Lectionary Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:15-28    In Just Four Words

There is a classic book, a novel, with the title Jane Eyre.  It is a novel that is still often read today and upon which several films have been made.  It is a story of a young girl’s life journey through trial and tribulation.  It is a story that is filled with overcoming all kinds of suffering and hardship.  However, after the reader has gone through Jane’s agonies and struggles, her torturous wrestling between heart and conscience the readers of this novel must be satisfied with the final resolution summed up in words, “And I married him.”

Yet, in those four words, we find how Jane views the future with joy and the fulfillment of life.  A simple sentence, four simple words indicating an action that gives the reader confidence in Jane’s future happiness.

It is really amazing what putting four words together in a sentence can do. As I was preparing this sermon, I tried to think of some other four-word sentences: The shock in Star wars, “I am your father.”  The sarcasm of the great coach Vince Lombardi when he told his team they must get back to basics, “This is a football.”  The ignorant arrogance of some who says, “What could go wrong?” The fear that comes when someone answers the phone and hears the words, “This is the IRS.”  Yes, four short words put together can be quite expressive.

Are there four words that could sum capture the future hopes you might have in our unstable world?  Four words that would indicate that you will have happiness, you will have fulfillment.  I do not know about you, but I have.  And what four words are those?  “And I found Him.” 

Of course, that begs the question who?  The answer is Jesus, another short four-letter sentence.  Because I met Jesus I know where my future lies.  Because I met Jesus, I do have hope.  Because of Jesus, I know God is with me.  Because I met Jesus my life has been changed.  I have been forgiven.  I have been called.  I have been blessed.  I have been helped.  I have been lifted.  But most of all, I have been loved.  Four words put together that says so much about what Jesus has done for me. 

I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within sinking to rise no more.  But the master of the sea heard my despairing cry, and from the waters lifted me now safe am I. Hymns also can be used to tell our story.

This passage today is a hymn and a commentary.  Scholars pretty much universally agree that verses 15 through 20 are the words of one of the earliest hymns in the church.  Paul uses these verses to speak to a church that needs to be called back to the reason they exist, back for the purpose of their being called, back to the basics which remind us that everything they are or ever can come from one source, one person, one God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Listen to what this hymn tells us, “He is the First, He is the creator, He is the power.”  Verse 17, literally Jesus is the will, the energy, the reason that holds our molecules in place, He is one who is not limited by time but time exists only because He wills.  It is His church, not mine, not yours, even the term ours needs qualifying in terms of the ultimate head.

Verse 19 tells us He was God, not just a skin covering hiding God, not just a supreme being that morphed into a human-type visage but God, God incarnate, God who came to serve rather than to be served.  Verse 20, this hymn tells us why we can hope.  It tells us what we know.  It speaks to us about reconciliation, about peace God offers through his death on the cross.

Do I like it that Jesus died for me?  No, I do not.  I do not like the fact that I was so ignorant, so arrogant, so selfish, so foolish, so deceived that I would violate the very law of God written on my heart and so became a child of the devil rather than a child of the Light.  No, I do not like knowing that Jesus died on the cross for me, that he went through the suffering he endured for me, the darkness and separation He took upon Himself for me, and that He, my Lord, and my God descended into Hell to the taunts of the demons and the laughter of the deceiver for me.  No, I do not like that, but that does not change the fact that it is true.

How do we describe such reality?  What words could possibly capture what has been communicated through this hymn?  What is being said?  What can explain why Jesus did this?  A four-letter sentence, “Because I love you.”  Jesus tells me time and time again, I love you.  I love you. 

In verses 21-28 we have a commentary given to us by Paul about this hymn.  He writes to us about what God desires for us.  He writes to us about his own suffering, his own pain.  Paul was doing this for himself.  Oh, what was he going to get?  Would this behavior make him rich?  No, but telling people it was a hoax would have.  Did it give him power?  No, in every church there were those who worked to undermine his influence, and even as he writes this letter he does so from within the chains and walls of a prison.  Why did Paul go through what he went through? 

Paul did what he did because the gospel he preached was the truth.  He did so because the resurrected Jesus came to him and called him. The same Jesus who spoke to Paul is in this room right now.  He comes to us and calls to us if we will but listen with our hearts.  He speaks to us through his word, through his messengers, through this world.  He speaks to our soul.  He speaks to everyone.  He gives us all the opportunity to know him. 

