Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lift Jesus Higher

We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ. Our various ministries become opportunities to offer Christ.

Jesus said that if he is lifted up, then he will draw all people to him. And so during this period of Lent, we have been looking at lectionary readings through the lens of spiritual exploration, and what it is that's out there for us and what it is that's in here for us. All around in the spiritual realm, the things that God has for us, and the things that we want to discover in Christ, the things that we want to discover about ourselves and our relationship with God and God's creation.

In this passage of the gospel, [John 12:20-33] Jesus emphasized his lifting up as the way that he would be crucified at the end of his earthly ministry. And throughout his time, he predicted that he was going to be killed in this way and that then he would be raised from the dead, and so that's a part of our preparation as we come to the conclusion of Lent over the next couple of weeks. But he also promised that because of that, there would be a plentiful harvest and that his being lifted up would draw everybody to him.

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

He spoke about this in the beginning of his ministry that we talked about last week, in John chapter 3, where he talked about being born again. And then he talked about the people in the wilderness who were being bitten by the snakes, and that Moses had set the pole up for everybody to look at, and if they would look, they would be healed or saved. And that in the same way, Jesus said, "In this same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." And now he says this about being lifted up and drawing all people to him.

Jesus is the draw
And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me. John 12:32 (MSG)

And I think sometimes in the church, we might all have recognized that there's a tendency to want to try to get ahead of Jesus maybe a little bit, get ahead of the cross a little bit, and to find other things that might draw people together and draw people in. And they might do that, but you know, I like to think that when we came together here at church today, we came to praise the Lord. We just came for Jesus. We came because we want to worship. 

And I think it's better if we have fewer people who all want to worship than a lot of people who came for a lot of other reasons besides Jesus.

And I think that our mission and ministry and the other things that we do as the church to help people are not to manipulate them or to make them want to come and be a part of the church. But they are because out of this love that we have growing within us and the gifts that we have that empower us to ministry, that we want to serve Christ and all the people in this way. And so we're not doing ... Some of the other things that we do are not in order to get people to come and be a member of our group, but they're because of we love them and we want to help and serve them.

And then through that, we want to lift up Christ in all that we're doing so that they're drawn in to Christ, and not to us or not to our ... We're not lifting up our group. We're lifting up Christ. We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ, and those become opportunities for us to lift up Christ. But if we do it the other way around, then we're getting the horse before the cart. And you still need a horse. Well, that's where it belongs, isn't it? We're getting the cart before the horse. If you're going to draw a cart with a horse, you're going to need a cart and a horse, but it does make a difference what order they come in.

And so that's how it makes a difference with us. We're lifting up Christ, and we want to lift up Christ in all we do, and point to Christ, and help people come into a personal relationship with Christ. And he promises that the harvest is plentiful, and that he wants people to follow him. Why? So that where he is that we can also be there, wherever that may be. And that's a promise that he made a couple of chapters later on his way to the cross, when he said that, "If I prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." So, there's a couple of places right together there where Jesus is emphasizing that he wants us around. He wants us with him, and that's why he's drawing everybody to him.

But I also like to highlight that in The Message translation, the word everyone, and in the King James, the word all, will draw all people to me, it's a promise that keeps coming up in the scriptures, that there are texts that can be used to argue against it, and a lot of people do. But Jesus and the apostles and the prophets tend to have this all idea, this idea that all people are being called, all are invited, and that "God's will is that all should be saved," as Peter said. It's not God's will that anyone should perish, but that all should come to this knowledge of Christ. And so, that's the attitude that I think this passage invites us to have is that it's for everybody, that we celebrate our differences and our diversity, and not use it as walls to separate us, but as bridges to unite us and to bring us together, and to look at everybody as a child of God, being saved, being healed, being transformed into the image and likeness of him that filleth all in all. So, lift Jesus higher.

Called by God
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.   Hebrews 5:10 (KJV)  

And then Hebrews 5, that reading talks about the priest, Melchizedek, who came and took and worshiped with Abraham and received the tithes from Abraham back in super primordial times, I guess super primeval times. That was a long time ago, the days of Abraham. We celebrate Abraham and being the children of Abraham's faith, and that was far back in the Book of Genesis. And I was interested to see that that Abraham was born in 1948 AM, Anno Mundi, the year of the world, in the way that they were measuring time, some people measure time in their religion. And so in what they felt was 1948 ...

And I thought that was kind of a interesting little connection there to think about, but that was still a long time ago. It was not the 1948 that we usually go to in our minds. It was a long time ago, and a long time before any of the rituals that we have, any of the prayers in the Bible, anything about the Bible was ever written, anything, any kind of the forms that we follow, or any kind of practices that we have. And so his priesthood preceded the priesthood that was established by Moses by a long, long time, and all of the things that we think of in connection with religion are preceded by this priest, Melchizedek, coming and being a part of Abraham's life.

