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August 26, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

Pentecost 13 Mark 7:1-13

A man went to see his doctor for a checkup and while he was there he expressed to his doctor a concern that perhaps his wife was losing her hearing.  “Here’s what you should do”, said the doctor.  “When you go home, when her back is turned, ask her a question, the way you normally would.  If she doesn’t respond, cut the distance in half and ask again.  If she still doesn’t respond, again halve the distance and ask again.  Keep asking till you get a response.  He thought this sounded like a good idea and decided to give it a try.
Upon arriving at home, his wife was at the counter in the kitchen with her back turned and seeing his chance, he said to her, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” Getting no response.  He cut the distance in half.  Again he said, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”  Still nothing.  Half the distance – now practically right on top of her.  “Honey, what’s for DINNER?”  She turned around looking him in the eye and said, “For the third time, CHICKEN!”
And this is the way it is.  When we compare ourselves to others, when we judge and condemn, we are the ones condemned.
We see as much in the Gospel of Mark.  The Pharisees and scribes compared their piety, their holiness and their perfection to Jesus’ disciples.  It made sense.   After all, one would expect great students from a great teacher.  Yet upon comparison, the disciples were not so great.  They didn’t keep the traditions of the elders.  You probably remember from Sunday School the teachers of the law were constantly commenting on the Law of Moses, adding up rule upon rule to further explain and define what it was that constituted a sin, what you did and did not have to do to be a good and righteous Jew.  So there were reams upon reams of little rules to obey.  The Pharisees were experts at these rules.  They made it their business to keep every one of them.
Well, one of those rules just so happened to be washing your hands.  The Jews and especially the Pharisees, constantly washed their hands - but not to get rid of dirt or germs.  They baptized them to get rid of sin and uncleanness.   They baptized their hands – did a ceremonial washing to clean their hands from sin.  Sometimes their own but also and especially everyone else’s sin.  And they didn’t’ just baptize their hands.  They baptized their pots and pans and cups and even their couches; because, you never know, somebody sitting there might have been dirty, might have been a sinner, and a good Jew – (or a good Christian for that matter) can’t have all that sin just following them around.  It gets you dirty.  And so, you wash it off, you baptize it away.  And that takes care of the problem.
The problem is dirty hands.  Dirty sinful hands.  Hands that do sinful things.  Think of all the things you do with your hands.  The things they touch, the things they hold, the violence we do with our hands.  Our hands are dirty.  We have gotten our hands dirty.
Your conscience knows.  Your conscience knows your hands are dirty.  Your conscience knows where your hands have been and what your hands have done.  And your conscience won’t let you forget.  It constantly reminds you.  It constantly whispers in your ear that what you have done wasn’t right.  And you conscience needs to be satisfied.  You need to feel better about your sin.  You need to find some way to keep your conscience quiet.  What do you do when your conscience bothers you?
The Pharisees baptized things.  They knew they had dirty, sin stained hands.  And so they baptized them.  Over and over again they baptized their hands, their pots, their cups, their plates, their couches.  Everything!  They must have been desperate!
They must have been desperate for a good conscience.
What do you do when your conscience bothers you?
To have a bad conscience is a horrible thing.  It is a terrifying thing.  It tortures you and keeps you awake at night.  A bad conscience comes between you and your friends – you are constantly thinking about how you have sinned against that person and so you can’t carry on a conversation with them.  Or else, you are constantly thinking about how they have sinned against you and that can bother your conscience too!  We need a good conscience.  The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
When our conscience is bad.  When it is plagued and bothered by sin, when we look at our hands and see that they are stained with sin, we will often do what the Pharisees did.  Not that we baptize things, we don’t do that.  We know that doesn’t do any good, but we find ourselves behaving a lot like the Pharisees.  We compensate and we compare and then we condemn.
The Pharisees knew they had unclean hands.  They knew their hands were stained with sin.  They looked down at their hands and thought to themselves, “Oh no! What am I going to do!”  They had a guilty conscience so they decided they would try to compensate for their sin.  They decided to work it off, to wash it off,  to do enough good things so that they could make up for the bad thing.  You and I do this all the time.  You do something to offend your wife, and so you buy her flowers.  You do something to offend your husband and so you bake him a pie.  You make someone angry so you kiss up, brownnose a bit.  You do something to offend God so you spend some extra time at church.  You do all these things to compensate for your sin and hope that it will keep your conscience quiet.  But it doesn’t work.