The problem is not with Jesus’s communication skills.  The problem is with our listening.  Do you want Jesus to talk to you as he did with Paul, then ask Him?  I stand as a witness and with the promise of Scripture if you ask and really do want to hear you will.  Jesus said: Revelation 3:20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.  And he says in: Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  So if you don’t find Jesus it is not because He is not trying to be heard or found.  Maybe the problem lies elsewhere!

An old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night, he stood behind her while she was sitting in her lounge chair. He spoke softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?” There was no response.  He moved a little closer and said again, “Honey, can you hear me?” Still, there was no response.  Finally, he moved right behind her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?”  She replied, “For the third time, Yes!”  Sometimes we let our doubts-desires, as well as delusions-deceptions, make so much noise in our lives they drown out the still small voice of God speaking to us. 

Look if you would at verses 27 & 28.  Verse 27 speaks of what God wants.  Verse 28 is what God expects.  What God wants is for us to have hope for hope is the mind of faith.  What God expects: we may present everyone perfect in Christ (NIV).  CEB translation of the Bible has the word mature.  Word is teleos.  It’s the goal, the end, the ability to say at life’s close, “And I found Him.”

Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:1-14   What Are They Saying About Us

There is a human activity that is easily engaged in, can be almost addictive, can seem somewhat harmless, but can damage lives and destroy relationships.  We call it gossip.  Sadly, every one of us is susceptible to it.  What is worse is that it tends to magnify and intensify as it spreads from one person to another. It is a very effective sin that can do horrible damage. I know very well. I was a victim of some very horrible gossip that still causes pain.

A friend confessed to another friend that they had a bad habit of repeating gossip. When told this, the friend quickly responded, “I know, but repeating it wouldn’t be so bad if you did not improve on it time after time”.

In this passage, Paul states: We have heard.  A report has been given.  Material has been shared.  Information has been passed.  What is being said?  Is it gossip? 

The purpose of this book, this book we call the Holy Bible, is to bring to humanity the good news, the information, the inspiration, the instruction, and insight in order for us to discover the love God has for us and how we can reap the benefits of this love.  We call this the message the Gospel.  Paul was called by God to proclaim the Gospel. Question, is what Paul writes here to the Colossian’s gossip, or is it the Gospel?

Gossip is defined as a conversation about personal matters: a conversation about the personal details of other people’s lives without their permission, it does not matter whether it is a rumor, fact, or fabrication. This is especially true when malicious. 

Gospel has come to mean an absolute truth: something believed to be absolutely and unquestionably true.  As we read this passage, as we grasp Paul’s purpose it becomes clear that Paul is writing Gospel and not gossip.  So, what can we learn from Paul’s divinely inspirited words?

Out in our community, both gossip and gospel are being shared about our church and by our church.  Which one of these two elements is predominant?  Which one are we most known for?  This is not a static situation.  It is one that can change either way.  The deciding factor has to do with the level of spiritual maturity we possess and the spiritual maturity we desire. 

Some might ask, “What do you mean by spiritual maturity?”  I will get to that in a moment for it is a key element in Paul’s gospel words to the Colossians.

In our passage today, Paul addresses a church he has heard much about.  Paul had heard from secondhand sources about the details of the spiritual life of the people of the church at Colossae. 

What he had heard was not rumor, not speculation, but a report of what was happening.  What Paul was told is not about gossip but about Gospel. The rumors were real.

What has been reported is what God is doing in the midst of his people.  Paul is using what he has been told to seek to help this church through a crisis they are facing, a challenge that is growing in their midst. I hope we understand we have an enemy that thrives on creating conflict.

The church at Colossae faced a difficult challenge.  They lived in a world filled with spiritual counterfeits.  They were continually bombarded with seductive messages that tried to turn their hearts and minds away from Jesus toward lifestyles and mindsets that told them what was most important was their own desires and pleasures. Put yourself first, many religions would say.

Add to this that many in the church in Colossae were very immature in their faith and you have a formula for a church in trouble. 

