Tag Archives: Lectionary

Have you experienced highway hypnosis in your faith journey?

Sermon for Sunday, June 25, 2016

 

Scripture connections:

Opening scripture: Psalm 86:11-12, NLT

11 Teach me your ways, O Lord,
that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
so that I may honor you.
12 With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God.
I will give glory to your name forever,

 

Scripture connection: Romans 6:5-14, NLT

     Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

     12 Do not let sin control the way you live;[a] do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. 14 Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.

 

Closing scripture: Psalm 33:20-22, NLT

20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.

 

Reflection: Have you experienced highway hypnosis

                        in your faith journey?

 

            How many of you have been driving along a familiar route and suddenly wonder where in the world you are?

One of my most frightening experiences was driving I-70 back from the farm with the kids and suddenly not having a clue where I was. I knew it was I-70, but I could not have told you whether we had gone through Columbia, crossed the river or anything. I just had to keep driving until I could reconnect the location somewhere along the road between Columbia and Hwy 65 exit.

Undoubtedly I experienced highway hypnosis. DriversEd.com explains highway hypnosis:

Highway hypnosis commonly occurs when driving on open highways for an extended period of time. In this condition, the driver operates the vehicle in a dulled, drowsy, trance-like state (Highway Hypnosis n.d.)

Obviously this condition places not only you as the driver, but the passengers at risk.

Highway hypnosis can also describe one’s faith journey. Falling into a drowsy state in one’s life occurs when things are going along without any major pitfalls or peaks. The faith journey follows the same routine at the same time each week, in the same place even with the same people: Sunday school at 10, worship at 11 and then off for lunch. The faith journey highway hypnosis is like taking a leisurely, mid-afternoon Sunday drive with no particular destiny or even route.

An ABC report describes highway hypnosis:

Going into this autopilot-like mode often happens on long, mundane highway drives with few turns or traffic signals, Meehan said. The driver usually can’t recognize highway hypnosis until his environment is somehow jostled — another car cuts him off or he hits a bump. (What you need to know about highway hypnosis n.d.)

Auto-pilot is exactly what so many Christians are operating on anymore. We have busy lives, we have established a routine of activities, we live on limited incomes, we know when we eat and sleep, and even add in our favorite TV viewing. We are on auto-pilot and everything just seems fine.

But is it? Is everything just fine pacing ourselves through the days and weeks of our lives? Are we consciously following God’s call to action? Are we so hypnotized that we are doing nothing to develop our relationship with God? Or, have we become so hypnotized that we have actually lost our way?

Stop and ask yourself about Abraham and Sarah. Did they suffer from highway hypnosis? In reading the account of Abraham and Sarah through the various chapters in Genesis, one might think they were living a mundane life most of the time. They were an older couple with no children, but they were faithful to God.

The life journey of these two certainly did not follow a typical pattern even for the nomadic tribes of the ancient times. They were directed by God to leave Egypt and relocate. They had not been on these roads before, so the possibility of highway hypnosis was unlikely. Their faith journey, though, was filled with potholes that kept them from falling into a hypnotic state.

Think about your own life, now. Have you reached a point that life is mundane and the routines are lulling you into a hypnotic state. Each day is much the same as the other. The routine is the same unless it is interrupted by a doctor’s appointment, a luncheon date or an afternoon of cards—and even those events can become a matter of routine.

If God spoke to you, would you be alert enough to recognize him as Abraham did? Abraham’s faith was so strong that he followed whatever path God sent him on. He believed in God’s promise and that faith was strong enough to guide him in all his worldly choices—even offering the hospitality to three strangers who happen to stop nearby. The result was the long awaited birth of a son even at their advanced age.

Sarah laughed. But Sarah followed Abraham’s lead in faith and the son Isaac was born. Do we laugh at the ideas God is asking us to do? Have we become so hypnotized by the routines of our lives that we do not even recognize God?

