Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; Sunday, July 24, 2016; Luke 11:1-13; Lord’s Prayer

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 11:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010  and ESV}

 

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Prayer is not only the foundation of the Christian life, it can also be at the heart of many Christian frustrations, misunderstandings, and even pain. Relationships are about shared lives; every life has joy, laughter, hope, celebrations, frustrations, misunderstandings and pain. Relationships are impossible without conversation. While our relationship with God is a special relationship, it is not all that different from the relationships that we build here on earth among each other. Prayer is a mechanism for us to have a conversation with God.

Jesus’ ministry was about relationships; it was about sharing lives, joy, laughter, hope, and celebrations. Jesus’ ministry was also about healing frustrations, misunderstandings and pain.

Two thousand years ago, on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ followers asked for instructions on how to pray because they understood that prayer is the foundation of relationship with God.

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The Gospel of Luke (finalized around 80 CE, Luke 11:2-4), and the Gospel of Matthew (finalized around 85 CE, Matthew. 6:9-13) give us versions of the prayer that Jesus taught his followers.

Matthew’s version of the recorded prayer became the foundation in the liturgy and daily prayers of Christians worldwide. Most of us learned the modern version of the “Lord’s Prayer” at an early age and recite it throughout our lives in the privacy of our personal conversations with God, as well as in public worship. It is automatic and flows from our minds and tongues with robotic familiarity.

Who among us has not wondered at one time or another about how to pray? Who among us has not wondered how God answers prayers? Who among us has not been frustrated with God because our prayers seemed to go unnoticed and ignored?

So, let’s unpack all that.

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Have you ever noticed that the Lord’s Prayer is written not from “me” but from “us?”

“Our Father … give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our trespasses [or sins/debts] as we forgive those who trespass [or sin] against us [or whose debts we forgive] … lead us not into temptation.”

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I cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer without somehow praying for others. My hope and salvation… our hope and salvation… may be personal, but our faith is communal. Allow me to put it another way: when you and I pray for ourselves, we also involve everyone else and pray for their needs as well. We’re all in this together. I don’t know how it happens, all I know is that it does.

Truth be told, I am always praying for myself; it is easier to pray for myself. It is also easy to pray in general: for the unnamed leaders, or doctors, or situations. By doing that, I become self-absorbed in prayer, asking God to address my problems. More than likely we all do that because it is our human condition. However, as soon as the words “Our Father, who art in heaven…” flow from my heart, I end up turning away from my personal worries and towards something bigger than me. My focus shifts from “me” to “God’s Creation,” my mind expands, and my consciousness becomes aware that I live in a world filled with different opinions, problems, blessings and frustrations. I am asking not just for the sustenance that I need today, but I am also asking for God’s providence for everyone else as well.

The Lord’s Prayer appears in two places in the Bible. In the book of Luke, Jesus was praying, apparently by himself, and when he had finished one of the disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us how to pray the way John taught his disciples,” referring to John the Baptist. Jesus responded, “When you pray, say” and he gave the disciples the familiar words.

But in the book of Matthew, toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the disciples against praying ostentatiously with long empty phrases and lots of words. “… your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way…” and then Jesus gives his followers the Lord’s Prayer.

{Illustration: Parallels between Matthew and Luke}

Matthew 6:9-13

Luke 11:2-4

9b ‘Our Father in heaven,

4b Father

hallowed be your name,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your kingdom come.

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

4 Forgive us our sins,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

And lead us not into temptation.

but deliver us from the evil one.

“When you pray, say” and “Pray then in this way.” Maybe I’m reading into it, but he seems a little exasperated that he has to point all this out to the disciples. Haven’t they been watching? Haven’t they been listening? (Hamlin 8). Do they really need words to pray when they’ve been living with a man whose whole life is a conversation with God?

The prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer is an outline on which to hang our different concerns and fears. It is a starting point, a guide that helps us cover all the basics. It is not very long, from a linguistic point of view it is not the great poetry of the psalms or the passionate expressions of Paul, praying for churches he has visited or intends to visit. Jesus gave us just few words. These words are elegant in their simplicity and powerful in their impact. A few words that became the cornerstone, a building block of our relationship with Our Creator. “Our Father … give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our sins…” For all of us together. (Hamlin 11)

 

Works Cited

Hamlin, Rick. “The Truth About the Lord’s Prayer.” 18 03 2013. HuffingtonPost.com. Web Document. 21 07 2016.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 24 July 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Luke 11:1-13

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010  and ESV}

Approximate Message Notes for Sunday, July 17, 2016; Ephesians 2:11-18

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 2: 11-18

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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What would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus? We are in the midst of the series of sermons dealing with this very topic. Today’s Scripture sheds light on the tensions and frustration that all of us experience on our spiritual journeys as we age. I want to say the same thing a little differently: today’s Scripture gives us a glimpse of the daily frustrations that eventually result in emotional and spiritual growth in our lives. As an illustration of what I mean, think of the daily frustrations we experience like the pruning of a rosebush. Any gardener knows that pruning the old branches results in new growth, and blooms only sprout on new growth.

The last time that we talked about what it means to be a follower of Jesus was on June 26 and we looked at the Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. Studies have shown that when a large group of people needs to divide itself, it will naturally break down in groups of 8-12 people. Jesus did not let this group break down naturally, but instead separated them by community. In his time period, these church communities were known as ekklesias.

We can accomplish things both ways – in small groups or as a WHOLE church. The difference is that doing things in small groups promotes intimacy and smallness. Intimacy is a good thing, but it also makes it hard for others to fit in.

If we want to bring our neighbors to God, we need to start doing more things as an ekklesia, or as the whole church family. Doing things as an ekklesia provides opportunities for outsiders to imagine themselves within our church environment and gives them opportunities to grow and nurture their spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that doing things in small groups and doing things as a whole church accomplishes different results, and we need both.

In Ephesians 2:11-13 we hear, “11 … remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth … 12 …were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” This excerpt takes ten seconds to read (fifteen seconds tops) yet it describes the whole span of our lives’ spiritual journey from the cradle to the grave {What John Wesley called a journey towards perfection}.

All of us get complacent with all of our relationships. Our loved ones become a part of our day-to-day routine and all of us have taken those close to us for granted at one time or another. It’s human nature. Think of your loved ones; when was the last time you had a heart-to-heart talk with them? When was the last time that you assumed that they would be there for you when you needed them only to discover that they were not emotionally available? When was the last time that one of your loved ones needed you and you realized how inconvenient it was to be there for them?

We do the same thing in our relationship with God. Truth be told, how many of us assume that God will bless us when we want and are ready to be blessed? How many of us, armed with this assumption, do nothing to build up and maintain our spiritual and emotional connection to God? And because we live in a fallen world, because we are fallen creatures, that state of being can easily become second nature to us.

It is part of living in a fallen world and being a fallen creature: we take each other and God for granted and we don’t even realize that we are doing it.

There is a divide between us and God. That is part of our human condition; that is a part of our fallenness.

Today’s reading gives us a glimpse of how our lives could be different. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). Our Good News, our hope in today’s Scripture is that “14 …he [Jesus] himself … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, …” (Eph 2:14-15).

Humans love to build walls. Smile I think that it started with the Great Wall of China and therefore I blame the Great Wall of China.  Smile. It is easy to see how the Great Wall of China could be seen as divisive because it says to anyone who sees it from the outside, “go away, we don’t want you or your friends or people like you on OUR side of the wall.”

It is much more difficult to recognize walls that we build around ourselves because they are subtle. Nobody wakes up and says to themselves, “today I will make it difficult for anybody to come to church” or “today I will shut out the majority of my neighbors from my life.”

When we hold church-wide events we should invite as many people as we can possibly reach – and we are already doing that. Often when we invite our neighbors they don’t see a need to come. We have become very good at meeting people’s immediate needs (if someone is hungry, we give them a bag of food), but in order for renewal to take place, we now need to find what their spiritual needs are, and then ask God’s blessing and help in figuring out how to address those spiritual needs. That will take time; it is not something that will get resolved very quickly. It will take all of us working together. That is in part what it means to be a follower of Jesus today.

The walls of the church are meant to be structured enough to create a sense of real belonging, and conducive to nurturing our relationship with God. The walls of the church are also meant to be porous and welcoming so that visitors can see themselves weaving their lives into the tapestry of who we are.

I do not know what the solution will be. In one of his lectures, Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” I suspect that our solution may not be easy, but it will be simple.

