“The Resurrection: What Does it Accomplish for Us?” 04/19/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 04/19/2020
Texts: John 20:19-31; 1 Peter 1:3-9

Theme: “The Resurrection: What Does it Accomplish for Us?”

Most Christians do not have any difficulty stating why Jesus died. Ask a little child, who has been going to Sunday, and she will tell you in her little voice, “Jesus died for our sin.” That Jesus died for our sins is the good news, which Paul attests to when he writes, “Now I want to remind you brothers and sisters of the gospel I preached to you….. that Christ died for our sins according to the scripture (1 Cor. 15:1-3). But the good news does not end with the death of Christ. There is the Resurrection. That is why Paul continues in verse 4, “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the scripture.”

So, since the death of Christ deals with our sin, what does Resurrection accomplish for us? For in his book, The Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Journey, Henri Nouwen writes, “the Resurrection of Christ is not simply an event, but a living reality.” We experience its effects daily on our journey as believers. It’s like an African mom who leaves her crawling child, sitting on a dirt floor as is the case with many kids born in rural Liberia. While the mom is busy with other household chores, her child crawls to a bucket or tub, spills some water on the dirt flow and begins to play in the mud created by the mixture of dirt and water. By the time the mom comes to realize, her lovely baby had made a mess of itself, being muddied from head to toe. So, what does the loving and caring mom do? she finds clean water and bathe her lovely baby, washing off all the mud, thus making her baby clean again.
But the mom does not stop there, just as Jesus’ work of salvation does not end with his death for the forgiveness of our sin. Christ’s resurrection makes additional provisions, which open up a new chapter for us, just as the mother would wipe her baby, possibly pour some baby powder, dress it in clean clothes, and take it away from the muddy to a clean new spot, so that the baby would have the opportunity to crawl, and play, in a new environment.

That is what the Resurrection accomplishes, for us. It gives us brand new chance and a new opportunity. The first benefit that God makes available to us, through the resurrection is a new life. Our text (1 Peter) reads, “Blessed be the God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth, into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the death. Christ’s death deals with our sin, and his Resurrection restores us to a new life. Paul makes the analogy that in in Romans 6:4, in our baptism, we die with Christ to our old life, and in his Resurrection, we rise with Christ to a new life . And let me say this is not something we can purchase or achieve no matter much power or wealth we have. The basis of the new birth is the Resurrection, of Jesus Christ. In our new birth, God is restoring his image in which we were created, which was defaced when humankind fell to sin. Not only new birth, but the Resurrection also gives us a living hope. The text says, “By his great mercy, God has given us a new birth into a living hope.

I read a beautiful story about a teacher assigned to visit children in large city hospitals. She got a routine call requesting that she visit a child. She took the boy’s name and room number and was given instructions by the main teacher. “We are studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I’d be grateful if you could help him with his work, so he doesn’t fall behind the others.” But it wasn’t until the visiting teacher got inside the boy’s room, that she realized it was located in the hospital’s burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn’t just walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she return the next morning, a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “What did you do to the boy?” Before she could finish the profusion of apologies that immediately came out of her mouth, the nurse interrupted her,” You don’t understand. We have been worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude changed. He is fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though suddenly he’s decided to live.” The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw he teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears, he expressed it this way, “They would not send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

Hope is what sustains us; hope is what keeps us going in the midst of adversity; it is what tells me as I go to bed tonight, that tomorrow is a possibility.That as long I have air going in and out of my nostril, there hope, but the basis of this hope is not anything we have done or capable of achieving; the basis of our hope is Jesus Christ, the one who did not only die for my sins, but who rose again, so that we can have new life and a living hope. In addition to new life and a living hope, we are also given an inheritance through the Resurrection of Christ. This is a familiar word. Many of us who have been blessed with more, do appropriate or pass on land, houses, estates, trust, endowment, or investment for our children, but Peter is talking about something more than this. He uses the modifiers like imperishable, undefiable, and unfailing to make the distinction. God has something secure for us. What this says to me is that everything that I may build my hope on here, as good as they may seem, or make my life comfortable, they are perishable, uncertain, and insecure. They can go away at any time. Situation can change at any moment. Life here is characterized by so much uncertainty and unpredictability. If there is one thing that this health crisis has taught me, is that life and its conditions here are so uncertain; that each day, you and I live with some degree of vulnerability, no matter how secure we may think we are. Certainty and our security are found only in God.

Peter wrote this letter to a group of Christians in Asia Minor whose life experience was very similar to ours today. Like us, they had never had the opportunity to see the empty tomb, nor the prints in Christ’s hands and side, yet they put their trust in him, and for this, Jesus tells Thomas, that we are blessed. Like us today, those early Christians were going through difficult times, uncertain times, and Peter was given them these words of hope and assurance based on the what our risen Lord has accomplished for us. May all of you listening or reading these words, who may be going through a very difficult, challenging, uncertain and fearful time, be reminded that we are servants of Jesus Christ, who did not only die, but who was raised from the dead, singling victory.
It is he who tells us “Lo, I am with you “. Know that he watches over us day and night; he is our defense, our shield, and our fortress.

God bless you.

