For God so loved the world…

Readings:

  • John 3: 16-21
  • Ephesians 2: 4-10

For God so loved the world… that over two thousand years ago, Jesus came to this earth in human form to show us what this love truly means. Through his life, his teachings and his example, we find a new way, a better way. He gave what we may consider to be the ultimate sacrifice, his earthly body, in a painful and excruciating death, so that we might receive the gift of Oneness of our spiritual bodies with God, no longer separated but as Children of God. Through this, we might fully understand the meaning of eternal life, as spiritual beings living continually in the presence of God.  Not waiting for our earthly death for eternity to start, but recognising that we are already living eternity.

Jesus came and taught us humility, as he lived as a refugee in Egypt as a child, much like Syrian refugees live today in Jordan and Lebanon. Do we treat our refugees any better than we have treated Jesus?  How do we treat the refugees from Venezuela? The refugees from Haiti, from Africa? If we imagine that each of these refugees was Jesus, how are we doing?

‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25: 40)

In Matthew 18: 1 we find the disciples discussing “Who really is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens?” He calls a child, stands the child in the midst of the disciples and tells them:

“Unless you turn around and become as young children, you will by no means enter into the Kingdom of the heavens. Therefore, whoever will humble himself like this young child is the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of the heavens; and whoever receives one such young child on the basis of my name receives me also.”​—Matthew 18:3-5.

As we consider how we are treating the sojourners and refugees among us, then we known how great we are in the Kingdom! Before the last supper, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

Because God so loved us… Jesus showed us the importance of reading the Word, as a twelve year old when he read and discussed in the temple the scriptures. Luke 2: 47 says that “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” At twelve years old. He not only was willing to read the Bible allowed in the temple, but to answer questions and explain it. And yet, we seem to struggle each week for participants to read the scriptures aloud in church each Sunday.

Jesus showed us dedication and patience, as he worked as a carpenter, under his father’s tutelage. And yet we reject the authority of our parents, failing to honor our mother and father as we are called to do.  We push our way forward for honor and rewards, seeking the limelight, rather than being willing to work in the background.

Because God so loved you… Jesus showed us how to handle the temptations that arise in our day to day lives. Through his temptations of hunger (lust of the body), egoism (misuse of our power) and materialism (kingdoms and wealth) we see what is means to be a child of God, holding fast to that identity, and still standing strong in the knowledge of what that really means. In these temptations, we see the challenge to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God” – are you really a child of God? Prove it.

Through these temptations, we see how the ego wants to use our spiritual power and gifts to satisfy human cravings. This is attempting to turn stones into bread, the attempt to find gratification in using spiritual power to satisfy human, personal desires.And yet, Jesus shows us the better and higher way. Are you fully secure in your identity as a child of God? Can you, like Jesus, respond: “It is written”?  Our human nature wants to demonstrate prosperity and success or healing and “prove” that it works. We think some outer achievement will make us happy and successful. But Jesus teaches us a higher way: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

Most importantly, Jesus showed us what it really means to have a relationship with God, to have the indwelling of the Spirit. Jesus showed us, in his every day living and loving, what it means to truly be One with God the Father.

John 14: 4-7 promise us:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
…7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

We are reminded of this again in John 17: 21-23

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 …  so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

For God so loved the World that he sent us Jesus… who taught us what it means to be a child of God (as each one of us has already been called to be). Paul says in Colossians 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” The Message says “Everything of God gets expressed in him, so that you can see and hear God clearly”.”  Are you living out your life as a son or daughter of God?  Is every quality of God fully expressed in your life and living and loving?

Psalm 82: 6 says in a stunning way:

You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.

The same calling to greatness and Oneness with God that Jesus had, each of us has.  To be the Son of God is to be of the same nature as God. The Son of God is “of God.” We were created by God, in God’s image, to do God’s will on this earth.  And God so loved each one of us, as sons and daughters, that God sent us Jesus to show us the way home.

Jesus reminds us of this in John 10: 33-38:

33 The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— 36 can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. 38 … know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

Like the Prodigal son, we have lived our lives without authority, power, belonging and sharing at the table of the feast: but God loved us. And so today we are reminded of this rich mercy, of the great love with which we are loved. We are made alive in Christ, seated with him, shown the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us! If we are living in separation from God, then we are throwing away the gift of love that was given to us.

