Apr 20

Easter People: Of All Ages

When we lived in North Carolina and I was a student at Duke, I loved going to the Divinity School’s chapel services. The preaching was great: provocative, prophetic, and sometimes even poetic. The chapel itself was beautiful. The service was almost always carefully ordered. And the music was outstanding, with an organist who ranks among the best in the world. Still, each time I went, each week, I noticed something was missing. Continue reading

Apr 13

Easter People: A Common Bond

What was from the beginning concerning the Word of Life, which we heard, which we saw with our own eyes, which we beheld, which we touched with our own hands, which we saw and heard, we disclose even to you, so that you might share a common bond with us.

This is how the first letter of John begins. We’re going to be spending some time with this letter the next few weeks; I plan to preach on passages from 1 John just about every Sunday from now until the end of May. So I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. Each week you can see what section we’ll read the following Sunday right here in your bulletin, so you can make those readings part of your personal devotions. Or you could just read through the whole thing at once; it’s not very long. And if you’re a woman, you can join the women’s Tuesday night group. They’ll be studying 1 John together starting this week, too.

Continue reading

Oct 23

Give to God the Things That Are God’s

Preached By Lynn Davis, Lay Servant at Centre UMC

  

Today, the Lord put it on my heart to expound on the New Testament reading of Matthew 22:15-22. The question the Pharisees tried to use to entrap Jesus…..the question about paying taxes.

The enemies of Christ (the Pharisee’s in this case) wanted to get rid of Jesus either by law or by force and up to this point neither was working.  The law of the land in Jesus’ day was the Roman government and the force of the Jewish people ……came through the hands of its people.

The Romans didn’t concern themselves with the laws of the Jews – they had no respect for the people of Israel, no believe in the One True God or any interest in upholding Israel’s religious laws.

To deal with Jesus by force the Pharisees needed to bring the people of Israel to a place of hatred and contempt – they would be the force needed….the hands that would carry out the acts of violence – they were the ones who administered the beatings of those who rebelled against its religious leaders – they were the force that carried out the stoning deaths – but the problem for the Pharisee’s was that the people saw Jesus as a Prophet and they were unable raise the mob against him.

Up to this point in the gospel of Matthew mostly the chief priests and the elders – men in authority had tried to discredit and put an end to Jesus’ ministry. Now the Pharisees send out their disciples in hopes of tripping Jesus up. They were hoping to catch him with his guard down – they knew he would be suspicious if they themselves addressed him, so they come up with a plan to send their disciples – thinking perhaps… that the disciples would look more like students.  Students asking a question with the intent to learn from the sincere teacher, the way of God in accordance with truth showing no deference or partiality – these is exactly how they greeted him and addressed him in verse 16.

Another important fact that should not go unnoticed is that along with the disciples the Pharisees send along the Herodians. The Herodians were a group among the Jews who supported whole heartedly and were in favor of the ruling power of the Roman Empire.

The question whether it was lawful to pay taxes voluntarily or whether they should insist upon the ancient liberty of their nation… they were the seed of Abraham after all ….God’s chosen people and therefore  should not consent to be in bondage to any man or government …. that included the ruling Roman Empire.

The Pharisee’s plan was to entangle Jesus with his own words and it seemed to be well a though out plan – The question was one that caused great tension between the Jewish nation of Israel and the Roman government, one that brought with it anger, hatred and contempt.

They believed there would be no way Jesus could answer the question without exposing him to the anger and force of the Jews or be in contempt of the laws set by the Roman Empire – but he perceived their wickedness.

Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites – Jesus instructs them to show him the coin – whose head is this, and whose title? The Emperor they respond – then give to the emperor the things that are the Emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.

The scripture tells us they were amazed at his answer – why, because no offense was given. Jesus choose not to Judge or bring division regarding the things of this world, why …..because his kingdom is not of this world.

