exile.

Christians are being persecuted and the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for a second time – first by the Babylonians and the second time by the Romans.

Now before starting this sermon series on Revelation, I preached for three Sundays on Job, the book of Lamentations, and Ezekiel.

For those three Sundays I spoke about how the Israelites in the Old Testament had been on the receiving end of a terrible amount of suffering and pain.

In fact, this suffering goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible.

How does the second book of the Bible start?

The book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, begins with the Israelites being oppressed by Pharaoh.

They are slaves to Egypt.

Now we might understand the beginning of the Bible in this way.

The book of Genesis could be seen as the prologue to Exodus.

In Genesis God creates the world.

In Genesis we hear about the formation of Israel – God’s tribe which will, one day, bless the entire world.

But immediately right after the book of Genesis, in chapter one of Exodus, we see that God’s people are conquered by the Egyptians and then treated as slaves – they are not free people.

And this is just the beginning!

The rest of the Old Testament then is the struggle of the Israelite people to live as a people that are blessed by God in the face of oppressive empires and great suffering.

Now the book of Revelation.

John is writing from a similar context as many of the writers of the Old Testament.

And tragically what do we see again?

At the time that John writes Revelation – God’s people are on the receiving end of oppression and war.

This time it is not the Egyptians, or the Babylonians or the Assyrians this time it is the Roman Empire.

And so, John knows the Old Testament he knows that God’s people have been conquered again and again by a succession of powerful and evil empires.

And John in his book does something that the prophets did for the Israelites – he gives the people hope.

For God’s people in the Bible – hope is the assurance that God hears the cries of God’s people and more than that – that God will do something about the suffering.

God cares about the pain and suffering of God’s people.

So, John works in his book to encourage God’s people to keep the faith and to not give up their hope.

Because what do people need when they are discouraged, when they are defeated, and when their faith is weak?

What do people need when they cannot see beyond the fact that life is nothing more than a miserable repeat of the day before?

What do we need?

They need and it is true for us as well – we need to be encouraged and given hope.

The powers at work in the world, those who claim ultimate power and control are actually not in control at all.

Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is God.

And he is the one with all the power.

And better than that – he cares for us and he hears our cries.

When you read Revelation from this context you begin to see very, very quickly that John’s book is very subversive.

In fact, much of his book is in code language because he is saying things in his book that will get him killed.

It is in code language because his message is so subversive to the Roman empire.

Through the language of angels and dragons and plagues and horses and numbers and very powerful images John subverts the Roman empire and all the forces of evil with the power of God.

God acts decisively and God overcomes all evil.

God’s justice and God’s authority has the first and the final word.

Now at that time, you simply did not challenge the Roman empire, if you did you might end up on a cross.

This is what happened to Jesus.

Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus’ rule came not from Caesar but from God.

You can see now why the Romans wanted to crucify Jesus.

He was preaching and teaching a different story and a different message from the Romans.

Jesus taught that God’s kingdom is for everyone.

This was Jesus’ message.

The Romans believed that Caser was god and their kingdom was for Rome.

At the time that John wrote his book, several generations after Jesus was crucified, Christians were not free to worship and to practice their faith.

That is why John is in exile, that is why Christians are being killed.

And in the midst of it all John offers hope to the people.

He teaches God’s people that there will be in new river, a new city, a new kingdom for God’s people.

Like Jesus, John teaches the people that the world will not end with blood and violence.

But rather, God’s coming kingdom will be a new creation.

There in this new place there will be a tree.

On this tree are leaves that are for the healing of the nations.

Just like how in the beginning of the Bible God’s tribe, the tribe of Israel will be a blessing for the whole world -at the end of the age God will bless and heal the whole world.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whosever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John is reminding the persecuted and suffering people that God has not forgotten God’s promise to bless the whole world through them.

Now John’s message in the book of Revelation is for us too.

John sounds the urgent message that is for us as well.

Christ is coming again and we are called to faithful discipleship in the here and now.

Knowing the ending of God’s story in the Bible found in Revelation chapters 21 and 22 – greatly impacts how we live today.

In fact, Jesus constantly preached that the kingdom of God is at hand and that we should constantly pray for it.

He said, “When you pray say thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is so important here – this is the heart of my message for today.

Jesus taught, just like John did in Revelation that the intention and meaning of life can be lost.

The purpose of life can be missed all together – the point of it all can be missed.

This is the truth that in Christ God is seeking to restore and to heal the whole world and that knowing that, having faith in that truth – impacts how we live today.

Think here for a moment of the fictional book, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

You might say that in the story Scrooge takes an apocalyptic journey through his entire life.

And through that journey he comes to see that he has completely missed the purpose and meaning of life.

Now why does that story continue to impact us some one hundred years later?

Because of its central message.

That the very purpose and intention of life can be missed.

We know that.

This much we know.

And for Scrooge the mystical journey changes him and he becomes, through that experience, a different person.

What was missed is now found.

What was absent from his life is not present in his life.

In a similar way we might go through our entire lives and miss completely the meaning and purpose of our very lives.

Our hope in the coming of God and our great expectation in God’s future kingdom gives rise for the search for life-giving ways of living even now.

It is not as if we can usher in God’s kingdom only God does that.

Instead, like John the Baptist we announce and we work to prepare the way for the coming reign of God.

Through praying, speaking, and working for justice and for peace we live in the life-giving ways of the Spirit of God.

We express our hope by living lives of faith and service.

God is at work in our midst.

We are to give our time and our energy and our creativity to that which gives hope to our families, our communities, our churches and yes even the nations.

God will bless the whole world through us.

The Israelites and the first Christians experienced so much pain and suffering.

Even today not much has changed.

And because this is so it is easy to become weary and to be tempted by despair.

Yet, the Lord calls us to struggle against apathy and despair.

The Lord encourages us to hope for the new life that is promised in the river and for the new life that is promised in the new garden which is described in Revelation.

The river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flows from the throne of God.

God uses the river that God created to sustain and to satisfy God’s creation.

And by the river is the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations.

God’s shalom, God’s peace, God’s restoration for God’s world.

This is our hope.

This is how God turns our mourning into dancing – this is how God turns our cries into shouts of joy.

This is how God liberates and frees God’s people from all that would oppress God’s people.

Here is the river.

The river of hope.

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July 11, 2021 – A New Heaven and a New Earth

  1. Scott Peck begins his popular self-help book, The Road Less Traveled, with this one sentence.

“Life is difficult.”

He then goes on to say:

“This is a great truth… (in fact, it is…) one of the greatest truths.”