And because of this great love that we have been shown, we are all challenged today to love each other! The test of how well we have overcome that which separates us from God is how well we love our brothers and sisters:

John 13: 35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

justice, Shekinah, practicing presence, glory of the Lord, glory of God, light, shining

A river of justice

Readings:

  • Joshua 24: 1-3; 14-25
  • Amos 5: 18-24

5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

As you walk out of Church today, what will have changed? What difference will it have made to come to church this morning and worshiped God?  What does choosing God, rather other gods, mean today? How does worshiping God change our lives?

Noris read for us this morning Amos, chapter 5, verses 18 to 24. I want to re-read those to you now, from the version “The Message”:

18-20 Woe to all of you who want God’s Judgment Day!
    Why would you want to see God, want him to come?
When God comes, it will be bad news before it’s good news,
    the worst of times, not the best of times.
Here’s what it’s like: A man runs from a lion
    right into the jaws of a bear. …
At God’s coming we face hard reality, not fantasy—
    a black cloud with no silver lining.

21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want.
That’s. All. I. Want.

God’s anger in Amos was because the religious festivals were not followed up by just actions. God gave the means to reverse the people’s systems of injustice, to end inequity and oppression. But the river of people who were supposed to flow out of the temple (like when we all leave this Church this morning) to fulfill God’s promises walked out of the temple and did nothing.

You were given arms that can reach out to those who suffer: who are those arms wrapped around? Yourself? You were given feet to take the first steps towards those who feel alone, afraid, oppressed: where are your feet planted? In your comfortable life? You were given ears to hear the stories of justice denied: are you listening? You were given a mouth to speak Truth: but words are used to harm and tear down, rather than to build, and certainly not to speak Truth!**

Thursday, November 9th many Panamanians waited expectantly for a reveal of names and details regarding the Obredecht corruption cases. A nation waiting and hoping for justice to prevail and corruption to set a food on the proverbial banana skin and the other foot in the grave. It wasn’t enough.

This brings to mind, for me, Proverbs 24: 24

Whoever says to the guilty “You are innocent” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations.

All I read on Twitter & Facebook is frustrations and cursing of the lack of action and lack of justice. What more can and should be done? Panama needs to restart and rethink fighting corruption from a grassroots level. It needs to start in the home. Social justice and righteousness are needed from each person and member of society. And for us, it starts as we walk out of Church today. Worshiping God is not just about what we do for one hour on Sunday morning. Worshiping God is in each thought, each word & each deed.

1 John 4: 20 through 5:3  remind us:

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. …

How do we love our brother and sister? Well, let me warn you, it’s not sentimental. It’s not that “feeling” of love. It’s about your actions -and they speak much louder than any words. John warns us about this: “we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fat, this is love for God: to keep his commands.”

Let’s take a quick walk through the Bible and discover the ways we show love to our neighbours – children of God – all created, like you and me, in the image and likeness of God:

Leviticus 19: 9-18 

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. …
… The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. …
… You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. …
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor… ou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”

Proverbs 29: 7 

The righteous care about justice for the poor…

Isaiah 1: 17 

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58: 6-7 

… this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.  Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Jeremiah 22: 3 

… Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.

Matthew 6: 14-15 

For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 25: 35-36

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Romans 14: 13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Galatians 6:2 

Carry each other’s burdens…

1 Thessalonians 5: 11

… encourage one another and build each other up…

1 Peter 3: 8

be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

I want us to imagine, just for a moment, a world in which all Christians lived according to all these rules and fulfilled these commands. In Joshua 24 we read how the people of Israel chose to follow God and follow his commandments. What would this look like for Christians? Let’s take a moment, just to imagine this:

  • no sexual harassment
  • no hunger
  • everyone paid a fair wage
  • no slander
  • no hate, no vengeance, no grudges
  • justice for the poor
  • oppressed people who are defended vigorously, fatherless children who are protected, widows who have someone standing up for them
  • no one wrongly imprisoned
  • no human trafficking or slavery
  • the homeless living in proper shelters, the hungry given food
  • relatives receiving hep from their families
  • no wrong or violence against the immigrant
  • no innocent blood shed
  • forgiving others graciously when they make mistakes, even if they intentionally act wrongly
  • strangers invited in
  • sick cared for
  • those in prison visited and encouraged
  • no one passing judgement on you

This is justice rolling down like waters. This is an ever-flowing stream of righteousness! This is loving your neighbor and loving God.

As we go out today, let us remember this promise from Psalm 106: 3

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Always. It’s such a big word.

So, as we leave this Church this morning, may we be a small stream of water, a trickle in the giant ocean of injustice… going against the tide and shining our light in this world of darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

**https://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-2014/just-amos

 

Sermon: Prayer & Fasting

This morning we are looking at Isaiah once again, but now a chapter towards the end.  You may recall that as a whole book, I explained that it can be viewed as 2 parts, chapters 1 to 39, and then from chapter 40 to the end.

