Sermon Options: July 7, 2019

April 6th, 2019

NOT SO RANDOM A HARVEST

GALATIANS 6:(1-6) 7-16

Depend upon and act out of only the Spirit and "do not give up" (v. 9) are the closing admonitions of a loving challenge Paul offers as he reaches out to us across the centuries with his heart writ "large" in his "own hand" (v. 11).

I. Be Patient with One Another
Paul continues teaching his main message here that by the Spirit alone is everything transformed and that this "new creation is everything!" (v. 15). So those who have been touched and made new by the Spirit, should depend on the Spirit—not the law or its reproach—to reach out to and "restore" (v. 1) others. Those who pretend to be serving the law by imposing it on others are simply into egotistical power plays. They should look more to their own "game" than to their neighbor's. They might remind us of the golfer who said to his caddie: "You must be the worst caddie in the world!" "No, sir," the caddie replied. "That would be too big a coincidence."

There is no judgmentalism in those redeemed by the Spirit. In "gentleness" (v. 1) and charity they will look at others and see the best. They will see them transformed before they actually are, which will be part of the transforming process. When we see people hot on the trail of other people's offenses, we can guess that their own have not been taken off their backs yet. I was visiting in a home once, when I accidentally knocked a candy off an Advent chain of candies. The young boy of the family was absolutely Gestapo-like in his mission to announce loudly my awful offense to everyone. That child was so heavily "under the gun" himself, that his need for the relief of redirecting blame onto others was overwhelming!

This kind of distraction from looking to one's "own work" (v. 4) just postpones the day of reckoning with one's own guilt and need for freedom from it. "You who have received the Spirit" (v. 1) don't have to go around with all kinds of opinions and assumptions that you know are right. You can be wrong sometimes and that's all right, because all your transgressions, past, present, and future, have been accounted for. So you don't need scapegoats to accuse and attack and you can deal gently with those who may need some brightening of their ways to gradually sink in.

II. Be Patient with Ourselves
Probably those who heard it will never forget Winston Churchill's commencement address in which the entire text was: "Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never give up!" What is planted will, in due time, be harvested. You can depend upon it, Paul says. Therefore, "let us not grow weary in doing what is right" (v. 9). His heart-warming words of encouragement include himself as one who also has his own need for this perseverance.

He reminds me here of a story about Poland's famous concert pianist and prime minister, Ignacy Paderewski. A mother, wanting to encourage her young son in the piano, took him to a Paderewski performance. They found their seats near the front and admired the imposing Steinway waiting onstage. As the mother got to talking with a friend, the boy wandered off. At eight o'clock the lights dimmed, the spotlight came on, and the audience looked up to see the little boy perched on the bench, plunking out "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Gasping, the mother got up to get her son. But the master had already walked onstage and went quickly to the piano. "Don't quit. Keep playing," he said leaning over the boy. With his left hand Paderewski began filling in the bass part. Then he reached around the other side with his right, to add the top part, encircling the child. Together the young child and the old master held the audience enthralled.

Even so, God surrounds and whispers to us, over and over, "Don't quit. Keep playing," as the Spirit gives its increase and majestic beauty to our humble beginnings. Paul knows from his own experience the dark, heavy power of discouragement. He wants to share the even more powerful resources and reasons to go through that "wall"; God's great help and the great harvest! Yes, "joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5) . Traveling toward it, as the Quakers say: "May the Lord bless you and keep you going." (Kathleen Peterson)

THE JOURNEY OF JOY

LUKE 10:1-11, 16-20

Roy Clements, a pastor in England, tells the story of his decision to go into the ministry. He was earning a lucrative income in the science industry, but knew God was calling him to preach the Word. One day as he shared this desire with one of his coworkers, he heard the typical response: "It seems a bit of a waste." Why would anyone in his right mind leave a good job to tell others about Jesus?

When Christ says, "Go, I am sending you," one does not argue. Just begin the journey of joy and watch in wonder at all that God can accomplish through you.

In Luke 10:1-20, Jesus commissions the seventy-two apostles ("sent out ones") to go before him and tell the local villagers that the kingdom of God is near. As the messengers leave and return, their journey reveals four key insights about sharing the good news of Christ.

I. Pray for More Workers
The first truth Jesus discloses about missionary work is the great need for more workers, Christians willing to sacrifice the comforts of home to go into the world and tell others about Jesus. Thus, he exhorts these disciples to pray for more people willing to participate. One of the problems churches confront is the unwillingness to go and tell. They expect unbelievers to come, sit, and listen. Jesus places the proverbial shoe on the other foot. It is the responsibility of Christians to take the message to the lost; not to pray that they find the front door of a worship center.

