Sermon – September 9, 2018
Rev. Diane R. Ford
(In the Gospel of Luke)
The Messages of Jesus that Make Us Uncomfortable
FISHERS OF MEN
(in the Book of Acts)
Speaking the Message and Evidencing Christ in our Lives
INTRO TO SERMON SERIES
Today we begin a new sermon series based on the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
Both were written by same author — a two-volume work.
We will begin by spending four weeks in Luke, then the next month in Acts, the month of November in Luke again, and wrap it up with Acts in early December.
While in Luke, we will “Go Deep” into the Messages of Jesus, specifically the ones that can make us uncomfortable.
And when in Acts, we will focus on evangelism — God’s role as well as ours as we [“share Jesus every day in every way”]
1) share the messages of Jesus and 2) share the evidence of Christ in our lives.
I suggest that you read the book of Luke this week, perhaps 3 or more chapters at a time (there are 24 chapters). Move straight through, picking up on the over-arching flow of the gospel. Resist writing questions or insights down — until you have read through the whole thing. On Wednesday evenings at 6:30, beginning this week, we will look at Luke/Acts, discussing what we find challenging in the messages of Jesus, and discerning how to be “church” in today’s world, specifically, how to be LPC.
So, without further ado, let us Go Deep into the Gospel of Luke, looking at the messages of Jesus that can make us uncomfortable.
It’s a well-known scene: Jesus comes to his home town to preach. At first the people in the synagogue are pleased with his words, and then the crowd turns. What words of Jesus make people so angry and murderous? I’ll leave that question with you, and we are going to focus on the Scripture Jesus was reading from Isaiah — specifically lines from chapters 58 & 61 — words of great hope. Let’s look at the significance of these words. Jesus said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. — Lk. 4:16-18
FIRST LAYER OF MEANING: Freedom from Empire
These words comes from Isaiah contain one of the most important promises in the OT, the assurance of the restoration of Israel after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BCE) and the people’s captivity and exile in Babylon.
Jubilee: Luke’s Gospel for the Poor, p. 8
The promise of restoration & return to Jerusalem was fulfilled in the prophet’s time, but in Jesus’ day Judea was again ruled by a foreign empire, Rome.
Jesus only needed to read a few lines from this part of Isaiah, and the whole crowd recognized God’s promise of, and their yearning for freedom from empire. When he had finished this reading, Jesus began to preach saying,
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Such words! Such great news this would be, if God has freed us again. Restoration & Freedom from Empire.
SECOND LAYER OF MEANING: Jubilee
Another message that the congregants hear is in the words, “release to the captives” –and-the-final phrase, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” These refer to the Year of Jubilee, which is a year during which all debts are cancelled. Thus, those who were imprisoned because of their debt were free to return home. Property that had been ceased due to debt was returned to the families. Slaves were set free. In other words, the poor are relieved from poverty. [ibid. p. 8]
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Jesus said. Such news! If Jesus is right about this — he’s just announced Jubilee!
THIRD LAYER: God’s Reversals
There is one more aspect of this reading-Jesus-gave that we need to keep in mind. That is God’s great reversals. Let’s read the passage again:
Jesus unrolled the scroll and read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring
good news to the poor…
release to the captives,
recovery to the blind,
And freedom for the oppressed,
These are reversals. And after the descriptions comes the encompassing last line:
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor—favor, meaning “gift” or “grace”.
Here is another passage in Luke, again quoting Isaiah, about God’s reversals:
Prepare the way of the Lord!
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Lk. 3:4-6; Isaiah 40:4-5)
(Do you recall who it is in the beginning of Luke who speaks these words? John the Baptist.)
Again, after the list of reversals comes an encompassing last line: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
But the words come from centuries earlier than John the Baptist and the author of Luke. This is the ancient poetry of the prophet Isaiah, about what God is up to: making the great reversals — turning our human-made empires and poverty and injustice to the “orphans & widows” up-side-down. This is what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God, rather than the Kingdom of Rome. It is the kingdom that is right-side-up, where God’s will and love reign.
So, to review, those listening to Jesus read from the scroll in the synagogue would hear these themes of the OT:
Freedom from the oppression of Empire
Year of Jubilee, when the poor are relieved
All those emotion-packed streams of teaching come to mind in this short reading of Jesus.
