Sermons

                             

Sunday Sermon,  New Life MCC – Jan 2, 2011

Title: What is in Your Heart?

By Jim Whalen

 

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 8:12-21 (2 Samuel 7 1-)NIV

The title of today’s message is “What Is In Your Heart?”  We heard in today’s scripture reading, King Solomon, who was the son of King David, addressing the gathered crowd at the dedication of the great temple of God, which he had guided the people of Israel to build.

This temple was the fulfillment of a long awaited dream although the dream did not originate with King Solomon, it was his father, King David, who first envisioned it.    So, let us talk about David, for a few moments, to get the back-story to today’s scripture reading.

The building of the temple was of great importance to the nation of Israel and scripture tells us that it was in the forefront of David’s mind and heart to build it.  The building of the temple was considered the most significant thing facing the Hebrew people, and David, the king was expected to make it happen.  David had the desire and he shared his dream and began to lay the groundwork for building it.  However, he did mot get to see his dream fulfilled.  It was his son, King Solomon who led the people to build it.

Then Solomon, at the dedication of the temple tells us “…it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the Lord God of Israel.”  Solomon goes on to remind us what God told his father David, ‘you did well that it was in your heart.’ This brings us to what I want to talk about today – God told David that he did well because it was in his heart. 

To sum this all up, God tells David that he will not be able to fulfill his dream of building the temple, but that he will bless him anyway because it was within his heart.

David’s dream went unfulfilled, but because he had the desire to do it, because he intended to do it, because David laid the groundwork to do it, God said I will bless you any way, because you have the desire and intention in your heart.

It is well that it is in your heart.

We all have dreams; each of us have temples we want to build, personal temples, temples of family, or character, temples of justice, temples of peace.  Yet few of us finish them.  We try, and try, and that is one of the difficulties and disappointments of life, that we continuously work to finish that which is unfinishable.  Yet, the whole of the message of God in Christ for us is to keep trying – we are commanded to do that.  Yet, like David, we face the fact that our dreams may not be fulfilled.

Now this may not sound like what you want or expected to hear this morning.  It is, after all, the New Year and we are or should be looking ahead with hope – and we are also commanded to do that.  However, I must be realistic, here.

Therefore, I must admit that life is the continuous story of shattered, or unfulfilled dreams.

Just a brief glance across history tells us that.  Moses led his people to the Promised Land, but he died before he could make it in.   St. Paul, the Apostle, wanted to go to Spain to spread the news of Christ.  Instead his journey ended in a prison cell in Rome.

In more recent history, all we have to do is look at any of our  political elections.  They pit one candidate against the other, there is only one winner, the losing candidates dream is dashed.  In our own LGBTQ history, we see many who have cried themselves to sleep every night alone in their beds.  We have had brave drag queens who have thrown stones at the police, and went to jail for justice, many of whom died before they could see any of the progress we have made toward gaining our equal rights.

We have come a long way, moving toward marriage equality, and we can celebrate our recent victory of overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  However, many of those who bravely paved the way for these victories, never lived to see them happen.  And though we have made some strides, LGBTQ youth are still humiliated and bullied, disowned by their families, and many, many lose all hope and commit suicide.

I knew at a very young age that God called me to occupational ministry.  Yet here I stand, a man moving into his sixth decade of life and I am still waiting to be freed to do the work I have been called to do.  Now, for me, it seems like this dream will soon be fulfilled.  But I have lived most of my life, with an unfulfilled dream. I know what it is like.

I know that each of you is in some way building a temple, or you desire to build a temple.  It gets heavy at times, it is a continuous struggle.  A poet once wrote, ‘discouragement is my constant companion.’   Our desires and dreams of building the temple seem to mean nothing.  Most of the time it is like banging your head against a wall, and that struggle is not the exception, it is the story of life.

This temple we call New Life MCC, has been an unfulfilled dream for what, 33 years.  My partner Tony and I have been building this temple for 32 of those years and we are not alone in this, many who came here before you desired to build this temple.  Many who have passed, and many more who lost the desire in their heart to build it and have left.  Many of you here today have worked your blessed assurances off to build this temple.  There has been blood, sweat and tears shed over the building of this temple we call New Life MCC.  Not only blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this temple, but also money.  Those of you who have given your tithes for years have invested thousands and thousands, and some of you, even tens of thousands of dollars to build this temple.

The mission of New Life is to reach those in Hampton Roads who have been rejected, to offer them the hope of Jesus’ promise of abundant life. We are commissioned to share that hope with those who are living on the edge of hopelessness. Now I look around this morning and I see maybe 45 people, and our membership is what, somewhere between 60 and 80 people.   Now think about how many LGBTQ people are in Hampton Roads.  There are at least a million of us living here.

Now, out of all of our brothers and sisters living in Hampton Roads, how many are on the brink of falling into the dark pit of hopelessness.   How many?

I’ll tell you what, out of the millions of people who live here, it is a whole lot more than the 50 – 80 people that New Life is reaching.

How many queer people have fallen into that black bottomless pit of hopelessness in the 34 years of New Life MCC’s existence? I must say, it does not look like the temple of New Life MCC has been completed.  And it does not look rosy for the temple of New Life today -  does it?

The Pastor has just left.  Most Sundays there are many empty seats in this space that we once thought might be to small for us.  You do not have to be an accountant to know that if attendance is down, then the offering must be down.