“Fear Not! For I Have Overcome” 04/12/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 04/12/2020

Texts: Acts 10: 34-43; Matthew 28:1-10

Theme: “Fear Not! For I Have Overcome”

The Christian message is not only difficult, but it sounds like an outright foolishness to some, because of the roles that our God in Christ takes upon himself.
As our creator, God exhibits the power as the Almighty, who called the creation into being and they came forth in obedience to this command. This character of God is commonly accepted by many other faiths. That God is Almighty, with the power to do anything is not much debated by other faiths. But the scandal of our God is, this same God, who is Almighty, is also a humble redeemer, who came to us as a baby, lived with us, ministered to us, suffered and died for us. For some, this is not only inconceivable, but outright nonsense.
That is why Paul writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).”
In his message to the Gentiles, Peter recounts the work of God in Christ, as was read in Act, especially 10:38-39, which states, “You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. We are witnesses of everything he did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging on a tree….”
Folks, this is not a made-up story. It’s not a folk tale. This is an eyewitness account of the Apostle Peter. He was nailed to the cross. There is no illusion of the excruciating pain that Jesus suffered on Friday. God did not shield his son, as evidenced by his cry on the cross, “My God! My God! Why has thy forsaken me?” For three hours, Jesus hung on the cross on Friday; he bled, and cried out, and he died.
This was an unspeakable pain inflicted upon a peaceful, gentle, and a good person, who had done no wrong, but he took it just for our sake. Isaiah 53:5 emphasizes,” He was wounded for our transgression. He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him…….”
In the eyes of the enemy, it was all over. To ensure this, they not only seal the tomb with a large stone, but they placed soldiers on guard to ensure that it was all over. For them, evil had won the day and God had lost the battle.
But when God got ready this morning, nothing, absolutely nothing, could stand in the way. The grave could not keep him; death could not hold him. The guides could not prevent him. God proved too powerful for the enemy to withstand.
At the empty tomb this morning, the first words the angels spoke to the frightened women, were “Don’t be afraid.” Then he went on, “You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, because he has been raised.” When the women encountered our risen Lord, his first words to them were the same assurance, “Don’t not be afraid.”
Why was Jesus telling these frightened women not to be afraid? Were there no reasons to be afraid? No! There were many reasons to be; for the same hostile world which had cruelly crucified him was the same world they were in and Jesus knew that.
In fact, he made this very plain to the early disciples and makes it plain to us in John 16:33, when he says ” in this world, you will have trouble, but fear not, for I have overcome the world.”
You and I live a world with so many things that frighten and threaten us, but Jesus tells us “Fear not; for I have overcome the world.” The assurance not to be afraid does not come from our own ability, or strength. It comes from the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who himself, went through pain and death and conquered it.
These words are coming to us at a time when we find ourselves in a situation that none of us had imagined. It’s a time of looming fear, threat and death, yet Jesus says to us, “Fear not, for I have overcome.”
I don’t know about you, but it gives me hope; a hope that is not built on anything else, but on Jesus Christ alone, the one who conquered our greatest enemy this morning.
Whenever God tells us to fear not, God is not condemning us for being afraid. Rather, God is assuring us of his presence. Isaiah 41:10, makes it very clear when he says,
”Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. “
The resurrection is Christ’s victory over evil, over pain, over suffering and most of all death. He has overcome. It is based upon that he urges us not to be afraid
Each of us listening or reading this message has every reason to be afraid, giving this unprecedented experience we are going through in this country, in my home and around the world.
I have very close friends who have been affected by the virus. I too am afraid, not only for myself and my son here, but also for my wife, children, mother and siblings in Liberia.
But this morning, I have gained hope that pain, and suffering, and not even death has the final word. I hope that you too have taken heart in these words.
For we are being assured by the one who himself endured suffering, pain and death and overcome it; it is he who says to us this morning, “Fear Not! For I Have Over Come!
God bless you.

“Hosanna! Lord, Save Us” 04/05/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 04/05/2020

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Theme: “Hosanna! Lord, Save Us”

It’s wonderful to gather in worship celebrate of Palm Sunday and Holy Communion this morning. Although this is not our ideal way of gathering but this experience has reinforced my awareness that our sense of community transcends the common space that we usually occupy. We are a living community regardless of where and how we congregate.
Today is Palm Sunday. It’s day that Jesus, on his journey to the cross, entered Jerusalem in a triumphantly and is given a heroic welcome by the crowd.
During this time in the life of the Jewish people, Jerusalem is swelling with Jews from all around the world, gathering for their most important annual feast, the Passover, and Jesus and his disciples being Jews, are making their way there.
For the Jews, this Passover was an important reminder of God’s redemptive act from the yoke of slavery in Egypt. It reminds them up to present, of how God told Moses, “I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries, and now I have come down to deliver them from their oppressors (Exodus 7:3).” And from the Egyptians, God did deliver them
In our text this morning, Matthew states that when Jesus and his disciples came near Jerusalem, to Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples to a village ahead. There they would find a donkey and a colt tied. They should just tell him the Lord has needs for it.
But the irony is even as the Jews were commemorating their freedom from Slavery, through the Passover, they were under the control of the Romans. The Promised land was no longer theirs; they were no longer a free people but subject to Roman control. But one thing they never forgot, were the messianic prophecies, in which God promised to raise up a leader from the line of David, who will lead them with righteousness, truth and peace. One of those is Isaiah 11:1
“A shoot will spring up from the stump for Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruits.”
And another is Isaiah 9.
” For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