And that's who the Bible lifts up, that Jesus is a priest after that order, the old time one, the real old one, the one that precedes all the others. And that is very personal and it is deeper than ... And so that includes, really, all of everything that came afterwards, but it goes back deeper, to something deeper that we're invited to really be a part of when it's brought up that way.

And there's not much to know about him, but John Wesley brought that up as a high point. He said, "The Holy Ghost seems to have concealed who Melchizedek was on purpose, that he might be the more eminent type of Christ." 

And I can add a word that was in The Message that he was designated by God, that we use the word called in the King James, but in The Message it said designated. And that's kind of an interesting way to think of it too, that our calling is a designation, and God has called you and gifted you to something then, that the Holy Spirit has designated you to do that job.

The Holy Spirit has designated us and called us and specified that this is our assignment, and that's what God would like for us to do. And if we do, then it's not just because of a whim that God might have that day. It's because it will be what will fulfill you in your life and make your life, and not only you, but the people around you and the people who receive the benefit of your ministry.

Everyone will know God
None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.  Jeremiah 31:34 (GNT)

And then the prophet Jeremiah spoke as an oracle of God, spoke the Word of God, that "everyone will know me." That promise, there it comes again, everyone will know me. "None of them will have to teach a neighbor," it says in the good news, "to know the Lord, because all will know me from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken it."

One of my favorite commentaries, Daniel Whedon, wrote, he translated it this way with a little paraphrase, "I will break down the barriers of separation and bring back the lost harmony." Yeah. I love to think about it like that, because that's part of our salvation is that the disruption in our relationship and the discord that we experience and we see around us, in our own relationships and on the news and every place else, there's that sense of discord. But there's that sense of where people will put people in different categories and then hate that group, whatever it may be, and there's so much of that. And it becomes so intense and so violent and so connected with religion, so that people start getting a sense of that's what they should do. It's their Christian duty to hate someone and to express that hatred in whatever ways they can get by with. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that we're invited into love and fellowship with one another, and that God expects us all to be a part of this, that we all, that everyone, everyone will know God. Maybe eventually, and it may not have happened yet, but it's happening. That's in the process. And we're a part of that process as we come to know Christ and as others around us come to know Christ, and we all relate to each other, and as people who are coming to know God better in that process.

And it's not just something that Jeremiah thought might be a good idea, but Jeremiah said, "I, the Lord, have spoken." And we have a hymn that sometime you might like to look up. It's in our hymnal and it's online and everything, but it has this, the hymn's name is "God Has Spoken by the Prophets." And I think that's a good thing to think about when we think about who's saying what, and whose opinions that we're following or implementing in our lives. What has God actually said? What did the prophet say God said? And here's something the prophet said "God said." The prophet Micah and the prophet Amos said some sayings like that too that we bring up a lot that go along those same themes about loving and about taking care of people. And they'll say, "And God said this. God will do this."

Restore our joy
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Psalm 51:12 (KJV)

The purpose of it is not for our condemnation, as we see from what Jesus said right after John 3:16 in John 3:17, in the very next verse that often gets marginalized or left out of the conversation about where he said that "He didn't come to condemn anybody, but to save or to heal everybody." And so, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit," as it says in the King James. Now that passage from the Psalm 51 that we began the service has several other verses that we might be familiar with from some of the songs that have been made out of them are from. Otherwise, they're used in so many of our services and our liturgies, "Create in me a clean heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Blot out all my inequities. Cast me not away from my presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me," are just a few of the things in that verse that have become a part of our whole praise and our whole worship and our whole relationship with God.

God wants to restore us to joy, and just to restore the joy that was intended in our creation that we would have. "Uphold us with his free spirit." I love that idea of the free spirit, because we all probably know some people we would describe that way, as a free spirit, and it just ... It's a very attractive trait, I think, when we find people to be free and in a way of just freely loving and freely giving and being happy and making others happy around them. And the Bible here invites us to think of God that way, and that that's who's upholding us, a spirit that is sovereign and free and loves us just freely and wants us to be happy. 

Enter the Relationship
“Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”   John 12:21 (TLB)

And so the invitation, going back to the gospel message, again, as it began, we're invited to enter into a relationship with Christ. And then to extend that invitation to everybody around us, to enter into this kind of a relationship that the people who came looking for Jesus, they said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." That's really what people need and want above anything else that we have to offer.

John Wesley, in sending the Methodists over here in the first place to form the missionary group into a church, he said, "Offer them Christ." That's our mission. That's what we offer. That's what we have to offer that the world doesn't have to offer, but the church, not just our church, our denomination, but the body of Christ, the church has to offer, is Christ. Who he is, what he thinks, how he loves, how he wants everybody to be in love and harmony and union with each other, and be blessed and to be filled with joy, and to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." And all the things that he sends us to teach and invite and encourage, that's what people need. That's what people want. 

