Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Choosing Wisely

As part of the 'sermon catch-up project' I am also going to be posting some of the short 'meditations' that I have been sharing as part of our monthly Shepherd 701 service.  After the meditation there is usually a time to interact with the Word and think about God's leading in our hearts as we 'experience' the Word through various prayer stations.  Obviously you don't have the chance to share in that part with us but I do hope that you hear God speaking in this meditation about Mary and Martha and the priorities we have and so often confuse.  God Bless:

Luke 10:38-42

 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.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Prayer: God, as we have gathered together this night, help us remember and focus on what is important and essential and let the rest fall away.  Help us to fix our eyes, hearts and minds on you and fill us with your Spirit so that we might be led according to your will.  Amen.
I don’t know about you, but the start of the school year is a crazy time for our family. 
There just seems to be more than there is time to do. 
It is a time of year where I particularly identify with Martha. 
Martha who welcomes company into her house – and of course not just any company, but Jesus! – and she expects her sister to help. 
But instead, Mary just sits there and soaks in what Jesus has to say. 
When she can no longer stand it, Martha’s frustration boils over and she asks Jesus to make her sister help her. 
Instead of chastising Mary, Jesus instead explains to Martha (I like to think gently) that Mary has chosen correctly. 
And while it would be easy to simply leave it at that, that Mary got it right and Martha got it wrong.  I don’t think that is what we are supposed to take from this passage. 
Jesus isn’t saying that inaction is better than action; that listening is better than doing.  What Jesus is really trying to do is clarify where our priorities should be. 
Jesus was primarily concerned with relationships.  In this instance, in this culture that placed an incredibly high value on hospitality.  What Jesus was saying is that being with someone and being there for them is of a higher value and is a higher priority that what you do for them. 
Our relationship with God isn’t based on what we give to God or do for God and, although Jesus saving act on the cross is central, our relationship with God is first based on WHO God is.  And who we are able to be because of who God is. 
Everything that we know about God – including his willingness to send Christ to live and die for us – flows out of who he is.  All that we do – all that we are able to do – and all that we can become is in response to who God is.
To get at who God is we must be willing to first sit and the feet of Jesus and listen. 
That is why Mary chose the better thing. 
Jesus is saying that he has to be first. 
Knowing the person of Jesus Christ has to be the highest priority thing that we do.  It has to come first in our lives. 
When we put Jesus first, then that relationship and the person of Jesus Christ can be the only thing.  Because it, because Jesus is enough. 
When we make Jesus the first thing in our lives all that we need to be and everything that we need to do flows naturally out of and from Jesus and our relationship with him through the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sermon Catch-up Project: Soul Print Week 6 (The

Over the Summer I got very lax with the blog and even stopped uploading the messages I gave.  So over the next week or so I will be 'catching up' on the messages that I haven't shared.  I then hope to start blogging again regularly, but we will see.  This first message really should have uploaded a long time ago as it is the sixth and final message in a series based on Mark Batterson's book, 'Soul Print'.  Sorry it took so long for those of you (must be thousands, right?) that have been waiting.