You still know your sin, you still feel you guilt, you still have a bad conscience.  Compensating for it didn’t work.  Your conscience is still screaming at you because of your sin.  You need to feel better.  You need to  keep your conscience quiet.  So the next thing you do is compare.  Look at the disciples of Jesus.  Look at the things they do.  They don’t follow the traditions of the elders.  They don’t baptize their hands before they eat their meal.  They pick grain on the Sabbath.  Or what about Judas – he had a bad conscience  because of the way he handled the money and so when a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfume and broke it open on Jesus’ feet he compared himself to her.  He pointed his accusing finger at her and said.  “Look!  Look! Look at how wasteful she is.  She should have give that money to the poor.  Instead she poured out that costly perfume on Jesus.”  Don’t we do the same thing.  Don’t we compare ourselves to others.  Don’t we try to make ourselves feel better about our own guilt by pointing out the guilt of others?  The Pharisees did it.  Judas did it.  We do it.
And so, when we are done comparing, when we have sized one another up and determined that the other is guilty, we start to condemn.  We, just like the Pharisees, point out all the sins of others, we point out just how guilty they are.  We become hyper sensitive to the sins of others.  Hyper sensitive to the sins committed against us.  And so, to make ourselves feel better we condemn.  We see this very thing going on all the time.  Democrats and republicans with guilty consciences, are hyper sensitive to the sins of the other party and so they condemn.  Abortion activist have a guilty conscience for their blood stained hand and so the condemn others who harm spotted owls.  Fathers have a guilty conscience about the times spent away from home so they condemn their children for their bad grades.  Children have a guilty conscience for disobeying their parents and not doing their school work so they condemn their fathers for being so hard-nosed and judgmental.  Mothers and wives have a guilty conscience for nagging at their husbands to do something so they snap at their husbands for the way they handled their children.  It’s terrible.  A bad conscience is a terrible thing.  We feel sin.  We feel guilt.  We don’t know what to do about it.  We compensate, that is an utter failure.  We compare, but that doesn’t take away the sin.  We condemn one another and it just makes the sin worse.
Friends we look at our hands, we look at the mess we have made with our hands, and let’s face it, it is a big mess.  And there is nothing we can do about it.  No amount of water could wash our hands clean from the stains and the sins that are left because of all that we have done.  We know we are dirty.  We know we need to be clean.  We want our conscience to be silenced, to keep quiet and leave us alone but there is no way we can keep it from accusing us.  Because your conscience is right.  We have sinned.  WE are guilty.
We are guilty, but Jesus was not.  Jesus lived his life with no sin what so ever.  He was pure and clean and holy from the moment he was conceived.  There was no sin, no evil in him that could defile his conscience.  His hands.  His hands were holy and clean, there was no violence in them, no jealousy, never an impure or selfish touch.  Always his hands were used to love, to help, to heal, Jesus had clean hands.  And so when he performed his works, they were truly works of love.  When Jesus used his hands, those sin free hands of Jesus, he fed the hungry and picked up the lame so that they could walk, he touched the eyes of the blind man so that he could see.  And his motives were pure, filled with love, not some effort to compensate for his own sin, only to love.  And when he walked through the streets and saw those he came to save, it was not to compare.  It was not to point out the sins of others, it was not to condemn.  In fact, when an adulterous woman was brought before him and all those who would have thrown stones were gone because of their own guilty conscience, Jesus did not condemn her.  Jesus let her go free.  “Go and sin no more” he said.  And so the hands of Jesus, the healing hands, the forgiving hands, the helping hands were perfectly clean.
But what about you?  What about your guilt and your guilty conscience?
The Book of Hebrews says of Jesus that “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:12-14 ESV)
The perfect and sin free hands of Jesus that had only been used for good and never evil were stretched out by Roman executioners.  They were secured in place and then pierced through with spikes.  And then, the perfect hands of Jesus began to bleed.  Blood flowed from the hands of Jesus so that he could cover and clean the sins that were committed by your hands.  Your hands are dirty.  Jesus hands are clean.  Jesus’ hands bled to offer himself to God and to purify your conscience.
Hebrews 10 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV)
The Pharisees and the Jews according to the traditions of the elders and in an attempt to compensate for their guilt spent their time washing and baptizing their hands and their pots and pans and cups and utensils hoping that this baptizing would make them clean.  It didn’t.  It was a washing done with dirty hands.  But you have been washed and made clean by Jesus himself.  Those same hands that were used to help and to heal, that were pierced through with nails were used to wash you in your baptism.
A self-baptism a self-cleaning can’t ever do the job, you need to be cleansed by Jesus.  And so he does, he did.  When you were baptized your heart was sprinkled clean from a bad conscience as your body was washed with water.  The Lord did this for you.
A bad conscience is a terrible thing.  It fills us with guilt and it tortures us and terrifies us.  It destroys our relationships and tears apart families and homes and relationships and friendships.  But Jesus heals them.  Jesus heals bad consciences by taking away the sin and by cleansing the sinner.  Your sin is washed away and you are clean.
“Baptism now saves you,” writes Peter, “not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  (1 Peter 3:21)

