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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.

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There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
(Rom 8:1-11 NKJV)

Paul puts forth two ways of living in this world, one he calls the way of the “flesh” the other is “life and peace.” Who are you today? What choice did you make before you walked out of your home today.? That is really what this is all about, the choice we make every day of our lives, to either live in the flesh or in the Spirit.
I am always surprised when people decide to live self-absorbed lives, lives in the flesh. Making choices that lead only to the second death, yet people do it all the time. We need look no further than the latest scandal in the world, it matters not where it is only that people make these choices to chase after money, sex, power, and end up disgraced, dying alone, in prison. Either the prison that has bars and barbed wire, or the prison of the mind, or even the prison of loneliness.

Paul begins by saying that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What is that all about? It means that we who have decided, made the choice, to follow Christ, are now justified, we stand before God as new creatures, cleansed of our sins. Bathed in the righteousness that comes to us through Christ. The Spirit of God now inhabits our being and has cleansed our souls of impurity. We are freed from sin and death. It all originates in the resurrection of Christ from the grave at Calvary.

When Jesus was resurrected the powers of the flesh, Satan, the Devil whatever you want to call it, no longer has dominion over those who come to Christ. John 3:16 says it quite clearly, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever would believe, would have eternal life.” Whosoever would believe, not a select few, but anyone who would believe that the death of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ, were sufficient to cleanse anyone who would believe that Christ went through that for their salvation.

That is why there is now no condemnation, God dealt with it on the cross at Calvary, sin no longer has any power in the life of those who have chosen to follow Christ. That is why Paul can say, that those who set their minds on the flesh and live that way, have chosen the path of eternal death. Those who have chosen to live according to the Spirit of God have set their minds and hearts on the things of eternal life through Christ Jesus.
We read in verse 7: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot.” and in verse 8: “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

What does it mean to live in the flesh? Those of us who are concerned with the toys of life, by that I mean, gold and silver, expensive jewels, big and expensive cars. It also means that we are interested only in pleasing ourselves, we don’t care about the neighbor in need, we care only for our own desires, lusts and physical needs. This is also idolatry, for these lusts, desires, passions, and even pride in self, become our gods, and lead us deeper and deeper in depraved and sensual ways of living. We are in that way enemies of God, and we who live in this way, condemn ourselves to the outer darkness where there is wailing, crying and thick darkness, where the light of God cannot penetrate.

Well how about life in the Spirit? This kind of life is centered around the love of God. So when we walk in the Spirit, we are interested in those things that are of God’s love. This means that we are interested in those around us, that we do things that reflect God’s love in our lives so that others will receive from that love. All that we do, is done to please God, to bring others into the kingdom in which we live, to also find the Love of God in their own lives, as we have done.

So, now let us look at what it is that makes us who we truly are. Firstly of course is that we choose on a daily basis, not just once when we “got saved” but every day of our lives, we choose who we will be, who we will follow. What Paul says is that we are alive in Christ, because the Spirit of Christ is in us who believe. Since we have that Spirit in us, we have the power of Christ himself in us. We are the ones who are to be working to transform the world, because God loves the world so much, He has sent Christ to heal all who will be healed.
We are that presence for we are the body of Christ, and it is we who are to bring healing to a troubled world. Of course it is a world that is way to big for you or I to bring any sort of change into. However we can and should be bringing change, healing, transformation, into the world we can change. Namely our own lives first, then working within our family, then our neighbors, who Christ has said we should love as if they were ourselves.

Then we can look at the laws and the government in our city, and see what we can do to bring sanity to our government and get laws passed that make sense and that will bring healing to our community as a whole. We are also to work to transform our churches, the church is the place where transformation takes place, but it cannot take place when there is strife within the body of Christ. Healing must begin in our congregation, forgiveness for past sins must be a part of what we do, not just say. In the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples we read that we are to ask God to forgive us our trespasses, sins, as we forgive those who trespass, sin, against us. In other words, if we do not forgive our brethren, we are saying that God should not forgive us either. Peter once asked Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how many times must I forgive him 7?. Jesus’ reply was not 7 times, but 70 times 7.