In the Bible God’s people are on the receiving end of persecution, violence, and war again and again and again.

They know that life is suffering and pain.

For the last three Sundays I preached on –

Job,

Lamentations,

and Ezekiel.

Job wrestles with the “why” of suffering, particularly his suffering.

Jeremiah in his book, Lamentations wrestles with the suffering and pain of God’s people.

And Ezekiel preaches to God’s people who are held in captivity by the Babylonians.

Life was very difficult for the Israelites.

Their pain, their suffering… is reflected all over the books of the Old Testament.

As you read through the Old Testament you find a people constantly wrestling with and dealing with suffering.

In fact, the name Israel means to contend with God or to wrestle with God.

This means that the Israelites were constantly wrestling with God in prayer over the “why” and the “how” of their suffering.

But even in their pain and their wrestling with life and with God they never give up their hope.

Hope is always alive for the Israelites.

To hope is to have trust and confidence that things will not always be the same –

that tomorrow will not be a repeat of today –

that life will become better and that one-day death will be no more and tears will be wiped away forever.

And in their hope, the Israelites discover that –

God hears their cries.

That God is even in their pain.

And that God will do something about their suffering.

In the book of Isaiah, a promise is made to God’s people.

God will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Jerusalem, God’s holy city, will be restored.

Let’s go back now to the first sentence in the Bible:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is how the Bible begins.

And the world that God creates is good.

But by chapter three everything changes.

There is human rebellion against God and by chapter four of Genesis there is even murder.

Sin enters God’s world.

Pain enters God’s world.

Suffering enters God’s world.

God’s earth, God’s heaven is now separated from God.

Evil enters in.

And the story of evil, sin and rebellion goes on and on throughout the Scriptures.

There is pain and there is great suffering.

Now this leads us to the very last book of the Bible

The book of Revelation.

The apostle John, the author of Revelation, is in exile, God’s people are being killed and persecuted, and the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed once again.

Does this sound familiar?

This time it is not the Egyptians or the Assyrians, or the Babylonians, this time it comes by the hand of the Romans.

At that time the Romans would crush any sort of threat to their power.

And Christians were seen as a threat to their power.

Can you see why Jesus was crucified and why his followers were killed?

Jesus’ followers claimed that Jesus not Domitian, the Roman emperor, was God.

Jesus not Domitian was God.

Because of this Jesus followers were persecuted, tortured, and executed.

And like the prophet Ezekiel, John too is in exile and like Ezekiel he too is called by God to give hope to God’s people.

There is a strong parallel here between Ezekiel and John.

John identifies with Ezekiel and other prophets from the Old Testament that were also exiled and who were persecuted by those in power.

In fact, John borrows material from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other Old Testament writers to craft his own book for God’s people who are suffering.

With his visions and with his knowledge of the prophets John writes the book of Revelation.

The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic book just like Ezekiel and Daniel.

At the time that John wrote Revelation apocalyptic literature was very common.

Those who heard John’s message would have understood what he was saying.

Even today apocalyptic books and movies are very popular.

Take for example, Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road.

That book, which reads like poetry, is a fictional story of a post-apocalyptic world.

The book also reads like a parable and there are so many lessons to draw from that particular story.

That is what apocalyptic stories do for us.

They teach us lessons, spiritual insights, and the way things may or may not be.

Today the book of Revelation holds a lot of mystery for us.

We don’t always understand what John was trying to tell us.

But for the first-century Christians they would have understood the metaphors, the symbols, and the stories John told in Revelation.

Now in the Bible it’s important to pay attention to how the biblical books begin.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I spoke about how the book of Lamentations begins with the word “how.”

The word, how is often how we begin our cry of pain and lament in the face of tragedy.

How did this happen?

How did this cancer come?

How did this accident happen?

How did I lose this person?

How did this pain come?

So, it is important to pay attention to the first word and the first sentence of each book of the Bible.

In the book of Revelation, the first word of John’s book is:  “revelation.”

The word revelation means to uncover or to make known, which is the same definition as the Greek word apokalypsis, which is where we get the word apocalypse.

So, the meaning of apocalypse or revelation means to open a door to new knowledge or to a new understanding of something.

You might say it is like a paradigm shift.

You see things in a new way.

In his book John works to reveal and make known God’s message of justice and hope for God’s people who are suffering.

Through a dramatic, cosmic, spiritual war described in Revelation, God will have power over all evil and God will have the final say in God’s creation.

The powerful empire at the time, the Roman empire, might think that they are in control but they are mistaken.

God is in control and God has ultimate power.

And God’s power is for good.

God’s power is for healing.

God’s power is for making things right.

God’s power is for love.

God’s power is for restoration and renewal and resurrection.

In Revelation 21: 1 we hear:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”

What is John saying here?

He is preaching the most essential and basic Christian teaching.

Death and Resurrection.

God’s creation which is broken by sin and evil will be restored.

God’s people who are separated by exile, by time, by distance, by sin will now come together.

That which was divided will become unified in the new heaven and the new earth.

The suffering, the pain, the grief, the losses – all those broken pieces will be gathered together and made into one great new creation.

Everything that was disrupted will be put back and made right.

What God originally intended in Genesis before rebellion and sin entered will be made new.

And God will dwell with God’s people.

In Revelation John encourages Jesus’ followers – I know that you are suffering but keep the faith because God is coming and God will make everything new – there will be resurrection.

Revelation is a letter containing a message of apocalyptic hope for Jesus followers.

For God’s people and for God’s world the coming apocalypse is not the end of all things but rather the beginning of all things.

This is the revelation –

God is coming and God is pulling us into this new heaven and new earth even now.

John tells us to:

Come on!

To Hold on!

There is a spiritual battle going on and God is winning.

And the end of this battle will be the beginning for God’s people.

For us today who read this book – we can see what John is doing here.

This we can understand.

Because it is the same thing that Jesus was teaching us.

John is moving the future into the present.

He is dragging the future into the now.

How we live our lives today matters for tomorrow.

Knowing the end, the end of it all, impacts how we live right now.

That is why Jesus was always preaching… “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

In the Bible the word heaven was used to refer to God.

Heaven refers to the presence of God.

That’s why when we say that person died and is now in heaven – what are we really saying but that person is now with God.

So, Jesus was saying in his preaching that God is always at hand or God is always here with us or God is always with us and near us and even ahead of us – God is with us in the future.

God is with us in the future.

What a revealing John is giving to people who are suffering.

By John giving his apocalyptic message he was telling the persecuted Christians at that time that there is hope for them.

God is with them and even more than that… that God was at work in creating a new heaven and a new earth.

