Sunday, February 21, 2021

Orientation

 

Lent invites us to a re-orientation to the life and opportunities God has opened to us, and offers us the joy of stepping into and exploring and discovering greater spiritual depths. 

Today we begin the season of lent, well we kind of began Wednesday on Ash Wednesday. But for our Sundays, we begin the season of lent, a time of renewal and focus on the spiritual for Christians of many different denominations, and even a lot of people that don't celebrate Christians, Christians that don't celebrate lent, but perhaps Christians who celebrate other things during this period leading up to Easter. Or even people who are not Christians, but they still know what Christians are by and large doing during this period, tend to give each other some space over the six weeks period to adjust, because they know what we're up to.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 21, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

We're up to introspection, we're doing some self examination to try to see where the improvements that we need to make in our lives are. So we're stepping back and withdrawing and we tend to do that as a group and in support of one another, knowing that this is a time of spiritual growth and renewal. We try to encourage that in each other and in the world around us. And then we're complimented by nature itself in the renewal of spring coming and the new changes that it offers, the new cycle of life.

Baptism of Jesus

And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.      Verse 11 (KJV)

This passage of scripture from Mark chapter one describes for today the time when Jesus went to be baptized, and then he went to the wilderness and then began preaching. And one of the things I love about the gospel of Mark is that it's condensed. It just hits on the action points, usually just not going into a lot of detail, but just almost a bullet point of what happened. There's other things that happened one right after another, in these groupings. And really, he leaves the other descriptions to the other gospels. So you can look a little further and get some more information usually in the other gospels. But even in the other gospels and really throughout the entire Bible, the scriptures don't go into a great amount of depth about anything. And there's, I think, a reason for that. And the reason is that the Bible gives us these invitations and suggestions and imagery and communicates to us God's call in our lives and is God's love for us an invitation to delve deeper into spirituality.

And if we want to, then we can. And if we don't want to then, well, we can put it off for a little while. I think eventually everybody will get there, but the sooner we get there, the more we can explore, the sooner we can explore anyway. And the more we can go ahead and be applying the things that we find to our daily lives. And so the invitation is there. The doors are open and all, but a lot of that discovery of the spiritual realm of life is left to us to accept the invitations, walk through the door and see what's there. And then how we try to communicate that to each other is going to be wildly different, because we're all different. We're all going to see things differently and experience not only that, but the things we experience seem to be quite different too. It's very personal in a lot of ways. Or one group of people might see things and experience certain things one way and another group, another way.

We should try to be in harmony about that, but we aren't always, are we? But we should be and supportive and interested in what the other people are finding also in their discoveries. I called this orientation because during this season, just kind of building up on where we've been over the last several weeks of exploring eternal life and last Sunday, the transfiguration of the Lord, and experiencing the discovery of the spiritual realm I'd just like to kind of continue that thread in this time of Lenten exploration of the spirit, spiritual exploration, where we examine our own spirituality, our hearts and minds, our souls and spirits, the spiritual nature of our relationships with God and with each other, with all of creation and see what's there and see what could be improved in all of that. What could make better connections and more harmony with all God's creation.

I called it orientation because a lot of times when we begin something new, we usually take a little bit of time to familiarize ourselves with what we're getting ready to do at the time of orientation. And I think that's what Jesus was doing in part in going to the wilderness as he began his ministry, because it said that he was baptized and he went to the wilderness, then he came back from the wilderness and began preaching. And so this became, it was for him a time of sorting things out and getting things straight, thinking about what he was going to do, thinking about what really was the mission and the task at hand, the needs and all these things that, and searching himself too as indicated in the temptations that are described. And they're just mentioned here, but they're in Mark, but described a little bit more in the other gospels in Matthew and Luke, but probably still only scratching the surface of the temptations that he actually dealt with.

Maybe categories of temptations. Mark records how at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and then there was a voice that was heard from heaven saying, and this is how it says in the King James. "And there came a voice from heaven saying thou art my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."

The Spirit Drove Him

At once the Spirit made him go into the desert.  Verse 12 (GNT)  

 And that kind of helps me to think that if Jesus had his drought time or his orientation time or his time in the wilderness., and he was loved by God so much as a beloved son, enough for a cloud to come and God to speak out of that cloud at his baptism and to say how much he loved him and how much he was pleased with him, then these dry times that we have, our spiritual deserts we sometimes encounter, are not necessarily a sign of falling out of favor with God, but maybe perhaps even a time of his grace, a sign of his grace to pull us closer to God and pull us closer to our own spiritual life and to draw us in, to invite us. And then it said that the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. In the Good News, it says, Good News translation says, at once the Spirit made him go into the desert.

So it was this the force of the Spirit driving him there and driving we could say, drawing him. However, the Spirit that had descended on him at his baptism and that was empowering him to go preach the gospel of repentance and of promise of new life and all the other things that go along with that with his ministry, this same Spirit now was making him go apart. As we see that he often does throughout his ministry, make him go off alone, spend some time in the wilderness, getting re-situated for where he was heading next.

In the Wilderness

He was in the wilderness forty days. Verse 13a (DLNT)

 He was in the wilderness 40 days. And that's how it's written in the disciples literal New Testament. The 40 days in part signifies an extended period of time. The 40 days of Moses and 40 days of Elijah, 40 days of Noah, all these extended periods of time. 40 years in the desert and in the same wilderness probably, similar wilderness, maybe not the same, similar, wilderness of the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness before they entered the promised land.

But I think more than symbolic, we kind of have a symbolic 40 days now, but it's also literally 40 days, but maybe 46 if you count Sundays, which we don't count as the 40 days of lent. But anyway, this extended period of self-examination and renewal is a reflection of this 40 day period of Jesus in the wilderness. And so there's some thinking about what we're thinking about for 40 days and thinking about that being done in a situation of complete withdrawal from all of the things and devices and schedules and people and tasks and everything else that surrounds us all the time. Complete withdrawal from that for 40 days, then that would seem more extended than it probably seems a lot of times as we pass through this six week period preparing for Easter.

But this was a period then extended of disconnect from some things so that we could be, or in this case he could be, more deeply connected in the spirit, to the spiritual things and to himself, to look inside himself and examine what was there and resist the temptations, whatever they may be, that come his way, our way, their way. And to establish some new connections in the spirit with connections with God, connections with each other through our thoughts and prayers and through our meditations, connections with others through what we think about and what we feel in our hearts, connection with nature, with God's creation. And part of that creation was the animals. It says here, it says in the message, wild animals were his companions.

