“A Living Faith” Sunday, 09,09,2018

Sermon for Sunday, 09,09,2018

Text: James 2:1-17
Theme: “A Living Faith”

Often, we Christians are referred to as people of faith, and our organizations and institutions are called faith-based institutions. Have you ever wondered why? The obvious reason is that we are people of faith in God; we put our faith in a God who is not seen. Through faith in God and His Word, we believe in this God of creation and redemption.
By classification, faith is an abstract word. It is our conviction about God and his word, and it is at the very foundation of our relationship with God. Without faith in God, you and I would rather find something else to do on Sunday morning.
Paul makes it very clear in Hebrew 11:6, that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him. He goes on, “For he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
When we put our faith in God, and accept his saving grace, God saves us. Hence, Paul writes, 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
But faith in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ is not just an abstract conviction. It has a tangible fruit. Faith in God shapes who we are and influences what we do. This is the lesson James is teaching us this morning.
James says faith without work is dead. Sometimes this message seems to be in tension with Paul’s position that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, but it is not. In the 10th verse of Ephesians 2, that I quoted earlier, Paul adds, 10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them.”
Though work does not save us, but when we get saved by grace through faith, our work becomes a testimony of our salvation.
If our faith in God does not show good deeds, James says then our faith is dead. But we want to have a Living Faith; not a dead one. But our faith is not a living one unless its evidence is seen, and impact felt. A living faith is not based on the claim we make, but the good works we do.
Of the many things that could be listed as good work, James emphasizes the treatment of our fellow human beings. His teaching stresses that we all have the same intrinsic worth. Favoritism, based on whatever reasons, should have no place in the church.
In our context, especially now in life of America, the principle would apply to issues of race, immigrants, struggling Americans, etc. We are challenged as Christians to treat with respect, the poor, the minority, and the disadvantage, whether it is the student sitting next to you in class, or the homeless person walking down the street. We should treat them the same way we will like to be treated. This would amount to the demonstration of a living faith.
The second point James makes as a Living faith is how we respond to the needs of the needy. He says what good would our faith be if a brother or sister is naked or lacks food and we don’t help him or her, but tells him to go in peace, and keep warm, and we do nothing to help supply their bodily need? This would be a demonstration of dead faith, according to this biblical passage. s If a
As Paul says, we Christians are saved not by, but for good works.
Each of us here this morning has an opportunity to demonstrate a living faith through our work. For we have several opportunities with in and out of the church to do just that. Right now, we are providing lunch every Monday for our brothers and sisters at the warming center in Marquette. And we are thankful to all of those involved. Keep Kids Warm, a mission project to provide warm clothing for needy kids of our community during Winter, is coming up very soon.
The text makes clear that a living faith is not just something personal, or solitary; it’s not something between just you and God. It is a conviction about God that influences your life. John Wesley puts it this way: “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”
Today, we live at a time when people care less about what we profess or believe. But they will care when they see and experience the love of God through us.
So, the question is not whether we have faith or not. It is whether we have a living faith that is seen though what we do. When we demonstrate a living faith, there is bigger picture. That is, people see God at work through what we do.
It is my prayer that we will allow our faith to influence us in ways that become testimonies of God’s presence in our community.
God bless you.

The Heart That is Right with God” Sunday, 09/02/2018

Sermon for Sunday, 09/02/2018

Texts: James 1:17-24; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
Theme: The Heart That is Right with God”

A recent poll shows that seven percent of Americans claim to be Spiritual but not religious. By this, they claim that they acknowledge the existence of a divine being, but they do not associate with any formally organized religious community or participate in any religious ceremonies or rituals. While I remain unconvinced that this is right a path worth taking by anyone who calls himself/ herself a Christian, I fully understand that sometimes religion can be abused, and made harmful to people, instead of becoming a community of love of God and those around us as we are commissioned to do.
As we see in the gospel reading of Mark, Jesus is having some differences of opinion with the Pharisees and some of the scribes, who were among the main religious leaders of the time. The Pharisees and scribes were upset because some of Jesus’ disciples did not observe the Jewish hand-washing ritual before eating. To these religious leaders, this was a serious religious offense that Jesus had allowed his disciples to commit.
Let me stress that this washing of hands had nothing to do with personal hygiene. They were part of the traditions the scribes and Pharisees had given to the people as part of the law. “Why do your disciples not live according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hand?” They protested!
Frankly, we all carryout some traditions because we are not the first generations of our family and Christian ancestries. There are those who have come and gone before us, and some of their practices, writings, hymns, prayers are still important to us today. They are part of our rich heritage.
But for the Jews at the time, something much more was at stake. Whenever the Jews practiced these washings, they declared that they were “special and other people were “unclean or defiled” This was never God’s intention for the Jewish religion and any true religion for that matter.
In his response, Jesus quoted Isaiah, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me, teaching human precepts as doctrines. You abandon the commandments of God and hold to human tradition.” Then Jesus taught the crowd, “it is not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it is what you put out that pollutes: lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, mean look, arrogance, deceptive dealings, foolishness- all of these are vomit from the heart. There are the sources of your pollution.
For ancient people, the heart was believed to be the center of decision, intentions, and the will. In this context, the heart is the source of everything we do; good or bad. So, having the Right Heart puts a person on the right path. The point Jesus is making is that the right heart breeds the right attitudes and behaviors, and vise versa. It can be a source of wickedness, as well as good.
Every evil that a person does is first conceived in the heart before it’s put into action. That is why Jeremiah (17:9) says, “The human heart is deceitful of all things. It is incurable. No one can understand it.”
But it can also be a source of good. Proverbs (3:3-4) states, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man. No wonder why we are told in Proverbs 4:23, that “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
I am sure we now understand Jesus’s description of the religious leaders as people who worshipped God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. That’s not what God wants us to be. God wants our hearts to be close to Him. I am talking about hearts that honor God. Hearts that are influenced by God’s words and live in obedience to them as James says in his text.
The heart that is Right with God is the source of transformation. Paul cautions us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed through the renewing of our mind (heart in the same context-Romans 12:2)
True worship flows from the heart that is Right with God. David says, “I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart. And I will glory Your Name forever (Psalm 86:12). This is the kind of heart that knows it is not the center of worship, but God is. The opposite is to worship God with only our lips, (on the surface) according to Jesus in this text. And this is not what God wants of us.
Next, the heart that is Right with God is not full of hate, but overflows with joy, love, kindness, grace, kindness, to even people who may be considered undeserving.
The behavior criticized by Jesus in this text sometimes shows itself in many different forms among Christians. Sometimes the church becomes so overly concerned with process and procedures which are just intended to be the vehicles through which we do ministry, that we lose sight of our missions and ministry God has called us to.
My plead to you this morning is not to allow anything, not even me as your pastor to stand in the way of your service to God. Know that like everyone else, I too am a sinner saved by grace and serving in response to God’s grace upon my life. Don’t allow the trivial things to set you off as the Pharisees and scribe did.
Rather, each day we should be asking God to fill our heart. For if we don’t avail our hearts to God to fill it, something else will. They could be rage, anger, arrogance, resentment, covetousness, jealousness, envy, etc, and that’s the last thing we want.
As I close, it’s my fervent prayer that you and I will serve God with a heart that is right with Him. May our hearts be filled with praise and adoration to the Lord, and may God fill our hearts with His Spirit.
God bless you.

