Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Burning Bushes and Quaking Feet" Exodus 3:1-15

The sermon for tomorrow is entitled, “Burning Bushes and Quaking Feet.” With a title like this one, it should be no great surprise that the focal passage where Moses encounters the voice of God in the burning bush. The story is found in the first fifteen verses of the third chapter of Exodus. The reality is that the closest most have us have come to a burning bush is the small plume of fire we see of gas or lighter fluid we see when we light the grill in the back yard. But, rather than to get caught up in the burning bush, I want to encourage you to look at the bigger story. The story is about a moment when Moses had a live encounter with God and heard God’s call for his life. I am not surprised to read that Moses’ response was quaking feet and a litany of excuses of why someone else might be better for the task. He was right. He was an unlikely candidate for one of the great roles of history. He will bumble and stumble along the way, but God will work in him and through him. What we learn is that God does not ask us to be qualified for the task, but rather to have a willingness to step forward and say “yes” when God calls.

As you move from Labor Day weekend back into the routine of your life, are you listening for God’s voice? Are you willing to step forward to the holy ground where God beckons you? When God speaks are you willing and available to say “yes?”

May we listen and respond. Tom

Friday, August 15, 2008

"A Blessing from God" Psalm 67

There is an old Irish Wedding Blessing I really like. It reads;
May God be with you and bless you.
May you see your children's children.

May you be poor in misfortunes and rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness from this day forward
.
[1]

We love the idea of receiving a blessing, but our culture struggles to understand exactly what it is seeking. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “blessing” as “A stroke of good luck: boon, find, windfall, manna, godsend, good fortune.”
[2] I believe that none of these words capture the essence what the Bible means when it uses this word, but I fear they do depict what has become the common place proclamation in many pulpits across our land. A quick scan through religious television offers a rather sad cadre of preachers proclaiming that we can name and claim God’s blessing if we will only donate to their ministry. Others tell us that health and wealth are the outward symbols of God’s blessing for those who are deemed worthy. I guess it means that if one struggles with health issues or does not live in the right kind of house are unworthy of God’s blessing. The problem with these perspectives is that while they are culturally comfortable, they violate the heart of Scripture.

Psalm 67 is one of the great blessing psalms. It was written for public worship and summons the people of God to hear and consider what it meant to live with the blessing of God. “Moreover, it was used antiphonally, first one group singing their verses, than a second group answering them,” just like we read in in our worship service.
[3] This Psalm paints a very different picture of what it means to receive God’s blessing. It is a picture born in relationship, bound in God’s glory, and that carries a profound sense of responsibility.

This Psalm drives home that the theme that with blessing comes responsibility…….the intention is for God to bless all the peoples of the world – God chooses to do that through a specific people, God’s people of faith – that means through people like us. Verse 7 sounds out May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. The Psalm claims language reminiscent of the covenant language between God and Abraham first heard in Genesis 12:1-3. The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." For the psalmist and for the heart of scripture there is an unquestioned link between being blessed by God and becoming a blessing for others. As people of the New Covenant through Christ we inherit this call.

I invite you to join the conversation on this passage in Sunday in worship at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City or by adding a comment to this blog spot.

May we be blessed by God to become a blessing for the world.

Grace and Peace, Tom


[1] Referenced online at http://islandireland.com/Pages/folk/sets/bless.html on August 12, 2008.
[2]Excerpted from American Heritage Talking Dictionary. Copyright © 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[3]Knight, G. A. F. 2001, c1982. Psalms : Volume 1 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The Daily study Bible series. Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Gospel Worth Claiming and Proclaiming, Romans 10:5-15

Greetings,

Some technical issues has kept this blog a little quieter than normal over these past two weeks. It looks like we have resolved the issues and I am back online. Below is the full text of yesterday's sermon. I normally try to summerize them, but because of the nature of this particular message I was asked to post it in its entirety. So, based on the request I offer it to you.

Grace and Peace, Tom

A Gospel Worth Proclaiming

I. Introduction
I found something new to me on the web this week. Did you know that there is a website called Good News Broadcasting.Com? Instead of offering the dark and depressing news that seems to frequently dominate the nightly news, it brings good news, uplifting stories, encouraging reports to let us know that some good things are going on in our world. They offer stories that you actually want to read. This concept is not completely new. Paul wanted the church in Roman to understand that they had good news worth sharing. It was the news that would shape their lives and could change the world.

But as soon as you hear that our lectionary passage for the morning is in Romans, you should anticipate Paul carrying us into the central truths of our faith. Romans is unlike any other book in scripture. Paul understood that this church was in the capital of the world of that time period and that the culture around them was hostile to all they believed. He wanted to visit them and encourage them, but knew that his letter would have to hold them for a season. So, as he took pen to paper he provided them, and us, a comprehensive perspective on what it means to be a follower of Christ. In the heart of Romans we find a passage that powerfully and succinctly describes a gospel worth claiming and proclaiming. There are many times we are invited to look at the complexity of scripture, but this morning our focal passage invites us to focus more on the simplicity on the good news. Look with me at Romans, Chapter 10, verses 5 through 15.

II. The Sacrifice of Christ Vs. 5-8
Our passage begins with Paul reminding them of passages from Leviticus that defined a right life by the law and then contrasts it with righteousness through faith. Hear verses 5 through 7.
5 Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

Paul was not setting the words of Moses up as a straw argument, as a former Pharisee he had a great appreciation for the law, but he wanted the church to understand that with Christ everything changes. He wanted them to understand that the law placed their efforts at the center of the story, but faith places Christ at the center.