Revelation 2:17 (NIV)
   17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

2 Samuel 7:1-21(NIV)

 1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
 3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”
 4 But that night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying:
 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
 8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders[a] over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
   “‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.’”
 17 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.
 18 Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and he said:
   “Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign LORD, is for a mere human![c]
 20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign LORD. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
Prayer: God, we have gathered together to worship you and to seek you and to know you more.  As we come into your presence, help us see you, but also help us see who you have truly created us to be and who you are calling us to be today and tomorrow.  Guide us by your Spirit to leave a legacy, a legacy shaped by not what we have done but by what you have done through us.  Amen.
Today we finish our series based on the book ‘Soulprint’, working towards understanding who God has uniquely made us to be who we are and searching for the unique call and destiny that God has placed on our lives. Over the last two months we have looked at five pieces that help us get to understanding who God designed us and is calling us to be
First, we are who we are on purpose, for a purpose.  The secondly, to be ourselves we need a Holy Confidence in a God that is Holy, that loves us and that has planned nothing but the best for us.  This Holy confidence is trusting and leaning on God.  Third, we looked back at our lives and the ‘life symbols’ that help remind us that ‘the ultimate objective of every circumstance is to cultivate the character of Christ in us.
Then we talked about integrity and how its directly connected to our destiny.  God is less concerned with what we do than with who we are becoming in the process And God won’t get you where God wants you to go until you become who God wants you to be. 
We also talked about how God can use even the embarrassing moments of our lives to let us know who we are, who we aren’t and what God might be calling us to do.  Then, finally, we looked at sin and how our sins affect our ability to reach how we were called and created to be.  But we were reminded that it is not our mistakes or sins that define who we are but rather the person of Jesus Christ
All of that leads us to today and our final look at the Soulprints God has given each and every one of us.  Each of us has a unique destiny which only we can fulfill and each of us has been given our own combination of gifts, interests and abilities that fit perfectly with that destiny.
When we view our lives properly they are evidence of God’s providence.  But gaining the right perspective on who we are and what we were made for requires not just asking the ‘right’ questions, but also asking the right questions to the right person.
In our passage from 2 Samuel, David is asking the right question, ‘Who am I?’.  David is not only asking the right question, but he is addressing the right person – as the question is asked of God during prayer.  If David would have asked his father this question, he might have said he was simply a shepherd.  His brothers likely saw an delivery boy that brought them their meals on the battlefield.  Saul at first saw him as ‘only a boy’. 
None of these people had the vision for David’s life that God had.  None of them saw who David was designed and destined to become.  Self discovery begins with sitting in the presence of God and asking God – and no one else, not even yourself – to define you
Batterson says: The reason so many of us are strangers to ourselves is because we don’t sit before the Lord.  If you want to discover your destiny, you’ve got to spend time in the presence of God.  There is no alternative.  There is no substitute.  True self-discovery happens only in the presence of God.  It’s only when you seek God that you will find yourself
Let me say that again: It is only when you seek God that you will find yourself.  And if you try to find yourself in anything outside of a relationship with the one that designed and created you, it will lead to a case of mistaken identity.
I am an only child and when Jack was born, I quickly realized that our two boys were very different.  And as different people, with different personalities I began to understand – and am still working to understand – that I needed to interact differently and parent differently with each one of them.  I needed to love each one of them uniquely, because they are unique.  This is how God loves each of us – uniquely, as if there were only ever one of us – precisely because there is only and will only ever be one of us.  God’s love for you is unlike God’s love for anyone else ever.
And if you remember, that is where we began this journey to understand and discover our soulprints - with the fact that God has created us each to be unique, with no one else, ever just like us.  But, this isn’t a testimony to us, it is a testament to the God who created each of us.  
Our uniqueness is a gift from God.  It is also our gift back to God.  And it is our uniqueness that enables us to worship, serve and share about God unlike anyone else.  No one can worship God like you or for you.  And as we have talked about many times, worship isn’t just about what we do during this hour in this place every Sunday morning. 
The best and truest form of worship is becoming the best version of who God has created you to be.  Worship is more than a lifestyle.  Worship is a life.
In the passage we read a few minutes ago from the book of Revelation, we hear described a time when we will hear the Voice of God.  And we will hear God call us by a name that only God knows, a name we have never head, but a name we will know.  A name written on a white stone.  Our true name.  That name, somehow, will encapsulate all that we are and all that we have done. 
All the pain and all the joy.  All the hopes and fears.  Everything.  In that moment all of our lives will click into place and make sense because God will reveal who we really are – as God sees us. 
Our God-given name will capture the essence of who you are and it will include all that we will become in an eternity spent in the presence of God.  In that moment our Soulprint will be given its true name.  Names are an interesting thing.  And names carry meaning.  Names and nicknames, what we choose to call people, reveal thinks about how we view the people we are naming.  Nicknames especially reveal different aspects of people’s personalities.  Nicknames reveal what we see in the people we are naming.
We usually get our nicknames from others, but sometimes we ask to be called something because of how we want to be viewed.  We had this experience when we went for Charlie’s first parent teacher conference this past year.  We discovered that while at school he was asking to be called Charles.  I don’t think either Traci or I had ever called him by his full name. 
Over many discussions for the rest of the year we gathered that he was asking to be called Charles at school – actually just in his classroom – not because he liked it better than Charlie, but because he sensed that it was the more formal or serious name.  Charlie loves school, but he takes it very seriously and he deemed Charles more appropriate than Charlie for his school work.
What we want to be called and what others choose to call us tell us about how we want to be viewed and how others really see us.  Jesus often called people by names that meant something. 
He looked at Simon and saw Peter – the rock that he would build the church on.  He saw James and John as the ‘sons of thunder’ calling out in them the potential buried deep within their personalities. 
Similarly, when God looks at you, he sees the real you.  The you that He created you to become.  And in calling you your true name Jesus is calling us to live into the destinies that we were created for. 
Who are you?  How will you be remembered?  What is your legacy?
Ultimately, our destinies are determined by the choices we make – It is in our actions and our reactions that we live into the name that defines us.  That daunting idea is made wonderful by this fact: In Jesus Christ we are redeemed and made clean.  We are not defined by our bad choices or our mistakes –what we have done wrong.  Instead we are redefined by what Christ has done right. 
When we accept the grace of Christ we are defined by His righteousness, His perfection and His obedience.  That is both our destiny and God’s legacy. 
It is never too late to become who God has called and named you to be. 
Let this be the moment that you begin to live into that name, by entering into the presence of God and asking the question: Who am I? 
Then allow the Holy Spirit of God write the answer on your heart with the life you live. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Unfairness of God

