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The scriptures tell us the following:

Luk 2:1-7 ESV In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. (2) This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. (3) And all went to be registered, each to his own town. (4) And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, (5) to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (6) And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. (7) And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

This birth was foretold in the Older Testament by the prophet Micah: Mic 5:2 ESV But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
We celebrate this birth on the 25th of December each year. This date is disputed by many “scholars” but it has a long history so it will stay on this date, not because it makes any difference but because it is “tradition” and that is more important in some ways today than truth. The real truth however is in the prophecy by Micah. If Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, then the Messiah has not yet been born, and we Christians and Messianic Jewish brethren are living a lie. However Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but even so, that birth would have meant nothing if not for the most important action in all of history short of creation itself. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. He died to pay the price for sin for all mankind, you see God really does love his creation, he set all this in motion and mankind messed it up.

It took a man who lived a completely sinless life, to give his life in order to end the need for men to come to sacrifice animals for temporary forgiveness of their sins. Only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy the penalty for sin, and only our willingness to admit to the truth of our sinfulness, accepting that death in our place and then beginning a new life in Christ. The Apostle Paul gives us a clear message in regard to this.

Rom 10:9-13 ESV because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (11) For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” (12) For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. (13) For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So there is the greatest gift that you could receive on this Christmas and that is salvation and eternal life in the presence of God. All you need do is accept the gift, confess your sin, and confess that Jesus is Lord. It does not matter who you are or where you are from, God is no respecter of persons. All are welcome to come and become a part of the Kingdom, a part of the family of God.

So it is my hope that if you do not yet know Jesus Christ, you will at least investigate what the scriptures have to say about him, and further to come to know him as your savior, Lord and brother.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a future bright in Christ.

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Isaiah 6:1-12, John 3:1-12

I hope you have read the Charley Brown cartoon strip, you know the one with Snoopy sitting on top of the dog house writing his novel. He always starts out with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Sometimes, that’s what it feels like in my life, the sun can be shining and all can be going well. Then I get notice that someone has gone into the hospital, or someone has died and my world becomes dark and stormy. Perhaps you too have felt this way? No matter what is going on around you, deep inside, in your soul it is dark and stormy, you may be smiling and laughing but inside all is turmoil and it feels like a dark and stormy night.

Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night of grief and despair for Isaiah, we read that King Uzziah had died, and Isaiah had gone to the temple, he went to the place where God was said to be so he could lift the darkness of his heart and soul and perhaps find comfort and relief. In the midst of his worship of God, Isaiah has a vision, he is given a glimpse of the throne room of God. The ultimate worship experience, to be allowed that much intimate contact with the divine had to be an awesome, and frightening experience. Seraphim, singing out with voices that shake the very building, “Holy, Holy, Holy” singing the holiness of God, Isaiah, looking upon the glory of God. Beloved, what a sight, what a glorious sight. What would your reaction be to this?

Isaiah, realizing his own sinfulness, and the sinfulness of the people among whom he lives, reacts, “Woe is me” says Isaiah. He has seen the glory of God, and fully expects to be struck down, he is about to die because he is a sinner. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: God instead offers Isaiah mercy and grace. His lips are touched by God’s cleansing fire and the seraph tells him that his sinfulness has been cleansed. That hot coal, straight from God’s fire has touched his lips, no longer are they unclean. In this way Isaiah is shown that repentance and forgiveness have a price, that there is pain and sacrifice involved in this cleansing. He has been touched by God’s cleansing fire, his sins have been burned away.

How does worship affect you? Do you experience God in worship? Do you expect to encounter God in worship?

Isaiah was so overwhelmed with what God had done for him, that he asked God to send him out as God’s ambassador, as emissary for God, to proclaim the message of mercy and grace. He wanted others to experience what he had experienced. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: the word God gives him to speak is not sweetness and light. It is not the “God loves you, live as you want,” that many are preaching today, and as many were preaching then in his day. King Uzziah had died, and already the people had begun to return to the altars and the Asherah poles in the high places, they had begun to bring back the worship of idols and other acts of abomination, just as has happened and is happening today. People begin to think they are their own gods, or they worship gods fashioned in their own image so they can have control.

The message then, was that the people of Israel are not to be healed. In verse 11 Isaiah asks how long must he deliver this message. God answers him: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant. The houses are without a man.” How can you do that, how can you deliver a message of despair, how do you speak the word that God has for you to speak? Especially when it is a hard word, a word that calls for repentance, and even in that repentance, suffering and destruction.

We have to deal with these things today. When you find out your child has come home from school with a report card that has a bunch of “F’s” on it. How do you deal with that? What can you say to a neighbor who has built a building that has a part of it on your land. That has actually happened in the town of Spofford, a house was built that actually was on city property. The previous mayor had given permission, it was a hard thing, but the city closed the street. What can you say to the neighbor who was beaten last night by her husband. What do you tell your friend who drinks too much, and drives home. What do you say or do, when a friend comes to you and says, my spouse has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, will you pray for us? How do you do that? How do you speak a word, knowing that it may not be received?

Truth is, it is much easier to say, “God loves you, God wants you to be happy.” It is not easy to say that judgment is coming, it is not easy to say, “God’s will be done” when you want to shout, no! No more death and destruction. How about the opposite?

How do we speak of God’s goodness and mercy, when children are killing children, when people are walking into schools and churches, and gunning down innocent men and women and children, when churches and synagogues are being destroyed all over the world. When 1.5 million babies are being killed every year in our nation, and when our society also wants to kill those who are old. We may call it assisted suicide, but it is really murder. How can we speak God’s word of love and reconciliation in the midst of hatred and terrorism? How can we stand up and say, no this is wrong, how do we work to stop the killing and destruction of innocent life?

What can we do? First and foremost we must start with a personal relationship with our God. That was Isaiah’s starting point, he came from that personal experience and knowledge of God and of grace. He came to understand his task in the personal presence and power of God.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus as we read today in John’s gospel, Jesus instructed him that he had to be “born again.” Jesus told him, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” We can’t do the spiritual stuff in our own power. When we are born again into that personal relationship with God, we see God for who He is, just as Isaiah did. Unfortunately, we also see ourselves as we are, weak and sinful, just as Isaiah did. George Younce of the Cathedrals, a group that has been disbanded now, and George has gone to be with the saints, sang a song, the song has a line in it that says, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” You and I are just sinners, we have been offered that which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Peter, Paul, Mary and Martha, Luther, and Wesley and Jose and Harry, Mabel and Jane have all been offered. Mercy and grace, are what God offers us, it is through that mercy and that grace that we are empowered to speak the word that God has for us to speak. We realize that we are totally dependent upon His power and not our own.

Gary L. Carver tells this story: “Come and see Donald’s museum, they said. I will never forget the day I first saw it. The ‘museum’ was in a building out behind a very ordinary looking house in Vevay, Indiana. The museum itself was far from ordinary. It would easily take several days to go through it. We saw incredible antiques — fifty or more coffee mills from six inches to four or five feet high. I saw beautiful old music boxes that had been re-created in the hands of Donald King. I saw the lock taken from the prison door at The Bastille.

I saw an indescribable museum of artifacts and Indian arrowheads. Donald worked with wood. He carved a statue of Christ twelve inches high, for which he had refused $5,000. One could literally see light reflected through the wooden robe! He carved a wooden map of the United states that had been used as a pattern for a commercial board game. He had reconstructed a scale model frontier home to the most minute detail. He was an amazing individual because of the things he had made, but even more amazing was Donald King himself. Donald King was three feet tall. He was born with no legs. On one hand he had a nub of a thumb and a nub of a finger. On the other hand he had a complete thumb and two nubs for fingers. Yet this man had accomplished so much. He had composed over 150 poems, all of which he still kept in his head. Some were over 20 minutes in length. A secretary was in the process of transcription for a publication.