With the Beasts

 Wild animals were his companions.  Verse 13b (MSG)

 I like that, not just that they were there, but they were his companions. There were no people there, there were just these animals, all different kinds of animals living there. And I think in some ways that sounds a little bit scary because you can imagine that some animals are a little bit scary. Not all animals are friendly to human beings. But then again, not all human beings are friendly to each other. So we can extrapolate a little bit and make some associations there. But I think about Daniel in the lion's den, because he was praying. They put him in the lion's den over overnight and came back the next day expecting what we would all expect if we were put in a lion's den, but instead they all were companions.

They all had worked things out somehow and there they were together and everything was fine. And there's several examples of that with animals and all in the Bible and a lot of imagery of animals in the Bible, like think about the Balaam's donkey talking to him. There was Noah and the ark and all the different animals that were brought into the ark during that 40 day period. And they all somehow seemed to, the Bible doesn't say if it didn't work out with any of them, but so kind of gives the indication that things got worked out okay for everybody. Isaiah foretells the time when the lion would lay down with the lamb and the little children would play with wild animals and nothing would hurt in all my holy mountains sayeth the Lord.

And then maybe we can extrapolate that to our own living situation. In some ways it's almost like we've all been in the wilderness, a worldwide wilderness journey through this pandemic because we've had to be withdrawn and we've found other ways of being connected with each other and with nature and with life and with ourselves. And some people have found great difficulty in that, but we still are trying to do it and managing through that as we continue through the pandemic and connecting.

But we've also seen over this past year or so, continuing relationships that would be more like what you would expect from wild animals, so to speak, as people continue to be polarized and kind of sometimes at each other a little bit more than they need to be. And even religious people, spiritual people, kind of pulling each other's threads a little bit and kind of getting on each other's nerves a little bit with the things they believe or say they want to accomplish and all like that, that are at odds with each other. And so it can get pretty wild sometimes, I guess. But we say a thing about if we can get along with wild animals in the desert or whatever situations we're in, then maybe that's an invitation for us to try to work things out with each other a little better and make some accommodations and kind of get it worked out, we might be okay if we can do that.

Angels were There

Angels took care of him.   Verse 13c  (MSG)

 Harmony would be what we're looking for. Not necessarily some kind of a forced unity where everybody has to do everything the same. We certainly don't want to do that. But where we can find some points of, at least some points of harmony to where we can be in cooperation and have a good relationship with each other in some ways at some points, around some tables anyway. And then Mark notes that the angels came and ministered to Jesus. And that's a wonderful picture that calls us into some additional imagery and awareness of what's going on around us in the unseen realm of life. Of course, we already know we don't see everything that's physically around us because the particles and atoms and all that, they're too small for us to see. And so there's so much going on, even this pandemic, with a microscope, if you could see everything with a microscope, then you could be up close and see the virus as it moves around.

But we don't have that privilege in our range of vision to be able to see little tiny things like that, as deadly as they are and as much as it would help us if we could see it, we could avoid the virus when we saw it. We'd just see it in the air, but we don't see that deep. And so just, if we can't see physical things, how much more can we not see spiritual things that are going on around us?

But the Bible brings up these angels several times and doesn't again, go into like the other things that we talked about, doesn't go into a great deal of depth there. What it does do is give us some little insights and one that they're there, that angels are messengers from God, envoys to do God's bidding of love and help and salvation, healing, all that, to bring messages like Gabriel who appeared to Mary and gave her the message of Jesus conception. And others that appeared in dreams or in visions or in human form, as the apostle mentioned that we should treat each other like angels, because we might be entertaining angels unawares.

You never know who that immigrant is that's passing through your land. It might be an angel. And here you are, be careful how you treat people, especially people that you don't know. You might know somebody else and think, well, I'm sure that's no angel anyway, but some of them that we don't know, we might not know. And a lot of times, even if somebody is not an angel, God might still be having them help you out in a certain way that kind of associates with the work of an angel. So how many times have you had somebody just come up in your life at just the right time with just the right solution, and it was just like an angel came. You don't really think that they were actually an angel, but yet in a way, they were an angel to you.

They did the service of an angel in your life that day. And we have those stories on ourselves and we hear them from our friends. So it's not unusual that this angelic view is a part of, even though that a lot of what we think about angels and all the different ideas and studies and angel-ology and all that comes is built on things that are in the Bible instead of not necessarily what is in the Bible. But there are some images there to go on and build on, the idea of a little bit of a hierarchy in some forms that may suggest some ways for our imagination to go as we reflect on that. But I think the point is that that God had fixed a way for Jesus to be taken care of.

In the message it says, angels took care of him. Angels ministered to him, the other translations say. And we don't always see how God is working and who he's working with and what agencies he's using, but we have the opportunity and invitation to trust that God is working, that all around us things are going on that we're not aware of both physical and spiritual that we're not necessarily aware of, but it's still happening for our benefit and the good of the people around us. There's an Old Testament story about Elijah where his servant became really concerned because, that's an understatement, he was terrified because the King's army were coming after them and he didn't know what they can do about the whole King's army. And Elijah prayed and asked the Lord to open the eyes of his servants so that he could see the hosts of heaven all gathered around and all the hills above them there to surround and protect them.

And the prayer was answered, the servant's eyes were opened, he could see for a moment all the hosts of heaven around and protecting them. And we might pray about that during this lent that maybe our eyes can be open to what is around us, what's going on in our spirits, in the spiritual realm where we are. And then even more what's going on around us, what's going on within us, within our own hearts and minds, our own thoughts and feelings that we might become acquainted with who we are. So all of this is a part of the Lenten orientation, re-orientation perhaps to life and to our selves, to the ministry of our spiritual gifts, that authority that each of us has in the laying on of hands or a baptism. A re-orientation to the life and opportunities that God has opened to us, and that we have the opportunity and we have the joy of stepping into and exploring and discovering. 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.




 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Life Everlasting

 

The Transfiguration invites us to enter the spiritual realm through prayer and join those who already there.

We continue to this last Sunday of this series through Epiphany about the best part of heaven, being our relationships. And our affirmation from the creeds today, is the last statement in the Apostles Creed, where we say that we believe in the life everlasting. And in the Nicene Creed, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Today is transfiguration Sunday. The lectionary gospel reading for today, Mark 9:2-9 describes that event. "After six days, Jesus taketh with him, Peter James and John, and leadeth them up to a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them." They went alone together in prayer.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 14, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

Going up into the mountain reminds us of the time when Moses went up to the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. But this time, Jesus took some friends with him. There are several times in the scriptures, in the gospels, that tell about times that Jesus went off by himself to pray and spend time alone in prayer and encouraged us to do the same, but not very many times that we get to peek in there and see what's going on while he's praying. There are a few times, like when he went at the beginning of his ministry to the wilderness to pray and was tempted of the devil and then angels ministered to him afterwards. And there is this time where he took three of his friends with him and went up to pray. There was the time also when, before the crucifixion, the night he gave himself up for us, where he went to the garden to pray and took his friends with him there too, as he prayed, "Not my will, but thine be done." Again, ministered to by angels as he prayed.