{Q&A}

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Quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word  but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98)

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 17, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: Ephesians 2: 11-18

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 3, 2016; US American Independence Day Sunday

Independence Day Sunday Scriptures are:

From the Hebrew Scriptures: Deut 10:12-13, 17-21

From the Early Christian Writings: Gal 5: 13-26

You can read these Scriptures here:  {NIV2010 and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Mark 6:31-44

Mark 6:31- 44

NIV2010 Mark 6: 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

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What would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus? Today’s Scripture sheds a light on the tension between our desire for supernatural, we call these occurrences miracles, and the practical application of our faith in God as we live our lives.

The miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000, is a miracle which is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15).

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Most of us are preconditioned to expect a sermon about the miracle of multiplication when we hear today’s Scripture. I want to save this topic for a different sermon.

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I understand a miracle to be an event that cannot be explained by what we know and understand at the time it takes place. Miracles happen all around us every day. We do not recognize most of the miracles because our expectations of what a miracle should be are preconditioned. Miracles are nuanced and unobtrusive interactions between God and God’s Creation. In my experience, miracles are recognized in hindsight. We will talk more about miracles at another time.

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This brings me to the topic of today’s message. In Mark 6:39-40 we hear, “39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.

As I was thinking and praying about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, I felt today’s Scripture come to mind and I felt this detail getting lodged in my head.

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.” Why would Jesus do that? Why not just sit in rows as if they were in a large auditorium? Why would Jesus split them in groups of 50s, 100s, and 150s?

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We can learn a lot about the early church, from the letters of Paul and from the Gospels. Paul used the word “ekklesia,” which before the First Pentecost (pre-Christian days) had the meaning/connotation of “any gathering of a group of people” before God. Such gatherings were usually small, probably 50-60 souls, and the people who made up an “ekklesia” usually belonged to the same household or guild [stonecutters’ guild, bakers’ guild, cheesemakers’ guild].

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In today’s story we have roughly 12,000 men, women and children gathered to learn from Jesus. Most of them were Jews, some were Roman or Greek sympathizers. Most of them met in their own “ekklesias” or synagogues at home for worship, encouragement and instruction mid-week and on Saturdays.

The reason I think that Jesus split the 12,000 person congregation is to put them into an environment that they already knew and were comfortable with. More than likely, Jesus split the people into groups that were centered around their guilds, or villages or families so that as they ate and relaxed they could think about the implications of what they learned as they listened to Jesus. Our salvation may be personal, but our faith and our response to our salvation is not because our faith and how we live it out affects others. What I mean by that is, the way we live our faith is communal, we live our faith within a community. That is why Jesus put his congregation into “ekklesias”, an environment people were already comfortable with and could relate to.

In modern Christianity we have something that we call “small groups.” I want to make it clear, “Ekklesias” of the first century are not equivalent to the “small groups” of today. Ekklesias did not think of themselves as the more personal, relational aspect of a larger church, as many small groups do today. These “ekklesias” were the WHOLE church.

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The early Church Universal was organized in such “ekklesias” up until the time Christianity became the state religion and Christians were no longer persecuted. In the seventeenth century, Pietists on the European continent and Dissenters in Britain revived the “house church” ideal because they had strong disagreements with state churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Catholic and Anglican).

John Wesley, who was a devout Anglican, but whose spiritual journey was strongly influenced by the Pietists and Dissenters, encouraged all Methodists to meet in groups outside of their local church mid-week for the purposes of education and mutual encouragement, even though such meetings could lead to persecution. John Wesley EXPECTED Methodists to keep attending Anglican churches, as he did. John Wesley was the first theologian to think of small group participation as an addition to regular church attendance, not a replacement for it.

“Ekklesias” of the first century differ from the “small groups” of today because “ekklesias” encouraged growth. Their goal was not intimacy and comfort. Their goal was to challenge their members to learn about God and what it meant to them to follow the God of the Jews. That is why I suspect that whole ekklesias showed up to learn from Jesus and that is why Jesus made the decision to split the congregation into communities that arrived together.

We have a good hint of what Jesus’ message was because we have Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5,6, & 7 and we also have Sermon on the Plain recorded in Luke 6:17-49.

Many of Jesus’ teaching were formulated as, “You have heard… but I tell you…” (Matt 5:21-22,27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44).

{Application}

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In Memoriam: Jane Risser Pinkerton

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Jane Risser Pinkerton

Sept 14, 1937 – May 12, 2016

Our thoughts and prayers are with Jane’s Family and friends.