They want to meet Jesus, and so let's help facilitate that. Amen?

Monday, March 15, 2021

Whosoever Believeth


From God's perspective, our salvation is a healing of our body, mind, and soul. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

John 3:16 provides us a summary of the whole Bible. As we think about that verse and unpack the words that are there. We just about just keep going, just pretty much cover all the various threads that we find throughout the scriptures in those words.

The one that always stands out to me the most in that verse is where it says that, "God so loved the world." Because even though people of all different persuasions and viewpoints in the church will share in an affirmation of this verse. There still seems to be a lot of thought that God doesn't love the world and wants to destroy everybody in life unless they meet certain, come up to certain standards and meet certain criteria. But what I hear God saying to me through this passage is that God loves the world. As we always affirm in our communion, that comment in the beginning, God created all things and called them good. Created all the people and called us good. Even though our love failed, God's love remains steadfast.

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

It's our love that fails, it's not God's love. It's our love that is imperfect. And even sometime to the extent that we don't really always know what love is, we have limits as to our understanding of the debts, but for God none of that is present. His love is pure and perfect, and infinitely deep for you, and for me, and for all. And that is the law that Jesus gave, that Jesus highlighted, that Moses highlighted, love. Now, when we think of that law and commandment, we sometimes put it into the realm of keeping the law or breaking it, as being like keeping human laws or breaking them, laws that some legislature has, or some leader has imposed. And so then if we're caught breaking the law, then we were taken to court and judged and punished accordingly.

And I think that imagery is there in the scriptures, but I think it also points us to something deeper is that the law of love is a physic law, like a law of physics, it's like gravity. Don't break the law of gravity because if you do, then there will be consequences, but it won't be that you will be dragged before the magistrates to be judged and punished accordingly, it will be the repercussions of not getting along with, and not being in harmony with that principle, universal principle.

And the same it is with love, that it is a universal principle, that was the motive behind God creating the whole universe, including us. And so when we get crosswise of that love, when we break that law in that sense, when we are not in harmony with the law of love, then the consequence is the harm, and hurt, and illness, and hard things that we bring, either upon ourselves or upon others, or on society, and many times that are handed down through the generations.

No matter who or how much
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  John 3:16 (KJV)

So God loved the world so much, and out of this motive, out of this love, out of this divine sense of caring and concern and love for everybody, that God gave Christ to be our Savior. And his desire in doing so was that no one would perish. That's God's desire and hope for us as expressed by the apostles as well in saying that, it's not God's desire that anyone should perish but all should come to a knowledge of salvation. And in the promise said, "Eventually every knee will bow. And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

And so he gave Christ, so then no one would perish. That whosoever believeth. So lift that phrase up, especially today, "That whosoever," and there's a song that, "I'm so glad that whosoever will may come." Includes everybody. No one is excluded from this call and invitation, "That whosoever will. Whosoever believeth." Whatever categories we might put them in, in our way of organizing our thoughts about different people, whatever those categories may be. They're just invisible grid lines that we put on them, they're not really real. What's real is God's all encompassing universal love for everyone. Everyone everywhere, without exception.

And out of that, "And whosoever, believeth." So I say, no matter who or how much. Jesus gave the parable of the mustard seed, and said, "Even if you just have that tiny little bit of faith like a mustard seed, that you put that in the ground and it grows, until it gets bigger, it'll grow." That's not what we have to worry about. We don't have to decide if somebody has enough faith or if we have enough faith. If we have any faith, we put it in Christ, just whatever tiny bit we may have. However difficult it is for us to believe, if we just try and turn to Christ with that faith, and then there's something there to work with for us, for each other to work with, for God to work with. So just try and see.

Just try and see
So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.   Numbers 21:9 (MSG)   

This passage that, of the gospel comes from the early ministry of Jesus and Nicodemus came to him by night. And they talked about these different subjects like being born again and everything and that, and then Jesus referred back to that book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, which was named that because of the census that is included in that book but it also tells a little more about the Exodus journey of the children of Israel as they were, just like Exodus telling about that period of time.

And as they were traveling through the desert, then they came on this horrible, evidently pretty large area of poisonous snakes. And so they expressed that they felt that was God's punishment on them for breaking God's rules. And so Moses took it up with the Lord and said, "What shall we do about this?" And so the Lord told Moses to do something that seems contradictory to the 10 Commandments, but he told them to make an image, 10 Commandments said no graven images but in this case, God told Moses to make a snake out of brass or some material and put it up on a pole and in the midst of the camp.

And the point was that if anybody would even just glance over at that snake on the pole, if they believed just enough to even just look over and try it, then they would be saved. And so that brings up a couple of things more too, of course I guess I touched on a few already but, it brings up that salvation, our understanding of salvation. Because we may properly have this as part of our thought of being saved from eternal condemnation. But I think that also this points out that from God's perspective, our salvation is a healing of our body, mind, and soul. It is a healing. And the words are used interchangeably, or translated interchangeably. The words that are used for a healing in the Bible are translated interchangeably with the words for salvation. And so that's at least a major part of our salvation is the wholeness that God calls us to.