What do you mean by immature in their faith?  Faith is a growth process.  Faith is like life.  A child is not born into adulthood. A child must grow to function as a human being. 

Faith must grow to function as intended in our relationship with God.  As human beings we mature physically, mentally, and emotionally.   Failing to grow in these areas produces immaturity. 

In faith, we mature in relational understanding, relational commitment, and relational responsibility.  Failing to grow in these areas produces immaturity. 

Now how does this apply to us?  We too, like the Colossians face a culture that is filled with spiritual counterfeits.  We too live in a world that is hostile to faith in Jesus Christ and tries to prevent us or at least make it hard for us to live our lives for Him. 

Our culture has been very successful in accomplishing this goal (evidence: 80-85% self-identify as Christians; 90% believe in God; 75% pray once a week; 47% attend church once a week & of those only 31% believe the Bible is true; of those, only 2% seek to obey what the Scripture teaches). 

The church today is a very immature church.  The crisis faced by the Colossians is a crisis faced by us today.  And the gossip that is heard about the church, about our hypocrisy, our fighting, our scandals, corruption, materialism, politics, and other problems are directly related to our level of spiritual maturity as is our ability to live in the light, love, power, and presence of the Gospel.

What can we do?  First, we need to understand that we cannot do it, but God can.

(Elephant walked across a bridge.  As the elephant walked the timbers and wood shook and rattled.  On the other side a flea, who was riding on the elephant’s back, yelled in the huge creature’s ear, “Boy we shook that bridge didn’t we.”) It is God, not us that can shake all eternity.

The beginning of spiritual maturity is when we understand that it is He, Jesus Christ, who must be in control of our lives. 

Look again at verses 12-14; He made, He rescued, He set us free.  This is the foundation of faith. This is the beginning of faith’s relational understanding.  We fail God. We sin.  We needed Someone to forgive us of our sins.  Jesus is the only one who can.  He died to do this for us. He forgives. He saves.

This, however, is just the beginning.  Look at verse 9.  Paul here is focusing on those in the church of Colossae who are maturing in their faith. 

One of the problems we human beings have is that we focus on the bad (just watch the news and list the bad news with the good news).  We tend to focus on the problems and weaknesses rather than our strengths.  It is easy to be drawn to the problems and neglect the possibilities.

Problems can consume all our energy and distract us from our purpose. 

The reality is that possibilities can overcome problems.  Look at verse 5.  Paul states because of hope.  This is not blind hope, but hope built on facts, upon experiences, and upon the promises of God. 

If Paul were writing us today, what would the Spirit have him write of our church?   Would he write about the love people have in this church, especially the love for one another?  Would he write about the desire we have to be a people of prayer?  Would he write about our hope to touch the lives of children and youth?  Would he write about our willingness to come together to accomplish Kingdom work?  These things are the gospel. 

Let us be encouraged to see the possibilities, the hope we have.  Let us work to increase our relational understanding.  Let us be encouraged to become more involved in those things that increase our spiritual commitment and work to increase our spiritual strength by becoming more conscious of our spiritual responsibilities in view of the world in which we live.   

This is what we are encouraged to do in this passage. 

Our world lives for gossip.  It likes to look at other people’s lives and point out what is wrong, such as the world’s immaturity.  We are called to the light of the gospel.  We need to look for the love of God in everyone we meet.

Supreme Court Rulings

As I watched the news report told the nation that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe vs. Wade making abortions no longer legal in many states. I heard this news with mixed emotions. I am glad that the lives of many innocent children will be saved. I am sad because this issue will never be solved through the process of law. I believe the enemy will use this decision in ways the politicians will never understand.

I became a Pro-Life activist in 1979. I was the first Baptist to serve on the board of directors for Texas Right-to-life. I am the founder of Hill Country Right-to-life. I can remember being booed at BGCT’s (Baptist General Convention of Texas) in 1980 for bringing up a resolution calling abortion child abuse. I quit being an activist when the Pro-life movement became a tool for the Republican party. If we do not address the reason for abortions, the social conditions, cultural conditions, and economic reasons that would lead a woman to allow a baby to be torn from her body.

I am sorry, this is one of those issues that make the legal sometimes wrong and the illegal sometimes right. The abortion issue should be a continuous discussion with those who help us decide what is moral and immoral.