I remember the first time I flew into Denver. I do not think I was prepared for the dramatic rise of the Rocky Mountains. It seemed that one moved from the plains to the mountain top in just a moment. Paul’s image was even more vivid and much more dramatic – one does not have to rise to heaven or descend to the depths of hell to find their way to a right life with God.

John Chrysostom was one of the great early church fathers and pastor at the great missionary church in Antioch about 380 A.D. was. His take on this passage is timeless. He says; “For there is no need to say, he means, that one must go up to heaven, or cross a great sea, and then receive the commandments, but things so great and grand has God made easy access to us……The is no long journey to go, no seas to sail over, no mountains to pass, to be saved.” [1] I can almost hear Diana Ross singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the background. But this captures the sentiment of this passage….that our quest to discover a relationship with God does not require an epoch journey or Herculean effort. But rather, hear that God is not far off, but rather is up close and ready to respond. In verse 8 we hear Paul; But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart" that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Hear the good news that God is near and salvation awaits you!

III. The Gospel Plain and Clear Vs. 9-12
Now Paul turns to make sure that the hearer of his letter gets it! He does not want them to be concerned or confused. In verses 9 through 12 he lays out the gospel plain and clear. He writes,
9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

I love how this passage reads in the interpretative translation, The Message. It reads; 9 Say the welcoming word to God — "Jesus is my Master" — embracing, body and soul, God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That's it. You're not "doing" anything; you're simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That's salvation. 10 With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!" 11 Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this — heart and soul — will ever regret it."

In 1515 Martin Luther began teaching a class at the Wittenberg University where he moved systematically through Romans.[2] It is this study that led to radical change in his personal beliefs and acted as a spring board for his voice in the Reformation. In his notes from that study we hear a strong view of what Paul is saying in these verses. He offers; “He means to say: We attain righteousness through no works, no wisdom, no effort, no wealth, no honor. Many want themselves to be regarded as righteous because they know much, read much, teach much, or because they attain high honors or do great service for the Church. But all this belongs to civil righteousness, which (for salvation) is rejected by God. We obtain true righteousness by believing sincerely the promises of God.”[3]

Can it be this simple? Is it really just a matter of trusting God and claiming a relationship with God through faith? For some reason we want to make it tougher than this. Do you remember the story of Naaman’s encounter with the prophet Elijah in 2 Kings. The army commander Naaman came to the prophet to ask for healing and the prophet tells him to simply dip himself in the Jordan seven times. The story tells us 11 But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage. He could not imagine that doing something so simple could offer him healing. Have there been times in your life where you felt like you had to earn God’s love – that you need to do something to be worthy of God? The reality is that the story is Christ plus NOTHING. There is NOTHING we can do on our own. It is a grace gift of God claimed only through faith.

IV. A Choice to Make Vs. 13
So we come to a moment of choice. Verse 13 pronounces For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Did you hear how open the invitation is? It is for everyone…regardless of you history, your race, your language….everyone! I want to make sure that you hear this gospel plain and simple….it is the faith choice clearly expressed. I want to be specific this morning – if you have never claimed a relationship with God through faith in Christ I want to invite you to make this day your day. You can not inherit a faith from your parents or grandparents – you can not earn a relationship with God no matter what you do – the call is to claim Christ as your own. It is as simple as calling on the name of the Lord, claiming Christ as your Savior. Jesus was born of a virgin, taught us the way of God, was crucified for our sins, and rose again on the third day that we might have life and life eternal. This is the story. This is my story of faith. Hear again; That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved!....With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: "God has set everything right between him and me!" 11 Scripture reassures us, "No one who trusts God like this — heart and soul — will ever regret it."

If you still have questions or want to know more about how to do this, you can come forward during our time of commitment or speak to any minister or member of this church family after worship. We want you to claim this good news for your life – we want you to know what it is to belong to God and to know the redemption, the salvation God offers. It is what makes us who we are as followers of Christ.

V. A Word to Share Vs.14-15
But Paul’s words are not just for those who claim a new relationship with God. There is also a call to all who live lives of faith with Christ. In verses 14 and 15 we hear; 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" We have often heard these words quoted at the ordination of ministers and the commissioning of career missionaries. But, these words are not just intended for the ones like these. Those who claim the name of Christ have been given the opportunities to be carriers of the good news. The Message paints a vivid picture in its take on verse 15. It reads; “A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!”

Can you imagine being a part of that grand procession pointing people toward God? The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently published a report stating more than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood in favor of another religion – or no religion at all.[4] Another significant body of our community has never found a faith of any kind. The reality is that fewer than 26% of the American population worship anywhere on any given Sunday.[5] The need and the opportunity for us to choose to point people toward God have never been greater in our nation. The gospel story we bring offers redemption, life, and life eternal. It is a gospel worth proclaiming!

Our invitation is not to manipulation or religious coercion, but to become authentic carriers of good news. Our task is not to become masters at sharing the Roman Road or purveyors of the 4 Spiritual Laws, but to act as people of faith sharing the good news that we have found joy in a real relationship with God. If God’s people choose to share their faith with joy then the procession of people coming to God could be a sight to take your breath away!


[1] Chrysostom, John, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 11: Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Espistles to the Romans, ed. Philip Schaff (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Mass, Fourth Printing2004), p.474.
[2] Available online at http://www.luther.de/en/moench.htmlhttp:/www.luther.de/en/moench.html%20on%20August%206, 2008.
[3] Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1954, Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, MI, 1976), p. 148.
[4] Available online at http://www.pickensprogressonline.com/articleinfo.asp?Link=219 on August 7, 2008.
[5] Justin Taylor, “How Many Americans Attend Church Each Week?” available online at http://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-many-americans-attend-church-each.html.