Alone Together in Prayer

And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.  Verse 2 (KJV)  

 In giving the Lord's prayer in Matthew, Jesus encourages us to go off to a room when you pray, go on into a room and lock the door. And when you're alone, there pray. So it doesn't really mean, obviously from this example, that we have to be completely alone whenever we pray. But I think the idea in that situation and in this time here and some of those others, is that if we have two or three people with us, then all of us go off to prayer together. Our congregation might go off and pray together at church.

The idea is not that you have to be personally alone, but that we would be stepping back from everything going on in the world and not be interrupted and not be trying to show off to anybody or anything. But we just step back and withdraw to a high mountain or to some other place, a desert place, a room, whatever the setting may be, where we can just concentrate on the prayer time and move into a prayer that goes beyond intercession to actual relationships and beyond confession to communion. Prayer that goes beyond adoration to fellowship and the kind of koinonia and spiritual community that we've been talking about over these last few weeks.

Prayer is the entry point to our spiritual realm. Anyone, anytime, any place, can pray. Some of the short prayers like Peter prayed are given for us as examples in the Bible, doesn't have to be a formal prayer, a long one or a memorized one like the Lord's prayer that gives us some patterns and teachings. Peter, when he was sinking in the water, when he was trying to walk on water and he just cried out, "Lord, help me. Lord, save me." So a lot of my prayers are like that. "Lord, help me." And I think a lot of people's prayers, that's it. And the Lord does. And so sometimes we may enter that spiritual connection briefly for just long enough to let our plea be known. Other times, pouring our hearts out, and it's taking some time to be there. But we can always do that wherever we are. As Paul said that God's not far from any of us at any time, "For in him, we live and move and have our being."

And when we pray, we usually take some form of a posture. If we're going to be in a prayer for a few minutes or more, we usually take a particular posture that a lot of times comes out of our own heritage or our faith community customs, like kneeling or bowing our head, folding our hands, closing our eyes, or raising our hands up to the sky and looking up. All these prayer postures that are, in part, to express a reverence, but also, in large part, to put us in a position where our body is parked and our mind is focused on the spiritual realm and not on what our body is doing or what is going on around us in the world, but to change our focus and focus on the spirit, on being in the spirit, in the spiritual realm of life and just see what blessings might come our way, during those moments.

The Psalmist wrote, and this how it's written in the Message, in Psalm 139:7-12. "Is there any place I can go to avoid your spirit, to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you're there. If I go underground, you're there. If I flew on morning wings to the far Western horizon, you'd find me in a minute. You're already there, waiting. Then I said to myself, 'Oh, he even sees me in the dark.' At night I'm immersed in the light. It's a fact. Darkness isn't dark to you, night and day darkness and light, they're all the same to you."

We have many of our hymns about prayer that invite us, as like in Sweet Hour of Prayer. "Since he bids me, seek his face, believe his word and trust his grace and I'll cast on him my every care and wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer." We're invited to engage in prayer as often and as deeply and as spiritually, and as with as much focus as we want to, at any given time. And we can do it regardless of our circumstances and regardless of our predicament. In fact, some of the predicaments really make it the best time to disengage in what's going on around us and engage in this spiritual realm of what's going on within us and among us.

Glorious Transformation

His clothes became shining white—whiter than anyone in the world could wash them. Verse 3 (GNT)

 In the Good News translation it says, "His clothes became shining white, whiter than anyone in the world could wash them." We see in there, how prayer changes us, transforms us, makes us different. Moses returning from the mountain, had to put a veil over his face because of the glow that people couldn't look at him because of the glow in his face from having been in this time with the Lord. But more than this, more than the outward appearance, is the inward grace prayer that changes us, that transforms us, that transfigures who we are, makes us a different person and changes our way of thinking and of experiencing things, our feelings and our understanding, all becomes something different, something altered, something that is different when we get done then when we started. And it may be just a small change, and usually is, just a small change about something, but it changes us when we pray.

In Second Corinthians 3:18, Paul wrote, "Transformed into this image by the spirit, changed from glory into glory." Those words are part of a great hymn of the Church by Charles Wesley,

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown;
Jesu, thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love thou art,
Visit us with thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast,
Let us all in thee inherit,
Let us find that second rest:
Take away our power13 of sinning,
Alpha and Omega be,
End of faith as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive,
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and sinless let us be,
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restor'd in thee;
Chang'd from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!


The Company of Heaven

 Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.  Verse 4 (MSG)

 What a beautiful atmosphere that we step into when we turn to Christ and pray, as we understand prayer to be at that moment. We engage the spiritual realm. The whole company of heaven is there waiting for us. In this passage, one of the remarkable, one of the beautiful, one of the important scenes in this event, is phrased this way in the Message, "Elijah, along with Moses came into view in deep conversation with Jesus." I like how it said, "Came into view," because most of the other translations say appeared. It's kind of the same thing in a way, except that this kind of gives us a little bit more of a gradual sense that they just didn't pop up there as an apparition, but they kind of walked into the space where they were, in the spiritual space, if we can think of it in those terms. And that they were conversing with Jesus. That imagery reinforces what we hear Jesus saying when he said that, "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living for all live unto God."

That's one of those things that changes in prayer, where we're changed, our perspective is changed. Our perspective, we tend to look at things from the earthly point of view and from a temporal and temporary point of view that's different then from God's perspective as he sees everybody is still alive. Even though in this case, Moses had laid aside his earthly tabernacle on Mount Nebo, many centuries before. And Elijah, several centuries before, in between there, had been carried away in a fiery chariot, whatever that image is communicating. And yet, they were still alive and still walking, still talking, still having fellowship, even though without the body. They were in the spiritual realm and they came into the view of those who were gathered there, Peter, James and John, along with Jesus.

