Sunday, November 24, 2019

Lord of All / Based on Luke 23:33-43 / Delivered on November 24, 2019 to CCH



Lord of All / Based on Luke 23:33-43 / Delivered on November 24, 2019 to CCH
Hymns: Fairest Lord Jesus, All Glory Laud and Honor, In Christ Alone

Luke 23:33-43
23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
23:34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"
23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
23:37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"
23:38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."
23:42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."


Good morning and Happy Sunday to you!  I am Darci Strutt McQuiston, one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my joy to be with you on this day.  Today is set apart as Christ the King Sunday.  I’m going to be blending the recommended scripture selected to honor this Sunday, so you’ll hear from both the Old and New Testaments this morning.  It is the final Sunday of the Christian year.  Next week we begin a new cycle as we prepare to welcome Christ as Mary’s little boy during Advent.

The passage from Luke seems out of place on this Sunday before the beginning of Advent.  Yet, it has three different social orders calling Jesus King or Messiah; the religious leaders, the soldiers, and his cross companions.  That helped me decide what three ideas to pull out this morning.

The three ideas are that Christ is:
Lord of religion
Lord of government
Lord of all

Lord of religion
23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"

One of the speakers I listened to as I researched this scripture pointed out that at the beginning of Jesus ministry, he was tempted by the devil to take action to prove he was the Son of God.  Here he is at the close of his ministry once again being tempted to prove who he was by a miraculous sign.

The religious leaders were more concerned about protecting the Jewish people from the anger of the Romans than they were about recognizing the Messiah.  Their faith had them waiting for his coming yet couldn’t see he had arrived.

The Old Testament reading for today was from the book of Jeremiah.  Within that passage there are these verses which given our eyes of the future seems to point to Christ.

23:5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The religious leaders had lost their view of God’s promises and instead focused their religious leadership on keeping the peace themselves.  They trusted in their own power instead of God’s.

Lord of government
23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
23:37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"
23:38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

The inscription was provided by Pilot, the Roman leader that had the legal ability to execute enemies of the State.  After meeting Jesus he was afraid Jesus was who he claimed to be.

John 19:19-22
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.
Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

In the Old Testament the kings were considered the shepherds of God.  God, speaking through Jeremiah, outlined the consequences of forgetting who the true leader was.

Jeremiah
23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.
23:2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD.
23:3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.
23:4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.

Jeremiah was speaking to the kings of Israel who forgot who was truly in charge.  The Roman leaders thought they were in control, but their rule was temporary.

Lord of all
23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."

All throughout this moment captured in Luke we see there were some that recognized Christ as King.  Jesus had power to forgive sin.  He did it in the beginning of his time on the cross.

23:34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.

He also offered his saving power to the thief.

23:42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

The conversation with the criminals provides the final temptation.  It also provides evidence of the power of faith and forgiveness.  The first thief did name Jesus as Messiah but was looking for saving here and now.  The second thief held the longer-term view.

Christ the King Sunday is a somewhat new addition to our Christian year.  It was added in 1925 because of the rise in nationalism after World War I.  We’re just 5 years away from it’s 100th year and it feels just as important today.

Pope Pius XI was hoping for these effects to occur when he established the Feast of Christ the King:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state.
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ.
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.
(http://www.churchyear.net/ctksunday.html)

Religious policy makers still get caught up in current issues of society and protecting themselves from being judged by others by acting in ways that meet public approval.  Jesus taught forgiveness instead of judgement.  I pray for my own church denomination and believe we have a way to go to follow Jesus more closely.  In the back of my mind there is a quote – “I like Jesus.  It’s his followers I can’t stand.”  I can’t find a reference, but it provides clear caution.  The focus of the church was to make disciples and teach them all Jesus taught.  We must center ourselves on that commandment.  Jesus is the leader we must follow not society.

Political leaders still forget that they are there to be good shepherds.  They are only servants who are entrusted with caring for others for a time.  I am grateful to live in this country.  The Bible tells us to pray for our leaders, but we and they need to remember they are hired hands.  We are God’s people.  The citizens of other countries are God’s people too.  They just have a different shepherd.   Ultimately Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.  He is our lead shepherd

Lord of all means Lord of ALL, sinner and saint alike.  It’s hard to fully embrace.  This is the part that you and I can struggle with and grow to understand more clearly as we work toward being the loving people God calls us to be.  There’s probably more than one thief in heaven, but we know from this scripture that there is at least one that admitted his behavior was worthy of being executed.  Jesus looked at him with love and forgiveness.  Can we learn to do the same?