Amen

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August 20, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

Pentecost 12 Joshua 24

The World is fresh off its addiction to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Only last Sunday the games concluded with the closing ceremony held in London. And America all of a sudden has new heroes to cheer for. Of course there was Michael Phelps and his continued dominance in the sport of swimming, new comer Missy Franklin, Gabby Douglas, the gymnast, virtually all of the women’s sprinters, and men’s platform diver David Boudia, just to name a few. We had much to cheer about and it was exciting to watch our American athletes achieve such great success.

There is something quite stirring about watching athletes in action. Usian Bolt ran the 100 meter dash. His race was over in under 10 seconds, but we know that he didn’t just show up and run. He spent countless hours. He trained his body to be prepared for competition. He disciplined his diet and routine to make him ready to participate in a competition that lasted but a moment. But that moment was a moment of greatness.

“Find Your Greatness” was the slogan for the Nike advertising campaign run during the Olympics. Regular athletes, the everyday type more like you or me were shown training for their event, whatever that event might be. We see the success of Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin and we are inspired. They are great athletes. We would like to be great too. Nike says you can be.

Today Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, preaches to us from our Old Testament lesson from the book bearing his name. Choose this day whom you shall serve. Be it the false gods your fathers served when Abraham still lived in Babylon, the god’s you served while you were still slaves in Egypt, or be it the gods of the your neighbors the Amorites. But, says Joshua, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Stirring, isn’t it? We are not heroes from the Bible. But this makes us want to be. We are not great heroes of the faith, but doesn’t this make us feel like we can be? Doesn’t this make you want to find your greatness?

Choose this day Chuckery whom you shall serve. The Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Amorites served false gods; your neighbors serve themselves. The world around you worships money, power, achievement, fame and glory, entertainment and leisure, sex; and they sacrifice their time, their families, themselves so that they can spend a moment with their god. But we won’t make that choice. I won’t make that choice. No. Me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

We might take a look at Joshua and the Israelites. After all, they were a group who had achieved greatness. Look at all the grand and great things they accomplished. They were slaves in Egypt. What other people in the history of the world has managed successfully to throw off the shackles of slavery, to set themselves free from a more powerful and prominent captor? After leaving Egypt behind, they marched through the desert – scorching heat, burning sand, a million people and little water or food to keep them alive along the way, but they did it. When they reached the other side they found a land flowing with milk and honey, but occupied by large and strong people living in fortified cities. But still they took the land and drove out their enemies. Even the great and grand city of Jericho with its mighty walls was no match for them. The Israelites were a great nation.

And so, when we come to Joshua’s ultimatum, Joshua’s invitation to put up or shut up, is it any surprise that they said what they did.

Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

But we would be foolish to attribute the success of the Israelites to the Israelites. Wouldn’t we? We know the reason why they were successful. Leaving Egypt was not something that they accomplished. They did not achieve that by their own power or inner greatness. It was the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. The Lord prepared the hearts of the Egyptians to let them go by inflicting the Egyptians with great suffering on account of the Israelites. The Egyptians wanted them to leave and in fact gave them gifts when they finally did go.