As a whole, Isaiah addresses the Babylonian exile of the Israelites over about 50 years (more than 1 generation), and how this exile fulfilled God’s plan of judgment, but more importantly:  restoration.  The Israelites are now busy rebuilding their homeland, and yet they still don’t quite get it (does that resound with any of you?).

It seems like they’ve fallen back into the pits that the Pharisees continued suffering with over 500 years later! The tragedy is that they believe they are doing all the right things and that it’s God who is letting them down!

Let’s read verses 2 and 3 again:
Yet they seek me daily,
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
‘Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?’

So, they are praying every day and reading their Bible “as if they were righteous and were obeying God’s rules” and they ask God for righteous judgments and delight to draw near to God.

But they’re confused.

They are even fasting, not just praying.

Fasting is good, right?

It shows how serious your prayers are!  And the Israelites are convinced that they will please God and bring favor. In fact, so much so, that they made this into an ancient practice and instructed it as a pious act – fast and humble yourself before God.

So, why is God rebuking them?  How could God possibly not be pleased?

Well, there may be one or 2 small issues that they need to review in their lives.  Small things like social injustice, failing to share what they have with those who have not, failing to bring the homeless into one’s house, or give clothing and shelter to the naked… maybe reconciliation issues pending with family or loved ones, and failing to help the afflicated.

God doesn’t have a little book in which there’s a checklist:

  • So… check – Reynaldo has fed the hungry one – so, he doesn’t need to do that again for 5 years.
  • Ah yes, Connie has given clothes to the poor – so she’s good now for 3 years.
  • Look, how sweet, Betsy has brought a homeless person into a restaurant and bought them a meal – she won’t need to do that every again in her entire lifetime.

It doesn’t work like that, does it?

These are more than one-time actions:  they are a way of life.  Behaviours with broad social consequences – actions that will restructure our relationship.

God couldn’t care less for singular, pious acts – he is looking at the Church to dismantle the entire structure of injustice!

And the Church doesn’t refer to this building.  The building isn’t called in Matthew to be the Salt of the Earth, and give flavor to everyone around it.

The Church is made up simply of the people that are in it!

Isaiah 58, verses 3 to 6 remind us:

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.
Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

There’s no point in going through the motions of a Christian life, if you are not becoming each day more like Christ.

Out of curiosity, have any of you EVER been accused of being too Christ-like?

Sometimes, being called a “Christian” can be more of an insult (referring to being sanctimonious rather than filled with the Spirit), but have you ever heard of someone saying about another Christian – “What I really can’t stand about him/her is that they are just too much like Christ?”

Traditions and systems are not all bad – but when they become rituals that are void of meaning, they lose their effectiveness.

Isaiah calls the people of Israel to a new way of life:  “the fast that God has chosen”.  It’s no longer a periodic fast day that is set aside to punctuate ongoing life – but it’s a new relationship with life and with all that it in it!

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Instead of stopping eating food for a day, or doing the fast of Daniel for 3 weeks, or giving up red meat for Lent, God calls the people of Israel to stop the daily practices which block their relationship with God and their fellowman:

  • Stop domination and taking advantage of others
  • Stop blaming others
  • Stop talking behind someone’s back
  • Stop complaining
  • Stop being so self-centered and focused on self-satisfaction
  • Stop your feeling of entitlement
  • Stop your blindness to your privilege

The fast that God is looking for in our lives is the one that calls for vigilance for justice and generosity- each and every day!

Verses 8 to 12 remind us that we work (actions) on our relationships with our fellow man, and THEN it follows that our relationship with God grows deeper.  The barriers that we build between ourselves and our fellow man and the very same barriers that block our relationship with God! It’s impossible to have a relationship with God without having a full relationship with each other!  Your piety or righteousness is not disconnected from everyday life.

The way that you treat the waiter, the security guard, the beggar is just as important as your prayers or reading the Bible.

58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
58:9a Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
58:10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
58:12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

We say to God “Lord, give me patience” and then are upset when he responds with, okay – this is the way that I teach patience.  “Here, have a 5 year old!”.

We say to God “Lord, give me abundance” and then you don’t understand when God asks you to be generous.

We say to God “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”, and then fail to mediate a discussion in the office, or ask for forgiveness when another feels offended.

Prayer is so much more than just making our requests known to God – it’s going out into the World and LIVING the lessons each day.