This is the expectation with which most of the crowd receives Jesus in Jerusalem this morning. The crowd was waving their branches, and shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed in the name of the Lord is the one who comes! Hosanna in the highest!”
The key word that our message borders on is “hosanna,” which literally means,” save us!” or “save us now!” or in its full meaning, “God, save us.”
It is a desperate cry for divine intervention. It is a cry to God for help, a cry for God’s mercy in times of trouble. It was a cry for God’s intervention into the plight of an oppressed people, on this day.
On this day, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, and given our current experience, we too have every reason to shout, “Hosanna! Save us Lord!” We need divine intervention. We need God’s rescue.
Though we are the most powerful military nation on earth, yet we face an invisible killer which is overwhelming not only us, but the world globe.
We must all cry out. “Lord, we are being afflicted! Lord, we are dying! Lord, our frontline fighters, our health workers are dying. “Hosanna! Lord, Save us!
Today, not only here in the US, but the whole of mankind faces a common enemy. It’s an enemy that threatens our very existence, and God being our Creator, it is about time that we cry unto him, Hosanna! “Lord, save us.
In these moments of dread, and fear, isolation, and shutting down of nearly everything, if there is anything we need most, it is divine intervention; we need God’s mercy. We must cry out to him, “Hosanna! Lord, save us.
When our life is no longer normal. When we are witnessing what we had never dreamed of in our life time; When some of the patients are being ridded off because of the uncontainable number; when the death toll is doubling in every two days, we just cannot help but to cry out, Hosanna! Lord, save us.
Do You know why? Because the one whom we are to cry bides us to call upon him in such a time. He says in Psalm 50:15a.
“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you….´
This is a promise that we can lean on. This is a promise that we can claim. I cannot tell how or when, but I can tell you that God promises are sure. And because his promises are sure, the Psalmist assures that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (46).
I want to call upon each of us, to call out; to cry out to God. Hosanna, God help us, God save us, God come down and deliver us, because this crisis is spinning out of control. And I know that somehow, God is going to take us through this.
As we close, may the One who never sleeps nor slumber, watch over each of us and keep us safe.
God bless you.

“God Restores Our Loss” 03/29/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 03/29/2020

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:17-45

Theme: “God Restores Our Loss”

For those of you who follow sports closely, let say, the NBA, or the NFL, or even soccer, I am sure that you have noticed during the dying minutes of some matches, it is common to see fans of one team leaving the arena or stadium before the final whistle. Sometimes we who watch from home at that point, begin to watch our television channels or leave to find something else to do.

This usually happens when those fans and viewers’ team is being led by a huge margin and looking at the time left in the game, they conclude that the game had already been lost; the damage is irreversible. That it is all over.
This is not unique to sports. It applies to many other experiences of life. But that’s not always the case with our experience with God. At least this is what our two biblical texts are teaching us this morning.

There is no doubt that each day, you and I live with some degree of vulnerability and we experience losses as a result, despite all our efforts to keep safe. Some of our losses may be minor, while others seem irreparable, and irreversible.
But this morning, God comes to remind us, through his Word, that we serve a God who restores, renews and gives new life, even when all seems lost.

In the first passage (Ezekiel 37), the imagery of the dried bone is used to describe the seemingly hopeless condition of the Hebrews in exile. In addition to their personal wellbeing, everything that gave them meaning and purpose as God’s covenant people was gone: the Promised Land no more theirs, their holy city, Jerusalem was plundered, the magnificent temple destroyed, their leaders maimed and put in chains, their soldiers slaughtered and their young and women dragged into the foreign land of Babylon.

Their covenant with God seemed to be at the brink of collapse. Their spirit was crushed. Their hopeless and lifeless conditions are symbolized by the imagery of not just bones, but very dried bones spread out in the valley.

For the gospel, Jesus arrived four days after the death and burial of Lazarus. The dead man’s sister, Martha says, to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” When Jesus tells her, “your brother will live again, her answer is like, “Yes, I know, but it will be at the resurrection; not today; for it is all over. It is done for now.

Martha is so convinced of the irreversible nature of this loss that when Jesus instructs the removal of the stone from the grave, she interjects: “it’s been four days, by now he stinks.” Such is the irreversible nature of the two losses in our texts this morning.

There is no doubt that the health crisis at hand has made us to incur losses of many kinds. I was talking with a lady at Walmart two days ago and she told me, “My husband was laid off yesterday.” And this is not unique to her family.

These are very difficult times for many of us, our children, our workers, our cities, our hospitals, our health workers, etc. We are experiencing different forms of losses: loss of jobs, loss of businesses, loss of income, loss of precious school time, especially for seniors who had been looking forward to graduating in May or June to begin the next chapter of their lives; there is the loss of our times together as community of faith, loss of the opportunity to go to places and do the things that matter to us.

This can be depressing for many, and sometime these conditions and experiences lead to fear, uncertainty, anxiety, confusion, pain and grief.
This is why, in their book, All Losses and All Grieves, Mitchell and Anderson write, “The threat, or actual occurrence of loss, at any time in human life evokes panic, anxiety, sorrow and anger.

What is happening in our world, our nation and our personal lives is no exception. But it is at such crucial times as these, that God wants us reminded that we serve a God who redeems and restores losses, even when they appear irreparable.

When God asked Ezekiel, “son of man, can these bones live?” The prophet’s response was, “Lord, you know.” That response of not just about God’s awareness. The prophet was actually saying, “Lord, it is only you who have the power to do it. I don’t, and no man can. For you are the giver of life. Only you can turn this hopeless situation around.”

The text says when Ezekiel began to prophesize, God caused winds to blow upon the bones. The Hebrew word used here for wind is “ruach” which means breath, or spirit, or life. God breathed new life into those dried and lifeless bones. This is the wonder of the God we serve.
He tells the prophet about the dried bones, “I am about to put breath in them. and they will live again.” This is our God, people.