Below is the message I shared at Good Shepherd on Sunday morning.  I hope you are able to hear God speaking to you through it.  One of the texts for the message is embedded in the message (Exodus 16), but I also used Matthew 20:1-16 - The parable of the workers in the vineyard.  That passage can be found here

Our scripture passages this morning are not paired together by accident.  They share a few common themes.  Primary among them is that they both tell stories about complaining to God.  The gospel passage comes in the form of a parable, but like many parables it isn’t that hard to imagine them playing out in real life. 
            In the gospel passage the workers that have been working the longest see that the master has given those that had only worked one hour a full day’s wages.  The long time workers suddenly expect to be paid more than what they had agreed to.  They are disappointed to receive the same wage as all the other workers. 
            The workers go as far as claiming that the master (God) is being unfair!  Of course he is.  But not to them, all the workers got exactly what they were promised, he is a good master.  His unfairness comes from what he promised to the late-coming workers, giving them far more than they deserve. 
            What I think we need to understand about this parable is that none of us are those first workers.  The ones there from the very beginning, the ones that worked all day through – remember these were 1st century workers, not 21st century ones, there was no lunch hour or 15 minute breaks. - Those ‘deserving’ workers had been there from the beginning with the master and had never stopped working during the day. 
            Can any of us really say that we fit into that category with our master and our God?  I know that I can’t.  So we must realize who we really are in this story – one of the undeserving workers (it doesn’t matter which ones) that are undeserving recipients of God’s grace. 
            When we start looking at and coveting the gifts and blessings that others around us receive, we run the risk of forgetting the blessings and gifts – all undeserved – that God has given us.  The reminder from this parable for us this morning is to trust in the master that keeps his promise to all of us and offers us that which we do not deserve, and not to be so caught up in comparing our blessings or our level of ‘deservedness’ to others.
This morning’s other text, Exodus 16:2-15, deals with another problem and another case of God demonstrating his unfairness for our benefit.  The Israelites are not comparing themselves to other people, but instead complaining about the situation they are in as a result of following God.
To get the whole story of the Israelites, I am also going to be reading selections from the rest of the chapter as well as doing a very quick summary of what has happened in the story so far – a sort of ‘previously on . . . .’ . 
            So the story so far: 
Exodus 1:8 tells us that after the Israelites had lived in Egypt for some time in relative peace, "a new king [pharaoh] arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph." That pharaoh oppressed the Israelites, and their cries for help reached the ears of God.
We read in Exodus 2:24-25, "God heard their groanings, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them." God called to Moses from the burning bush and sent him to demand that pharaoh allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
A series of confrontations between Moses and pharaoh, in which God demonstrated his power over the Egyptian gods, culminated in the death of all the Egyptian first-born. Afterward, the Israelites left Egypt and began their journey to the land God had promised to their ancestors (Exodus 6:7-8). 
No sooner had the people left Egypt, however, than they began to grumble against Moses and God. When they reached the shores of the Red Sea and saw that the Egyptian army was pursuing, they cried, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Exodus 14:11). As we talked about last week, God intervened, allowing the Israelites to cross the Sea in safety. Exodus 15:1-21 records the people's joyous celebration of their miraculous deliverance.
Only three days later, the people were thirsty, having found only bitter water and they grumbled again, saying, "What shall we drink?" (Exodus 15:24). God provided fresh water and they continued on their journey. And here is where we pick up our reading for this morning:
1-3 On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, "Why didn't God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You've brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!"
            Did you catch where we are in the time line – the 15th day of the second month.  45 days into their escape from Egypt – even less time removed from their miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  45 days and already the Israelites are drowning in their sorrows.  Less than two months removed from lives of captivity – lives of slavery so harsh and cruel that their children were being killed – and they are already looking back, across the sea to ‘better times’. 