Donald King went to school one day in his life. On the first day of the first grade the other children laughed at him so much he never returned. But his education was boundless. He had lectured widely and could speak with clarity on almost any topic. I once asked Donald, “If an ordinary person had accomplished one half of the things you have, he would be considered a genius. How have you done it?” He paused in reflection and stated, ‘I guess that sometimes God likes to brag.’” (Out from the Ordinary, Gary L Carver, Copyright 1995, CSS Publishing).

It is in the power and grace of God that we accomplish the tasks that God has for us to accomplish. In order to be sent out, we must begin with a personal relationship with God, allowing His strength to be shown in our weakness. Then we must proceed from a cleansed heart. Just as Isaiah was cleansed in the fire from the altar, so too must we be cleansed in the blood of the cross. Our heart must be clean, our motives must be God’s motives so that we may speak His word.

Cleansing begins with confession. Isaiah cried, “I am a man of unclean lips.” There is a story told of the Emperor Frederick the Great. The emperor was on a visit to Potsdam prison. In speaking with the prisoners, he heard one after the other protest their innocence, victims of the system they said.
One prisoner however, sat quietly. The Emperor asked him, “And you, sir, who do you blame for your situation? No One,” he replied, “I am guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Surprised, the Emperor shouted for the warden, “Come and get this man out of here before he corrupts all these innocent people.” (James F. Colianni, The Book of Pulpit Humor (Ventnor, NJ, Voicings Publications 1992) p. 28.)

Cleansing begins with confession and proceeds with the awareness that forgiveness is not without cost. When I went to licensing school in 1990, I met a man there who had been a Russian Orthodox Priest. He had escaped from Soviet Union with almost nothing, he spoke of having been shot by the KGB, having awakened in the morgue and escaping from there. He said that he encountered Christ in a vision in which he saw his apartment burned to the ground, Christ appeared to him and lead him from the flames, and told him to send his family away to safety. He said that he was told that he would come through the refiners fire and be made a new creature if he would be willing to follow the word of the Spirit who would testify of himself. My friend said he woke and the apartment was burning, he was able to lead his family through the smoke and flames to safety the same way he had been led. He sent his wife and child to safety in America, with some United Methodist missionaries.

He began preaching what the Spirit of God gave him to preach. He was shot twice by KGB agents, his bishop told him to stop preaching because he would be killed if he did not do so and finally, the KGB came looking for him and he escaped to the American Embassy. He was helped by the same UM missionaries to leave the country, and so he decided to become a UM Pastor in the Texas Conference.

We draw our breath and speak the word that God has for us to speak, because we have a personal relationship with Him. We come to understand that Christ gave His life to give us Life. Our freedom has been bought with a price. We can therefore proceed through life with a grateful heart, a cleansed heart, a humble heart. As we go about our daily lives, we may faithfully speak of God and His word to us, for we have lived that mercy and grace. The word is our own word, it is our story.

Living our story is living our worship, worship becomes a way of life and the experience of God with us becomes our reality. Paul speaks to us of praying without ceasing, that is what he is speaking of. Knowing God is present all the time, in all the situations of our lives, so that we can be in worship with him in all those situations. That is unceasing prayer, that is our ongoing conversation with our God.

E. Carver McGriff tells of going to a worship service at Evanston, IL. He says that he had other things on his mind and was not very attentive to what was going on around him. It was Communion Sunday and he was even contemplating leaving early, hoping he would not be noticed. He came to understand that that was unlikely and so he was examining the walls and looked up to see some wonderful artwork over the altar area and his eyes came to rest on a carving of the face of Jesus. Suddenly, he felt as if the eyes of Jesus were boring deep inside his soul, for a brief moment those eyes held him transfixed. He blinked and everything returned to normal, however, something had happened in that brief moment and he was deeply moved. Holy Communion has become a special time for him, and he has become convinced that Jesus is present in worship, especially in the Communion service.

What is your experience of worship, what do you expect from worship? Is God present, has Christ made His presence felt to you? Have you been called to speak a word and been reluctant to actually speak? God is present beloved, today, here and in all the situations of your life no matter where that may be. Can you speak of your experience, have you experienced Him? Do you know that you too are called to be a witness to the work of God in your life, that you are called to introduce others to Jesus, so they too may experience life in the Spirit? When you go out of Church today, will you offer them Christ?

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. (Jer 18:1-4 NKJV)

Jeremiah and the story of the potter with the clay, a story all of us have heard many times a story that is fascinating to me in what it pictures for us. It also reminds me of the Genesis story of God forming man from the clay of the earth. I have a friend who is a pastor but also a potter, he makes beautiful utensils to use in God’s service.
The picture this week is of a potter making a pot, which pot becomes misshapen and the potter beats it back down and starts over. God says to Jeremiah: Jer 18:5-6 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” Of course, this is again God saying, HEY, what is wrong with you, if you don’t get right then you are going to have to pay the consequences.
I tried making pots, failed at it, but also learned that a potter works with a wheel, the clay sits on a stone and the stone sits on a turntable. As the turntable moves the clay comes into contact with the potters hands. It is in the moving that the potter is able to apply proper pressure to the clay. The pressure of the potters hands is what forms the pot, as the potter envisions it.

