May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… Galatians 6:14-18 Today we celebrate the cross because we as a church knows what it’s like to journey in faith. We know what it’s like to sacrifice. We know what it’s like to move from death to life. From this day forward, every time we walk through those doors and see that cross on the altar we will thank God because by God’s grace we can boast in our faith. By our faith we believe. By our belief we live today. (Sermon 9/14/14: We Shall Not Boast – Only Believe)
We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. 1 Corinthians 4:8-20 “Hey Mom – I had an Epiphany!” These are the words heard in a phone call from my son during his first year away at college. I don’t quite remember the exact event, but I do remember thinking how proud I was that he had come to some realization concerning school. We worked really hard at getting him to understand the importance of his education. He had taken so much for granted, not completely because he never wanted for anything but also out of immaturity. Out on his own, as I heard his excitement about a decision surrounding school indicated real growth on his part as our love, work and sacrifice begins to bear fruit. The Corinthians had it all including the love of God but in their spiritual immaturity, they behaved badly, taking advantage of God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. So Paul writes to admonish and plead for their maturity in Christ. Having experienced the season of Epiphany, as children of God, Lent now calls us in to that same growth and maturity in Christ who sacrificed for us.
Without thinking about it you reach for the jar of chunky bars, carefully unwrap the foil and take a bite. About half way through, you remember you’ve given up chocolate for the season of Lent. It was a way of pacifying your anxious moments. Years ago it served as a mere break. In fact you never even finished the entire bar. These days it has become a crutch for every moment you wish would simply go away but never seems to dissipate. Particularly on bad days, chunky bars don’t stand a chance.
The first time we seriously engage in a Lent, we don’t know if we are going to make it. We recognize that whatever it is that we have decided to sacrifice is something that has the potential to be abused by us. We not only want to let go of the cycle; we need to let go of the cycle. It’s so easy in life to hold on to some things far too tightly and convince our selves that they are necessary to survive. Yet, for fear of “missing out,” we forget that we can always walk away from the jar full of chunky bars, the fantastic shoe sale, or the ever popular collectible item that calls our name. The desire to let go indicates that something else is calling our name. A first sign of God’s grace is when we begin to replace the thought of “missing out”, with praise and thanksgiving for God’s strength to resist the temptation. The more time we give to praise, leaves less room for regret of missing out, as we build up the strength to let go of the things we don’t need.
So too in our spiritual journey, the tighter we hold on to feelings of regret, guilt and trespass; the harder it is to let go. Let us remind ourselves to let go of those past frustrations in the same way we let go of that chunky bar. Perhaps at first we won’t be successful but as we learn to hold to those things less tightly, we can take courage and realize that in spite of the setbacks, we survived! Give praise and thanksgiving and know that God has already forgiven us. As we grow, no longer will we desire or need to listen to the “chunky bars” in life, because we are listening for the higher calling and we are free to continue to live into his eternal grace.
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:9-17 Jesus is sitting at the table with tax collectors and sinners, those marginalized by society, treated as unworthy and shamed for having done something “sinful.” When pressed by the Pharisees to justify himself, Jesus challenges them with a statement straight out of Hosea (6:6), the prophet commanded to marry a prostitute! Part of their challenge is understanding where they fit in the story. By sitting with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus demonstrates that no physical sacrifice takes the place of God’s mercy and grace for his people. Jesus, like Hosea joins himself with the lost and the marginalized. His purpose is first to heal, redeem and reconcile them back to God. If the Pharisees see themselves as the righteous and their knowledge of the law as a gift, the challenge is clear; they too are charged to show mercy. What are our gifts? Where do we fit in the story? I’ve come to understand that the gifts God has given us is not about us. It’s about God using us through those gifts, in order that everyone has the opportunity to sit with Christ at the table of mercy, receive healing, and be redeemed back into His fold; tax collectors, sinners and Pharisees alike.