            The Israelites are crying out "If only we had . . ." Words of regret in the present, of fear for the future. "If only . . ." they say again and again.  But just a few short months ago, the Israelites cried out to God in their oppression under pharaoh. God sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead them out of their oppression. God guided them through the first perilous days of their journey to freedom.
God provided water when they felt they could go no further. At every juncture, God was there. According to Exodus 13:21-22, "The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day . . . and in a pillar of fire by night . . . Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."  So, when God hears the people’s grumbling it would be very understandable, or we could say fair, for God to be upset, even angry at the Israelites lack of trust, lack of gratitude and lack of, well faith.  But as we continue the reading listen to how God responds:
4-5 God said to Moses, "I'm going to rain bread down from the skies for you. The people will go out and gather each day's ration. I'm going to test them to see if they'll live according to my Teaching or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they have gathered, it will turn out to be twice as much as their daily ration."
            Instead of greeting their complaints with anger, which would have been the expected and ‘fair’ response, God immediately states that he will continue to provide for every need that the Israelites will have – including the need for food. 
But, God makes clear that there is a catch to this provision.  The catch is played out in two almost contradictory ways: first, the Israelites must only take enough manna for that day – they must not store it or try to ‘stock up’ on it.  Second, on Fridays they must collect and make enough to last through the next day’s Sabbath. 
            You see God was calling them to live by faith, trusting in him to continue to provide for them.  We often tend to think of faith as an noun – it is almost like a possession, faith is something we ‘have’.  But this is not the Hebrew understanding or usage of the word.  For the Israelites faith was a verb, an action, something they did.  And God was calling on them to act and live in faith.  God was calling them to actively trust in his unfair provision for them– to live their faith in him every day. 
And that is why every seventh day God commanded that humans stop, individually and as a community and put aside their daily chore of gathering bread, and marvel at God's care for them. In the wilderness, God forged a relationship with the people that called them to trust God to provide for their every need, not just for today, but for tomorrow as well.  Continuing at v. 6
6-7 Moses and Aaron told the People of Israel, "This evening you will know that it is God who brought you out of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the Glory of God. Yes, he's listened to your complaints against him. You haven't been complaining against us, you know, but against God."   8 Moses said, "Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it's God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven't been complaining to us—you've been complaining to God!"   9 Moses instructed Aaron: "Tell the whole company of Israel: 'Come near to God. He's heard your complaints.'"  10 When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.
            Moses has Aaron tell the people to ‘come near to God’ because from the very beginning what God wants, what God desires from the Israelites and from us is a relationship. The Glory of God that was ever present with them in the wilderness, a cloud in the daylight and a ball of fire at night.  It was a constant visual reminder that God was, quite literally with them. 
 11-12 God spoke to Moses, "I've listened to the complaints of the Israelites. Now tell them: 'At dusk you will eat meat and at dawn you'll eat your fill of bread; and you'll realize that I am God, your God.'"  13-15 That evening quail flew in and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew all over the camp. When the layer of dew had lifted, there on the wilderness ground was a fine flaky something, fine as frost on the ground. The Israelites took one look and said to one another, man-hu (What is it?). They had no idea what it was. 15-16 So Moses told them, "It's the bread God has given you to eat. And these are God's instructions: 'Gather enough for each person, about two quarts per person; gather enough for everyone in your tent.'" 19 Moses said to them, "Don't leave any of it until morning."  20 But they didn't listen to Moses. A few of the men kept back some of it until morning. It got wormy and smelled bad.  31 The Israelites named it manna (What is it?). It looked like coriander seed, whitish. And it tasted like a cracker with honey.   32 Moses said, "This is God's command: 'Keep a two-quart jar of it, an omer, for future generations so they can see the bread that I fed you in the wilderness after I brought you out of Egypt.'"  35 The Israelites ate the manna for forty years until they arrived at the land where they would settle down. They ate manna until they reached the border into Canaan.