Then today, I read in the news that the Supreme Court has said prayer can be carried out at the end of a high school football game. Legislating prayer, now that is a strange thought. I am sure prayer never left the football field. In fact, prayer cannot be stopped by any law. Now I hope we could pass laws that publically dedicated vocal prayers be limited to 3 minutes and not be clandestine sermons. Once again, I am sure the enemy of humanity was very happy about this decision. What better way to take hate speech to a new level than adding it to prayers.

Will these two actions by the Supreme Court make us a more Christian people? No. Will they bring some people to Christ? No. Will they add to the Christian nationalist heresy that is growing like a weed? Absolutely yes.

I am glad I was an activist. I am glad I am still pro-life. I am glad to pray whenever I can. I am also very thankful that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord.

Lectionary Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Galatians 6:1-16 Am I (We) Being Prideful?

Pride has been called the chief of sins. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18 NIV) Did you know that pride can infect us without our being aware? Pride, in our relationship with God and with others, can blind us to our arrogance and ignorance.

Galatians 6:1 states, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I cringe when I read this text. For 40 years I tried to get church members to grasp what this Scripture is saying concerning how we care for one another without very much success. I attribute this failure to two things. First, my own limitations and weaknesses in carrying out the task. The other is that people seem to find satisfaction in finding fault with others. Not only do people find it easy to judge another person’s behaviors and actions but they also seem to feel it necessary to judge others, to punish others. I doubt most people who attend church in America believe that other Christians are their brothers and sisters. They may use the words brother and sister but that is it. The most terrible things that have happened in my life were caused by people who claimed to be Christian.

Verse 3 drives the point home, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

How dare we judge others when we ourselves are sinners who are hopefully saved by grace. Jesus told this parable, “”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5 NIV)

Paul reinforces this teaching by telling us, “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”

Why do we human being compare ourselves with one another? Why do we feel the need to compete? Probably for the same motivation that we blame others for situations we choose to participate in. The natural nature, the sin nature, pushes us against others, still trying to make us believe we too can become gods. Jesus was pretty clear, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2 NIV)

No matter what we do, God knows all and sees all. We cannot hide anything from God. There are no excuses we can give to God. Paul warns and gives hope, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Perdition or promise, these are the two paths of life.

The promise of eternal life is not some time in the future, but a promise we can begin to enjoy now. God gives hope. God gives us love. God gives us a new heart and mind that should be able to see God working in everything. Those who seek first the Kingdom of God find out just how much joy and happiness this can bring into a person’s life. A Kingdom attitude-of-living understands this life will be hard. This life is hostile to us. This life will have pain, suffering, sickness, and sorrows of all shapes and sizes. However, in the midst of this difficult fallen world, the promises of God are there for us despite situations or conditions. Yes, we will get tired but as the Scripture tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

In serving the church as a pastor I have always tried to find a Scripture that would help the church in being the church. I would often use this verse because it speaks to the challenge of Christian living in a fallen world. It is easy to get tired, frustrated, and weary. This weariness can overcome a person unless you learn to be reflective and always remember, that GGod is the one who gives us purpose. If you are seeking to do the will of God, God will provide the energy and endurance to continue. Isaiah 58:11 tells us, “Where God guides, God provides. This is a promise we can count on.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” The early church faced opposition from without and corruption from within. You could be labeled a criminal just for attending a worship service for Jesus. The early church community found out just how much they needed one another. This was totally counter-cultural. Christians not only cared for their immediate family but for the members of the church family universal. Christians even loved those who persecuted them. This is not normal as far as the world goes. It is expected in the family of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen we are told, “Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.”

Circumcision was part of the old covenant. It was a ritual of identification and symbol of linage of the promise to Abraham. It identified the males of Judah/Israel. It was not a means of salvation. And while circumcision did reflect obedience to God, the coming of Jesus changed all that. Jesus became the fulfillment of circumcision.  