Sunday, 08/26/2018 Part IV of Series: A Grace-Full Life

Sermon for Sunday, 08/26/2018
Part IV of Series: A Grace-Full Life (from the womb to the Tomb)
Text: Romans 8:37-39

Theme: God’s Never Ending (Glorifying) Grace
During World War II, a passenger ship set sail from Great Britain headed for port in New York City. The Captain of the ship being afraid of enemy vessels, sought the advice and guidance of the British Admiral. The Admiral calmly assured the captain that no matter what happens, he should be sure to sail his ship straight ahead. “Do not take any detours — sail the ship straight ahead — continue on-ward, heading straight towards the intended mark,” he said.
After several days of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean which was undeniably filled with submarines and enemy vessels of all kinds, the Captain spotted an enemy destroyer off his forward bow. Nervously he grasped the handset and called for assistance. The calm voice replied, “Keep on straight, do not detour, just sail the ship straight ahead. Everything will be just fine. Just keep on going – straight ahead.”
After a couple more days the ship pulled safely into the great harbor of New York City. Shortly after docking the great British battleship “Man-of-War” pulled into port behind the passenger vessel. The Captain realized that while he did not see the British Battleship, she was there, standing by ready to come to his defense should it prove necessary.
Like that passenger vessel, you and I have been surrounded by God’s gracious love from the day we set sail in this life till the day we depart this world. But God does not even abandon us after this life. In the words of Paul in our text this morning, “nothing in the whole creation, not even death can separate from the love of God.” God’s love for us is Never-Ending.
In the song, “In Christ Alone,” we will sing “From life’s first cry, till final birth, Jesus commends my destiny.” God’s All-Reaching or Prevenient Grace is made available before we are aware (Romans 5:8). This is followed by God’s All-Saving or justifying grace which redeems us from sin and give us new life when we say Yes to Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since then, you and I have been on our faith journey under God’s Character-Shaping or God’s sanctifying grace (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Church, even though God’s Character-shaping grace is shaping and empowering us to take a step each day toward perfection, we never reach this goal in this life because we live in the presence of temptation and sin. Sometimes we slip and fall but God’s sanctifying grace picks us up and keep us going towards the goal of being like Christ. We aren’t there yet, but we keep striving toward our final state of perfection.
Paul could not have it said better in these words, “I am not saying that I have made it. But I am well on my way reaching out for Christ, who has wondrously reached out for me. Friends don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Philippians 3:11-14; Message Bible).
Our goal, like every disciple is to be like our Master Jesus Christ. But it cannot be fully attained in this life, but the next, and God’s gracious love at work at that stage is God’s Never-Ending or Glorifying gracious love. It is the grace that completes our journey.
In the words of John Murry, “Glorification is the final phase of the application of redemption. It is that which brings to completion the process which begins in effectual calling. Indeed, it is the completion of the whole process of redemption.”
Each day, you and I are empowered to love, and to serve as Christ did. We are to be his hands, feet, and voice until we lay down this life, and begins the next, under God’s Never-Ending Love in our glorified state. This brings our journey to completion when we shall be like Christ.
In 1 John 3:2, we read: Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
This is our final state of salvation. Not only will we see Christ, but the Bible says we shall be like him. There is nothing that is greater than this.
In Jude (24) we read, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy
This is the scope of God’s grace for us. From birth, to the end of this life, and beyond. God’s grace takes us through and presents us faultless before God’s throne. This gives us hope and security. Among many other things, it does two things to us:
1. It motivates us to live well. That is to love God and serve Him with all of what we are; to be the hands, and feet and voice of Christ and to make a difference in our community and beyond as Christ did.
For Paul says in 1 Cor. 2: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of anyone the things which God has in store for those who love Him.
2. The second thing it does for us is that it prepares us to die well.
In his wonderful book, Dying Well, Ira Byock, MD, He writes, “Over the years I have learned that the actual range of human experience of dying is broad. I have seen tremendous suffering, but I have also witnessed people who in their dying experienced a sense of wellness and peace that can only be called blissful. This what the Christian hope does for us, Church!
Christians should face death with peace and bliss, because we are not abandoned after this life. Our destiny is established by God. With this hope we must able to join the Apostle Paul in our final days, and say,
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2nd Timothy 4:7-8).
May the God, whose All-Searching grace surrounded us when we did not even know him, and whose All-Saving or justifying grace saved us freely, and who is currently shaping us into what we shall be through his Never-Ending or Glorifying Grace, be with you each day
God bless you.