Paul’s letter to the Colossians was also assigned this Sunday.  It contained beautiful words of praise to Christ.
 
Colossians 1:15-20
1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him.
1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
1:20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

As odd as it seems to be reading a passage from Jesus crucifixion on this Sunday before Advent, it is perfect for recognizing Christ as King.  He passed the test of temptation in the beginning of his ministry and he passed it again in the end.  Dying on the cross proved he was King.  Instead of saving himself he saved us; ALL of us.

We pause this day to remember Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.  I pray it is so for us all.

Amen



Sunday, October 27, 2019

Comparisons / Based on Luke 18:9-14 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 / Delivered on October 27, 2019 to CCH


Comparisons / Based on Luke 18:9-14 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 / Delivered on October 27, 2019 to CCH
Hymns: They’ll Know We Are Christians, Just As I Am, Because He lives

Luke 18:9-14
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
18:10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

Good morning and Happy Sunday to you!  I am Darci Strutt McQuiston, one of the Lay Servants of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It’s my joy to be with you this morning.

I’m building off two of the lectionary scriptures assigned for this Sunday; Luke and 2 Timothy.  I’ve already read the full Luke passage and will add in Timothy within my message. 

Here are the three ideas I’m pulling from the scripture today.
Don’t compare with others
Run your own race
Depend on grace


Don’t compare with others
The Pharisee sounds like a good solid member of the spiritual community.
18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.
His prayer is thanksgiving to God, so where did he go wrong?

The scripture itself gives away that answer.
18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

He failed to see that all humans fall short and require God’s grace.  He compared himself to others as if being better than some would give him a leg up on God’s accepting him.
18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

Those thieves, rogues, adulterers, and the tax collector praying beside him are all God’s children just like he was.  Everyone of them were on their own journey of developing faith.  The people Jesus told the story to no doubt employed this type of comparison.  “I may not be perfect but I’m far closer than these other nasty folks.”

The tax collector chose to compare himself with what God required and recognized he fell short.
18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

I’m going to talk a little more about that final verse toward the end of the message.

Run your own race
The faith journey is a personal journey run in community.  If you’re going to do any comparison to another human do it with your past self.  I led the service at the United Methodist Church last Sunday.  Part of my meditation on the scripture caused me to think about Darci of 30 years ago.  It made me realize how far I’ve come in my faith journey from those days when I questioned whether God was good enough at loving sinners that he could love me too.  Those were dark days.  Today God’s love is surrounding me!  I realize it was surrounding me then too!

My son, Paul, was a runner on the cross-country team in High School in Hudson, and at UW-Oshkosh.  The runners were partially focused on winning the race for their team, but the coach made them also focus on raising their PR – their Personal Record.  Were they improving themselves?  That became an important indicator on their running journey.  You can always run against slower people, but are you doing your best to get faster independent of who you are running against.

The Apostle Paul used the running imagery in his letter to Timothy.
4:6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.
4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
4:8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

The image of being poured out as a libation was that of a drink offering sacrifice.  The Apostle Paul had given his life to God.  He didn’t indicate he was better than anyone else, just that he finished the race.

I think of marathon runners.  Yes, there is a winner, but just completing those 26.2 miles is enough to feel victorious.  Everyone of those that complete the race get a metal.  Winning isn’t as much of the goal in such long races as just finishing the race is.

The journey of a faithful life is a marathon not a sprint.

Depend on grace
No matter how much you improve your service to God during your life you still need to depend on God’s mercy and grace.  This parable was told to enlighten those, “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” 

Don’t make the Pharisee a bad guy and the tax-collector a good guy.  That’s doing comparisons of your own.  The Pharisees were often at odds with Jesus for the wrong reasons.  They wanted their power to continue, but they also were attempting to protect the Jewish people from getting punished by the Romans.  The tax-collector on the other hand was often a thief and was certainly a traitor to his Jewish people because of his work exploiting them for personal gain and the gain of the Roman Empire.  This is not a parable praising tax-collectors.  It was explaining the Pharisee and the tax-collector were equals in needing God’s grace because every human on earth relies on God’s grace.