In the same way, the turns of life, help God to mold and shape us as we move through the circumstances of living our lives. The pressures of God’s hands against our hearts and minds, help to bring us through tough times and mold us into that person we are meant to be. Of course sometimes we rebel, we push back, or we run away from that which is pushing against us. That is when the pot becomes misshapen and needs to be re-molded and re-shaped so that the pot that we are may again move toward God.
This reading continues on to say: Jer:18:7-10 “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.”
Notice that in this version of the scripture the word that is used for God is relent, not repent. In the King James Version and some modern versions such as the 21st Century version. Some even say that God, will change his mind. Now that is not what the Hebrew says. It does not speak of repenting, nor of changing minds, the Hebrew says that God will “heave a sigh” either of regret or of gladness, depending on the circumstances involved. I think the word that comes closest to what happens here is that God will relent from the action rather than that he will repent of it. God doesn’t need to repent, which means turning around and moving in a new direction.
Humans, sinners that we are, do need repentance in our lives, for as we repent of our sinfulness God is able to work in us to remold us and shape us anew, into the image that we first held. For we were made in the image of God, and it is through this shaping and molding, as on a potters wheel with a potters hand guiding the clay by the pressure he uses on that clay shapes and molds it into the object he envisioned for it. The potter as he works with the clay may come upon a bit of stone that is embedded in the clay, or perhaps an air pocket, which will spoil the work, the potter does not throw it away, he rather begins anew with that pile of clay.
He removes that which spoils the pot, so that he can begin anew to fashion that pot in the way he sees it in his mind. So too does God work in His people to work in us to remove those things in our lives that make us less than what God has envisioned for us. When God had finished his creative work and he looked at all he had made: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” Gen 1:31 ESV.
Back to man, you and me as well as those who Jeremiah was talking to as God gave him the words. Whatever has happened to repentance? I mean, we like to think that Church is about comfort, about fellowship, good stuff that fills us up on Sunday so we can get through the week ahead. That is not what church is all about, it has to do with worship of God, with coming into the presence of the almighty and seeing ourselves as we really are in relation to Him. I often wonder why God bothers with us, we are after all flawed. We live in a flawed world, and as Isaiah said as he encountered God in the temple, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
In other words, woe is me a sinner, I have seen God and I will surely die for having seen. When we come into the presence of God in worship, we realize just how awesome He is, we also realize that we come before Him only because of His grace. Perhaps church should be the place where the pressure of the potters hands would be the most felt, for as we come before the majesty of the Almighty we must also realize that His perfection can be seen, because of Jesus Christ who came to live among us. The very person of God in the form of a man, came to live as we do, and to give his sinless life as an atonement for our sins. Yours and mine, as well as all the other sinners of the world.
Abraham Lincoln a great man and a great president, yet he knew about repentance, he called for a national day of prayer and fasting. Lincoln knew that the North had been complicit in the crime of slavery. In the years before the War between the States, we call it the Civil War, but there is nothing civil about war. Congress had admitted states only in pairs, one slave, one free to keep the balance between the states. In 1854 the Supreme Court gave us the Dred Scott decision, declaring a runaway slave as property, denying personhood to all those trapped in slavery. A horrid war, pitting brother against brother, killing thousands. In the middle of the carnage, Lincoln issued the 1863 proclamation, which was submitted to Congress, and it used the following language: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.” At Thanksgiving he invited the nation to join in celebrating the “gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
Join me in humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Let us today remember that the bounties God has bestowed upon us, are given because of His grace and His mercy, not because we are deserving, or because we have done good things.” Jesus, died, to set men free. Many are still in bondage around the globe, many still suffer, and perhaps it is time that we prostrate ourselves before the Lord our God and implore His mercy. We sing, God bless America, perhaps, if America would turn from our own sinfulness, and began to bless God once again, returning Him to His rightful place in society, we would receive that which we desire, the blessing of God upon our land.

We are also called to stand for right, to stand in the gap, protect the innocent, the widow and orphan, those who are weak and unable to defend themselves. I see what is happening in the Middle East, I see the destruction of places and of people. I see babies murdered, women sold into slavery, men their throats slashed, and I see we do nothing. We do not act to stop the violence against those who cannot act for themselves, instead our nation gives lip service to fighting the enemy. We have become a nation of cowardly people, unable or unwilling to stand for what we know is right and instead we look to others to take care of what is wrong in the world. The truth is, there is no one else to stand for the oppressed, we were a great nation, blessed by God, I believe that if we continue on the path we are on today, that blessing will be removed from our nation. I call upon those who claim to be Christ followers, and yet do not the things of God. Stand up, be counted, follow that which is good and right and holy, act to right the wrongs that are being perpetrated every day, against women, children and old men, the weak of the world. Right the wrongs that are being perpetrated by our own weak and ineffectual government, which refuses to act against the hate in the world, and instead enslaves its own people. Wake up America, we are rapidly becoming a godless people, a people who depend on government instead of our own God-given abilities and rights as a free and sovereign people. Repent of the evil in our own land, and allow God to remake and remold us into the image we once held, the image of God.
He did not just die for you and me, he died for all men and women everywhere and everywhen, we are his people, and he is the potter, working at his wheel to make us over again, to remake us into His image once more, so that we may be as He is. When we come into his presence, it should be with an humble heart, and a repentant spirit, for He is God and that brethren really is the truth of the matter. It is he who has made us, not we ourselves, and he continues to work at us, remolding and reshaping us into that image that caused Him to say “It is very Good.”

As a pastor I have preached many sermons over my years in ministry, I am now retired, but one thing I want to share with the world is that ALL LIVES MATTER. I lived through the riots of the 60’s the killing of John Kennedy, and his brother Robert and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. All of these were horrible things that happened in our society, yet we managed to continue on as a nation. We worked together to heal wounds that many thought would tear us apart. We survived them and we have come a long way from those horrible days, we have worked at becoming a country of one people, no matter our color, our background, we are one people. No matter what else may happen in our world, we must remember that if we are to be a nation, we must be one people, not many groups who happen to live in the same country.

The following sermon I preached in 1997 speaks to the idea that we are not a separate people, we have one story to tell and it asks the question – What is Your Story.

“Bishop Bevel Jones told the following story during a sermon delivered to the 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Andrew Young, former ambassador to the UN, tells a parable about having been visiting South Africa at the invitation of Nelson Mandela. For years Mandela was a leading opponent of apartheid, South Africa’s official policy of racial segregation. In 1964, the white establishment locked him up for life. But, as the legend of Mandela grew, so did the worldwide campaign to set him free. He was released in 1990. When apartheid was abolished, and South Africa held its first democratic elections in the spring of 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president. Thirteen months later, Mandela invited Andrew Young to be his guest when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup Tournament. Now rugby is a white man’s game. The South African team, like most rugby teams, is entirely white. And South Africa is about 80 percent black. So, even though the world championship was being played right there in Johannesburg, there was a deliberate absence of support for the team. As the tournament approached, a heated debate broke out about the South African team symbol — a leaping gazelle called a “springbok.” Most of the white Afrikaners said, “The springbok has been the symbol of every rugby team we’ve ever had.” Most black South Africans said, “Exactly! It reminds us of South Africa’s racist history, and we want it changed.” It was an explosive situation.

Now Nelson Mandela has impeccable political sensibilities. More importantly, he understands the saving power of grace. A few days before the opening game, Mandela visited the South African team. After the visit, he called a press conference. Mandela showed up wearing a rugby jersey and an athletic cap with the team mascot, a springbok, on it. The newspaper and TV reporters were there and recorded it all. Mandela said that until the elections, he and most other black people in South Africa had always supported whoever was playing against the Springboks. “But regardless of the past,” he said, “these are our boys now. They may all be white, but they’re our boys, and we must get behind them and support them in this tournament.”
The next day, the Springboks’ coach sent word for his players not to show up in their practice gear. He told them to wear their suits and ties. He took them out to Robben Island, to the prison where Nelson Mandela had spent nearly three decades of his life behind bars. The coach and every player on the team walked into Mandela’s cell.
As they stood there, the coach said, “This is the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. He was kept here for 27 years by the racist policies of our government. We Afrikaners tolerated his imprisonment for all those years, and yet he has backed us publicly. We can’t let him down.”
The tournament opened, and the Springboks played above their heads. To everyone’s surprise, they won their first game. In fact, they made it into the final game against New Zealand, a perennial power in rugby. It was like Slippery Rock playing Notre Dame. And yet, at the end of regulation, the game was tied.
President Mandela was in the stands, wearing a Springbok jersey. During the timeout he brought a South African children’s choir out of the stands. They sang an old African miners’ song which to them is sort of like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was to the slaves in this country. Within minutes, 65,000 people in the stadium were standing and singing this black African miners’ song. Andrew Young said, “I don’t know anything about rugby, and I don’t understand the words of the song, but I was in tears.”
When the Springboks took the field, they were unstoppable. They won the World Rugby Championship. And for the next 24 hours, whites danced with blacks in the streets of South Africa. One of the most divided nations on the planet was united by something some people consider insignificant — a rugby match. But God used it ot help heal a nation.”

Have you ever tried to retell at story?
A story that had rocked you with laughter or some other emotion, and seen it fall flat. We’ve come up with some standard comebacks for this of course, comebacks we use to cover ourselves and our embarrasement:
“I guess you just had to be there.”
“It loses something in translation.”
“You just don’t get it.”