Surviving the wilderness, that wasn’t the result of the hardiness or resourcefulness of the Israelites, it was the provision of the Lord who caused water to flow out of rocks and food to fall from heaven.

Overcoming the Amorites who lived in the Promised Land and destroying the fortified and walled cities, those victories were not the result of the strength of the Israelites. It was not their fierce competitive edge or their military prowess that earned for them a great victory. It was the Lord. The Lord fought for them. The Lord raised them up and gave them victory. In fact, when the Israelites tried to go it alone without the God’s help, which they did try on several occasions, they were routed and fled before their enemies.

No, it was not the power or the strength or the ingenuity or some inner personal quality of the Israelites that gave them their success. It was all, totally and completely the work and the provision of the Lord.

The same exact thing is true for us, both materially but also and especially spiritually. Every success that we enjoy is a gift from the Lord. Everything that we accomplish, every goal that we achieve, we achieve it because of the goodness of the Lord. We go out and work our hardest and do our best. We make the best preparation and provision that we can and we hope for success, but whether or not we make the grade is up to the Lord. He causes the sun to shine, the rain to fall, the crops to grow. He gives the talents and abilities but also the opportunity to use them. He provides the health and well being, the clarity of thought and mind, the influence of the right people at the right time. Every success that we enjoy is God’s gift.

The Epistle of St James addresses this topic. He warns us not to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”. He says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-16 ESV)

Our success, our achievement, “finding our greatness”; it is all a gift from the Lord that he gives according to his good pleasure.

If that is how it is with things below us, that is to say, if you have success in the things that you can decide to do – business, academics, athletics, relationships; and the success in those things comes only from the Lord. If we can’t take credit for those things, then how can it be that we could ever take credit from those things that are above us? How could we ever take any credit for our faith? For salvation? Good works? Our knowledge of God and His Will? Our battles with sin and temptation? Can we ever take any credit for those things?

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. Whether the false gods of your neighbors or the true God who led you out of slavery. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The people spoke in faith. They were completely correct in what they said. “The Lord has performed great signs and wonders. We have seen it with our own eyes, we have experienced it and been witness to it. We will serve the Lord.” You and I would probably say exactly the same thing. You and I would probably make the same exact commitment and promise. Indeed we have. We make personal commitments to ourselves. In our private prayers we make promises to the Lord about things we will do for him, things we will no longer do that we know to be violations of his will for us, we take public vows even here in church before God and his people about things that we promise the Lord we will do. Confirmation vows, wedding vows, our teachers have taken vows of service and faithfulness, I have made vows to the Lord at my ordination and then again when I was installed here as your pastor. We all take vows. We have chosen our greatness. Have we achieved it?

Turn the page from Joshua 24 and you will find yourself in the book of Judges. You will see there that these same Israelites who made a vow to be faithful to the Lord broke that vow.

There is an old clergy joke about pastors discussing the best way to get rid of mice that have infested the church building. There were various extermination methods that didn’t work that each one had tried. The punch line come from the last preacher who says, “We baptized ‘em, confirmed ‘em and haven’t seen those little varmints since.”

Maybe they come back for Christmas or Easter.

We break our vows. We make promises before the Lord, promises to the Lord, whether in public or private and we break them all. And it destroys our conscience. It weighs us down with guilt and fear and full knowledge of our own weakness. We feel impotent and incapable. We go back and forth between feelings of guilt and fear and we try to convince ourselves of our own innocence – that wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help it, someone else pushed me to do that, to say that, to think that. Sometimes we are even able to convince ourselves that everything is okay but then we are right back at it again. Our consciences become a punching bag – a speed bag that the Devil is working back and forth and back and forth and we just stand there and take it. What are we going to do.

