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08-15-Priority-Outline the Lines

          Last week, we began talking about how Jesus was a nonconformist who colored outside the lines of the world and even the religious traditions of Israel.  Jesus called people away from the construct of worldly living that was and remains governed by sin.  Jesus called people away from hollow religious traditions that served only their interests and distorted the image of God.  And for those who heeded Jesus call to follow him, Jesus granted forgiveness of all sins giving them a clean slate before God and a new life in the kingdom of God.

          The kingdom into which Jesus called people and continues to call his followers is unlike any other kingdom that there ever was or ever will be.  In worldly thinking, a kingdom is about privilege, power, and prestige.  A worldly kingdom is about royalty and class, opulence and finery, and it is about being served and being first. Jesus was colored outside the lines of worldly thinking and came to paint a bright and new picture of the so the kingdom of God that the people then and now simply did not know.

          We cannot know what we do not know unless someone first acquaints what we do not know to something we do know.  In every culture, we most often come to know what we do not know through the power of story. As a child, our parents, siblings, and teachers shared simple stories with us that we could understand in the hopes that we would learn a broad message about something we did not know. 

The ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, is famous for teaching morality through short fables.  Aesop once wrote a fable about a dog to teach a very human lesson.  Aesop said, “A dog was carrying a piece of meat in his mouth to eat it in peace at home. On his way he had to cross a plank across a brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own reflection in the water. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that piece of meat also. So, he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was lost.” The moral of Aesop’s story was that we need to curb our foolish human desire for more and be content with what we have in hand.

          Stories have such power.  Jesus likewise taught about the kingdom of God using stories, parables.  We read today from the Gospel of Matthew a parable about the kingdom and how the kingdom of God was very much different from any earthly kingdom. 

Jesus said, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.”  The story began with a landowner hiring day laborers.  The custom in Jesus day was that laborers worked from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. A common wage for a day’s work was one denarius, an amount of money needed to buy food for one day.  The workers and the landowners agreed that the wage for the work was fair.

          “About nine in the morning he [the landowner] went out and saw others [people] standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He [The landowner] told them [those people], ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they [the workers] went.”  More workers now join the first set of workers in the field but no specific agreement on the compensation set except that the landowner agreed to do what is right.

          “He [the landowner] went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon [at the eleventh hour of the day] he [the landowner] went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.  He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’”  We now have five different groups of people who began working in the same vineyard doing the same work at 6:00 AM, 9:00 AM, Noon, 3:00 PM, and 5:00 PM.

          “When evening [6:00 PM] came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired [those hired at 5:00 PM] and going on to the first [those hired at 6:00 AM].’  The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius [a day’s wage]. 10 So when those came who were hired first [6:00 AM], they expected to receive more [than one denarius]. But each one of them also received a denarius.  11 When they received it [the denarius], they began to grumble against the landowner.  12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’”

          What is going on here?  We are seeing this parable through the lens of the first workers hired and the landowner. The first workers have toiled the entire day and saw workers who worked a little as one hour receive a day’s pay. The workers who came at 6:00 AM see equal compensation of all workers as grossly unfair.  If the pay for one hour’s work was one denarius, why then isn’t the pay for 12 hours work be 12 denarii, not one as well?  Jesus’ story was pointing out the way we think when we think in worldly terms.  Jesus knew this was something his disciples understood.  This was the known in the story.

          From what was known, Jesus needed to teach his disciples about the unknown, the kingdom of God.  “13 But he [the landowner] answered one of them [disgruntled workers], ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

          We learn much we did not know about the kingdom of God in these words when we come to see the landowner as representing God. In this story, God called those who were first available to come and follow him.  In exchange for immediately coming into his vineyard, into his estate, God made a promise.  What is God’s promise?  The Gospel of John said it so eloquently, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  God promised eternal life.  In the story, when the day was done, those who first answered landowner’s call to enter his estate received what had been promised.  In our life story, when our day is done, we who have answered God’s call to enter his estate will receive what God has promised, eternal life.  In God’s kingdom, we now know that promises made to us are kept.

          But in our story, there was a conflict because others were hired after the first workers, and they received the same as had been promised to the first.  In the story, the first workers grumbled. In response, the landowner began his conversation not as boss speaking to a worker, but the landowner began his response to the complainers by calling them “friend.”  The parable teaches us that when we enter the kingdom of God, we are not just some unknown entities or nameless, faceless workers.  Not at all.  Instead, we become a friend to the owner of the estate, God.  In God’s kingdom we now know that we are valued and known to God, even when we are grumbling at Him.  In earthly kingdoms, very few people are known to the king. In the kingdom of God, all are known to God and called friend.

          To be known as a friend of God is shocking and something people had not contemplated in Jesus’ day and I am not sure how many people think about today. And yet now knowing that, we are still left with the conflict that landowner, God, gave the same reward to each worker, including those who entered the estate at the eleventh hour.  From this we come to know that in the kingdom of God, all who enter the estate receive the same generous and extraordinary gift of eternal life regardless of the time or circumstances upon which they entered God’s estate.  We learn that God is generous and gracious to everyone who answers his call, and rather than grumbling with envy about the prize others have received we should find joy in God’s generosity.  Because of God’s generous nature, we are to never give up praying that those who have not entered God’s estate would do so, even at the eleventh hour of their life.

          Jesus was coloring outside the lines and creating a picture of a new kind of kingdom.  It was not a kingdom of opulence but of simplicity and humble labors.  It was not a kingdom of favorites but a kingdom of friends with equal standing.  It was not a kingdom of whims from the powerful that they disregarded at any moment but a kingdom of promises made and kept.  It was not a kingdom of stinginess but a kingdom of generosity.  The kingdom Jesus was coloring, the kingdom desired on earth as it in in heaven, was a very different kingdom than the people knew.

          To accentuate the extreme differences between the kingdom of God that Jesus wanted people to know from the kingdoms of earth they knew, Jesus concluded the parable with one final sentence, that can be perplexing.  Jesus said, “16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).  Now that is really coloring outside the lines.  What on earth, or better said, what in heaven was Jesus talking about?

          “16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).  Jesus had said such things before.  In Matthew, Chapter 19, verse 30, Jesus said, “30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  Also, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus taught that we must not be so concerned with the things of the earthly kingdom such as clothing, food, and wines.  Jesus said,  32a The pagans [Non-believers] run after all these things.. 33 But [you should] seek first his [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness...”  Jesus was again coloring outside the lines of earthly thought and beliefs to encourage people to choose a kingdom so different in God.  It would seem that Jesus was saying, “Yes, in choosing God you will perhaps be last in world’s book of ‘Who’s Who,’ or will be last in to have your life chronicled in on the television program, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ but you will be among the first in God’s eyes for you will be His friend.  “16 So the last (the humble) will be first, and the first (proud) will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

          But there may be more to Jesus’ expression.  One time Jesus spoke with the very religious people of the day, the Pharisees.  They were faithful to their religious beliefs and genuinely thought they were doing what God wanted.  Jesus told the Pharisees another story.  Jesus said, “28 ‘What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ 29 ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  30 Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.  31 Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The first,’ they answered.  Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him’” (Matthew 21:28-32). 

Jesus was pointing out that religious practices no matter how faithfully performed are a substitute for a repentant heart.  Being religious is the way of the world.  Being repentant and accepting Christ is the only way to enter the kingdom of God.  We may do things to make ourselves look to be at the head of the line of religious traditions but the prostitutes who give their lives to Jesus will be entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of us.  “16 So the last (repentant) will be first, and the first (religious) will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

          But there may be still more to Jesus’ expression.  One time Jesus was with his disciples, men who had given everything to be with Jesus.  While together, “46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest” (Luke 9:46-48). 

