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Jew or Gentile?

sermon given on Sunday, July 9, 2017

Scripture connections:

Opening: Romans 9:21-24, NLT

21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? 22 In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23 He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. 24 And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles.

 

Sermon: Romans 9:25, 31-32, NLT

25 Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea,

“Those who were not my people,
I will now call my people.
And I will love those
whom I did not love before.”

 

31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32 Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law[a] instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.

 

Closing: Romans 10:9-13, 16-18a, NLT

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”[a] 12 Jew and Gentile[b] are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” . . .

 

. . . 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[a] 17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. 18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? . . .

 

Reflection: Jew or Gentile?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a different time? Over the holiday weekend Ancestry.com offered free access to certain records and I started looking at them. Of course I could not remember my sign in but I did discover a World War I draft notice for my grandfather was listed. I was surprised and really should have gotten up to investigate more closely, but did not because I know he never served in the military. But now I want to know more.

Then another question came to mind: If I were living in Jesus’ time, would I have been a Jew or a Gentile? I suppose I could even ask if I would have been a pagan, but that seems a bit too unlikely. This question started my mind spinning and I started putting my thoughts together:

  • Was I born into a religious family?
  • Did I grow up following the religious law or the civil law?
  • Was my dad or my mom the driving force?
  • Was my church strictly structured around The Law?
  • Did church come first or did civil matters?
  • Was my community centered around the church or on business?

 

As you can tell, deciding whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile lead to many other considerations other than just my personal faith.

Reading Romans, one can get a different perspective of the cultural shift that must have occurred for Paul, but also for other new Christians.   Paul certainly was Jewish before his conversion. Raised in the Jewish faith, having served in the Jewish leadership, his life was immersed in The Law. He knew it so well, he was actively involved in administering justice—or at least that was the Saul of Tarsus as he was first introduced in Biblical literature.

Paul prosecuted the earliest disciples of Christ. Paul was a Jew and the first Christians who were Jewish must have felt confused as they believed Jesus Christ was simply the fulfillment of their own religious foundation. How difficult it must have been to be firmly rooted in a faith and then be prosecuted by your own religious leaders for believing the prophecies had indeed been fulfilled!

With that thought, I wonder again whether I would have been a Jew or a Gentile during those ancient times. I think it is possible to compare my own upbringing and belief system to the Jewish culture. As I look over my history I can see the similarities:

  • I was born into a faith-centered home environment.
  • We attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday.
  • We actively participated in all the age-appropriate activities—choir being the most obvious other than Sunday school.
  • We offered a table grace at all three meals in our home.
  • Dad appeared to be the faith leader because he said the grace.
  • Mom was in charge of the household including the education both after school and for Sunday school.
  • Dad served on the various Administrative Board committees and even as a lay leader.
  • Mom was a soloist and even evolved into the closest thing in our community to an activist for social justice.
  • We attended the carry-in dinners and social functions at church but seldom social events outside of the church.

 

Certainly, in my 20th century life, I was following the social profile that would have been a Jew during Christ’s lifetime.

Now, though, for comparison purposes consider the ancient Gentile. Here was an individual whose life hinged around the daily grind of life. Making a living, providing for the family, and managing to live in the ruling culture of the time. Reading Romans, the first century after Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated the Euro-Asian region. No state religion, but the Greek and Latin gods were worshiped. The pagan laws were not as severe as the Law of Moses was in the Jewish culture. For Roman citizens, the law was the ruling emperor’s law.

Today’s Gentiles may be more difficult to identify. Or maybe not because I suspect that today’s Gentiles profile might be like so many of our friends and neighbors, even family members. I believe the Gentiles are all those who have been raised with much of the same expectations as those in church-attending, church-centered families. The difference is they may not see a connection to living one’s faith in relation to their role in today’s world.

Consider how many in our community, maybe even in our church, who live a “good” life, not breaking any laws, working hard to make a living, and doing all the things our society deems appropriate—raising kids, going to sporting events, taking vacations, staying in style, and the list just keeps growing. There may be some curiosity about God and faith, but their lives are ok, maybe even extremely successful by all outward signs. Maybe they go to church occasionally, at least on Christmas and Easter, because they say they believe.

In today’s culture, I believe it is more difficult to see a distinction between the Jews and the Gentile labels that were evident during ancient days of Christ. Yet I believe it is also evident that there is a defined line between those who are living a faith-filled, Christ-centered life and those who are simply living in a spiritual void with all the outward appearances but no conviction of their faith in God.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was a logical argument for Christianity, written to an audience with whom he was not personally connected. Today we can read the letters Paul wrote and evaluate them against the experiences of Christians for over 2,000 years. We can even check ourselves to determine whether we are living the very principles Jesus demonstrated and Paul reinforced in his letters.