Romans 3: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

There’s that word “justified” again.  The final verse of our Luke scripture says the Tax-collector was justified but the Pharisee was not. 

I looked up the word “Justify”, and one entry listed two definitions.  The first was legal, “to show a sufficient lawful reason for an act done”, and the second had to do with typed text, “to space (lines of text) so that the lines come out even at the margin.”

It’s easy to justify our typing on the left side of the page.  That’s where all typing starts.  It’s much harder to keep the text lined up on the right side of the page.  I could maybe do it if I was working with a paragraph of short text.  I couldn’t imagine aligning something as large as a book by hand.

Our life, once lived, becomes our biography.  It is a very long book.  The prayer of the tax-collector was one of humility.  Realizing he couldn’t meet God’s law, he asked for mercy.  I can visualize his biography slowly adding in the spaces needed to bring the text justified to the right side of the page through God’s handiwork of grace.

So why run the race at all if we can’t ever measure up?  That thought leads me to another favorite verse.

1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved 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.

I am not speaking to you today because I’m trying to earn God’s love by my good behavior.  I am here because I feel God’s love surrounding me and helping me survive even my darkest days.  I know God loves each of you in this same way.  I feel compelled to let you know about that love, because that is what loving God and loving you, my brothers and sisters, looks like to me.

We love because he first loved us.  That’s the thought that led me to choose “They’ll Know we are Christians by Our Love” as our first hymn today.  We are equally loved and are called to love each other.  We are not called to judge each other or compare ourselves as better or worse.  If you are looking down with contempt on another person you need to remember that person is a child of God just like you.  Stay humble before God.

Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

We each have our own relationship to work out with God.  We each have our own faith journey to run.  At the end of that journey we pray we will hear the phrase “well done good and faithful servant”, but the truth of it is we are covered by amazing grace.  We live into eternity because Jesus lived and died for us.  Because He lives, we can face tomorrow.

A funny definition of saint is – a dead sinner who’s been revised and edited.  God is our final editor and through the grace and mercy Jesus demonstrated we can pray the prayer “God be merciful” and trust in His love to justify the text in our book of biography.

I wish us each the strength to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Amen



Sunday, October 20, 2019

Teacher and Student / Based on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 / Delivered on October 20, 2019 to UMC Hudson


Teacher and Student / Based on 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 / Delivered on October 20, 2019 to UMC Hudson

Hymns: Lord Speak to Me That I May Speak, Thy Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet, We Are Called

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
14 Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. 15 Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. 16 Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. 17 The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.
4 When Christ Jesus comes as king, he will be the judge of everyone, whether they are living or dead. So with God and Christ as witnesses, I command you 2 to preach God’s message. Do it willingly, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins. But also cheer them up, and when you instruct them, always be patient. 3 The time is coming when people won’t listen to good teaching. Instead, they will look for teachers who will please them by telling them only what they are itching to hear. 4 They will turn from the truth and eagerly listen to senseless stories. 5 But you must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well.

Children’s Message:
Have you ever played Hide-and-Seek?  Can you tell me what some of the instructions are for how to play the game? Closing your eyes without peaking, counting to a certain number, calling out something like “ready or not here I come” are examples.  When we’re playing games which do you think is more important – winning, or having fun together?  I would hope having fun together is the most important!  Cheating by peaking or not counting the full amount might let you win but it would make the game a lot less fun for everyone.  Some games are easy, and some are harder.  I know how to play chess; sort of.  I know how each of the pieces move and I know the goal is to trap the king piece so it can’t move without being taken.  But I’m a very bad chess player because there are more little things that take place beyond those simple instructions.  If I wanted to get better, I’d need to have someone that was a good chess player teach me some of these details and practice with me until I got better.  Here’s a Bible.  One song I like says the letters of the word Bible stand for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”.  The main message I think is that God loves us, and we are instructed to love God back and love everyone else too, because God first loved us.  It is more complicated than that once you start living your life and it is important to have someone that has studied the Bible help you understand.  That can be a person like Reverend Dawn or Deacon Susan, or a Sunday School teacher, or maybe an older family member that has studied the Bible.  Reading it yourself is important too, and you can help each other understand better by talking about it together.  Living together happily is easier when we learn these special instructions.

Main Message:
The passage from 2 Timothy is my main scripture but I’m pulling in a few more.  I’m also pulling in some Methodist specific tradition; the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. 