So, who are you? Have you practiced healing and wholeness in your own life, have you forgiven those who have sinned against you, that God may forgive you for your sins against Him? Have you left the “fleshly” pursuits behind, and gone on to walk with Christ? Have you forgiven those who have harmed you in some way, just as Christ forgave those who crucified him at Calvary. “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”
Do you present one persona, one mask to your church friends and a different persona to those who are outside your church family? Or do you live your faith every day, in every way. Working to bring healing and wholeness in all your relationships.

Beloved, I ask you to monitor your own thoughts this week, at least one day this week, be deliberate in what you do, and see what your thoughts are in relation to who you meet and the situations you find yourself in. Journal about them, spend time in prayer over them with God. Did you heal, or did you hurt? What were you thinking when you saw this person, and how did you react to them. Were you thinking one thing, but acting in another manner? You know, big smile on your face, “so nice to see you” from your lips, and yet thinking, “sure wish I didn’t have to deal with this person.”

Remember, we hold the power to change the world, it is up to us to choose to use that power to bring healing, to those who are hurting, we are the body of Christ, it is our place to do as Jesus would do, to love our neighbor as if that person was ourself. May the Lord guide you this week into all righteousness.

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.

 

 

 

Joh 6:47-58 NKJV Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. (48) I am the bread of life. (49) Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. (50) This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. (51) I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (52) The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (53) Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

I have to say, that I can understand why this is a difficult saying for those who heard it. Cannibalism is not something that anyone can work through very quickly or easily. The early church had a very hard time with this, because the folks who were not members of the church heard that they ate the body and drank the blood of Jesus. They of course accused the church of being cannibals, eating flesh and drinking blood. The Eucharist was not clearly understood, and of course the explanation was not available to those outside the church. We do have a problem with that, we speak of the Nave, the Chancel, which includes the Altar. The Nave is actually the area where you are sitting today. Behind you, in the entrance hall is actually what is called the Narthex. The Chancel and the Altar are of course here.

When things get in the way of understanding it becomes a stumbling block to others.

Many folks have no idea what you are talking about when you refer to the table as an altar, the Nave is really the congregational sitting area. The Narthex is an entrance hall. Much better to use language that is understandable. It is the same thing with the Eucharist, Holy Communion, or, the Lord’s Supper. When we forget that Jesus, spoke in ways that people understood that he told stories that they saw as life stories. He spoke of farming, ranching, merchants and of course other parts of life such as tax collectors and priests and lawyers.

The important thing for us to remember is that we are living in this world, even though we are part of the Kingdom of God, we have to do those things that will make folks want to be a part of our Kingdom, not scare them off with $10 words.

Salvation, is very simple, there is only one thing that is a prerequisite to salvation, that is belief in Christ as Lord and God. We see that those who he was speaking to in this portion of scripture had a real problem understanding what he was talking about. When he told them, some of them decided they could not follow him any more. I would rather tell folks plainly and simply about Jesus and the church and what they mean to me and to those who are followers of Jesus. There are enough problems for those who follow Christ today, without muddying the waters.

So to make clear with the issue of the Eucharist, it is really a service of remembrance and thanksgiving. We remember the grace of Christ, his action to bring salvation to all who will believe. We remember too that he has promised to return for the Church. We eat the bread which represents the body that was hung on the cross, and drink unfermented wine (grape juice) which reminds us of the blood that was spilled by our God for us.

In other words if someone hears us talk of the service of Communion as a service of remembrance of the acts of grace that the Lord performed for us, makes it easier for others to understand what it is we are doing, and then if we explain that it is a remembrance of the last meal that Jesus ate with his disciples, before his death, it makes it even easier. If we want people to come and be a part of our fellowship, we need to make it as easy as we can for them to do so. Once someone begins to come and worship with us, they will begin to get a better picture of who we are, and how Jesus has changed us.