In reality, much of our hypnosis in our faith journey could be diagnosed as acedia. This is a very unflattering diagnosis because it means laziness or indifference in religious matters (Acedia n.d.) Another definition from the commentary for the lectionary:

. . . acedia—the inability to care that we don’t care. . . . Acedia is a spiritual foe. Whether the bout is short or long, weak or intense, it has a way of numbing and lulling a person. God seems remote. Our confidence or sense of faith fades. . . . in reality acedia is a serious spiritual disease. (Wilson 2013, 174)

As in any diagnosis, knowing is the first step in finding healing. The concern, now, is how does one heal from this faith journey highway hypnosis. Is there any treatment that is effective, especially for those who are following what has long been the expected behaviors—Sunday school and worship?

In the recommendations from the DriversEd.com site, the key is to

. . . be aware of your surroundings and to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel, take frequent breaks. If possible, avoid driving for long periods of time and stop if you begin to feel tired.

Granted that does not make much sense in terms of faith hypnosis, but the advise listed on the ABCNews site may help:

. . . taking a break every 90 minutes or so, or — if you’re lucky enough to be driving with someone else — switch drivers. Listening to the radio isn’t enough to prevent this daze, and can even contribute to it, he cautioned. And always get at least six hours of sleep the night before a long trip, . . .

The prescription for acedia, or spiritual journey hypnosis, is available and clearly developed in the scriptures. John Wesley also has prescribed a remedy and we know it so well and have heard it so many times that we are lulled into an indifference about how to stay in relationship with God and to follow the recommended route to reach the final destination successfully.

The scriptures are filled with recommendations, but do we read them and study them. Do we commit them to memory so they are there to use and reuse? Are we meeting regularly to study with others and be held accountable for our daily journey? Are we seeing the needs of others and finding ways to meet them? Have we become lazy in doing all that we can for all we can in all the ways we can?

The Methodist movement begun by John Wesley in the mid1700s grew because the service they provided others in need, but also because there was active involvement in small groups that met regularly and helped each other to maintain their journey and to hold each other accountable in their own lives.

Sunday school evolved into a quick fix remedy to the changing culture during the 1860s. The class meetings faded away and about 15 years ago, the value of small group study revived. The small groups of less than a dozen meeting together at different times during the week in homes, restaurants, or church classrooms has ignited the faith journeys of many. The small group has healed acedia for some and nurtured new believers into discipleship.

If any one of us, or the congregation as a whole, has reached highway hypnosis along the spiritual journey, we are responsible for finding a remedy. Even during the 6th century, a monk Dorotheos of Gaza, knew the risk of highway hypnosis among the monks he taught. His example was of a multi-spoke wheel.

God is the hub, each of us is a spoke while the wheel that rolls along the road is the world in which we journey. The closer to the hub we are, the closer we are to each other. The more distant we become from God, the farther we move from each other (Wilson 2013, 175). Class meeting, which can be a Sunday school class, keep us closer to God and prevents us from highway hypnosis/acedia.

Jesus expected his disciples to follow his example in preaching, teaching, and making new disciples for the transformation of the world. The church began as small groups meeting anywhere they could, in secret at times and in the open at times.

Paul wrote letters to the small, new churches struggling to keep their faith. He knew the journey would not be easy so his letters to the early churches were designed to address the very problems that challenged them. He encouraged them. He sent them missionaries from his own followers. He returned whenever he could.

What are we doing to avoid the acedia or highway hypnosis in our spiritual journeys? What are we doing to help others become disciples in Christ? How have we adapted our practices to the shifts in the culture around us?

Just like a fresh cup of coffee or even a cool drink of water can help snap drivers out of highway hypnosis, we need to find the best ways to heal from acedia or even to avoid acedia. We need small group studies and service to avoid the laziness in our spiritual lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear heavenly Father,

 

We are driving along in our lives carelessly.

Wake us up and keep us alert.

Help us avoid the hypnosis of daily life

And find the joy in learning about Christian living

While serving one another along our journey.

Take hold of the steering wheel and guide us along

So we can safely arrive at the ultimate destination

Alongside you and the other faithful in eternity.