And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:4-10 What does it mean to be made holy because Christ offered his body as a sacrifice? God has given us the gift to create and we have no doubt taken full advantage of that ability. So much so, that the amount of stimuli in the world easily attracts our attention. God has not asked us to stop creating but rather to create for the fullness of life for one another. I believe life in the resurrection means that we are called out of the bondage of the world’s stimuli. There is no relationship with things or people that can take the place of the relationship God has with us. If we don’t have a relationship with God as a priority in our life, there is no sacrifice of stimuli (things or people) that will make a difference. We are encouraged to think Christ first, live in the resurrection and never stop believing. Nothing is impossible for God.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings you have taken no pleasure. Hebrews 10:4-10
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand… Romans 5:1-11
Who are we to judge someone else’s decision to save their own life or take it? Who are we to decide what other people should sacrifice? Unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes one should never judge. Even then forgive yourself – love yourself and move on. It’s what Christ did for us. WWYD
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Romans 5:1-11
If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? John 7:14-36 One of the news highlights of this past weekend featured a 911 call and conversation between a nurse at a private nursing home and a 911 dispatcher. The dispatcher did everything she could to convince the nurse to perform CPR on a resident who was dying. The nurse vehemently refused to be guided by the dispatcher to perform the procedure because the rules of the nursing home did not allow their employees to perform the procedure. After the call is made, their responsibility is to wait with the resident until the medics arrived. The good news is that the nurse performed her duties perfectly. She did exactly what she was supposed to do. The bad news is much deeper than the reality of a woman dying as a result. Immediately the first thing we want to do is judge the nurse. Admittedly, I asked myself why didn’t she just allow herself to be instructed to perform the CPR? However the second question that immediately came to mind was; “What might have happened had she chosen to ignore the rules of her employer?” Of course we like to think the resident may have lived; but for how long – who knows? Then there is the issue of whether any additional damage would have occurred because the nurse either received bad instruction or she did not follow the instruction properly. Most prominent in my mind is the fact that the nurse may have lost her job. Unless of course one is a CEO of a major company, I don’t know of many people in today’s economy who can afford to lose a job. Had anything gone wrong 10-1 she would have been the scapegoat. The saddest thing is that there are those who have already made her the scapegoat because she chose to follow the rules. Perhaps we all like to think that if we were in her position we would have chosen to help the resident. The reality however is that fear is the enemy’s most precious and favored tool against a willing heart. Who among us can say that fear has never played a part in making a decision to do something or not do something? This nurse’s dilemma is a glaring example of the “work” of the world. Christ was very aware of this. We may never find ourselves in a situation surrounding a life and death decision that will affect both ourselves and someone else. Throughout his ministry, this is what Christ did for us; he gave his life. Now we know what Jesus did; the question is “What will you do?”
Turtledoves are known to mate for life. Often used as symbols of devoted love, of equal significance is the importance of relationships, which can only be achieved when two or more come together. Eventually, peace as the absence of chaos gives way to the relationships we have with one another. They are not always perfect, yet amidst this imperfectness is God’s perfect relationship of love with each of us. According to the Law, two turtledoves were offered as sacrifice for the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:24). I am grateful for that same emblem of love and faithfulness, which continues to be offered and renewed through the gift of the birth of our Lord and Savior everyday.
Through Jesus Christ we have the power to lay down our life, we have the power to take it up again! The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ himself gives this power and by God’s grace we receive his power within in us. To use this power is not to abuse or tear down but to love and build up. Through Christ we become the good shepherd. To lay down this life is to sacrifice who we are in the physical world, understanding that our relationship to things that can not love us back is never more important than our relationship first to God and second to one another. There are times when we forget this but the true heart for seeks after God. Only God’s presence fills and fulfills the heart that knows God. To understand this is to have the power to take up that life which is eternally promised to us as we live according to Christ’s commandments.
1 John 3: 16-24 …and this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
2 Timothy 1:7 …for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Matthew 5:21-26 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.
Lent: Day 35 – For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! Hebrews 9:11-15
No longer will the sacrifice of things alone, atone for our transgressions. Nor can we sacrifice one another. Each of us must be willing to sacrifice the self, as Christ sacrificed himself and together we will enter into God’s glory unscathed.
John 12:1-11 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
Psalm 36:5-11 …you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.