Fortunately… Fortunately for the Jews the story doesn’t end for them with the end of the book of Joshua. Fortunately it doesn’t end with the book of Judges. With them abandoning the Lord. Read through the Old Testament and you will find that you can relate to the stories it tells. The Israelites forget the Lord. He sends the Philistines to terrorize them. They cry out to the Lord for help. He saves them. Then they forget again. The Lord send the Assyrians to terrorize them. They cry out to the Lord for help. He saves them. But then they forget him. The Lord sends prophets to warn them, to preach to them, they reject the prophets, they run them off and try to shut them up. The whole thing gets worse before it gets better. In fact, it gets so bad, the people fall so far away from the Lord that he decides there is nothing left to do but to humble them utterly and completely. The Lord decides to wipe them out so that he can purge the land from all the filth and putrescence that they vomited out all over the Lord’s Promised Land. The Assyrians come in 720 BC and carry away the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonians come in 586 BC and carry off the Southern Kingdom.

But the Lord is faithful. The Lord made promises, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord made promises to David. The Lord made promises to the entire nation of Israel. And so he kept that promise. A King to sit on the throne of his father David, a great nation of every people tribe and race, all nations blessed because of their offspring.

A baby was born and came into the world – he grew up to be a man. His name was Jesus. He was born in a poor child in the city of David, Bethlehem, spent some time Egypt, entered Israel and ministry through the Jordan River, 40 days in the wilderness – not unlike those 40 years. Entered into the Promised Land, rode to Jerusalem on a donkey – all of Israel reduced to one. One man who represented an entire nation, no an entire race. And he was tried and convicted for no sin of his own, he was condemned to die, and suffered punishment for sins that were not his own. HE suffered as you and me. We take vows and make promises that we break. He did not. HE does not. And he makes promises to you.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54 ESV)

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57-58 ESV)

We give our word. Make our promise, our words as well intentioned as they are, are never enough. It is only the Word of Jesus that matter.

Jesus asked the disciples if they believe. Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV)

You conscience is clean and clear in Jesus.

Amen.

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August 20, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

Pentecost 12 Joshua 24

The World is fresh off its addiction to the 2012 Summer Olympics. Only last Sunday the games concluded with the closing ceremony held in London. And America all of a sudden has new heroes to cheer for. Of course there was Michael Phelps and his continued dominance in the sport of swimming, new comer Missy Franklin, Gabby Douglas, the gymnast, virtually all of the women’s sprinters, and men’s platform diver David Boudia, just to name a few. We had much to cheer about and it was exciting to watch our American athletes achieve such great success.

There is something quite stirring about watching athletes in action. Usian Bolt ran the 100 meter dash. His race was over in under 10 seconds, but we know that he didn’t just show up and run. He spent countless hours. He trained his body to be prepared for competition. He disciplined his diet and routine to make him ready to participate in a competition that lasted but a moment. But that moment was a moment of greatness.

“Find Your Greatness” was the slogan for the Nike advertising campaign run during the Olympics. Regular athletes, the everyday type more like you or me were shown training for their event, whatever that event might be. We see the success of Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin and we are inspired. They are great athletes. We would like to be great too. Nike says you can be.

Today Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, preaches to us from our Old Testament lesson from the book bearing his name. Choose this day whom you shall serve. Be it the false gods your fathers served when Abraham still lived in Babylon, the god’s you served while you were still slaves in Egypt, or be it the gods of the your neighbors the Amorites. But, says Joshua, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Stirring, isn’t it? We are not heroes from the Bible. But this makes us want to be. We are not great heroes of the faith, but doesn’t this make us feel like we can be? Doesn’t this make you want to find your greatness?

Choose this day Chuckery whom you shall serve. The Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Amorites served false gods; your neighbors serve themselves. The world around you worships money, power, achievement, fame and glory, entertainment and leisure, sex; and they sacrifice their time, their families, themselves so that they can spend a moment with their god. But we won’t make that choice. I won’t make that choice. No. Me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

We might take a look at Joshua and the Israelites. After all, they were a group who had achieved greatness. Look at all the grand and great things they accomplished. They were slaves in Egypt. What other people in the history of the world has managed successfully to throw off the shackles of slavery, to set themselves free from a more powerful and prominent captor? After leaving Egypt behind, they marched through the desert – scorching heat, burning sand, a million people and little water or food to keep them alive along the way, but they did it. When they reached the other side they found a land flowing with milk and honey, but occupied by large and strong people living in fortified cities. But still they took the land and drove out their enemies. Even the great and grand city of Jericho with its mighty walls was no match for them. The Israelites were a great nation.