Service of Thanksgiving and Resurrection for Jane will be held at Kingswood United Methodist Church on Saturday, June 25 at 10:30 am.

Obituary can be found at this address: {CLICK ME}

Thinking Towards Sunday; June 26, 2016

On June 26 we will continue to explore what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Scripture for this Sunday is Mark 6:30-44. You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Also see Matthew 14:13-21

Approximate Notes for the Sunday Message; Father’s Day 2016

Scripture for Father’s Day 2016 will be Galatians 4:1-6; Ephesians 6:1-4

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010, The Message, ESV}

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Today is father’s Day and today is about remembering the contributions of our fathers, past and present. Today is also about preparing future fathers for the role of parent and husband, something that the Church should be diligent about not only on Father’s Day but every day of the year. It is a day to highlight fatherhood and the parenting done by men in all of our lives. Father’s Day is a day to honor our biological fathers and dads as well as men who function as mentors to many young people thus becoming “adoptive” fathers to these youths.

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As I stand before you on Father’s Day 2016, I am intensely aware that there is a reason why God made it necessary to have both a male and a female to create and nurture a new life. Fathers offer a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the development of their children. While single moms are capable of successfully raising their children (I am an illustration of that), we know that life works best when there is also a male role model, preferably fulfilled by the father present in the life of a child as they grow, mature and discover their place in the world.

As a society, by and large, we no longer understand why it is important for children to have both a mom and a dad. It is impossible to watch TV without observing the portrayal of the modern-day husband and father acting as lazy, incompetent and irresponsible. We know that this is not an all-representative portrayal of fatherhood because all we have to do is look around this sanctuary to see excellent examples of husbands and fathers that are dependable, industrious, competent, and devoted to their wives and children.

The uncomplimentary portrayal of dads is not new in our culture. Fathers and husbands are portrayed on TV as deranged (“Malcolm in the Middle,” “Simpsons”), troubled (“The Sopranos”), incompetent (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Roseanne”), dimwitted (“Family Guy,” “Married With Children”), absent (“Grace Under Fire,” “Two Broke Girls”), and irresponsible (“Yes, Dear”). There are few instances where the father has a job, works hard to provide for his family, is devoted to his wife and spends time with his children (Tim in “Tool Time,” Phil in “Modern Family,” Greg and Jimmy in “Yes, Dear”), and even these fathers are portrayed as constantly creating messes that mom has to rescue them from.

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Dads were not always portrayed like that. There was a time when dads were portrayed as having flaws, but they were close to what was then thought to be a normative representation of a family (“The Waltons,” “Little House in the Prairie,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Family Ties,” “Growing Pains,” “Full House,” “7th Heaven”).

I believe that being a father is about reflecting God’s presence in his life as well as nurturing a child’s experiences and uniqueness. It is about the intimacy of care and mentoring, privacy and space for self-reflection, self-creation [regeneration and renewal], and emotional growth. A huge part of being a father is helping children to imagine what they are capable of accomplishing and encouraging them to do that.

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In his letter to Ephesians Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV2010). In the letter to Colossians Paul also wrote, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Col 3:21, NIV2010); another translation says, “Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.” (MSG).

  

Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth (Pablo Picasso). The movie The Intern, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro gives us a great illustration of the role that “fathers” and “positive role models” play in all of our lives. During the movie we see the character of Ben Whittaker (played by Robert De Niro) helping a young father – the character of Matt Ostin – figure out what it means to be a father and a husband, we see him mentoring several young coworkers (both male and female) and we see the positive impact that he has on the microcosm and culture of the company where he is “interning.” I do not want to give away the plot of the movie but I can almost guarantee you will enjoy watching it and will be blessed by it. It is currently available on HBOGO and HBO on Demand.

Almost as if he tried to support my message and the message of the movie, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, tweeted on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, “The future of society requires the fruitful encounter between young and old.” {Illustration}

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I think, or at least I hope, that attitudes toward fatherhood are changing for the better in our culture.