‘Is there enough money to keep the lights on?’  ‘Is there enough money pay the rent?’  I am sure these questions are being asked.

This situation, these things, do not make me happy.  The building materials for this temple sit untouched in the corner somewhere.  I am sure that does not make you happy either.

“Yet, there is something that makes me happy today, and that is the reassuring voice of God that cries across the ages saying:

You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s  good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. ‘It is well that it is in your heart.’  Thank God this morning that we have hearts to put something meaningful into.’[1]

What is in your heart today?

David had it in his heart to build the temple.  He never saw it built.  Yet he held the desire in his heart.  He laid the groundwork for it to be built by his successor, his son, King Solomon.  But it was built because David never gave up on his dream, he never lost the desire in his heart for the temple to be built.

Therefore, I ask you again, what is in your heart today?

Do you hold it in your heart, to continue building the temple we call New Life, MCC.

In the words of Tony Crisp: “Never give up hope.  Never give up listening, to God.  Never give up inspiring.  Never give up leading.   Never give less than your best.” And I add, never give up building the dream that you hold in your heart.

What do you hold in your heart today?                        

When was the last time you invited your friends to church?  What’s that you say, “all my friends are in the church.”  If you are not actively telling your brothers and sister about the hope of Christ, and how they can find it, then you must ask yourself, ‘Do I hold it in my heart to build this temple?’ 

If you have stopped coming to church or have stopped or reduced your giving to church because you do not like some things the pastor has said or done, You must ask yourself,  ‘Do I hold it in my heart to build this temple.’

What is in your heart today?

Now, I believe we are building a great temple.  I believe we have the potential for building a glorious temple in which LGBTQ people are free to worship God…  Though the most glorious part of it may never be seen by you, or me, but this temple will be built because I hold the desire to build it, in my heart.

I ask you again, what is in your heart today?

We have the support of the fellowship behind us.  We are not alone in this transition.  Our fellowship (UFMCC) is working with us, offering us the resources to help guide us through this change.  The board has a clergy person to offer them immediate assistance.  The fellowship is doing the work to get us an interim pastor as soon as possible.

I have had the privilege of being trained and certified as an Interim Pastor.  If any of you have questions about what an interim does, you can ask me after service.

We will have a skype chat with our Regional Elder, Dianne Fischer after service today and she will here your concerns and answer many of your questions. This temple has not been deserted and left to crumble.

Now there is another point I need to make.  That is the fact that there is a tension built into the universe between good and evil and whenever you begin to build something good, whatever it may be, that tension comes into play.

Hinduism refers to this tension as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy refered to it as the tension between body and soul.  Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.

That same struggle is an integral part of our beings.   It is the very thing that caused ST. Paul to cry out in frustration, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  ( Rom 7:15-16) There is a war going on inside of us. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  calls it:

“…a civil war. I do not care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life.  And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It is going on in your life.  Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling you back, trying to get you to hate.  Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread gossip about them. There is a civil war going on. There is schizophrenia…within all of us.”

St. Augustine said in his Confessions, “Lord, make me pure, but not yet.” There is a tension in our nature and when we set out to dream dreams and build our temples, we must consider it.  We must be honest and ask ourselves if the desires of our heart are of God.

The point I want to make here is that God does not judge us for every good or bad thing we do.  God does not judge us by the sum of our mistakes.  God, instead,  judges us by the arc of our lives and the arc of our life isdetermined by  what we hold in our heart.  Our salvation is not about absolute morality. We are a people that are ever changing and our salvation is about being in the process of becoming all of who God created us to be.  Are we heading in the right direction?

What is in your heart today?

Do you want to be a good person?  Do you want it to be said of you, “He tries to be honest and good,” or “She tries to be just?” Do you want it to be said of you, as it was said of King David, that “you are a person after God’s own heart?”

Do you know the ‘heart’ of God?  God tells us what God holds in her heart for us, in 1 Chronicles 29:11, God says “…I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Toward what end are you moving?

What temples are you building?

What is in your heart today?

Amen

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Unfulfilled Dreams


 

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Sermon Title:  One Small Drop Can Make a Big Splash

Delivered to St. John’s MCC, Raliegh, NC – August 22, 2010

You may listen to an audio file of the message Here:    http://www.stjohnsmcc.org/CityOnaHill/podcasts/602-8222010–sermon–small-acts-can-make-a-big-splash-part-two.html

Luke 13:18-21

He said therefore, “What is the Commonwealth of God like? And to what should I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 

 And again he said, “To what should I compare the Commonwealth of God?  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”  NRSV

When you read  the gospels, you find that Jesus was constantly referring to the Kingdom of God, or in today’s language, the Commonwealth of God.  Jesus spoke of this Kingdom or Commonwealth as an actual thing. Jesus believed deeply in this Commonwealth. He believed in its reality. He believed in its ability to change lives and he believed there was a way that you and I could be part of it.

In fact, that is the thrust of most of Jesus’ teaching – telling us about the existence of the Commonwealth of God, and explaining to us how it operates and that we can be a part of it.

Since the Commonwealth was the central thrust of the teaching of Jesus, both those of us who are following him and those who are merely curious about following him must understand what the Commonwealth of God is.  That is the critical question, what did Jesus mean when he talked about the Commonwealth of God?

Jesus told stories to illustrate it to us, using everyday things like camels, seeds, trees, money, employers and employees, gates, and more. He made it as simple as possible so that we could understand it.  In our text for today we have two very brief stories, comparisons, actually.

