Born Again

Sunday March 17 the 2nd Sunday of Lent

Scriptures:Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

John 3:1-7 Nicodemus Visits Jesus

3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You] must be born from above.’

 

“Born Again”

Lets us take a few moments and ponder this man Nicodemus.  As a leader among the Jews, Nicodemus was supposed to have a bead on his faith and his position in the world.  He was a Pharisee, which meant he was supposed to be an expert on the Law.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin court, the highest body among the Jewish religion whose seventy-one members included great scribes, legal experts, and religious figures; including the High Priest himself, who served as president.  Most of its members were Sadducees, making Nicodemus even more special as one of the few Pharisees chosen to serve.  He would have also been very busy with all of his duties and responsibilities.  All of this might also have led to him being at least a little on the prideful side.

We are not told what made this great and learned man was compelled to trust in Jesus enough to seek out His counsel.  This would have been very unusual behavior for anyone in his position.  However, something was bothering Him that only Jesus could help with.  Whatever it was, it led Nicodemus to risk embarrassment by going and talking to this man who was nor prominent among either sect of Judaism nor very popular with the establishment by this point.  So what led him to go?

We notice that he went under the cover of darkness.  Perhaps this was because he was a prominent man and did not want to be seen consorting with those lower than him.  Perhaps he was a busy man by day and had to do such business at night.  Perhaps his pride would not let him be seen asking advice from such a man as this.  We are not told why he chose the time; but perhaps he, like many of us when troubled with a deep issue, could not face another sleepless night without answers.

What we do know is what was troubling him.  He seemed to need to know how to attain the salvation which Jesus spoke so highly of.  He must have realized he was not right with God and needed something deeper.  In our vernacular, Nicodemus was “under conviction” because he realized he was “lost”.  If this is truly the case, he needed to know how to enter into right relationship with God. 

Jesus of course had the answer, Nicodemus had to be “born from above” and “born of water and Spirit”, what we call being “born again” and baptized.  The great blessing for Nicodemus was that he lived as a contemporary of Jesus and seemingly knew where he was in the city. Many of us know from experience that all are, like Nicodemus, in need of the salvation offered by and thru Jesus the Christ.  Though we cannot simply go across town and meet with Jesus at the local coffee shop or His local apartment.  We must contact Jesus in another way.   Though we might see this as a weakness; it perhaps is far better than the way Nicodemus had to do it.

When we find/found ourselves lost and under conviction, we do/did not have to go find one man in a specific place to get that which we need(ed).  In fact, we do/did not even have to go to church; though many do.  All we had/have to do is hit our knees and make an altar where we are at; whether that altar is our bedside, car dash, tree stump, etc.  It is not the location which makes the experience happen; it is our humility and God’s loving grace.   We are born again when we answer the call of Jesus in the positive way when He passes by and says to us, “come follow me.” 

Nicodemus was seeking an answer to a question he had never heard asked.  He wanted to know what someone had to do to see the Kingdom of God.  Jesus told him what he really was asking was how to inherit the Kingdom.  In other words, Jesus knew what Nicodemus really wanted to know but was unsure of how to ask was, “How does one become a true child of God, adopted into the family of God, and co-heir with the Son of God?” 

Jesus’ answer took Nicodemus aback a little.  His learned and legalistic mind could not understand the answer at first, but would some understand and become one of Jesus’ greatest disciples.  It was he who would later go with Joseph of Arimethea and request the body of Jesus so He could have a proper burial before the Sabbath.  

Nicodemus went out in the dark that night to figure out who this Jesus was.  He returned that night not only knowing Jesus, but knowing his true self.  No more was his life defined by his education, his position, or his pride.  It was no longer defined by WHO he was.  It was now defined by WHOSE he was; for he knew what it meant to be “born again.”

Pastor Mark

Tough Love

Sunday February 24

Scriptures: Genesis 45:3-15

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Luke 6:27-36 Love for Enemies

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Tough Love”

Let’s be honest.  It is hard to love people we don’t like and even harder to love those who just do not like us.  Call them enemies or whatever; they are the people who often get on our nerves because of their attitudes, personalities, or behaviors.  We do not like to be around them, talk about them, or even associate with them in any way.  Many of these people are the ones who go out of their way to hurt us, belittle us, an even bully us.  Whether this abuse is verbal, emotional, or even physical, we all have good reason to not like them and even avoid them at all costs. However, Jesus tells us we must love them.  That’s right; LOVE THEM. 

Perhaps one of the hardest things we need to do as Christians and have to do to really call ourselves Christians is to love those who dislike and even hate us.  It is often not only really hard and may even seem impossible to love those who are our enemies.  It would be so much easier to hate them back.  No, we may not have it in us to do them harm; we simply just want to avoid them and wish them ill fortune.  Unfortunately for our human sensibilities, this is not how we are supposed to live our lives as Christians.  Just the opposite; we are supposed to go out of our way to treat our enemies just as we would our friends.  If they are in trouble, we help them; if they are hungry, we feed them; whatever their needs, we are to treat them with respect and kindness.