The passage in 2 Timothy is meant to encourage Timothy as a teacher.  It starts with pointing out the subject Timothy is to teach then moves into how to be a good teacher and finally gives an example of poor students.  I’m going to touch on each of those topics and throw in a tutorial on Bible study in the end.

Timothy’s focus for teaching is scripture and what he has learned from other leaders in the faith. 
3:14 Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. 15 Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved.

His teaching is based on a mix of scripture, lessons from mentors, and his own experience since he’s been a good Jew since childhood so has some wisdom himself.  That combination made me think of John Wesley’s Quadrilateral. 

Picture in your mind a large circle.  Label that large circle “Scripture”.  Inside that circle imagine three circles interconnected with each other.  Label them “Tradition”, “Experience”, and “Reason”.  Scripture is the bedrock.  The other three are how to wrestle with the meaning and application of scripture.

Timothy had mentors as well as his Jewish traditions.  Going back to the first chapter we see family listed.
2 Timothy 1:5 I also remember the genuine faith of your mother Eunice. Your grandmother Lois had the same sort of faith, and I am sure that you have it as well.

My study Bible says this is the final letter Paul wrote before he was executed.  He would have been one of Timothy’s major influences, his first Christian pastor.

Personal experience is a strong proof.  Paul often recounted his experience of meeting Christ on the way to Damascus as his turning point.  Methodism was founded because of a personal experience of John Wesley.  We celebrate his personal experience within the church on Aldersgate Day.  In Wesley's words: ' while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.'

When I think of the third aspect, Reason, I think that is the point when the Holy Spirit goes one on one with us.  Does the interpretation we’re wrestling with feel true or make sense when we ponder it thoughtfully?  We are not alone while we are ponding.  The spirit is with us.
John 14: 25 I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26 But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you.

Reading other spiritual writings is not a bad thing, but as Christians the Bible is our main resource.  Paul was writing to Timothy at a time when scripture was the first five books of the Old Testament as well as a few of the scrolls of the prophets.  The Bible has grown to include more books, and though Paul wasn’t talking about his simple letter at the time I believe God’s breath is there.

Using tradition, experience, and reason is a way to wrestle meaning out of it.

2 Timothy
3:16 Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. 17 The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds.
4 When Christ Jesus comes as king, he will be the judge of everyone, whether they are living or dead. So with God and Christ as witnesses, I command you 2 to preach God’s message. Do it willingly, even if it isn’t the popular thing to do. You must correct people and point out their sins. But also cheer them up, and when you instruct them, always be patient.

Before you sit back and think I’m now getting to the point of talking to teachers and preachers and not you, please think again.  We are all called to be disciples and to make disciples.  We are called to teach each other.
Matthew 28: 18 Jesus came to them and said: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! 19 Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.

This week the email from our Wisconsin Conference just happened to have an article on how John Wesley empowered lay people.  Here is an excerpt from that article.

“Nearly all the leaders of the early Methodist societies were lay people. John Wesley established a system to develop and empower them by organizing them in small groups for accountability and support for living the Christian life. The intent was to help people become disciples who live out their love of God and neighbor.

Each week, the small groups — or “classes” — of 12-15 members of a Methodist society met weekly with their leader to give an account of how they were living their faith as they answered the question: “How is it with your soul?” guided by the Methodist rule of life, the General Rules.

Class leaders, appointed by Wesley, were lay women and men who could be trusted with the spiritual formation and care of others. They served as role models, mentors and discipleship coaches for the Methodists in their pursuit of holiness of heart and life. Class leaders shared in the pastoral work that needed to be done when the appointed clergy, or circuit rider, was absent. They were the disciples who made disciples.

The General Rules are simple and straightforward practices intended to help people live out the teachings of Jesus as summarized in Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV):

“'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

The class members formed habits of (1) doing no harm by avoiding evil of every kind; (2) doing good to all people; and (3) attending upon all the ordinances of God, like participating in worship, receiving communion, reading the Bible, praying and fasting.”

You don’t need to be ordained to be a role model, mentor, and coach, but you do first need to be a student yourself.

The final thoughts in 2 Timothy brings up a problem with students.
3 The time is coming when people won’t listen to good teaching. Instead, they will look for teachers who will please them by telling them only what they are itching to hear. 4 They will turn from the truth and eagerly listen to senseless stories.

I bought us all into the role of teacher.  Now I’m taking us into the role of student. 