During these challenging times, we come to remind each of us, and people of faith everywhere, that ours is a God who redeems, who restores, who revives, who renews, and breathes new life in us when we are getting dried and parched.

In these times of deep fear, when we see the continuous rising numbers of infections and the mounting death toll, the ghostly sight of what used to be our beautiful cities bursting with people from all over, it’s terrifying.

But this morning, we want to challenge each of you, and call upon believers everywhere listening or reading these words, to join forces and pray to our God; for he is able to restore and redeem us, to have mercy to take this plague away from us; so that our kids will be able to return to school and run around their playground again; that workers be able to return to work; to see income restored, churches reopened, hope rekindled, energy renewed, fear relieved, faith strengthened, cities revived, and even those who lost their lives, to find eternal rest with God.

God bless you.

“Peace, in the Midst of Fear” 03/22/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 03/22/2020

Texts: John 20:19-23

Theme: “Peace, in the Midst of Fear”

One of the expressions I have used quite often in the past few weeks is “uncharted territory.” There is no denying that these are strange and perilous times. Our world as we know it has greatly changed, so much so that we are still trying to figure out and navigate our way. And all of this comes as a result of this unimaginable threat to our lives posed by this deadly virus. Indeed! It is scary.
This is very similar to the experience of the early disciples in our text. For three years, these disciples had left home, families, abandoned their means of living and committed themselves to Jesus. They saw him heal the sick, and raise the dead, making them to build their hope in him, but right before their very eyes, their Master was shamefully arrested, falsely accused, mockedly tried, wrongly convicted, and criminally executed. The world as the disciples knew it, changed immediately. Their hope was crushed. Everything was now different.
In addition to the irreparable loss they sustained thru the death of their Master, was also the threat to their lives, resulting into deep fear and uncertainly.
Church, anytime our safety and security is threatened, when we become vulnerable to something that has the potential to end our life, our natural human response is fear.
That is why in his book, The Denial of Death, the renowned American cultural anthropologist and author, Ernest Becker writes, “The idea of death, and the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.”
And these disciples were no exception. The threats to their lives were real. The Jewish authorities who had handed over their Master to be crucified were still out there. They had been with Jesus in public and were recognizable, as evidenced by the little girl’s identification of Peter at the fire, saying, “He was with him,” prompting Peter’s denial (Luke 22:56). The disciples were terrified.
That is why our text this morning puts it so succinctly, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked for fear of the Jews,……”
Like these early disciples, we too find ourselves in a perilous time. Like them, there is a real threat to our lives. A disease, an unseen enemy, is taking lives in the tens, hundreds and thousands, and it has the potential to take ours as well.
When we listen to the death toll, the age range, the underlying health effects, and even now that the virus has begun to defy early scientific findings by taking the lives of young people, we are gripped by fear.
And let me say that fearing for your life in this crisis does not make you a faithless Christian. It does not mean that you don’t have the Holy Spirit, or the anointing; it does not mean you don’t believe in the power of God. What it means is that you too are human, and this is what it means to be human, just like the early disciples.
No wonder why when Jesus entered behind the locked doors, he did not rebuke the disciples, for he understood their fear. He knew that what they needed most were words of comfort and assurance. Thus, his first words to them were, “Peace be with you.” And This is exactly what you and I need most right now.
We need the peace Christ offers, in the midst of our fear. And let me say that this does not mean that the virus will instantly vanish; for Jesus’ peace is more than the absence of threat to our lives. This peace, God’s “shalom” is more than that. It gives us wholeness; restoration; hope, health and inner peace, even in the midst of our crisis.
Someone might be saying, “Albert, how can I be at peace, when I fall into the population at risk, or when the stock market is crushing, and I am losing all my investments. Aren’t you following the news?”
“I get it and the last thing I want to do is to underestimate the effect of this crisis on the life of anyone. But I tell you what! That there is life, laughter and smile beyond crisis. I say this not just based upon a book that I have read, or story that I was told, but as real life experience of a survival of a brutal civil war, who lost everything except my life and the rag on my back on that fateful day. But today as I look around, I can testify through the grace of the Almighty, that there will still be life, laughter and joy for us. when the dust settles.
Once again, I get it; that there may be different variables at play in different situations, but the hard truth is that as human beings, there are just some things at some point in life, that you and I won’t have control over, and at those moments, the best we can do, is to let go, and let God take charge.
Remember, “weeping may come through the night, but joy comes in morning (Proverbs 30:5b)”
It is my prayer that each of us listening or reading this message, will live, and smile and laugh again, when all is said and done. And that is when we all shall have been sustained by Christ’s Peace, even in the midst of our current fear.
As I close this morning, let me ask you of two things: Pray and heed the advice of our medical personnel on the frontline. “As they stay on the frontline for us, let us stay home for them”
God bless you.