Which leads us to living life in the new heaven and the new earth even now which will be my sermon topic for next week…

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Ezekiel:

Priest

Prophet

A Son of Man

Ezekiel was a part of the priestly family – he is a religious person.

He was called by God to announce God’s Word as a prophet.

And he is addressed throughout the book of Ezekiel as a son of man meaning that he is a mere mortal.

He is not God he is simply a man who is called and commissioned by God to speak God’s message to the people.

Later Jesus would use this same title to explain to his followers that he is fully man along with being fully God.

Ezekiel was given a mission and he honors that mission in his life.

Now the book of Ezekiel, which covers the prophet’s message and life, is a very interesting book in the Bible.

You will find Ezekiel between Lamentations and Daniel.

It has been said that the book of Ezekiel is one of the most esoteric books in the entire Old Testament.

This means that the book’s meaning is hard to find.

When you read Ezekiel, it might seem that the meaning found in the book is hidden.

At times, the book is very difficult to read.

I don’t know if you have ever read through this whole book but if you did you probably felt that reading through the book was challenging.

But it is included in our canon of Scripture.

And because it is – It’s still worth our time and effort to dig deeper into this book and to work at reading this book in order to learn God’s message for us from the prophet Ezekiel.

OK, the book of Ezekiel first a little background.

Last week I preached on the book of Lamentations.

In Lamentations we hear the cry of the Israelites in exile.

The Babylonians, the superpower at that time, had attacked the Jewish people in 597 BCE.

And because of that war ten thousand Jews are in exile.

In the book of Lamentations, the author, who some say was the prophet Jeremiah, grieves through his short book the death, violence, and displacement of the people.

Now back to Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was one of the exiled.

He is in exile at the hands of the Babylonians.

In the Bible, Babylon is seen as both an evil city and an immoral empire.

In fact, in the book of Revelation -Babylon or any powerful empire that operates like Babylon, at the time that Revelation was written it was the Roman empire, then those empires are seen as empires that oppose God.

And so, this is the background for the book of Ezekiel.

A people being crushed by the hands of those in power by an evil empire that has no thought of God.

In the midst of this tragedy for God’s people, Ezekiel is called to be a prophet while living in exile.

There in exile he gives the people hope.

Now the Israelites are in exile for seventy years.

That’s so hard, I think, for us to image.

For us, it would be like living with COVID for seventy years.

COVID for one year changed everything for us.

For the Israelites the exile changed everything for them.

Everything that they knew -changed.

They lost their freedom, they lost their temple, they lost their holy city.

So much was taken from them in the exile and it lasted for seventy years.

You can see now why Jeremiah writes a whole book on lament, pain, and grief in the book of Lamentations.

But in the exile Ezekiel worked to help the people to understand that God was still with them and that they must rely upon God in the midst of great trials and testing.

God will remember God’s covenant with God’s people and the people must look to God and remain faithful to God.

I think one question we might have now after a year of COVID is a question the Israelites had in exile.

Who is still here and who is gone?

A dramatic change in life, like the one that we just experienced this past year, shuffles things up and it changes things.

It’s like a deck of cards being shuffled.

After a deck of cards are shuffled you don’t know what hand you are going to get dealt.

Just like for the exiles there is a lot of uncertainty here for us.

And for us it is very difficult to navigate through all of this uncertainty.

This is where our faith in God becomes essential.

The prophet Ezekiel was commissioned by God to remind the people again and again to remember God and to not give up their faith in God.

The name Ezekiel means “God Strengthens.”

At a time like this we need to focus our thoughts, our prayers, our time on simple trust in God.

We don’t know the future.

We don’t know what hand we will be dealt.

We don’t even know how our congregation will recover after COVID and what things will look like…

– what will change, what will stay the same?

But we draw our strength from God and we find new hope and new inspiration from our faith.

God is still God.

This is what the exiles in Babylon began to see, this is what Ezekiel preached, and this is what we will come to see as well.

God is still God.

And we put our faith and our trust in God even when things are all shuffled up and changed.

We remain faithful as God remains faithful to us.

Amen.

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June 27, 2021 – How . . .

When you read the Bible and really dig into the Scriptures you begin to discover themes, a movement, an arc to it all.

The Bible follows a path.

The Bible deals with all of the human experience it leaves nothing out.

If you feel that you have to leave pieces of yourself behind before you come to God then please know this – God accepts all of you.

God accepts all of us and God accepts all of our humanness.

God hears our cries and God listens to our pain.

In the Bible there is this short book called Lamentations.

The book begins with one word.

It is a word that all of us have at one time or another called out and cried out.

That word is simply:  “how…”

Now for the ancient Israelite people and for the first Christians this one word was continually repeated.

For these people they had been on the receiving end of persecution and violence.

From the Egyptians, to the Babylonians, to the Assyrians, to the Romans the powerful empires constantly inflicted pain upon God’s people and God’s people continually repeated that one word… “how.”

How did this happen?

How are we in captivity?

How are we in exile?

How are we suffering at the hands of the violent?

And then here comes the book of Lamentations.

The book of Lamentations found in the Old Testament is a cry to God.

This book was written just after their city, the city where they believed the presence of God dwelt, Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people killed and exiled by the Babylonians.

In this place of great pain and suffering the book begins with one simple word.

How.

Chapter one verse one the book of Lamentations:

“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”

Jerusalem has gone from being a vibrant and full city to a city that is empty and destroyed.

The people are gone and there is no laughter in the streets.

“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”

For five chapters the author laments the pain of the people.

The grief is poured out in the form of poetry.

And what we are left with here in the book of Lamentations is one of the most powerful and moving accounts of sorrow and grief in the entire Scriptures.

I can recall reading through all of Lamentations towards the beginning of COVID.

And I read the book with new eyes.

And while our suffering does not compare with the suffering of the Israelites our pain and our suffering that we experienced together this past year is real and its needs to be named and then expressed.

Because that is what we do when we grief.

We name that which causes the pain and then we express that pain.

That is what happens in the book of Lamentations.

The author is naming and expressing the pain of an entire tribe – the tribe of Israel.

In fact, the name Israel means to contend with God.

So, the Israelites in the Bible are those people who struggle with and who wrestle with God – that is the meaning of the people who are called Israelites.

And the book of Lamentations names the cry and expresses the cry of the people to God.

The people are wrestling with God in regards to their pain.

How could this happen?

Lamentations picks up where Job left off.

The people are wrestling with God in how this suffering could happen to them.

God is good.

God loves God’s people.

But the pain, the suffering is so hard.