Romans is an introduction to Christian living whether one was raised a Jew or a Gentile; whether one was raised in a religious setting or not; or even if one has never had any simply unchurched. Paul assures us that salvation is available to any one who accepts that Jesus Christ lived, died and arose so that we are saved by the grace of God.

Paul’s letter goes on to explain that God genuinely loves us and that we are all equipped with spiritual gifts. We are to use those gifts living as good citizens in our communities. We are to accept all those who believe in Christ regardless of their previous beliefs—another words whether they were Jew, Gentile or pagan. We are to live in Christian unity with one another because God’s mercy is available to everyone.

Again, though, I find myself wondering whether I would have been living as a Jew or a Gentile or as a Christian? As much as my faith is the faith that I was born and raised in—a cradle Methodist as we say, I wonder if I could have been the Jew openly accepted the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in those ancient days?

Today I am fortunate to have the 2,000 years of Christian history to support the arguments for Christ. I am fortunate to live in a society that allows freedom of religion. Yet, in truth I wonder whether I am a Jew or a Gentile in behavior. Am I too caught up in the legalistic structure of our faith to open my heart, my mind and my doors to others regardless of their personal history? Am I afraid I cannot preserve the church in which I am so comfortable that I fight any change? Am I able to live in unity with others regardless of where they are in their faith journey?

If I did not have my faith in God, I would not see the value in this life I do have. If I did not follow the one commandment to love others as I want to be loved, I would be hiding within my own home fearing the unknowns. If I did not believe that God has given me gifts to use in this world, I would not be able to do what all I try to do.

My challenge to each of us here is to consider just what role do you have personally or we as a full church have in reaching out to the other Jews, Gentiles, pagans or unchurched. Do we honestly open our hearts, minds and doors to all in hopes that they too can discover God’s grace and salvation through his son Jesus Christ? Do we live the very example of a Christian right here in our own community?

Our responsibility is to find ways to demonstrate the motto that the United Methodist Church adopted in 2004: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. Let us truly be remarkable with our efforts to make sure that our church is being Christ-centered in this community.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

 

Open our hearts so they may be filled

With love for one another as Jesus taught.

 

Open our hearts so we may see

those in our community in need of your love.

 

Open our minds so they may be filled

With the methods and means to share your love.

 

Open our minds so we may grow

our spiritual gifts to serve and love others.

 

Open our doors so we may see

The lost, the lonely, the sick, and the hungry.

 

Open our doors so we may serve

To welcome those needing your love.

 

Only with you can we be

the Christians you call us to be.

 

In your name, dear God,

And in the name of Jesus Christ,

And the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

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Jesus assures us, prays for us

given on Sunday, May 28, 2017–Memorial Weekend

Scripture connections: scriptures are from the NLT

 

John 16:20, 22-24

20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.  . . . 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

John 17:5—prayer for self

Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . .

John 17: 10-17—prayer for Disciples

10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;[c] now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are. 12 During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me.[d] I guarded them so that not one was lost, except the one headed for destruction, as the Scriptures foretold.

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.

John 17:20-26—for future believers

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Reflection: Jesus assures us, prays for us. We must follow.

How many of you grew up with the traditional visits to the cemeteries on Memorial Day? For our family, the tradition began with preparations that included a picnic lunch and the coffee cans wrapped in aluminum foil and filled with freshly picked iris and peonies. Once we got done, the whole family (the four of us in our case) loaded up the car and off we drove.

We even had a route—first Wellsville, then Millersburg, and there we had the picnic lunch. From there we drove back to Montgomery and went to the cemetery there. Some years we would even drive to Bellflower or Truxton to visit graves of the generations beyond our immediate families.

Today, that tradition has disappeared. Why? Well, primarily I have lost my parents and the distance over the past 30 years has separated me physically from those cemeteries. I suspect that my memory of the Wellsville cemetery would be too rusty to locate the graves there. But I know I can locate the ones at Millersburg and Montgomery easily.

Honestly, though, I would have to say I do not need to make that journey either. Memorial Day is created to focus us on remembering those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we have added to that purpose remembering all those in our own lives who have guided us to the place we are now. Today, I can look back over the years and know that those in my lives that I honor are ones who I anticipate seeing again.

In today’s scripture, I find a promise that confirms my hope to see my life teachers—Mom, Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and so many other significant people in my life. How do I know? Jesus’ words are recorded in John, especially in the closing prayer he said before his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. Verse after verse provides me such insight, promise, and assurance that I can hardly wait to share it with you. (That is why I have printed a special version of the readings for you that include my notes and space for yours, too.)

To begin, Jesus uses every teaching technique possible to make sure that his followers understood God’s Word. He modeled the behaviors, taught the Word, healed the sick, forgave the sinners, and loved the unloved. He demonstrated the behaviors even following his own mother’s request to turn water into wine at a wedding knowing that he was really not ready to show others who he was.