“On Beyond” 03/08/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 03/08/2020

Texts: Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3:1-17

Theme: “On Beyond”

The title of our sermon this morning is borrowed from Dr. Seuss’ first book, “On Beyond Zebra!” In this story for kids, Conrad Cornelius o’ Donald o’ Dell is learning how to spell.
His friend and teacher begins with the first alphabet, “A”, and Conrad knows it is for “Ape. The friend moves on to “B” and Conrad also knows it is for Bear, and C is for Camel. Conrad knows further that H is for Hare and M for Mouse. The teacher then moves onto R, and Conrad has no problem knowing that it is for Rat, and he rejoice with these words, “I know all the twenty-six letters like that…. through to Z is for Zebra. I know them all. I know everything everyone knows. From beginning to end. From start to the close, because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.”
But just then, Conrad almost fell on his face on the floor when his friend picks up the chalk and draws one more letter, a letter Conrad never dreamed of before.
Then Conrad’s friend says to him, “You can stop, if you want, with Z. Because most people stop with the Z, but not me!” He continues, “In the places I go, there are things that I see that I never could spell if I had stopped with Z. I’m telling you this because you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”
In the biblical stories before us, God, the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son, are taking both Abram and Nicodemus on beyond what seems to be a dead end.
Genesis 12 is a transitional passage; it transitions from a messed-up state of things. God’s perfect creation in Genesis 1 & 2, had been decimated and the aftermath continues up to chapter 11. Sin had ruined the whole creation and humans, the crown of the God’s creation had been cursed and expelled from God’s presence. It’s like everything had collapsed.
Then comes Genesis 12, a pivot on which God’s salvific plans for us turns. God takes the initiative and moves on beyond the Fall, and calls a single individual, Abram, to embark upon a journey.
This man is seventy-five. He is not thinking about embarking upon a journey. If anything, he is now looking into the rear mirror of life, yet God called him to take a step on beyond his home, his family and comfort zone. Abram’s journey will eventually lead to the salvation of the whole world. It would lead to the repair of the damage done in the Garden of Eden and restore broken humanity back to God. He would be a blessing to many; for he became the instrument through whom God initiated his redemptive plan.
On our spiritual journey, sometimes we set our cutoff point. We set how many times we would attend service monthly or yearly, and/or how much money we give to support the ministry, or how much service we provide, and no more.
You may be one of those who, for example, who may hold the position that only Sunday morning worship is mine to attend, when I have chance. Nothing else! But the truth is, God has no cut off point for us, as long we are alive. When we think we have reached our Z, God invites us to move on beyond.
The same can be said of Nicodemus in our gospel reading this morning. As a leading religious teacher of the Jews, he must have felt that he had learned and knew all there was to know about God. All he wanted to be told by Jesus was what he needed to do to earn his way heaven. But Jesus challenged Nicodemus and even challenges us this morning, that divine truth is not static.
The fact that this learned teacher was puzzled by Jesus assertion, that “ no one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again” is an indication that no matter how old we are, or how long we have been on our Christian journey, and how much we think we already know about God, God still has something to teach us. God is still inviting us to take us beyond where we are.
This is why the Apostle Paul could write these words, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. “
God is reaching out and inviting us each day, especially during this Lent. Would you heed his call as Abram, or would open yourself up to what God has to teach us through his word? Would you move beyond your Z? For on God’s journey, Z is not the final alphabet. We must go on beyond.
Farther on in this story, Conrad’s friend tells him, “If you stay home with Zebra, you are stuck in a rut,” but “when you go beyond Zebra, …. There’s no telling what wonderful things you might find yourself spelling.”
Lent is a time when we embark upon a journey with Christ; a journey that must take us beyond our normal spiritual endpoint. It is a time that calls upon us to carry out spiritual disciplines, like, Prayer, Fasting, Bible Reading/Meditation, Worship and Helping the needy.
Quite frankly, these spiritual disciplines may not be our regular practices, but during this time of Lent, we are invited to move on beyond our normal limit. It’s a season to spend time with God and allow his spirit to work in and through us.
“In the places I go, there are things that I see. That I never could spell if I had stopped with the Z.”
We might never fully be who God intends for us to be if we just remain within the fences, we have built around ourselves. God wants us to step outside of our comfort zone. Step out. Come to Lenten service on Wednesday, though it may be beyond your terrine. But come!
Remember, “when you go beyond Z, there is no telling what wonderful things you might find ourselves spelling.”
Move beyond your usual limit and let God take hold of you during this season.
God bless you.

“Our Journey of Loss, Pain, Grief and Healing # 1” 03/01/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 03/10/2019

Text: 2nd Samuel 12;15-23 Luke 16:16-20;

Theme: “Our Journey of Loss, Pain, Grief and Healing # 1”