All through the book we hear the cry of the people except for one chapter.

There in this one chapter we hear these words.

Chapter three beginning at verse twenty-two which is included in your bulletin.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

For one brief moment the author remembers that through it all God remains with God’s people.

This is the arc of the whole Bible.

From captivity, to exile, to persecution the people – the people who wrestle with God -continually come back to this realization – that God is with us through it all.

Now the Bible even ends with God’s people in persecution and exile.

In the book of Revelation at the very end of the Bible the people are still suffering.

But God is still with God’s people.

Not only that but God is ahead of God’s people.

This means that God is preparing a new place for God’s people in God’s future kingdom.

In Revelation we hear that the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, with come down out of heaven from God.

The city that was destroyed will become new.

In the Bible the people discovered time and time again that grief, pain, and suffering turns one to God.

And when one turns to God – God is there.

God is in both the pain and the grief.

I think there is this temptation throughout life to leave pieces of ourselves behind as time goes on.

To leave a piece there.

To deny that there is this piece here.

To ignore that piece.

But the problem is that each time we do that we leave a piece of ourselves behind.

That pain.

That hurt.

That suffering.

We leave it behind and then discover that we are in pieces.

We discover that we left behind whole parts of ourselves.

We all have painful experiences and wounds and regrets and sins that makes us what to leave pieces of ourselves behind as we go through life.

This is normal and this is how we often want to deal with pain.

A memory comes up and we quickly repress it.

A person comes to our mind and we tense up.

You remember something painful and your whole body goes into knots.

Before long we go to war with our own story – we go to battle with our own life.

We are lost with what to do with all the painful pieces of our lives.

But like a puzzle if we lose to many pieces, we will no longer have a picture.

And here is the Good News for today.

God accepts all of us and all that makes us and God accepts all of our pieces.

Even if we cannot accept it all – God does.

In fact, God even invites us to claim and to own every piece of our story.

So that we can live into the whole picture of our lives.

Because there is an arc to our lives.

There is a path here.

The path is always leading us closer to God.

The path is always leading us closer to wholeness.

The path is always leading us closer to healing.

The path is always leading us closer to acceptance of who we are in God’s presence.

The book of Lamentations teaches us to grief our pain and then to remember that the steadfast love of God never ends.

There is a healing and a love that comes from God that God wants to give to us right now.

You don’t have to do anything to receive this gift.

It is available all the time.

You are loved and accepted just as you are and you, all of you, is redeemed by God.

You don’t need to hid anything from God.

You don’t need to hid any of your pain from God.

God knows.

The Bible follows a path.

This path is one from captivity to freedom from exile to restoration from persecution to new life from death to resurrection.

In Ecclesiastes we hear that there is a season for everything including weeping and mourning but there is also a time for laughing and for dancing.

Grief and pain turn us to God and God turns us back to laughing and dancing.

And so may you find the grace to accept all of your story knowing that God already accepts all of you.

May you discover the arc of your life – it is a path that leads to wholeness and healing.

And may you know each and every day that God’s mercies are new every morning.

Amen.

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June 20, 2021 – Remember the Lord

Job.

The story or parable of Job.

In the Bible a parable is a story or a poem that reveals a hidden meaning.

A parable offers a spiritual insight or lesson.

A parable unlocks a greater truth that we often cannot see without the story.

The parable of Job in the Bible has always fascinated me.

However strong and solid our lives may appear, our lives are at the same time very, very fragile.

At any point we can lose it all.

And at any point we can be at the breaking point where we question everything… from our purpose in life to why bad things happen to good people to… does God even care about me.

Now the name Job comes from the Hebrew and it means:  he that cries or he that is persecuted.

In the Bible Job is described as a good man.

But he is forced through testing to endure massive suffering.

Job’s cattle are taken away.

Job’s servants are killed.

Job’s sons and daughters die through a tragic accident.

And finally, Job even losses his health.

For the rest of Job’s story, we see him wrestling with his friends in why this great suffering has come upon him.

For Job there are no answers.

And then at the end of the book of Job there is a sudden shift in Job’ story.

God meets Job in chapter thirty-eight.

Here the Lord comes to Job in a whirlwind.

Now the whirlwind here could also be translated as a storm.

God comes to Job through the storm.

Here we have a picture of chaos and mystery.

This is what the whirlwind represents here.

Chaos and mystery.

God meets Job in the midst of Job’s chaos and God meets Job in the midst of Job’s questions.

Chaos and mystery.

In the whirlwind God says:

“Who is this that questions my wisdom.”

“Wait… I have some questions for you.”

“Where were you when I laid the very foundations of the world.”

“Tell me, if you know so much.”

“Who determined its dimensions.”

“Who laid its cornerstone.”

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries?”
“And so this far and no farther will you come, here your proud waves must stop!”

Job is completely humbled before almighty God.

In fact, later in the book of Job chapter forty-two we hear from Job:

Job responds:

“Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… my ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

For the way in which Job questioned God and the suffering he endured Job now repents and humbles himself before God.

He realizes that there is no way he can understand the mysteries of life, the challenges and struggles of life, and that there is no way he can comprehend the mind of God.

Job is humbled.

Job comes to a new place in his understanding of life, of himself, and of God.

And while the book of Job leaves unanswered the question of why we suffer we are provided with a final word of hope.

For Job is heard by God and Job is remembered by God.

God does not forget Job.

God remembers Job and Job remembers God.

In the end Job does not give up on his faith.

He repents which means he changes his thinking about his life with God and for him this repentance changes everything.

Because with Job, as it is with us, thinking or remembering in a new way changes our perspective and maybe even the direction of our lives.

In life part of repentance lies in having the faith that God remembers us.

God does not forget us or leave us.

We are not left alone in our suffering.

Each of us suffers in our own unique way.

No one of us here can go through life without suffering.

Suffering is part of what it means to be human.

Each person, like Job, suffers in a way that is extremely personal.

This means that we can never fully understand what each person battles with in life.

You have suffered in your life.

I have suffered in my life.

All of us can identify with Job’s story.

That is why the story of Job and his life continues to fascinate and to speak to people even thousands of years after it was first written.

The question of suffering does not get resolved but what does happen is that we are pulled into the parable, the story of Job and we become a character in Job’s story.

Where do you find your story in Job’s story?

Job’s story, his questions, his suffering is, of course, ours too.

The chaos that we see in our lives.

The doubts and the fears.

The questions.

The sleepless nights.

And like Job we too are unprepared to handle God’s response.

God responds to Job with a poem.

God responds to Job as a poet.