Then Jesus asked, “What is the Commonwealth of God like? What shall I compare it to?

It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”

Again he asked, “What shall I compare the Commonwealth of God to?

 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

The brilliance of Christ’s teaching is if you’re not looking or listening closely, you will miss it. It seems not only simple, but simplistic at times.

And the problem with this tiny snippet of scripture is, that when it is taken out of context of the overall teachings of Jesus, it is meaningless.

Imagine your talking to a coworker who isn’t a follower of Christ, and has not read the bible, but they know you are a follower of Christ.  This coworker has asked you about your faith and you tell them that you believe that God is your ruler and that God’s Kingdom can be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Then they ask you, “what is the Kingdom of God?”

And you say, “How can I picture God’s Kingdom for you? What kind of illustration can I use?  Well, it’s like a seed that a man plants in his yard.  It grows into this huge shrub with many thick branches and birds build their nests in it.”

Your coworker gives you this puzzled look, as if to say ‘you are whacked!’

So you add, “It’s like yeast that a woman puts into a small bit of bread dough and waits while the bread rises.”

Your coworker says, “So, The Commonwealth of God is like a mustard seed, and like yeast? Really!?  That’s what it’s like, huh?

They’re still looking at you like you’re crazy.  So, you try again.

“It’s kind of like rain. You know it rains one drop at a time, but all those drops together fill the oceans.”

This just doesn’t explain it.

One of the reasons that faith in Christ lacks credibility in the world today is that it is unbelievable, therefore, to many people it is uncompelling.

The bible is made up of individual stories, and any story taken by itself is not going to make sense to anyone who is not familiar with more of the book.

I want to share two much newer parables with you.

Fifty or so years ago there was a taxi driver. He routinely picked people up at the airport, and delivered them to their destinations in the city. He was an entrepreneur.

One day as he was waiting at the taxi stand, a man rushed out of the airport doors and into his cab. “Where to, buddy?”, the cab driver asked. “Oh, just drive me around the block a few times, and return me to the airport terminal,” the man answered.

Puzzled, the cab driver said,  “Just drive you around the block? What for?”

“Well,” the man answered, “my life is busy with work, rushing from place to place and city to city.  I find the place I can relax and put all of my work and concerns aside is when I’m in a taxi. So, please, just drive me around awhile, and when I feel refreshed, I can go back to my work.”

Shrugging his shoulder, the cab driver did as he was told and his passenger rewarded him with a hefty tip

No sooner had the man left the cab, than a woman rushed up to the cab and got in.  “Where to Lady?

“Oh, just drive me around the block a few times,” came the reply.

Puzzled again, the driver asked the woman why.  The woman smiled.

“You see, I used to live in this area, and whenever I’m in town I like to just drive around and see the old neighborhood. It reminds me of my dear grandmother.”

Once again the taxi driver drove around the block a few times. He dropped the woman off at the terminal, and received a fat tip.

Now this same thing happened over and over again. The taxi driver was not stupid. He recognized an opportunity when he saw it. He bought another cab, and then another, until he had a whole fleet of taxi cabs that would pick people up at the airport, drive them around the block a few times, and return them to the terminal. The tips were amazing.

Of course, the other cab drivers were not stupid either. Several other entrepreneurs also invested in more taxis, and soon there were whole fleets of taxis competing for the attention of people who enjoyed being driven around the block. As time passed, and times changed, the competition grew. Fewer and fewer people wanted to ride around the block. In order to keep going, our taxi driver did everything he could to make his taxis attractive:

The first thing he did was take a class in public speaking. He trained himself to give the best verbal commentary to his customers as he drove them around the block. He knew every interesting detail about the neighborhood. He told the funniest jokes. People would leave his cab laughing. “This was great!”, they would say. “Next time I’m in town, I’ll be sure to take your cab.”

The second thing he did was to introduce great coffee. The refreshments served in his cab were first class, the coffee fresh brewed, and he even provided juice for health conscious adults and donuts for the kids.

The third thing he did was the most radical. He extended his cabs, and widened his cabs, to create a huge stage.

Now, you must remember this is a parable and I can tell it any way I choose. Ok?

So, the cab driver created this big stage and brought in  beautiful young men and women to sing and entertain his guests as they drove around the old neighborhood. Music, video, film he had the best of everything.

However, despite all his upgrades and strategic planning, the number of customers continued to diminish. Fewer and fewer people got into his cab. He watched the competition slowly disappear. He sold off one cab, then another, until, finally, he was reduced to his one original taxi cab. The bottom line was that fewer and fewer people wanted to just ride around the block, and return to the same place from which they started.

Parable #2

Once upon a time, there was a congregation trying to serve the needs of an increasingly mobile public. One day a man came to church. The Pastor asked him where he would like to go. “Oh, just drive me around the Christian Calendar a few times, please, and return me to Advent.”  The pastor was puzzled. “Why would you want me to do that ?”, he asked.

The man said, “Well, the truth is that in my busy and frantic life, rushing from place to place and task to task, I just find sitting in church to be relaxing. Besides, it does me good to see the Christian Year go by. I grew up in that neighborhood!”

So, the pastor and the church took him through the Christian Year a few times, and accepted a hefty annual donation.

Others came to the church asking for the same thing to, to be escorted around the Christian Calendar.  Considering the large donation the man had given the church for his seat, the pastor and the congregation joyfully obliged them.