And so it gives us a pretty clear understanding that those who no longer walk on the earth continue to travel in the spiritual dimension. It's reflected also in our communion liturgy in the great Thanksgiving, when we say, "With all your people here on earth and all the company of heaven." And in Hebrews chapter 12, how it begins talking about how we're surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. That great cloud of witnesses, those people here on earth and in heaven, are our family and friends, some of them. Some of them are own people that we have known in life and they have gone on to be with the Lord. And some are people we've known who have moved on to other locations around the world, but yet in the spirit, we're much closer together. We're connected in this life and in the life of the world to come. We're connected in the spirit, the great connection, the great connection that we're a part of in Christ, a network of spirits who continue in fellowship and friendship in a way that transcends life and death, or space and time.

"And coming down from the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. He said, 'Don't tell a soul what you saw. After the son of man rises from the dead, you're free to talk.' They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth rising from the dead meant." And that's from the Message translation. Excuse me. Resurrection is the ultimate sign of the everlasting life that was demonstrated in the transfiguration event. And that is demonstrated in our prayer time together. Once that all this had come together, then Jesus sent his followers out to share all the story and the complete story, that included his resurrection and that included their experience in praying with him as he was transfigured. And we then, are sent to invite each other to join us in that prayer.

Cloud of Light

A light-radiant cloud enveloped them.   Verse 7a (MSG)

Well, while they were praying, a cloud of light came upon them, and the way it's written in the Message, "A light, radiant cloud enveloped them." We're reminded of Jesus in the sermon on the mount also saying that, "You are the light of the world." And of John saying, "In him is no darkness at all." The light floods our surroundings and floods us and illuminates who we are and lets us see ourselves as we are and lets us see the... When we turn on the light, we can just see what's there. And that's what happens when the spiritual light come on, too. We can see what's there.

Discovery Mode

A voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.     Verse 7b (KJV)

 And so it kind of puts us in discovery mode, as the voice that came from this cloud said, "This is my beloved son. Hear him." So in the context of exploring our spiritual realm and all these things that we say we believe in, and that we do believe in, and that our faith and understanding of what that means, something we're living into and discovering, we're in discovery mode as the people of God in prayer. We're listening to hear what God is saying to us. We're observing the spiritual sensations that are taking place in our thoughts and feelings, sensitive to the heavenly presence, the presence of God, of spiritual beings, of the spirit realm.

And we explore the spiritual kingdom of God. There's not any way for anyone to say, "This is what you're going to experience in prayer today." There is no guided tours that I know of. We each enter into prayer and we join the people that have already been praying in our weightiness. We unite our hearts and minds with people who have been praying and this transcendent prayer vigil that has been going down through the ages, from the time of Christ till now in the church.

And in some ways we even join with people of other faiths who are engaged in spiritual explorations and something that we step into and we may step out of, but while we're in there, we might as well make the most of it, of our prayer and to explore what God is bringing to us and showing to us and those spirits that are stepping into our view, those spiritual relationships that we have with our family and friends and just be aware of each other's presence. Be aware of the presence of God. Be aware, try to be aware of what is going on within us and around us and of the love of God that is enveloping us and changing us.

And then, when it's time to step back into the world, so to speak, to leave the room that we were in or to step away into other conversations or other rooms, gather around other tables with other people, we take with us this prayer from the Lord's Prayer, this petition, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." We take something of what we have found in our moment of prayer and we apply that to what's going on right around us in the world.

Every time we pray, we're pretty much just like a little morsel, a little tiny glimpse of the spiritual realm, but we're stepping into this. We're walking in and discovering what is there for us today. It's like that one song [Higher Ground by Johnson Oats, Jr] that says, 

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, lead me on higher ground.”


In the name of Jesus, amen.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

und, Lord plant my feet on higher ground." In the name of Jesus, amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Full Restoration

The resurrection is a celebration of our eternal life being fully restored in every sense. 

We continue our series for Epiphany, "The Best Part of Heaven," which in a word is relationships. We highlight these affirmations from the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. In the Apostles' Creed, we say that "We believe in the resurrection of the body," and in the Nicene Creed, we say that "We look for the resurrection of the dead." In our lectionary Gospel reading for today, I'd like to highlight this verse:

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he, Jesus, went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.  Mark 1:35 (KJV)

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 7, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

This passage from Luke, I mean from Mark 1:29-39. It tells us about a time when Jesus healed a whole bunch of people, as they brought them to him and he healed them and restored them physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually; a complete restoration healing that comes in the casting out of demons or in the cure of diseases.

And so people's minds and hearts and feelings were, as we know, all involved in the stresses and the difficulties and Jesus healed them all. And then he went off to a private place to pray, as he often did, and we continue to pray together and to work together And then have our times when we step aside and in solitude, to worship and praise the Lord.

That healing and salvation are pretty much interchangeable throughout the scriptures and in our lives. God brings salvation to us. God brings healing to us. God brings restoration to us, all in Christ. That's why God loved the world so much, he sent Jesus to be our savior and as we accept and receive that salvation, then we find our healing and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit.

Now, ultimately the resurrection addresses, and defines, and illuminates that. So we celebrate. We celebrate every Sunday. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate in all of our prayers, in our communion with Christ. We celebrate that he is alive forever more. He holds the keys as he says and we enjoy the benefits and the hope and anticipation of the resurrection of the body, in this as promised in the scriptures.

The Sting

 Jesus wept.  John 11:35 (KJV)

 The shortest verse in the Bible is, "Jesus wept." This verse appears during the narration about the resurrection of Lazarus, the good friend of Jesus. And he didn't weep days out from the event, but he had the verse occurs right minutes before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Excuse me.

So, that tells us something right there about the sting of death, as Paul calls it. And as Wesley put it in his hymn, "Where O Death Is Now Thy Sting?" That it hurts. That death hurts and even though Jesus knew what was coming, in just a few short minutes, it still hurt. That pain of separation hurts, there's no way around it. And it hurts when we're separated from things and objects that are important to us and it happens when difficulties arise that bring us separation from our friends and family.

One of the great, horrible things about family separation is at the border, is children being separated from their parents and we empathize with deep, inconsolable pain and that is in being separated from each other in this life. And then think about the people that are refugees and separated from each other, from their family, friends, and country, often times, and then the separation that comes in war and other strife of humanity.

These horrible conditions that we pray that will be addressed and alleviated because of the suffering that is caused by all kinds of separation like this and some more painful than others, but all are painful and especially the pain that comes with death; the sting of death that comes with the separation that we experience, not only ourselves from our own body at some point, but the pain of separation from somebody that we love, from our family and friends. And from others, that way that we care about, and even from animals and plants and other life forms, we feel a little bit of that, but especially from the closer we are with somebody, the more that pain hurts and the deeper it seems to go.

