Sermon Options: June 11, 2017

May 8th, 2017

AN EYE FOR THE FUTURE 

GENESIS 1:1-2:1

Creation set in motion God's divine vision for the future. Creation is believable and dependable and it is marked by paradox. The creation account begins and ends with paradox: "In the beginning....It was finished." Paradox is also realized when we consider the source of creation. In the beginning "God created." That simple statement distinguishes Christian faith from the world's religions, which promote the beginning of the world as the work of multiple gods. Yet the God of creation who is one is also three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The paradoxes are intentional. They are meant not to confuse but to clarify God's dynamic purpose for the human drama.

On the one hand, creation is characterized by silence. Before creation had form, a dominant void of silence existed. On the other hand, "God said...." The limitless capability of God's mind could have thought creation into being. But God chose to speak it into existence.

That Word depicts the very nature of the Creator: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1) . God's Word brought the universe into existence and daily sustains that existence. That Word also indicates the relational aspect of creation. When we become distanced from the Word of God, we experience a void of his power and purpose. That silence is more unconstructive than it is constructive.

On the one hand, creation is predictable. God ordered the universe. Creation was accomplished by design: six creative days, six creative events; land, water; night, day. Creation also was predictably good. And at the end of the sixth day, God pronounced that creation was finished.

On the other hand, creation is marked by promise. Each creative moment was a new beginning. We are filled with anticipation as the account of the beginning of time is revealed. Our anticipation is heightened, and the promise of creation is attractive, because we know in reality that it has been disfigured and corrupted. Although creation was good, the created world is not good.

Creation offers the promise of new beginnings. Each day God creates and we begin again. The plant and animal worlds illustrate the renewable character of creation. The psalmist declared that the mercies of God are new every morning. Paul described the Christian experience as renewed, or re-created. Indeed, creation is predictable and dependable. God is faithful to his covenant and people. We are renewed through prayer in which God faithfully interrupts and punctuates the past and initiates new beginnings. We are renewed through an obedient experience with the progressive will of God. Yes, creation is predictable. It is also filled with promise.

On the one hand, God created. All of existence is an expression of God's nature. God is more immense than creation itself. God is limitless and incomprehensible. On the other hand, God "created humankind in his image." The Creator who cannot be contained by his creation chooses to be expressed through, experienced by, and resident within human life. What a paradox! However, possibly the greatest paradox of all is the refusal of some individuals to be imaged by the predictable, promise-filled, progressive, and renewable nature of God. Today's crises are many. But at the heart of every broken relationship, world crisis, or depletion of hope is a primary image problem. (Barry J. Beames)

RESPONDING AFTER REMEMBERING

2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13

The church knows God as the sovereign Father-God who invites as well as demands respectful intimacy, the saving Son—Jesus Christ—who as the enfleshment of God is the most historically clear revelation of the divine offering holy and eternal communion with the divine through faith, and the Holy Spirit who is the continuing presence of God in the world.

The Father is over us. The Son was with us. The Holy Spirit remains among us. The Father created us. The Son saves us through faith. The Holy Spirit empowers us for life and ministry.

While the manifesting forms of God differ, the content remains consistent. One God has revealed himself in three different, though complementary, ways. God is three yet one (una substantia et tres personae) . "We believe and teach," wrote Henrich Bullinger in the Second Helvetic Confession (1561), "that the same immense, one and indivisible God is in person inseparably and without confusion distinguished as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit....Thus there are not three gods, but three persons, consubstantial, coeternal, and coequal....For according to the nature and essence they are so joined together that they are one God, and the divine nature is common to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Simply, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same but different. Same substance: God. Different forms: Trinity.

I. We Honor God by Remembering
We're visual people. We see things and attach meaning to them. We like to say, "I'll believe it when I see it."

So the church has used symbols, icons, stained glass, steeples, crosses, vestments, and so on to remind us of who he is and what he has done for us. After remembering who he is, we respond faithfully through our lives and ministries (vv. 11-13). We are compelled to please him (responding) after remembering who he is and what he has done (Trinity).

I meet with pastors every year for prayer, study, and support. Not long after gathering a few years ago, a friend pulled out a cross from his pocket and showed it to me. He said whenever he feels it or looks at it, he is reminded of who Christ is, who he is, and what the relationship is all about.