One woman said that just coming into the church and relaxing while she was escorted through the Christian year reminded her of her dear  grandmother, whose faith in Christ had warmed and inspired her as a child.  Another said I just want to see the old neighborhood again. I grew up in the Christian Year, and its always nice to burn the candles, and sing the old songs

Eventually the church was overflowing with people being escorted around the Christian Year and returned to Advent while they sat in the comfort of their cushioned pews.  Everyone was happy and the pastor and the other church leaders developed a “registration card” to be filled out during worship service, that asked what the congregation needed – a “visit from the pastor”, or “prayers for their needs and the needy”, or maybe just to “receive offering envelopes”.  The congregations needs were being met and they were more than happy to fill up the offering plate every Sunday.

Now, this pastor was not stupid. He recognized a good thing when he saw it. His denomination went out and built another church, and then another church, until they had a whole string of churches working for the needs and comfort for their congregation – escorting people  around the Christian Year and returning them to Christmas. And all the offering baskets were overflowing every week.

And of course, the pastors of other churches were not stupid either. Other denominations built more churches, across the city all doing the same thing.

As time passed, and times changed, the competition grew. In order to survive, the pastors did everything they could do to make their churches more welcoming to the public:

They took continuing education courses in preaching and trained themselves to give the best verbal commentary on the Christian Year and the lectionary possible. They each tried to tell the funniest jokes. People would shake hands with their pastors as they walked out church doors, feeling good, and ready to go through another busy workweek.

The second thing he did was to introduce great coffee. Their refreshments were the best.  Their potluck suppers were the talk of the town. The aroma of specialty coffee and cappuccino wafted through the sanctuary.

Nevertheless, as time went by and the world changed, “the number of customers” in the Church began to drop off.  The church leaders knew something was missing, that the church needed something radical to bring people back.

Many of then tore out the chancel, and enlarged the facility. They recruited good looking young men and woman to sing in the choir.  They bought new choir robes, and picked up the beat.   They had the best video, film, and music in town.

Yet fewer and fewer people were coming to church.

Denominations began closing churches, and cutting staff.

That first pastor’s denomination sold one church building, and then closed another congregation, until it was reduced to the one church with which it started.

Finally, there came a day when the pastor was greeting the faithful before the service. A woman with several children came walking up to the door. Before the pastor could even ask, the woman said:  “Where are you going, Reverend?”  He smiled warmly. “Why, we’ll give you a ride around the Christian Year!”

The woman looked puzzled. “What for, Reverend?”  The pastor handed her some coffee. “Why, you can show your children the old faith neighborhood where you grew up, and you can honor the memory of your dear old faithful grandmother who inspired you.”  The woman looked at the pastor a long time. Finally she said, “I don’t know reverend.  That may be fine and well for me, but what are you going to do to for my children? They don not know anything about the Christian calendar.  They are still trying to find out who Jesus is.

The pastor was stunned and perhaps for the first time he was speechless.

You see the bottom line in the 21st century is that fewer and fewer people want to just ride around the Christian Year and return to the front doors of the church.

This woman knew that her children could not understand the stories in the bible unless they experienced them being lived out in the lives of those around them.  She knew that a church that sits in their pew and enjoys the candles and the singing and the oh, so wise and wonderful uplifting words of the preacher and yet, do nothing to let their neighbors in on the experience of Christ, is a church that is just playing church.  The Commonwealth of God is not a place, but a way of being.

Without being Christ with skin on to the world around them, a church is just a self-satisfying, self-perpetuating enterprise.

If you have been broken and beat down by a world that scoffs at you, if you have been made to feel less than, if you have been called names, if you have had to lie and cheat and hide to avoid the hatred of those around you, if you’ve been beaten up with the lie that even God herself doesn’t love you, you have been broken, made less than whole.

However, because you are here today to proclaim praise for a God you know created you, and loves you as God made you, you have been healed and made whole.  The love of God has transformed your life.

I want to remind you that there are a couple of generations of people behind some of us that have not seen much evidence of Christ in the world.  There are people out there that have been broken like you and I have been broken, their faith beaten out of them one drop at a time until their hope has turned to dust and been blown away.

These people are also God’s people.  And they need to see the Commonwealth of God – They need to see Christ alive in their lives.

You have the opportunity, next weekend to put your faith in action.  Each of you, like a small drop of water, has the opportunity to come together and make a big splash in peoples lives – each of you is a drop of the everlasting water of life that Christ spoke of.

You can fill these people with the deliciously wet hope of Christ that you know.

In these parables, Jesus is showing us that because we know the love of God we can change the world.  God gives us, not only the ability, but the responsibility to build the Commonwealth of God.

Jesus said “a man took and planted a seed”; “a woman took yeast.” In these comparisons, Jesus shows us that we have to take the  initiative to transform the world around us.

How is that possible?  Faith in God asks us to do things that seem impossible.  God asks us to believe things that, if not believable, seem unlikely.

This is absolutely central to our understanding of God and of the Commonwealth of God.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

You are the face of Christ.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Because God lives in us and chooses to work through us, it is up to us to take the initiative to plant the mustard seed and place the yeast in the bread dough.

What we do may seem insignificant, but Jesus’ parables illustrate the small things that each of us do we do can make a big splash.

Those who have been broken and healed know the power of Hope that is Christ.  That power can and must be poured out, splash it around.  Give it away!  You will never run out of it.