This poem goes on for four chapters… we have only the beginning of the poem in our lectionary for today.

Only the first eleven verses.

Job comes to see that through the chaos, the suffering, and the mystery God is present with and for him.

And this is the good news of the book Job.

This is the miracle.

God remembers Job.

And Job remembers God.

Today and for this coming week may you come to see in a clearer way that the God who made the entire universe is also the One to whom we must cry out to when we experience the pain of life.

May you come to know today and in the coming week in a deeper way that Jesus is the One who is able to say to the chaos of life, “Peace, be still.”  He is the One who is able to meet us in our suffering and say to us, “I understand your suffering because I suffered too.”

On the cross I suffered with and for you.

And may we be assured this day that God remembers us and may we return to the Lord and remember him.

Amen.

 

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June 6, 2021 – Genesis Chapter Three

Genesis Chapter Three

Here in the beginning of the Bible we are given a theology about sin and grace.

Now the word theology comes from two Greek words.

“Theo” which means God.

And “logos” which means word.

So, theology is a word about God.

Theology deals with our beliefs about God.

Theology describes our human condition and how we relate to God.

Theology is how we make sense of our relationship with God.

In this way we are all theologians working together to discern who God is and who we are in relation to God.

Here in Genesis chapter three, we have a beginning theology about sin and about God’s dealing with human sin.

Genesis chapters one and two speak about God’s good world.

God creates all that there is.

Everything in God’s world is in its right place.

God’s favor and peace rests on everything.

For the ancient Jewish people, they referred to this state of being as shalom.

God’s shalom over God’s creation.

But then comes chapter three.

Everything changes.

And nothing will ever be the same again.

You may have heard over the years this chapter in the Bible as the place where we get the theology around original sin.

This chapter in Scripture has also been referred to as the fall -where humans fall from God’s favor.

I like to think about this Scripture as the place where we hear about the first episode of human rebellion against God.

Or as I spoke about this idea this past week, we might think about it as the disruption of God’s shalom.

I spoke about this theological idea last week in my sermon.

In Genesis chapter three we hear about the disruption of God’s shalom here on earth.

Humans are created to reflect the divine image of God.

Humans are created to possess infinite worth and value by God.

But something goes wrong -humans choose to go their own way and we have been doing that ever since.

Now an important point here.

The word sin is not mentioned in Genesis chapter three.

This is why I like to think about this scripture as the introduction to the ways in which humans turn from God and disrupt God’s shalom.

The word sin is not introduced in the Bible until Genesis chapter four.

There the word sin is used by God to warn Cain about his feelings toward his brother Abel.

Of course, we know how that story unfolds.

Cain ends up killing his own brother out of religious jealousy.

He is jeoulous of Abel’s relationship with God.

We are introduced to Abel in chapter four of Genesis and just as we are introduced to this new person in the Bible – he is gone!

In fact, the name Abel means vapor or mist.

Abel was only here for a short time. Here one minute and gone the next.

Abel, who is made in the divine image is murdered by his own brother.

In the ancient world where Genesis came to be written, kings were thought to be the very image of their god on earth.

Now Genesis takes a huge leap forward here in proclaiming that every human is made in God’s image.

And to take life is to commit a crime against God.

This is sin.

And this is what happens in Genesis chapter four.

But going back one chapter here to Genesis chapter three we find ourselves in the midst of the disruption of Gods shalom.

Yes, it could be described as sin but again the word sin is not used here.

But this is the beginning… this is where it all starts with humans missing the mark.

So, we go here in just two chapters of the beginning of the Bible, Genesis two and three, from humans choosing to rebel against God to a human actually killing another human.

The world that God made where everything is in its right place, where God’s favor is upon everything in God’s creation, where God’s peace reigns is now completed disrupted.

God’s shalom disrupted.

But there is Good News here.

Because with God there is always Good News.

In the Genesis chapter three text God never curses humans.

The curse falls on the serpent and the soil.

God chooses to show grace to the man and the woman.

God chooses to be gracious and forgiving.

God chooses to care for the man and the woman despite their choice to rebel against God.

God lifts up the man and the woman.

God makes clothing for them.

And God chooses to not have the death that comes with rebellion for them but rather provides a life for them yes it is outside of the Garden but it is still life.

A quick summary here from the beginning of Genesis here we see that God is not only the powerful creator of the world but God is also a loving and forgiving God.

And God continues with being this way for in chapter four of Genesis God chooses to forgive and to protect Cain even though he has committed murder against his brother.

In Genesis chapter four verse fifteen we hear that God places a mark on Cain so that no one would kill him.

Again, in the beginning of the Bible we see a growing theology not just around sin but around grace.

While this word grace is not specifically used the concept is being presented to us here.

God is gracious.

God forgives people.

God provides for God’s people.

Now let’s jump forward here to the New Testament.

Jesus is the Word made flesh.

He himself is the announcement of God’s Good News.

He comes to restore, heal, and reconcile all things back to God.

In other words, he comes to resurrect God’s shalom.

He came to pull us forward to life in God’s kingdom.

He came to bring us back into God’s will and into alignment with God’s plan for the world.

He came to heal us, to love us, and to forgive us.

His forgiveness would become so much a part of our lives that we would then be compelled to pass on that same forgiveness to others and thus partipate in God’s ongoing work of restoring God’s shalom to God’s world.

Now we are not as forgiving and gracious as God is.

But we are all on the way because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

For many of us forgiveness is a process.

This means that forgiveness takes time, work, and a lot of energy on our part.

Forgiveness takes grace.

But grace works in us in remarkable ways.

Because the arc of God’s work in the world is always to greater peace, greater grace, greater forgiveness.

God is for the flourishing of human life.

God wants more for us than just having us survive each and every day.

God wants us to know his grace.

And as God’s grace works in us, we find ourselves moving through the process of forgiveness so that we might be gracious people as God is gracious.

I have found that forgiveness often unfolds in a three-step process.

(I have the teacher and writer, Rob Bell to thank for this new understanding of forgiveness.)

And I would like to speak a little here about forgiveness because forgiveness is at the heart of God’s dream to restore God’s shalom here on earth.

He taught us to pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

The first step is simply surrendering your desire for revenge.

That is all that is required in this first step.

You don’t want to harm the person who harmed you.

You stop it.

And sometimes that is as far as we get.

We surrender our desire for revenge.

The second step is that we begin to take steps forward to seeing the divine image of God in the other person.

Often when we get so tied up in our desire to cause the same harm on another person that they caused for us that we forget that the other person is made in the image of God.