Storytelling, whether funny story or drama, is what you could call an unrepeatable art form. The variety of people listening, the inflections in your voice, the mood of the day, the color of the sky — these all combine to create a one time only atmosphere for the words you speak. A story may bring a tear or a smile at one telling, and yet, the very next audience experiences the same words in a completely different way.

Jesus chose to speak in parables:
That’s what Mark’s gospel tells us. There are those who say that this is annoying, and maybe a little dishonest. Why didn’t he just come out and say what he meant? Why leave behind all these cryptic sayings, loaded with innuendo, instead of a crisp code of laws or a stack of really good essays or books, with titles like: “How to be a Good disciple”, A Brief Definition of the Kingdom of God,” or “Seven Key Features of the Coming Kingdom and What This Means to You.”

But no. Instead we have this cross-eyed, cryptic, incomplete, awkward, and at times seemingly absurd collection of sayings known as Jesus’ parables.

A list of rules never changes:
Rules don’t adapt well to changing situations. Written essays are like insects encased in amber — beautiful and precisely formed, but no longer vital and alive. It takes the fluid format of a story, a tale that can never be told in precisely the same way again, to keep breathing new life into the Good News.

If you really like rules:
Try reading again the book of Leviticus or maybe the first few chapters of Numbers. When is the last time you really enjoyed reading this?

The parables, the stories that Jesus told tend to grab us they seem to entice us into the world that Jesus was talking about. Without that flow, even the Word of God can become a hard read.

By preaching in parables:
Jesus let each listener make the Good News his or her own story. As we become swept up in the story, we too become a part of a new parable — the parable of our own lives. Taking it all together, our individual experiences of the kingdom, our personal stories of God’s work and witness in our lives, end up creating a new gospel. We all know the gospel of Matthew, and of Mark, of Luke and John. the church has almost 2,000 years of those books to celebrate and to read over and again. Those are the faith stories that have brought all of us to a greater vision of Jesus.

Along with those gospels:
There are other faith stories that we have to share with each other, I don’t know that we can call them gospels, but they are an extension of what the gospel has done in the hearts and lives of those who came after. We hear the parables, the stories of Augustin, of Martin Luther, Thomas Merton, John Wesley and these too are a part of the vital tradition because they too speak of the power of the gospel. These are parables for us to read too. Then there are these other gospel parables that some of us will know and others will not, the gospel of Grandma, or Aunt Mary, or my friend Joseph, or maybe the story of that kid at camp, I don’t remember his name, but it was a good time.

You and I are in the process:
The process of writing our own gospel portions, our own parables, our own stories of our encounters with God, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. As we live it, we also write our gospel chapters, that is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Stories are what connects us together as human beings, they connect us as families to our past, to the world around us and to one another in the church and in our daily lives.
It is the parable, the story, that allows us all to experience the gospel fully for ourselves. What chapter did you add to your gospel story this week? How does it witness to the power of the gospel in your life?
Perhaps you added:
“The parable of the Crabby Boss and the Christian Coworker?”
“The Parable of the Kids Who won’t clean up their rooms and the Mother who is threatening to Ground them for life.”
How about “The Flat Tire and the new clothes?”
“The Parable of the Parents Who Don’t Have a Clue.”
“The Parable of the Empty Cupboard and the Overflowing ‘Bills To Pay’ Slot.”
Of course these don’t seem to be parables or gospel stories while they are what you are living through, but they stand the test of time. Later as we look at the happenings of our lives, we see the kingdom showing through, we realize the truth of God’s presence in all of this.

What do we do then with this gospel power, the wonderful gospel stories of our lives and those who came before us. We have those stories that we all know, the gospels that we celebrate each week, and we have the stories that are our own experience of the gospel. Monday is tomorrow, the world is sorely in need of the gospel, you carry it with you. Karin Bacon of Houston TX says: “We can’t preach the Good News and then be the bad news.” Disciples are the Good News. Let the others you meet read the Good News in you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.”

So what is your story? Slavery was ended by the War between the States, it took many years to end the vestiges of that horror, but end it we did. I hate that today, we are for some reason returning to the hatreds of those days and to the death and destruction that was seen then and again today. We as a society need to wake up and realize who we are and the greatness we can achieve together. I hope all of us can begin again to walk the path of life together.  It is what God has for us to do, whether you believe in Him or not, it is still our best and brightest hope in for our nation to survive and become great once again.

Heb 12:1 NKJV Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
I have witnessed and even (when much younger) was a participant in foot races. I note that when one runs a marathon it would be nice to be able to carry at least a couple of energy bars and maybe a couple of bottles of water. However the extra weight would act against the runner, not to mention the slapping of the pack on your back or legs. Likewise, when we run the race of life things that we hold dear as men and women, can weigh us down and make it difficult for us to live Christ like lives.

Well in Hebrews 11 we learn about a whole lot of folks who also ran the race of faith, and we are told that they are the ones we are to look at when we run that race. That although we are to keep our eyes on our Lord, Jesus Christ as he tells us in verse 2, we also need to remember the history as put forth by these heroes of the faith. The truth is that we have even more people than those to look to, we also have 2,000 + years of men and women to look to and to study. The life of faith is not a sprint, it is a marathon and one that takes a lot of perseverance and faith. These are the folks that are the model for us to follow, for they gave all that they were to further the Kingdom of God.
You know that every Memorial Day, and Veterans Day we remember those who have been the heroes of our nation, many of whom gave their lives to insure our freedom. This list in Hebrews is the same kind of list of heroes, only these are the ones who set up the Kingdom that Jesus became the final hero of.
Let us therefore look to this list of ancient heroes, as well as to Jesus for our example, our model, of living the Christian life. Our history, the history of the Church is replete with those who were willing to give up their lives to serve the Lord. We don’t have a lot of stories of those who came after the Apostles, but we do have some. There is the story of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was offered release if he would renounce Christ. His reply to the Proconsul was: “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?” At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred. This was in the persecution under Marcus Aurelius sometime after AD 161 when he became emperor.
The next set of persecutions were: The persecutions now extending to Africa, many were martyred in that quarter of the globe; the most particular of whom we shall mention. Perpetua, a married lady, of about twenty-two years. Those who suffered with her were, Felicitas, a married lady, big with child at the time of her being apprehended, and Revocatus, catechumen of Carthage, and a slave. The names of the other prisoners, destined to suffer upon this occasion, were Saturninus, Secundulus, and Satur.
On the day appointed for their execution, they were led to the amphitheater. Satur, Saturninus, and Revocatus were ordered to run the gauntlet between the hunters, or such as had the care of the wild beasts. The hunters being drawn up in two ranks, they ran between, and were severely lashed as they passed. Felicitas and Perpetua were stripped, in order to be thrown to a mad bull, which made his first attack upon Perpetua, and stunned her; he then darted at Felicitas, and gored her dreadfully; but not killing them, the executioner did that office with a sword. Revocatus and Satur were destroyed by wild beasts; Saturninus was beheaded; and Secundulus died in prison. These executions were in 205, on the eighth day of March.
These are all recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs along with many other horrors. During the reign of King Henry the 8th in England there were some persecutions by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland: The archbishop of St. Andrews (who was a rigid papist) learning of Mr. Hamilton’s proceedings, caused him to be seized, and being brought before him, after a short examination relative to his religious principles, he committed him a prisoner to the castle, at the same time ordering him to be confined in the most loathsome part of the prison.
The next morning Mr. Hamilton was brought before the bishop, and several others, for examination, when the principal articles exhibited against him were, his publicly disapproving of pilgrimages, purgatory, prayers to saints, for the dead, etc.