Even those who have accepted Jesus, who have been repentant, must use care that they do not become self-absorbed believing their works merit privilege.  When we start believing in privilege for our Christian service, we begin losing our desire for friendship with Jesus.  Most friendships do not end with a bang but with a whimper.  Just as we can slowly drift out of earthly friendship, we can drift out of love for the Lord.  We can give up in the joy of our redemption as pride in our Christian service rises. When we do that, we move our standing before the Lord as we distance ourselves from Him.  And “16 So the last (faithful servant) will be first, and the first (the proud leader) will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

          Jesus came to keep God’s promises of redemption and freedom from sin.  Such redemption was not to come through works or religious practices.  Redemption would come by wiping the slate clean and learning to draw a bold and exciting picture of a new and unknown kingdom of God.  In that kingdom, we would be called friends and the promise of eternal life would be kept for all who would enter God’s holy estate.  When we as we live in the worldly kingdoms and act as though we are living in the kingdom of God, we are coloring outside the lines like Jesus.  When we forgive, when we treat people equally even when others expect more from us, some will grumble against us in envy of our generosity.  We must remain firm in our faith and live out that new life in the kingdom of God.

We need to ask ourselves, “What is my standing today?  Am I first in line within the kingdom or the world or religious tradition or am I last in those lines?  Have I repented and enter God’s kingdom or am I still standing in the marketplace doing nothing?”  Where we stand has eternal significance.  Let’s not leave it to chance.  Amen and Amen.

08-08 - Forgiveness - Outside the Lines

          If you hand a very young child a box of crayons and page from a coloring book, you can expect some interesting artwork.  The child will usually choose the crayon with their favorite color and begin to scribble lines across the page, in many cases, making the outline of the original coloring book image unrecognizable.  The color selected for the animals does not matter nor does it matter to the child whether they stay within the lines.

          If you hand an adult a box of crayons and a page from a coloring book, you can expect some interesting artwork.  The adult with usually choose the crayons that best fits the image on the page. The adult will neatly color the page. The color selected for animals will matter for adults and there will likely be very little variability from adult to adult.  It matters to adults whether they stayed within the lines.

          What has the difference between the way children and adults color in a book have to do with our faith journey?  I would suggest the difference lays in conformity.  Adults are conformists.  The older and more mature we get, the greater our tendency to want our life to be carefully defined and under control.  Things which are inconsistent with our worldview bother us and must be made to fit our expectations.

Children are inherently nonconformists.  Children do not recognize nonconformity.  They are willing to explore new relationships and are not the least bit bothered by lines on a page. 

How does coloring relate to our faith journey?  Jesus explained it this way.  “He [Jesus] called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he [Jesus] said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2-5).  Jesus said to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become like children and willing to be nonconformists to the world and to religion.

Why did Jesus say such a thing?  Jesus said this because Jesus was a nonconformist.  Jesus came not to color within the lines.  Jesus came to color outside the lines.  Jesus colored a different picture of the world than the world wanted him to color.  Jesus colored a different picture of God than the religious people wanted him to color. Jesus did not color within the lines and every time he did not color inside the lines some adult objected. Over and over Jesus refused to color the picture people handed him.  Instead, Jesus said, “You have heard it said…But I tell you…”  Jesus was telling people the lines from their coloring book were wrong.  If they stayed inside the lines they had created, they would miss the incredibly beautiful picture God intended.

For the next few weeks, I would like us to explore Jesus’ coloring outside the lines in the hopes that we too could be invigorated to be nonconformists to the world and to religious tradition.  And today, I would like us to begin our journey outside the lines with Jesus by talking about the greatest nonconformity in life: sin and forgiveness.

Sin, of course, is conformity to the world.  The world, our culture, gives contours and shape to our lives. The world is constantly painting pictures for us of what the perfect life is supposed to be like.  We are then tempted to conform to those images.  The desire to fit into the world is enormous.  That pressure begins early in life and never relents.  Our middle and high school children are continually exposed to peer pressure toward popularity and conformity.  In fact, the pressures on our children and even adults in our society are so great that even those who have faith tend to display an inverted hypocrisy.  It is an inverted hypocrisy because we try to hide our virtue and seem worse than we are.  Think for a moment about simply giving thanks for our food.  Many people are comfortable at the home dinner table holding the hand of the person seating next to them and offering a prayer of thanks before eating.  Change the venue to a public restaurant and the number of people who hold hands and pray plummets.  This is inverted hypocrisy.  We feel the pressure to conform to the world so that we become popular or at the very least do not standout.

The pressure to conform to the world has always been present.  But God’s way is to call people to be nonconformists to the world. Look at our Old Testament reading today from Genesis, Chapter 12.  “1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  ‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’” (Genesis 12:1-3).

          God was calling on Abraham, later Abraham, to stop conforming to the world. Abram was to no longer conform to the customs of his nation.  He was to no longer conform to the traditions of his tribe.  He was no longer to follow the traditions of his father.  All the lines in which Abram colored his life were to be wiped clean. 

With a clean sheet, God would give the Abram the tools to build his life into a great nation, into a blessed people, and into a father whom people would admire because he had broken free from the world. Abram would be free to color outside the lines because God had wipe clean the lines of the world.  Breaking free from the lines, the pressures of the world, was and remains God’s way to give us a life in freedom from the bonds of sin.

          But we know that sin does not give up easily.  So when Jesus came, his first message, his first sermon, was, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  The call to repent was again a call away from sin, a call away from conformity to the world and to accept a completely new life in the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God.  It was the same message Abram had received.  Jesus’ message was that the time had come to color outside the lines of the world and religious tradition.

          How do we know that Jesus’ message was about coloring outside the lines?  Let’s look at a few passages from the Gospel to see. One day, Jesus, “9 saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.  10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  12 On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:9-13).

Jesus came for the sinners of the world and that Jesus would come for the sinners was a behavior that upset the traditional religious.  It was outrages to think God would send someone to call sinners and not to applaud the religious.  But Jesus’ response to the religious people suggested they had conformed to their own view of God because they no longer understood the meaning of God’s words.  In the mind of the religious people, the lines they constructed on the page and faithfully color said there was only room for sacrifice and no room for mercy.

          Coloring inside the lines of the world or the lines of tradition even in religious thought creates the opportunity for sin.  Jesus came to wipe the slate clean so that people could understand afresh the kingdom of God.

          Understanding the kingdom of God was a central message of Jesus.  Repeatedly, Jesus used parables to speak about the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God.  Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is like:

  •  A man who sowed good seed in his field (Matthew 13:24)
  • A mustard seed (Matthew 13:31)
  • Yeast (Matthew 13:33)
  • Treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44)
  • A merchant looking for fine pearls (Matthew 13:45)
  • A net that was let down into the lake (Matthew 13:47)
  • The owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old (Matthew 13:52)
  • A great banquet (Luke 14:15)

Jesus used parables, a story about a common life experience knowable to his audience, to explain what kingdom of God which was unknown to his audience.  Jesus told these stories to break the conformity of people’s thinking about the kingdom of God and giving them the freedom to see the kingdom as it was. Jesus was coloring outside the lines.

Jesus’ coloring outside the lines was intended to separate people from the worldly sin and wrong thinking about God.  And to demonstrate the significance of his message that he came to destroy humanity’s conformity to sin, Jesus began to forgive people of their sins.  Let’s take a look at what happened.

           Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:3-7).  Jesus was wiping the paralyzed man’s slate clean by forgiving him of his sins and giving his legs new strength.  Both actions gave the man the ability to break all the patterns of his former life.  The religious leaders hated the idea that Jesus was coloring outside their lines.

          On another occasion, Jesus was a dinner guest of a Pharisee.  At that event, a woman, a prostitute, cleaned Jesus’ feet with her tears and soothed his feet with oil while the Pharisee did nothing for Jesus.  “44 Then he (Jesus) turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’ 48 Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  49 The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’  50 Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’ (Luke 7:44-50).

