August 27, 2019 To A More Excellent Way-1 Corinthians 12:12-31

thebodyofchrist-u

(The apostle Paul writes:) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV) 
The apostle Paul advocated the value of the individual believer based upon the worth we are given as children of God in Christ. In a world where value is found in a person’s financial worth or in what a person can do, our value in the body of Christ comes from the fact that Jesus loved us enough to come to earth- to live with us, and to give Himself as a sacrifice for us, to pay the penalty for our sins that we cannot pay, and that we neither earn or deserve.

Just as we have social strata today – the wealthy vs. the poor, the educated vs. the unlearned, the privileged vs. the disadvantaged, and so on, there were definite social stations in Paul’s times. Many people were slaves and didn’t even own their own bodies. Women were considered little more than livestock. Yet in Christ, each believer is a valued child of God and an integral part of the Body of Christ, both in Paul’s day and today. When Jesus died on the cross His sacrifice was given for every person who ever lived, no matter how we would look at them or their contribution to society.

Each person has been created by God with certain gifts and abilities with which to serve each other. Some have much to offer in material gifts. Some are great encouragers. Others are artistically gifted or have musical talent. Still others serve in the background with organizational skills or an ability to do building maintenance. Some have a heart for meeting the needs of children.

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…

Paul reminds us that it is important to take special care of the weak- those who are elderly or infirm who may not appear to be “gifted” or to bring much to the community on the surface, but who bring us the great gift of the opportunity to serve and share with them.

There is a disturbing tendency in human nature (both in Paul’s day and today) to value people with a view to their “usefulness.”

How do we value the child with Down’s Syndrome who may have limited cognitive function and may never be able to live independently? Is he or she just as much a child of God, for whom Jesus died to save, as the child with the standard number of chromosomes?

How do we value the elderly man with dementia who can remember storming the beach at Normandy in 1944 as if it were happening now, but who is also bedridden, incontinent, and can’t remember his wife’s name? Is he just as much a loved child of God as the paramedic or the preschool teacher who bakes cookies and teaches Sunday School?

In today’s society we can see the devaluing of human life in many ways- through abortion on demand, where a perfectly healthy child can be killed and thrown away like just a piece of medical waste simply for being “inconvenient” or “unwanted.” In some countries and even in some places in the United States assisted suicide is permissible- and often encouraged as an option for the chronically ill and the dying.

What kind of value do we place on the most vulnerable among us- the unborn, the disabled, the dying?

How can we help someone in a crisis pregnancy choose life? How can we bring joy to the disabled? How can we comfort the dying? They too are those for whom Jesus bled and died.

The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. We are not called to be comfortable, but to bring comfort to others in the name of Christ. In this world there will be sorrow and suffering. We are called to endure sorrow and suffering because we have the great promise and hope of life in Christ. We are called to share the hope we have in Christ as we embrace those who are weak and hold them up. Some of us are strong in some areas but weak in others, but each of us is a part of the Body of Christ.

There is a place in the church for everyone- weak, strong, young, or old. Each of us brings unique gifts and strengths. We have life in Christ not because of anything we can do, earn or deserve, but because we have been named and claimed and marked with the cross of Christ in baptism. Our value and our worth is given to us as a gift of God. Each of us is made in the image of God. Every person is someone of value, someone for whom our Lord bled and died to save.

May we as Jesus’ church cherish and defend the weaker members of our body, and by the grace of God come to appreciate each other and all of our varied weaknesses as well as our gifts.

June 24, 2019- Jesus Loves You, MYOB (sometimes), Follow Me (always)… John 21:20-25, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

 

business

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 (ESV)

The disciples, like us, were human beings subject to sin (also like us.)  There had to be a moderate degree of tension between Peter and John upon Jesus’ return, especially because John had to know not just that Judas betrayed Jesus unto death, but also Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Luke 22:61 (ESV)

Peter was wondering about John’s position with Jesus.  Rumor had had it that John was going to be around until the Second Coming.  There had to be a small bit of jealousy going on there, otherwise Jesus probably wouldn’t have been as quick to tell Peter to mind his own business, at least as far as what happens to John.

John did outlive the other disciples, and was the only one of the Twelve to die of natural causes, at the age of 90+, but John did, in fact die.

It’s easy to look around and wonder about “What is going to happen to so-and-so?,” or “Why doesn’t God use me for _____?” or even to speculate on the worthiness or unworthiness of another person.

Jesus told Peter to MYOB when it comes to John and what John will do and where John will go.

It can be hard to mind our own business when we should be minding our own business. As the apostle Paul taught regarding the body of Christ- if everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? God puts each of us in the places we are with different vocations.  Paul talks about the diversity of the body of Christ at length in 1 Corinthians 12.