What kind of students are you and me?  How often do we let our minds wander?  Are your thoughts currently on lunch or the ballgame coming in the afternoon?  Do you pay less attention to lay speakers because they aren’t “real” preachers?  Do I pay less attention to lay speakers?  Do I think I know enough to stop listening?  Or, like the students in our scripture, do we have the desire to find a speaker that tells us what we want to hear?  Do we have itchy ears?

God can use any willing human as His mouthpiece, so we’d be wise to listen.  In the Old Testament He even used a talking mule.  God’s word combines with the Holy Spirit within us to get His message across even if the speaker isn’t trained or has decades of experience. 

A good student listens.  The purpose of study isn’t so we’re better able to act as judge and jury.  We study to become proficient and equipped for every good work!

It’s easy to applaud when we see fingers pointed in correction at others, but it doesn’t feel very good when the finger is pointed at us.  We can feel like good Christians when pointing out how somebody else has failed to live up to a verse of scripture we feel good at following, while ignoring other scriptures like:
Luke 6:37 Don’t judge others, and God won’t judge you. Don’t be hard on others, and God won’t be hard on you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you.

Our scripture from 2 Timothy lists Jesus as the judge not us.  Notice the small group session I described earlier asked the members for self-reflection on the question “How is it with your soul?”  A good teacher may need to correct but it is done with encouragement not in judgement.  The goal is to give understanding that following the instructions found in scripture brings joy.

Here are verse 101-104 from the Psalm 119 passage assigned for today.
101 I obey your word
    instead of following a way
    that leads to trouble.
102 You have been my teacher,
    and I won’t reject
    your instructions.
103 Your teachings are sweeter
    than honey.
104     They give me understanding
    and make me hate all lies.

To go back to my children’s message; following these “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” allows us to feel joyful when we are in community.  Relationships are more important than “winning” whatever that word “winning” means.  God’s instruction isn’t limiting us.  It is providing a path to a wonderful sweet life lived in community.

God loves us, and we are instructed to love God back and love everyone else too, because God first loved us.  How simple that sounds, but how hard to follow!  We need teachers and mentors and more than a little patience from our fellow travelers on this journey as we struggle to get life figured out.

Peter called new Christians similar to infants to whom milk was a matter of life or death.
1 Peter 2:2 Be like newborn babies who are thirsty for the pure spiritual milk that will help you grow and be saved.

We are to drink it in.

Galatians tells students how to treat teachers.
Galatians 6:6 Share every good thing you have with anyone who teaches you what God has said.

That verse made me smile as we’re currently doing our pledging.  Support the teachers of God’s word.

I know Bible study might be new to some of you so decided to add in a beginner’s class.  Never be afraid to join a study because you think others will judge you for knowing so little.  We aren’t born knowing this stuff.  Some learn it younger and some learn it older, but the real tragedy is that some don’t learn it at all.

The Bible is a collection of many books.  Some are in narrative format, some are poetry, some are nearly like journals, and some like the scripture today are letters.  Here’s how to find your way through this book of books. 

Turn to the front of your bulletin.  Kathy put our scripture passage there in nice large font.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

If there’s a number before the name, that number is part of the title of the book.  That means there is more than one “Timothy” and the one we’re reading out of today is the second one in the Bible.  We don’t call it “Two Timothy” we call it “Second Timothy” since that first number is indicating the order.  A “1” and then “Peter” would be called “First Peter”.  When you look it up in the table of contents most likely it will be the number in the front of the title, but I’m throwing in how you’d say it, just so you know.  To look up our book today in the table of contents you would look for the number 2 followed by Timothy.

The table of contents is divided into two sections.  One called Old Testament and the other called New Testament.  After some practice you might be able to remember what books go into which section but in the beginning just scan down each until you find the book you’re looking for.  Old Testament is a collection of books from before Jesus was on the Earth and New Testament is after Jesus lived among us.  Both are important to our Christian faith.  I recommend starting with the New Testament and feel compelled to add that I believe the Old Testament should have an “R” rating due to violence and sexual situations.  Be warned.

Turn back to the way the scripture is typed on your bulletin.  The next numbers are grouped with a colon in the middle.  The number before the colon is the chapter of the book.  The books of the Bible don’t separate out chapters at the top of a page like most other books because that would cause way too much white space and create a very thick book.  Instead the chapter is bolded and tends to be in a larger font.  Looking within Second Timothy we’d look for a big bold 3 to indicate the start of chapter 3.  The number after the colon is the verse number.  Verse numbers are smaller than chapter numbers and commonly are applied to a sentence or two.  Bold number 3 and then a smaller number 14 partway down that chapter is where our lesson started today.