Cain became so angry towards his brother that he no longer saw the divine image of God in him.

The second step for forgiveness lies in seeing the divine in the other person.

It is in seeing the humanity in the other person and coming to feel compassion once again for the other person.

And lastly, we know we have fully forgiven the other person when we wish the other person to be well.

When we wish for them to be well then, we have truly forgiven.

Now this can take days, months, or even years.

Sometimes it takes an enormous amount of God’s grace to work in us to extend to another this kind of grace.

And another thing here is that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.

You may be able to forgive someone but never to be able to be reconciled to that person.

In the recovery movement there is this great teaching that the person in recovery should try to find reconciliation with everyone except for those cases where it would be the healthier thing to forgive from a distance.

Sometimes a boundary may need to be put in place and then the situation needs to be given to God.

Reconciliation is what God ultimately desires and wants.

God’s shalom in God’s world is what God ultimately desires and wants but remember in God’s world

there is still disruption of God’s shalom and there is still sin.

We are not there yet but we are on the way.

In Christ God is reconciling the whole world to God’s self.

This has already happened in Christ and it is still happening.

But sin is still active here on earth.

There is still evil at work in the world.

The serpent, which points to Satan, still represents for us the evil inclinations of the human heart.

God’s shalom is still being disrupted by sin and by human rebellion.

But our hope lies in God that grace and forgiveness might be extended to more and more people.

So that even now we might be pulled into God’s presence.

Jesus said people will be forgiven for their sins.

But for those who speak against the Holy Spirit they will never receive forgiveness.

Jesus is speaking here about those who speak against him and his divinity.

Jesus is the One who comes to usher in God’s kingdom into God’s world.

He is the Messiah.

He is Lord.

He is the Savior of the whole world.

To say otherwise is to speak against God.

He is the One who will restore God’s shalom.

And so may we come to see that God’s world is broken by sin.

God’s shalom is disrupted.

May we come to see with greater and greater awareness that we need God and we need God’s grace and forgiveness.

May we come to see that God invites us to join him in the mending and the healing of the entire world and that we are called to forgive as Christ forgives.

May we believe by faith that Jesus was sent by God in the power of the Holy Spirit to reconcile all things back to God and to restore God’s shalom through his sacrifice on the cross.

And may we all join in on responding to God’s will in our lives so that we may be brothers and sisters in God’s very large family.

Amen.

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May 30, 2021 – Trinity: The Divine Flow

Last week I spoke about the text from Isaiah chapter six.

In my teaching I spoke about Isaiah’s dramatic, spiritual encounter with God.

And how this direct encounter with God changed him.

I am going to return to that Scripture this morning.

Isaiah chapter six

In the year that King Uzziah died.

This would be around 738 B.C.E.

Isaiah sees the Lord.

The seraphs, the heavenly beings, announce this message before Isaiah:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

This announcement by the seraphs tells a very significant revelation about God.

God is holy.

Three times the word holy is used to emphasis God’s holiness.

The word holy here means set apart.

God is other than us.

God is transcendent.

God is beyond us.

God is holy, holy, holy.

And the whole earth is full of his glory.

God is holy and the whole earth is full of God’s glory.

God’s presence.

God’s power.

God’s weight fills the whole earth.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about this Biblical truth.

In the Bible there was this understanding especially in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well that everything in God’s world is sacred.

Everything in life has the fullness of God’s weight and glory and presence.

Everything in life belongs and is connected because everything belongs and is connected with God.

Belonging, connection -this leads us this morning to the Trinity.

Today is Trinity Sunday.

This is the day where we consider the meaning behind the Trinity.

The Trinity is more than just a nice theological concept.

The Trinity is about the nature of God.

The Trinity is about who God is and who God is for us.

God is connected to Jesus.

God is connected to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is connected to God.

Jesus is connected to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is connected with God.

The Holy Spirit is connected with Jesus.

There is this belonging to one other.

There is a relationship.

In God there is this eternal relationship between three persons and this is the wonderful part… we are a part of this relationship.

God is not far off and distant from us.

In the Trinity we see that God is both relational and personal and we are invited to claim a space at the table.

God’s presence is here.

God’s glory fills the whole earth.

In his life Jesus was constantly teaching his disciples about this truth.

God is with and for us right now.

Jesus was concerned about our life with God when we die, for sure.

But Jesus was also concerned about our life right now.

He wanted us to know that our lives matter right now.

Even now God invites us to see the kingdom and to be in relationship with us.

In fact, when Jesus was questioned about prayer and how one should pray, he taught the people that we should pray in this way.

He said when you pray say thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This means that God is to be a part of our lives here -right now and not only when we die.

It matters greatly that God is a part of our lives right now… today, tomorrow, next week… God is with us now and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is impacting each day of our lives.

This means that we are to see that everything in God’s world is filled with the weight and presence and glory of God but that God is also close to us and personal.

This is the message that Isaiah heard from the seraphs.

The whole earth is filled with God’s glory.

God is not far off and distant God is with us in this world.

For Isaiah when he came to see how holy God is and that God is present in this world this led him to confession.

He confessed his sins and also the sins of his people.

Coming face to face with God lead Isaiah to this confession.

“Woe, is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah has a profound conviction of his own sinfulness and the sins of the people.

Now sin is that which disrupts God’s shalom.

The whole earth is filled with God’s glory or another way we could say it is that the whole world is filled with God’s shalom.

Shalom is God’s desire for God’s world.

Shalom is God’s dream for the world.

Shalom is the peace of God.

Shalom refers to the fullness of life that God offers us.

God’s glory is reflected in God’s shalom and the way in which God moves and flows in the world.

But because of sin we are constantly disrupting God’s shalom in the world.

God’s world is filled with God’s glory and God’s shalom but we are all about disrupting that shalom.

We disrupt God’s shalom.

And we do this all the time.

We fail to see that the whole earth belongs to God and is filled with God’s holiness.

This past week I read about how people and big corporations are working to control our water.

People and big corporations are investing and buying up water so that they might have ultimate power.

Because without water none of us will survive.

And right now, rivers are drying up, polar ice caps are melting, and currently almost half of the United States is experiencing some level of drought.

And yet people in power are buying up water.

Why… for money and for even more power.

Yes, like Isaiah we need to confess… “Woe is me for I am lost… and I live among people who are equally lost.

We have disrupted God’s shalom in the world.

But there is grace… with God there is always grace.

Grace is that which is pure gift.

That which we receive even though we do not deserve it is grace.

That gift of grace comes to us simply because we belong to God and are deeply, deeply connected to the creator of the whole world.