I do not portend to know all of God’s will for your life.  But I do know that you are called to quench those who are dying of thirst for the living waters of Christ.  Each of you is a drop of living water and together we can quench a thirsty world.

If you know Jesus, you know his life on Earth was faith in action for you.  If you know Jesus then you know he calls you to be faith in action for those who do not yet know him.  You and I may each be like one single drop of water, but together we become the overwhelming flood of love that is Christ – together we can make a big splash that can change the world.  Don’t drown in the overflow of your own abundance, pour yourself out, give yourself away and change the world.

Amen

Mark 2:1-12 –  Jesus Heals a Paralytic

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?  9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?  10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic —  11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”  12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”   NRSV

Mark tells us this is early in Jesus’ ministry, but word of him has already spread across the region. Therefore, when people heard that he was in Capernaum, they crowded into the house where Jesus was staying to see him and hear his teaching.

Now mind you, most of these people there were probably not there because of faith in Jesus.  It is more than likely true that many were there out of human curiosity.  They were curious about this man who it was said had healed the sick and gave sight to the blind.  Therefore, the house was filled to overflowing so that no one could get in side. Then Mark tells us:

“…some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?   Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic —   “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”  And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (NRSV)
There are many lessons that we could gain from this passage, not the least of which is the power of Jesus to forgive sins. However, I want to draw your attention to four little words: “Jesus saw their faith.”

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

When Jesus saw their faith, could also be expressed this way: When Jesus saw their faith lived out loud, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”    When Jesus saw their faith lived out loud -  He said, “your sins are forgiven.”
While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. This man has four friends helping him out. They want to take him to see Jesus, but there was no way to get in the door.

So what could they possibly do? This was important. They had to see Jesus.

Therefore, they carried the man up on the roof. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used, among other things, for rest and quiet.  In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So, generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall.

According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about three feet apart. These beams were filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. This construction would have made it easy to dig between the beams without doing much damage to the house.

Then the paralyzed man was lowered down to Jesus, and when “Jesus,”  saw their faith”,  being lived out loud, he both forgave and healed the paralytic.

I want you to think about this for a moment. If you were going to visit a famous rabbi who had a large following, who possessed some degree of prominence, and if you wanted to treat the rabbi respectfully, as Jews were taught to do, and in addition you wanted him to heal your friend, you would certainly try to make a good impression by treating the Rabbi well.

The last thing you would do is tear up his house! It just doesn’t make sense to destroy someone’s house and then ask him for a favor. It doesn’t make sense to expect him to treat you well after that. Perhaps, it is because it doesn’t make much sense that Jesus was saw their faith.

Let me explain what I mean by that. These men evidently had either heard Jesus or heard of Jesus talk about himself. How he said that “the Son of Man had come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

How he said the Shepherd would leave the ninety-nine in the pen and go out and find the one that was still lost.

These four men had heard Jesus’ claim he was the Physician who had come for the sick rather than for the well.

And I’m sure that throughout his teaching in those early days of his ministry, Jesus repeatedly made the point that needy, broken, hurting, and desperate people were the very ones for whom he had come and on whom his ministry was focused, that he was God’s representative to meet their needs.
And these men were audacious enough to believe him!

They were boldly saying, “If you say so Jesus, we are going to trust that you care more about people than buildings, and we are going to tear the roof off this sucker and put before you one of the very people you said you have come to help.” They believed the things that Jesus said about himself and they acted on that belief.  They acted on their faith in Jesus.  They lived their faith out loud.  They were willing to go to lengths that other people would regard as questionable or controversial..

I think that illustrates a point about how we are called to live out our Christian life. God wants you to make your faith visible and loud to a needy world.  We live in a noisy world, with so many things trying to capture our attention.  God calls us to live our faith out loud; loud enough to be heard over all the other noise around us.

To do that, you have to be bold.

Jacob wrestled with an angel, who was really nothing short of God himself. He wrestled all night, and then grabbed him and held on and said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Let me tell you, that’s a very bold thing to say to God.

And yet, boldness is a word that the writer of the book of Hebrew uses to describe how we ought to approach the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).

So, you see, a hole in the roof was no problem for Jesus. People have always been, and always will be, more important than buildings to him. Therefore, he saw a bold and loud faith in the action taken by these four men.

I want to talk about three qualities of their faith; three qualities that shouted their faith to those around them. The first quality is care, or mercy – compassion.  Jesus Saw Four People Who Cared

These were four people who weren’t thinking of themselves. They didn’t need a special blessing from the Lord. But they had a friend who did. And they went to a lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. The reason is that he was important to them. They cared about him.

Certainly, Jesus set the supreme example in this regard. There’s a beautiful story in Matthew 11 where John the Baptist was in prison. He heard about some of the things Jesus was doing and he sent two of his disciples to find out if Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus said,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)

You go back and you tell John about what you hear and what you see. Tell him about someone who truly cares about people, who hurts where they hurt, who is concerned about their needs.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t just come to the earth, preach a couple times a week, fill us with guilt about how sinful we are and then ascend back to heaven. Jesus didn’t do that. He came and showed us our God is full of mercy and compassion, that he truly cares about our problems. He showed us that God desires to make us whole.

As the body of Christ, you and I are expected to be a people full of mercy and compassion, who truly care and truly live it out loud..

Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15). In other words, care. Get involved in the lives of others. It’s so easy to sit back, wrapped up in our own lives and our own little problems, or big problems, so that we don’t really care about anyone else.