          Again, Jesus forgave sins so that the person could be free from their past conformity to sin and live a new life in the kingdom of God.  Sadly, the religious leaders again wanted Jesus to color inside the lines and make sinners conform to the burdens of hollow religious practices.

          Jesus was all about wiping the slate clean of sin and giving people the freedom to live a new life.  Jesus was so dedicated to this proposition that he willingly gave his life to wipe clean all sin.

          On the evening before his death, Jesus gathered with his disciples.  “27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:27-28).  Jesus was wiping the slate clean of all sin for all who would follow him.

          Jesus broke the power of sin giving his disciples, you, and me the opportunity for a clean slate and a new life that no longer conforms to the world nor to the traditions of hollow religion.  The Apostle Paul saw this scene as he described it to the church in Rome, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).  Paul’s message was simple.  Accept the forgiveness that Christ offers and have the patterns of this world broken within you.  Be free to live life in the kingdom of God and do that which is pleasing to God.  When we are free from sin, we can color outside the lines just like Jesus.

          Now with the freedom in Jesus to break from the patterns of the world comes great responsibility.  That responsibility is exercised through the power of forgiveness.

          Forgiveness is an awesome and fearsome power that can be used either as an instrument of peace or a weapon of warfare.  Let’s see how Jesus explained the responsibility and the use of forgiveness as an instrument of peace or warfare.

          “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’  22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’ (Matthew 18:21-22).  Some translations quote Jesus as say, “Seven times Seventy.”  Either way, following Jesus carries with it a huge responsibility to forgive.

          Jesus then explained the concept of forgiveness to Peter this way.  Jesus used a parable so that he could acquaint Peter with something Peter knew to teach Peter something he did not know.  Jesus said, “23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.   26 At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go’” (Luke 18:23-27). 

Here Jesus explained that having our slate wiped clean by God is an act of great grace and mercy by God.  Having our freedom restored by God gives us a new life and opportunity.  Forgiveness then was used by God as an instrument of peace. The expectation and responsibility then is that we would do likewise.

          Jesus continued with the story.  “28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  29 His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  30 But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt” (Matthew 18:28-30). 

The forgiven servant uttered those powerful words, “I will never forgive you for what you have done to me!”  With that, forgiveness an instrument of peace in God’s kingdom became a weapon of warfare to imprison the offender.   Forgiveness is powerful however it is wielded.  We can free someone or imprison them with how we use forgiveness. The world would have us color within the lines and use all things powerful as a weapon of warfare.  God would have us color outside the lines and use all things powerful as an instrument of peace.  The servant withheld forgiveness as an instrument of warfare.  We do the same when we are unforgiving.

          Jesus then finished the story.  “31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart’” (Matthew 18:28-35).

          When we dishonor the awesome power God has given us in forgiveness and use it as a weapon of warfare, we not only imprison others but we ourselves are imprisoned by that same weapon.  Forgiveness was central to the life and mission of Jesus. He used forgiveness always as an instrument of peace and in all ways to break people out of captivity so that they could enter the kingdom of God.  This was Jesus’ ultimate act of coloring outside the lines.

          We have been forgiven.  We have a clean slate before God.  We are free from the lines that constrain us to the world and to the traditions of hollow religion.  We should not act as inverted hypocrites and hide our virtue but in humility we should live out the virtues of Christ though our lives.  We have been forgiven and therefore we have been given the awesome and fearsome power of forgiveness.  How shall we use that power?  Shall we use it as an instrument of peace or as a weapon of warfare?  I think we know the answer.  It is time to be nonconformists and join Jesus in coloring outside the lines.  Amen and Amen.

07-25 - Be Prepared

          Last week, my wife and I traveled to Maine to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.  Several weeks before we traveled, we made some telephone calls to find a motel room and make a reservation.  The motel asked us to send along a check for the first night’s stay as a deposit to guarantee our room would be available to us.  The day before we traveled, we got our suitcases out, checked the weather forecast, and began to select the clothes we wanted to take with us.  On the morning we departed for Maine, we put the address of the motel into our GPS to alert us should there be any traffic accidents arise that could delay our arrival.  We took all these steps because we wanted to know there was a place for us, that the journey would be guided, and that our days in Maine would be pleasant.

          What I have described is not novel or unique.  I am sure all of you have taken similar measures before you traveled on vacation whether it was to Maine, across the country, or overseas.  The point of my story is that to go just a few hundred miles for just a few days we will do a lot of thinking and put a lot of effort in our preparation for those few miles and few days.  Yet, millions of people willingly give no thought to their preparations for eternity. They are willing to leave their destination, their journey, and the pleasantness of that destination all to chance.

          I remember hearing a story about a tombstone in a cemetery in Indiana that is more than 100 years old with the following inscription on it:

Pause stranger when you pass me by, 

As you are now - so once was I.

As I am now - so you will be,

Prepare yourself to follow me.

 

There was, however, a note that someone added that read:  

To follow you - I am not content

Until I know which way, you went.

 

You are here today because you have decided not to leave to chance your destiny for eternity, the journey, and whether your destination will be a pleasant experience.  You are unwilling to follow anyone unless you know which way they went.   Because you are here today, you are seeking to “Be Prepared.”

          Be Prepared might be a good motto for the Christian Church. It is the motto for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, said “Be Prepared,” means that you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.  For the Christian, to “Be Prepared,” is much more about spiritual preparedness.

          Throughout time, God has dealt with humanity in two stages.  There is always a time of preparation and a time of fulfillment.  The Christian Bible is composed of two stages. We see the Old Testament as preparation, a revelation of God in the form of prophesies and promises.  The New Testament we see as the fulfillment of God’s preparations for humanity.  What is the promise and what is the fulfillment?  God embodied both promise and fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ.

          In our Old Testament reading today, we experienced the sense of preparation.  The psalmist wrote: “10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.  11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.  12 The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. 13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Psalm 85:10-13). 

The days of preparation were intended to bring together the marriage of power spiritual emotions.  Love and faithfulness would come together as though being married.  Similarly, righteousness and peace would embrace and kiss as mutual lovers.  Faithfulness would be expressed by those of the earth and righteousness would come from heaven.  The will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven.  The uniting of humanity and the divine would be very much like a blessed marriage.  These things would all come to pass by God, and he would call them good.

          This goodness, the coming together of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace, God’s promise, was expressed in many ways throughout the Old Testament.  God was promising and preparing his people to receive him in the most intimate and personal way.  The way God chose to fulfill his promise was by coming as righteousness in human form through his son, Jesus.

          Now, to receive God in person was a radical change in God’s revelation to humanity.  And to prepare the people for the change, God commissioned a radical person named John to make known God’s coming. 

We heard John’s call this morning in our first New Testament reading. Matthew wrote, “1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Matthew 3:1-3).

          God’s message through John was simple, “Repent.” To repent is an act of preparation.  Repentance, getting rid of those things that keep us from God, prepares us to be filled by God’s presence.  We can think of many things, many sins, that keep us from God.  But the chief thing, the chief sin, among all those that keep people from God is pride.

Pride was the chief element of the first sin.  The first couple believed that eating the fruit they had been commanded not to eat would make them like God.  Pride includes the desire to be as God.  Christian writer Andrew Murray opined that, “All the wretchedness of which this world has been the scene, all its wars and bloodshed among the nations, all its selfishness and suffering, all its vain ambitions and jealousies, all its broken and embittered lives, with all its daily unhappiness, have their origin in what this cursed pride – our own or that of others – has brought upon us.”

So, in John’s day, to acquire and imitate the radical love of Jesus required preparation, namely giving up prideful thoughts and belief that people really knew God.  Matthew reported that, “People went out to him [John] from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Matthew 3:5-6).