These articles Mr. Hamilton acknowledged to be true, in consequence of which he was immediately condemned to be burnt; and that his condemnation might have the greater authority, they caused it to be subscribed by all those of any note who were present, and to make the number as considerable as possible, even admitted the subscription of boys who were sons of the nobility.
Today of course we are glad to be able to come together to worship freely, however, others are not so fortunate. In Canada Pastors have been arrested and tried and then put in prison for reading verses which talk against sexual immorality, such as homosexuality. In China pastors have been imprisoned because they did not adhere to the official state church. Not only imprisoned but beaten and tortured for years at a time. Some have not survived, but the House Church movement continues to grow in the face of this persecution. In the Middle Eastern Muslim countries you can be tried and executed for talking about Christ, even in the privacy of your own home. If you are a Muslim and convert to Christianity, you may be killed by anyone who finds out.
This is the history of the Christian Church in the world. I say this because we are told to run the race, Heb 12:2 NKJV “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Now if this can happen to Jesus, and to so many others down through the ages, do you really think that you can escape persecution? You can’t, so it now comes up that perhaps you may not want to run this race. Let’s face it, heroes are supposed to win all the time, maybe get banged up a little but they are supposed to win.
Here we see that death can very well be the fate of anyone who stands for the Kingdom of God. At the very least prison and torture may be the fate of some. Remember that even the apostle Paul was beaten, thrown in jail and beheaded in Rome. Real heroes are willing to even die rather than deny Jesus Christ as Lord. Brethren, a time is coming, when we may find ourselves in a real pickle, that if we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, it could get us jail time or even torture and death.
Heroes and Heroines of the faith should be an inspiration to we who are their legacy. They should be the historical model that we follow, no matter the trials or tribulations that may ensue. We know that sometimes people will ridicule and laugh at us for loving God and working for the coming Kingdom, but there are much worse things than laughter and ridicule. One of them is that we have an opportunity to stand for something greater than ourselves, and it may mean the difference in the life of someone else. A difference between life in the presence of God for eternity or in Hell divorced from glory for eternity. Which one would you like to have a part in having happen?
Hebrews says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all those who have gone before, are now with Christ, awaiting the great and glorious day of the Lord. You and I are standing before God today, and He sees us as who we are in Christ. Not as sinners, but as saved and covered in righteousness by the blood of Christ. As Romans 6:4-7 says: “ Rom 6:4-7 NKJV Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
(5) For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, (6) knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (7) For he who has died has been freed from sin.”

The heroes of the past were heroes because they kept their eyes on God, their hearts were given over to Him. Those of us today who claim the name of Christ, can either keep our eyes on the prize of eternal life with Him or we can run and hide. We have been tasked with the same task that all those who came before us were tasked with, further the Kingdom of God. Introduce Christ to all that you meet. Knowing that some will accept Him as Lord and Savior, but more will probably walk in the same darkness that has been theirs for their entire lives. We can pray that things will change, but, we know that there are many who will not accept salvation, simply because they don’t think they need it. We have to keep trying even if it means ridicule and even persecution. On the 25th of September, there will be a whole bunch of kids meeting at the flag pole on School Grounds, will you support them, or leave them to whatever happens.

 

Rom 6:12-23 NKJV ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  (13)  And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  (14)  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  (15)  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!  (16)  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?  (17)  But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  (18)  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  (19)  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.  (20)  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  (21)  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.  (23)  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul today challenges those who claim the name of Christ, to Holy Living. He says that we must make Holy Choices as we go through our daily living. He says that you don’t want to allow sin to have dominion over your mortal bodies, do not sin just because you are no longer under law but under grace.

Through baptism we have been freed from sin and are now servants of righteousness. Paul also says that following God yields eternal benefits, at the end of our journey is total sanctification and eternal life with God and our fellow believers. Paul ends by telling us that sin pays a wage, that wage is eternal death eternity in the darkness away from the light of God, better known as Hell, but that salvation comes to us as a free gift, through Jesus Christ.

Paul here talks of slavery, slavery to sin which means we obey sin as our master and live sinful lives. We have given our minds and hearts to sin. Yet here is the truth of life, it is that we have been freed from slavery to sin, we no longer live enthralled by sin. Know that Jesus by his death and resurrection has defeated death and has freed us from sin which leads to death, instead we are now free to live Holy lives. Of course we still live in our mortal bodies which are subject to temptation and therefore we cling to the cross and to the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for our sins. In baptism we died to sin in likeness to the death of Christ, and were raised from death to new life.

Living that life is a choice we must make daily. There is a story told of a man who says to God, “Lord, I have not sinned today, I have not done anything that would bring shame to your name, I thank you that this is the case, but now Lord, I pray you will be with me this day, as I leave my bed to begin to live in the world today, help me to remain without sin.”

That is a story, but it illustrates the need for us to realize just who we are and of course that we are mortal, subject to sin because there is much sinfulness around us. So, we need to start our day in conversation with our God, acknowledging His sovereignty over us, and that we are in need of His guidance as we move through our day. Secondly, as Christian people we are to offer ourselves to God as available to be instruments to His will for our lives.

I know that some folks who call themselves Christians also say that they are allowed to do what they want, the scriptures say that they are no longer under the law, but, are under grace. If they sin they can go to God and ask forgiveness for that sin that they enjoyed doing and because of grace they will be forgiven. The problem with that is we are not under the law, but the law is still there to identify that which is sin for us.

What we have here is that we are free from sin, but, by the same token we are to become willing servants of righteousness. In order to embrace that liberty that is ours by faith in Christ, we must also surrender ourselves to the righteousness of God, we cannot neglect the surrender part so that we can continue to sin. If we do then we are in essence saying to God that we appreciate the freedom of liberty, but, we don’t want to be tied to righteousness either, we want to be our own god. That is the consignment of ourselves to an eternity in Hell. An eternity in the outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. In other words, an eternity divorced from God and his righteousness.

One truth that we seem to forget at times, the devil has no ammunition except what we give him. In other words, the temptations that are thrown at us are just that, they have no power over us unless we allow it.

Paul tells the Roman church, “No longer present yourselves.” In other words don’t allow your personality to be tainted by sin, don’t succumb to lust in your flesh and don’t allow your mind to become corrupted by your position or power. We have seen Governors, and Representatives brought low by their inability to perform their duties properly because of what they had become when they began to lust after others. It almost brought down a presidency, and that is a difficult thing to contemplate, but lust is powerful.

In place of giving yourselves to sin, Paul says we are to present ourselves to God. Present ourselves as willing instruments to live holy lives so that those we once were sinners with, will see that we have indeed changed we no longer live life as we once did, we are free from that life. We are now people who have a new way of living and a new way of dealing with life. Lust and anger and pride are no longer a part of our lives, we instead practice a different way humility is our cloak, grace our conversation and love for neighbor our walk. God is our sovereign we no longer walk in the shadow of false gods, nor are we walking with the emotions and distractions of the false gods of the world. We walk instead as citizens of heaven, we walk in the knowledge of Christ Jesus, and the free gift of eternal life through His sacrifice for us at Calvary.