I used to play a lot of golf, I don’t play since I had some physical problems, but I still love the game and watch it when I can. When I started to play, I had a friend who showed me how to play, he would tell me that I was slicing the ball, and I finally had to ask him what he meant. My ball kept going to the right, usually into the trees or the high grass, he explained to me that this was known as a slice for a right handed golfer. I asked then what if I sent the ball off to my left, and he told me that was a hook. Then I began to look for what was going on when a golfer would hit the ball, and I began to understand that golfers would cut the grass from under the ball when they hit it on the fairway, that was taking divot, looked like ripping out some grass to me, but to them it was a divot. In other words we church folks aren’t the only ones with our own language.

I enjoyed the golf a lot more when I understood better what it was they were talking about, just as I think people who are not familiar with church, are much more comfortable when they understand what Church folks are talking about. So when we talk about these things, we need to put them in language that folks who may visit our Church, will be able to understand. It makes them comfortable and I personally think it is better for you and I as well. After all we don’t refer to the entrance to our home as the narthex, it is just the entrance. We sit at a table, or in a living room, not in a nave, and our dining or kitchen table is just a table. When Jesus and the disciples ate their meal, they sat at a table, not at an altar. Why don’t we speak and act as they did?

Well of course for one thing, we are not just a bunch of people enjoying a meal together, we are the CHURCH, and we have our own way of remembering the actions of our Lord. That is true of course, but I think we may have gone a bit overboard, and it is much better to make things simple for those who don’t have a clue what we are about. Listening to what Jesus says in today’s reading makes it clear that he made it as simple as he could, then he explained to them in even simpler terms. They understood and some left, while the others stayed.

It was even clearer to them at the supper that they celebrated, and we remember, bread represented the body of Christ that was literally ripped in shreds by the whipping he sustained. Wine represented the blood that was spilled by that whipping and by the cruelty of the crucifixion. So we celebrate by eating the flesh (bread) and drinking the blood, (wine) so we can remember what the disciples remembered. This was the first actual celebration or holiday for the church.

Holy Week, the celebration of the entire week from the triumphal entry until the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Thursday night is the celebration of this last supper, the teaching of the new passover if you will. This is the night that Jesus changes the passover meal into a meal of remembrance of his mighty acts of death and resurrection. This is God’s next step in the story of creation, the movement of God’s plan for those who will be His people in His kingdom. The final sacrifice, there can be no more for this is THE perfect sacrifice.

Let us then remember, that Christ died that we might live eternally, and that our eternal life is not sometime in the future but it is now, and eternally in the presence of God, who gave Himself that we might be reconciled to Him, and join again with Him. As it was in the beginning, and will be forever.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, as you gave the first man life, and loved all of your creation even when we walked away from you, may we today begin again the journey we shall be on with you for all eternity. We have seen your grace in our lives and we praise you for all that it means in our lives. May we reflect always your love for this your creation, that your creation may see you in us. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

I was enjoying some quiet time this morning and came across this verse: ” Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” As I thought about this verse, I began to think about all the different opinions there are about the Scriptures. I have to note that there are way too many opinions, and not enough agreement as to what the scriptures hold for those who claim the name of Christ. It has been said that this is a good thing, since we have so many denominations each of them has their own view of scripture. There, of course is the rub, each of the denominations has their own view of scripture. So which of us really has the truth? The verse above from Psalm 119:105 says that the word of God is a light to my path. If it is a light to my path, why then do I believe one thing and someone else believes another?

Perhaps if we look at the truth of society we may see a glimmer of that light. The sun shines brightly, and we can see well in the light of the day, yet the best eyes cannot see very well on a moonless night. Then too one who is blind cannot see what the sun reveals and therefore even though there is plenty of light, cannot see the green grass or the rose in bloom. That person percieves the world around himself differently than we who can see do. It is the same with the light of God’s word in the world. There are those who can discern what the word says, yet, cannot see the the beauty of that word, nor the truth that is imparted by it. Some read the word of God only so they can dispute what it says. Some come to it with preconceived notions about what it should say, and so they find in it what they want to find, instead of what God has to say to them.