          Average people in great numbers responded to John’s call to prepare themselves for Jesus.  Those people expressed their preparation by confessing their sins privately to God and then were baptized publicly before other people.  Both the confession and the baptism evidence the person being serious about their preparations for eternity.  The confession and baptism evidenced a person spiritually prepared to know God.

          In our day, to acquire and imitate the radical love of Jesus requires preparation, namely giving up prideful thoughts and belief that we really know God.  The acts of preparation remain the same as those in John’s day.  We are called to repent, talk to God and rid ourselves of pride and come into agreement with God about what we must change in our life.  And then, just as in John’s day, our preparation includes being baptized before others.  Both acts of preparation, repentance and baptism, say to God and others, “God, I am ready to receive whatever You have for me.”

          Now in John’s day, not everyone who had an interest in God or in what God had in mind, were willing to prepare themselves.  They were neither willing to repent and speak to God nor were they willing to be baptized as a sign of preparation.  In the Gospel of Matthew, we would read, “But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he [John] was baptizing, he [John] said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Matthew 3:7-10).

          The Pharisees and Sadducees were proud of their association with God and the Jerusalem Temple.  They were too proud to be prepared to receive someone as radical as Jesus.  They were too proud to talk to God and confess their frailties to God.  They were too proud to be baptized before others as evidence of their need for God and their release of pride to receive him. 

Jesus would later tell a parable of two men who went to the synagogue to pray.  One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  14 I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14).  You can hear the pride in the Pharisee and the repentance in the tax collector.

          We must not be too proud to talk to God and we must not be too proud to be baptized before others.  In my own faith journey, I walked a long time before I came into agreement with God on my need to be baptized.  I urge you not to make the same error I did.  We are talking about our journey for all eternity. 

For that journey Jesus said choose to be baptized as a way of expressing before all humanity that you seek me.  If you have never personally chosen to be baptized, please talk to me.  I know this church would welcome an opportunity to gather many together and express the joy of being baptized into Christ.

          For baptism is a symbolic union of humanity and the divine.  It is the chief moment when we can see and experience the promise and fulfillment in the marriage of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. I call it a marriage because in baptism we are expressing our preparation to become fully one with Christ through the Church.

          The Apostle Paul would express this human/divine union in his letter to the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote, “31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).  Paul saw the coming together into the church in marital terms in which the husband and wife became one.  The groom, Paul saw, represented Jesus and the bride represented the Church with its many members.

          Marriage is a good way to look at preparation to receive Jesus and follow him into eternity.  We do not experience the deepest joys of marriage by keeping our fingers crossed ready to run if things start to fail.  We experience the deepest joys of marriage when we commit ourselves without reservation with a “for better or worse” attitude.  The same principle holds true when we commit ourselves to Jesus and follow him without reservation.

          Following Jesus as he leads us into abundant life now and into eternity requires that we keep track of what we are doing.  We need to have a spiritual GPS.  Look for example of the two sisters, Martha and Mary.  Jesus loved them and they knew Jesus well. Luke shared with us that, “38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’  41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 8:38-42).

          I believe Luke included this short story to help those who believe in Jesus to exercise care in the continuing activities to follow Jesus.  Martha, seeking to serve Jesus and his followers, became mired in meal preparations.  Luke’s description gives us a sense that Martha was running frantically from the cook fire to the table and then to the bread oven. 

Martha was probably sweating physically and sweating within herself with anxiousness trying to complete all of the meal preparations so that everything would be perfect for everyone. Martha was following the approach that busyness is a sign of commitment.  There are certain occasions when busyness is a sign of commitment but more often busyness is a sign of avoiding going deeper. 

Referring again to the marriage example, many marriages fail when the children leave the home because the marriage became about busyness of the children and not something deeper.

          In contrast to Martha, her sister Mary was seated at the feet of Jesus.  Mary was not content to just be in the room with Jesus, she wanted to be as physically close to Jesus as possible.  Mary too was preparing, only Mary’s preparations were to receive all she was able to absorb from Jesus.  Mary was committed to Jesus for better or worse and was working hard on the marriage of the human and the divine.  Jesus told Martha and those present that Mary had chosen the better thing and it would not be taken from her.

          We are on a journey.  Like every journey, preparations are needed to make sure that there is room for us and that our time on the journey and at our destination will be pleasant.  You are here as part of your work of preparation. But as in all preparations, there is a purpose to them. 

What is God preparing you and asking you to prepare for?  Talk to him about it.  Get a sense of where God is leading you this moment in your life.  If some of your preparations are incomplete, don’t panic. Complete what God has asked.  Do not be too proud.  Afterall, you are entering a marriage of the human and the divine that will last forever.  This is the best thing there is and it will not be taken from you.  Amen and Amen.

07-11 - Peace In Serving Others

          For the last few weeks, we have been talking about God’s desire that we have inner peace.  We have explored three essential elements of our life with God to have inner peace.  We learned we must first talk to God, earnestly, genuinely, and unashamedly. We then learned that in our conversation with God we must trust him and give him our anxiousness so that he can fill us with peace.  Last week, we learned that we must be engaged in worship of God for in worship our spirit is transformed and strengthened, and we are better able to understand our part in God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

          Today, I would like us to understand a fourth element of God’s desire to have inner peace.  And that element is service through the body of Christ.  I want to begin right away noting that there is a distinction between serving as an individual and serving through the body of Christ, meaning His church.  We can accomplish much serving on our own, but we do not acquire the full measure of peace God desires for us, until we serve through the church.  To understand this distinction, we will begin where most stories begin, at the beginning.

          We spoke a couple of weeks ago that God created earth and all its plants, creatures, and features to be in perfect harmony and peace.  God then created man to care for his creation.  And God saw all he had created and said it was “very good.” Then, sometime later, 18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In the goodness God created, God noted that being alone was not good.  And so God created woman, in the image of God.  God created man and woman in his image so that they could be companions to one another.  God made partners for us in life because we have a deep need for one another.

          This need for others is express all throughout the Old Testament as we see partnering and pairing of people.  Beyond Adam and Eve, we saw God’s story play out in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and the list goes on.  The story of God has been revealed to us in the Bible though God’s interaction with groupings of people.

          We see this pattern continuing as Jesus came into the world and began his public ministry.  Jesus began his ministry by calling disciples to his side: Andrew and his brother Peter, John and his brother James, along with Matthew and Thomas, as well Mary Magdalene, Martha, Joanna, and others.  Jesus made it clear he did not want his public ministry to be a “go it alone” journey.

          Jesus never performed miracles in secrecy.  Jesus ministered to people in the presence of his disciples and other witnesses.  When the time came for Jesus’ disciples to begin their work, Jesus paired them up and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1).  Those sent were sent as representing Jesus and they went as the body of Christ.  Importantly, Luke shared with us that when the disciples returned from serving, they did so with joy (Luke 10:17).

          Luke described for us here that the disciples served and in return from serving, the disciples were joyful.  I think it is important for us to remember that Luke did not witness the return of the disciples.  Luke put together a chronology of Jesus’ ministry we have in the Gospel of Luke some 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Memories can dim over 30 years.  But here Luke reveals that the lasting memory of the participants and witnesses was that the disciples having served together in Jesus’ name returned in joy.

          Now, a couple of thousand years later, science and psychology seek to explain the phenomenon of service and joy.  Time Magazine reported that “Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving [serving] is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through MRI technology, we now know that giving [serving] activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism [selfless concern for the welfare of others] is hardwired in the brain.”  Other recent medical studies suggest that helping others causes our bodies to release of hormones, specifically endorphins, that create a sense of euphoria, that they researchers named a “helper’s high.”

          MRI’s and endorphins are modern man’s attempt to rationalize, explain, and at times diminish, the testimony of faithful people both ancient and modern.  In the case of Jesus’ disciples, the singular emotion from the collective experience in serving in the name of Jesus expressed 30 years later was joy.