In his letter to the Romans, Paul teaches, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Rom. 3:1-2 NIV)

Any opportunity, any identity, any ritual that is cooperative with the Holy Spirit is an advantage. It is a means of grace, but it is not salvation. Jesus is the only means of salvation. The Kingdom of God was no longer to be identified with an act of circumcision of the flesh but instead a circumcision of the heart. This is why Paul goes on to say, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule– to the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:1-16 NIV)

Paul understood the theology behind circumcision very well. He understood how it made people prideful. He understood how it could be used as a ritual of control. He grasp how it could be a block to our being servants of God. We may not struggle with circumcision, but we have plenty of other things we can be prideful, judgmental, and thus sinful about.

We must be on our guard. We must be discerning of spirits. We must be reflective, contemplative, and seek to serve as the Word guides. When we do, we will find peace and mercy. Peace and mercy from a God who loves us more than we can imagine. Why would we not seek to grow in faith and follow such hope? Amen.

Lectionary Sermon for Third Sunday after Pentecost

Galatians 5:1, 13-25   Road to Freedom

Freedom, freedom is a very important word to us in this country and for many people throughout the world.  But what exactly does the word freedom mean?  The dictionary defines freedom as the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

But can we act, speak, or think with hindrance or restraint?  We certainly cannot act as we want if what we what to do is prohibited by law.  Neither can we speak whatever we want if our speech endangers, libels, or threatens someone else. 

That leaves the power to think as we want without hindrance or restraint.  Are we really free to think as we want without hindrance or restraint?  Not according to Scripture.

First, in Ephesians, we are told, “So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. (Eph. 4:17-18 CEB)

In 2 Corinthians, Scripture tells us, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4 CEB) And then Romans, “As it is written, There is no righteous person, not even one. There is no one who understands. There is no one who looks for God.” (Rom. 3:10-11 CEB)

And in Hebrews, “Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that none of you have an evil, unfaithful heart that abandons the living God. Instead, encourage each other every day, as long as it’s called “today,” so that none of you become insensitive to God because of sin’s deception.” (Heb. 3:12-13 CEB)

This lectionary passage today tells us that freedom, true freedom, comes from Jesus.  Jesus does not give freedom as a cheap gift. Jesus has set us free for the possibility of freedom, the freedom to use our minds for the purpose of our creation.  We are spiritual beings.  We have a soul given to us by the breath of God.  It is an eternal soul, however, it is also a soul enslaved to sin and is predisposed to selfishness.

Jesus in teaching those who believed in him said, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?” Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (Jn. 8:31-34 CEB)

Jesus gave his life on the cross in order to give us the opportunity to be free from sin’s dominance.

Jesus did this because of love.  Love does not control.  So even though Jesus gives us the opportunity to be free, we don’t have to accept it.  In fact, we can waste this wonderful opportunity, this gift of grace, this freedom to which we are called, and go in the opposite direction. 

This is why Paul gives us this warning in Galatians.  Look again at verse 13.  We can use our freedom wrongly.  We can indulge in choices that can once again make us slaves to sin.  How can we know this is happening?  Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit gives us a list in verses 19-21, but do not make the mistake of thinking this list is exhaustive.  This list is but an example. 

The real test lies in what is controlling our desires, our motivations.  Why do we do the things we do?  If the source is what the translation I am using calls our selfish desires, we are in trouble.  Many versions of the Bible call this “the flesh or desires of the flesh”.  No matter what the translation, it is engaging in immoral behavior.  It is engaging, desiring, and supporting what God says is wrong.

I have a serious question for you.  Why does God redeem us, rescue us, set us free from the penalty of sin yet leave us in this world knowing we could again reject the love we are offered, the grace we are given?  Why, because we have a purpose.  Our purpose is, “but serve each other through love.

All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:13-14 CEB)

Look at verse 15.  How often are we seeing this happen in our world?  The violence, the hatred, the manipulations, the deceptions, the lies.  This is where the flesh will lead us.  This is not freedom.  This is fear, slavery to fear.  This is the great deception that causes so much pain, suffering, and grief.

So, what is the answer?  What must we do?  We must “be guided by the Spirit”. (Gal. 5:16 CEB) And what does “guided by the Spirit” mean? 

Jesus told us, The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. (Jn. 14:26 CEB)

The word companion is a translation of the word paraclete. It is a word meaning “one called alongside to help, one who is called on to provide guidance or encouragement”. 