It truly isn’t our business to wonder why this person ended up in a place that seems “cushy” or “privileged” to us.  We don’t know the back story.  We don’t know why God chooses one person to live 100 years and another to live two.  We don’t know why we fit in the tapestry of God’s kingdom in the place we are assigned.

Minding our own business is not about ignoring the needs of others, but about not being jealous of others, about not coveting others’ positions and stations in life.  It is about being content with our vocation and concentrating on the mission we have right in front of us.

Most of us are not called to be missionaries or millionaires, but all of us are called to live out our daily vocations with the knowledge that serving our neighbors is really serving God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (ESV)

January 23, 2019- Sacrifice, Vocation, All Parts of One Body- Romans 12:1-8

body of christ

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:1-8 (ESV)

It has been said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they are always wriggling themselves off of the altar. We do not live the Christian life perfectly. Thankfully in Christ, because we are baptized, and made children of God by faith, we can start each day knowing that He is renewing our minds and giving us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) in exchange for our hearts of stone.  We can trust that he forgives our sins and He gives us the strength to face a new day every day.  God works this transformation in us through the Holy Spirit.

We walk a balancing act between being sinner and saint. As Paul said in Romans 8, we do the things we know we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.  Even so, God has created each of us as an individual with a set of strengths and a set of weaknesses.  Everyone has been given a vocation- a reason for being and a reason for doing- which should complement the vocations of others. A farmer grows grain for the baker to bake bread.  Drivers transport raw materials so that factory workers can fabricate and assemble machines and cars and other things.  Police and firefighters keep order and respond to emergencies.  We have vocations in both the earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom.  Sometimes they intersect, but we are made to embrace and pursue our vocations to the glory of God.

Paul has a complementary view of how we are to work together at being the Body of Christ. Some of us are positively not suited for doing certain things.   Not everyone is in the position to volunteer to go do missions in Africa for a year, or to do plumbing and carpentry work, or to bake cookies.  Some people have the gift of hospitality, or the ability to go abroad do missions work, but others may be more able to give financially, or teach, or encourage.  Everyone has equally valid – though necessarily different and varied- vocations that we have been gifted with to serve God.

We have every reason as God’s people to appreciate and thank God for the gifts we have been given. We are also called to appreciate and thank God for the gifts God has given others, especially the gifts they share that with us we do not possess.  We serve others out of a joyful response to God’s goodness, no matter what our gifts may be.

May 18, 2018 – Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, Share the Gospel! – John 16:1-11, Romans 8:18-30

Pentecost

(Jesus said to the disciples-) “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.  But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

 “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:  concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  John 16:1-11 (ESV)

How could it be to the disciples’ advantage for Jesus to leave them? It seems strange that Jesus would have to leave them in order to send the Holy Spirit, yet was necessary for Him to return to the Father in order to prepare a place for those who believe in Him as He tells us earlier in John’s Gospel. (John 14:1-3)

The Holy Spirit leads people to faith in Jesus by hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17). Jesus Himself foretells that the Gospel must be proclaimed throughout the earth before He returns to establish the Kingdom once and for all at the end of days as we learn in Matthew 24:9-14 and Mark 13:3-13.  We anticipate the day when we are no longer living in the “now, but not yet” and we are brought into the complete, fulfilled Kingdom of God.

(The apostle Paul writes-) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  Romans 8:18-30 (ESV)

On the day of Pentecost we celebrate the Holy Spirit. Everyone who belongs to Jesus has the gift of the Holy Spirit.  As we live out our vocations as mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, friends, employees, employers, and so on, we have opportunities to share the Gospel with those around us.  We serve others because God has named, claimed and equipped us to accomplish His purpose.  We respond to hearing the Good News by passing it along.

Lord, give us ears to hear the Good News. Give us hearts and hands and voices to pass the Good News along.

April 24, 2018 – What is Worship Anyway? Psalm 95, Ephesians 2:10

joyful worship

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.”

Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 95 (ESV)

The Psalmist gives us a beautiful picture of what worship is. Worship is not confined to just what we do in church on Sunday.  Some churches call Sunday worship “Divine Service,” which is an apt term, because when Jesus followers come together to worship, God serves us.

We get to hear the word of the One True God taught and preached, the Gospel that proclaims life forever in Christ. We get to raise our voices in song to praise God, which is not just medicine for our hearts, but also as Martin Luther once said, “singing is praying twice.”  We get to experience God coming to us in the Sacrament of Baptism, where God names and claims His children, and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, where we partake of His Body and His Blood, given to save us from our sins.  We worship by coming together as community on Sunday, but as we are gathered, we are also being served by God as well.