Luke’s account suggests that what the disciples experienced in serving together in Jesus’ name was far beyond a helper’s high brought about by a hormonal change.  I believe that the disciples, perhaps for the first time in their life, experienced an understanding of God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.  I believe the disciples came to understand what Jesus meant when he said they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

          In paraphrased terms, before sending out the disciples, Jesus said, “14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 MSG). 

The disciples had experienced what it was like to become the light into the darkness not just by helping others through the difficulties of life but also because in serving as Christ’s hands and feet, they gave others the opportunity to be open to God and his goodness.

          To help someone and open them up to seeing God is the most wonderful and joyful thing we can do.  Why is that? This is true because God knew that men and women could experience his presence most powerfully, not through glimpses of heaven or mystical experiences but through a human form, someone with whom they could relate.  Therefore, God sent Jesus, in human form.

          The Apostle John understood God’s design for us when he wrote, “14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) “17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  God sent his fullness in the person of Jesus Christ because we would best experience God’s presence most powerfully through a human form.

          Understanding that God came in human form through Jesus was a powerful thought to John because he would later write, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:1-4). 

Here John linked God, Jesus, and the fellowship of believers, to complete joy.  John was saying here that understanding the presence of God was experienced through Jesus and was still experienced through the fellowship of believers.  The presence of God is still experienced best in human form now through the church.

          Why is it that God is best experienced through the church, the fellowship of believers?  First, that is the way God intended it to be.  Second, we humans cannot experience something except by acquaintance.  We cannot understand that which is completely unknown unless there is some connection to what we already know. 

Let me give you a simple illustration.  Suppose a person was blind from birth.  How would that person experience red as a color?  We could say red is primary color like yellow and blue and that person could recite those facts but they would not have experienced the color red because we related the color red to colors yellow and blue which are as unknown to them as the color red.  So how might we express to this blind person something about the way the color red could be imagined without ever seeing the color?  We could only do that by acquainting that person with something they already know or could know.  We might say that we acquaint red with the emotion of angry, as in “seeing red!”  Or that we acquaint red with something that was hot to the touch.  Or perhaps we would share with our blind friend that we acquaint red with danger or the need to stop whatever we are doing.  Our blind friend, though they could not see the color red, could begin to acquaint themselves with that unknown quality by its relationship, by the experience, of something they could or do know.

How does that illustration help us understand what John was saying?  It is this. John and others came to experience God through their living with Jesus Christ and experiencing Jesus’ character and acts of service, such as washing the feet of the disciples.  Now the members of John’s churches could experience Jesus Christ through his apostles and disciples, the church, if they imitated Jesus’ character and acts of service.  In experiencing Jesus through the fellowship of believers, then the joy of knowing God and experiencing Jesus is made complete in all who would follow. This same pattern of experiencing Jesus and thus knowing God has been continuing ever since.

And so when we as the church reach out to serve another person in Jesus name, those who are served can feel Jesus’ love, a love made incarnate, full and complete, in the caring people they see, touch, and hear, and then those being served are assured and acquainted with God’s presence even if they have not yet experienced God themselves. Those being served can begin to understand that God is caring, that he desires comfort for those afflicted, that God does not forget or abandoned people because they have seen that behavior in the people from the church.  When Christians love and care for those who are hurting, God’s character shines forth. Those served know it and those who serve experience God.

There is no greater joy and thus no greater peace for the believer than to experience God.  Those serving know immediately and profoundly that caring for another person is not a two-person relationship, it is a three person relationship.  There is the one being cared for, the believer doing the caring, and there is Christ. Knowing this is priceless. Knowing this is peace.

Aloneness and anxiousness are never so difficult as when someone is suffering.  One gift we can give as believers is to be present in someone else’s pain.  A learned pastor put it this way, “Your presence is worth much, much more than words. Your presence communicates to the other that he or she is valued, precious, beloved.  Your presence brings not only the gift of yourself into the relationship but also, in and through you, the gift of God” (Haugk, 51).

Think for a moment what Jesus said to his disciples on the hillside one day.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  When we, the body of Christ, bring peace to another person by our presence and our acts of charity, then we become known as the children of God.  Since that it is the truth, it would also be true that children of God have a profound inner peace because they know, they feel, they experience to their very core, that they are God’s children.

If we want inner peace, we must begin a continual conversation with God.  In that conversation, we must be willing to trust him and place into his hands our anxious thoughts and allow him to replace that anxiousness with calmness and assurance.  In our pursuit of peace, we must be willing to worship God and allow that experience to change us and fit us together with other believers.  In our togetherness with other believers, then we need to serve in the name of Jesus.  Serving others through the body of Christ allows the light of God within us to shine spreading the peace of God’s presence to those being served and allows peace to be returned to us.  We know that being at peace with ourselves, being at peace with one another, and being a peace with God was Jesus most urgent desire for his followers.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus sought out his disciples who were fearful and anxious behind locked doors.  Jesus entered that room and said to them, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

Let us all walk and serve together in peace.  Amen and Amen.   

07-04 - Know Jesus, Know Peace

          We have been talking for a couple of weeks now about having inner peace.  For many people, inner peace is elusive. Their minds are consumed by turmoil coming from difficult family relationships, hostile work environments, grief from the death of loved ones or things loved and lost, or from uncertainty about the future.

          The anxiousness of life’s circumstances chokes our life and prevents us from flourishing.  To live life this way is not part of God’s design or desire.  We see God’s desire clearly expressed as God created the heavens and the earth and that his creation would be at peace with itself and at peace with Him.  But sin marred that peace and so God has sought to restore peace to us.

          We saw through Psalm 23 that the avenue for peace is a continual conversation with God amid all circumstances of life, whether gracious or challenging.  Last week, we saw that in our conversation and fellowship with God that we can exchange our anxiousness for peace by giving our burdens over to God.

Today, I thought we could focus on how we continually keep our spirit attuned to God so that we can have those conversations with God.  Today, I want us to explore how worship is integral to our inner peace and serve the purpose of engaging our spirit to be conversational with God.

          And so we begin with the question, what is worship? Many of us have been in church so long that we probably do not realize what worship is anymore or why worship is such a uniquely transformative experience.  If we stay in church long enough, we might think of worship as the one hour a week we spend in the church building.  For contemporary churches, some folks view worship as that portion of time in the church building in which they engage in singing praise songs.

What then is worship? Today, like many Sundays before, we opened our time together with a “Call to Worship.”  We followed that with a hymn, “I Love You Lord,” in which we together sang the words, “I love you, Lord.  And I lift my voice, to worship You, Oh, my soul, rejoice!”  We prayed words of invocation praising God and together saying, God’s name was hallowed, that God’s name is the most worthy name. 

We read from the New Testament in which the immediate reaction of the women who saw Jesus after his resurrection was to worship him.  We prayed words of comfort for one another sharing joys and concerns of life. Then we sang again the words of hymn, “Worthy of Worship.”  These we might say are elements of our worship service but are they worship?

          Familiarity and repetition of worship practices may have left us unaware that a transformation was occurring among us today.  As we began worship, we began a group experience that is taking individuals of different ages, occupations, states of marriage, race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and education and creating a kernel of unity in the present from our pasts of diversity. 

Worship takes that embryo of unity and grows us into a maturing body in which all parts begin somehow to fit together.  We are a body made up of many parts in which as we engage in elements of worship we are accepting a different and greater identity.  Worship causes us to start thinking and seeking together without embarrassment.  We sing without embarrassment and share deep concerns about our life or to cry either tears of joy or tears of pain without concern. 

          But how does worship cause us to be so transformed? No one element of worship can cause the transformation of so many different individuals into one body. Instead, that transformation comes about through the person being worshipped.  We come to worship God.  Worship focuses our hearts, minds, strength, and soul on God who then transforms us into a single body. 