“God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace” 08/19/18

Part III of the Sermon Series: The Grace-Full Life:

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Theme: “God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace

One of the little things that fascinates new comers to the US, especially those of us from developing countries is a garage sale. But there is something about it that is more intriguing to me. Sometimes I see a brand-new item that I partly recognize, but then I notice that it’s a much more modern brand than what I thought. In some instances, I would ask the seller “How do you use this?” At that point, I would get this surprising response, “I don’t know either. It was given to me as a gift by, _____, but I never used it; as you see, it has been in the case or box since.”
Let’s imagine someone having the thought about you; followed by their search online or in the stores to find something they were pretty sure we would love, appreciate and use. Not only that, but they go on to use their hard-earned money for the item and give it to us as a gift. We receive it, and it remains in the case or box unused!
Well, my aim of bringing this up is not to beat upon those who receive gifts and don’t use them, because several factors could be responsible. But I want to make a comparison between this scenario, and the subject of God’s grace as I transition from God’s saving(justifying) grace, to God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace in this series. Just like every gift given without any strings attached, God’s saving (justifying) grace is a gift given. Once again, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But when it comes to God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace, it requires our participation and collaboration with God. To set the basis for our text this morning, let me read Philippians 2:12 &13. Paul writes, “Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God,”. Here Paul is asking us to redouble our effort and be energetic in our life of salvation. In the ending part of this verse, Paul says, “That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you. For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
To put in a nutshell, God saved us freely, which brings us into a new season and gives us an experience where our salvation must be put to work. This is the period of sanctification. But God does not leave us alone during this time. God provides the strength and keep shaping us into the image of Christ.
In his prayer for the Ephesians believers and to all of us today, Paul says, I asked God to strengthen you by his Spirit. -not a brute strength, but a glorious inner strength-that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly in love, you will be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depth! Rise to the height! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
This is a great challenge, but it’s not impossible because we are not alone on this journey. Therefore, Paul concludes the text with these words. “God can do anything, you know, far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request. He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
In other words, you and I are under construction. God is not done with us yet. He is shaping and molding us into what we must become. This is God’s character-shaping(sanctifying) grace; the grace of this moment.
Let’s consider the birth of a child, which is an event. But after that, real life which is a not an event but a process, begins. In the same way, God’s saving or justifying grace is an event. A person accepts Jesus Christ, or a child is brought forth for baptism and later for confirmation and God’s accepts us and gives us salvation as a gift. A new life begins. But God also provides the nourishment through his sanctifying grace, so that we can grow, crawl, walk, talk and mature.
Through God’s All-Saving or justifying grace, we are born anew. But this is just the beginning process of our spiritual journey and relationship with God, at which we don’t sit idle. God has his role, as well as we have ours.
In his book, The Cross Centered Life, C. J. Majaney, writes, “Sanctification is about our own choices and behavior. It involves work. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we strive. We fight sin. We study Scripture and pray, even when we don’t feel like. We flee temptation. We press on; we run hard in pursuit of holiness. And as we become and more sanctified, the power of the of the gospel transforms us. We just cannot remain as we came to Christ with all our baggage. We must respond to God’s character-shaping grace and be transformed.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is to “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” This is our mission. It means you and I are God’s agents of transformation wherever we find ourselves; be it in our work places, our communities and the world around us. But once again, we are not alone. God is shaping us for this very purpose through this sanctifying grace. Where are you on this journey. Are you growing? Are you maturing? Is your inner transformation being reflected in your actions?
Look church, God did not save us just for saving sake. He did so for a purpose. God wants to reclaim his creation; God wants to transform our world. And that transformation must begin with you and me.
Acevelo and Olds, writes, “Just as little kids dream of the day they will become tenagers, and teenagers dream of the day they will be adults, we have an invitation from God to “grow up” in God’s Character-Shaping grace.”
I am sure when we allow God to shape us, it’s going to impact our outlook of life: our love for another human being, regardless of geography, color, and creed; it will impact our willingness to reach out to the needy, to use our time, energy and even money to make a difference in our community.
May the Lord who has freely saved us through is justifying grace, continue to empower and shape us through his Character-Shaping(sanctifying) grace so that we may be empowered and transformed and serve as his agents of transformation in our community and our world.
God bless you.

“God’s All-Saving Grace” , 08/12/2018

Sermon Series Part II

Luke 19:1-10 1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the LORD, “Look, LORD! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” 9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Ephesians 2:4-10 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

Theme: “God’s All-Saving Grace”

Do you know that the narrative of the Bible is a dramatic love story? It’s the story of a loving God going after the ones he loves and calling us into relationship.

It is like the story of how a young man met his future wife to whom he has been married now for many years. She was on the University of Kentucky marching band field-a dancer with blond hair. She was a freshman and he was a junior. He narrates “I watched her the entire practice; her every move captivated me. To my delight she showed up about a week later at Bible study that met on our campus. I honestly cannot tell you anything the study was about, but I remember every move she made. I remember watching her laugh with her friends and cry as she was touched by God’s word.

