Thursday, October 26, 2006

10-22 sermon

Hi all--below is the sermon I preached last Sunday at Exton Community Baptist Church--it's based on the first four verses of Hebrews 1.

Sorry for the LONG delay and I pledge to be different--hold me accountable! :)

Do you ever get a chill and just know that God is present? You might not be in a church at all; you might just be out in the world somewhere, and you see something and it just clicks, it just speaks to you at that moment about God, or speaks God’s presence to you somehow. I have a few of those moments sometimes.
Sometimes, it happens when I am at a school and I’m watching kids be kids. And I’m just amazed at these little creations God has made, how God created each one unique, how intricate they are, and I’m amazed at how the little kids running around the schoolyard now are the future leaders and members of our society. It’s just amazing, and it shows me that God is always renewing creation, never leaving us without a future and a hope; and it also reminds me that God loves each and every one whom he sees like we love the children we see. It’s a God moment, it speaks to me of God’s presence and love.
Sometimes, it happens when I’m reading a book and I stumble on a passage of the book that is deeply meaningful. Maybe I’m reading a book about prayer, or about the spiritual life. Or maybe it’s a book about sports, or parenting, or cooking. And what I read there just feels like a gift from God to me, or a message from God to me that offers me comfort, or challenge, or just something new that I needed.
Sometimes, it happens when I go to a place where I see people happily doing their jobs. It’s such a blessing to be around people who work with a sense of purpose, who feel fulfilled by their work. They seem to move with a sense of purpose, and I love watching it. It speaks to me of God, because it shows me how God created us with a purpose and when we are fulfilling the purpose God gave us, we are happy. It shows me that we are happiest when we are doing that work God made us to do and it just makes me happy to see people who love their jobs.
Last week, it happened when I held our baby girl as she was dedicated. And she’s looking around, and she’s looking up and down and at the Bible and at Pastor Tim, and in that moment, you just realize how precious human life is, how seriously it deserves protection and care. You realize too how amazing God’s creative potential is, how this life could have come out of nothing, how God still has so much more to create in little Gracie.
These are all God-moments, times in our lives when God speaks to us if we’re paying attention.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us that in the old days, God had ways of speaking to people, too. They were called the prophets. The prophets were men and women who God had called to speak God’s word to people. Jeremiah was a prophet; God told him to go and tell the people of Judah that their capital city, Jerusalem, was going to be attacked and overrun; and even though he was scared to say such a thing, God told him he should go and speak it anyway. In so doing, he filled the people of his time with God moments; moments where they just knew that God was present, encountering them, if they would only be aware.
Daniel, too, was a prophet; Daniel refused to stop praying when the king ordered him to, and instead spoke the truth to the king and to the nation. He paid a steep price for what he did. God spoke to people through Daniel, as well.
Micah, Habakkuk, Jonah, Haggai, Isaiah, Ezekiel–all of these people were prophets. All of them spoke God’s word to people; all of them brought people into contact with the presence of God.
In the former times, says the writer to the Hebrews, God spoke to us through the prophets in many and various ways. In the same way, God speaks to us in many and various ways today, as we have already seen. And yet, the writer wants us to know that while God spoke to us in many ways then, and speaks to us in many ways now, there is one way that God speaks to us that is far above every way. In the former times, God spoke to us through the prophets; but now, in these last days, he has spoken to us through a Son. Jesus is God’s final, perfect Word; Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s presence with us and love for us.
It is very important for us to remember this as we go through our lives: Jesus is supreme. Even while God speaks to us in many ways, and gives us many insights and new things to learn, Jesus is supreme. We cannot hope for a greater insight than Jesus, and we dare not settle for less. If we want to know God, we can’t simply know those great spiritual moments–we have to know Jesus.
This really has implications for the way we live our spiritual lives. If we truly want to know who God is, there simply is no substitute for knowing Jesus. And so we must do those things we have to do anytime we want to get to know anybody.