So our minds can be at peace and not be all going off in all these different directions, upset even within ourselves, the war that Paul talked about and warring within ourselves, but that we can have a peace in our minds, peace in our hearts, and peace in our relationships with each other. And even within ourselves, a wholeness, a sense of healing that is going on in our lives. And so all they had to do was peek over there and that would be theirs. They would have that peace, that wholeness, and that healing, and they would be rescued from this disease from the snake bite, the poison.

But did you know that there were a lot of people that said that, "Looked over there and they were healed," but even with the people that looked over there and it worked, there still were a lot of people who refuse to even just peek over there to see if it would work and who perished.

And so I bought that was a pretty appropriate for our times that we've been going through in the last year of the pandemic, because there are a lot of people that have been social distancing and wearing masks and getting vaccinations and trying to be careful. And even with that, there is a lot of people who have perished and who have suffered because of the pandemic, but yet as a way of helping, it definitely mitigates the circumstances. And yet there are a whole lot of people who won't even try anything like that. And so a lot of times it's not them who perish, it's other people who perish as a result.

So what is, what really is safe? A lot of those people think of it as an act of faith to not even try doing what will be helpful. I guess that's someplace where we have to explore for ourselves. But we have to, maybe a good way of checking on what really is our faith and where are we putting it when we can't even try and see, because that's what Jesus was talking about to Nicodemus in this passage when he gave John 3:16. Just look, just try, just take one little step, just do something, as a response to the invitation that, "Whosoever believes in me shall not perish, but have everlasting life."

Thank you, God
Praise the Lord for his loving-kindness and for all of his wonderful deeds!
Psalm 107:21 (TLB)

Again, think of the Psalmist that we shared at the beginning of the service, "Praise the Lord for his loving kindness and his wonderful deeds." We just have to thank the Lord for being so good and so kind to us, even in the midst of the struggles and difficulties. And for providing a life in this life and what we need in this life, and providing for life in the world to come, and providing a spiritual realm of life, where we are laying up our true treasures in heaven and where we have an internal connection and fellowship with one another. And for whatever blessings that we discover along the way, in good times, and in difficult times, praise the Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for what you provide us.

In the letter to the Ephesians, God raised us with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ. So we continue our spiritual exploration during Lent, that's a big one there to discover how God has, not physically raised us up in a resurrection like Jesus, but spiritually has raised us up with him in his resurrection and in his eternal life to give us a little more. And we're not anywhere near close to fully realizing that, to a full healing, to a full resurrection of our spirit, but he's changing us, and transforming us, and lifting us up, and bringing us up with Christ, to sit with Christ in the heavenly places.

And so we can be, when we're thanking and praising God for what he's done for us, let's thank and praise him for the joy that we have, that we would not have. That for the insights and vision that we would have, that we would not have. For all the blessings of the spirit that we would not have were we not given these by the Lord if we had not, if we didn't believe. If we just didn't believe in it, in what he's giving us, if we didn't believe in God.

Heaven on earth begun
[God] raised-us-with Him and seated-us-with Him in the heavenly-places in Christ Jesus,   Ephesians 2:6 (DLNT)

And so, like heaven on earth begun as John Wesley wrote, in some of his songs, "Heaven on earth begun." We've started already, we're walking through those "heavenly fields." We're experiencing some of those graces now. And then just imagine how much more abundant and beautiful those will be when all of the difficulties and the hardships of this temporal life have been laid aside, and we enter into the realms of glory of everlasting, everlasting glory, and perfect love.

And that's where he's raising our minds to those higher planes, bringing us upward and onward, even though sometimes it might feel like a couple of steps forward and a few more steps back sometimes we're gradually on that trajectory of heaven.

No condemnation
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.   John 3:17 (KJV)

And so then after saying John 3:16, it goes to John 3:17, I'd like to close up with that thought, "But God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." Throughout all of this, today I think it's an important take away from this conversation with Nicodemus that, God's purpose in sending Christ was to save us, to heal us, not to condemn anybody, but to save everybody, to heal everybody. That's God's purpose in sending Christ. That's Christ purpose. And all that is being gifted to us is that we, and along with all of our family and friends and neighbors and community and world, would come to a knowledge and wholeness, salvation in Christ. That's God's purpose.

What's our purpose? We want to discover that and align our purpose with God's purpose, and to have that same motivation and desire to see everybody not condemned, but saved. And that's what we're about, I think here at Briensburg [United Methodist Church], is to extend that message of hope and salvation and wholeness. An invitation that whosoever will, may come. 

Whosoever will may place what faith they have in Christ and find their wholeness and their salvation in the name of Jesus. Amen.