Today the church is being tested more than ever and the enemy is out to trip us up, to entangle us in the things of this world. With all of the hurt, pain, anger, contempt and tension in our world, our nation, our state, our communities and yes even in our own families and in our own homes…the enemy is trying to ensnare us.  The enemy wants to entrap us into thinking the problems of our day are too big for us to get involved. The enemy who is of this world wants us to think these problems are too big for the church and wants us to believe we cannot make a meaningful impact for the kingdom of God.

Brothers and sisters when we allow our minds to succumb to this way of thinking we are allowing the enemy to defeat and entrap us.  We have taken our eyes off of Christ and we have lost sight of the Kingdom of God.

Some of us unwillingly or even willingly accept the lies from Satan that we are powerless to change or even impact the problems of this world. Some of us struggle with trying to figure out how we can make a difference, while the rest of us cry out to God and ask him to send revival. 

Brothers and sisters we are the revival, we are God’s agents in this world, we are his hands and feet.  How can we keep our eyes on Christ, how can we impact a hurting world for Christ….in Chapter 5 of Matthew, right after the sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches us to be Salt & Light.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matt 5:13-16).

Jesus challenged the Chief Priests, the elders Israel, the Pharisees, the men of authority and yes the Church to be the Salt & Light of this earth. He taught his disciples and all those who believed what it meant to be the Light of the World – to not hide from fear and persecution but to set their eyes, their ears and their hearts on the Kingdom of God… not on the things of this world.

1.     To not be ashamed to be a follower of Jesus Christ

 
2.     To let go of the fear of being rejected or persecuted by friends, family, coworkers and even strangers because of our love for Jesus and our Father in Heaven who sent Him

3.     To hold steadfast in our faith…not only in the good times but in times of trials and temptations

4.     To love our enemies

5.     To pray to our Father in heaven in sincerity and in love

6.     To do for others – acts of love and mercy

7.     To not worry about the things of this world but to build up a store house of heavenly treasure where moths and rust cannot destroy.

Yesterday I had the blessing of attending Mt. Zion’s Women’s Conference, the title and theme of the conference was “Reaching for Eternity.”   I was reminded of the question posed to Jesus about paying taxes but  more importantly I had a greater appreciation for his response…..give to Caesar the things that are Caesars and give to God the things that are Gods.

The things of this world (the things of Caesar) very often distract us from an abundant life with God. It stands in the way of the race set before us, the prize found in reaching for eternity…..Brothers and Sisters it is the giving to God the things that are Gods that allows us to reach for eternity.

Beloved let us be the Salt that preserves and keeps this world from rotting away, let us be the Salt that leads to a thirst for Living Water….Let us be the Light that illuminates and rids the world of darkness, let our good deeds shine out for all to see so that everyone will praise our heavenly Father.

Closing Prayer: Father we join with all of heaven this morning…Great is your name and worthy of our praise – let your people tremble, let the earth quake let all of creation worship your Holy name  for you Lord God are Holy and worthy of all our praise!  Teach us your ways of Lord so that we might reach for eternity, and win the race set before us and take hold of the price for which Christ Jesus died for us to have.  Amen!

 Footnote:

I would like to offer a small note of praise and thanksgiving for the resources available when studying and seeking God’s heart. I would especially like to acknowledge Matthew Henry’s Commentary made available online, through www.biblegateway.com; and Mt. Zion Church in Churchville MD for their Reaching for Eternity Women’s Conference – guest speaker, Tracy Tiernan who inspired some of the content for this sermon.
Oct 06

You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor

            “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It’s the ninth commandment, low enough on the list that it almost didn’t make the cut. It doesn’t have the prominence of “you shall have no other gods before me” or “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” “You shall not bear false witness” is not one of the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus. Despite this, or maybe because of it, after number six, “you shall not murder,” number nine has probably suffered the most at the hands of people looking for technicalities, backdoor exits, and loopholes. “You shall not bear false witness” really boils down to “you shall not lie,” which is how God puts it at other points in the Pentateuch. And that’s exactly where the problems begin for us, because we are all really good liars. We lie all the time. “How’s this dress look on me?” Lie. “What do you think of my new haircut?” Lie. “How much did you spend at the… grocery store, ballgame, bar, last night?” Lie. “Can you make it to my dinner party this Friday?” Lie.