Worship and the transformation that happens to us is such a marvelous occurrence we may not even recognize what has happened and is happening to us.  Worship takes that body in which all are part and gives them equal dignity because we see in worship that we are all made in the image of God and therefore each part of the body is precious in God’s eyes.

In that one body, we begin to build a fellowship that has goals to invite others into worship, goals to support other members of the body, and goals of serving others who are or feel outside the body created by worship.  What has happened to us through worship of God is that we begin to understand God’s desires and we begin to want to fulfil those desires as a single entity.

          All these changes that we can see are occurring within each person, within each part of the body, every time we worship God, whether in groups of a few or many.  And yet, in worship there is more transformation occurring that cannot be seen with the eye but can be experienced by the spirit.

          Consider the example from our first reading today from the Gospel of Matthew.  Women who had followed Jesus in his public ministry made their way to Jesus’ tomb. When the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, an angel appeared frightening the women and causing the guards at the tomb to shake and become like dead men.  “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’  So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them.  ‘Greetings,’ he said. They [the women] came to him [Jesus], clasped his feet, and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:1-9).

          The women who approached the tomb were devastated by the profound grief of Jesus’ death on the cross. Life was hollow.  No doubt the women had not slept well.  They had intrusive images of Jesus on the cross playing over in their minds.  They were restless, agitated, their muscles were tense, and all hope was gone.  There was no inner peace.  “No Jesus, No Peace.”

          Then suddenly, they received news that Jesus was not to be found in the tomb but would be found among the living.  The women ran from the tomb afraid and joyful.  What was Matthew trying to tell us here?  Joy and fear are competing emotions.  Joy opens our minds to the excitement of possibilities.  Joy pushes back against fear.  Fear closes are minds creates walls of doubt around joy, trying to contain it.  The women were highly conflicted consumed as it were simultaneously by fear and joy.

          As the women were running from the tomb, Jesus appeared and spoke to them.  In the presence of Christ, the women without embarrassment or hesitation acted in unison, acted as one body, and throwing themselves upon the ground, wrapping their arms around Jesus’ feet, and worshipped Him.

          This was the first time the followers of Jesus worshipped him, and the effect was an immediate transformation. In the act of worshipping Jesus, the women were transformed as joy fought back against fear, against anxiousness, against the walls of doubt, and created room within the spirit of these women for peace, real inner peace.  The women had come to that point of “Know Jesus, Know Peace.”  That combination of joy and peace would forever give these women endurance, character, and that moment of worship would give these women a hope that would never disappoint.

          The women, transformed by the worship of Jesus Christ, ran tell others.  “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:9-11). 

The women who worshipped Jesus and became one body shared their transforming experiencing and were not believed.  Yet, the women remained as one body.  It was not important if others did not believe the transformative experience of worshipping the risen Christ.  The peace these women possessed was depended only on Christ.

          This same sense of relief from fear can be ours as we are transformed through worship of Jesus Christ the risen savior.  Our spirits, like the spirits of the women at the tomb, can be conflicted when we enter worship and can be at peace when we leave.  It is a marvelous gift of God.

          We see this transformation later in the evening of the same day as the women worshipped God, we find the eleven apostles together behind locked doors consumed with fear of the Jewish leaders.  No doubt the apostle’s conversations centered on an endless series of “What ifs.” 

The apostles were thinking of their own safety and ways to build better walls against the dangers of life they imagined.  They were becoming rigid, fragile, fearful, and lacking any sense of inner peace.  Though gathered and aware of the news of Jesus’ resurrection, there was no worship going on.  The body was beginning to separate into individual parts and, unless something happened, their situation would soon become an “everyman for himself,” response.

It was then that Jesus entered the room and bid the apostles “Peace.” In that peace, the transformation of the apostles occur and they became a united body worshipping Jesus.

          Later in time, the Apostle Paul would seek to explain the transformative nature of worship.  In a letter to the church at Rome, Paul wrote, “Brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). 

Paul was setting the stage that worship is not just brothers and sisters gathering to create something between them, a self and other relationship. Those sorts of self and other relationships exist throughout society from family gatherings to local bars. What Paul was suggesting here is that we recognize that worship creates a self, other, and God relationship.

          Paul said that when we are combined as brothers and sisters in worship of God then we are engaged in transforming our mind into one that can act in a way that is in accord with God’s desire.  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). 

Worship transforms our outlook and our understanding as to the goodness that God created for humanity and has preserved from the effects of sin. Worship helps us see the reality of peace and worship allows us the opportunity to share the inexpressible feelings that being a peace gives us.  This means that worship of God creates inner peace for the worshipper and gives the worshipper a place and way to express that inner peace. 

Finally, Paul said that worship transforms us into one body, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).

          We are transformed by the worship of God through Jesus Christ.  The transformation changes our minds, our hearts, it gives us strength, and gives us a spirit that controls our body.  The transformative experience of worship brings us inner peace.

          For me, and I suspect for many of you, one of the most transformative and peace-giving acts of worship we can do is to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus inaugurated this spiritual meal moments before fear, anxiousness, betrayal, denial, and turmoil would cause his apostles to scatter in different directions into the night. 

The apostles needed something to remind themselves that even if they could not see Jesus, he was still there.  We can worship God through that supper and receive a sense of peace and through that same worship express the inner peace we feel.

          And so, as one body united in worship being at peace with ourselves, being at peace with our fellow worshippers, and being at peace with God, let us come to the Lord’s Table.  As we do, let us “Know Jesus and Know Peace.”  Amen.

06-27 - It Was Very Good

          Last week we began exploring God’s desire that we be at peace.  We looked at peace expressed through Psalm 23 and discovered that peace requires that we be talking with God through all circumstances of life, whether those circumstances are gracious living or difficult challenges. The psalmist showed us that God desires our fellowship and conversation.

          God has always desired that we have fellowship with him.  We see God expressing his desire for fellowship and conversation in the earliest pages of the Bible.  In Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis, we would find that the Lord God entered the garden he created.  God was seeking the man and woman he created and whom he placed in the garden to care for it.  When the man and woman did not come to God to speak with him, God called out and said, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9)

          God has seeking fellowship with men and women since the time of creation.  Why would God want to do such a thing?  The answer is fairly simple.  God desired fellowship with us because it was part of what God saw as being very good.

          God was the first being to describe something as “very good.”  We heard God speak those words earlier this morning when we read from Genesis, Chapter 1. God had created man and woman in his image and then blessed them.  “29 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.  31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:29-31a).

          When God had completed creating, he said everything was “very good.”  The beauty of the earth, the animals, birds, fish, plants, wind, rain, and humanity all working together was very good, meaning it had the quality of being excellent. The relationships between man and woman was very good.  The relationship between the first couple was complete, compatible, and excellent. Finally, God’s relationship with the woman and God’s relationship with the man were equal and excellent.  It was the moment in which nature, humanity, and God were at peace.

          Peace in the original context was expressed through the Hebrew word, shalom, שָׁלוֹם, shaw-lome'.  The word shalom carries with the meaning of completeness, safety, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, friendship of human relationships, and friendship with God.  Things were right and, in that rightness, God sought to be in fellowship and conversation with the man and woman because that too would be very good for them.

          And so, we have a picture, a mental image of peace, that God created and sustained. Well, we know the story.  That peace, that sense of shalom, would become marred by sin.  The man and woman had sinned and rather than seeking fellowship with God, they hid from God. Why?  Because they became afraid and filled with anxiety.

          Anxiety has at its root the sense of choking and squeezing people with an unending series of “What if” questions that drain the goodness out of life.  So powerful is anxiety that it alone has the capacity to keep us from fellowship with God, as we mentioned in Genesis, and in even appreciating God’s Word.