II. We Honor God by Responding
A preacher was called to a new church. After his first sermon, he was asked, "How do you expect to please so many people?" He answered, "I don't. I only pray and work to please One. And if it's okay with him, that should be enough for all of us." Lloyd Ogilvie echoes this idea when he asks people he hasn't seen for a while, "Are you more in love with Jesus than the last time that I saw you?" We respond to who we remember. If he is our Lord and Savior, we pray and work to please him. (Robert R. Kopp)

KNOWING BEFORE SHARING

MATTHEW 28:16-20

A professor had become famous because of his book and course on decision making. Offers to teach at other universities began coming to him. A student walking by his office late one night noticed this professor pacing back and forth inside, looking quite agitated. The student stopped and asked if he were upset about something. The professor said he was trying to decide whether to take a position at another school.

"Oh, well!" said the student. "That should be easy for you by just using that whole system for making decisions that you have all worked out. You wrote the book on that!"

"Are you crazy?" shouted the professor. "This is important!"

I. We Are Called to Share God's Love
The disciples had hard decisions to make after Jesus' death: where to go, what to do. At the close of Matthew's Gospel, we find them where Jesus had told them to go: home, back in Galilee, on a mountaintop—a good place to clear your head for many biblical great moments. From there, Jesus instructs them to go out, with full authority, into the whole world. There, Jesus gives them what we have called the Great Commission to go out and raise lots of money and fill the church rolls. Or maybe that's not exactly what he said. Maybe it would be interesting and even important to look at exactly what he did say. Those disciples were to be the leaven to enliven the whole world. But how? Who, indeed, wrote the book on that? Whose instructions have we really been following on how to do that?

How has it been going in regard to making disciples of all nations and transforming the world? Let's be honest. Not too well. Many fine people have been dedicated to this mission, and the church has had a major presence in history for many years. Yet most of the world is worse off than it has ever been. Deep down we know that if we could only do more, give more, sacrifice more, the Kingdom would come in. It's our fault. We know we should give up our jobs, sell our homes, give all away, follow Jesus.

We should. But we won't. But if we can just do more than we have done—go to more meetings, give more money—somehow, something will happen. This is incredibly misguided, filled with prideful audacity, and wrong. It's fine to do these things if we want to, but...

II. Before We Share God's Love, We Must Experience Loving God
What was it Jesus sent them out to do? What was the reason for their going out into the world? To teach "them to obey everything that I have commanded you" (v. 20). What was that everything? Jesus said it was all summed up in two commandments: "'You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:37-39; see Deut. 6:5) . How much time have you spent loving God? Do you think you know how to love God? What does it mean to love God? If your answers to these questions seem a bit hazy, it could mean you've missed something, which happens to be the most important thing.

In fact, we pretty much assumed we had that first commandment covered and/or we decided we couldn't really do that right anyway until perhaps when we're dead. So we got on with number two.

The command to love God wholly, with everything in us, and to do that first and always, is the big one we may have missed. Jesus commanded his disciples to do this, while saying it summarized all the Law and the Prophets (which must be fulfilled). All this makes the first commandment awesome, fearsome, and very important. It means that we must take this very seriously. We must do this. It takes priority over everything else.

It also means that we can do this. Out of the glory of following this first commandment, comes the self, wholly in love with God—that self then whose being is to interact with others to bring them into a baptism of that presence. That self pulls other lives into direct contact with the whole Godhead (Father, Son, and Spirit) because it is in contact with the Godhead.

III. We Can Begin Right Now to Love God
If we don't know how to love God with the whole mind, body, and soul, then we can contemplate the vision of what it might mean for us to love God, and that completely. We can be quiet, pray, and seek.

No one else can tell you what it means for you to love God because when you're doing it, it's new. You are at the heart of creation then, with the ever new, living God. Don't worry. You won't drift into nirvana or disappear into the ether. But you might begin to discover why the biblical record is filled with words of joy, celebration, thanksgiving, and ecstasy from those who have immersed themselves in what it means to love God with the whole being. We are to bring to all the rest of our mission the self that has loved God. In our eagerness for the signs of good discipleship, have we tried to force the fruit of a vine not even planted in our hearts yet? If we miss step one—the one that summarizes what everything else is just a natural outgrowth of—to try to go anywhere and do anything without that would be crazy. Loving God comes first—after that, we can't help sharing that love with others. (Kathleen Peterson)

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