The manna found in the desert was a gift to our ancestors in faith and it was a test. The gift was food for the journey; the test was of faith in God's promise of good provisions.
God providing the manna and the quail for the Israelites has always been the most interesting aspect of the story to me I have often wondered if there was any way to explain the miracle. 
Well, I was quickly able to find a well documented natural phenomenon that occurs in the Sinai Peninsula (which, as it turns out is located between Egypt and ancient Israel).  A type of plant lice punctures the fruit of the tamarisk tree and excretes a substance from this juice, a yellowish-white flake or ball.  During the warmth of the day it disintegrates, but it congeals when it is cold.  It has a sweet taste.  Rich in carbohydrates and sugar, it is still gathered today and baked into a kind of bread (called mana).  The food, though, decays very quickly and attracts ants and other insects. 
As for the quail, apparently migratory birds flying in from Africa or blown in from the Mediterranean are fairly common and are often exhausted enough from their flight to be caught easily by hand. 
So, you see.  The Manna and the Quail were not really a response by God to the complaints of the Israelites.  Rather they were part of God’s divine plan – from the very beginning – to care for and provide for the Israelites while they labored in the wilderness of the desert. 
If you begin to take away the (quote, unquote) miraculous aspect of this story – God raining down bread and providing quail out of nowhere – the level of God’s provision actually increases and becomes more profound.  In the setting up of the world, he made allowance to provide for His people as they struggled through the wilderness.  At the beginning of time, during the formation of the world God was thinking of His people.  God was thinking of the Israelites and God was thinking about you and me. 
The kind of God that would do that – set up a naturally occurring source of sustenance for the Israelites from the beginning of time.  That kind of God is not a reactionary God, only stepping into our lives or getting involved at the bleakest moments with a miraculous turn.  No the God that would order the world to provide in this way – our God - is a God that is a presence in our daily lives and a God that desires a connection with us every day. 
God doesn’t go about making a show, he has no interest or need with such things.  Instead all that God does, whether obviously miraculous or seemingly ordinary is done because he loves us and is done with the purpose of showing that love and grace and bringing us into a relationship with God. 
With a God like this – one that is so unfair to our benefit, giving us much more than we deserve - the only question that remains is – why would we doubt, why would we worry?  Why would we ever lack trust in a God that not only knew that his beloved people would be hungry and thirsty in the desert, but a God that also was able to provide the food and water that was needed.
We are blessed to live in a world where we are surrounded by conveniences and products to meet ‘needs’ that we don’t even know we have – but yet we are still plagued by worry and doubt about so much.  We wonder how we will get by in this new, more volatile economy.  We wonder how we will continue to pay all the bills when we pay $4 a gallon for gas and the price of everything seems to be rapidly rising. 
We wonder, and in our wondering we eventually find ourselves in the middle of the wilderness.  A wilderness where we are filled with fear, where we doubt that we will be taken care of or that we will make it through this time of trial. We find ourselves standing in a desert, thirsty with no water in sight and hungry with nothing to eat. 
God invites us into the wilderness and allows us to be there so that we can begin to understand his care for us.  Too often in our world, surrounded by all that ‘we’ have made and that ‘we’ have provided we lose sight of God working in the everyday rhythms and patterns of life.  And we begin to see only ourselves. 
God invites us into the wilderness so that we can experience God’s love, care and providence.  It is only in the wilderness of our lives, where our eyes are opened to the needs that we have, needs that we can’t fulfill on our own.  It is in the wilderness that these needs are clearly separated from the passing ‘wants’ that change by the day and don’t really satisfy. 
And just like it was for the Israelites it is in the wilderness that we can most easily and clearly see and feel God’s presence working in our lives and through all of creation. 
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert slowly learning the lesson of trust in God – They remained in the wilderness until they began to fully trust in God – a whole generation had to pass before that transition could be complete. 
How long are we going to remain in the wilderness of not really trusting on God?  Of wishing for anywhere but where God has placed us?  Of not seeing God working in and through all of creation to care and provide for us?
Manna from God, in whatever form it takes in our daily lives, is God's promise to provide for us; it is God’s promise to give us more than we deserve and be unfair to our benefit; it is up to us to gather the manna during the days it is given and to trust in God that it will be there again tomorrow.  God provides and cares for us always – but often we must go into the wilderness to see it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Talking about forgiveness 10 years after 9/11