Yet, at the end of the three years, as his earthly life was drawing to a close, he had to be very direct with his disciples about who he was and what they were to know as outlined in these two chapters of the gospel John. In these verses, Jesus answers those who still found that who he was impossible to believe. He confirmed what everybody was checking out in order to believe. And those in the audience certainly had a personal encounter with him as a man in their immediate world.

Looking at the scripture in chapter 17:5, I find one of the most difficult realities of Jesus addressed–Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began. . . . These few words, in Jesus’ prayer to God concerning himself, he identifies his personal relationship with God as timeless. Time is irrelevant in relationship with God.   The human body of Jesus is just a vessel, nothing more.

That same verse also clearly states that Jesus and God are one. They shared the same glory always. Even the fact that John, the author of the book, had to use human language to share that knowledge limits the human reader, too.

And then there is that word “glory”:

glory (n.): c. 1200, gloire “the splendor of God or Christ; praise offered to God, worship,” from Old French glorie “glory (of God); worldly honor, renown; splendor, magnificence, pomp” (11c., Modern French gloire), from Latin gloria “fame, renown, great praise or honor,” a word of uncertain origin.

 

The etymology as *gnoria “knowledge, fame” to gnarus “known” and i-gnorare has been acknowledged by some scholars, and rejected by others. In its favour speak the semantics of words for “glory”, which in Indo-European societies mostly have to do with “spoken praise”, “reputation by hearsay”. Against the assumed etymology speak the phonetics. [de Vaan]

 

Meaning “one who is a source of glory” is from mid-14c. Also in Middle English “thirst for glory, vainglory, pride, boasting, vanity” (late 14c.), Sense of “magnificence” is late 14c. in English. Meaning “worldly honor, fame, renown.” Latin also had gloriola “a little fame.” Glory days was in use by 1970. Old Glory for “the American flag” is first attested 1862.

 

The Christian sense are from the Latin word’s use in the Bible to translate Greek doxa “expectation” (Homer), later “an opinion, judgment,” and later still “opinion others have of one (good or bad), fame; glory,” which was used in Biblical writing to translate a Hebrew word which had a sense of “brightness, splendor, magnificence, majesty of outward appearance.” The religious use has colored that word’s meaning in most European tongues. Wuldor was an Old English word used in this sense. (Harpter n.d.)

 

The historical study of this one word that is found throughout the Bible adds a deeper understanding of the little we do know about God’s glory. From this detailed explanation of the word glory, we can only imagine how wonderful it will be to join in God’s glory.

Memorial Day Weekend is the right timing to reach an understanding of what a tremendous reward God’s glory is for those who believe. As we spend time this weekend remembering all those who have served in the name of God whether through military service or whether through God’s service teaching and demonstrating God’s love for all those possible, we can only anticipate the experience of joining in God’s glory.

What is God’s glory? Answering that with confidence can only be done through Jesus’ words:

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

The descriptors of God’s glory are not as concrete as we want to know, but I really feel Jesus is praying aloud so we hear his promise to all who hear his words. We all have the same opportunities to join in God’s glory as believers in Jesus Christ who died to take away our sins. We all will join in God’s glory when we have done whatever we can to share the Word with others so they too may be transformed by God’s love.

Take confidence in Jesus’ words as they are the truth. Take confidence that God has forgiven you of your sins—and will always forgive you as long as you turn to him and admit that you have sinned and ask for his forgiveness. Once you have accepted Jesus and asked for forgiveness, then move forward and look towards the day when you, too, will join in God’s glory.

Jesus has promised us that we are forgiven when we ask in his name. Jesus has promised us that we will receive life eternal because we believe in him as the son of God and the son of man. Jesus has promised that he will be with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has promised to return to us personally, too.

The one thing that we seem to need is to know when all these promises will happen. This is the one human question that cannot be answered. Yet, this Memorial Day weekend, we must trust in God that what he said through the life and the words of Jesus Christ will be revealed to us personally and we will experience God’s glory as so many of our family and friends have already done.

Our Memorial Day weekend should be a time of rejoicing and remembering. We rejoice that those who died are already with God. We remember all that their lives have taught us about God and our own faith practices. And together, we pray some of the same things that Jesus prayer in those final moments of his human life:

Closing prayer (in the model of Jesus’ words):

Dear Father in Heaven,

 

We pray for you to be with us

And to guide us in our lives.

We give thanks for sending your son

To demonstrate and teach us

How to live life by your plan.

 

We pray for the disciples

Who walked with Jesus personally

And for the disciples

Who have followed the Word

Since those first believers.

 

We pray for those yet

To meet you personally

And for us who continue

To grow in our own faith

and to serve in unconditional love.

 

Be with us now and forever

Through our faith in you,

The father, the son and the Holy Spirit.–Amen

 

Works Cited

Harpter, Douglas. Definition of Glory. Edited by Don McCormack. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=glory (accessed May 26, 20107).

The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

 

 

 

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