We never do really get over it. The pain of death and separation is not something we just go on and move on from, but rather that we learn to deal with, and to cope with, and to make adjustments for, and to compensate for.

Lazarus

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; 26 and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 

John 11:25-26 (KJV)

In the case of Lazarus, we have some of the most comforting words of the Bible that are used in most funeral rituals of most Christian denominations, where Jesus said to her in this, in the King James version, Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die. And those who live and believe in me, will never die. Do you believe this?" 

That's a very challenging question. Believe us, thou this? Do you believe this? That the person who believes in Jesus will never die?

When we accept that and believe that kind of an idea that Jesus brought us, when we believe Jesus, when we believe God's word on that, we're believing something that we have not yet personally experienced. We're believing in the resurrection that we have heard about in Jesus and Lazarus and a few others in the Bible, but otherwise we're believing something that is to happen in the future.

This conversation took place in the context of Jesus and Martha talking about the death of Lazarus and Jesus told Martha that her brother will live again. And she said, "I know he will be raised again and live in the general resurrection, in the last day."

But you know, that's not a lot of comfort for the moment, she thought and that's why he said, "Well, you don't have to wait until the last day because I am the resurrection. I am the life."

And then, we, know the rest of the story as it unfolds of the resurrection of Jesus, but before... I mean of Lazarus, but before the resurrection of Lazarus, Mary was asked this question, do you believe? Believest thou this? Do you believe? And you know, the other affirmations that we've been talking about these past few times in the Apostle's Creed, and the Nicene Creed about eternal life, like last time we talked about the forgiveness of sins and this, and the others, are some that we experience as we believe them. We live into them as we believe them.

And so, as we believe in the forgiveness of sins and we practice that in our lives, we experience the benefits and joy of forgiveness and reconciliation as we go. But with the resurrection, we don't really experience that a resurrection, we won't until the general resurrection on the last day. But in the meantime, we do experience the joy of anticipation and the comfort of our hope and of our belief and confidence in the continuing life that continues regardless of the state of our body and then with that hope of the resurrection in the last day, when we lay aside the earthly tabernacle, and then we have a certain graveside service usually, along with any other funeral arrangements, of a time of committal, then we commit the body to its resting state there, where it will be until the general resurrection.

We hopefully, usually... And there is a prayer in some of the older liturgies that I continue to use in the funeral graveside services when I conduct those and I pray, whereas the spirit of the dearly departed, loved one, hath returned to God who gave it. We therefore, tenderly commit to the ground, their body; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Looking for the general resurrection in the last day, in the life of the world to come. We find comfort in our belief and hope and confidence in the coming resurrection, even as we continue to experience the resurrection life that Christ has brought us in the spirit.

Temple

But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple. 

John 2:21 (GNT)

 I thought of framing this message around the questions who, what, why, where when and how. And I think that can apply to just about everything that we study in the scriptures, but the why is often raised in our conversations and discussions about the resurrection, about the coming resurrection is, why, if we're spiritually still alive, as Jesus talked with Mary about, as we affirm in the church that the eternal life that we have, and the spiritual life that we have, if that continues and then why have a resurrection of our body.

And I think largely we can just speculate about that, but there are some hints given in the scriptures about that; the why. And I think it points back first to the why of creation in the first place. Why did God create the heavens and the earth and all that is within them?

And you go back to the creation stories and accounts in the book of Genesis, and they tell how God formed and fashioned the body of a person out of the dirt, out of the clay of the dust of the earth, and then breathed into this figurine, the breath of life and man, woman became living beings. And that made them somewhat of a temple and if we can extrapolate that out and see that same kind of example of creation extending throughout all of God's creation, we think of the Psalmist who said that, he said to David, when he was thinking about building a house for the Lord, and he said, "With heaven as my throne and earth as my footstool, how can you build me a house that would even began to accommodate who I am." You know, I think of God as the one, the one who filleth all in all, and is in all, and is among us and within us, and is within all of creation.

When Jesus was walking with his disciples among the temple buildings there, and they were looking all around and he got in a discussion sort of negative remarks were made by the Pharisees and Sadducees and that might be a good time to tell this little thing where they say that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees, the other major party there in the time of Jesus, did not believe in the resurrection. And that's why they were sad. You see?

But they were talking to him and they didn't... They were arguing with Jesus a little bit and Jesus said, "If you tear down this temple, I will build it back in three days." Of course, then their mind went to the temple where they were walking around and the stones that were there and the structures that were there in the temple grounds. But the Bible said that Jesus was talking about his body as the temple. That's the way it's worded in the Good News. He was... He spoke of his body as the King James says; the temple. And Paul emphasizes this quite a bit in his writings. "Know ye not that ye are the temple of the Lord?" And also speaks also the way that he talks about us being like stones in the building of the temple. And so individually and collectively we're temple; the temple of the Lord.

And then the revelation and the promise in the Revelation. "I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and they shall be his people and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying. Neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.'"

So there's a thread there from the creation until the completion of all the restoration and symbolized by the city of New Jerusalem, that through all of that, that we are temple. Our body is the temple and its resurrection is a part of that celebration of life. That we're created in the image of God, to be a temple of the spirit of God, and when the resurrection day comes, then that general resurrection will be the final restoration of that condition, of us being fully alive and fully restored to our purpose that we were created.

So I think that that's where we can, that still leaves a lot in the room to think about, but that is a direction that our minds can go to think about why there will be this resurrection in the last day, why we believe in this resurrection, and as we do place our confidence there, while we don't experience directly the physical resurrection, we do experience the anticipation and the joy and the hope and the promise. We experience the sense of faith in death and we, it's another aspect of that eternal life that we can enter into now, in the by faith, in something that is promised for the future and something that brings us comfort even today when we think about our family and friends and the scene of the resurrection. That is that we look for in the future.

Bodily Resurrection

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Matthew 28:6 (KJV)

And that the resurrection of the body is emphasized in our creeds and in the Bible and in our conversations because some suggestions came right away that, that perhaps it, this was only a non-physical resurrection that Jesus experienced and that we will experience. That minimizes the connection there with the physical part, the body, the resurrection of the body. But Jesus assured his apostles when he first appeared to them, he even said to Thomas, "Put your finger in my hand and then your hand in my side. Take a look and see, and feel and experience that this is, I'm really here." That the body has been raised from the grave.

And we have the famous verse that we usually announce our celebrations of Easter every year. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. And that in the King James from Matthew 28:6, becomes a call and response for our Easter service and begins that celebration for the 40 days from Easter to Ascension, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in many different places, under different forms, and sometimes under recognizable forms, except their eyes were held so that they didn't recognize him. Other times, in other forms, that they couldn't recognize, but then recognized like in Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread and other experiences that he had in relationships that he continued in the body after the resurrection.