Paul speaks of slavery, in our day and age that word has connotations that we don’t very much want to have to think about, yet, it is true that whatever way we decide to follow, that way is our master. We were enslaved to sin and now we are slaves to righteousness. We were at one time willing followers of sin, and are now willing followers of life. In essence, we have changed masters. One thing is for sure, there is no middle ground. We follow the Sovereign of the Universe. He is our Lord, and our Savior.

Paul then speaks of the advantage that is ours, first though he speaks about sin and what advantage we receive from sin. For many who get deep into sin they reap only shame and guilt, for even those of us who only venture into a little sin, there is still that guilty feeling. That worry that someone will find out and expose our sinfulness. We see it happen on a larger scale of course with politicians, and teachers who are caught in sexual sins, but also those who steal from their employers, just a few years ago it happened in our County, for just a few thousand dollars. Sin does not pay a very good wage. That is what Paul says in verse 23. For the wages of sin are death, that death is eternal, but it is not sleeping it is living in HELL, .

Paul does not let up in this message, he continues to hammer away. Even the thought that many of us have, “I wonder if that is really fun?” “I wonder if I can just buy one lottery ticket?” He assaults these thoughts and behaviors. He worries us and shakes us up You are Christians he says. Sin no longer has control over your lives, sin no longer reigns supreme as it once did. You say you follow Christ, yet you continue in sin. Stop excusing lapses in living holy lives by saying it’s OK we are under grace. You say you are Christians, if you truly are, then you belong to Christ, so act like it!

The wages of sin may be death, but the FREE GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Sovereign, our Lord. Let people see your love of God in all that you do, for then they will say, “wow, you sure have changed.”

 

 

In today’s reading from John 1:1-18 NKJV  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (2)  He was in the beginning with God.  (3)  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  (4)  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (5)  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (6)  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  (7)  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  (8)  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  (9)  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  (10)  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  (11)  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  (12)  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  (13)  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (14)  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (15)  John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”  (16)  And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  (17)  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (18)  No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

We hear “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” In Genesis 1:3 we read: “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God said and the creation was. That is how the Bible shows us God, it is the way in which God reveals Himself to us, and it is the way in which we see that God keeps His word.

So many of us, want some kind of proof of God’s being, of God caring, yet that evidence is all around us and we don’t see it. There are schools of thought that want us to believe that God created the world and everything in it and then left it to its own devices, but scripture tells us that God acted throughout history. When God first created the world, He also created a man and a woman, in His own image they were created. We read this in the first chapter of Genesis, where God says: “Let us make man in our image…..male and female created He them.” He then goes on to put them in the garden to till it and to care for it. However there is more to it than that, God also was the one who came and walked with them in the garden in the cool of the evening. God did not create man and woman to be robots but to be God’s own companions. Why would God create a companion and then go off to someplace else and abandon His companion?

Later, when they sinned and God banished them from the garden, He was still around. When Cain killed his brother, God was there to judge the actions, and to mitigate the punishment. When man became so depraved that God grew weary of him and his activity, He also acted to save a remnant through Noah and his family. Is that a God who has forgotten about His creation? Again we find God calling Abram to come out of Ur and go to a land he was not familiar with, then walking with Abraham and talking with him in a personal way. We find that God came and ate a meal with Abraham and even that Abraham had a conversation where he was able to speak to God as you and I would to one another. Remember the conversation? “God would you destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people, or 40 or 10?” God spoke to Abraham as to a friend, as to a companion, as to one He loved. God came and wrestled with Jacob and called him Israel, that is one of those great stories in the Old Testament, God comes down to wrestle with His people, to talk with them and to help them to understand.

The Bible is full of these wonderful stories, stories that help us to understand God and that help us to see how the people of God have changed their own understanding of God through the centuries, reading today in Jeremiah 31:7-14 we find a wonderful example of God’s working with His people. In verses 10-14 we read:

Jeremiah 31:10 through Jeremiah 31:14 (NLT)

10″Listen to this message from the LORD, you nations of the world; proclaim it in distant coastlands: The LORD, who scattered his people, will gather them together and watch over them as a shepherd does his flock. 11 For the LORD has redeemed Israel from those too strong for them. 12 They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem. They will be radiant because of the many gifts the LORD has given them—the good crops of wheat, wine, and oil, and the healthy flocks and herds. Their life will be like a watered garden, and all their sorrows will be gone. 13 The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing. 14 I will supply the priests with an abundance of offerings. I will satisfy my people with my bounty. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

God did just that, He brought His people back from their captivity to again inhabit the land. Yet God’s people just as quickly forget that they are God’s people and sink, over and over again into apostasy. Not only the Jews of ancient times but you and I today. We forget that God is sovereign, that God is present, we don’t really want God to be present, except when it comes time to collect on the promises. Yes we want the goodies but we don’t want the responsibility of being a people set apart for a good work. We like to accept the gift of God, the life of His Son as our redeemer, but, since Jesus has already done the work we want to just rest on that, and go on and do as we please with no repercussions. It didn’t work for the people of Israel, it will not work for you and I.

The truth is that we look back at what God has done in the past for His people, Israel, and we think we are better than they are, that because Jesus died on the cross, all persons will be saved, all will be OK. We expect God to have infinite mercy without Justice, but that has never been so, and will not be so today either. God requires of those who would follow Him to do Justice as well as Mercy. For He is a Just God as well as a merciful one.

Just as God looked for the people of Israel to be changed into new persons, just as He looked for them to be holy, and to do justice to one another and to those who lived in the land, so to does He expect us to be holy and righteous. We read in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus that God has adopted us into His family in Christ, that we have a purpose and that purpose is to praise God and to be His people. All of the gospel centers around our being God’s people, set apart for good works, and for holy living.

God tells us that we are His, because of the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ, and that we are to be a holy people, set apart, not to be a people of the society around us, but rather we are to influence that society so that it will be changed as well. We who have received the Spirit of God and have been transformed into the image of Christ, are also the recipients of eternal life in the presence of God, through that same Jesus Christ. We have received the gifts of the Spirit as we are told by Paul, and those gifts help us to live in a way that sets us apart and helps us to bring the gospel to those around us.

In remembering that past, and in looking forward to that future where we will be in the presence of our savior always, we will today renew our covenant with God and with one another, simply because we need to remind ourselves and each other who it is we are. We have taken on a name, we have taken on a task, and we have said that we will be the people of God. After we renew that covenant we will also partake of the communion meal, and have a time of fellowship together with one another, a time for us to renew ourselves and to remind each other that we are family, we have been adopted into the family of God and as such are brothers and sisters together in this journey toward the promised land.

Let us come together today, as we renew our covenant with one another and with God, and as we participate in the Eucharist understanding that we are moving toward a bright and beautiful future, because God has acted, is acting and will continue to act in the lives of His people. We are striving for perfection, perfection in love that we might perfectly reflect the love of Christ in our lives and for those around us. Let your light shine beloved that the world around you may come to know that Jesus Christ is alive and well right here where you are.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Isn’t it amazing, that the first folks to hear that God had come into the world, were not the religious leader, not the politicians, nor the lawyers, no, it was to simple folks, working at their job. The shepherds in the hills overlooking Bethlehem, working at their everyday jobs, they were the ones who received the great glad tidings.

Luk 2:9-14 ESV And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. (10) And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (12) And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, (14) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Here is all of theology (talk about God) all wrapped up in one very short but very important piece of information, the shepherds are told that a savior has been born, the savior is Christ the anointed one of God, and finally that he is the Lord, God incarnate.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to see this angel, the glory of the Lord shining forth, it says they were filled with fear, I can understand that part. Just think though, the angel tells them not to fear, and then delivers the message that the Messiah has been born, not that he is coming on a war-horse with the army of God behind him, but rather, he is lying in a manger, wrapped in cloth, a baby in a manger. Then the multitude of the heavenly host, the angelic choir singing the song we know as “Gloria in Excelcis Deo”, Glory to God.