We are now in Lent, a forty-day period (besides Sundays) when Jesus Christ journeys to the cross. During this time, Jesus will experience moments of loneliness, isolation, betrayal, false accusation an unjust trial, torture, execution, but at the end, he will be restored and victorious. We too go through similar journey from time to time.
In this four-week sermon series entitled: Our Journey of Loss, pain, Grief and Healing, “I invite us to journey with Jesus during this Lenten Season as we capture and recapture our personal journeys of Loss, Pain, Grief and then healing and restoration.
As human beings we were wired to attach. We are attached to the people we love and care about, and vice versa. They include our family, and friends and the many others who surround us. Not only humans but we are also attached to things: our homes, our pets our vehicles, our cell phone, our jewelry, our kid’s toys, and every other thing we love and assemble around us.
Whenever we loss a person attached to us, we are hurt, and we grieve. This also goes for material loss. Although human beings must take precedence over materials, we grieve over the loss of things we love, because God has given the material world to us to enjoy. That is why in the book, All Our Losses; All Our Griefs, Mitchell & Anderson write, “Our attachment to objects is an affirmation of our linkage with the whole of creation given to us by God as a sacred trust. To be human is to be griever of all kinds of loss, they write.
We see this in the passages that were read this morning. In 2nd Samuel 12:15-23, David, the most favored and powerful King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart, is down flat on the ground grieving because his son with Bathsheba is sick and at the point of death. David is about to lose someone he dearly loves.
Grief resulting from loss does not spare anyone, regardless one’s status. It brings us down to our knees and puts a hole in our heart.
The text says the elders came and tried to talk to David to get up from the ground, but David won’t. He would not eat or even have his bath.
Likewise, in our gospel today, Jesus is preparing the disciples for his death. He tells them, that in a little while, they will lose him. When the disciples ask what he means, he tells them, after a while, you will not see me, and you will weep. In the last sentence, he says “you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.”
Grief is not a sign of weakness as some may think. It is our emotional response to loss of someone or something we love and value.
Some of us here this morning have lost love ones: our spouse, dad, mom, other family, and dear friends. We have lost cherished relationship through divorce or death. For those of you married and are in church this morning with your spouse, one of you will one day lose the one seating beside you this morning. In his book, A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis writes, “When two people marry, each one has to accept that one of them will die before the other.” This affirms our mortality.
When we experience loss, whether human or material or relationship, it alters the landscape of our life. We begin a journey from that point of loss, to pain, through grief and then arrive at healing. But is depends on how we respond to our loss.
In the book, A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser tells us that, “it is not the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives; it is how we respond to the loss that matters.”
Let’s look at David’s case. When the servants saw that the boy had died, they could not break the news. But when David saw them whispering, he asked them. “Is the child dead?” They said yes. David got up from the ground, took his bath, changed his clothes, went into the temple and worshipped. He then went into the house, sat at the dining table and began to eat. The servants were shocked. They asked him, “Why are you acting this way? When the child was still alive, you wept and would not eat, but now that he is dead, you get up and eat?”
David’s response is very important this for us morning. He replied, “While the child was still alive, I fasted, I wept. I thought the LORD would be gracious to me and let the child live. But now that the child is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back? From David’s response, let’s draw two important lessons about death and grief. The first is that death is inevitable. Those we love and care about will someday leave us no matter what. Due to our desire to still be attached to them, we may pray, fast, vow to make amends, but when the time reaches, we will lose them. This can be hard to take for some people. It causes them to get angry at God and even abandon their faith. Some blame themselves that if they had just done this or done that, the person who would not have died. But the Bible reminds us that there is a time for everything; a time to be born and a time to die. But the good news is we will see them again. Death for us is a transition to another form of life. The second truth in David’s response is that loss through death is irreversible. He asks the servants the rhetorical question, “Can I bring him back?”
On this journey, this is the stage of Acceptance. It is when we accept the reality that, “yes, mom is gone; or dad is gone; yes, I am now a widow, or a widower, or accepting that your job is no more, or you are now finally retired, or my house is mine no more, or this relationship or the marriage has ended. Don’t live in denial.
But we don’t arrive at this point so easily because we were wired to be attached. It takes a whole journey, not a trip. There is a difference between the two. A journey has a beginning and a destination, and all along the way, we are being shaped by different experiences that help make us a better and stronger when we finally arrive. If we don’t embark upon this journey and travel it well, we may never arrive at the point of healing from our loss. When we do, we experience healing.
Jesus told his disciple, you will grieve but after a while, you will have joy. This is so because we are not alone on this journey. God is with us at every point of our journey, although sometimes he seems distant. But he’s not. That is why David could write, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no even, for the LORD is with me.” God is with us on this journey.
Some of you have traveled this lonely journey, and some of us will in time to come. I therefore urge you to stick with me for the next three weeks as we journey together on this series that takes us from the point of Loss to Healing.
God bless you.

“Held to a Higher Standard” 02/23/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 02/23/2020

Text: Matthew 5:17-30

Theme: “Held to a Higher Standard”

Does anyone here have a relative or a close friend who is an Adventist? I asked because perhaps that person could bear me witness this morning.
For a brief period my religious upbringing was associated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, because the earliest missionaries of the SDA Church to Liberia started their work near the Barchue’s home territory. As a result, many of my dad’s family are Adventists. That includes some two to three years of the early stage of my life.
The SDA Church tends to observe the Jewish Laws very closely. I am sure this is the case with Adventists in the US. We did not eat catfish and all fish without scales. We didn’t eat pork and all animals with hooves. From 6:00 PM Friday to 6:00 PM Saturday, no one could go to the creek to get drinking water, even if it meant death from thirst of a person, because it was the Sabbath.

This rigid demand for the Law was a constant source of conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of his time. The Jews held that the Law was divine, and that in it, God had said his last word. They argued that out of the Law, it must be possible to deduce rules and regulations for every possible situation in life. So, they produced over six hundred laws from the Law God gave them.

First instance they took the Fourth Commandment which tells us to labor in six days and refrain from work on the seventh day, because it is the Sabbath onto the Lord. The scribes would ask themselves, “what then constitutes work? They would go on listening all the acts in their minds that constitute work. An example was, one could not lift a child and carry him on your shoulders. That would be a violation of the fourth commandment. By the time of Jesus, the Law had become a burden for the people.
For the Jews, what mattered most was adhering to the do’s and don’ts written in the code, but for Jesus, what matters is God’s purpose for the law, which is for us to live in harmony with God and with each other.
For instance, when his hungry disciples picked some grains to eat on the Sabbath, in Mark 2:23 ff, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” In part of his response, Jesus told them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” This means that the Law was sent by God for the good of human beings. We were not created to be objects of the Law.

When Jesus healed the crippled woman on the Sabbath, in Luke 13:10ff, the leader of the Synagogue warned, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath. “In part of his rebuke to them, he said,” Does not each of you untie your donkey on the Sabbath? What more about this woman who is also a daughter of Abraham that Satan had kept bound for eighteen years to be set free on the Sabbath.”