II. Go in Faith
Jesus makes sure the apostles know what to expect. They are not embarking on a leisurely vacation through Samaria. Rather, Jesus reminds them of the hostility waiting along the way. The essential component in accomplishing anything for God is the realization that you can't. God will accomplish what he desires through you; never the other way around. To show an understanding of this fact, the apostles are told not to take anything with them: no money, not even an extra pair of shoes! Why? God will provide for all their needs, food and lodging included. It's one thing to say it. But to leave home without your traveler's checks demonstrates total dependence on God.

III. Anticipate Success—and Failure
The third truth seems obvious: some will accept the message and some will reject it. No middle ground exists in the response to Jesus. Either one accepts him wholeheartedly or one rejects him altogether. What surprises us is the direct link between the message and the messenger. When the lost reject Christ, they reject Christians (and vice versa). In other words, as believers share the message of hope, they represent Christ himself. Jesus says, "When you speak, they hear my words." This factor removes all the pressure. If someone accepts Christ, praise God! If they refuse to listen, it is God they refuse to hear.

IV. Bring Home the Joy
The final truth of this passage is found in the last section (vv. 17-20). In this age of financial security, one cannot imagine the utter joy available to those who live day to day on pure faith in God to supply material and spiritual resources. As Christians submit to God's calling, they soon discover the greatest reward in life: being used by God to accomplish his purposes. The apostles experienced the call, the provision, the power, and the product. To lead someone to Christ and witness the transformation brings the greatest feeling of joy ever known. To be used by God, to bring glory to God, to lead others to God—these are the incomparable rewards for abandoning the temporal enticements of this world.

The next time you feel the Lord calling you to share him with others, do not hesitate to begin the journey of joy. You may encounter resistance, rejection, even satanic hostilities, but God will provide the necessary resources for accomplishing his goals. One should not underestimate the possibilities, because one thing is guaranteed: when the Lord calls you to serve him, it will never be "a bit of a waste." (Craig C. Christina)

WASHING IN OLD JORDAN

2 KINGS 5:1-14

I know a man who has a severe back injury and lives with constant pain. He has seen the best doctors he can find. He has gone to a major medical center. He has taken thousands of dollars worth of treatments, but he has found no relief. He has also visited a chiropractor. He has tried acupuncture. The last I knew, he was planning to go to a faith healer.

I can’t blame him. It must be awful to suffer constantly — and to have little hope of healing. There are millions like him, people who have an ailment or an agony or an anxiety and are unable to find a cure for it.

Naaman, whose story is told in our scripture reading, was one such person, inflicted with a dreadful disease that in his day was quite incurable.

He was a high-ranking officer in the army of Syria, a country that was one of Israel’s enemies. He was an important man who had the ear of Syria’s king — but he had leprosy.

Leprosy was a terrible disease of the skin. It gradually ate away skin, then bones and joints, often resulting in deformity or paralysis, and eventually death. (If you’ve seen the movie Braveheart, you may remember the father of Robert the Bruce, whose face was being eaten away by leprosy.)

Anyway, we can imagine that Naaman had already consulted the leading doctors of Syria. Because he was a friend of the king, it is likely that the king had even made his personal physicians available to Naaman, but it had done no good.

Now it happened that Naaman had a young Jewish slave girl in his home, and she told him about the Hebrew prophet, Elisha, and his power to heal. Naaman was so desperate that he was willing to try anything — even going to the land of his enemies to visit a prophet he didn’t believe in. After all, what did he have to lose?

But when Naaman and his entourage arrived at Elisha’s door, they were insulted to find that Elisha himself did not even bother to come out and greet them. Instead, the prophet sent a messenger out who told Naaman to go and dip seven times in the Jordan River to be healed.

That was hardly what Naaman expected to hear. His sense of propriety was offended. He was to dip in dirty old Jordan, a river in his enemy’s land?! What an insult! Why there were at least two rivers in Syria that were cleaner than the Jordan, and they were on home ground at that. Why couldn’t he wash in one of those?

Naaman turned his crew around and left in a huff. Fortunately, one of Naaman’s servants was a little more level-headed and persuaded his master to try Elisha’s prescription. Naaman did. He went and dipped seven times in Jordan, and emerged completely healed.

What interests me in Naaman’s story today is his resistance to Elisha’s instructions, for it is not unlike the resistance some of us may feel to some of the church’s prescriptions for the healing of our souls.

We’ve all heard those time-worn prescriptions from the church:

read your Bible
pray every day
attend worship every Sunday
trust and obey
do unto others
take up your cross
believe in Jesus
and the like ...
We may well say to ourselves, “Why, I’ve heard those things ever since I was a child. They are okay, but my problems today are too big for such simplistic advice. I need some real help.”