And so, when we come to Joshua’s ultimatum, Joshua’s invitation to put up or shut up, is it any surprise that they said what they did.

Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

But we would be foolish to attribute the success of the Israelites to the Israelites. Wouldn’t we? We know the reason why they were successful. Leaving Egypt was not something that they accomplished. They did not achieve that by their own power or inner greatness. It was the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. The Lord prepared the hearts of the Egyptians to let them go by inflicting the Egyptians with great suffering on account of the Israelites. The Egyptians wanted them to leave and in fact gave them gifts when they finally did go.

Surviving the wilderness, that wasn’t the result of the hardiness or resourcefulness of the Israelites, it was the provision of the Lord who caused water to flow out of rocks and food to fall from heaven.

Overcoming the Amorites who lived in the Promised Land and destroying the fortified and walled cities, those victories were not the result of the strength of the Israelites. It was not their fierce competitive edge or their military prowess that earned for them a great victory. It was the Lord. The Lord fought for them. The Lord raised them up and gave them victory. In fact, when the Israelites tried to go it alone without the God’s help, which they did try on several occasions, they were routed and fled before their enemies.

No, it was not the power or the strength or the ingenuity or some inner personal quality of the Israelites that gave them their success. It was all, totally and completely the work and the provision of the Lord.

The same exact thing is true for us, both materially but also and especially spiritually. Every success that we enjoy is a gift from the Lord. Everything that we accomplish, every goal that we achieve, we achieve it because of the goodness of the Lord. We go out and work our hardest and do our best. We make the best preparation and provision that we can and we hope for success, but whether or not we make the grade is up to the Lord. He causes the sun to shine, the rain to fall, the crops to grow. He gives the talents and abilities but also the opportunity to use them. He provides the health and well being, the clarity of thought and mind, the influence of the right people at the right time. Every success that we enjoy is God’s gift.

The Epistle of St James addresses this topic. He warns us not to say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”. He says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-16 ESV)

Our success, our achievement, “finding our greatness”; it is all a gift from the Lord that he gives according to his good pleasure.

If that is how it is with things below us, that is to say, if you have success in the things that you can decide to do – business, academics, athletics, relationships; and the success in those things comes only from the Lord. If we can’t take credit for those things, then how can it be that we could ever take credit from those things that are above us? How could we ever take any credit for our faith? For salvation? Good works? Our knowledge of God and His Will? Our battles with sin and temptation? Can we ever take any credit for those things?

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. Whether the false gods of your neighbors or the true God who led you out of slavery. But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The people spoke in faith. They were completely correct in what they said. “The Lord has performed great signs and wonders. We have seen it with our own eyes, we have experienced it and been witness to it. We will serve the Lord.” You and I would probably say exactly the same thing. You and I would probably make the same exact commitment and promise. Indeed we have. We make personal commitments to ourselves. In our private prayers we make promises to the Lord about things we will do for him, things we will no longer do that we know to be violations of his will for us, we take public vows even here in church before God and his people about things that we promise the Lord we will do. Confirmation vows, wedding vows, our teachers have taken vows of service and faithfulness, I have made vows to the Lord at my ordination and then again when I was installed here as your pastor. We all take vows. We have chosen our greatness. Have we achieved it?

Turn the page from Joshua 24 and you will find yourself in the book of Judges. You will see there that these same Israelites who made a vow to be faithful to the Lord broke that vow.

There is an old clergy joke about pastors discussing the best way to get rid of mice that have infested the church building. There were various extermination methods that didn’t work that each one had tried. The punch line come from the last preacher who says, “We baptized ‘em, confirmed ‘em and haven’t seen those little varmints since.”

Maybe they come back for Christmas or Easter.

We break our vows. We make promises before the Lord, promises to the Lord, whether in public or private and we break them all. And it destroys our conscience. It weighs us down with guilt and fear and full knowledge of our own weakness. We feel impotent and incapable. We go back and forth between feelings of guilt and fear and we try to convince ourselves of our own innocence – that wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help it, someone else pushed me to do that, to say that, to think that. Sometimes we are even able to convince ourselves that everything is okay but then we are right back at it again. Our consciences become a punching bag – a speed bag that the Devil is working back and forth and back and forth and we just stand there and take it. What are we going to do.

