Wednesday, April 20, 2011

sermon from Ecumenical Lenten service Mar 16, 2011

Texts: First Reading Deuteronomy 9:13-21

13Furthermore the LORD said to me, “I have seen that this people is indeed a stubborn people. 14Let me alone that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and more numerous than they.”

15So I turned and went down from the mountain, while the mountain was ablaze; the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16Then I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my two hands, smashing them before your eyes. 18Then I lay prostrate before the LORD as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the LORD by doing what was evil in his sight. 19For I was afraid that the anger that the LORD bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the LORD listened to me that time also. 20The LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him, but I interceded also on behalf of Aaron at that same time. 21Then I took the sinful thing you had made, the calf, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it thoroughly, until it was reduced to dust; and I threw the dust of it into the stream that runs down the mountain.

Second Reading Hebrews 3:12-19

12Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
16Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? 17But with whom was he angry forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Lent, a time of preparation for Easter, 40 days, to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness.

Giving up something for Lent, is about giving up something that obstructs, interferes, deters, blocks our relationship with God. Last week, Pastor Ian spoke about the word “repent” meaning “to turn around”-making a U-turn. Both of our texts talk about turning away from God, ideally what we give up for Lent is something that turns us away from a full relationship with God.

“taking up” something for Lent of course is about helping to promote our relationship with God.

Richard Foster Life With God

Pay attention to the recurring themes of the stories of the Bible: God loves human beings; human beings always seem to want what they can’t have; God is grieved and angered when human beings rebel but pursues them and forgives them anyway; God is involved not just in the lives of the chosen people, but in the lives of all peoples, and in the concerns of every living thing in creation.

Hebrews text Unbelief ==faith + trust.

Both texts refer to 'turning away' from God. Remember last week, Ian talked about the word Repent meaning to turn around. Once we have repented, turned around, to face God, we need to remember to stay aligned or turned in with God. If we turn away, we will stray.

Moses—40 years in the desert...on the mountain with God for 40 days, then when he came down...the people had strayed, they turned toward other beliefs.

Then Moses went back and fasted before the Lord, for 40 days and 40 nights! That struck me when reading this. Jesus' fasting in the wilderness was an echo to Moses 40 years and 40 days.

The number 40 appears a lot in the Bible and generally refers to a time of testing and cleansing. Like rain for 40 days and 40 nights. And at the end of the 40 days or 40 years, there is a reminder of the Lord's presence. A rainbow, a covenant, the Word of God turning away Satan!

So Moses lay prostrate before the Lord, fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, to repent not for himself, but for the sins of the people!

Jesus' time in the wilderness was not for himself, but for His people. Jesus had no sin, he was God incarnate, therefore incapable of sin. So his fasting was not for a time of testing and trial for Himself, but for us, since we are so very capable of sin.

OK now we don't like to think of ourselves as “sinners”. We keep the 10 Commandments, honor our father and mother (well we mostly did, there was a time or two in our teens...) We give to our churches and to charity, we live good lives. But are we FOCUSED on God? Do we really TRUST in God?!

You see trust is a big aspect of faith. The word in the bible that is translated faith, also means trust. It seems that the people lost trust in God pretty fast while Moses was up on the mountain! And this was after being fed by manna every day, by finding water in a rock, by having God with them in a cloud by day....for protection, and a pillar of fire by night. For light and protection. After 40 years of God's faithfulness, the people failed to trust for only 40 days!

I guess that is why our Hebrews text tells us to “exhort one another every day.” we need reminders of God's faithfulness every day, don't we. Well maybe you don't. But someone does! That is why we have daily devotions, special readings during Lent, daily bible reading plans....If faith were a one shot deal and we are done, well we wouldn't need a Bible or church at all would we!?

as we go through this Lenten season, we are deepening our relationship with God. And when our relationship with God is healthier,

And we crave that health for others. As we crave this, we crave it for our community and our world. So as we work toward being right with God, as individuals, we crave, and work toward, and pray for, a world that is right with God. That is turned toward God, focused on God.

That can be hard in today's' world. It was hard in Moses time and they didn't have TV, internet, to distract them from a focus on God. Today we have so many distractions! endless advertising telling us we need more money, fancier car, smaller electronics, better insurance, tastier snacks, softer pillows and harder exercise. We have 24 hours news that focuses not on Godly things, but on personalities! whiny celebrities, brutish opinions, the scariest depictions of news do we stay focused on God with all of this?!