Some will come to the word when yet new to Christ and others with many years steeped in the life of Christ, that too gives a different perspective. Others come with prejudicial views, such as having grown up in an abusive household, knowing that their father was a very harsh man. When the word of God says that God is our Father in heaven, it paints a picture that is not pleasant for that person, so they refuse to see that God is referred to as male because God is the creator, the builder and not because God is male. God is Spirit not male or female, yet when Jesus walked the earth, God in Man, he came as a man and is the human personification of God. Jesus was loving and caring, so God is loving and caring, yet there are those who cannot see that.

Another question asked of scripture might be, if it is light for the path, why do we need preaching? Good question there, if people would read in the Spirit then perhaps that would be true, but how can they read in the Spirit if no one told them about the Spirit. Yes scripture is the light, but the Spirit is the author of the Light for the Spirit is also God. Without someone to come and explain to him what he was reading, the eunuch would never have known about Christ, or about the grace of God, and would never have been baptized into Christ. He would have gone on in ignorance instead.

Another question for us is the idea that we cannot know the will of God for our lives and yet, the scriptures are very plain in their speaking of the will of God. Jesus said that the “Great Commandment” is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body and mind. Then he says, and the second is like the first, Love your neighbor as yourself. The will of God is for you and I to live in grace and love first for the God of the universe, the one God who created all mankind, and all that we can see around us. Then to live in His love so that we can in turn love one another. If you, in truth, love others as yourself, you cannot break the commandments. Truly the word of God is a lamp to my feet and a light to my pathway, that I might walk with Jesus through life. Learning from the word of God as I go, not hating others, but offering instead love through He who first loved me.

How about your life? Have you discovered that God wants you to walk in His way and love one another, have you forgiven those who have hurt you? Remember the words of Jesus prayer that he taught the disciples. “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12 ESV in other words forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. This is a tough thing, yet it is a light to my path and lamp to help me walk rightly. I am to forgive others then I open myself to be forgiven. There are many differences between us, but, we are to live as Christ not as others do. </p>

Continue, continue, continue…………..

Col 4:5  Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.
Col 4:6  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

These words from Paul were written from prison. His ministry had been to the gentile world, the world of pagan beliefs and practices. He reached out to others with the gospel of Jesus Christ, hoping to bring them into the family of God. He had been beaten, thrown in prison, even stoned and yet he survived all this, and returned evil with grace and good.

As we walk on our journey today, how do we act toward others, especially those who are outside the church? Do we yell at people, telling them what terrible sinners they are? Do we treat them with dignity or with curses? Jesus very rarely used harsh words when dealing with people, when He did it was to those who were leaders of the faith. Paul and the others dealt with their world with grace and humility. They were beaten, they were humiliated, killed and yet they, as Christ, did not call upon God to destroy them, but rather to forgive them.

I am sometimes ashamed to be called Christian, not because I am ashamed of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, but because I am ashamed of the actions of some who call upon His name, and then act out of hatred, instead of love. I know I am not perfect, but I also know that what Paul said to the believers in Colossae was truth. Walk in wisdom toward those who do not know Christ. Be gracious, season your speech with good and answer each person with love in your heart. All persons have sacred worth, and it is their own decisions that will bring them to heaven or hell.

I have learned that God does not condemn, it is we, ourselves, who condemn, it is our decision that decides our fate. We who have become believers, must therefore show our belief, not in anger or hate but with love and wisdom. Love and wisdom are of God, and they are our weapons in any discussion with those who do not know Jesus Christ. Our job is not to condemn, nor to save, our job is to introduce them to our Lord, He will work in their hearts and minds, and we will be his hands and feet and voice in the world. That is our part of the journey. Let us walk it as those who have gone before us, in love and humility.

Life’s Scars.

After the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples but Thomas one of the 12 was not with them. Later when Thomas arrived, they told him that Jesus had appeared to them and was alive. Thomas refused to believe that this was so. He like the rest of the group had seen Jesus crucified, he knew that the dead do not raise themselves and that it was not possible that Jesus could have come back from the dead.