In the ancient Mid-eastern culture, and even some parts of that world today, it was customary to Play the good host to all who found themselves at your tent door; even your enemies.  In fact, you were expected to host them for three days without question.  Turning away a friend, stranger, or even an enemy in such a harsh climate could spell death for them, especially if they were already tired, hungry, and thirsty.  This went far beyond rendering basic aid; this meant feeding and sharing space with even those who may have been looking to do you harm.  This is the type of action we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  And Jesus was/is telling us that we should do the same for our enemies. This is not to say you have to invite them over for a weekend long sleep-over, but you do have to treat them as you would anyone else in need.

Oh, it’s not easy.  It may not even be safe in some instances.  However, it is what we are expected to do if we are to live a Christian life and follow the example of our LORD and Savior.  Remember, Jesus asked God the Father to forgive the very people who were killing Him.  That would be hard and might even be beyond our concept of loving our enemies.  How can you love someone who is responsible for your death and the death of others?  History is full of the un-lovable; tyrant, killer, monsters. 

Ok, so maybe we can love the guy at work who used office politics to get the job we felt we had earned honestly.  Maybe you can love the lady who cut you off in traffics just so she could turn at the next intersection.  You might even be able to love person who took your favorite parking spot.  But how do you love someone who both you and the entire culture deems monstrous; men like Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.  Sure their mothers probably loved them, at least at one point, but how are we supposed to put aside our disgust and love someone like that.  You do it by remembering two simple truths.  First, God does not make trash and all people have sacred worth.  Second, you have to remember that God loves them just as God loves you; for better or worse.  No. it is not easy, but it is what we are called to do when we become a child of God and a co-heir to the Kingdom. 

P.S. You also have to pray about it, because it is often something you cannot do alone and always requires a change in yourself that can only be brought about by the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit.   

Pastor Mark

Our Resurrection

Sunday February 17

Scriptures: Jeremiah 17:5-10

Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
    and make mere flesh their strength,
    whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit.

The heart is devious above all else;
    it is perverse—
    who can understand it?
10 I the Lord test the mind
    and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
    according to the fruit of their doings.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

 “Our Resurrection”

Paul’s formal training in the art of rhetoric really shines in this passage.  His ability to use well constructed words and phrases to persuade others served him well here and in many other cases during his career as an Apostle.  Many scholars believe he was not as charismatic or visually appealing as his Greek counterpart Apollos, but what he lacked in those areas he made up for with mastery of verbal persuasion.  We see this when he “almost” convinces Agrippa to convert to Christianity and we see a brilliant example of his skill in the argument he made here in this passage.

And what a brilliant argument it was and still is.  Using his earlier argument for the Resurrection of Jesus as a platform, Paul is now lifting up our resurrection in the future.  His argument arose from an issue involving the denial of Jesus’ Resurrection by some in the Corinthian church and beyond.  His argument stems from the fact that if it were not Jesus’ Resurrection that we would have no hope of our resurrection; which in turn negates the story and power of the Gospel.  In other words, if you do not believe in Resurrection of Jesus, then you cannot believe in ours and all hope is lost. 

Evidently this is what was happening with some in Corinth.  They were denying the Resurrected Jesus, which means they were denying the resurrection of all.  Of course, we know that our resurrection will not have the same effect as Jesus’ or even those raised during His or the Apostles days.  We will not rise from the death bed or the tomb and wander again with those yet to die.  However, we will rise in new bodies in the next life.  This was hard for some to grasp.  Evidently, they were under the impression that those who died in Christ would again walk with them on this earth as did Lazarus and Dorcas.  However, Paul sets the record straight that this was not the true resurrection.  The true resurrection for us will be permanent and everlasting.  Lazarus, along with the many others who were raised before, during, and after the earthly ministry of Jesus, went on to pass again from this life.  We will also pass into the next, but then be resurrected in a new body. 

What a wonderful gift.  We will not only receive everlasting life though an act of resurrection, we will live that life in a new body.  It matters little whether that body is just a better non-flawed version of our current body, or if it is something different.  We cannot be truly sure what is meant by a “glorified body.”  We know Jesus still had the wounds and scars of the Crucifixion when He appeared to the Disciples before the Ascension.  What matters is that this future body will be whole and in the presence of the Creator.  Christ’s Resurrection provided a path for our resurrection.  Our resurrection is our current hope and future reward; grounded in our faith and supplied by the grace of God. 

Pastor Mark

Emancipation

Sunday February 3

Scriptures:Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

“Emancipation”

When we hear the word “emancipation”most of us think about the“Emancipation Proclamation” signed by President Abraham Lincoln in January 1, 1863 which provided legal freedom from slavery to African Americans in the United States.  However, emancipation is a word with several meanings.  It can refer to the process of giving people social or political freedom and rights; as in the case above.  It can refer to the act of allowing a minor to take on adult responsibilities and freedoms, usually due to a unique set of circumstances.  It can also refer to the act of freeing a person from another person’s control; the definition which applies to us this week. 