Fortunately… Fortunately for the Jews the story doesn’t end for them with the end of the book of Joshua. Fortunately it doesn’t end with the book of Judges. With them abandoning the Lord. Read through the Old Testament and you will find that you can relate to the stories it tells. The Israelites forget the Lord. He sends the Philistines to terrorize them. They cry out to the Lord for help. He saves them. Then they forget again. The Lord send the Assyrians to terrorize them. They cry out to the Lord for help. He saves them. But then they forget him. The Lord sends prophets to warn them, to preach to them, they reject the prophets, they run them off and try to shut them up. The whole thing gets worse before it gets better. In fact, it gets so bad, the people fall so far away from the Lord that he decides there is nothing left to do but to humble them utterly and completely. The Lord decides to wipe them out so that he can purge the land from all the filth and putrescence that they vomited out all over the Lord’s Promised Land. The Assyrians come in 720 BC and carry away the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonians come in 586 BC and carry off the Southern Kingdom.

But the Lord is faithful. The Lord made promises, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord made promises to David. The Lord made promises to the entire nation of Israel. And so he kept that promise. A King to sit on the throne of his father David, a great nation of every people tribe and race, all nations blessed because of their offspring.

A baby was born and came into the world – he grew up to be a man. His name was Jesus. He was born in a poor child in the city of David, Bethlehem, spent some time Egypt, entered Israel and ministry through the Jordan River, 40 days in the wilderness – not unlike those 40 years. Entered into the Promised Land, rode to Jerusalem on a donkey – all of Israel reduced to one. One man who represented an entire nation, no an entire race. And he was tried and convicted for no sin of his own, he was condemned to die, and suffered punishment for sins that were not his own. HE suffered as you and me. We take vows and make promises that we break. He did not. HE does not. And he makes promises to you.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54 ESV)

As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57-58 ESV)

We give our word. Make our promise, our words as well intentioned as they are, are never enough. It is only the Word of Jesus that matter.

Jesus asked the disciples if they believe. Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV)

You conscience is clean and clear in Jesus.

Amen.

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August 5, 2012 @ 11:13 am

Pentecost 10 - John 6

It would seem that as of this week, the new test of Christian orthodoxy has to do with whether or not you eat at ChikFilA. I am sure you have heard of the controversy. Dan Cathy, CEO of the Atlanta-based fast food chain, told a small obscure Christian Newspaper that he supports traditional marriage and all of a sudden he has been labeled as a hate-filled bigot and his restaurants are no longer welcome in at least 3 major cities around the country.

In response to these actions, supporters of free speech and the free exercise of religion showed up in droves this past Wednesday to give their patronage to the maligned restaurant chain. It was not unusual to wait in line at least an hour if not two. The restaurant drew protests on Friday from those supportive of the gay rights agenda. Clearly Chik Fil A has become the dividing line of the controversy and those who consider themselves defenders of Orthodox Christianity and orthodox constitutional America have a new favorite restaurant.

Yet one can’t help but wonder if Jesus wants more from his faithful few.

The community of faith and faithful belief was divided all these generations ago when our Lord himself walked the earth. They were divided by their allegiance to Jesus. Some sought to make him their king while others wanted to be rid of him, to never hear his name spoken out in the public square (or really even in private for that matter). Does that sound familiar to our world? Yet for those who considered themselves to be faithful to Jesus and to his cause, for those who were bold to speak, bold to listen, and bold to follow Jesus, the Lord, the Son of God, Jesus wanted more from them. Jesus urged them to great understanding. Jesus sought to push them, to move them beyond their public allegiance to private devotion and private understanding. Jesus sought to push them to faith.

In our text today, the orthodox Jesus followers came looking for Jesus. The Apostle John shows us that these believers came in search of their long awaited prophet, a repristinated Moses. Moses came with bread from heaven, food from the skies that filled their empty bellies and wowed them with great works and signs from God. The Lord worked through Moses and through Moses the people were saved from slavery and secured in the land promised to Abraham. And so now, all these generations later, the people were empty, they were hungry for a new prophet, a new Moses who would save them from slavery and fill them with food from heaven.