The way Jesus treats the issue of the Law , coupled with Paul writings, that “we are no longer under the Law but under grace(Romans 6:14) has made some Christians to wrongly believe and act as though a Christians can live anyhow he or she chooses. It sounds like we Christians now have no moral obligation when it comes to God’s Law.

But to the contrary, Jesus tells us in this text, that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Therefore, you and I still stand accountable before God to live right in keeping with God’s. What the Law does not do is that it is no longer the precondition to be accepted by God. Grace is, through faith in Christ. But when it comes to obeying God’s Law, we are expected to do so. In fact, Jesus raises the bar for us. He tells us that unless our righteousness exceeds the Pharisees and Scribes, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Once again, the Pharisees and Scribes were only concerned with the outward action. But for Christ, harming someone does not reside only in the commission of the physical violent act, but our inward attitude toward the person is also under scrutiny. This is a new Standard, a higher standard that Christ holds us to.

We may not physically murder a person, but our angry and dehumanizing words can be equally damaging. Sometimes we make the excuse, by saying “but I haven’t killed anyone.” Yes, you have not struck anyone dead, but Christ says that your words, especially angry words can be equally harmful and damaging to someone’s life, and for this, we are held accountable.
Proverbs 18: 21 says “Life and death are in the power of the tongue. But it’s no secret that in today’s world of Social Media, it’s no longer only spoken words that do harm. Written words are dangerous as well.

I guess we all have heard the terms, “cyber bully”

A new study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying and 10 to 14-year-old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide. This is where we are guilty of murder, when our words ruin or destroy someone’s life.

The same goes for adultery. Jesus said ‘you have heard in time of old, that thou shall not commit adultery, but that is not enough. I say to you, If you desire in your heart to go after a woman that belongs to someone else and convince yourself that that is the right thing to do, you are already guilty, whether you carry it your plan or not.

Hay, if you love your brother as you love yourself, Christ is saying not only is the act of sexual relations with his wife prohibited, but the thought should not even be entertained. It should not even cross your mind.

This is the righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the pharisees and scribes. This is the higher standard to which Christ holds us. This is the fulfillment the Law, which will make us live in harmony with one another.

God bless you.

“Choose Life” 02,16,2020

Sermon for Sunday, 02,16,2020

Theme: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Theme: “Choose Life”

I want you to imagine this morning that today or the next few days being your last here on earth, and there you find yourself surrounded by those you love and care about. What would be your last words to them? Will you encourage or challenge them? What would you say to your wife, kids, grand kids, other family and friends and others who know and believe in you?

Sensing that his death was near based upon the threats and attempts on his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., the renowned civil rights leader, on April 3, 1968, spoke these final prophetic words to his fellow African Americans fighting for racial justice.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop…..And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land…. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

On April 4, the very next day following these words, Martin Luther was assassinated.

Like Luther several centuries after, our text this morning consists of Moses’ final words to the Israelites. For forty years, Moses had led them through thick and thins. He had watched the entire generation that left Egypt die out gradually because of their lack of faith. So, this message was addressed to a second generation of Israelites. They were the children of those who left Egypt.
In this sermon “The Great Farewell Address of Moses,” as one of my commentaries calls it, which covers Deut. 29, 30, Moses reminded the Israelites of how God had been faithful to them, and how God had won great victories, provided and sustained them over those forty year. He reminded them of how God has given them the Ten Commandments and other Laws, and explained God’s expectation of them, and told them obeying those laws was the key to their success in the Promised Land. He told them that they would live long and prosper if they obey. But he also warned them of the consequences, if they disobey and went after other gods. That would mean death and destruction for them.

Now in the concluding part of this long sermon, (30:15-20), which is our text this morning, Moses is standing and looking across at the Promised Land, and looking back at those forty years as he recounted all that God had done for them.

Do you look back at your life at times to see how far God has brought you? In the midst of all the challenges, health and otherwise, here you are here today. In Liberia we say that you are still being counted among the living. Sometimes in order to appreciate the present and be grateful, it takes a moment of reflection. You probably want to look back at those moments when you or your love one was on that hospital bed, wondering if you or your spouse would ever make it, but here are you today. Looking back at my own life is our source of strength on my faith journey.

The first part of our text (v.15-17), focuses on choice and promise. He tells them, “See today, I set before your life and prosperity, and death and adversity. If you obey the LORD’s commandments, by walking in his ways, then you shall live and prosper in the land you are about to crossover to, but if your hearts turn away from God and follow other gods, then death destruction will be upon you.

Moses tells the Israelites that look, you have a freedom of choice, given to you by God, but know that your choice has consequence. I call upon heaven and earth to be our witnesses, that today, I have set before you, life and death, blessing and course.

Every day, we face choices. From restaurant menu, to grocery shopping list, from private school voucher to health care, to political platforms. We are a people inundated with choices. Therefore, a text like this may challenge our cherished value of freedom and autonomy and even present God as an autocrat. But no! God’s law especially the Ten Commandments, is not a burden; it’s not ordinance of a dictatorial God bending us to his well, nor is it so much about personal perfection, as it is about a covenant relationship with God and our relationship with one another.

God’s intention is that the Israelites and even we today will live in covenant relationship with him, which calls for loving God and loving others. Every time we disobey God whether by neglecting him and choosing something else above God, or when we, for instance, violate our marital covenant with our spouse, we fracture our relationship with God and with one another and there is a consequence.