          Let me give you an illustration as to that latter point.  One day, Jesus told a parable about a farmer sowing seed.  He said some of that seed fell among the thorns. The thorns grew up and choked the plants.  When Jesus explained the parable, he said the seed sown by the farmer was the Word of God and the “thorns referred to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).  Anxiety is a powerful choking force that strangles the goodness of life and is even strong enough for us not to hear God’s own words.

          In our country, the number of people who are anxious continues to increase.  One study I read examined anxiousness among us from the period 2008 to 2018.  The report from that study stated, “Overall, our results are consistent with and extend prior findings that mental health has worsened in the US by showing that anxiety, too, has broadly increased among adults in the US over the past decade. Anxiety appears most common among young adults and has increased more rapidly among 18 to 25-year-olds than among any other age group. Anxiety also increased more rapidly among those never married versus married and among those with a high school diploma or some college versus those who did not complete high school. Anxiety increased consistently across racial/ethnic, gender and income subgroups” (Trends in anxiety among adults in the United States, 2008–2018: Rapid increases among young adults).

          Another report having similar findings made this conclusion, “Unfortunately, no one seems to have an exact answer as to why anxiety is so common” (https://www.banyanmentalhealth.com/2019/03/11/why-is-anxiety-so-common).

          One final study I want to mention, evaluated the work of 32 other studies, a study of studies.  That inquiry looked to see if there was any linkage between human anxiousness and religion.  The investigators reported, “This review showed, in almost every study, that religion in general, religious training, spirituality, faith, prayer, religious community and worship were associated with reduced anxiety (stress). These effects were observed in both healthy individuals and in various [anxiety] patient populations” (https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/ijda/international-journal-of-depression-and-anxiety-ijda-2-016.php?jid=ijda).

          I find it interesting that medical studies show that our sense of peace is restored and sustained the more we commit ourselves to worship, to fellowship, to prayer, to faith, and understanding the Word of God.

          It is fascinating those medical studies have concluded what the Apostle Paul shared with in his letter to the church at Philippi some 2,000 years ago.  Paul said, “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  Let Paul’s words fall on your ears for a moment.

          Paul’s words are exceptional and as many people realize it. Consider this point, Amazon has sold tens of millions of Kindles, electronic readers.  One of thing those Kindle readers allow users to do is to highlight sentences in the books for later reference.  Amazon tracks what gets highlighted.  The most highlighted book across all Kindles is the Bible.  The most highlighted passage of the Bible is Philippians 4:6-7.  Paul’s passage on exchanging anxiousness for peace.

          Paul point, noted by millions, was that anxiousness will come to us from the world and from living in this world.  The antidote for anxiousness though is to talk to God and give that anxiousness to him.  In fellowship and conversation with God, our anxiousness, that choking sense of worry, is replaced with peace.  Paul was revealing here that God is continually seeking to restore peace, to bring us back to the garden where everything was very good.  For it was in that garden, described in Genesis, that a peace that transcends all our understanding of today existed.

          Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation of the Bible put Paul’s thoughts this way, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6-7, MSG).

          I like what Peterson’s words, “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry.”  You see it is not enough for us to simply “stop worrying,” as some would counsel us to do.  Even if we could stop worrying on our own, eliminating worry would leave a void in our life.  Something else would fill the void.

          Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life. (25)  Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (31) But seek first his (God’s) kingdom” (33a) (Matthew 6:25, 31, 33).  Jesus said hand over your worries and replace the void they leave in our life with God.

I have experienced this exchange of anxiousness for peace on several notable occasions in my life.  In my twenties, anxiousness about the future was consuming my thoughts until I gave them over to God who filled my thoughts with reassuring peace.  When our first-born grandson was to undergo major surgery at just one month old, worry and anxiousness was choking us, until we prayed the words of Psalm 139. Our hearts calmed and the awareness of God’s presence became evident.

Not that long ago, nearly everyone sought the kingdom of God first.  Nearly everyone read the Bible and engaged in public and private prayer, as well as family prayer, and great numbers heard, once each week, sermons that expounded the gospel.  Once a week there was a day that reminded all people of a dimension of their lives other than those of the surface.  Now most of this is gone.  Instead, of being settled in all circumstances, people are anxious even in the best of circumstances.

So what are we to do? We then need to return to fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28-29 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

Whenever we face anxiousness, as we feel it begin to well up within us to make its way to choke our life, we should immediately fellowship with God.  We should say, “Lord,- I cannot bear worry and anxiousness alone.  I pray that you give me the strength - not strength to endure - but strength to let go - to turn over my burdens and my fears to you.  Let me do so - and find rest."  And you know what - it does take strength to let go - to give your burdens to Jesus.  It is part of trusting God’s word.  Now here is some good news - it works.  There is in that act or instance of sharing - that communion with Jesus - an easing of the anxiousness.  We are reminded that whatever we are going through – we are not going through it alone, and that no matter how things turn out, we will remain in God’s kingdom.

“You know that Jesus did not come to earth to tell us merely what we ought to do; He came to do something for us.  He came not merely to exhort but to help.  He did not come to give us good advice.  Advice is cheap, but what Christ offered us was infinitely costly.  It was the power of God unto salvation” (Baille, Invitation to Pilgrimage (51)).  It is this power that breaks the anxious thoughts that invade our life.  It is knowing that God is at work constantly and continually sustaining us into eternal life with him that brings peace.

Consider for a moment, the thief on the cross next to Jesus.  The thief had only one thought left.  “42 He said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43 Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43). In that moment, the thief would be restored to the inexpressible sense of peace God had first created and preserved in paradise,

Consider Paul. He was likely speaking about himself, when he said a man “4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul had a taste of the inexpressible sense of peace God had preserved.

Jesus said, “7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7).

Knowing our ultimate destiny in life as the kingdom with God, shrinks our worries and anxieties of the present and gives us the strength to put those worries into hollow of Jesus’ hand.

To have the ability to know our destiny and trust Jesus, we need to be part of corporate, in-person, worship, frequently.  We did to read the word of God daily and hear God’s Word talked about and preached every week.  We need to pray daily to remind ourselves that God is working all the time to get goodness restored to us.

The psalmist practiced these spiritual disciples and discovered, “When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:18-19).  We can have that some peace and joy in the present because it is guaranteed to us for eternity.

          And now, as we are in fellowship with God, let us pray for ourselves and for one another that we would have the strength to give to God what makes us anxious so that God may restore to us the joy and peace He first created and has preserved for us.  Amen.

06-20 Peace Amid Turmoil

          I want to begin today’s message by expressing my gratitude to this church for including in the covenant between the pastor and the congregation a provision for the pastor to take one week a year for personal study or retreat.  Having a week to spend on a topic is greatly beneficial to me and hopeful to the church. 

The week before last, I took that week and spent my time beginning a study on inner peace with God.  I selected the topic of inner peace because increasingly I am encountering people, Christians and non-Christians, who are in turmoil from stressful situations found at home, with politics, from ill health, from grief, or from difficult relationships at work, within the family, or even in the church.  

I wanted to begin work on broadening my understanding of Christian concepts, authors, and Biblical studies that might help others redirect the suffering that anxiousness brings toward acquiring some peace of mind and restoration of joy.  I hope over the next few weeks to share my some of my initial understandings of inner peace.

One of my readings during the week came from a Quaker theologian and philosopher, Elton Trueblood. In one of his books, Trueblood made a passing reference to a feature he noted in the Psalm 23.  Trueblood did not expound upon the feature to any great length, but his observation intrigued me and caused me to think more deeply about having that sense of peace within us that in these “stress filled” times can seem so elusive.  I want to share Trueblood’s observation and the implications I believe can begin to set the foundation for our conversations on inner peace.