 

In the name of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Works Cited

Acedia. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/acedia (accessed June 23, 2017).

Highway Hypnosis. https://driversed.com/resources/terms/highway_hypnosis.aspx (accessed June 23, 2017).

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

What you need to know about highway hypnosis. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/highway-hypnosis/story?id=21098081 (accessed June 23, 2017).

Wilson, Paul Scott. Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary: Preaching Year A. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013.

 

 

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Continuing the Mission by Praying It Forward

given on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thank you, Margie!  You post triggered this sermon.

Scripture: John 20:19-23

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Reflection: Part A

The catch phrase “Pay it forward” may be overused. The movie about a middle school student’s social experiment has impacted our society for about 20 years. The theme is a version of John Wesley’s saying to do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.

Why do catch phrases like “pay it forward” or “what would Jesus do” or even movements such as “Random Acts of Kindness” make such an impact on society? Do such phrases make life changes? Do they teach God’s story? Do they keep God’s mission alive? Yes.

Scripture: John 20:24-29

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[b] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Part B

Put yourself in the position of Thomas. He has walked side by side with Jesus. He talked with him in casual banter as well as serious theological discussions. He witnessed with his own eyes the miracles Jesus performed. There was no uncertainty that he knew God’s mission much less that God’s messenger was Jesus.

Jesus had selected or called him to be one of the next generations of Abraham’s descendants. He was identified as one of the faithful entrusted to keep The Story and the mission alive. Thomas had no reason to doubt who Jesus was. But Jesus knew that there was doubt even in this Apostle.

No matter what age we are, doubts will creep into our thoughts about the reality of Jesus. No one can fully comprehend the reality of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only upon our own death will we erase that last thread of doubt. Until then, we must practice faith. And while practicing faith, we learn that God’s story does include the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ, the human life of Jesus developing physically as any other human being, his three short years of ministry,

Yet the key to life as Christian is living our faith with confidence in God’s story and with Christ-like actions. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Most of us sitting in today’s pews grew up with that verse (Luke 6:31) being repeated in Sunday school lessons, used in worship service, and even from repeated parent lectures.

Even Wesley had doubts, especially about his own faith. His brother is credited to encouraging him to live his faith until it became a reality to him. The Aldersgate moment when Wesley felt “strangely warmed” reportedly erased his private doubts, and history records the dramatic difference his ministry made, even becoming a global movement.

What does this mean for each one of us here today? Simply, we continue. We practice our faith. We use our faith. We keep God’s mission by “paying it forward,” by asking ourselves “what would Jesus do” and we pray.

Scripture: Acts 5:27-32

27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.[a] 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Reflection:   Part C

Today we are living safely in our communities. We do not worry about conversations about our faith. We do not worry that each time we “pay it forward” or decide to join in a ministry that reaches out to others who may or may not share our faith. We are living in a society that values our Christian beliefs, even encourages us to act in service to others.

Yet, there is the challenge to our faith, too. Evil keeps exploding around us. The news shares the face of evil globally. Maybe we do not easily identify evil in our immediate community, but it is there. Evil hovers around each one of us and we must defend ourselves from it. Keeping God’s mission alive means doing all that we can for all we can in as many ways as we can. It means “paying it forward.” It means self-checking our own actions with the question “what would Jesus do.”

The defense against evil not only in our own lives but also in our community whether local, national or global must have us actively involved in action to preserve God’s creation. Can you do it? Can you continue to maintain your own faith while doing whatever you can for others? Can you keep paying it forward for God?

Scripture: John 19:19-23

19  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Reflection: Part D

When Jesus appeared to the Apostles upon his resurrection and when he appeared a second time eight days later, this time with Thomas present, Jesus repeated God’s message. He breathed on them empowering them with the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry Jesus trained them to do.

We, too, have accepted God’s mission upon our baptism. We have joined in with the Apostles and all the descendants of Abraham chosen by God to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Jesus’ words we are to forgive anyone’s sins

How, even as we physically continue to age, how do we do what we can do to help others? Serving in God’s name is not always easy, but there is a way as long as there is the will. In fact, borrowing from a friend in ministry, Margie (lay missioner for two local small churches): “Pray it forward.”