Therefore, in his concluding lines, Moses urged the Israelites and urges us today, to choose life. We choose life by loving the LORD our God, by walking in his ways, and holding fast to Him. And the fact that we are urged to choose life is an indication that God’s desire for us is to be blessed and not cursed, to have life and not death.

Choosing life calls for obedience to God’s Law, which Jesus summarized into only two: “Love our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.” And the complementary law to this is, “is to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

We choose life when we worship God regularly with all of your heart, pray genuinely, love and serve our church, and believe that God’s loves US. We choose life when we give to the poor and needy, care for the hurting, treat others fairly, share our food with the hungry and give clothes to the naked.

Therefore, as you leave from here this morning, remember that God, through the words of Moses, is urging us this morning to choose life.

God bless you.

“Our Identity and Role in this World” 02/09/2020

Sermon for Sunday, 02/09/2020

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Theme: “Our Identity and Role in this World”

Quite often when a question of the identity of a person is asked, at the time our first response is the person’s name, but name does not say a lot to a person who does not know the person he or she is about. At times the second thing that is stated about the person in question is connection with someone that is known by the inquirer. For examples, he is Joe’s brother. But the most important aspect that says something more about a person’s identity is his or role or function.
For example: he is a medical doctor, or a teacher, or a minister, or a teacher. Our role gives a bigger of picture of who we are. It says more about our place in the society or the world at large.
So, when Jesus told his disciples, and by extension, you and me, that “we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, what did that really mean? Note that he did not say, you should be, or you ought to be, but you are. He says, “you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” This is a metaphor. Certainly, he did not mean that we are shakers sitting on the kitchen counter or on the dining table, or that we will be a light bulb hanging in the garage.
Jesus meant more than that. He used these two images: salt and light to tell us who we are and what our role is in our community and the world at large. It applies to us both as a community of faith and as an individual Christian.
By saying, “we are the salt of the earth, Jesus means that we have several crucial functions, as did salt during his, Jesus, but for the sake of time, let me lift up only two that are relevant to our time.

  1. Salt was used and is used for preservation
    In ancient times, salt was used to keep things from going bad. We in Liberia like many places where there is not much access to refiguration, use salt and heat from the sun or fire to preserve fish or meat. Without salt, many things would rot and decay.
    Talking about salt as preservative, Plutarch writes, “meat is a dead body and part of dead body, and will, if left to itself, go bad, but salt preserves it and keeps it fresh, and is therefore like a new soul inserted into a dead body.”
    Therefore, when Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, he means that we his followers must have some antiseptic influence in life and society in general. Jesus means you and I must be the cleansing antiseptic wherever we find ourselves. We must be the person whose presence defeats corruption and makes it easier for others to be good.
    In our current age where the values from older generations have come under question, in an age of moral relativism, Christ calls us to be the salt that prevents things from going bad.
    The second which is the most important role of salt in all times is to give flavor so that the tasteless will be tasty. Imagine what your meal will taste without salt is what our world would be without Christians.

This was not too different from the time

fish and meat in the absence of refiguration.

Light does not keep its own illumination.

  1. This image is suggestive that Jesus gave his early disciples, and by extension, all of us, a distinctive capacity to elicit goodness

identity, through our role and function in this world. In short, Jesus has told us through these words, who we are and what our role in our community and the world around us.
By saying we are of the earth, Jesus meant three things.

response but names don’t say much about us to someone who does not know us and really want to. Sometimes the next thing that follows is a link or connection of the person being asked about to someone who is known. Oh! He is Nelson’s son, or Sarah’s sister. But the most common and powerful means of telling our identity is our role, our function, or what is it that we do. She is a doctor, or he is a university professor, or a banker, and so on.
This is exactly how Jesus tells the identity of his followers. In the gospel lesson just read, Jesus tells us who we are and what our place or role is in our community and in our world, despite all that is happening around us. He says we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In these words. When Jesus described us as salt, he did not mean that we are shaker of salt sitting on the kitchen canter or on the dining room table waiting to be pour into food.
He was letting all Christians know of their irreplaceable or indispensable role on this earth. He was letting us know how much the world will depends on us; how crucial our role is as a Christian and as a church. He was telling us that we had to maintain who we are and not get lost among the many different tastes that are being made available.
Now, let’s consider how important salt is to us now and in ancient. One would say that the most important use of

We can get to the crucial role Christ as given us when we explore the use of salt, not just in our time, but in ancient times, especially at the time Christ was written.

Jesus tells our place and our role, and indispensable one too, in this word.

In the first description, Jesus says “we are the salt of the earth.” He did not say the salt in the ……………. On someone’s dinner room table, but the salt of the earth.

e person does. He is a doctor; or a banker, or a minister. This tells of the person’s role or his or her function.

One of the pertinent questions we human beings are faced with is the question of identity. The question of identity is easier to answer when asked by someone else, than when it is a self- asked question, like “who am I?” Knowing our identity is closely linked with knowing our place or our role in wheresoever we find ourselves. As a result, this is a question that people have struggled with for ages.

In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, tells us who we are, and from that, it’s easy to tell what our role is on this earth. Like he always did, Jesus used two metaphors to tell our identity: The salt of the earth, and the Light of the World.

These two metaphors tells us how indispensable we are to God’s creation.

A title is called but it gives the role we perform, or things we do.

Theme: “Our Identity and Role in this Broken World”

It defines who we are called to be in this community and God’s world

What the world is like? And why the world needs salt and light?

Scripture teaches us that the world is God’s creation.