Monday, March 8, 2021

Cleansing the Temple

Our love and desire for a deeper relationship with God and with each other becomes the driving force, "the flame that leaps from heart to heart," that makes us want to clear our lives and grow spiritually, and think about heavenly things, and keep our mind on the best and the most beautiful. 

He was speaking of the temple of his body .   John 2:21 (RSV)  

 The temple figures prominently in the scriptures as part of our faith, and it's an important part of our fellowship and relationship as the people of God. It is that way for people of faith, regardless of what their faith is, and what their religious views, and philosophy and everything is.

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

In our nation's Capitol, over the last few months we've heard it... Especially referred to the Capitol Building as the "Temple of Democracy," and then we have all these different religions around the world that was highlighted. Even yesterday with Pope's visit to Iraq, and how sometimes people in war try to destroy each other's religious worship places, temples, in order to increase the pain of their enemy and the demoralization of their society, because of the importance in that deep love and reverence that we have our places of worship.

 That's the same for people all around the world. That has been since time immemorial. As we even feel about the places where we worship because of the experiences that we have personally had in these buildings, and sometimes even more because of the experiences others before us have had, as we think of people, and what they've said and where they sat, and what they did and the ministries that radiated from our congregation, as we dispersed from this place to other places, and the blessings that we share and that we feed on.

Many of those are in the scriptures, highlighted in the scriptures, the stories of the people and the things that they experienced in the Spirit, in the temples.

So the temple at Jerusalem is one of those places, a prominent place. Jesus went to the temple there and he cleansed the temple. And in the scripture there are two places where he cleanses the temple. One, at the very beginning of his ministry before he even completed the selection of the apostles. Before he even really got underway with many of his teachings, the other at the end, right before he gave his life for us at Calvary.

In some people's views, these are two different events. Some people think that they're the same one just located differently in the scriptures because of John putting things more in a theological order. And some that it could have happened many several times, because many of the things that Jesus did, he probably did more than once... he did it other times. Those are some things that we can think about him and study about a little bit sometimes. But from our perspective, this year in Lent, as we are looking at the events and the readings of the Lectionary through the lens of spiritual exploration, then for me, the meaning or the essential part of what this is about is cleansing.

What Stays and What Goes

Get these things out of here. Don’t turn my Father’s House into a market!   Vs 16 (TLB)

 My temple is cleansing, cleansing our temples and discovering the things in our personal lives that need to stay, or need to go. And that's how we clean... or I do anyways, when I'm cleaning out files from my office or something like that. First I go through and I get that low hanging fruit. You might see, I just, the things that I can identify immediately when I see them as needing to be thrown away, then I throw them away. A lot of times that's as far as I get, but then if I take a little more time I might make another pass and throw away things that also need to be discarded, but aren't so easy to part with. And that's how we clean. We sort through, and that's how we need to do in our personal lives.

And that's what we see Jesus is doing here with driving out the things that didn't belong in this house of prayer, in this house of worship. And I think a lot of churches have different ideas about what should be in and what should be out. I've been in all kinds of different churches. And some churches, they are pretty much open to anything and to have meals in the sanctuary area, and have, depending on how they're set up, have different kinds of activities and everything.  Another church won't even allow you to have meals on the grounds of the church, and then everything in between. Some, you're going to have activities in another building on the property or others on the property, as long as it's not inside of a building.

So all of these different things that people come up with to try, and really as a response to this kind of event, in the Bible, and wanting to kind of get it right and not to have anything going on that doesn't need to be going on. So we can all think about our different policies for that, and the same thing's going to be going on in our personal lives. There are things that some of us will want to clean out that others won't necessarily want to clean that thing out of their life, but something else. And so that's where it gets really personal as we examine our own lives and our own relationship with God and with each other, and make those kinds of personal decisions about what stays and what goes.

All Consuming

My devotion to your house, O God, burns in me like a fire. [Psalm 69:9] Vs 17 (GNT)

But Jesus quoted a verse from David in Psalm 69. And it's written this way in the Good News, "My devotion to your house of God burns in me like a fire." I believe in the translation page, it had something about it being a consuming fire. So all of that, the devotion, the all consuming, the zeal, as it says in the King James here, that this zeal of the Lord has made me do this.

It's our love, it's our desire. The deep desire we have that drives us, and the love that we have for our congregation, for our fellowship together, for the church as a whole, that drives us, all of this works together to make this biggest priority in our lives is our spiritual exploration, our spiritual life, and our love for our family and friends who have gone on before us, others that are around the world in different places that we love and like to be in fellowship with in spiritual ways that go even more deeply than all the other types of friendships that we may share, that our love for God and for his creation just completely overwhelms us.

[Our love and desire for a deeper relationship with God and with each other] becomes the driving force, "the flame that leaps from heart to heart," that makes us want to clear our lives and grow spiritually, and think about heavenly things, and keep our mind on the best and the most beautiful. 