{Illustration.}

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Today, as we celebrate Father’s Day, I thank God for fathers who persevered, changed diapers at 2 am, lived through their children’s rebellious phases, sat through recitals and school plays, slept with bugs during camping trips, who stood by their families and stood their ground under harsh circumstances and did a million other things to fulfill the office of fatherhood. I thank God for fathers who made a choice to love their children rather than leave their children. I thank God for fathers who made the choice and effort to lovingly impart wisdom and the knowledge of God, to teach the value of work, the need for integrity, the courage to hope and to dream, and who did it selflessly and with love.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Thinking Towards Sunday; June 19, 2016; Father’s Day

Scripture for Father’s Day 2016 will be Galatians 4:1-6; Ephesians 6:1-4

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010, The Message, ESV}

Scripture for this Sunday: Colossians 3:18-25

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV, The Message, and ESV}

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; Sunday, June 12, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 12:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

 

What would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus? Today Scripture sheds a light on the tension that all of us face in our relationship with God.

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The historical event of Jesus’ anointing is recorded in all four gospels. Because each of the Gospels was written to a specific community {persons living at a specific time and place}, four evangelists {Matthew, Mark, Luke and John } concentrate on different aspects of this event.

Matthew, Mark and Luke do not bother naming the characters of this story. In their accounts, Jesus was anointed by “a woman with an alabaster flask of ointment” and criticized by the “disciples” (in Matthew), or the “Pharisee” (in Luke), or simply “some” people (in Mark) (deVega).

The story that John is telling his listeners is much more specific. John names the characters. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, is the one with the perfume; Judas Iscariot is the one criticizing and rebuking. John also makes it a point to remind his listeners that Judas is the betraying disciple.

John wants to make sure that we understand that these were not two people engaging in some obscure conversation or debate over dinner. These two were among the people who knew Jesus the best. These two – Mary and Judas – were among the people who had the most at stake in Jesus’ future (deVega). Both Mary and Judas were handpicked and selected by Jesus himself; Lazarus, Mary and Martha were personal friends and Judas was handpicked by Jesus to be one of the Twelve.

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We do not know why Mary anointed Jesus’ feet. Some say it was an act of gratitude in which she was thanking Jesus for raising her brother Lazarus from the dead. It was an act of consecration in which she was {“} “encouraging” [or demonstrating support and understanding to] Jesus as He was preparing himself emotionally to go into Jerusalem to fulfill his mission. It was a foreshadowing, an act of preparation, in which she was anointing His body for the death which was to come a few days later. Either way it was an act of love and kindness.

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Every road has markings. We know where the left boundary of the highway is and we know where the right boundary of the highway is. I think that today’s Gospel reading is like a light that illuminates the boundaries of the highway of our lives – the highway that we travel on our journeys as followers of Jesus.

The truth is that Judas made a valid statement that reflects what the Gospels record as Jesus’ teachings to the Disciples when he [Judas] said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages” (John 12:5, NIV). That was a true statement. The perfume was expensive and, if sold, could finance a lot of much needed ministry and outreach.

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Dictionary.com defines the word DISCIPLINE as “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement” or “behavior in accord with rules of conduct; behavior and order maintained by training and control.”

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Judas’ statement sheds a light on the discipline of life that Jesus taught and shared with his disciples. Judas’ statement hints at dedication and a sense of mission that Jesus was instilling into his followers. Many contemporary Christians in North America, many of us, have lost such dedication and sense of mission.

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On the other hand, Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet is an act of tending to Jesus’ emotional needs as he was preparing for the final, challenging and gruesome action of his earthly ministry (allowing himself to be crucified by the authorities). Mary’s action was an act of discipleship; it was an act of nurturing that Jesus needed at the time.

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I understand DISCIPLESHIP to be a process of transformation. Richard of Chichester wrote this prayer sometime between 1244 and 1253:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

Discipleship is a journey that Richard described in this prayer when he wrote, “May I know Thee more clearly, Love Thee more dearly, Follow Thee more nearly.”

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As followers of Jesus, our lives must demonstrate certain discipline (i.e. tithing, involvement in a local church community, Bible study, being responsible members of our society, etc.) as well as discipleship (i.e. being loving and gracious, exhibiting empathy, striving to help one another, being willing to lend a listening ear and understanding heart, being willing to forgive and help someone to better themselves).

Judas represents those of us who find rules and common sense more enticing than sacrificial love, devotion and grace; Mary represents those of us who prefer sacrificial love and grace and can always see a gazillion reasons why certain rules should not be followed (like filling out annual reports for the conference). Mary and Judas represent the boundaries of the highway of our lives as we strive to be followers of Jesus.