What a tremendous difference it would make if we spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. It might be a brother or sister here in the church. It might be your next-door neighbor. It might be someone who has a material need. It might be someone who simply needs someone to talk to.

It might be someone who is anxious to learn more about God’s Word. And what better way for them to learn about the word, than through you living the word of God  – How? out loud.

Remember, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
And that means more than expressing concern. It means actually helping people out with their problems, what one writer calls “getting your hands dirty in their lives.”

Can you imagine these four men visiting their paralyzed friend? They stop by to say hello, talk about their big plans for the week-end, then they start out the door saying, “Yeah, we’re going to hear this fellow Jesus speak. By the way, this Jesus has the power to heal people, even somebody paralyzed like you. Listen, if there’s ever anything we can do for you, you just let us know!”

They didn’t do that because they cared. And they showed that they cared about him by meeting his need.
James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?….Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ’Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16).
Jesus saw four men with a faith that cared. He saw four people doing something.

The second quality Jesus Saw in these four men, a desire to share Christ.
These four men didn’t take their paralyzed friend out to dinner and a movie.  They wanted to share Christ with him. And that made all the difference in his life.

Hurting people need to see our faith, and hear our faith out loud through our actions. There are all kinds of paralysis in our lives. God calls us to carry those who cannot get to Jesus on their own.

I know there were times in my own life when I could not bring myself to Jesus and there were faithful friends and family that carried me in prayer to Jesus.  They carried me to Jesus until I could walk to him on my own.  We can be a vehicle of mercy and compassion for others, just as our God is merciful and compassionate to us.

We ought to feel about Christ the way the apostles did when they said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20).  They couldn’t hold it inside of them. They had to share it!

And isn’t that a goal of all Christians. Indeed, what greater compliment could be given than to say, “He or She brought people to Christ”?
The third quality Jesus saw in the four friends was determination. They would not give up.  These four men brought their friend to Jesus. But when they got near the house, they saw that there was no room to get through.

They could have sat back and waited for the crowd to leave?  They could have been quiet, given up and gone home.     But not these guys.
These folks had a faith so great that it refused to die in the face of obstacles.

They didn’t quit. They couldn’t bring themselves to say, “We can’t do it.” Their friend was sick and Jesus had the power to heal. And they were determined that they would bring the two together, at any cost.

And that is exactly what it took – a cost. It cost them the time to carry him to the house. It cost them the effort to carry him to the roof of the house. It cost them the trouble to tear up the roof and let him down. It cost them the favor of the people on whose heads the rubble was dropping as they ripped up the roof. And it probably cost them time and money repair the roof.   But they were willing to do whatever it took.
There are many who are anxious to say, “It can’t be done.” And until we put forth the effort, it won’t be done. But so much can be accomplished when we recognize the power of God. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:13).

God’s work is not always accomplished by talented people or intelligent people or strong people. But it is always done by people who have faith in the power of God, people who do what they can, and rely on God to supply the rest.

This is what Jesus saw in these four friends. Their faith was made visible to

Jesus and to any others who saw it. Our actions make our faith visible to

a watching world. A visible faith is a faith lived out loud.  In these four men, Jesus saw faith, determination and compassion for others. Let me leave you with a question to ask yourself, “What does Jesus see in me?”

 

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Title: School of Love 

by Jim Whalen

Delivered toNew Life MCC of Hampton Roads, Virginia; Oct 8, 2006

 Mark 10:2-16  Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”  4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.  6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  7′For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,  8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;  12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  NRSV

This week’s text is one of the most hotly disputed passages in the scriptures. What Jesus actually said and why he said it has been debated for centuries. Was he condemning divorce for any reason, or was he addressing the hardness of our hearts that cause the abandonment of a mate, a partner for no good reason?

I can tell you that this scripture and the subject of divorce in general is such a hot potato, that many preachers have chosen to never preach from it.  When I first discovered that I was to preach from this text, I wanted to run.  And the first place I wanted to run to was the end of this scripture reading that has such wonderful things to say about little children. 

However, it was clear to me that I had to deal with the part of this text on divorce. What did Jesus mean?

Now you all know that we preachers have resources that we use to help us understand the scriptures and assist us in squeezing out of the text some of the subtle meanings that it holds. This squeezing the meaning out of the text is called exegesis. 

And the resources that we have to help us understand the text are called commentaries. They are commentaries on the scriptures written by wise and gifted exegetes whose comments and insights bear fresh insights and understandings of the texts in our minds and hearts and…

Voile!

A sermon is written!

Ah, if only it was so easy.

Well, I knew that I didn’t understand much about this scripture, but if God called me to preach on it, then all I have to do to prepare for it was read several commentaries and pray and I’ll be good to go.

Now one of the more commonly accessible ones is Mathew Henry’s commentary. You can find free postings of this commentary all over the internet.  So for a quick start I googled Mathew Henry and pulled up the section on Mark 10:2-16. 

Now let me tell you something about Matthew Henry, he was a very wordy guy, lots and lots of adjectives and lots of good insight and information, but lots and lots of yadda yadda yadda .   So, for a scripture as dense and difficult as this one, I expected and was prepared to wade through many pages of commentary. 

Well, the piece popped up on the screen and there was only one paragraph of commentary.  I was shocked.  The was no background for the story –  no, where Jesus was, or why he was there, there was no explanation of who he was talking to.  There was none of the usual information that commentary writers usually present.

Only one paragraph! 