I do remember making one decision that night: to get to know her and her friends so that I could soon ask her out on a date! I worked hard at this, and on one great night I got up the nerve after the Bible study to walk across the room and asked her out, to which she agreed. Then I realized that I had a problem. I didn’t have any nice clothes to take her out to a respectable place. I panicked and called my mom, “Mom, you can never tell anyone this, but you’ve got to take me shopping.

Wearing a new outfit, I took her on our first date. At the end of the night, I summoned all this courage and asked her if she would go out again. The next day, he picked up the phone and called his mom again. “Time for more shopping.”

After eleven months of this drama, he was ready to make a full commitment to her. He goes on, “I had earned extra money and bought a small ring. I took her on a date dressed in more new clothes, nervously sang a song to her while playing my guitar and gave her roses. After the song, I got down on one knee and asked the question: “Will you marry me?” And she said “Yes!”

If we compare the season of grace to a love relationship, then the dating period is the season of prevenient grace. All this Youngman’s effort, made in the background and unknown to this young lady was to bring her the point of saying, “Yes” to him.

In the same vain, in God’s All-Reaching or Prevenient grace, God works behind the curtain to bring us to the point to say “Yes” to Him. Like a love relationship, the moment we say “yes” to God and put our faith in Jesus Christ, the dynamics of the relationship changes immediately. We then experience God’s Saving Grace, which is also called “Justifying Grace.” God forgives all our sins and gives us a clean slate. We enter a new season of grace with God, which is his Saving or justifying grace, which brings us into a genuine relationship with God for the first time.

Talking about this grace in Ephesians 2, Paul tells the Christians in the Roman province of Ephesus, remember all of us, including you and me at one point lived according to our human cravings, and by nature we were children of wrath. But God who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive in Christ. Paul goes on, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, not a result of work so that no one may boast.”

In Romans 3:23-24, the Apostle Paul writes, “ Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ.

Church, this is God’s Saving Grace at work. This is God’s Justifying Grace, given to us not on the bases on merits, but freely. It’s this grace that saves us.

Most of us grew up hearing messages from parents and those who cared about us, that sounded like this. Do your best, keep your chin up! Work hard! There is no free lunch. Pull up your bootstrap!

There is nothing wrong with doing our best and working hard. Hard work is a virtue that we should ascribe to. But when the notion of our effort, ability and achievement creep into our relationship with God, when we try to climb the performance or goodness ladder to earn a place in heaven, then we miss the mark. For all our goodness is not good enough to earn us a place in God’s Kingdom. That’s why Isaiah 64, says, “all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” But through God’s Saving (justifying) Grace, God accepts and make us his own, not because of who we are, or what we have done, but in spite of who we are and what we have done.

That’s why the people in Zacchaeus’ story grumbled. A man like Zacchaeus did not deserve to have Jesus at this home. As far as a fellow Jews were concern, Zacchaeus was a notorious sinner empowering the Roman oppressors by being their chief tax collector and extorting money from his kens to enrich himself. So, his entire community hated him. In their eyes, Zacchaeus deserved nothing but condemnation and judgement, because the OT law (Deut. 25:1), says, “the judge must justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. But to the contrary Jesus says,For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So, when Zacchaeus heard about Jesus, he would not allow anything to hinder him. Something stirred up in him. I am sure this was God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace propelling him. And when Jesus saw him in the tree and extended the self-invitation, “come down Zacchaeus; for today, I will be at your house, and Zacchaeus said “Yes. “Jesus entered his home and into his heart as well. Thus, Zacchaeus experienced God’s saving grace.

Zacchaeus was not saved because he offered to give half of his goods to the poor, but he made the offer because he had already been saved. It was a sign of his new life. And Jesus confirmed, that, “today, salvation has come to this house,”

Every Christian, including you and me, is a recipient of not only God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace, but also God’s Saving (justifying grace) as long we have said yes to God. If you have not, Jesus says “behold now is the acceptable time; behold today is the day of salvation.” ( 2 Cor. 6:2). All you must do is to say Yes to Christ.

Our yes to God can come in a moment or in a season in life, according to Acevedo and Olds. Some of us say “Yes” to Christ in what they called a “light switch” salvation experience, like Zacchaeus. It’s like you flap on the switch and it brightens instantly. Such people still remember the date, time and every other detail about their conversion experience. Then we have the “dimmer switch” salvation experience. These are Christians who cannot trace any date or time. When their parents presented them for baptism, the dim light slowly shone brighter and brighter and has kept shining since.

It does not matter how yours happened. The fact that you are here this morning tells me that you have said “yes “to God. It means you have placed your faith in our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and he has wrapped his gracious arms around you. If you have not, the chances are yours even now.

You are I are saved not because of anything we have done, but because we have said Yes to God and embraced him as our savior. This is the work of God’s Saving Grace.

As we leave from here today, know that God’s arms are open to everyone. To those who have not said yes to him yet, God’s All-Reaching (Prevenient) grace is being pouring out on you each day, as his Saving or justifying grace awaits you. To us who have been saved through his Saving or justifying Grace, God’s Character-Shaping (Sanctifying) Grace is available to us each day. Continue the journey with me next week, as we talk about this third season of God’s grace to us in this sermon series: A Grace-Full Life from the Womb to The Tomb”

God bless you.