I worked for a couple of years with the New York City Police Dept, and know that when something happens and you have eye witnesses to the occurence no two will agree on what happened. One will have seen someone 6 feet tall with dark hair driving a dark car, another will see a someone with light hair, only about 5 foot 6 inches and driving a white car. The one who was not there, the police officer will not be able to believe what these people say, but will write the report of each persons statements. Thomas was not there, so did not believe what the others saw, because he did not see it himself.

Like the police officer, we have trouble believing things unless we see them for ourselves. Sometimes we are so adamant that we disbelieve even those things that we see others do. This is especially true when people do things in the name of Jesus, because Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbor as ourself. In the 2nd century in the midst of persecution, Christians would still rescue babies left for wild animals because their parents didn’t want them. They would go to neighbors homes and pray over them when they were sick, bringing herbs and spices, cooking meals for those who had need. This was because they had experienced the coming of Jesus into their lives and knew who he was and is. The same is true for us today, many do not know him, some even hate that Christians claim to know him. In many countries there is much persecution, yet the followers of Christ continue to increase. The reason for this is because christian people continue to pray, to bring love into lives hurting from the lives they have to live, and because christian people even bring healing love into dark corners of life, healing the hurts that life puts upon people.

What happened to the story of Thomas? Here is what happened:

John 20:24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin,[b] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (English Standard Version)

Jesus tells Thomas and us as well, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” If you are wondering about this Jesus that we talk about, may I suggest that you read the gospel of John – Jesus would love to meet with you, and fill you with his grace and love. The apostle John wrote his gospel to tell the story of Jesus, here is what he says beginning in verse 30:

30  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Come Journey with me and all who call upon the name of Jesus, learn of him and of his love for you.

Romans 12:9-21

<p>We have new life in Christ, and Paul talks today about what that means, to those who first heard his words, and to us today. The message is still the same. Genuine love is that which is practiced wholeheartedly, no hypocrisy. Love is to be the guiding prinicple in our lives. So Paul starts out saying that love is to be genuine. He also says we should abhor or hate what is evil, and cling to what we know is good.</p>

<p>Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is one that has begun with the depravity of man, and he moves through all the sinfulness of man, which then allows him to begin to talk about the Love of God. He talks about the cross of Christ, and in last weeks reading in Romans 12:1-8 he spoke of the transformation that happens when a man or woman comes to know the love of God personally through Jesus Christ. His voice was powerful saying that he urged, begged and implored the Romans to present themselves completely and without reservation to God as living sacrifices, that they might be renewed, transformed by God’s grace that they would learn the good and perfect will of God.</p>

<p>Now we learn of the reality of that transformation. Let love be Genuine that is the overriding thought that permeates this particular passage. It comes from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, it is the Spirit that gives us the gifts that Paul speaks of and it is the Spirit that brings us to knowledge of God’s love for us and for all mankind. Paul is speaking of the love that we have received and that we should allow that love to flow through us to others. He speaks of our being renewed by that love and that we then are to work at bringing others to understand that love.</p>

<p>Paul says that we are to use the that love which permeates our soul, to persevere in prayer, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, ardent in spirit, serving the Lord. Give to the needs of the Saints, extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you, bless them and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing, weep with those who weep. Live with one another in harmony. Then he says don’t be haughty, (blatantly and disdainfully proud).</p>

<p>Live in harmony with others, be humble, associate with those who cannot repay you. It sounds a lot like the teaching of Jesus in the beatitudes. Paul also says that we are hate that which is evil, not the person who is involved in the evil, but rather the evil itself. Again we are asked to stand in the gap, to stand for what we know is right. Evil exists in this world and love demands that we recognize it, and stand against it. To abhor (to loathe, to regard with extreme repugnance) that which is evil.</p>

<p>He goes on to say that we need to live humbly (deferring to others, not being haughty or better than others). The story is told of a church service in the after the War between the States. A black man attended a worship service in an all white church. When the communion was ready to be served, the black man waited his turn, and then got up and walked to the altar rail. No else in the church went with him. Then a stately and well dressed man stood and moved to the side of the black man, kneeling at the rail, they received the elements together they sipped wine from the same cup. Both men stood giving each other the right hand of fellowship, and returned to their seats. The white man who came forward, was Robert E. Lee. A great general and a greater Christian. He loved without hypocrisy, living his faith. He taught that group of people a great lesson on that day.</p>