When the angels are done delivering the good news, the shepherds head to Bethlehem to see this wonder for themselves. They have been given the identity of the Savior, and where they can find him and how they will recognize him. So they go to see this wonder that has been told to them. Notice in the story that the shepherds, upon finding the Savior/Baby just as they had been told, proceed to tell those who are there, we are not told who that is of course, we don’t need to know but those who are there receive the good news that the angels had delivered first to the shepherds.

Luk 2:17-19 ESV And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (18) And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. (19) But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Mary did you know? That is a song that has been sung by many gospel singers over the past few years, my favorite though is Mark Lowery, one of the writers of the song. Mary knew, because she had been told who this baby was by Gabriel a messenger of God nine months before the birth, she knew because her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist also told her. So she takes the message of the shepherds to heart, to meditate upon them as she all the other messages she has received. I am sure that the others in the room, except of course Joseph, were very surprised as what the shepherds revealed to them in the telling of the tale of angels, and a great heavenly chorus.

Now of course comes the best part of the story, at least for me it is the best part. You see, those normal, everyday working class folks did what so many of our “Church” people don’t do, they told the story abroad:

Luk 2:20 ESV And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. You have to wonder what other folks thought about these strange shepherds, praising and giving glory to God, what a wonder that must have been. What a beautiful story this is that Luke has written for all of us to hear and to pass on to others. This is not the story of Jolly old St. Nick, the story of reindeer flying, no it is the story of God, coming in the form of a defenseless baby. Not born to royalty, but to two ordinary people, Mary the Theotokos, (Mother of God) and Joseph his step-father, the man who God chose to bring him up in the knowledge of  life as a carpenter. Simple everyday people, folks who deal with life as it comes knowing that there are good times and there are hard times, but also knowing love. Love between themselves as husband and wife, and the Love of God in their lives as well.

So this is the story of Christmas, celebrated all over the world as a time of gift giving and receiving, a time when retailers, hope to make the profits they need to go into the new year coming up. NO this is the true story of Christmas, when God gave the gift of himself to all mankind, that all who will believe shall know eternal life in His presence, shall know the presence of the Holy Spirit of God in their lives always, guiding and helping them to be the men and women that God has for them to be. Sacrificial love, that is God’s gift to you and me, and it should be our gift to all we meet, especially our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Take time to do as the shepherds did, give God the glory, thank Him for all he is doing and has done in your life. If you don’t know Him, that take the message of the shepherds and come to meet Him, not as that Baby, but as the risen Lord of Lords and King of Kings. The human face of God almighty, Jesus the Christ of God, who will be coming back again some day.

May your Christmas (Christ Mass), be truly blessed. Amen.

 

 

 

Heb 4:12-16 NKJV For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (13) And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (14) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
In the Roman military there were many weapons, long sword, pike, spear, and short sword. Of those the most dangerous was the short sword, it was a two-edged sword so that the soldier using it could stab or cut from either side. If his stab was successful, then he could move that sword left and right and tear his opponent apart. The writer of Hebrews had this in mind when this passage was written. I remember very clearly attending a Church service at New Dorp Baptist Church in New Dorp town, Staten Island NY in November 1974. The pastor preached a sermon that deeply touched my soul, as he read the scriptures that night, the Spirit convicted me of my sinfulness. When the invitation was given at the close of the service, I walked down the aisle to the altar. Up until that night I was sure I was a Christian, that night however, I realized that I called myself a Christian, but I had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and had not been saved. My life changed in 1974, I became that year a convicted soul, knowing my own sinfulness and knowing too that I had been saved by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ.
The gospel cut through all my excuses, all my holy stuff that was just fluff. I had grown up in the church, I was a member of the Moravian Church, had gone through all the training and joined the church when I was 14 years old. Knew all the rituals, served as an acolyte, even served as an usher. Then in 1962 I joined the U. S. Army and in three years learned how to drink, gamble, and other things. I had effectively left the faith, I still called myself a christian, but I was not a follower of Christ any longer. Satan had lured me away with various tricks that convinced me that it was more fun to be a nominal christian than to be a disciple of Christ.
Then that gospel message, cut through all the junk that I had built up over those years, convicted me of my sin and brought me to my knees at that altar. Like the two-edged sword of old, it chopped up my carefully constructed tower of lies and shone God’s light into my very soul. That is what the writer is talking about here, it is indeed a discerner of our true thoughts and deeds. It is alive, and it winnows its way into your very soul. In the word, God discerns who we are and what our true self really has become, and through the word, we are transformed into the image of Christ. Matthew Henry writes: “Those sinful habits that have become as it were natural to the soul, and rooted deeply in it, and become in a manner one with it, are separated and cut off by this sword. It cuts off ignorance from the understanding, rebellion from the will, and enmity from the mind, which, when carnal, is enmity itself against God.”
Verse 13 reminds us that there is nothing, that can be hidden from God. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” One of the truths of this is that the writer than goes on to state that Christ is our great high priest, aware of our own humanity.
It is Christ as the High Priest who dissects our sacrifice, as the High Priest of the Temple would cut open the animal sacrifice right to very spine to ensure that it was clean on the inside as it looked to be on the outside. So too does the Lord look deep into our hearts and minds and by that sword of the word, discerns what is our true state of being in this world. Just as one day we will stand before Him in truth at the judgment seat, to be judged then as to our true state for eternity. Will our name be found in the book of life, or will be sent to the nether regions, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Are we true disciples or just faking it to get by thinking that God will not notice.
I am reminded of the story Ananias and Sapphira, they held some land and sold it and brought it to the church, Ananias gave the money to Peter and told him that this was the proceeds of the sale of the property, Peter asked simply, “why do you lie to the Holy Spirit?” Ananias died on the spot. Sapphira then comes to see Peter and he asks her the money that Ananias gave me was it the full sale price? She answers yes, Peter tells her that her husband said the same thing and look the men who carried him out to bury him are here now and will carry you out as well. She too died immediately and they buried her next to her husband.This story can be found in Acts 5.
As we read in Verse 15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. He knows our human frailty.
Let us understand this High Priest, He is God, yet is called the Son of God, because He is the human face of God, the face that we can look upon without losing our life. He is the great High Priest because unlike the human high priest who entered into the Holy of Holies once a year.
Christ has entered into the heavenly realm and sits in the judgment seat on the right hand of the Throne of God. He performed on part of His high priestly duties on earth, by giving Himself as the eternal last sacrifice for all humankind. Once for all, thereby entering into the heavenly realms in His true glory to intercede for His people, send the Spirit to prepare a place for each of those who are his brethren and presenting our offerings before the throne of grace, where the Father receives them and blesses them to His service.
Yet, even though He is God, He is also disposed to us as one who lived among us, he has compassion upon us, intercedes for us before God. He was tempted by Satan, and was found to have no sin, not mark of any kind for the Devil to attach himself to. As a sinless man, He dealt with all the sins that we deal with yet without giving Himself over to them. He was sorely tried before men, and before heaven, yet sinned not, nor did He do violence to those who misused Him. Even to forgiving them for what they did to Him in their ignorance.
That is our High Priest and the writer then goes on to say that we are to hold fast to our confession. That we are to know without any doubt that our Lord and Savior is indeed that High Priest who has reserved for us a place in the Kingdom of God. That our confessing Him as our Lord and Savior is our pass into the presence of His majesty.
Finally, that as we know our High Priest not only as Lord and Savior, but also as Brother and God, that we are able to enter in before the throne of grace, and receive mercy and grace in our time of need. For He loves each of us and wants for us only the best and not the pain and suffering that this world brings, and that He understands only too well. Mercy and Grace are His gifts to us in our time of need.
What is this Mercy and Grace that we talk about? Well there are other possibilities when we get before God, there is the Great White Throne of judgment, where all are judged according to their deeds. There God metes out justice, and that justice Paul explains to us in the letter to the church at Rome. In Romans 6:23 we read this: “For the wages of sin is death,” That is the word of God for those who sin and do not repent before they leave this life. I am always amazed at those who say that God will never condemn anyone to hell. It is true, God doesn’t do that, we do it to ourselves by being unrepentant sinners.
For those of us who have become followers of Christ, we come before the Mercy seat, the seat of Grace. Even though we have sinned in our lives, we have repented of our sins, We receive mercy in that God forgives us our sins, and grace in that God cleanses us of all unrighteousness and makes us whole.
Sinners merit Hell, but Saints do not merit Heaven, it is a freely given gift of God because you have been cleansed of your sin, and are now able to enter into the precincts of heaven cleansed and whole, to live eternally in His presence, sharing in the bounties of Christ. I praise God and Thank God for cleansing my soul and making me whole, and share that grace with anyone I meet who may not know Jesus Christ as Lord.