Anytime you place a priority on getting to know somebody, first, you spend time with them. Any Christian serious about knowing God must plan on spending time with Jesus. Now, if your life is anything like mine, you are sometimes really good about this and sometimes not so good. At time, you just naturally take to spending a great deal of time with Jesus; you like spending time reading the Bible or meditating in prayer, just taking quiet time and being aware of his presence. And at other times, life seems too busy and you feel like you just don’t have time for it, and so you push it off, push it off, and eventually push it out of your mind altogether. At least, like I say, that’s true in my life–sometimes I’m on, sometimes I’m off. What I want to let you know this morning is not about how perfect I am, but how much better I feel in those times in my life when I’m spending time with Jesus. In those times when I’m following through with prayer rather than resisting it, there is a difference in my life. In those times when I’m serious about reading and memorizing the Scripture, there is a difference in my life. I feel grounded because I feel like I’m using my time and my life for something worthwhile. In those times when I’m serious about spending time with Jesus, I feel better equipped to go out into the world and really live for God. I can always talk a good game about serving the poor, about loving other people, about doing the right thing, but it’s in those times that I’m spending time with Jesus that I can stop talking about it and actually start living it. Just like getting to know anybody, if we are serious about getting to know God, we first must start by spending time with God.
And then, if you want to get to know somebody, you start taking an interest in the things they like. Have you ever been on a bad date? A bad date is one where you sit down and start talking with the other person, and all they want to talk about is themselves. Everything you say somehow leads them back to talking about themselves some more. They talk about their achievements, their looks, their talents, their goals, their hopes, their dreams, and never think to ask you about those things in your life. You are certainly happy to know more about the other person, happy to know all of those things that mean so much to them; but you also want to know that they value you and the things that you love, and the things that concern you.
I think it’s similar in a way with Jesus. Jesus certainly is happy for us to come to him at all times with our problems, and with our joys. He’s happy to hear about us! But I think Jesus is also happy when we show an interest in the things that interest him. I often wonder, “What were the kinds of things that interested Jesus? Did he like to play sports or go fishing or go hiking? Did he like music or reading or writing or poetry?” We can’t know what Jesus’ interests were in that sense. But we do know what kinds of things Jesus was passionate about.
Jesus was passionate about the poor. When he went to preach his first sermon, his text was from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” I know what it’s like to preach a first sermon. When you believe that God has called you to be a preacher, it’s usually in part because you have a really great idea for a sermon just bubbling up inside you and you just can’t wait to preach that sermon. That first sermon is the product of so much passion, a text you’ve had living in you for years and you just can’t wait to talk to someone else about. You become a preacher because you just have to preach on that text–it is your passion. And this is what Jesus chooses for his first sermon, the thing he wanted to tell everyone was that God cares about the poor, and I am here to speak good news to the poor that God cares so much for. Jesus is passionate about the poor.
Jesus is passionate about the church. Sometimes, we think that Jesus just came to teach us a few things, live a good life, die so that each of us could be reconciled with God, and then rise from the dead and go up to heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was intimately concerned while he was here to establish a community.
When Jesus met with the disciples in the upper room, before he was crucified, the Gospel of John shows us that he spoke to them at length. And John chapter 17 has to be one of the most precious passages of Scripture, because it shows us Jesus praying–it lets us see the words Jesus said to the father on behalf of his disciples. And this is part of what he says: “I am praying not only on behalf of these [disciples who are here], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...” Jesus didn’t just want us to be on our own, living like Lone Rangers for Jesus; instead, we are called to live in community with each other and with God. This is one of the things Jesus wanted the most to come of his ministry, the establishment of the church. Jesus is passionate about the church.
Jesus is also passionate about laying down his life. All throughout the Gospels, we read about Jesus understanding that his death was a crucial part of his ministry. He tells his disciples time and again that he must be arrested, and crucified, and his disciples, namely Peter, say, “This must never happen to you!” But Jesus insisted that his suffering and his death was a crucial part of his mission. Peter could not stand to hear it, and sometimes we cannot stand to hear it, but Jesus is passionate about laying down his life for the good of the world.