So one image in the Bible for that, that I think is really neat, is the building of the temple. Originally, because the idea came to David as he was sitting in a palace that he had built for himself and looked out the window, and he was seeing this tent out there. That was the tabernacle that, as we recall, began in the time of the Exodus and at the time of Moses, and they built this tabernacle and they would carry it around and they brought all their best gifts to it. And they made their sacrifices there.

Now it was in the center of the congregation, became the focal point of the Jewish people as they were traveling through there. And then they came to Jerusalem, and there, they continued this tabernacle. And David thought that since he was living in a big palace, he should build a house for the Lord so that he wouldn't have to just live out in a tent and the yard. And so he decided to do this, and God said to him, "David, I'm going to get this straight. What you're talking about here, because you're thinking that you can build a box, and then I'll live in that box." And he said, "but the heavens are my throne. And the Earth is my footstool. So how are you going to build a house big enough for me to live in?"

It emphasizes the point that just because there was a tabernacle there, that didn't mean that God was confined to that space any more than just because we have a house over a meeting place here, that God is confined to this place. Special things happen here, but God is also out there when we leave these doors. That's one of the things that... but then God decided that David would not be the one to build the house, but that his son Solomon would in the next generation. And so Solomon gathered all the finest materials from around the world, all the great craftsmen, and they built this impressive building. 

Then it came time for the dedication and the Shekinah glory of God filled the house so full and so intensely that everybody who was inside had to go outside as the glory of God, filled the place and spread out about them.

That gives us a really nice image for not only our church, but for our personal lives as that, the goal and the desire that God's glory and joy would just completely fill us. This Spirit would overwhelm us and fill us, and radiate out from us into the lives of the people around us.

The Sign

Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up! Vs 19 (TLB)

After he cleansed the temple, the people who were in charge of the place were a little bit irate, because they thought, what claims that went on, so cleanse it and they hadn't made the call. They challenged him and said, "by what authority do you do these things? Who gave you the room, right? What sign can you give us to show that you have the right and the authority to do these things." Jesus told them this sign that nobody understood at the moment, even the disciples who were with him, he destroyed this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.

So this is a building that Solomon had built. It had taken a long time to build with the finest craftsmen and everything like that. Thinking about Notre Dame, and how they're trying to reconstruct that. Now, the Temple had been destroyed [by the Babylonians] and rebuilt over the years, and that takes time and money. And to think that even replacing all that in three days was just beyond anything they could wrap their minds around. To see that as a sign of his authority, they just sit and accept that. But the sign, in retrospect was there. And that's how it is with many of our scriptures.

When you look back on things, then you see how that unfolded. Because a lot of times prophecies and everything in the scripture might have a message for their immediate listeners, but it may have a deeper message for those who will be reading about that or hearing about it later on down the road, hundreds of years later, like us here in this sanctuary. When we hear that, we hear it differently, don't we, than they heard it? Because in our minds, we hear him talking about his death and the resurrection. In their minds, they were looking at something different, but that's what he was talking about: the true temple. Jesus was talking about his body as the temple.

True Temple

But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple.  John 2:21 (GNT)

It's probably easier for us to grasp that idea of his body as the temple with our whole belief system, that we have in all of our ways that we were raised, and all our Bible readings and Bible studies and everything that we've lived with in our church relationship and all the things about God dwelling in Jesus, that in him was "the fullness of the Godhead bodily." I think that also by extension, that we're invited, especially through the writings of Paul, to see that as not only just his personal body, but our bodies also. Remember how Paul said, "What? Know ye not your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?" So you think about this Shekinah glory of God, filling the temple at Jerusalem and its dedication, and think about the Holy spirit, descending on Jesus in bodily form.

It was his baptism and him being for us, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily, and then think about us. He says an individual may think about myself. You think about yourself as a part of this temple, where the Holy spirit dwells and think about us as a congregation, as believers gather together. Two or three there, Christ is among us.

Think about the other imagery that Paul gave about us being like a building. Each of us being like a stone in the building, as it grows up in the house of the Lord, all of this imagery points to a cleansing of a temple that is very personal, and also a corporate for us to consider going back to that person apart.

What stays, and what grows, what needs to be improved? What in my life, and what in our congregational life needs to continue and what needs to be let go of? We're really at a good time to do that because of the restarting of being together, and worshiping, and all that kind of fits once again, as it has another time, everything is on the table. Everything's there for us to look about, pray about, and make decisions about, so where do we go from here?

This is a good time for us as a congregation to cleanse the temple and make some fresh starts. It's always a good time as individuals for us to do that. So it even becomes a good time for us to lead the community in that kind of approach to our current life.