In extremes:

  • When we abide by rules and regulations only, when we travel on only this side of the highway of life, our lives project a message of God who revels in hail and brimstone BECAUSE we exhibit very little grace and tolerance.

  • When we abide only by sacrificial love, devotion and grace, when we travel on the other side of the highway of life, we are in danger of being hurt and taken advantage of. We deliver a message of a weakling God for whom everything goes because we do not hold anybody accountable for anything.

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We are not called to judge others. We are not called to be doormats. We are called to be followers of Jesus. Being conscientious followers of Jesus, we are invited to live our lives with both discipline and discipleship.

May God bless us on our journeys and help us to face our faiths. And may our lives be like a pleasant aroma in God’s nostrils.

Works Cited

deVega, Magrey R. CurcuitRider Sermon Starters, February 21 – March 28, 2010. January 2010. 19 March 2010 <http://www.umph.com/pdfs/circuitrider/BBMT001808PDF000.pdf&gt;.

Thinking Towards Sunday; June 12, 2016

Scriptures for this Sunday: John 12:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Supporting Scriptures for Pastor’s Research, Preparation and Study: Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; June 5, 2016;

This Sunday (June 5, 2016) we will have an abbreviated service with the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion  followed by the church picnic. Hope to see y’all there. Bring a 1000 of your closest friends and relatives.

NIV2010Matthew 4: 18-22 Jesus Calls His First Disciples

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.

21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

NIV2010Luke 5:27-28

27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

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Today we heard Scriptures about Jesus calling his first followers. At some point in time Jesus has called every one of us. So what would you say if one of your friends or neighbors were to ask what it means TO YOU to be a follower of Jesus?

Would you talk to them about going to church? Would you tell them that being Christian means that we have to be “nice” to other people? Would you tell them that being a Christian is about certain things that we do and other certain things that we DO NOT do?

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Some things are so ingrained in the fabric of who we are, they are so integrated in our psyche, they are so visceral that they are difficult to explain or to demonstrate. A couple of weeks ago someone asked me why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are referred to as “Gospels”; their question was, “what is a Gospel?”

The question, “What does it mean to be a Christian” is kind of like that. We know the answer, it is a part of our psyche and woven into our identity, but most of us do not consciously know how to explain what it means.

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In chapter three of John’s Gospel, we learn about a conversation that Jesus had with a Jewish Rabbi named Nicodemus. Nicodemus knew his Holy Scriptures inside and out; Nicodemus lived an impeccable, squeaky clean life. His came to Jesus with respect, recognizing that Jesus’ powers flow from God, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2 NIV2010).

We don’t know what Nicodemus asked Jesus because the Bible does not give us this information. I suspect that Nicodemus’ question had something to do with what it means to be a Godly man, what it meant to be a Follower of God in the First Century. The reason I think that is because Jesus’ response was, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born [from above], unless they are born again. …  no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:3,5b-6 NIV2010, emphasis added, aft).

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In my experience, when someone asks us about following Jesus, they are really looking for an easy answer. The truth is that following Jesus is not an easy process; it is SIMPLE but it is not easy.

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That is what Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus was about. Spiritual life demands a spiritual birth, re-birth, renewal and regeneration that happens every day of our lives. This means that being a follower of Jesus is a process that we all go through every day of our lives. During the Last Supper, Jesus called this a process of sanctification (John 17:19), John Wesley called it “going towards perfection,” I understand it as maturing and continually learning about God and how God interacts with His Creation. So how do we do this? And how do we explain the process to someone who asks what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

  • In 2 Peter 3:18 we hear, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (NIV2010).

  • In 1 Peter 1:16, and in Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2 we are challenged to live “holy” lives because God is “holy.” Living “holy” lives is a lofty ideal; the way I understand it is “to live lives that God would not be ashamed of”. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Take joy in the presence of God in your life AND do things that bring joy to God.

  • In his letter to Romans, Paul taught us to never stop “renewing our minds” (Romans 12:1-2)

All of us have ample opportunities to share Jesus with our friends and neighbors. The truth is that coming to church, learning a few hymns, or even memorizing a few scriptures does not make us followers of Jesus any more than sitting in a garage will transform us into a car. Learning about Jesus through interactions with other Christians, eagerly inviting God to be part of our lives and challenging us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” is what makes us followers of Jesus.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; June 5, 2016

Scripture this Sunday is going to be: Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:27-28

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

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