As one Bible teacher, Dr. Dale Lindsay Morgan says, “Even a lifetime of perfect church-school-attendance is not sufficient to fully appreciate the significance of Old Testament stories in the hearts of New Testament Jews.”
THE FOCUS OF LUKE/ACTS
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all include a story of Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth. But Luke has moved the story to much earlier in his gospel, not to correct a timeline of when the incident occurred, but to use this synagogue moment as an introduction to rest of what Luke says about Jesus’ life and teachings. This is the summary, and it comes straight out of the history and roots of the people’s relationship with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
For Luke, the work of God is found in the great Reversals: the turning-up-side-down of humanity’s fear-based, selfish, greedy systems. God has spoken through the prophets of old and now in Jesus, God’s unique Son. As you read through Luke you will see that over and over it is pointed out that Jesus, like the prophets, was rejected and killed for the message he preached. What is it about God’s message that makes people so angry and murderous?
Starting next Sunday we will look at God’s reversals described by Jesus in Luke. I invite you to look not only for the comfort and good news in Jesus’ teachings, but for the challenging and even offensive teachings. None of us want to be offended by Jesus — somehow that sounds disrespectful of us, at best. So we tend to gloss over Jesus’ words or do mental gymnastics in order to say we agree with and follow Jesus.
We will need a few ground rules for this Deep look into Luke
1) Do the reading at home (you can also have it read TO you on YouTube or on a Bible app.)
2) Read the parables and stories as if you’ve never heard them before — let go of what you have ever learned or concluded before.
3) Be a good sport about how little you actually know about God and God’s will.
4) Talk to somebody about this study — someone at church or elsewhere, but keep the conversation going throughout this series.
I know that’s a lot to ask you to remember, let alone commit to.
URGENT NEED TO GO DEEP AND SHARE WHAT WE KNOW
Here is the purpose behind it:
There is an urgent need to go deep and share what we know.
We are living in strange times. Unnerving times. We could make a list to topics — from earth care to mental health, from retirement and housing to racism, world politics and corruption scandals.
The Messages of Jesus we’d rather ignore are the very messages that will bring more light into our world. And if small mainline churches haven’t figured out how to Evangelize effectively yet, now is the time to do it, while we still have staff and buildings. Not that those are required for the spread of the gospel. But they are assets we have now that need to be maximized.
Last week I asked you to consider — what if the new way of reaching the spiritual needs of our new neighbors is to ask them what they are, share what ours are, and work to meet those needs together
This week, consider this: pray routinely, asking what message God would have you share, and then do so, over a beverage or food. Until you see yourself sharing about Christ regularly, just start inviting people out for a meal or drink. Author/teacher Robert Frost suggests eating with 3 people every week all year-round! One of those people is to be a non-church friend or new acquaintance.
CLOSING – GO DEEP
As we go deep in Luke this month, this is not an academic exercise. It is our invitation to go places we’ve never imagined in our understanding of Christ. We, like the congregants in Jesus’ synagogue, enjoy listening to nice-sounding scripture. When the crowd turned on Jesus, this was not a small group of mean, over-reactive people who didn’t understand Jesus. The crowd represents us all.
I close with this relevant parable Jesus shares in a later chapter in Luke [Lk. 8:5-8]
5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Sermon – September 2, 2018
1 Kings 2:10-13, 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
“Hunger for Spiritual Connection”
Rev. Diane R. Ford
King David stories –
Bathsheba and her husband Uriah;
The death of his son Absalon under Commander Joab
King Solomon (David’s son) stories –
Solomon‘s humble prayer for wisdom
Today we are wrapping up this set of stories with a landmark in ancient history:
The day the Ark of the Covenant was brought to the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. How do you mark such a moment of religious significance?
What are the most meaningful worship experiences you recall in your life time? What did you hear or see or “get” from that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit? Or perhaps nothing was still and small about it. How has your spiritual hunger satiated? [How many can think of at least one special time of worship? Notice — share your stories today after worship.]
There was a special worship service yesterday:
The televised memorial service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. It included a gathering of people, ritual, Scripture, prayer and music. There was decorum and as I observed the senator’s widow, Cindy McCain, she seemed to be very present — in the moment. She melted into tears during a solo sung by Renee Fleming. And by the end of the service I too shed tears. In part because of the witness of this one man’s life — how do POW’s live to thrive again and serve?