New Understandings

 They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in Scripture and what Jesus had said.  Vs 22 (MSG)

This all brings us to new understandings. Here's how it says in the Message, verse 22. "They then put two and two together and believed both what was written in the scripture, and what Jesus had said." I like how it says that about putting two and two together because that's really kind of what we do. We take the scripture and we take our experiences -- we take what we've heard and what we've seen, what's happened in our lives, and all of this. It just kind of comes together. It reshapes how we think. We were talking before about paradigm shifts. As new information comes, then we change our view. As the new information came to these disciples, they changed their view, their understanding after the crucifixion and the resurrection, then all of this came back to them.

We see that brought up in two or three other stories in the scripture too, in the gospel that they didn't understand in the moment. Later afterwards, some more things happened, and it all came together, and they understood. That's how we do. We put two and two together. We put these things together, and we make our decisions and we go forward. Then we move a little bit further, and we learn some more things and we discover new things, and we understand things differently. That's how we grow. That's how we explore the spiritual life.

So I invite us this morning to think about those points of this passage and how we would apply them to our personal lives and our life together as the church. What stays, what goes? What is all consuming in your life? What's the thing that drives you the most? What's your passion? What signs do you see, beyond the signs that are given, of Christ's love and presence for you? What is that true temple and what do you understand prayer and spirituality, and eternal life to be for you today? 

In the name of Jesus, amen.



Sunday, March 7, 2021

Our Cross

The more that we can change our point of view and look at things from God's perspective, then the clearer it becomes for us.

Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  Mark 8:34

The season of Lent we can't go through without confronting the cross. The cross is a central symbol of our faith because it's a central concept of Christian faith. Jesus only carried the physical cross one day, but yet as we hear him speaking and preaching and talking about the things to come, especially in this gospel passage and then become... It's very apparent that his mind was on the cross and on what was coming that one day and everything that was leading up to it.

The cross is a symbol for us, both life and of death, and after the death of Christ the cross it still became central in our faith and focus as the event from which Christ was resurrected, and after which the church was empowered and it still becomes in. And then what Jesus lifts up in this gospel reading today is that we each have a cross to bear. And for most people, it is not a physical cross, but for some people it has been.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on February 28, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

For most people, it does not mean the level of suffering that Jesus experienced, but for some people that has meant that, but for all of us, it does mean our sense of purpose and responsibility and direction and the price we're willing to pay, to be disciples of Jesus, to be able to lay aside other things and focus on the things that are the most important, which is the exercise of lent and the purpose of lamp to help us to practice that and to step back from a lot of the things we normally do every day and to put Christ at the center.

And if there's any place then Christ has, -- that we've drifted from Christ being at the center in our lives, -- that's our cross. And in this passage, Jesus began to teach them, as it says, in the King James and said that, "He would be rejected and he would be executed and that he would rise again," this resurrection was still a foreign concept for them and for us sometimes difficult to wrap our minds around as well, but we had a little clearer picture than I did prior to all of this, that because we have all the events and the sermons that have been preached on those events and the messages and everything that's been handed down to us in the hymns. We sang in the celebrations that we continue every Sunday and every year at Easter.

Rejection and Resurrection

And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  Vs 31 (KJV)

 Peter pushed back on that as we'd probably all would, but there is a tendency to push back against the idea of suffering as a part of our faith, especially because of our faith and the difficulties and challenges that we make without having positive attitude and feel like we're going to just breeze through everything because... And especially that where people of faith that everything will be easy, but as we know from experience, that's a skewed interpretation because it's not that things are easy are that we skate through life, but that God is with us, helping us send that our faith sustains us through the difficulties.

Paradigm Shift

“Satan, get behind me! You are looking at this only from a human point of view and not from God’s.”   Vs 33 (TLB)  

 And I'm using the term paradigm shift to explain Jesus's answer to Peter, and this is from the Living Bible, he said, "Satan, get behind me. You are looking at this only from a human point of view and not from God's."

That word has become popular in our use over the last several decades of a paradigm shift or a change in perspective. And a lot of us because of the modern advances of science has changed our whole perception of things and when something fundamental and central something core to our whole experience and perception of the world around us. When that changes, then it ripples out across our lives, it reverberates throughout our lives and the lives of our community and world, because then we have to take another look at everything else that's affected by that and how we understand it. And one of the great ones I think of is the concept of the shape of the world, because for all of humanity until just a short time ago everybody thought the world was flat.

And all their research and all of their theology and their science and everything else was based on that concept. Back then when there was discovered the world was round and everything that goes with that it began rippling through everything, and the first thing that happened was rejection and people were angry and mad to even have that concept brought up and people were tortured and executed and punished in many ways for believing in that and for following that or promoting that idea in any way, but gradually as people came to understand that that was the truth, then it reshaped the way that people did everything else, navigation, science, everything else changed, and it continues to evolve around a new concept, a new perception that is more true and more accurate, and it makes everything else line up a lot better.

And then in the last couple of centuries all of the... the word paradigm comes out of to some of the changes in thinking that were discovered by science over the last century, especially in new views that help us to realize everything isn't how we might've thought it was. And to think of that then in the terms of the cross and in terms of Christ, what he said here, "You're only looking at it from the human point of view and not from God's."