Christ’s resurrection empowered each and every one of his disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding in the resurrection transforms a social credo to “pay it forward” to “ PRAY it forward.”

Prayer is a powerful tool in fighting evil. Prayer calls God into action even though we may not understand how or when he responds, we must be confident that he hears our prayers and will act. Today, every single one of us here and around this world must pray it forward.

Today, and every day this week, commit to praying it forward.  Complete a “Pray it forward” card for at least one identified cause. It can be a person who needs extra God attention or it can be a situation that needs resolving in a Christ-like manner. Whatever is in your heart whether it is a passion or is a personal concern is worth this focused and very concrete practice of faith.

God has done everything he can to make sure the world is not consumed by evil, have we done everything we can? Praying it forward needs to be the automatic response, not only a first step but a continual step in maintaining God’s mission.

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,”[c] says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

 

Reflection: Conclusion

Do not be a “doubting Thomas,” be you. Be the one who prays it forward now and on throughout your lifetime. Praying is the one faith practice that becomes like our own breath. If there is a doubt, practice praying until there is no doubt.

Look at others who practice prayer full time and you will see God in action. Look at others who are living a life without prayer and you will see evil. Pray it forward so that you are an active part of God’s mission.

We may not always understand how effective our prayers are because we do not understand the scope of God’s grace nor his timing, but we do know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. We do know that God loved us so much that he stepped onto this earth to make sure that we can trust in his words, “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Concluding prayer:

Dear Almighty One,

Hear our prayers today, tomorrow and always.

Let our lives serve as the beacon for your love.

 

Hear our prayers morning noon, and evening.

Let the words we share provide answers for others.

 

Hear our prayers racing through our thoughts.

Let them reveal sources of sorrow, pain and evil.

 

Hear our prayers found in tears of empathy.

Let them cleanse the dirt in wounds of society.

 

Hear our prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Let them shine your light upon new life in all forms.

 

Hear our prayers of excitement and joy.

Let them tell you what a difference your love makes.

 

Hear our prayers for strength and grace.

Let them ask you for refueling so we may do more.

 

Hear all our prayers, Lord,

so your mission continues

and our faith erases doubts

of your Story and your love.–Amen

 

 

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There are Good People and Bad People

given on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Scripture base:

Psalm 1 (NLT)

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

Ephesians 5:1-14 (NLT)

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us[a] and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible.

Reflection:

 

A wide range of shoot-em-up movies are in the theaters this summer. The good guys versus the bad guys meet on the large screens, and other, old shoot-em-up movies keep the ongoing battle of good versus evil on the smaller screens for new generations to discover. The settings may be different, the decades may be different, costumes and transportation images all are different—except, maybe the black and the white hats.

Everybody enjoys the fictional stories where the good guys battle the bad guys and win. Sometimes, a story line gets a little shady and the bad guy appears to have won the battle, but the question is whether or not the bad guy lived a good life. And the battles do not mean just man versus man, it can even be the Good Witch versus the Evil Witch of the North.

Good versus evil is a universal theme, and the battle between the two sides cannot be escaped. The good versus evil conflicts are present in our daily lives even though the character changes. Sometimes the conflict involves one person versus another, but the battle can take on all kinds of different formats. The human versus natures can be a similar battle, so can human versus animal cause conflict and can demonstrate the same type of theme.

In Psalm 1, the reader is taught that there are just two types of people everywhere. Primarily, there are the good people who have followed God’s instructions/laws, and there are the bad people who have lived in ungodly manners. The first verse sets up the lesson:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

In a world filled with so many people living closer and closer together. What happens? Many find ways to control others or to gain personal wealth or take what is not there just to make their lives appear richer.

The good and faithful, according to the psalmist, find joy in their lives. The good and faithful know to follow God’s laws, at that time was the Ten Commandments; but others chose a different life path and became wicked or ungodly. There is no joy for those.