<p>Hospitality toward strangers is central to the Christian faith. It includes assisting people in need and offering hospitality in one’s home. I remember the stories my folks told of the depression and how their parents would share with neighbors that which they had. My grandfather on my mother’s side was able to work throughout that time, and on my Dad’s side his father was a fireman and worked as well. My mother’s father, used to talk about the “bums” on park row, some of them had been working on wall street, some worked in banks, but all were in the same boat in the depression. They would come to the saloon where my grandfather worked at lunch time to see if they might be able to get a bite to eat. He would feed them when he could, and he would give them money to get something to eat if he couldn’t feed them.</p>

<p>Then Paul talks about blessing those who persecute you. Now we don’t suffer too much in this country, but in Paul’s day there was quite a bit of persecution. We also know of people who are forbidden to practice their faith in many places in the world. They also bless those who persecute them, they offer prayers for their enemies, and try to help them find Jesus for themselves. Many of these Christians suffer beatings, broken bones included, women in some of these countries suffer rapes, and physical abuse and some have been attacked by men carrying machetes, causing them horrible scarring on their bodies, if they even live from such an attack. Yet in the midst of all this mayhem, these folks still practice their faith, and love one another and even their enemies. Praising God that they can suffer as Jesus suffered.</p>

<p>So we are told to respond to evil with love, not with hatred, to allow God to handle the vengeance part, instead we are to offer drink to a thirsty enemy, food to one who is hungry.</p>

<p>I have to admit that the heaping burning coals on the head of those who are hateful, by doing good, is actually hoping that the person to whom you do good will realize their wrong. In Egypt there was a ritual where people would carry a pan of hot coals on their heads as evidence of penitence.</p>

<p>We have all faced personal insults, affronts and some even abuse in our lives. Paul admonishes us to soberly consider how we respond to wrongdoing. We do tend to want to get even, but, Paul reminds us that Vengeance belongs to God, he will repay those who practice evil. There will come a day when all will be judged for their actions, and that is God’s job not ours. We are of course not to suffer abuse needlessly. The point is not to take an action that could lead to a self-serving, vigilante kind of response. We Christians need to act with restraint, exploring practical ways to deal with evil. Instead of paying evil back with more evil, our response must be to show God’s love in our lives.</p>

<p>David & Leah Ortiz left their home in the United States to share the good news of Christ with Jews and Muslims in Israel. They settled on the West Bank, and David has picked up some Arabic in his work with their Palestinian neighbors. They have been there a number of years and have had to deal with many threats. But they faced a painful test of faith on March 20, 2008, when their son Ami, was nearly killed in a bomb attack likely intended for David, his pastor father. That morning Ami opened a gift basket that had been left in front of their apartment by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish nationalist. A bomb hidden in the basket exploded, destroying the apartment and tearing through Ami’s body.</p>

<p>Over three years later, Ami still have over 100 pieces of glass and metal in his body. Yet David and Leah still live in the same place, and practice their faith as they always have. They pray for complete healing for Ami.</p>

<p>David says that, “The Lord forgave David and many people in the Bible,” he said. “My goal and my prayer for the attacker is that he will repent and be saved.” (Voice of the Martyrs, July 2011)</p>

<p>These and many others like them, practice loving their enemies and their friends, they will continue to work for the gospel and the kingdom no matter the persecution, no matter who is against them. Their Church was burned down in October 2010, perhaps by the same group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who live near them. Evil is found in many groups in this world, yet God is present with David, Leah and Ami, and God’s love holds them up. They work to share that love, even with those who hate.</p>

<p>It is our job to not repay evil with more evil, but rather to allow the love of God to flow through us, that others will have a chance to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Vengeance is mine says God, leave the justice and the vengeance to God. Offer instead the love of God to all, deal with Evil as God has for you to do so. Let your love be genuine.</p>

<p>Amen.</p>

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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.