 

A Four Week Sermon Series: “A Grace-Full Life Journey (from the Womb to the Tomb) August 5, 2018

Psalm 139:7-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Theme: God’s All-Reaching Grace, Even There”

Few weeks ago, Eva and I stepped out of the house, held hands and walked around the neighborhood. Like something propelling us, we ended up at the little docked almost at the corner of Teal Lake and US 41. There we sat for a while talking as we watched the sun go down across the colorful sky at the far end. As we also listened to the sound of the waves of the lake crushing upon the rock, the words of David recorded in Psalm 8:3-8, became very real to me in a renew sense. David wrote:

When I look up at the night skies, and see the works of your fingers-
 the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place-
 what are mere mortals that you think about them;
what are human beings that you pay attention to them?

When David looked at the spender and majesty of God’s creation, he just could not understand why God loves human beings so much. Whether you believe it or not, I come this morning to remind us once more that God loves you and me so much that there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

In our text this morning, David says there is nowhere he can flee from God’s presence. The Hebrew word “burrah,” that is translated flee in this text, usually indicates an attempt “to get away from.” David is saying that God never lets him get away. Even when he tries to escape to the highest height or the lowest depth of the ocean, even there, God’s hands will lead and hold him.

This is good news. It means that we stand in the inescapable presence of God. God loves us so much that He just won’t let us go even when we turn our backs. The word used to describe this love of God is grace.

From its Greek origin, Grace is Charis. It literally means ‘favour’, to bend or stoop in kindness to another as a superior to an inferior.

In its use of scripture, grace is God bending or stooping towards fallen and broken humanity with His love. It’s God chasing after us to show us unmerited favor. It is a gift of God to us. So, the bigger picture of this is that God is offering human kind something precious; something not on basis of merits; we don’t deserve it; it’s God’s gift of salvation.

But grace comes in four different facets which experienced at different times of our life journey. In the words of Acevedo and Olds, the first of these is “God’s All-Reaching Grace.” The fancy theological name for this is Prevenient Grace. The word Prevenient comes from a Latin word, meaning “to precede or to come before.” So Prevenient Grace is the God’s grace that comes before we even to acknowledge God.

Think about an unborn child. Although the baby has not yet been seen, touched and embraced by the parents, yet the parents love the expected child. We cannot wait for it to arrive before they show love. We go to the store and purchase the best things we can for the child that is yet to come. This is prevenient grace.

God does not wait until we turn to Him. God’s All-Reaching (prevenient) grace is available to us from the moment we enter this world. This is the first phase of God. It is God wooing and pursing us. It is God’s love that will never let us go. That is why the Apostle Paul writes, in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God did not wait for us to make it right. It is the grace that draws us to God. That is why Jesus declared that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

God has chosen to be gracious to us because God knows everything about us. Eva and I have been together over two decades now, but we still don’t know everything about each other. Once in a while we discover something new about each other. But this is not with God. God knows all about us.

We see this in the first four verses of Psalm 139, we read, “Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. You know my thoughts even when I am far away.”

An older version of our confessional prayer says to God, “all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden. God has the capacity to look past the externals and into the core of who we really are. Theologians call this God’s omniscience; it is God’s capacity to know everything there is to know. Sounds frightening, right? But it’s for our good.

God knows our shortcoming; He knows our hidden deeds; He know the poor choices and mistakes we make at times; He knows our struggle; He knows our pains. That is why God is extending to everyone His All- Reaching Grace, even there, to the criminals, to the outcasts, the drug addicts, to the alcoholic. God’s All-Reaching grace is being made available even to the ones on death-roll.

God is calling, inviting, and pursuing us with His All-Reaching grace. God is persistent, tireless and lovingly reaching out with His grace. Will you respond?

In his famous song “Your Grace Finds me, Matt Redman writes,

From the creation to the cross. There from the cross into eternity,

Your grace finds me; Yes, your grace finds me.

There in the darkest night of the soul

There in the sweetest songs of victory
Your grace finds me
Yes, your grace finds me

To everyone here this morning, God is seeking and calling you and me into deeper relationship with Him. Jesus says in Revelations 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. This is God’s All-Reaching Grace, reaching out to everyone in this room this morning. Will you open up the door of your heart? Will you allow God to come closer to you as He desires?

This is may be a word for someone you know who may be on the run from God, or it may even be a word for you. Know that God’s All-Reaching Grace surrounds you and that person each day, and you and I can be the channel of God’s grace to that person and the world around us.

God bless you.

 

 

The Power of the Resurrection- Sunday, April 22, 2018

Scripture Lessons:

Acts 3:12-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites,why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

Luke 24:36-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

The Power of the Resurrection

Whenever a young person dies, it is considered a tragedy.  Such death is termed as being untimely. This does not suggest that the death of elderly people is not painful, but we often feel that the life of the younger person was not been fully lived. In Liberia, the friends of deceased young person in most instances print T. shirt labelled, “WHY SO SOON?”

But when Jesus died at the age of thirty-one (31), we celebrate his death. In fact, we term the day he was brutally and disgracefully killed as “Good Friday.” And we celebrate.  Why do we do this? Why do we not mourn the death of Jesus?

 The most obvious answer is because Jesus died for our sin, and rightly so.  We hold this belief because scripture is the primary source of our doctrine, belief and practice, affirms it. Here are few:

    • Romans 5: 8, says: “God commended his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
    • I Corinthians 15:3b, “The Messiah died for our sin  
    • He loved me and give himself for me(Gal.2:20)

Besides scripture, our hymns also bear witness to the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins. The third verse of the hymn: How Great Thy Art, reads:

And when I think that God, his Son Not Sparing,

Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and die to take away my sin.

All this focus on the death of Jesus and what it does for us is personally. But this is just one piece of the good news. There is a larger element of the picture which is the Resurrection. When we become too focus on this personal aspect, without paying attention to the larger element(Resurrection) it can lead us to a private or even a selfish way of seeing things in which our immediate needs may seem to have been met (our needs for forgiveness in the present and salvation in the future). Christians who focus on only this personal aspect of the good news may be content as long they are members of a church. We become Christians for ourselves.