Well we are here, aren't we. We are here this evening to worship. To spend time with God's word, to sing a few hymns, pray, give a donation to local groups who help people in need. To spend time together. That together time is such a blessing. We are exhorting, encouraging one another to be here this evening and to attend the other lenten services. To experience other worship styles, to hear music and speakers besides the ones we hear every Sunday. What a beautiful way to put aside the distractions and temptations of the rest of the world. What a beautiful way to 'Exhort' one another to stay focused on God.

The Hebrews text says we are to exhort one another. What exactly does that mean? To exhort means literally to walk alongside. The word used in the original Greek means to call to one's side. It is related to the word Paraklete, the word for the Holy Spirit. So to 'exhort” one another, in Christ, we can call upon the holy spirit for guidance. So we can say a prayer for help from the Spirit, to help us to walk alongside one another, to help us all stay turned toward God.

There is a difference between Godly 'exhorting” which is encouragement --walking alongside...and condemnation! Sometimes people get caught up in wanting to convey a message and they come on too strong, and come across in a condemning way, or a way that does not encourage, but lays blame.

We tend to want an explanation when bad stuff happens. And that explanation may come across in a way that unintentionally hurts. For example, one pastor who wrote a book on prayer said that one of his parishioners survived a disaster because she prayed so hard. That implies that the people who died in that disaster did not pray as hard, or their loved ones did not....we have to be careful that what we say bring encouragement, not hurt. Jesus never blamed victims for their troubles. But he did say we must repent...turn around. We must maintain our focus on God. Not just in Lent but always.

Author Eric Kolbell in What Jesus Meant, the Beatitudes and a Meaningful Life...I do not believe it is God's benevolence when we escape suffering any more than it is his malevolence when we don't. God does not spook a horse, inflict one man with AIDS and spare another, is no more responsible for famines in Saharan Africa than for overflowing wheat silos in central Kansas, and did not lead some people into and others out of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Life is arbitrary but God is not; God is not in the business of loading guns, breaking hearts, bankrupting families, dissolving once loving relationships, or destroying homes with a clap of thunder or a rush of rain. No, God does not engineer suffering and loss but rather calls us to redeem it.

We live in hard times. The news is terribly discouraging. Unrest so many places, divisiveness in governing bodies, the disaster of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, with incomprehensible destruction. I have to admit, I have been glued to the coverage. I imagine some of you are too. And I know we are praying too. Praying for the people affected, that they would know that God had not forsaken them! That even those who have lost everything, that God is with them, that there is hope!

You see that is the message of the Bible, that God is with us no matter what! And so we are never to give up hope!

You may wonder why should we worry about disasters overseas when we have problems here. The Bible says God created the heavens and the earth. The WHOLE earth. Not just Beloit, not just Wisconsin, not just the USA, not just North America...but the whole world. God also created Japan, and Afghanistan, Bahrain and Libya. And all people everywhere are God's Children, even if they do not know Christ. if we turn away from any of Gods creation or God’s children, even those who have not come to Christ, we are turning away from God. taking care of one another is one of the things that is stated over and over in the Bible, OT and NT. and of course we are the Body, and if one part of the body suffers, all suffer. So until all parts of the Body are cared for, no part of the Body will be well.

If we turn away from others, we turn away from God.

In Lent we turn away from some of the habits that may keep us from God. We take up another to help us keep turned towards God.

Bible, prayer, devotional time, church,....these things help us to stay in The Word, to keep God first.

Richard Foster in Life With God The Bible does not simply tell us of the presence of God; it shows us the active presence of God deeply and permanently embedded in all the smells, tastes, touches, sights, and sounds of human life. Over and over, this reality is played out in stories, poems, carefully preserved histories, records of cultural systems, details of prophetic revelations, speeches, letters, songs, and prayers. The Scripture weaves the involvement of God through the intimacies of birth and death, lovemaking and betrayal, weddings and funerals, labor and rest, warring and peacemaking, wealth and poverty, hunger and thirst, tears and laughter. Across thousands of years, with wave upon wave of names and faces and recurring events, the Bible threads God’s patient words of love and faithfulness: I am with you.

God with us give us hope. We recognize that Love and faithfulness when we turn toward God and we keep it close when we stay turned toward God. If we turn away, we lose hope. God created the heavens and the earth. And God created humans to be in relationship, God promises to be with us, always, even to the end of time.

The Love of God gives us hope. The Love of God WITH US was lived out in the life and ministry, teaching, preaching and healing of Jesus Christ. As Jesus journeyed to the Cross, and we journey along through this Lenten season, let us turn more completely to that divine Love. And let us never stray! The love of God was shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Turn toward the Love of God-- turn toward Christ. Turn toward Him and You will be guided to hope, love and trust.

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