The Holy Spirit gives us the insight, the understanding, and the ability to look at our lives in the light of God’s word.  So to be guided by the Spirit we must be faithful to the teaching of Jesus. 

The Holy Spirit brings us awareness of sin.  The Spirit troubles our conscience.  To ignore the Spirit damages our faith.  We are warned that, “Some people have ruined their faith because they refused to listen to their conscience.” (1 Tim. 1:19 CEB)

To be led by the Spirit we should, “always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. (1 Thess. 5:15-19 CEB)

A person was walking down the street when they noticed a worker struggling with a large box on the back of a truck.  The person went over and said, “Let me help you.”  So both the person and the worker struggled together with the box.  After about 15 minutes the person said to the worker, “This box is just too heavy to get off this truck.”  “Get it off”, cried the worker, “I was trying to get it on!”

Too many times, too many people are pushing against us while God is trying to pull us toward.  This is not the road to freedom but imprisons us in our own ignorance.  Be guided by the Spirit, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:32 CEB)

In verses 22 and 23, we are given a guide.  If we want to know if we are being guided by the Spirit, we need to sit down and use this list to see how we are doing. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. (Gal. 5:22-23 CEB)

Freedom consists in not doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.  John Paul II

If we are doing what we ought, then these are the actions, attitudes, and attentions that we can see in our lives.  If not, then we really need to ask ourselves why.  If not, we need to be praying for something to change.  As Jesus said, “”Either consider the tree good and its fruit good, or consider the tree rotten and its fruit rotten. A tree is known by its fruit.” (Matt. 12:33 CEB)

This is the way of freedom.  This is the way of life.  This is our only hope.  The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17 CEB) Amen.

Lectionary Sermon for Second Sunday after Pentecost

Galatians 3:23-29 But no one named Jesus.

I have made an amazing discovery. I have an undergraduate degree in biblical studies, a Master of Divinity, and a Doctor of Ministry, and I have found that everyone seems to be an expert in theology. They are experts in their theology and its guardian, Don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts mindset. I agree with them in this, everyone has the right as a spiritually free, morally free, and cognitive free being. Each person has the right to determine what they believe be it truth or error.

The Scriptures are the foundation for this sermon and these verses carry a lot of theology. A lot of theology is interpreted in different ways. Believing I have God’s guidance I will try to share the insights and directions I perceive.

I wish to start with the statement, “before faith came.” Obviously, to Paul, faith is more than simply believing. Paul is making a theological statement to define faith as something tied to an event. I believe Paul is defining faith as Jesus. Paul personifies faith with the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God the Son. Jesus was the coming faith that would be revealed.

In this passage, there were some words that immediately caught my attention, captive, imprisoned, law and guardian. I believe these words give us a spiritual platform in which our lives can be radically changed. The first two words are words of oppression of control and limitation. Paul calls us captive and imprisoned. What are some of the ways we are imprisoned? We are imprisoned in time. We are imprisoned by mortality, finiteness, ignorance, and arrogance. We are often imprisoned by our own delusions and deceptions.

Since we are captives and imprisoned, Paul says there is a guardian (some translations have disciplinarian, which I believe is a better translation in this case). It is logical that a captive, an imprisoned person would have someone to watch them, guard them. The word guardian is a translation of the word παιδαγωγὸς. We get our word pedagogy as the function or work of a teacher as a noun and, teaching as a verb. The teacher is to be the Law.

The word law is often associated with courts, police, government that seek to maintain the rules, and laws, to have order in society. In our time, outside of religion, law is a social control device. Paul viewed the law much differently. To Paul, the Law was to be a gift that was more in line with the spirit than the letter. The chosen people had made the mistake of putting emphasis on their interpretation of the letter of the law. This is a grave spiritual mistake. The evil one knows the letter of the law and will use it in any way possible to pervert the purpose of God.

The purpose of the Law given to Moses by the Lord was to define parameters of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The Law teaches us what these parameters are. The Law tells us this is the way the world has been created by God and what God expects from us in God’s creation.