This is not what we see in these passages. Once Jesus appears to the disciples in their fear-stricken state and convinces them that he is their risen Lord and Savior, it changes everything. The Resurrection and its power changes everything for the disciples: There is a complete change in their mood and attitude and their view of life.

What follows next is that he commissions and empowers them:

We see this in the gospel reading last week when he tells them: “As the Father has sent me I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22).

Our gospel reading this morning also capture similar commission (V.46-49).

, 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Once again Jesus reminds the disciples and all of us this morning, that his death is not the end of the story. He reminds them that he was going to rise again on the third, according to the scripture and even that is not the end of the story. That repentance and forgiveness is to be preached in his name to the entire world, so everyone would be given the opportunity to hear the good news of Christ.

This is the mission that is being carried out by Peter and John in the reading from Acts that we heard. They are making a great difference in the name of Jesus, by healing a cripple beggar at the gate of the Temple. The text says everyone who saw the man leaping and praising God recognized him as the cripple beggar who sat at the gate, were astonished and amazed at what had happened.

From here onward, the life of the disciples who were fear-stricken when Jesus was crucified, became changed for every. They had the boldness to stand in front of the very authorities they were hiding from to announce; “although you handed Jesus over and he was killed, God raised him from the dead, and we are witness to us.  What made the difference is power of the resurrection.

Like these men and women, God saved us for a purpose. Being forgiven of your sin by the death of Christ and destined for heaven is not the end of the story. In fact, this is the begging of what God saved us for.  It is to spread the good news of God’s saving grace to a broken world.

If we were to ask a question to you this morning, it would, now that Jesus has died for your sin, what next?  It certainly is not to be a solitary Christian, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through words and deeds.

Mitchell provides several means through which we can carryout our God given mission. Yesterday was a classic example. We thank all those who turned out for the bag distribution for the Feed a Neighbor campaign. You can volunteer to serve a ministry need that we have, like the Nursery that we have been talking about. Right now, we need a volunteer to help me with the youth program.

Remember, we are saved not to ourselves, but to be God’s agents of redemption to our world that needs to know him  

May we take hold of this post Resurrection mission and power that Christ has given us to fulfill this mission.

God bless you.

The Easter People- Sunday, April 15, 2018

Scripture Lesson:

John 20:19-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Living as Easter People

Have you heard the fancy word called “claustrophobia?”” It comes from two words: claustrum, meaning “a shut-in place,” and Greek “phobos” from which we have phobia, meaning fear. From these, we have, claustrophobia, the fear of having no escape or being closed in, especially in a small, confined space. Normally people who suffer from claustrophobia fear been trapped in small space. So, they fear riding an elevator, or fear being crushed in a crowded stadium.

In life sometimes, we fear or feel trapped by circumstances. At times some of us feel trapped in an abusive or painful marriage or relationship. Some feel trapped by grief or anger, or debt, or physical condition, etc, so much so that it becomes an obstacle that limit, confine and make us powerless. We feel being trapped in a condition that there seems to be no way out.

This describes the experience of the disciples after Jesus was crucified. Their Lord and Savior was confined to a tomb, sealed out with a large stone. As our text reveals, the disciples too are behind locked door. They are trapped by fear of the Jewish religious and Roman authorities who had crucified their Lord. They are confined and hiding in a little space/room even though they had gotten the news on early Easter morning, that Jesus had risen from the death.

While the disciples were trapped behind the locked doors,  Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst, and his first words to them were, “peace be with you.”   Isn’t this what we want most when we find ourselves in the state of fear and uncertainty due to peril of life? We certainly need God’s peace that transcends all human understanding. This is the peace that nothing in life can give us. It is the “shalom” of God. This what Easter brings to us. God’s peace.

The text says after this, Jesus showed them his hands and his side. He did this to dispel their doubt. It was like saying, it is I Jesus, your Lord. Verse 20b says, “then the disciples rejoiced after they had seen the Lord.” I wonder why we treat Thomas unfairly by naming him “Doubting Thomas?”, For all the disciples fear and doubted. Thomas was only asking for the same opportunity theys had. He wanted the same personal experience.  He did not want their second-hand information. “Unless I see the marks of the nails in hands and put my fingers in his side, I will not believe, “Thomas said. He wanted no pretense. Faith in God must be a personal experience for each of us. We cannot pass it on to our kids, or grand kids.

Verse 26 says, A week later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. “Although the door was shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas, the made his famous confession: “My Lord and my God.”

Like these fears-stricken disciples trapped behind locked doors, sometimes we too feel trapped by the circumstances and conditions of life. We are trapped in painful marriages and relationships, trapped in addiction, trapped in grief and depression, trapped by job insecurity; trapped by uncertainty of life; trapped by the feeling of lack of self-worth, and the list goes on.

As he did to his disciples, the resurrected Jesus comes to meet us where we are. He comes to meet us right in those trapped conditions.  Jesus is aware that we may not be able to get out of such situation; so, he comes to meet us right there.

Next, like the disciples, the resurrected Jesus comes to also give us assurance. He showed the disciples his wounded hands and side and gave them the opportunity to discover that it was their Master.   This is what Easter is. Easter assures us that Christ is alive, that the price of our salvation has been paid and we can now have peace with God and be at peace with others and ourselves.

Romans 5:1, says, “Therefore since we have been put right with God through faith, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only does Jesus assure us of his presence, but his resurrection points to the fact that we serve a God of possibilities. The ground could not withhold him; the stone could not stand in his way and the locked doors could not prevent him from reaching the disciples.  This is Easter. Go on and live it.

