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

Message Based on John 9:1-41, Jeremiah 17:7-10 and Ephesians 4:1-16

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 17:7-10; Eph 4:1-16; John 9:1-41

You can read them here: NIV2010

Opening Hymn: 131 – We Gather Together

Closing Hymn: 408 – The Gift of Love

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As I stand before you today, I am delivering my 500th message. I said it not because I want to hear some sort of an affirmation, but because for the last couple of months, I felt led to say some things and to summarize some things in this message. It is purely coincidental that it is my 500th message; but it is not coincidental that this message comes after the series on the Parables of Jesus and after several messages about the vision and mission of a church community. I cannot explain that process except as the prompting, pushing and leading of the Holy Spirit.

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On Saturday, September 22, 2012, the Huffington Post had an article titled Religious Advice: What We Would Tell Our Younger Selves About Faith. (In case you are wondering: here is the link). It seems that they asked the HuffPost religious community that question and they posted some of their responses in that article. My goal here is not to reiterate the whole article; all I want to do here is to share some of my favorite answers. I also want to make it clear that there were some answers that I did not agree with and I am not bringing them to you today (among those is “Leave,” and “Ignore it”).

Again, the question was “What We Would Tell Our Younger Selves About Faith.”

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1. Along the way, ask yourself if you are responding to fear or to love?

(-Donna Sanders)

2. Be willing to embrace the mystery. (-Catherine Newberry Davis)

3. Broaden your mind and enlarge your heart. (-Will Kerns)

4. Don’t look at the people to see who God is, He is far more loving, kind, gentle, non critical and non judgmental. (- Cathy Swinford)

5. Serve others! (-Robert Y. Valentine)

6. Religion doesn’t divide people… PEOPLE divide people. ( -Veronica Mendoza-Metwaly)

7. … Ask questions. Seek for your truth in what God wants you to learn not what others feel that you should. (-Ellie Fitzgerald)

8. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Religion is only hard if you make it hard. (-Lubna Kadri)

9. Stop trying to look for answers and signs, just listen to your heart and let go. (-Karen Winstanley)

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Today’s Gospel reading is about us and what we do with God’s prompting on our lives. In a way it is about what I think all of us would say to our younger selves about who God is and what church is.

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It starts with Jesus and his disciples noticing a man born blind and the Disciples asking Jesus a question, “Why? Jesus why is this man born blind? Who is guilty?” And who among us has not asked something like, “Why is it happening to me? … What have I done wrong? …Why are they doing it to me?”

Notice that Jesus did not give them an answer; to paraphrase; he simply said something like, “Sometimes bad things happen.” Then Jesus encouraged his disciples by saying something like, “No matter what the circumstance, glorify God, because there is no better way to spend one’s life than serving God.”

So Jesus did something, told the man to do something in response and the man was able to see, new horizons opened to him.

Then the scene shifted to the neighborhood where the previously blind man lived. All the neighbors wanted to figure out what happened. Some doubted, “It is not our neighbor, it is someone who just looks like him. Who are you and what did you do with the poor wretch that lived here?”

Who among us has not run away from God, trying to explain things that cannot be explained? Who among us has not dismissed the mystery of God from our lives? Who among us has not refused to experience God because “it feels too good to be true?”

Then religious people got involved – the Pharisees. They ask the poor man all kind of questions and encourage him to renounce what happened. I cannot blame them. How often have we, as a church community, tried to fit God into what we understand, and as a result dismissed God’s presence because it was not what we had done or experienced before. That is what the Pharisees did; they even told the man that he was a sinner (as if their nature was as pure and clean as freshly fallen snow) and they threw him out for what he believed happened to him. One of the major problems with today’s church communities is that we expect others to come to us and we are willing to tolerate and humor them while they are becoming like us; we resist recognizing God’s work in them, and discerning the ways we may need to adjust, adapt and change ourselves.

Today’s Gospel reading describes a process that continually happens in our lives; it happens in our individual lives and in our lives as a community. We think we want something; but we don’t want to step out of our comfort zone to reach it. The Pharisees and neighbors tried to do that in today’s Gospel reading.

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The thing is, when we allow Jesus to touch us and to open our eyes, when we allow Jesus to challenge our hearts, when we encounter our Living God it can’t help but change us, we become a new creation.

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And when that happens we become like the tree that Jeremiah was preaching about in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. We allow God’s prompting to challenge us and as a result we change with the times; we respond to God’s Grace and we become agents of God’s love. We bear fruit for God whether it is a drought or rainy season.

That is what Jeremiah taught:

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” … 10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

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Do our roots reach towards the living water of God’s grace and love? What is the fruit of our labors? What can we do to bear more fruit?

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As we deal with these questions, we become the church that Paul wrote about to the Ephesians:

…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

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All of us live our lives hoping to serve God, and when we die we hope to go to Heaven. That is as basic as it gets. But as we live our lives we are living God’s story; the story of God’s interaction with God’s creation.

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What is the story you are writing with your life? What is the strand that your life weaves in the tapestry of God’s narrative? What is the song that you sing to God’s glory?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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