The Law sets the standards. The Law is a guardian because it guards the standards by which we are judged. We are accountable for our behavior. The Law defines what that behavior should and should not be. However, when the spirit of the law is put behind the interpretation of the letter, a confining religion of legalism draws smaller and smaller circles of tolerance in interpretation. This Law cannot save only condemn. Faith takes the place of the guardian, the Law. Jesus takes the place of the Law, not to end the law but to restore it to its purpose and to give us a new perspective on God’s will.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17 ESV)

The Law leaves every human being without excuse. Jesus gives each of us the opportunity not to need an excuse. Yes, we human beings violate God’s law, each and every one of us. However, the law belongs (as we do) to God. The offense is against God. Therefore, God makes the final determination as to our state, condemned or forgiven. It is God’s right to provide for our forgiveness. God does so through love, love given in God’s Son, Jesus. Through Jesus, we no longer must worry about the consequence of failing and instead seek the joy of obeying. This puts the Law in a completely different category, from guardian to guide. Our status changes from offender to the adoptee. We become sons of God through faith in Jesus.

Paul goes on to tell us through Jesus we then are baptized, and immersed, into Christ and thus we can “put on Christ.”

Baptized into Christ. This is the work of God. We use water as a symbol of the reality that surrounds us and offers us a new way to live, die, and ascend to our purpose, living eternally with God, with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Why does Paul say that we, “Put on Christ?” Verse 27 says that we have put, clothed with, or put on Christ like a garment. How in the world does that happen? We cannot literally put Jesus on like we would a suit of clothes. The image created of putting on clothing has to do with purposefulness. People do not get dressed by accident. Putting on clothing has to do with thoughtfulness. Most people think about what they are going to wear (notice I said most). Putting on clothing covers us, can protect us, and helps identify us. When we are seeking to appear as Jesus we do not look like the enemy. In baptism, we are buried as our own self and raised to walk as a new self. The Scripture says to us, “And to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:24 ESV) and “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col. 3:10 ESV). Faith is putting on Christ.

And then there is verse 28. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is what I hear this verse saying, “Our gender, our race, our social status does not matter in what we are to become. What we are to become is to be transformed into a unity in Christ.”

What a noble goal. What a wonderful desire. But do we really believe it? Do we want to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Take so time with that question.

In a phone survey, self-identified born-again Christians from all over the country were asked the question who do you most admire? Who would you like to be like? Some said I would like to be like my dad. Others said they would like to be like their mother or some other relative. Many mentioned sports figures, or people in the entertainment industry. There were a lot of different answers.

But no one named Jesus.

The last verse we focus on says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” If we only could really grasp what that promise means, if we could just see where this promise would take us perhaps we might be a bit more active and focused on our faith.

Lectionary Sermon for First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

Romans 5:1-5    Investing in Hope

While going through a very testing time I received a card from a friend that stated on the front, “Experience is a great teacher.”  Inside the card, there was a picture of a cat surrounded by several large, angry dogs with their teeth bared.  The caption under the picture stated, “What a lousy system of learning.” There are times I fully agree with this assessment. Still, experience is a teacher whether we like it or not.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt so overcome, so stressed, so pressured, that you didn’t even feel what to pray for, much less what action to take?  All you felt you could do was to hold on and hoped you would get by or even how you would survive?

Maybe it was a health situation you or a family member was facing.  Maybe it was a family crisis that was having a crippling effect on you or others.  Maybe it was (or is) something at work, school, a relationship, or just the mental weight of living in an age that has outstripped its ability to integrate its technology with its social and ethical responsibility. Chaos has a way of happening.

Whatever this happened, is happening, or when it most certainly will happen in the future, the crucial question, the deepest concern becomes, “What can I do? Is there any hope?”

When these events happen, it can be very hard to believe there is any hope unless we have already established a reason to have hope in the first place.  In these times I find myself using the repetend prayer, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

The word hope in its biblical context is a word meaning an expectation, a confident expectation that comes from trust.  It is not a wishful shot in the dark. It is not a pipe dream. The hope that is offered to us by God is not the same hope as saying, I hope I win the lottery.  The hope that God gives to us is a hope that is not based on if but when. Not longing for hope, but preparing for hope.