 And when I took away Mr. Henry’s yadda, yadda, yadda, all that was left was this:

“The bond which God has tied, is not to be lightly untied. Let those who are for putting away their mates consider what would become of themselves, if God should deal with them in like manner.”

Certainly, that is heavy and meaty stuff, and it bears repeating.

 “The bond which God has tied is not to be lightly untied. Let those who are for putting away their mates consider what would become of themselves, if God should deal with them in like manner.”

 

However, it really didn’t speak to me for developing a broader and deeper understanding of this scripture.

However, I knew there are many other commentaries that I could look at, but to make a long story short, none of them was very helpful either.

This is a tough scripture.

Then I remembered that there are wonderful lectionary web sites that offer sermon examples for the weekly lectionary scripture reading.  So, I googled the word “lectionary” and called up several sites only to discover, to my disappointment that they didn’t offer sermon examples.

However, I persevered.  I kept trying and finally discovered one that had the sermon examples.

As I scrolled down and clicked on the sermon for today’s scripture, I was filled with anticipation. As I begin to read the text, which says:

 “If after listening to the Gospel Reading this morning you are expecting a sermon about divorce and remarriage today – it is my duty to inform you that I am not preaching on that text today – but rather am offering to you a reflection based upon the epistle reading from Hebrews.”

                Now don’t get me wrong, as I went through each of the commentaries and read and reread the scripture, God was giving me the building blocks for a sermon, but no one resource was giving me the spark that I believed I needed. 

 Nevertheless, I continued on, I persevered  because I had committed to this task. I carried on even though everywhere I looked disappointed me.

I persevered, because, as I said I made a commitment to you the church, and to God.  I persevered.

 I share the process that I went through with you because there is a lesson of perseverance in it. That is what we are to do in our lives and our relationships with each other; we are to persevere because we have made commitments to each other. We are to learn how to love each other even as we disappoint each other.

 Now I want to be just gut level honest with you. Blunt honest. 

I don’t really understand all of what Jesus means in this passage about divorce.

 But who does understand it?

Mathew Henry didn’t have much to say about it and that preacher that chose to run to another scripture for his sermon, he didn’t have anything to say about it.

No one has a complete grasp of what Jesus’ original teachings and practices were and how he expects us to apply them to our lives today?

No one anywhere, at any time has had that kind of understanding. The Apostle Paul tells us in first Colossians “we only know in part” (1 Col. 13:9).

It is the role of the Holy Spirit, to remind us and further teach each of us what Jesus taught.

 Yet, though it’s true that we may only know in part, but we must persevere in our understanding of Jesus, in order for the Holy Spirit to teach us more. Here are some things in this scripture that we can know:

We know that the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus with this question.  They were trying to get him to say something about marriage and divorce that would anger King Herrod who had killed John the Baptist for rebuking Herrod for divorcing his wife in order to marry his own cousin.

You see, we know the Pharisees had an agenda.

 We know that Jesus told the Pharisees even though Moses allowed them to divorce; it was never God’s intention. Divorce is not the perfect will of God. We know that.

But by Jesus saying that, we know that he was challenging Moses authority.

Jesus did not back off in the face of the tough stuff.  He challenged Moses. Moses!!

 And if he challenged that authority, then he was challenging or denying that the scriptures necessarily always reflected God’s will.

 You need to hear that again.

Jesus denied that everything written in scripture reflects God’s will.

 Jesus did not read the scriptures literally Folks!

 Jesus showed us that there are things in the scriptures that are there to show us things about ourselves as well as showing us God and God’s will. When we read the bible, we have to be conscious of who is talking, and whom they are talking to, and why they are saying what they are saying.

 It is important to understand the back-story of what we are reading, and by that, I mean we should look at what had been going on that lead up to what we are reading.  In other words, the bible must be studied and not just read.  Just like our lives must be lived by making conscious choices, not just reacting to our feelings.

So, we know there are things in the bible that are there to help us understand ourselves , as well as things that help us know God’s will for us.

 Another thing we know is that when he challenged Moses, Jesus went back before Moses, back to the beginning of creation; he took the Pharisees back to God.

 Whenever we have an encounter with Jesus he always takes us where?   Jesus always leads us to God.

 This time he took them back to the beginning of time, to the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 Now you might be asking what this scripture says to gay men and lesbian women. Well, it says the same thing to everyone, straight or gay.

 And to address that, I want us to go back to Genesis and look at the creation story for a few minutes, because it is so very important and it says some very basic things about our vision of the world and of human life.

Remember the central pronouncement of God in the creation story?  “God saw that it was good.” He said it over and over throughout the first chapter of Genesis: “God saw that it was good.”

However, in the second chapter God looks at all she has made, everything, and says, “It is not good.”It is not good that the man (and here “man” means, not a male person, but a human being); It is not good that the man should be alone.

Think about that. Listen to that.

Everything else is good, but this isn’t. Notice also that Adam, the human being, was hardly alone in the garden. Remember God was with Adam in the garden. Then the animals were created, and there was all of nature, all of creation, was with Adam in the garden. The whole world was there. The human was not alone.

But when God saw it, when God saw one person, God, and the great outdoors, God didn’t say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Instead, God said: “It is not good”.

Creation wasn’t finished yet.

As long as the human lived in isolation from other people, the creation of a good, a complete, human being, had not yet happened.

It was in order to complete creation, to make a whole human being, that the other person is created.