But now this new body that he had, or this resurrection body that was renewed and completely restored it, it was done so. We see in the scriptures that he was free from the limitations of before. He could appear in rooms and disappear, and he could have different forms and different places that he could be, and different ways that he could appear than what he could before. And then... And so his body was free from those limitations and we don't really know exactly how that works, of course. We can speculate about it and wonder and get some experience, some kind of insights and all like that, that we can meditate on, but we don't really know.

As we say, in the opening of our funeral services, 

Here and now dear friends, we are God's children. What we shall be has yet remains to be seen. But we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

So in the meantime, we might get some insights on that. We might even learn some things, but not very much. Most of it we'll find out when the resurrection happens, then it'll all come together and we'll experience it together in that resurrection.

And this is not just in the Old Testament either because the Prophet Ezekiel was taken to this valley of dry bones and God said, "Son of man, will these bones dries again?" And God told him to prophesy over the bones several times, as he prophesied over the dry bones that the various elements were pulled back together from wherever they had dispersed from the time of death and brought to life. And so we see that come, a demonstration right there, going back into the Old Testament.

And then Paul writes in Romans 8:19, that all of creation is waits with either longing for God to reveal his children. That all of creation is being renewed and we're all being renewed together and so this renewal and our resurrection, and part of that renewal is a sign at the end and a celebration on the last day that that restoration is complete, that everything has been brought back to the place that it was created to be, back to the state that we were created to be in the beginning and fulfill God's dream when he created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them, including us. And called it all good, by the way.

And so we find our comfort, and our joy, and our hope, and a sense of direction is enhanced by this belief in the resurrection of Jesus and in the resurrection that we will participate in the resurrection of the body. We believe in the resurrection of the body. We look for the resurrection of the dead.

The Trumpet Sound

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 (KJV)

I'd like to close by reading what Paul wrote and let God speak to our hearts through this portion of his letter, to the Thessalonians.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV)




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Heart of the Gospel

 

The heart of the gospel is the forgiveness of sins.

 Forgiveness reconciles us with God and with each other, and brings our relationships into good standing. We continue now our series, the best part about heaven, the best part of heaven, and that is our relationships. And the Apostles' Creed has the statement, "We believe in the forgiveness of sins," and the Nicene Creed similarly says, "We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins." Forgiveness leans toward the release from sin, our tolerance of the person as they are learning not to sin, that kind of thing. And the remission of sins, that describes in part the atonement or the price that was paid for our sins, that the debt has already been paid. And we are living into that release from our debt that was paid by Christ on our behalf. And another aspect of that is like in health, a remission of a disease that has been put on hold and is being pulled back and hopefully won't return.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 31, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

This weekend is a celebration in the church of the Presentation of the Lord. And for our Gospel reading about that is in Mark chapter one, verses 14 through 20. In that passage, Simeon and Hannah prayed for the child and prophesied over the child, Jesus, when Joseph and Mary bring him into the temple to present him to everybody and especially to the Lord. And along with that, they brought their sacrifice that they were supposed to bring, that's required. And there was a system of sacrifices in the Old Testament, and that emphasizes the forgiveness of sin and the importance and the cost of sin and the difficulties in having it canceled or dealt with or reconciled in some way. In Romans 12:1, there's a verse that we're familiar with in the King James, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, Holy acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."  In the Message, it puts it this way and gives you a little something to think about:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Romans 12:1 (MSG)

 Take your everyday ordinary life: your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life, and place it before God as an offering. So you can see there's been a big ... there's a whole lot of territory that we skipped over between the Old Testament sacrifices and the atonement of Christ and his sacrifice for us and for our sins. And now our offering of ourselves as living presentation, as a living sacrifice. So there's the presentation of Jesus at the temple reflected in our presentation of ourselves. But I like all of that passage, the last verse, the best, I think, in that particular passage, verse 40 in the second chapter of Luke. And this is how it says in the Good News translation, "The child grew and became strong. He was full of wisdom and God's blessings were upon him."

The child grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him. Luke 2:40 (GNT)  

The child grew, he grew in all ways, in stature and wisdom and in grace. But all this time that he was a child and then a teenager and then an adult, he was growing into who he became, that we see in the gospels. And his whole life was tending toward that. He grew into who he was, he grew into the role. In a certain sense he was the Messiah, but when he first was born, but it was something that he learned about and grew into and became. And he grew into his personality of one who loves everybody and forgives everybody and includes everybody and accepts everybody and teaches and encourages and all the things that we think of Christ in our personal relationship that we share with him. He grew into being able to do that, and that's a very encouraging thing to me.

We talk about this forgiveness, and I think we all know this is much easier said than to do. Both to accept forgiveness and to extend it to others. And it's something we have to step into and grow into and live into, forgiveness, throughout our whole lives. There are many books and prayers and rituals of the church and all kinds of approaches to forgiveness and theological systems about forgiveness, so we're not going to cover the whole subject today. The scope of this message is to reflect on the importance of forgiveness, for being the best part of heaven, of our relationships. Forgiveness is, again, that reconciliation with God and with each other that makes relationships possible. Without forgiveness, there's no relationship with anybody. With other people, with God, anybody.

Omission and Commission

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Ephesians 3:9 (KJV)

 So God has made this special plan of salvation, the forgiveness of sins. That's a pretty good plan, as we reflect on that. We've used the phrase, probably, "sins of omission and commission." When I reflect on my day or week or life, the things that I regret are the things that I either did that I wish I hadn't done, or the things that I didn't do that I wish I had done. And depending on really how they affected my relationships with people that I have loved and who have loved me, then that's where the importance or the depth or the pain of sin really comes in. And in some cases you can go back and fix some things, and some things there's no fixing. And other people are in the same position and we're in the same position with other people, because there are people where we feel that and recognize that in our own life. But sometimes, we feel that has happened to us by the other.

And it just puts us at odds with each other, either if we feel either ... whichever side we're on, of that equation. If we feel like we have done wrong or not done something that needed to be done, or if we feel they have done wrong or been negligent or didn't do something they should have done. Either way, there's a problem with the relationship there, and it's pretty hard to fix those with anything except forgiveness. Paul wrote, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That's not a celebration, by the way. This is not like, well, everybody does it. And yeah, everybody does, but see, the other part of that is that everybody then misses out on some of the glory, some of the joy that God wants us to have.