For Isaiah a seraph comes to him with a live coal.

The hot coal is from the altar – the altar points to the holy place of God.

The seraph then touches Isaiah’s mouth with the live coal.

Then Isaiah’s guilt leaves him and his sin gone.

This is grace – in the Old Testament here grace is found.

And there is grace for us too.

Jumping to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in our Gospel reading for today Jesus ends the conversation with grace.

This grace is the announcement of the good news of Jesus’ mission and purpose on earth.

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.

Jesus came to give us life.

Life in the age to come and life with God right now.

Yes, we have sinned and yes, we have certainly disrupted God’s shalom in God’s world.

But Jesus came so that we would not perish in our sin but rather that we would be forgiven and then given new life with him.

Because of Jesus –

We are now invited into a new way of seeing and being in the world.

That God’s grace is given to us even now.

That God’s presence fills the whole world.

That God is both personal and relational.

That God sent Jesus to save us from sin and then to save us for God’s shalom.

And that we are invited to take part in God’s shalom today.

We are invited to take steps with Jesus that shape our hearts so that we develop a calm and peaceful center within.

We are invited to take steps towards forgiveness and in showing others grace.

We are invited to wake up to seeing that everything in God’s world is sacred and holy and is filled with the weight of God’s Spirit.

There is this wonderful divine flow which is a part of everything in God’s world.

Which leads us to more soul-filled and hope-filled and joy-filled living.

And I really feel that after this past year we need this more than ever.

We need this new way of seeing that everything in life is spiritual because everything is connected to God and everything belongs to God and God is personal and relational and God’s dream is for God’s shalom to be realized even now.

And so, my brothers and sisters in the Lord may we come to see in a deeper way that God’s shalom is for us right now.

May we come to see in a deeper way that where there is disruption of God’s shalom there is grace.

And may we know that in the divine movement of God everything in life is filled with the glory of God.

Amen.

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Friends, I have a lot to say this morning so I am going to get right to it.

Four words:

Mystics

Miracles

Spiritual

And Fire

Mystics –

When you hear the word mystic what comes to mind?

Maybe the word saint comes to your mind.

Maybe you think about monks in a monastery.

But do you think about yourself when you hear that word?

I wonder if anyone here thinks – mystic – that’s me.

Now the word mystic comes from the Greek word, mystikos, meaning secret or hidden.

A mystic is one who experiences something mysterious -something that was hidden is now revealed.

A person has an encounter with God that changes everything.

Consider the prophets from Scripture.

In the book of Isaiah chapter six Isaiah has a powerful encounter with God.

God reveals God’s-self to Isaiah.

Isaiah then says, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne, and the train of his robe, meaning God’s glory, filled the temple.”

Isaiah’s direct encounter with God changes him.

What was hidden has become known.

And now Isaiah after this mystical encounter with God he becomes a great prophet who speaks on behalf of God.

Miracles –

Mystics are open to miracles.

This is because miracles are a key way that God speaks in the world.

Now a miracle is a surprising, life-giving, and joyous event that happens which has no clear, reasonable, or scientific explanation.

The miracle is considered to be a work of God.

For mystics miracles are not rare occurrences.

Mystics see the whole world as being filled with God’s glory – everything in God’s world has worth and beauty because everything is created by God.

Everything is sacred in God’s world and God is always at work in God’s world – creating, healing, restoring – making beautiful  – God is all about miracles.

How do we know this??

Because the Bible is filled with two things – stories and miracles.

Take the Acts reading for today.

It is a story about the first apostles.

They are gathered together in one place on the day of Pentecost and a miracle happens.

Which leads me to my third word:

Spiritual

Things get very, very spiritual in today’s reading from Acts.

Oh…! How I love this Scripture!

Spiritual – the word spiritual comes from the word, spirit.

The word spirit refers to breath or wind or life itself.

In the Bible the spirit is seen as the breath of God.

The Holy Spirit as we hear named in the Acts reading points to the very presence and power of God.

The Holy Spirit is the breath and wind and life force of God.

The Holy Spirit is that which moves in and around us.

The Spirit speaks to us about God – this is what the mystics know.

The Spirit performs God’s mighty acts in the world – these are miracles.

The Spirit opens our hearts to see that everything in God’s world is spiritual – everything in God’s world has God’s fingerprints on it.

This leads me to my last word.

Fire –

Tongues of fire appear among them.

What an image!

Tongues of fire.

This image brings together two ideas.

Tongues being different languages.

Fire representing divine power and authority.

Now this is not the first time we hear of fire in the Bible.

In the Bible fire points to God’s power and of God’s holiness.

God speaks to God’s people through fire.

And at the end of Bible in the book of Revelation Jesus’ eyes are like a blazing fire – meaning that Jesus’ eyes are filled with God’s presence.

Jesus reveals to us who God is – God is gracious, God is forgiving, God is love.

Now here in the Acts reading fire appears among the apostles of the Lord and all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit.

God comes to them.

A miracle happens.

The Spirit overpowers them.

And God’s purifying fire comes over them and this small tribe is caught up in something much bigger – something divine, something that God does.

This is the work of God here.

We too some two thousand years later are left with the fire of God.

The fire purifies us and reveals to us the presence and power of God.

The fire helps us to see that God is both more then and other than what we could ever image.

What is hidden is now being revealed.

Language for God is not big enough.

Even the whole world cannot contain the glory and the holiness of God.

We cannot confine God to a simple belief or theology.

God is much, much bigger.

In this truth we see that it is not about us – it never has been -it is what it always has been about – it is about God and what God is doing.

This is what the mystics know.

Mystics – here might be for you – the surprising part of my message – mystics – aren’t we all mystics?

For God has already done the miraculous – what was hidden has already been revealed to us through the cross – God has saved God’s people through Jesus and we are simply invited to trust in what God has already done -what God has already made known.

The secret has been revealed – God so loved the world that God sent Jesus to save us.

And from this time going forward the advocate, the Spirit will be our guide and the Spirit will teach us.

What was hidden is now being made known.

The Spirit helped… oh so long ago the people to understand one another’s different languages.

In the same way the Spirit works through all barriers and overcomes all barriers to reveal to us the life-giving ways of God.

A mystic understands this and we are all mystics.

You, me, your neighbor – people…

We are invited into a bigger story of trust and of redemption.

We are invited to see in a new way.

We are people invited to trust in God.

People invited to trust in the work of the Spirit.

People invited to trust in God’s son Jesus.

People invited to have faith in the promise that Jesus will send to us the Spirit of truth which will speak of God.