Easter reminds us of the beginning of something new, of a fresh start, of a time to triumph over our fears and insecurities. Easter offers a time to focus on the possibilities of life, rather than what we perceive as limitations. It is a time to trust that God through Christ has removed the barriers that hold us back, that keep us in fear or that close our hearts and minds.

Easter is a dawning of a new day; it’s a new life. Just as the stone that sailed the tomb of Jesus was rolled away, things that trapped us, things that stand in our way, or hold us back, or hinder us from realizing our true potential, can be overcome. Therefore, we must live as Easter people.

You and I can begin to look at life with freshness, worshipping God with a deeper sense of awe and appreciation, and living more fully in his grace. Easter offers us a new lense to look at the possibilities of life, instead of the limitations. So, let’s live the Easter.

Sometimes we have been trapped in some conditions so long that overcoming it seems impossible, but you and I can live the Easter by taking new steps that will liberate us.

New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright suggests, “But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your inner most life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way and this is what Easter is all about. “We are Easter people; let’s live as such.

When we focus on the only the negatives, or the obstacles, we often tend to lose sight of the possibilities, the opportunities, and even the miracles God has placed right before us.

During this Easter, you and I can begin to take some new steps of faith and live as Easter people. It’s possible to make your marriage or relationship move loving, or score better grades, or get admitted to your dream school, or get out of debt and begin saving for retirement or give some of your time to help make the world a better place.

As we continue to celebrate Easter, may we seize the opportunities and possibilities that God has placed before us as a congregation and individuals.

May we live the hope and victory of the Resurrection.

God bless you.

 

The Tide Has Turned – Easter Sunday 2018

Scripture Lesson:

Luke 24:13-35 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiahshould suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Tide Has Turned

On this the journey of life, many if not all of us sitting here this morning have felt a disappointment either by someone we did not expect or even by God. Maybe it has been the untimely death of a parent, a child, a mate, or another loved one. It may have been through a painful divorce that took place despite all your efforts and fervent prayer against it. Or perhaps it was the lost of a job and you were gradually worn down as every door slammed shut in your face. Or maybe it is a personal matter that you have prayed about for months or even years, but God has not answer in the manner you wished. Whatever the case, we all have had times when we felt disappointed by someone we had hoped not, or even God.

In like manner, the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday was a great shock to the disciples. For three years, they had built a good relationship and their hope on Jesus. But now everything seems lost; they were bewildered and disappointed; their hope was shattered, and it seems their world had come to a crushing end.  Like I mentioned before, some of life experiences have got us to feel this way at times.

We get a sense of this hopelessness in the words of Cleopas, ones of the two travelers making the seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus this morning.  As they discussed in deep grief about the crucifixion, the text says, Jesus came up and walked with them, but the men were kept from recognizing him. Then Jesus asked them, “what are you discussing?” Luke says, the men stood with their faces cast down. And Cleopas asked the unknown intruder, “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who do not know “all the things that have happened these few days?”

“What things?”   Jesus’s question stops them in their tracks, and they stood sad, and downcast. “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, Cleopas responded. He was a prophet mighty in words and deeds, and how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be crucified………..

I realize how patient our Lord is as he listens to us every time telling him things he already knows about us. Sometimes he even listens patiently to our distorted version of the truth he already knows.

The two travelers’ utter despair is voiced in verse 21: “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. “These are the words of men whose hopes and dreams are buried, and this is what despair and doubt can do to us. They prevent us from seeing nor depending on God’s assurances and promises.

I have preached this passage many times, but for the first time I come to discover something in this text that had never occurred to me before. That sometimes we allow ourselves to be guided by conventional wisdom instead of God’s word. This is what is hindering the faith of these men.

  1. The first one is: “Where there is life, there is hope.”

I have held on to this conventional wisdom and even quoted to people many times, but from my study of this text, I have come to realize that this is just half-truth. These men believed that without life, all hope is lost.      This explains why their hope is crushed. For us, our hope goes beyond this physical life.

  1. The next conventional wisdom guiding these men over scripture

is “seeing is believing.”

The men have already been told that the tide has turned; Jesus has been raised; the tomb is empty, yet they cannot believe. Look at their own words in verse 22-24:

” But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

So, what more did these men want? The evidence was there. The apostles, in addition to the women have confirmed this morning that the tomb is empty; an angel has proclaimed that Jesus is risen.

Like these men, sometimes our troubling emotions blinds us to what God is doing right before our very eyes. Sometimes the presence and work of God are evident in our life, in our family and in our church, but we just can’t see it because our hearts and minds are troubled.

It took two things that Jesus did to open the eyes of these men to the reality that that the Tide Has Turned; that Jesus is alive.

This is the Goodness this morning. God has turned the tide. Christ is risen. There is Victory over sin and death.  No need to live in fear, or doubt or shame. Christ is risen. Alleluia!

The two things Jesus did to dispel the despair of these men, to bring them to the point of accepting that the tide has turned:  

He cited and reviewed the Holy Scripture with them. v.25-27, he says:

How foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter into this glory?” And beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained all the prophets had said about him in scripture.

I know of no other evidence to turn to regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the Holy Scripture. That is why we must give time to the study of scripture. Bible studies, Sunday school and Sunday worship are all intended to help us understand God’s will and purpose for us.

  1. The last thing that Jesus did to dispel the despair of these men,             he

sat with them at the fellowship or dinner table, which underscores the importance of Christian fellowship. Sitting around the table. It was when Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke, and gave it to them, that starred their awareness of his presence, and they recognize him as their risen savior. Once again, Christian fellowship is very important.