If we are to recognize in our lives that Jesus is supreme, we will also have to start taking an interest in the things that interest Jesus. Jesus’ life is marked by a passion for the poor, for the church, and for laying down his life. So our lives, too, if we bear the name Christian, will be marked by a passion for the poor, a passion for the church, and a passion for laying down our lives. We can say with our lips that Jesus is supreme; but if we start to have the passion for the poor, for the church, and for laying down our lives, we will show that Jesus is supreme not only with our lips but with our lives.
Finally, if we are to recognize that Jesus is supreme in our lives, we must commit to him. We spend time with Jesus, we learn to be passionate about the things that he is passionate about, and we also commit to him. There is a difference between being passionate and commitment. Those of you who are married know what I am talking about; the kind of love experienced in marriage is not only passionate, but it is a love of commitment. It is less often the kind of mad, passionate love, and more often the kind of love that does ordinary, sometimes unpleasant tasks, simply for the sake of serving each other. For example, in our marriage, Jill is more passionate about organization than I am. I will never have a passion for being a neat and tidy, organized person. But I am light-years from where I used to be. Why? Because I’ve committed to Jill. Jill is the supreme human relationship of my life and as such, I’ve committed to her, even doing things that I’m not passionate about in the moment just to honor my commitment to her. In the same way, Jill will never be passionate about baseball. She will never care for that sport in the same way that I do; she’ll never spend most nights from April to October checking the scoreboard and wondering about the next game. But she lets me have space to enjoy it in my life, and she also comes with me to ballgames, even though it’s not her favorite thing. Why? Because she’s committed to me. Marriage is not only about following our passion for each other–it is about committing to each other totally.
There will come many days in our lives when we are not passionate about the things Jesus was passionate about. There are days that it is hard for me to be passionate about the poor in the way that Jesus was. I feel totally inadequate and burned-out to the needs of the poor sometimes. There are days it is hard for me to be passionate about the church, days when I’m tired and I feel totally defeated by life and where I feel that I cannot serve the church anymore that day. There are days that it’s hard for me to be passionate about laying down my life, where I want to cling to my life, where I want to let what’s mine by mine and not give any more to God or anyone else. There are days where it’s hard for me to be passionate about what Jesus is passionate about.
And yet, I am committed to Jesus. So I press on. I know that discipleship is not about what I’m feeling all the time, but about what I am doing. I am capable of living beyond my passions, of being faithful to God even though I don’t want to at that particular moment; and I know I am capable of keeping my commitment to Jesus because I have the Spirit of God living in me and giving me strength, even when I don’t feel passionate. To truly treat Jesus as supreme, we must commit to him.
Now, I had planned to speak from Hebrews for the next few weeks. The book of Hebrews which we have started on this morning is a powerful challenge to us to put God first in our lives. But I decided during my time away that I didn’t want to do that. The book of Hebrews is a powerful book, and in a sense, much of the book is about this theme we’ve talked about this morning—the superiority of Jesus. But rather than dig deeper into the Scriptures in the next few weeks, I want to really look at how to put hands and feet on this in our own lives today. How do we really treat Jesus as the most important thing in our lives? How do we make this Jesus, who is superior to angels, truly the most superior focus and person in our lives?
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to look at four different real-life issues. And we’re going to ask the question: “How does the fact that Jesus is superior—how does the fact that Jesus is the most important thing in my life—change how I do this.” Next week, in looking at the upcoming elections, we’ll ask the question, “Does Jesus care how I vote?” The week after that, we’ll think about movies and music and television and ask “Does Jesus care about what I watch and listen to?” On November 12, as our church considers its 2007 budget, we’ll ask the question “Does Jesus care how I give?” And on November 19, the Sunday before the Thanksgiving feast, we’ll ask “Does Jesus care what I eat?”
God has spoken to us, and still speaks to us, in many different ways–in nature, in our families, in our friends. But the most precious, clearest way he has spoken to us is in His son, Jesus, the one who is superior to all the other ways. For us to hear him clearly, we must spend time with him; we must become passionate about the things he is passionate about; and most importantly, we must commit to him, giving him all of ourselves. Join me in these next four weeks and consider how to put Jesus first in your life.

Too long

Wow--too long since I've posted.

And it hardly seems appropriate to have another mea culpa post.

But I promise I will have last week' s sermon up tonight--for those of you who have been checking back here feverishly, I apologize!