Though we are born innocent of sins of our own, each of us was born in a fallen state due to the curse of original sin.  We were born in a yet to be redeemed broken world.  We also have been a slave to sin and as a citizen of the world, ruled either directly or indirectly by Satan.  This also makes us a slave to death, which is the wages of sin.  This is a terrible state in which to be found and live.

It is for this reason Jesus was born.  He came to teach and show the world a better way.  He died to pay for the sins of those who would walk in that way.  His death and subsequent Resurrection was and still is our “Emancipation Proclamation” releasing us from the rule of Satan and sin.  Though we can still sin, for those saved by the grace of God, it is no longer our natural state.  The mark of Original Sin has been erased, as has our pre-salvation self-applied sin mark. We have been made free by the grace of God and the blood of Christ. 

However, for many of us, it is hard to live into that freedom.  In our Communion liturgy, we thank God that we have been freed for “Joyful Obedience” which may seem too many of us as an oxymoron.  How can we be both free and fully obedient?  We are at the same time free children of God and servants to the Gospel.  This is only possible because of the power of Jesus’ love and His great sacrifice.  Jesus tells us that His yoke and His burden for us are light.

Anyone who has ever bore the burden of guilt, shame, and various other issues related to sin, know how heavy they can be.  Being a slave to sin breaks us down and destroys our self-esteem and our relationships.  It makes us less than we are.

This is where the real difference between slave and servant come into focus.  Slaves to sin are owned and are therefore not paid for their labors; their only reward is death.  Whereas, servants of the Gospel are given compensation for their labors and rewarded in many ways, both in this life and the next. 

The gift of emancipation is a wonderful gift given freely to us, paid for by the blood of Christ. It is nothing we can earn, purchase, or barter for.  It can only come from one greater than us; one who has the power to defeat the old forces of sin and evil.  Original Sin could only have been defeated by one older that itself.  This means only the LORD could provide an adequate solution to the problem of sin and death.  In doing so, He provided us with emancipation from that which seeks to destroy us, evil, sin, and our own human frailty.

Pastor Mark

One Body Many Members

Sunday January 27

Scriptures: Nehemiah 8:9-10

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

 

1 Corinthians 12:12-26 One Body with Many Members

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

“One Body Many Members”

We quite often refer to the church as the Body of Christ, but do we really know what that means.  Do we really take that metaphor to heart?  Notice, I said metaphor not simile.  This is an important distinction that needs to be made.  A simile is used when we say something is like something else.  A metaphor is used when we say something is something else.  Paul does not say that we the Church are “like the Body of Christ”; he says we “are the Body of Christ.”  Therefore, Paul is not just making a causal comparison, he is drawing a strong link between the way the human body works and the way the Body of Christ works.

 In doing this, Paul lets us know that each of us is important to the function of the whole body.  This also reminds us that when one part is hurting, we all should feel it.  A wonderful illustration of this is seen when someone visits a chiropractor.  If you hurt your foot and are limping for a long period of time, this will cause your weight to shift, which in turn affects your back.  I have often found, when I visit the chiropractor, that my back is sore because some other part lower down is not in the right place.

The same thing is often the case in the Church.  When one person in the congregation is hurting, for whatever reason, it often causes a ripple effect across the pews to others.  In fact, if this is not the case, that particular congregation is not healthy.  We should feel the pain of others.  Just as the body reacts when a certain part is hurt, we should react when one of our members is in pain.

Of course, we all know people who are private and keep their pain hidden.  However, this too is an issue.  As a part of the Body of Christ, we should all be willing to share our pain.  This does not mean we have to give every minute detail, but we should be willing to at least let others know we are hurting.  Often we do not do this out of shame, guilt, or mistrust.  We often let our pride get in the way.  These are issue we must learn to overcome, both as individuals and as a community of faith. 

If we are to function properly as the Body of Christ, we must also be willing to step up when the need arrives.  Often we find ourselves missing a part of the Body.  This may be our nature. Like someone being born blind or deaf.  It may be because of an injury, such as loss of a limb due to combat, or it may be due to an internal disease within the church, similar to the surgical removal of an organ damaged by cancer.  These things happen in the Body of Christ just as they do in the human body.  This often means another part of the body must become more efficient.  We see this when a blind person’s hearing becomes more acute.  In the Church, this often manifests as someone taking on a new role.

The bottom line of all of this is that we are supposed to function together as one unit; one body with many members, just as our own body functions.  This means there are those who are meant to be seen and/or heard; and there are those who must work on the inside.  This can cause a lot of health issues if we let pride, greed, or envy get in the way.  We often do not get to choose our gift received from God and therefore our place in the Body.  Just as with our own body, the Body of Christ works best when each part does that which it is called to do.  None of us can run as well while walking on our hands or write as well when using our feet.  We must be obedient to our place for the Body to do its best work.

Pastor Mark

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