And even if we don’t feel that way ourselves, we can certainly understand why a person might take such a position. After all, most of us have already discovered that a life of faith, even when supported by a regular devotional life and consistent church attendance, just does not solve all our problems.

In fact, there have been times for most of us when we have discovered help from sources outside of the church and religion.

For example, if we have been saddled with a personality quirk that interferes with our inner peace, we may have found more help for that particular problem from psychology than from religion.

Or if we have been anxious and overworked, we may have found more relaxation and refreshment from recreation, such as going boating or playing golf on a Sunday morning than by attending church.

The fact is, there are many sources of help for the specific difficulties that plague we mortals. Medical science, for example, has made tremendous contributions to quality of human existence, and quite frankly, it would be foolish to ignore medical help for our ailments and then expect God to miraculously heal us.

Or consider the development of human reasoning, the education of the mind. The cultivation of thinking and general learning is certainly done better by colleges and universities than by the church.

In fact, for almost every aspect of human life, we can name an institution, a science, a method, or a school of thought that has been created to respond to problems in those areas:

if you are physically ill, you can turn to medicine;
if you are mentally upset, you can turn to psychiatry;
if you have trouble expressing your emotions, you can join a sensitivity group or an encounter group; and
if you are in poverty, the government is probably a better source of long-term help than the church.
Many of the secular “rivers” of help are very fine; thank God we have them. And further, some of them even complement spiritual growth.

Nonetheless, despite all this help, life is more than just a healthy body, a sound mind, a strong will, stable emotions, and a comfortable personality. The fact is, a person can take their healthy body, sound mind, strong will, stable emotions, and comfortable personality and use those resources to plan a bank robbery, cheat their friends, or be unfaithful to their spouse.

One of the sad realities of life is that many otherwise sound and talented people suffer from a kind of spiritual leprosy. And when that is the case, medicine, psychiatry, education, and the like are not, by themselves, the source of healing.

What is needed for spiritual wholeness is for the various aspects of the human life — body, mind, conscience, emotions, reason, will, and so forth — to be organized around a human spirit that is committed to God. That spirit then becomes the “manager” of the other dimensions of life and helps to keep them in the proper perspective — focused toward God.

I know a woman who is a committed Christian. But despite her strong faith, she went through a period when she suffered some emotional distress. She decided to visit a professional counselor. She later told me that some of this counselor’s advice and therapy was very helpful, but that a few of his suggestions encouraged attitudes that were so self-focused that they could be harmful to others, even to people she loved.

Fortunately, because her God-committed spirit was the managing center of her life, she was able to accept the advice that was helpful and to reject that which was obviously inconsistent with her Christian commitment.

In other words, her faith gave her a context in which to evaluate the other sources of help offered to her.

You see, what we are talking about is not whether the secular sources of help and inspiration — like Naaman’s preferred rivers of Syria — are more appealing than the spiritual sources. The real question is, what can cure us of our spiritual leprosy?

And the answer to that question is already known to us: Go wash in the Jordan and you will be healed! Or, to put it into a more familiar phrase: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!”

The problem is, most of us have heard that advice so often — many of us from childhood on — that it has a trite ring to it. But think with me for a moment about what following the way of Jesus really means.

For one thing, it means being a part of the believing community that we call the church.

What other institution is there that sanctions the pursuit of holiness, compassion, the meaning of life as legitimate enterprises?
What other alternative is there that so fully provides the resources for spiritual growth?
What other place is there where children are nurtured in faith?
What other place energizes the examination of societal issues not only in terms of what would be helpful but also in terms of what would be right?
Where else are deaths mourned but mourned in the hope of eternal life?
Those of us for whom church attendance is a regular practice are doing a great thing for our lives. That’s because week after week we have the opportunity to view our lives from a faith context, to reorient ourselves and to keep in perspective the other rivers of help. We here share our lives with fellow worshipers who struggle with issues of their own lives in light of faith. We learn again the power of praying for one another, of caring about one another. Even when a worship service, like the dirty old Jordan River in Naaman’s story, is less appealing than some of the secular sources of help, it is still a place where spiritual wholeness was promoted.

Many of us, I think, stand with Naaman pondering strange instructions. Naaman’s instruction was, “If you want to be cured of your leprosy, go wash in old Jordan.” Ours may be, “Learn to pray.” But at the root, we and Naaman are hearing forms of the same advice that the church has been giving for centuries: “Trust God and be made whole.”

It may not be the sentence we were expecting, but it’s the one we need to hear.

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