The book of psalms was the hymnal for the ancient Jewish people. The choice of the first psalm provides the simplest instruction for the youngsters to learn. Basically be good by being with good people. Stay away from the bad people.

As simple as that sounds, we all know it is much harder to do than those few words seem to say. Looking at the other verses, the descriptor for the ungodly are listed:

But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

The bad are listed in a variety of terms:

  1. 1 lists them as wicked, sinners, and mockers
  2. 4 uses a metaphor chaff
  3. 5 repeats sinners and the opposite of godly,

so that would be ungodly

  1. 6 finishes with the word wicked.

The psalmist does not leave the reader wondering what is right or what is wrong. The few verses clearly states that hanging out with the bad people will lead the good people away from God.

The rule is as old as humanity: If you hang out with bad people, you will become bad. This is a time-tested rule. In today’s culture, the number of good people who lose their direction is frightening. But one of the problems is that society has erased the clear lines between good and bad.

For instance, consider legalizing marijuana. Here in Missouri, a man spent 28 years in the state penitentiary for non-violent marijuana offenses. His sentence was for life. Someone who is charged and found guilty with that same amount today would be facing anything from simple tickets to minimal jail sentences with the possibility of parole. What is right and what is wrong? The dividing line changes constantly.

Take the discussion to our teens today. With the attitude toward pot changing from being criminal to a misdemeanor, how do our young people know what is right and what is wrong? The responsibility lies in the parenting generation to teach it, but even that generation has stumbled on this issue. Many have succumbed to the addictive nature of the drugs, even tobacco and alcohol or more complex drugs like meth, cocaine, and even synthetic drugs. Good people who simply hung out with evil people were convinced to do wrong things. They did not remain with the faithful, godly people.

The range of bad behaviors that can easily influence godly people to become ungodly continues to grow. How can this cancer be stopped? The same psalm has one major clue:

But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.

Meditate on the law day and night. That sounds like an impossible or at the very least, unreasonable expectation in our daily lives. Is it?

God does not penalize us for our decisions; we penalize ourselves. Meditating on the law is keeping the law. If we work to read the Bible, attend Sunday school, join Bible studies, keep prayer journals, read daily devotionals, attend worship regularly, we do meditate on the law. We know the law. We keep the law.

An example of how this can be kept manageable. This week the lectionary includes more words to the Ephesians. Remember Paul wrote this letter as encouragement to the young Christians. He shares more instructions:

  • Imitate God
  • Live a love-filled life
  • No sexual immorality
  • No impurity
  • No greed
  • No obscene stories
  • No foolish talk
  • No course jokes

Meditating on these rules keeps one focused on living a life that follows Jesus’ example.

When a news story comes on and it hurts our hearts and conscience we are listening with God’s ears. We are meditating on life as God has asked us to do.

When we see someone drinking too much and we step up to drive them home, we are doing what God asks us to do. We are living God’s law out loud.

When we see destruction from the typhons, from an industrial explosion, or a terrorist act, we meditate on God’s law. But do we act? God wants us to know the law, be able to meditate on it, to teach it, and to live our faith openly as activists, as parents, as neighbors, and as God’s emissary.

Read the Bible, study the law, seek out others to grow in faith together. Psalms I opened the faithful’s hymnal and continues to serve as a guiding textbook for today’s faithful. There is no time to lose. We must continue learning about God and teaching it to generations. If we do not, the evil cancer will continue growing.

According to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus:

Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

The reward—JOY! A good life filled with joy leads to life eternal along side Jesus.

Closing prayer:

Dearing Loving and Patient Father,

We hear your words, but we are often deaf.

Give us the resolve to meditate daily

On the holy words written

By generations of godly people.

With the fellowship of our Christian family,

Help us to grow in our faith

And to share words and actions

Modeling that of your son Jesus Christ. –Amen

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Maybe I do need Jesus

given on Sunday, May 18, 2014

Are there times in your life you begin to question your own faith? Here you are Sunday morning and you are at church like you are almost every Sunday, so why would you even ask whether or not you need Jesus? This is a question no one can answer for you, except you.