The importance of Sunday worship cannot be understated, because that is where we are equipped to worship the rest of the week, where worship is a little bit harder. As we hear God’s Word our hearts are opened to Him and to His way.

The Psalmist speaks of God’s hands. It’s interesting to envision God as having hands, but it’s also encouraging to know: In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

God holds everything in His hands! Even better, his hands formed: the dry land, as the Psalmist reminds us, but also everything else we can see, touch, hear, taste, and experience.  Nothing is outside of God’s hands.

God gives us hands as well. He gives us vocation– a calling and a purpose in life- not for us to earn brownie points, because He has already named and claimed us in our baptism. He created us for the good works He planned in advance for us to do.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

We don’t earn anything by doing good works, but good works are part of our worship. We use our hands and voices, our talents and our abilities to praise God, not to appease Him, but because we belong to Him.

So how do we live our lives as worship?

It’s good to know that God holds us in His hands. It’s good to know that God provides everything we need to trust Him, to serve others, and to live as He created us.

We worship God as we work. We worship God as we care for others, including the mundane tasks of cleaning or running errands or changing diapers.  Anything we do for the sake of others is worship.

Jesus, help us see our lives as lives of worship, joyfully connected to You.

August 17, 2017 A House of Prayer for ALL People – Isaiah 56:6-8

brother other mother

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:6-8 (NRSV)

Some of us have known the privilege of making a friend from a wildly different culture, nationality or unfamiliar ethnicity, and finding that we share a great deal in common. It is one of those “happy accidents” of God when we meet up with a “brother from another mother” so to speak.  Those sorts of friendships broaden our horizons and enrich our own human experience.

Much has been said in social and political discourse of late that pits human against human in petty and pointless arguments about skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or race, or heritage. The fact is that humans sin and fail each other for many reasons.  The reality is that none of us can erase what oppressions our ancestors suffered at the hands of others, nor can we take back what suffering or unfair treatment our ancestors imposed upon others.  Throughout history groups of humans have enslaved and oppressed other groups of humans. At one point or another should we look back far enough, we will find both oppressors and oppressed in our family histories, regardless of what ethnic groups or cultures we come from.

The only positive, God-honoring action we can take in response to racial and cultural hate is to love each other and treat each other respectfully NOW. The oppression and unfairness and discrimination can stop with us.  We are all human, created in the image of God, like it or not.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah is speaking about the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Christ ALL humans are welcome to participate in God’s kingdom, regardless of nationality or ethnic background, or skin color, regardless of their mistakes, or their family’s mistakes, or their pasts.

God is gathering ALL people to His kingdom. He is calling people who we disagree with.  He is calling people who may currently be our enemies.  He is calling anyone who will hear Him.

Are our hearts also houses of prayer, in which all who seek God and His kingdom are welcome?

 

August 3, 2017 Healthy Priorities or Vain Toil? Isaiah 55:1-2, Ecclesiastes 2:10-12, Matthew 6:31-33

vanity

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Isaiah 55:1-2 (NRSV)

 

Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:10-12 (NRSV)

 

(Jesus said): Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33 (NRSV)

Vanity has a similar meaning to futility. When we appeal to our vanity we are looking at either instant gratification or outward appearances. Both are temporary. Often we do things that don’t make a lot of sense in the grand scheme of it all just for appearance sake. We think less about what we really need and more about keeping up with the Joneses. We put a lot of time and effort and money into things and activities that don’t do much to edify ourselves or build anyone else up.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon warns about things done in excess and/or things done for the wrong reasons. That doesn’t mean that we should not strive to achieve, or that we should take up hair shirts and austerity as a lifestyle. God’s gifts are good.  There is nothing evil about achievement, gaining wealth, or material things in and of themselves.  Our stewardship and use of those resources is what matters.

Jesus tells us to strive first for the kingdom of God. That is where our fulfillment and joy and purpose originate.  Is that where our priorities in life lie?  Do our vocation and our leisure time activities glorify God?

God knows better than we do what we need. This shouldn’t be taken to say that we should just sit back and let provision fall from the sky, but that our first priority should be going after the things that God wants in our lives.  We run into trouble when we become obsessed with work or the pursuit of money or the pursuit of stuff instead of seeking a balanced life focused on God first.

There is no cost for us to come to God. We don’t have to put on a show either.  We are invited to come to Him exactly as we are. We can trust that as we reach out to Him He will provide us what we need.

Isn’t it a relief knowing that we can stop chasing after the wind?