There are a couple of things to notice here. First of all, this story is not so much about the roles of men and women as it is about what it means to be a human being.

 It is not saying that everyone should be married or that only married people are whole people. That’s just not true. After all, Jesus was single.

What this is saying is that we human beings can only grow into who we are created to be, with and through the other — we can only grow through relationship and community. This growth happens in many ways, but it does not happen alone.

If you ask an honest Christian where her biggest and most important struggles come from, he’ll tell you “other people.” We do not become whole or complete in isolation, but through community, through interacting with each other.

It is to this end that God has given us certain structures and situations, in which we can, maybe, begin to discover what it means not to be alone, and where we can have our humanity drawn, and sometimes dragged, out of us. Relationships create growth; in relationship, we learn to love.

 Next Sunday Tony and I celebrate or 34 years together.

In 32 years of loving him, I have learned so much about myself.

In loving him, I have learned so much about loving you.

And in turn 32 years of him loving me has taught me so much about how God loves us.   And I am humbled by these lessons of love.

Marriage, Holy Unions, relationships and families are first and foremost about this. They are a place, a situation through which we learn love.  And while not everyone is called to the vocation of marriage, for those of us who are, this business of helping one another grow into who we are created to be is one of the primary reasons God created marriage.  There is more to it than this, but growing in love is primary.

 In much the same way, God has called us to be the Church, and he has called us into this church, because without something like this we simply cannot be very Christian, in spite of — or more likely, because of — both the difficulty and the joy of living together in community.  

One of the central insights of Christianity is that being a part of a real, human, chunk of the body of Christ is essential to any serious Christian growth.

Like Holy Unions, marriage and family, or any other intimate relationship, church life, is not really about agreement, or success. It’s not about having our needs met, or happiness.

In essence, it becomes a place, a situation that teaches love. It is about growth into wholeness. That is why, in Church as in families, the real ties that bind are ties of love and circumstances, not of anything else.

This kind of growth is simply not possible without commitment to a lifetime of perseverance and intentionally seeking the grace and help of God. God’s intention that marriage or Holy Unions be life-long is not an arbitrary and difficult rule God gives us to make our lives more difficult.

Instead, such intention is a gracious and necessary (if minimal) requirement if a real Christian growth; if real love is, even to be possible.

In the same way, our Baptismal vows, which include a commitment to the life of the Christian community wherever we find ourselves, are also for the long haul; for better or worse.

These vows are life-long in intention, because God knows we need at least that long to begin doing what we promise to do.

Sure, there are times when that doesn’t happen.

There are sometimes situations in which separation is the only option that contains hope and the possibility of healing.

However, people leave churches and find new ones — as most of us know from experience.

And the pain and tragedy of divorce — and the fact that it brings very real possibilities of both destruction and new hope — is, in one form or another, a part of the lives of every one of us. If it hasn’t happened to us personally, we have been affected, often deeply affected, by it.

These failures of relationship are devastating, and those who hurt need our love, our compassion, and our support.

But there is also an important thing about these experiences, about the times we fall short. We see them as tragic exceptions to the way we know life should be, and the way we want our lives to be.

We so often miss the mark of our convictions and our beliefs.

Yet even in the midst of our failure, we continue to stand firmly for the truth of God’s vision of life. Our vows, our marriage and Holy Union vows and our baptismal vows, and for some of us, our Ordination vows, these are not for just now, they are not for just when it feels good; they are for life.

That is our standard and our goal.

We may fall short, but we hold to that standard.

All of this is really to say that, at its heart, marriage is not a convenient human institution for protecting property, regulating sexual activity; it is not just about safeguarding children, and most certainly marriage is not about regulating sexuality.

And at its heart, the Church is not a voluntary social convenience for like-minded people to share in an essentially private task.

As ordinary and as unglamorous as they usually are, marriage, Holy Union and the Church are so much more than this.

They are sacred mysteries, built into creation and into our human nature. They are teaching institutions of love. They are gifts of a loving God.

It is not good to be alone; and the only way to goodness, to wholeness, is through perseverance, commitment, relationship, community, and the grace of God.

Yes, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  And it sounds harsh.

However, he also knew that human beings regularly fail in their efforts to live that ideal, and sometimes fail to the point of turning the marriage and Holy Union relationships into such a twisted and grotesque caricature of its original intention that it is virtually impossible for two people to put it back together again.

Divorce is a reality we have to live with because of the hardness of our hearts.

But would Jesus have had compassion in applying the ideal and in giving those who had failed in their attempts to be loving partners another chance with someone else?

I believe he would. 

You see God’s Grace not only covers a multitude of sins, but it covers all our sins.

Paul, the Apostle Paul originally persecuted Christians, but through God’s grace he found “the Way” to salvation through the life, love and teachings of Christ Jesus.

Even Peter, who was one of the first Jesus chose among the twelve Apostles, lost his way several times, but eventually, repentantly he came back and faithfully and lovingly served the cause of Christ.

The books of the New Testament were not written for the purpose of enabling us to self-righteously judge each other on this or any other issue. Nor should they ever be used in that way.

They were written to help each of us find the way of love in Christ and to help us experience the liberating and healing influence of God’s unconditional love — as we persevere  and progressively learn to live that unconditional love in relationship with each other.

God’s Word expressed in the New Testament unites us all in loving fellowship in Christ, to the praise and glory of God.

As Paul put it so well in his letter to his church family in Rome:

There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death.  (Rom 8:1, 2)

Amen.

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