And they were several things that Jesus taught about. One that we've been speaking of quite a bit here lately, is that idea that from God's perspective, everyone who ever lived is still alive from our human perspective, when the body is laid aside, when the earthly tabernacle is laid side then it's hard for us to wrap our mind around that continuing life of the spirit. And Christ invites us to look at things from God's perspective and as we can see that's a lot hopeful, it's a lot more eternal and it has a lot more depth and richness and brings us joy and comfort and brings us hope for the future to look at things through God's eyes, life and death and the cross and suffering and all that we share together in the spirit.

The more that we can change our point of view and look at things from God's perspective, then the clearer it becomes for us. And that's what I think what we want to do when we read the Bible.

When we sing the hymns of the church and when we pray, when we have our fellowship together and when we engage with other people its to see each other, the way that God sees us, and you hear the word the way that God speaks it, to feel the connection and the life that from God's perspective, which we can't just flip a switch or snap our fingers and make that happen. That's something that we grow into another good thing about Lent to give us that time to support each other and encourage each other of all different denominations and everything else to just take that personal time to grow in the spirit and to work with our perception of how things are, come and try to look at things more deeply from the spiritual point of view, that makes it pretty personal.

Personal Cross

“If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me.”  Vs 34 (GNT)

A cross. though it's personal, it's something that we share together. Humanity shares in the suffering as we have in this pandemic, shared the suffering and yet there's something very personal about it because we share in all of that and yet it affects each single one of us in a different way. And the same with the cross. As the Good News says, "If any of you want to come with me, told them, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me." And that is easier said than done sometimes, but with thinking of our cross as our personal responsibility and our personal opportunities and then we take those we shoulder them every day, as he says, in other places, do this daily, make this the big rock in the jar and make this the focal point of our day to take up that cross and let everything else fall in around it and carry that cross and follow Christ, implement his teachings, implement his viewpoint and implement his guidance in our daily lives, in the response to the situations of the day.

And then the embracing of the opportunities and it becomes very personal, but yet shared with everybody else who is taking up their cross. And together we follow Christ.

What Matters Most

What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?   Vs 36 (MSG)

 When there were several verses in this gospel reading that challenge us about what's the most important in our lives and about the importance of following Christ and of the spiritual life for us, what matters most in the message verse 36 says, "what good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?"

That's a good question and it pulls a lot together there, but what good is it? If we have all of the things that we can think of and that we pursue and there would be things that would be temporal that would turn into just sand would fall through our fingers. Then that would not be lasting, but like Jesus invites us to lay up our treasure in heaven with lasting treasure eternal treasure, where nothing can hurt or destroy it where it's always going to be there. And we can always be relying on him and using it. What good does it do if we just lose that what's most important to us about life and about ourselves and the things that we wanted most in life? And we miss all of those for things that really didn't matter, but they just got in the way and we got lost in them instead that would be not so good and the real shame.

The Real Shame

 “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.” .   Vs 38 (MSG)

 That's the shame of it and Jesus concludes this passage here by bringing up, I'm going to read it from The Message in verse 38, "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels." I think that probably the worst fight that associate with a judgment day is the sense of embarrassment where that we will be embarrassed.

And I don't like to be embarrassed. I don't know anybody who does, but if we're embarrassed, sometimes I think [inaudible 00:15:07] at the beginning, as we look at that, who's pointed out if we're embarrassed or shamed as the other translations say of Jesus, when we get together with other people and we're talking about things and we allow their views on everything that we disagree with and we don't believe in and everything, but we let that all stand and we are too shy or embarrassed to stand up for what we believe in and for the love and the goodness of Christ because we don't want to be embarrassed.

Then that's going to come back around and we will find ourselves even more embarrassed and as Jesus puts it, If we're embarrassed about him, If we're ashamed of him, he'll be ashamed of us and embarrassed by us. And I look at that from God's perspective, I guess that would make God feel bad. I guess you could say and it would be like, hey, what's going on here? I thought you were my disciple. I thought that you loved me and you're letting yourself be influenced by people that don't care about not about God, but don't why?

The things that people might care about today and tomorrow, they don't even remember anything about it. It's a pretty challenging thing there I think is for us as we take up our cross to do so gladly and to take a stand on the things that we need to take a stand on and not rudely or anything like that, but also not in a way that is insignificant and try to do things that minister our gifts and our graces in effective ways.

We take up our cross and we follow Christ and we're glad to do so and we're glad for everybody in it to know that we're doing this because we love Christ and we know that Christ loves us and we're helping the brain. We're trying to change our own view to be what God would have us to match up with God's view that invites us into, and at the same time, we're trying to change the world. One person, one neighbor, one family, one conversation at a time and `let us take up our cross and follow Christ. Amen.