            We lie so much and for so many different reasons. We lie to protect our reputations. We lie to acquire a position or stature we don’t otherwise deserve. We lie to dodge awkward social situations. We lie because we don’t know what else to say, or because we are afraid of silence. We lie for no good reason at all. We are all liars—and some of us are really good liars.

            Lying makes us slaves of our lies. In Exodus 20:2, God says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Lying marches us right back into Egypt, binding us with vicious chains. So often we discover that to keep one lie going we must tell another lie—and another, and another, and another. We ties ourselves in knots with our lies, holding ourselves hostage to our own sin.

            Lying destroys community. We look down on politicians because so many of them have lied to us time after time. Advertisers lie to us all the time; I once heard an advertiser admit that he could be proud of the quality of work he did as an advertiser because he was really good at his job, but he could never be proud of being an advertiser, because his job was to lie to people.

More importantly, we use our knowledge of our own tendency to lie in order to justify our mistrust of others. We see a homeless man on the street, and we wonder, “Could he be lying?” We ask this question not because we know the man or his history but because we know ourselves. We think, “If I were in his situation, I might be lying. So he might be lying, too.” And then we use our own lying to justify crossing the street and denying the man the alms God commands us to give him: “I’m not going to give that man my money. He might be lying!”

Above all else, the church must be a community of people who refuse to lie. Not every Christian has believed this, unfortunately, and some Christians have tried to dream up circumstances where lies are permissible, or even commendable. But we Christians must never lie. Why that is so takes us to the very heart of the Ten Commandments.

You see, the Ten Commandments are not just ten really good ideas for how to live a good life. They are not a set of rules that we can check off each day, or over the course of our lives. The Ten Commandments are about a way of seeing and understanding the world and all that we have as something given to us by God in love with the expectation that in love we will offer something back to God. So the first four commandments are about the Lord offering himself to us and us offering our worship to the Lord, and not to other gods. The next three, concerning parents, murder, and adultery, are about God’s gift of human community and our refusal to sacrifice that gift for our own shortsighted greed. Commandments eight and ten are about God’s offering of what we need to live on this earth and our offering of thanksgiving instead of grumbling and jealousy.

The ninth commandment against false witness is about something just as fundamental: God’s gift to us of speech. Or, we might say, God’s gift to us of our word. “She’s as good as her word,” we say. Or, “I give you my word.” Or, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). That’s why it’s so important that we Christians refuse to lie. When we lie, we don’t just deceive other people; we don’t merely rupture bonds of trust and respect. When we lie, we betray ourselves as people who do not trust in the Word—even, and maybe especially, when we think we are lying for a good cause. More than that, John 1 tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” If we want to follow Christ, we must be people in whom God’s Word can dwell. Our word must become more and more attune to God’s Word. In our lies we reveal that it is a false word, the enemy of God’s Word, that lives in us. It is as simple as this: will our word be the Word of God in Christ Jesus or not?

The opposite of lying is not unwisely running our mouths when we should be silent. If you feel that you absolutely cannot tell the truth, you can always be silent. It’s better than lying. But the true opposite of lying is confession. To confess is to offer our word in harmony with God’s Word. Our confession can be as simple as, “Jesus is Lord,” and as complicated as the Nicene Creed we’re about to speak. Our confession acknowledges our shortcomings—“I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”—and our sin—“Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner.” Confession happens in worship and in private devotion, but it also happens when we refuse to lie, no matter the cost to us. Confession happens when we see that our lies are a way of trying to control our world instead of trusting in God’s Word. As Christians, our lives should be lives of confession.

True speech lies at the very heart of who God is, because the Word of God is also the Son of God. The ninth commandment not to bear false witness against our neighbor is also a commandment to offer our word to others in the same way God has offered his Word to us. May we be found truthful in our speech, even as he is the True Word. Amen.