We’ve learned McCain drew on his Episcopal roots — his Christian spirituality. His great-grandfather was an Episcopal minister and McCain attended Episcopal day and boarding schools.
We’ve learned McCain drew on his Episcopal roots — his Christian spirituality. His great-grandfather was an Episcopal minister and McCain attended Episcopal day and boarding schools.
In his family memoir, “Faith of My Fathers,” he recounted how during his 5 1/2 years in a POW camp in Vietnam, he “prayed more often and more fervently than I ever had as a free man.”
A fellow POW, George “Bud” Day, said McCain was among those who volunteered to preach at religious services they were eventually permitted to hold at the prison. “He was a very good preacher, much to my surprise,” Day said, “He could remember all of the liturgy from the Episcopal services … word for word.”
There is a power in our liturgies and sacraments — we gather at the communion table every Sunday and remember the waters of baptism. We pray the Lord’s prayer, we confess our sins and are assured of God’s grace every Sunday. We use ancient responses, “thanks be to God,” and “Lord hear our prayer” — we pass the peace of Christ, a ritual rooted in Scripture, affirming our role as peacemakers and quoting the risen Christ’s greeting to his disciples: “Peace be with you.” They are simple, and yet these symbols, words and gestures are profound for those who have ears to hear. They point in the direction – and invite us into — the mystery of God.
And it is the mystery of God that satiates our spiritual hunger. It’s not the ritual, per se. It’s not the manner or order of service — it’s allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to what God’s Spirit may be saying/doing.
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we hear of the worship that happened when the Ark of the Covenant was placed in the “holy-of-holies” in the original temple of Jerusalem. [Let us listen again to: 1 Kings 8:1, 6-11, 22-23]
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites…
Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.
And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there IS no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath.”
There are moments when is seems most appropriate to fall to one’s knees — this scene in I Kings is such a moment. There are times when we must shout and dance with all our might — this is what King David did when HE brought the Ark of the Covenant to its previous home, Mount Zion.
Joy leaps off the pages of story — David is rebuked by his first wife for dancing half-naked in public before the Ark. David replies, that he is celebrating before the Lord, and he will continue to do so, even humiliating himself in worship! We can joke that David doesn’t sound very Presbyterian there, but more importantly, what do we decent-and-in-order worshipers recognize in David’s full expression of joy? He is responding, in the present moment, to God’s presence with His people. Worship and prayer are Spontaneous activities.
These days, most small churches as the question: What type of worship are young families drawn to?
They are drawn to worship that is full of other young families participating. And he music must reach them on an emotional level, and be top quality. They need to understand and feel positively about the message or sermon.
But more importantly, they seek something they need. They are not there to be entertained; they can get that anywhere. They may not be able to articulate what they seek — and the need various for every person. We can trust that if a worship service does not fill some need, then it is not a part of a young family’s life. There is more complexity to this – sometimes the need of the parents is to “feel like good parents,” and so they drop their kids off for a religious education. Sometimes the need of the parents, spiritual though it may be, is tended to with movies, get-aways, and the latest technologies. That’s when we use the analogy of the God-shaped hole within us that we try to fill with the cultural goods of the day. Often the spiritual need must become intense and even grave before a family decides to try religion.
On one Christmas in captivity, John McCain recalled in his memoir — he was given a few minutes to copy passages from a Bible. Then, in between hymns sung with emotion by his comrades, he read portions of the story of the birth of Christ.
“It was more sacred to me than any service I had attended in the past, or any service I have attended since,” he wrote.
There was a spiritual hunger, and it was met in that prison by the singing or comrades and the reading of Christ’s birth.
WHAT ABOUT US
What do you hunger for, spiritually, when you come to worship? Unless you share those needs with others, we can only guess what yours are. Likewise, with the neighbors moving into Lincroft, we can speculate whether or not they perceive their spiritual needs, what they might be, and we can guess how those needs might be met. Perhaps the only way to minister to our neighbor’s spiritual needs is to ask them what they are— I know, this seems strange in this day and age, but consider this: what if, in this NEW day and age of the church, the NEW way of worship is to seek out new neighbors, inquire about their spiritual needs, share our own, and WITH them (not for them, but with them), commit to getting those spiritual needs met?