Trueblood’s observation came from Psalm 23.  I am certain that most of us have heard the words of Psalm 23 and, I suspect, some of you could recite the words of the psalm from memory.  Let’s hear the words of the Psalm together.  This version is from the King James translation of the Bible.

A Psalm of David.

Psalm 23

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

          Beautiful words that have been spoken on occasions grand and small, public and private, in joy and in sadness.  The feature that Trueblood noted was that at about the midpoint of the psalm, the writer changed his focus from speaking about God to speaking withGod.  The writer began the psalm speaking about God using the word “He,” and then changed to speaking with God using the word, “Thou.”

In our modern language Trueblood noted that the writer speaks about God with the word, “He” in verses 1 through 3 and then “You,” beginning in the second half of verse 4 through the end.  Trueblood ends his observation at that point and leaves it to others to make meaning of it. 

So, what then can we come to understand about Trueblood’s observation and its relationship to peace in our life?  I believe it is this.  We are comfortable talking about God when things in our life are going well. When life is good, we are able and comfortable saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.”

It is in times of gracious living that we talk about God and his ample provision for our lives.  We acknowledge in gracious living that because of God we are not in want, we are nourished, we do not thirst, and we can follow his commands with confidence. This is what we find in verses one through three.  When things are good and settled in our life, we have inner peace simply because things are good and settled.  Our relationship with God and our reliance on God is less personal.

Then, amid the gracious living, something happens in our lives. It may be a death, a serious illness, a conflict in the family, at work, or in the political body.  Something dark, undesired, or unsettling occurs in our life and it does not go away.  We begin walking through the valley of shadows and our good and settled life seems to be a memory. 

We are beginning to discover that our sense of inner peace was built on the pleasantry of our circumstances.  Though in the past, others shared the gracious living with us, in the valley of dark thoughts and shadows we feel very much alone.  The valley of conflict, illness, and grief is a lonely place, and we realize that we cannot be circumvented that valley.  We cannot go around the valley, or over it, or under it. The only path available to us in the valley is through it.

I believe it is in this valley that many people lose their sense of inner peace.  The valley is a lonely and difficult place to be.  It is an anxious place where the nights are long and uncertain.  In the valley of shadows, God can seem so far away or may not be felt at all.  When we are in the valley, our thoughts are both disjointed and repetitive.  Over and again, we wonder, “If only I had done this or that, then the outcome would be different.  I would not be here in this valley.”  “Why is this happening to me?”  Then, we begin to ask, “God, are you there?”

Some of you are in that valley even now.  Peace seems elusive.  Rest is difficult.  Confidence is occasional and fleeting.  How then do we acquire peace even amid the valley?

The psalmist gives us some much-needed insight.  Instead of talking about God, the psalmist realized that he must begin talking with God.  The psalmist got personal with God and sought the attributes of God that were most urgently needed.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).  The psalmist realized that fear and anxiousness were consuming his thought and he needed relief.  In talking to God and acknowledging the presence of God, the psalmist began to place trust and reliance in God for his specific and most urgent needs.

The person going through the valley sought to speak directly and personally with God.  In speaking to God, the fear, the anxiousness, and worry about the dangers and uncertainties hidden among the shadows in that valley began to ebb.  Why? Because the sojourner came to realize that God was present even if God could not always be felt.  The fear ebbed because she or he knew that God was equipped and would use his shepherd’s rod, an offensive weapon, to defend him against those dangers.  The staff that led them to the green pastures and quiet waters remained present as a promise that God’s provision of the past and the assurance that provision would not be taken away taken away.

Now we do not know much about shepherds and sheep.  So, how else may we see visual passage?  Perhaps on this day of Father’s Day we might see this passage this way.  Think of the setting of a child who find themselves outside in the dark and a long way from home.  The child begins to make her way, but everything looks different.  There are unfamiliar noises among the shadows. She wonders, “Am I on the right path?” “How much longer before I am home?” The child is afraid and begins running. First in one direction and then another. Suddenly, a figure appears ahead of her. It takes her a moment to realize that it is her father.  She begins talking to him excitedly, explaining all her fears and anxious thoughts about the darkness and that she does not know which is the right path home. Her father says, “Take hold my hand and walk with me.  You do not need to know the way because I do.”  All she needs to do is hold onto her father’s hand.  The fears of dangers, imagined or real, begin to recede from her mind.  She is comforted and the turmoil in her body is replaced by peace.  This is the scene the psalmist wants us to understand. 

 Whether a sojourning psalmist, a child, or an adult in trouble, each comes to realize that faith, true faith, is born in the times of testing and is displayed by holding onto the hand of God and talking to him.

Many people forgo this peace. They are frozen in place by their memories of the green valleys and quiet waters.  Or they are frantically attacking every noise and every shadow to chase away the darkness and dangers therein.  Whether frozen in time or frantic with activity, both soon become exhausted spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  There is no peace.

So, we might think, do our troubles end just because we start walking with God and talking with God? The answer is “No, they do not.”  What we do have though is inner peace amid the troubles of life.

Look at what the psalmist discovered in traveling through the valley of the shadows with God and talking with God. The psalmist wrote, “5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over” (Psalm 23:5).  The psalmist made it clear that he still had enemies in life.  Those enemies may be people, or illness, or painful memories from the past but the psalmist still had trouble.  But the good news is that the one whose hand we hold onto in the valley chooses to bless the psalmist with inner peace and to make his enemies know that he was blessed.

The psalmist described the peace he had in God as the equivalent of having a massive banquet held in our honor with all our enemies having to stand and watch us enjoy that banquet knowing they can have no part of it.

The psalmist then described that feeling of peace as though having had his fill from that banquet, God called the psalmist to stand in front of everyone, especially his enemies, and watch God pour oil on the psalmist’s head as a sign, a symbol, that he was God’s child and that it would be a life of woe to anyone who would touch even one hair on psalmist’s head.

Finally, after the banquet and the adoption ceremony before his enemies, the psalmist described peace as God continually filling to overflowing our cup.  God was giving grace in his life and for all time and in such quantity that he cannot drink it all in.  God was giving the psalmist extravagant grace.

Because of this close and personal relationship with God brought about by talking with God, the psalmist had inner peace even though he walked through the valley of shadows and even though his enemies surrounded him.  We too can have such inner peace.

We can have that peace by beginning to talk with God and by realizing that the grace in the cup from which we can never exhaust comes in the form of the person of Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who took the cup and gave thanks and said to his disciples, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27b-28).  God, through Jesus, makes our cup run over with grace. Through Christ we have forgiveness and peace.

The Apostle Paul saw it this way, “15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-19).

What then might we say as we conclude today?  The key take away is that God wants you and me to be at peace.  There are no exceptions.  Peace is God’s crowning desire.  We can certainly experience God’s peace in the times of tranquility in our life and we talk about God.  But our greatest sense of peace comes not in talking about God.  Instead, our peace comes when we talk with God. 

To make it easier for us to talk to Him, God sent himself to earth in human form as Jesus Christ.  God became real.  Jesus was someone people could see, hear, eat with, and even smell. We can read what Jesus said and we can speak with him but we should not wait to do so until our moments of distress. We should begin talking with God through Jesus now, regardless of our sense or lack of inner peace.

          How do we know Jesus will hear us?  Jesus came as the light of the world not to shine in the places that were already well lit but to shine light into the darkness of the world and say to those who lived in fear, “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

          I want to encourage you to begin this day the habit of talking with God daily, even multiple times per day.  Tell him what is bothering you and ask him to do just one thing, give you peace.  Over and again, pray for the exchange of turmoil for peace. 

I believe if you do this, very soon, you will have a sense that God is holding your hand like a good father, and he will lead you through the valleys of life that dark.  Peace is within reach, not for lack of problems, but because of the presence of God.  Just reach out and talk to him and do not let go of his hand.  Amen.

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