So God has this way of fixing it and really, it's always been there, but it's always hard to do and hard to understand, hard to wrap our minds around. But all have sinned, but God has a remedy for all. So everybody has fallen short of the joy and the glory and the goodness and the happiness that God wants us to have, wants you to have, and the happiness God wants me to have. And the kind of relationship that God wants us to have with each other, where we're on good terms with, not only with God, but with each other, and that also reconciles within us. And that's what the forgiveness is all about, is reconciling. It's us to be reconciled with God. And that's what Jesus was doing on the cross, reconciling everything to himself. In fact, in Colossians, it says, "Having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him, to reconcile all things unto himself."

By him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. That's a lot of territory, that's really everything, every place. That spiritual and physical that God wants to be reconciled for our joy. And that's what Christ was giving himself for, that's the sacrifice that Christ made. Was so that everyone everywhere, in heaven and on earth, could be reconciled with one another. And then Jesus also said, but now being ... I think Paul wrote this, "But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness. In the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." I love that idea that this is a gift that Christ has already taken care of and worked out. This plan of salvation, this plan of healing and wholeness, reconciliation. That God has worked all this out for us is just a wonderful gift. A gift of life.

In place of the hurt and unhealthiness and death and destruction, that same sin brings even, it may be small hurt for small sins and large hurt for large sins. And sometimes we don't know the difference, but whatever it is, it's damaged. Whatever it is, it's destroyed by doing wrong or by not doing right in the case of ... it goes both ways. And there's been a lot of emphasis about that too, about silence being complicity. And so the things that we don't do that are harmful to other people and ourselves in the world and the things that we do that are harmful. Either way, whatever hurt is caused by them, whatever harm is caused by them is completely canceled, completely dealt with in the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. And that washes over me because ... and even saying it, the harm that we cause with sin to ourselves and to others washes over man with pain and guilt.

Example of Jesus

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34 (KJV)

But God wants to lift that from everybody. And he wants to ask for your help to be a part of that, to receive that forgiveness and to extend it to those around us as freely as we receive it. There's no other way to get right in our relationship with God and with each other, but to face this sin honestly. And then to receive and extend, share the reconciliation, whatever it takes, with whatever is possible. When Jesus was on the cross, he prayed, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." What a marvelous thing, there were no pre conditions. He didn't even expect them to confess their sin or even to stop it in order to receive his forgiveness. But the forgiveness makes us want to stop and make the correction and try to do better. Whereas one friend said earlier this evening, "We're like a sanctuary. We're a safe place for people to come and to not be judged and to know that we love one another and recognize this centrality of forgiveness in our relationship."

So forgiveness is the prerequisite. Christ didn't have a prerequisite for sin. What he did was forgive us and that was the prerequisite for establishing a relationship and it's the prerequisite for evangelism. We can't bring love and acceptance of people and bring the gospel to people if we're holding things against them. I think in a sense it's like a vehicle. That some vehicles, they don't have any tolerance. They're very unforgiving, and some other machinery too perhaps we've operated. They barely turns and you're in trouble. But other vehicles may allow you to just have a little bit of ... there's a little bit of forgiveness in how you drive them and you can make some mistakes and still not be in too much trouble. You don't want to make mistakes on purpose, you try not to. But if you do, you might not be in too much trouble. And that's how we are with each other.

Another way of thinking is like walking on eggshells with people. We all know people and maybe sometimes we are people that others have to walk on eggshells around them, because you never know what's going to set them off. And what you might say or do that they're going to hold against you or be all upset about. So I think a part of this forgiveness that Christ demonstrated on the cross to an extreme level was one of complete love for the people who were torturing him to death. While they were torturing him to death and they weren't stopping and they weren't going to stop. But he wasn't going to stop forgiving them either. They brought a woman to him one time and they were going to stone her to death. And he brought this up about whoever has never sinned cast the first stone. And one by one, starting with the older people who were maybe more aware of it or had more regrets to come to mind dropped their stones and walked away until everybody was gone.

And then Jesus turned to the woman and said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." I hope to see that the forgiveness is extended fully and freely with the expectation then that our right response, our part, our sacrifice represent ourselves as living sacrifice. Our part is to try to do better and not do, not just that again, but other things too. Or not just, like I said, but what we do and what we leave undone, all that together, we have a new opportunity, we have a fresh start. And so, let's try and not make those mistakes again and not make other mistakes either in their place. Another person they brought to stone and they actually did stone, the first Christian martyr, St. Steven. And while they were pulverizing him, as the Bible said, then he looked up into heaven and he prayed, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." What a wonderful reflection of Christ at Calvary.

As We Have Been Forgiven

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, 
as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  Matthew 6:12 (GNT)

 It is a lot easier said than done to forgive, and even to accept forgiveness. There are two sides of the coin there. Either way, it's hard because ... for a lot of reasons. It's hard to forgive and it's hard to be forgiven. And the more difficult something is, the more it hurts, the harder it is to forgive. And so sometimes we have to begin to just step into the process and begin it and just pray our way through. And some people make it more difficult at times to forgive. Some things are more difficult to forgive, some people might get more difficult to forgive. And sometimes we harden our hearts to both, accepting and extending forgiveness. In a large prayer we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." And there are some other ways that that's said with sins or debtors or however, a different way that that verse is translated in the prayer.

But we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. And at the end of the Lord's Prayer then, Jesus immediately says, "For if you don't forgive other people their trespasses, then neither will your father in heaven forgive you your trespasses." Inherit in the command to love as Christ has loved us, is this sense of forgiveness. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved includes to forgive as we've been forgiven. Reads a lot of other things too. That's the one part that makes it possible to have a reconciliation. Is that if we share this sense of forgiveness ... toward that, to emphasize that, one time Jesus gave a parable of the unforgiving servant, unforgiving creditor, debtor, creditor, both, I guess. Anyway, he wasn't forgiving.

He owed the creditor a whole lot of money, and so it came time to pay up and he didn't have any money to pay up with. And so the creditor in the kindness of his heart recognized the position that this debtor was in and so he just forgave him the entire debt, and it was a huge debt. Forgave him the entire debt. Well, you can only imagine how that would feel if you had a huge debt and that was just forgiven. But then this person who had been forgiven went out and found somebody that owed him some money, just hardly any money, but he did owe it. And he treated him ruthlessly. You can read all about the story, Jesus goes in, he's a better storyteller. But he tells this story and he really brings it out how this debtor ruthlessly attacked this person that owed him money and demanded full payment right now. And when the person couldn't pay, then he just treated him horribly, had him thrown in jail and everything else.