Psa 23:1-6 NKJV  A Psalm of David. 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.  (4)  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.  (5)  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs 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 Forever.

Is the Lord YOUR shepherd, do you talk with him, walk with him and live as one who loves?

I ask that question, because this psalm applies to specific persons, if the Lord is not the one you follow 7 days, 12 months, 52 weeks of every year, then this psalm doesn’t really fit you. The first line of the psalm says it very clearly, “The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not want.” So if you can say that line, then the rest of the psalm fits you.

Now, one problem some folks have with this idea is that a sheep, will actually walk off a cliff if that sheep is busily engaged in grazing a tasty bit of turf. I say this from experience. I was driving from Camp Wood to San Antonio where Yvonne and I lived at the time. We were on the “Leakey Highway” which is a really bad road near Camp Wood. Twists and turns are normal, and there is one section of that road that climbs up into the hills and then proceeds around this cliff. On one side it is 50 or so feet high, on the other side it is probably 100 feet down at one point. That one point is a 10 mile an hour curve, believe me, they mean 9 miles an hour.

As we came into this curve and began to traverse it, there in the middle of the road was a sheep. Baah, and shake its head as if asking, how did I get here. The ranch above us had no fence simply because who was going to walk off the edge of the cliff. He saved a few dollars by not building a fence, however this sheep and the rest of the flock had been grazing on the edge of the meadow. This one grazed its way right over the edge of the cliff. Have to admit, I am still surprised that the sheep survived the fall. We had no idea how to get to the owner, so we hoped that the sheep would be found by someone who knew the owner.
People, sometimes can be like that sheep, we get tangled up in the things that are going on around us and walk into the strangest things. However, if we are people who follow the Good Shepherd, then the next verse applies to us. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” The Lord supplies those things that I need, not the things necessarily that I want, but rather that which is needful for sustaining my physical and spiritual life. Just as a sheep needs good grass to fill it with sweetness so too do I need food to sustain my physical body, and the word of God to sustain my spiritual body. I know that I need to watch what I spend on things, but I also know that I have enough to be able to put food on the table. At the same time I also know that I have to be aware of the things I let into myself from TV, Radio, Books etc., and so I spend time at Bible study, keep my friends to those who are also Christians and try to always be involved in those things that are good for my soul. Then too we find, “He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” As we do those things that help us to know His will for our lives, He will sustain us and restore us when we need that.

Righteousness – His word leads me in the path of morality, of right living, His Spirit keeps my mind on the prize so to speak, of looking to the end of the race. Winning as we think of it is not the object, it is running the race rightly. Living our lives in moral ways, ways that are pleasing to God, and bring us to be seen as living uprightly. Others who see us in this light will hopefully want to emulate that way of life, and will want to know our motivation. We can then introduce them to our Lord.

This next one is a tough one for some of us: “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.” We don’t like to think of that valley being a part of life, but it is and we shall each face it, maybe more than once in our lives. I remember my first brush with this valley. It was in 1986, Yvonne and I had just married and were going on our honeymoon. We were packing to go and as I was loading stuff in the trunk of our car, the trunk lid came down and knocked me out. Only for a few minutes but still, I probably should have gone to see a Doctor right then. Well we went on our honeymoon and had a great time.

When we got back and went back to work a few weeks later I developed a really bad headache. After a week of taking massive doses of aspirin, I went to see my Doctor, he tried some therapy that he thought would help, if didn’t. He went on vacation and another Doctor saw me, and sent me to get a cat scan. The put me in the hospital immediately. I insisted on a second opinion, the Dr. that came in to give me that 2nd opinion told me I had two choices: Don’t have the surgery or have it as soon as possible. I asked the question, what if I choose no surgery. His answer was, we will bury you in about a week.

I had a massive blood clot on my brain, and without surgery would die.

Needless to say, I had the surgery. About 10 years later I had my first and so far only heart attack. Scared me big time, got on a tread mill and lasted about 30 seconds. Woke up with a headache and a nitro tab under my tongue. Surgery a week later. Never want to do that again either. In both cases the Lord sustained me and brought me through and I have never forgotten that the results could have been very different. You see, both of my doctors were praying men, they prayed before the surgeries, during the surgeries and yes they praised God with me afterwards.

The next part of our journey: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” This is an interesting verse, in the Holy Land and the surrounding areas if you were visiting with someone and they offered a meal, once you had eaten with them you were under their protection. If an enemy of yours showed up, they could not attack you in that camp, or they would have to fight your host and his men. “He also anoints our heads with oil”. Shepherds anoint the heads of their sheep to soothe the scratches and wounds. For priests the anointing oil speaks of consecration to their work. For kings the anointing oil is associated with coronation. Every believer is anointed with the Holy Spirit the moment he receives the Savior.” (Believers Bible Commentary, eSword version). Our cups run over because we are, as Annie Johnson Flint says: “His love has no limit, His grace has no measure, His power has no boundary known unto men: For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He gives, and gives, and gives again.”

Finally: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.” As we have lived in His grace for all the years we have known Him, we shall finally reach our Heavenly Home. As the goodness and mercy of our Lord has been with us in this place in which we presently live, when we reach the end of our days on earth, when we step through the door into the presence of our Father, we shall realize the true measure of His grace, we shall be bathed in full measure of His glory, and receive that which is our homecoming.

One truth of this verse that we tend to skip over is that the psalmist is thinking not so much of heaven, but more of being in the temple every day, which was being in the house of the Lord, here on earth. I think though that as we no longer have the temple, but rather we are the temple of the Holy Spirit of God, that we can appropriate this verse to mean we shall indeed be in the heavenly house of the Lord forever.
I have tried to make this psalm a picture of my own journey with our God, I hope that you too may take this psalm as your song of journey as well.

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Pastor and Wife

John & Yvonne Quigley, John is a retired Pastor in the UMC. This blog is about the journey I am on with Christ.