And so may you come to see that you are a mystic – we all are – we are beloved people of God who are invited to see everything that God wants to tell us.

May we then rest in God’s grace and peace.

May we find ways to give witness to the spiritual and to the miraculous.

And may the fire of the Spirit ignite our faith each and every day.

Amen.

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Worry

Stress

Anxiety

Just saying the words brings up all kinds of images and tapes in our heads.

How many times have we heard this…?

That stress caused him to be sick… or that worry caused her to have that accident… or that anxiety caused him to have that great pain.

All of us here knows what it feels like to be crippled with worry and fear.

The fear of failure –

-the fear of the unknown,

-the fear of the future can create within us this toxic stress that is very hard to shake off.

Once it gets in here it is so difficult to let it go.

Jesus understands this.

He knows how we feel.

And because he knows the battles and the struggles, we face he prays for us.

Think about that for a moment… Jesus prays for us!

In the Gospel of John chapter 17 Jesus prays over us.

How comforting and encouraging it is to know that Jesus prays for us.

It is helpful to have someone to pray for us.

I remember now ten years ago being in the hospital with great worry and fear.

Evie was born six weeks early.

Now fortunately babies do quite well at this point but it was still greatly unsettling.

Evie was in the NICU and Kalen and I were trying to figure out what would happen next when a member of Kalen’s church at that time came to visit us and to pray over us and over Evie.

I will never forget his prayer and how much that pray meant to Kalen and to me.

Now think here in this Bible reading from John we witness Jesus praying for us.

Jesus praying for us.

And the more I thought about his prayer the more I thought that his prayer for us is really a prayer of blessing.

He prays a prayer of blessing over us.

Now a blessing is a prayer of divine favor for someone.

A blessing is a prayer for protection.

It is a prayer for grace.

A blessing is a gift.

We do not need to do anything to receive a blessing.

Here in Jesus’ prayer, he is doing the work – he is the one who is praying for us.

All that is needed on our part is to trust the prayer.

Trust the prayer.

Trust the prayer.

Trust the prayer – God will hear Jesus and God will answer Jesus’ prayer

God will bless us.

The joy of God will reach our hearts.

We will receive this gift of grace from God and then after we have received this great blessing, we will pass it on.

I think it is time to reclaim what it means to receive a blessing and to give a blessing.

We live in a time where words flow very easily.

But what kind of words are we sending out to the world?

Words can bless and words can curse.

Words can harm and condemn.

Words can be toxic.

But words can also build up.

Words can also heal.

Words can make us laugh.

Words can open up our spirits and connect us with one another.

Words can bless.

God speaks and blesses.

God speaks and the whole world is created.

Jesus is God’s Word.

Jesus speaks blessing and favor upon our lives.

Jesus prays over us that we may be protected and that we might be sanctified in the truth.

What is the truth?

The truth is the good news that God wants to bless and not to curse us.

The truth is that we believe in a savior who is compassionate, forgiving, and gracious.

His goodness causes us to speak goodness and life to each other.

There is this writer, Felix Timmermans – a brilliant writer!

He tells this story of a poor beggar.

The poor beggar is ashamed of himself.

But it is not because he is a poor beggar.

It is because whenever he walks by this certain road to beg for food his father sees him.

And each and every time his father sees him his father comes running towards him and curses him.

The father is ashamed of his son.

“I curse you… I curse you… I curse you,” the father yells at his son, the poor beggar.

One day the poor beggar has an idea.

He finds another beggar.

He asks the beggar if he would walk with him on a certain road.

He then proceeds to tell him that if his father comes towards him on this particular road he will fall to his knees.

Then after falling on his knees, he will look up at the other poor beggar and ask for a blessing.

So, the two beggars set out on the road where the father lives.

The father spots the two beggars.

He comes running toward them.

The son falls to his knees in prayer and at the exact moment when the father yells his curse the other beggar begins to bless the son.

And then the son says to the father.

While you curse me, another father blesses me and a blessing cancels out a curse.

That story has always stayed with me over the years.

A blessing cancels out a curse.

In life we do not suffer from a lack of words.

But it is rare to receive words of pure blessing.

And this is exactly what we receive from the Lord.

His desire is to sanctify us.

Now the word sanctify is a beautiful word.

It means to consecrate or to absolve or to anoint or to bless.

I especially like to connect that word sanctify with bless.

Jesus wants to speak these life-giving words over us.

Jesus wants to bless us.

His blessing is that of –

Protection, safety, love, mercy, life, joy – these gifts are meant to be received even now.

We live into his blessing while moving towards God’s future blessing and God’s future kingdom that we are all invited to be a part of.

And each time we bless instead of curse.

Each time we offer words of healing instead of judgment.

Each time we seek to pray over others – we participate with God in the healing, blessing, and reconciling of all things in God’s world.

God is the one who blesses, saves, and restores but God calls us to be a part of this ongoing work of this ongoing blessing.

And God calls us to produce the kind of fruit that welcomes in the kingdom of God in this world.

In fact, God calls us to pray – thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Many years ago, now I was called to make a hospital visit.

The visit was for a young woman – maybe 18 or 19 – she who was struck by a train.

I never found out the details but they think she had been walking the train tracks late one night and was struck by a train.

When I can into the ICU the mom was crying over her daughter – her daughter was barely alive.

I felt paralyzed myself.

I went over to the mom and I said, “could I pray.”

And she said to me with tears and with tremendous pain, “I don’t know… nothing will help now.”

It is a haunting memory for me even now years later.

I wondered in that moment what I should do and then I did the only thing I could do…

I prayed over her daughter.

God’s blessings for us and God’s presence for us is not based on wealth, power, and even bodily health but rather it is centered on God’s decision to be with us.

God’s blessings are for us even in the face of poverty, powerlessness, and suffering.

In the book of Lamentations in the Bible we hear a series of laments to God but the book begins with one word… that one word is – how.

How does an 18 year get hit by a train?

How do we understand the suffering and pain of life?

How is this possible?

Jesus never gives us an answer to suffering but he does do this… he prays over us.

He knows how much we will need his prayer.

He knows how much we will need protection, grace, and healing.

He knows how much we need to be sanctified in the truth – the truth of God’s gift of life and salvation.

It is too easy in life to judge or to curse another person – it is much more difficult to do the hard work of reaching out to someone in need in order to bless.

But a blessing is very powerful – a prayer for God’s protection and grace to be upon another person is truly a gift given.

And so may we come to trust in Jesus’ prayer for us.

May we come to see that his prayer for us is a prayer of blessing.

And may we find ways to bless others.

Amen.

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