At this point, everything changed for these men. They asked each other: “Were not our hearts burning while he talked with us on the road when he opened the scripture?” Their entire mood changed; for the tide has been turned from despair to hope; from sorry to joy; from death to life; from doubt to faith; from condemnation to redemption; from defeat to victory and from sinners to be the saints of Christ.

This is what the Resurrection does for us; this is what Easter means to us. The Tide that Turned for them, also turns for us .

Finally, they got up and ran back to Jerusalem with the Good news that God has turned the tide this morning. This is what Easter challenges us to do. It gives us hope and empowers us to share the good news.

May the God who has brought Christ back to life continue to strengthen us in our Easter faith.

God bless you.

“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade” – March 25, 2018

Scripture Lesson

Mark 11:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Philippians 2:5-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade”

When the Cheering Stopped, is a book that tells the story of the last years of President Woodrow Wilson. The book talks about how President Wilson was hailed as a war hero not only at home but also in most of Europe for his outstanding role played during World War I and the founding of the League of Nations.

The text   highlights the great optimism that characterized most of the world as people believed that World War I was the final war and thereafter peace and democracy would flourish. This was the new world order envisioned by President Wilson.

On his first visit to Paris, President Wilson was greeted with great cheers as a great international war hero, incomparable to any other.

But barely after a year, the leaders of Europe began to focus on their national issues; President Wilson faced opposition at home. Congress refused to rectify the League of Nations. His party was defeated at the next elections. He suffered stroke and his health began to deteriorate leading to his death.

The central message of the book is captured in these few lines of the Foreword.

When the Cheering Stopped is a gripping true story of duty, courage, and deceit, and an unforgettable portrait of a visionary leader whose valiant struggle and tragic fall changed the course of world history.”

The story of President Wilson mimics the experience of Jesus in so many ways. During his ministries over the three years, Jesus embodied the message and act of love, peace, compassion, justice, liberation, resistance against oppression, etc.  His was a new message that called for a new world order. Beyond all of these, was his ultimate mission to lay down his life for sinful humanity.

The gospel recalls that many time when Jesus did something great, like healing the sick or restoring the sight of the blind, or displaying his deity, he would warn his disciples, or the person healed not to tell anyone. But two weeks ago, he told his disciples and some Greeks that the hour had come for the son of Man to be glorified.

Today he has given his followers the permission to give him a public demonstration of honor, as God’s anointed One. Today, he is seated on a young donkey, and makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a parade amidst great cheers, waving of branches and shouts, Hosanna; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

 I love the conclusion of Matthew’s version of this story.  In chapter 21: 10-11, of the NRSV, He says, when he(Jesus) entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “who is this? The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.

What is happening today is prophetic fulfillment of Zachariah 9:9. He says:  Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But this great proclamation will be followed by desertion, abandonment, betrayal and even denial. By this evening, Jesus will be left with only his disciples; by Thursday, the disciples will abandon and deny him. He will be a lone man in the hands of his enemies. Why?

One obvious reason for this is the people had wrong expectation of Jesus.

When the crowd spread their clothes, they were giving Jesus a conqueror’s welcome. Over one hundred and fifty years prior to this Palm Sunday, they had welcomed back a Hebrew family called the Maccabees which helped stir a revolution against the Romans. They spoke those the same words, “Hosanna” which means, “save us” or “save us now” (Psalm 118:25-26). They were saying to Jesus, save us from the Romans now.

Indeed, Jesus is a conqueror, but not a military one.  He was battling against the forces of evil. He was going to save his people, but not by destruction and violence, but his death.  For Jesus, the enemies to be conquered were not another human being but sin and death.

When the Roman military general made a triumphal entry following his victory over his war enemies, he rode on the back of a horse, but Jesus is riding on the back of a young donkey, which is symbolic of his humility.  The Roman victor displayed his trophies and captured men of war, but Jesus’s triumph is a victory of love over hate, truth over error, and life over death.

For the generals, death would be defeat, but for Jesus, his death would become the means of conquering. He comes to the city with peace, love and compassion but not violence.

Sadly, this is not the kind of messiah the people expect. They want one who would meet hate with hate, violence with violence, and the stronger vanquishing the weaker. This contrast will lead to desertion, betrayal and denial. The crowd in this parade will desert him, the disciples will betray, desert, abandon and denial.

The question that comes to you and me is, after our shouts of Hosanna and waving our branches this morning like the crowd, will we follow Jesus to Golgotha after the parade, or will we turn back?

One author wrote: “It seems the ultimate reward of someone who tries to translate ideals of peace into reality is apt to be frustrated and defeated.”

We have seen this the world over. There is always a price to pay for standing up for love over hate, peace over violence, compassion over indifference and cruelty.  Jesus was no exception. He will give up himself and human wickedness to the highest order will be inflicted upon him for our sake.

But this is the way of Christ that he calls us to follow (beyond the parade.) In Luke 9:62, Jesus says, anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for reward in the Kingdom of God

The Christian faith calls for commitment and being ready to give yourself for the sake of the gospel.

This is what Paul sums up in our first reading. Philippians 2:5-11. He says;

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

There is nothing we can give and do to match what Christ will be doing for us. The only thing we can do is to follow him beyond this parade today.  Be with him at the Last Supper on Thursday; be present at his Crucifixion on Friday and be present at the empty tomb on Easter morning.

Finally, we can follow Jesus consistently by embodying all that he stands for; by  loving everyone, evening our perceived enemies; being an instrument of peace wherever we are, by standing up and raising our voice against injustice in whatever form it presents itself; having compassion on the needy, and by being the hands and feet of Christ.

God bless you.