A key verse in our story this morning is vs. 27, when in Solomon’s prayer, he speaks of the Temple as the “home” for God to dwell:
1 Kings 8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!
This doesn’t surprise us — we know that God cannot be kept in a box — even the golden box of the Ark of the Covenant. This truth is not only referring to a physical container. It refers to any attempt to contain or explain God. Hence the need for symbols, music, dance, rituals, poetry and personal stories. As we listen to the spiritual needs of our neighbors. What language do they use, how is it different from yours? So then, what does it take to point us in the direction of the union and mystery of God? This would take conversation and imagination to pursue.
Let’s listen to more of Solomon’s prayer — remember, he is standing before the altar of God in the presence of all of Israel, with outstretched arms. His prayer continues:
8:41-43 “… When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name –for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm–when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people of Israel…”
He is praying for the non-Israelites to come and worship there. Do you hear the evangelical plea in King Solomon’s prayer? God is not to be hoarded, but shared. There is no peace on this earth that compares to the Peace of God that passes all understanding. There is no truth about forgiveness and compassion that compares to the grace demonstrated and commanded by Christ. But the only way anyone will gain such insights from LPC is if we share our stories — the stories about how your spiritual walk makes concrete differences in your daily life. As LPC is led into the future, we will need to take an inventory of what spiritual resources we have to share — the other human needs of life are met very well in clubs, social activities and humanitarian efforts.
It is more than being humanitarian — though we are called to social witness in our world. It is more than having a caring group of friends — though the bonds of Christ lead us to unusual friendships. And knowing Jesus is much more than checking the box “Christian” on a questionnaire.
What the church has is that which cannot be contained in one teaching, one denomination, one style of worship, one memorized line of scripture. What the church has — it’s profound resource for the world — is the indescribable power of Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit and our identity as forgiven children of God. Now, that’s “churchy language” to describe it. But I can tell you a story about my latest moment of forgiving myself, or a recent ah-ha when I was simply lying on my back, acknowledging the presence of God. It is more difficult to explain what happens when I pray with people, one-n-one. It often releases tears and provides assurance that we need not fear.
As shoes for your feet
put on whatever
will make you ready
to proclaim the gospel of peace.
The Good News of Peace is a spiritual need, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, how do you see LPC sharing the gospel of peace?
Sermon – August 19, 2018
1 Kings 2:10-13, 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
“Solomon at Gibeon”
Rev. Diane R. Ford
People you know who are humble… what are they like?
Not like: pretentious, covering up mistakes, defensive — their attention is not on such things, because they are focused on something bigger than that — the project, the friendship, the ministry.
King David stories… Bathsheba, Uriah, Absalon and Nathan. And in I Kings chapter 2, King David has died after a long reign, and his successor is his son, King Solomon.
SOLOMON and HIGH PLACES
We read this morning: (I KINGS 3:3) “Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.”
High Places — where the surrounding peoples/nations worshipped their gods. If you want to get closer to a god, go to a “high” place. King Solomon also frequented the high places, which is an idolatrous act, if you are the people of Yahweh. None the less, Yahweh appears to Solomon in a dream while he slept at the most IMPORTANT high place, Gibeon.
Interesting. What seems like a minor detail of the story – the location — is in and of itself worth an entire sermon — We may be in a place where we ought not be. Or we may be in a place that seems far from God – still, God is with us, pursuing us, with vigilant grace. And God does this for EVERYONE.
Psalm 139 reflects on this beautifully:
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
[If I make my bed on the high place of Gibeon, you are there!]
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
We cannot escape the love of God — ignore it? Doubt it, not notice it? Yes. But escape it? No.
In our reading, God askes Solomon a question, and was very pleased with Solomon’s answer. Let’s first look at the question.
(vs. 5:) At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
If Solomon could have anything as king, what would it be? In other words, what kind of king would Solomon be?
[parallels the temptations of Jesus in the desert. His answers to the devil determined what kind of messiah he was. Did he seek power, honor, comfort for himself? No. Obedience to God.]
So, what kind of king would Solomon be?