This is what Paul is talking about in our passage today.  Paul says we have peace with (or because of) God.  Jesus said to his disciples on the evening before his crucifixion, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27 ESV)

The peace Jesus gives is not a fantasy world of no conflict and/or problems, but a real presence, strength, confidence, and assurance that whatever we face in this world will pass.  As Paul states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 ESV)

Paul understands the truth of this life, for every one of us this life will have its crisis.  Again, everyone, everyone will face crisis.  Everyone will face suffering and loss.  In the OT, the writer of Ecclesiastes put it so well, “But human misfortunes are overwhelming because no one knows what will happen, and no one can say when something might happen. No one has control over the life breath, to retain it, and there’s no control over the day of death. There’s no release from war, and wickedness won’t deliver those who practice it. (Eccl. 8:6-8)

Even in what appears to be the grimmest of situations, we can still have peace, we can have hope.  However, it is not magic twinkle dust.  It is not an over-the-counter remedy.  It is not an on-demand attribute we can claim anytime we want.  Hope, God’s founded hope, grace-given hope does require an investment by us.  It requires an investment in faith.

Look again at verse 2.  We have access.  The word access is a translation of a word meaning the privilege of entrance.  Hope is available to us.  Jesus’s peace is available to us.  It is available by grace into faith.  This faith is more than just saying, it is doing.  We must stand and we must boast.  The word stand carries the context of anchoring ourselves.  The word boast means to act through an attitude of confidence in God. Do you have confidence in God?

God’s peace comes when we establish our life tied to standing, depending, making our choices on the promises of God, and seeking a lifestyle in which our trust is in seeking the will of God. How does our relationship with God play out in our everyday lives? This is something we should reflect on continually.

Look at verse 3.  Does this sound strange to you, “take pride in troubles”?  The word pride is the same word translated as boast.  The word trouble can also be translated tribulation.  It is a word that means pressure.  So what Paul is saying is that it is possible to “act through an attitude of confidence in God” whenever the pressure of life comes our way. In fact, it is the only real way to deal with this pressure that is compounded by our spiritual foes.

We can act through an attitude of confidence in God when we experience the pressure of conflicts, the pressure of pain, the pressure of unfairness, the pressure of loss, the pressure of sickness and yes, even the pressure of death. 

With hope that has been obtained through peace obtained by grace through faith in Jesus, we can believe what Paul states in 1 Thess. 4:13 when he says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.”

But to have this hope, we need to learn to face trouble with an attitude of confidence in God.  This produces endurance.  Endurance is a commitment to accomplishing.  Endurance is not easy.  Endurance must be built up.  Endurance can be built up through a choice of commitment.  

I doubt if there would be any argument with the statement, “It takes endurance to run a marathon.”  And how do you get that endurance?  You train.  You begin to run a short distance and then build on it.  Will it hurt?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  That depends on you.  If your commitment to the goal is strong enough, then it is worth it. 

What determines our goals?  Jesus tells us our hearts determine our goals and our goals determine our hearts.  He said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:21 CEB)

What can the goals tied to this world, money, status, recognition, power, pleasure, control do for you when time and tragedy take them away.  

Jesus told a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest!  Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods.  I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.  But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’  This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” (Lk. 12:16-21 CEB)

Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. (Lk. 12:31 CEB)

With an attitude of confidence in God and with a willingness to stand upon God’s promises, with a commitment to endure to obtain the goal, Paul tells us we gain character.  Character is the quality of being approved, the proof of genuineness. 

God does not fail.  God does not betray.  God does not abandon.  God sustains, restores, empowers, lifts up, renews, and resurrects.  Character comes from experiencing this in our own lives to be true.  And this experience produces hope. It is this hope that blesses us.

And as Paul states in verse 5, this hope will not disappoint.  This hope will not let us down.  This hope will prevail.  This hope will give us a song in grief, and give us shelter in pain.  This hope will give us a light in the darkness, a presence in loneliness, and the promise and assurance of life in the face of death. 

This hope will give us the reality of God’s love.  Jesus became a human being, faced the world we face, died on a cross, and came back to life not to abandon us.  No to give us a religion, but to give us hope, a hope of not if, but when. 

So the question, “Is there any hope?” can be answered, “Yes, there is hope by grace through faith in Jesus.”  This is where we should invest our life.  The choice is yours.  You should grab the opportunity before trouble comes and it will come.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13 CEB)  Amen.