And so when the first creditor heard about him, he came back, called that guy in and canceled his forgiveness. He said, "Since I forgave you, so really shouldn't you forgive others just as freely?" And so the point or the moral of that story, the point of it is that yes you should. When we think about everything that God doesn't hold against us, forgives us for, then just think that we should be reflecting that in our relationships with other people as well. 

Physical and Spiritual Healing

Which do you think is simpler: to say, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or, ‘Get up and walk’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both.”  Matthew 9:5-6 (MSG)

 Forgiveness brings healing. And that's really what salvation is. So another word for salvation is healing. Jesus connected that in many of his times when he healed people. One time, and this is all it said in the message, there was a person that couldn't walk and so Jesus told him, "You're forgiven. Your sins are forgiven."

And everybody was in an uproar about it, "How can you go around forgiving people's sins?" And so Jesus said, "Which do you think is simpler?" This is in the message translation. "I forgive your sins or get up and walk?" Well, just so it's clear that I'm the son of man, I'm authorized to do either or both. And then he told the person, "Get up and walk." And he did. St. James wrote that we should confess our sins to each other. Also, in the message it's like this, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed." We're invited to confess our sins to each other, not confess each other's sins. And that's what happens a lot of times. People, they ignore their own and confess other people's sins. That's not what we're invited to do, that's what we're invited not today.

We're invited to ... One way that the apostle put it was that if we will confess our sins, then God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So that call invites us to a constant sense of self examination, examination of our conscience, self-examination. Daily to reflect on what we've done wrong or what we should've done but left undone. And we might extend that time, sometimes that's more of a personal thing in general. But then, what James is referring to is to not only face ourselves honestly like that in the presence of God but to also share a bit of that. Not all the gory details of everything that we do wrong, although it's good we have somebody we can talk to about things and trust with our conversation, with the confidentiality and be able to talk about things and share some of the details.

But that's not really the key here, that's an additional benefit if we have that. But the main thing is that we are realizing that we, like all, have sinned and we're sharing that realization with each other. And in, I think a little more general sense usually, we are sharing that understanding and facing that together, that we've sinned. And we have several prayers that formalize this, they make it easier to say even though it's more difficult to experience because it get pointed sometimes. But several of the prayers of confession the church offers for us to use in our reflection. But in general, we're just admitting to ourselves and to each other that there are things that we could be doing better than how we've been doing them. And it doesn't hurt to name a few of those. Sometimes, especially if they're really in the way, and there's something now that's a part of that relationship, of that person or a group of persons that we're trying to work things out with.

Not something you have to go ... it just depends on the situation too. But the main thing I think is that we're facing ourselves honestly, in the presence of God, knowing that God loves us and forgives us and realizes these things anyway about us. And then we're facing ourselves honestly with each other and fixing the way we do things together so we can have a new beginning and a healthy relationship. So that's a healthy relationship with God and a healthy relationship with each other. And there's a lot of trust that has to be built in there, along with it and a lot of love. It's all a part of what love is and that's what makes it part of the best part about heaven, is our relationship with God. When we think about people in heaven, we don't really think about being mad at each other or holding grudges.

We figure, you know what? Things, by then, they've got things worked out. And when we think about our family and friends that have gone on before us and now they're in heaven and all the saints and the angels and everybody like that, I don't really think that people have any big arguments and fights and things. Well, I think about it and heaven is, everybody loves one another and accepts each other and encourages and strengthens and they all work together, they do things, they make each other happy, and their love is brought to perfection. And so a part of that perfection is that their forgiveness is also brought to perfection. Their relationships have been perfectly reconciled with one another. And what a joyful way to picture people in heaven. Really, dwell on that and meditate on it, reflect on it.

And it makes you feel better, just thinking about how wonderful heaven will be. Where nobody holds anything against each other and where everybody loves each other and all sins are forgiven. There's no sin there, no more sin. That's part of the promise of God. No more sin. All your sins cast away from you as far as east is from the west, never to be remembered again. So everybody loves each other, everything's good. All the relationships are good and it's wonderful. Paradise. Beautiful. Not that there weren't problems before, but now they've all been reconciled. Now take that picture and bring it into the prayer that we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And as the prayer unfolds, we come to that phrase once again, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

And to the extent that we're able to have that kind of reconciliation with each other, with God, within ourselves in the earth, then that prayer is being answered. So what a wonderful world it is to the extent that people love each other like that, like Jesus loves us. To the extent that we're able to find forgiveness. And we're not just talking about forgiveness for ourselves that we received, like a vessel that receives everything but everything just stays in there, but more like a channel or maybe a vessel with a spigot on it. Somehow, for what is being poured into us, the forgiveness that we're receiving, to flow through us, to everyone around us, just as freely as it's being poured into us. That's not what we're working on.

Like I said, it's easier said than done. But it's something that we're invited to step into and work on as part of this love that Christ has invited us to and this heaven that Christ has opened for us. We think of this, I think relationships is the best part of heaven. We recognize that, then that makes this forgiveness even more important. I think we should, anyway, try to feel that those who've gone to glory are not holding anything against us. They've figured out. So we can accept forgiveness from them, from God and try to do better, try to move forward. And not really necessarily forget what we've done wrong, but to learn from it. Not to forget what we were negligent to do and didn't end up not doing anything, but to learn from that and do better now.

Extend to Everyone

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”    John 20:22-23 (MSG)

 But also to give other people that same tolerance for the things that they could've, would've, should've done or not done. That they could have done. That others do, should. We might think that it would be better if they had done differently. We all could have done things differently and we would have all had different outcomes, but we didn't. And so there we are, at odds with each other. And how do we get past that? How do we fix it? Only by forgiveness and reconciliation and then moving forward in love. And that's just exactly what Christ told us to do. The week after he was raised from the dead, he was gathered together with his apostles on this room, and this is how it's worded in the message, "Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. Receive the Holy Spirit," he said. If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

We're invited, challenged, strongly encouraged, commanded. I really want to put that in a way that makes it real, understood that it's an expectation for us. That we would extend to others, the forgiveness that has been shown to us just as freely. We have an opportunity to be channels for this forgiveness, to receive it. Open our hearts and receive God's forgiveness, and then extend that to the people around us. Open our hearts to receive each other's forgiveness that they likewise are extending to us. And so it's something that we can all share and it brings reconciliation into our relationships and fixes the hurt, heals the wounds, fixes the problems and establishes a way for us to move forward together in love. Here's the commission that Jesus gave to some of his disciples when he sent them on a mission trip, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils. Freely you have received, freely give." In the name of Jesus, Amen.