Well, as we read lists of kings in the OT (2 Kings 15, for example) each king mentioned is followed by a comment, either “…and he did what was good in the sight of the LORD,” or “… and he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” This was the measure of a king. Now, there are over 40 kings that are evaluated — the same phrases get repeated [again]:
“…and the king did what was good (or evil) in the sight of the Lord.
Good or evil; there are only two kinds of kings. Well, except for those who started out as good and turned evil; there were several of those.
If you want to know the ideal prayer of a good king, look to Solomon’s prayer at Gideon. [I Kings 3].
God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered (v. 7,9)
LORD my God, you have made me king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties… So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to DISTRINGUISHING between GOOD AND EVIL.
You hear the language jump off the page — a king distinguishing between good and evil.
I AM A CHILD
The other startling phrase in the prayer is the one in which Solomon called himself a child (a child -when-it -comes-to being a king). This is a potent contrast: a child and a king. What king would ever call himself “a child”? A humble one. The message of the scene at Gibeon is the ideal prayer of a good leader is to “be humble before God. Like a child.”
Jesus said, “let the children come unto me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Imagine as those children came and sat next to Jesus and sat on his lap… And the on-lookers, who knew the OT stories like the back of their hands, suddenly remembered the Gibeon moment: when Solomon referred to himself as a child, demonstrating the attitude that pleased God. This message of child-likeness from Solomon’s prayer at Gibeon and from the words of Jesus are not only meant for kings or world leaders — Jesus said it to his disciples, you and me.
We find our dignity in Christ alone. There as his child, and only there as his child, are we able to discern, to hear what it is to live by faith, for action in God’s Kingdom.
A DISCERNING HEART
Solomon asked for a discerning heart so he could govern the people and distinguish between good and evil.
Just by MAKING this request Solomon was displaying that he already had a discerning heart.
Much like the TinMan in The Wizard of Oz, the one asking for a discerning heart is already displaying it.
His priority was God’s people — the kingdom. He knew the kingdom belonged to God — the God who created them, brought them out of the land of Egypt, rescuing them from slavery; the Kingdom belonged to God who made a covenant with them, and sent prophets to guide and at times rebuke them.
Solomon would serve as the human king for a time, but the kingdom itself belonged to God.
AND he knew God had warned them through the prophet Samuel about what can happen when power-hungry, selfish kings rule.
(I Sam. 8) This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights. He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders a 50s and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots he will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and all of Groves and give them to his attendance he will take a chance of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials in attendance your mail in female servants and the best of your cattle and doggies he will take for his own use he will take a chance of your flocks and you yourselves will become slaves.
God was pleased with Solomon’s request, it says in the text, because he was not asking for riches or the death of his enemies.
So God answered, “I will GIVE you a wise and discerning heart. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for: both wealth and honor.
In James 4:10 we read, “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
In our day-to-day lives you and I make choices to be humble and discerning for the sake of God’s kingdom— or not. Sometimes we seek other things — wealth, honor — or perhaps for many the greater temptation from our culture is to seek a comfortable and safe lifestyle.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you. [Matt. 6:33]
It is when we are humbled that we can discern God’s good will. This is not an attitude we inherit or decide to put on. The humility of Christ comes from deep within us, where our whispered prayers go on… it is during that dialogue in the spirit between God and the child of God that true discipleship is born — that is, our ability to love and serve the Kingdom as Jesus demonstrated.
Eternal Christ, second person of the Trinity, you came emptying yourself fully, not holding onto your entitlement as God, but dwelling among us in the flesh, and “doing what was good in the sight of the Lord” — even to the point of death on a cross.”
Deepen our prayer lives, that we may discern the depth of faith-in-action that You call us to, for the sake of Your Kingdom. Amen.
One humble person I’ve met:
Rita Dentino of Casa Freehold. In her 70’s. For the past 15 years has responded to the need of immigrants as she was able. She began Casa Freehold to help women and men find work by providing a safe meeting place for day laborers and prospective employers. The agency has grown and now also educates immigrants regarding health resources, legal support and English as a second language. Lately Rita has been working to find safe housing for some of the children separated from their parents at the Mexican border. I spent an hour speaking with her two weeks ago. I learned a lot during our talk. And I was moved by how she goes about her hard work humbly, caring for the “strangers” among us, as the OT and Jesus commanded.
270 Everett Rd, Lincroft NJ 07738
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