 Below is the message I shared on Sunday, which was as you all know was the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  All last week I heard a lot of other pastors wrestling with the fact that the lectionary passages dealt with forgiveness and how difficult that might be.   I found it to be good.  Until Sunday morning when I was getting ready for church and I had the TV on and was watching Pres. Obama read Psalm 46 and I heard the 2 moments of silence (if that makes any sense).  It hit me much more powerfully than I had imagined it would.  Anyway, I really believe forgiveness - our forgiveness of others - is how we most powerfully share God's love with the world.  Anyway, here you go:

Exodus 14:19-31
 19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
 23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[a] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[b] it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
 29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Matthew 18:21-35

 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.[a]
   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[b] 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.
   28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] 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. 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.”
Prayer: God, as we gather together to worship you this day we ask that would open our hearts and our minds so that we might hear and understand your Word for our lives.  We ask your Spirit to work in us to transform first our hearts and then our lives.  Guide us Lord to move from our personal transformation to becoming instruments of transformation for the world around us.  Use us Lord to bring your kingdom near.  Amen.
"Seventy times seven" is a lot of forgiveness. Once is tough enough. Twice, almost unreasonable. "Seventy seven times?" It Almost seems ridiculous, yet that is precisely what Jesus commanded in his dialogue with Simon Peter. Keep on forgiving, he counseled, even when forgiveness seems illogical. For often forgiveness is more of a gift we give ourselves than a favor we bestow on others.
These are interesting and challenging words for us on this particular day – but appropriate words as we look to the start of a new school year and we think about the fresh start each new beginning gives us.  A new beginning that begins with the principal of importance.
Jesus illustrated that principle with the story of a servant who owed the king a fortune. "Ten thousand talents," to be exact—several years, maybe even a lifetimes wages. No way possible he could ever pay up! But his pleading for mercy touched a tender chord in the gracious king, and the servant was forgiven. His account was marked "paid in full."
However, the servant soon met another man who owed him a mere handful of denarii—several days wages. The debtor pleaded for mercy but received a sentence to debtors' prison instead. The king, upon hearing of the first servant's refusal to forgive, rescinded his former offer, and the servant wound up on the locked side of a prison cell "until he would pay his entire debt" (v. 34). His refusal to forgive was his undoing. So it usually goes.
Practicing forgiveness illustrates an awareness of God's love for all of us.  A love that was shown to us without us first ‘deserving it’.  God’s forgiveness represents a fresh start or new beginning for each of us.  When we practice forgiveness in our own lives it allows space for God to cultivate new relationships, fresh starts and the exact new beginning that we need.
We see this evidenced in our scripture lesson from Exodus
The Israelites, through the Spirit of God, were granted a miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  They are God’s chosen people, and they were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh so that they could follow and worship God. 
They were given a new start – not just because – but so that they could live the lives they were created for.  So that they could worship God with all of their lives and they could worship God. 
In order to fully and truly worship God and to really begin their new lives they couldn’t dwell on what had happened to them  - and it took them 40 years of wandering in the desert before they were willing and able – before they were ready to move on and move into the lives that God had saved them for.  That God had created them for. 
In our own lives, we can’t move on from what we are and what has happened to us into the new beginning and the new, transformed lives that God has for us without forgiveness.  This idea – the importance of forgiveness and the connection between the receiving and the giving of forgiveness – is the meaning behind the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matt. 18.
A new life in Christ begins with the forgiveness we have in, through and because of Jesus Christ.     But that forgiveness is only the beginning. 
We can only fully receive the forgiveness of God and only truly be transformed into the new creations God is calling us to be when we begin to share that forgiveness with those in our own lives.
We have to let God’s forgiveness take root in our hearts and lives and flow out of us – even to those, maybe even especially to those that have hurt us the most deeply and those that probably don’t deserve it.
Because If Jesus loves others enough to die for them, perhaps our refusal to forgive them is spiritually inappropriate. 
And the truth of our situation is that we don’t deserve Jesus Christ any more than those people that we are struggling to forgive – but Jesus chose to come and live his life for us and eventually to die for us so that we might spread the love and Kingdom of God – a love none of us deserve to every person and every corner of this world – God’s world. 
This is only possible when we move from looking at the world through the lens of ‘what has happened to us’ or ‘what people have done to us’ and begin to see the world through the lens of Jesus Christ.  So that when we see the world we don’t see the pain we have suffered but the healing and transformation we have received through Jesus. 
Our view and interaction with the world needs to be motivated not by the world’s actions to us, but by Jesus Christ’s action for us!