The words “Lord help me Jesus” started echoing through my reading and thoughts. I had no idea why so I turned to the hymnals to find the song—it was not there. I simply could not get past those four words, so I googled them.   Yes there they were: “Lord help me, Jesus I’ve wasted it. . . “

But how could those words have shown up in the middle of reading the week’s lectionary? Where was the connection?   The first scripture in this week’s lectionary was the story of Stephen’s stoning: not the entire speech he made to the Sanhedrin, just the stoning and his final words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

The second scripture reading was from Psalm 31 which was the connection to the last breath statements from Jesus on the cross and Stephen as he was stoned: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. (v. 5) All three statements are clearly connected, but how does it develop an answer to why we need Jesus.

The third scripture from I Peter 2 does not connect as clearly, but to summarize, verse 9 provides some clarity:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Clearly the pressure is on to understand the need we have for Jesus in our lives. By the time I read through the fourth scripture from the Gospel of John 14:4-7, the emphasis on needing Jesus in our lives is complete:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.. . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 

If we do not know Jesus, if we do not realize we need Jesus, then we are left outside of our Father’s house—eternally.

Trying to understand how Jesus effects our daily lives is difficult, sometimes completely unexplainable. It is not easy to share our confusing thoughts, our need for Jesus, our relationship with the triune God, or how faith works in our daily lives. Yet, some how we hear God talking to us.

In looking up those four words, “Lord help me Jesus. . .” I found three different artists who are known for their performances of a song titled “Why Me Lord”: Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Pressley. I started with listening to Johnny Cash, then Elvis Pressley. But then I decided to look up who wrote the lyrics—it was Kris Kristofferson!

That sent me back to YouTube where I found an interview and performance by Kris Kristofferson. In his own words Kristofferson described a “profound religious experience.”

[Play the YouTube interview.]

Kristofferson nailed the mystery of faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—“I felt forgiveness I didn’t even know I needed. Maybe I need Jesus and did not realize it, either. Maybe you need Jesus, too.

The lyrics Kristofferson wrote are an appeal, a prayer, and even a thank you to God for his unconditional love, for the gift of his son, for the Holy Spirit that resides with us daily when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

[Play Kristofferson’s version of Why Me Lord.]

The words sum up the unbelievable expanse of God’s love for us. We may not understand all of the story, but if we need God and we are here in church this morning, what do we need to be doing to make sure we do not waste this never-ending relationship with God.

This summer, make a commitment to learn more about God, about our faith, and about sharing our understanding of the blessing God gives us even when we do not believe we deserve it. Maybe we can write our own verse for Kristofferson’s prayer.

[Johnny Cash’s version of Why Me Lord.]

            How can we do this? Attend church weekly. One recommendation the conference has is to make a commitment to attend church at least all but four Sundays a year. When we go on vacation, do we make a habit of attending church while on the road?

Another practice is to read. Read the Bible. Read a daily devotional or books that discuss the various books and stories of the Bible. Try following the lectionary. Find someone who can read along with you and talk about the reading.

Finally, talk with God. Over the summer, practice talking with God. There is no need for a fancy prayer format, not even a greeting and salutation. Prayer is conversation with God. Remember, he knows already what is in your mind, so why not think of sharing them in an open, on-going conversation—just you and God.

And at summer’s end, let’s see what verses we have written.

[Elvis Pressley’s version of Why Me Lord.]

Closing scripture and prayer

I Peter 2:1-3 from the NIV: Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Dear All-knowing, All-present God,

We do not know what we need,

but you do.

We do not even know how to talk with you,

but you do.

We do not understand the mysteries of faith,

but you do.

Guide us to open up our lives to you.

Guide us in conversation with you.

Guide us in discovering the miracles you provide.

Thank you for words written and sung.

Thank you for the sharing of your faithful.

Thank you for assuring us we do need you.

Amen.

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