Enter the Lord… Jesus who teaches and heals and performs the signs associated with the office of prophet, who teaches the people and leads them. And the people took notice. This must be the long awaited prophet. This must be the promised salvation of the Lord’s people, Israel. He taught them on the hillside. He fed them with bread from heaven. They were ready to take him then and there and make them their king.

But Jesus didn’t come to be Israel’s king.

This story parallels our own. Ancient deliverance from oppression and foundation of a religious society. Contemporary controversy fueled by a secularly minded few. A people hungry for a leader to stand behind and stand up for. And Jesus is at the center.

Yet when the people thought to make Jesus their king – they saw how he fed the crowd 5000 strong with only a few loaves and fish – Jesus withdrew. He didn’t come to be Israel’s king. He hasn’t come to be America’s king. He isn’t fighting for cultures and societies. He isn’t fighting to uphold family values and traditional morals. Jesus doesn’t want to be the king in a kingdom that we have built, that we have established and created and defined. Jesus already is king. High King! Of Heaven no less. And the issue is not whether we call him King or if we make him King in our Kingdom. The issue is whether or not we are worthy to be called servants in his.

Whether you eat your chicken from ChikFilA, KFC, or even McNuggets at McDonalds – this food is earthly food. These kingdoms are earthly kingdoms and they are doomed to fall.

“Do not work for the food that perishes,” says Jesus, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

The food that matters is the food that we receive from Jesus. The kingdom that matters is the kingdom that is ruled by Jesus. It is not that we fit Jesus into our kingdoms so that he thinks like we do and so that he joins our battles on our side. What matters is that we think like he does and we join his side.

His side is not traditional marriage and family values. It is not a Judeo Christian based morality. And, if we were honest we would say that is a good thing. Because traditional family values condemn us just as much as they condemn anybody else. We talk about traditional definitions of marriage. We talk about how the family is falling apart. But then we go out and participate in the things that tear apart the family. Did you know that divorce rates among Christians are virtually the same as they are among non-Christians? Did you know that unmarried Christian young people are just as likely to engage in sex as non-Christian young people? Did you know that Christian men and women are just as likely to use pornography as non-Christians? Are these family values?

Or we talk about the free exercise of religion as though it were an absolute value. Christians should be able to exercise their faith in the public square! How regularly do we exercise that faith in private? We have freedom to worship God as we choose, yet in spite of that great freedom, how regularly do we choose to do something else? All the things we fight for in public condemn us in private.

And so Jesus gives us a better way, a better work for us to do. Jesus said, “This is the work of God; that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Jesus gives us a better work to do; the work of God is faith. The work of God is that we believe in the one whom he has sent. The work of God is simply to confess that Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Son of man is Lord. It is to confess that he has saved you from your sin through his perfect and innocent death. And that because of his resurrection and ascension to heaven you will live under him in an eternal and heavenly kingdom. This is the work of Jesus. This is what Jesus commands for us to do.

And Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is a much better kingdom than any kingdom we could concoct. Earthly kingdoms fights for dominance and dominion, they go to war over earthly food and daily bread. God has those in abundance and he gives them out for free. The eyes of all look to the Lord and he gives them their food at the proper time. He opens his had to satisfy the desires of all living things.

Earthly kingdoms fight to set us free from those who would hurt us or oppress us, but only Jesus can truly set us free. There is no law that he has not fulfilled and no requirement from which he has not set us free. There is no enemy that he has not conquered.

The work of God is that we swear our allegiance to the one who came to die for the sins of the world. He does not command that we jump on board an earthly bandwagon or support and earthly cause. In fact, He commands that we die to this world, that we deny ourselves in this world, because this world is perishing and passing away. He commands that we lay it aside and leave it behind and in its place we bow our knees and our hearts to him.

Psalm 2 asks the question: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:1-6 ESV)

The Lord has set his king in heaven. He is the eternal king of an eternal kingdom. We are not worthy to be called his servants but he has called us to believe. Let us do the work of his heavenly kingdom.

Amen.

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