If the focus is on a single verse then there would be no other characters.  If it’s on the whole chapter sometimes they skip the colon and just have the 3.  If it is multiple verses within the same chapter there is a dash and a second verse number to indicate where it stops.  In our case today we get a second colon which means we finish the third chapter and get five verses into chapter 4 before we finish reading.

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek.  That means we need it translated into English for most of us to read it.  That is why we have multiple translations and versions of translations.

The hymn we will sing after the message is from Psalm 119:105.
The version in our hymnal is based on American Standard Version: Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, And light unto my path.

We don’t normally speak like we’re in a Shakespeare play today.  Our church uses the Contemporary English Version of the Bible which was published in 1995 after completing research in common speech patterns.  It translates the verse as: Your word is a lamp, that gives light wherever I walk.

Here are a few versions of 2 Timothy 3:16.

Contemporary English Version
16 Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.

New International Version
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

King James Bible
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

The Amplified Bible attempts to give more details of meanings but is tougher to read.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage];

Each of these versions are a little different but all are attempting to tell us reading the Bible would be a very good thing. 

The old phrase “ignorance is bliss” is not applicable here.  You are not safer when your cruse ship sinks because you skipped lifeboat training.  You are more likely to stumble on a path that doesn’t have light.

Personal time reading is beneficial.  Hearing someone who’s farther along in their faith journey share how they interpret the scripture gives you more help figuring things out than you have by yourself.  That’s why attending worship is so important.  I agree you can praise God by focusing on Him while you’re walking through the woods, but that doesn’t increase your knowledge of His word.  For that you need time with a mentor. 

Studying with others has been very useful to me.  We live life in community so learning together and practicing what we’re learning as we interact in community is powerful. 

After my divorce in the early 90’s I went into depression deep enough to contemplate ending my life.  Pastor Tom helped me through that time and one direction he gave was for me to attend Disciple Bible Study.  It was a four-year study and it changed my life.  It was my personal story of transformation.  My Aldersgate experience; to liken it to John Wesley’s experience of grace.  It wouldn’t have happened had I not had mentors and fellow students with me in the journey.  It impacted me enough to cause me to lead three sessions of that four-year study.

My life is complex currently, but I hope to lead Bible studies again in the future.  Rev Dawn is going to be leading a book study based on a current day shepherd giving his thoughts on Psalm 23 – that’s the one that begins, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.”  Watch the Musings newsletter or bulletin for studies that come up and sign up!

Our scripture from Jeremiah 31 assigned for today says eventually we humans will have the lessons learned.
33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

Until that day comes, we need to respond to the call to first to be students and then to be teachers so we can understand how to live together. 

Micah 6:8 inspired my selection of our final hymn today.
He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

It tells us to come and live in the light.  We have a lifetime to work toward understanding how to do that, but I strongly encourage you to start now.

Amen









Sunday, September 29, 2019

Contentment / Based on 1 Timothy 6:6-19 / Delivered on September 29, 2019 to CCH


Contentment / Based on 1 Timothy 6:6-19 / Delivered on September 29, 2019 to CCH
Hymns: As the Deer, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, I Then Shall Live

1 Timothy 6:6-19
6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
6:11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.
6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
6:15 which he will bring about at the right time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
6:17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Good morning and Happy Sunday to you.  I am Darci Strutt McQuiston, a Lay Servant of the United Methodist Church up on the hill from here.  It is my honor to be with you this morning.  Some of you may know that each Sunday many churches follow the same scriptural recommendations called the lectionary.  The scriptures from this week’s lectionary fit together very well so I’m going to pull in from a few as well as the one I picked as my focus which is 1 Timothy.

The three ideas I’m attempting to bring out today are:
Importance of focus
Importance of trust
Contentment combined with service

Importance of focus
The lectionary is quite filled with examples of how we use our money this week.  The Luke scripture (Luke 16:19-31) shares a parable from Jesus about a rich man and the poor man at his gate.  They both die and the rich man finds himself in an unpleasant afterlife and sees the poor man, Lazarus, being comforted by Abraham.  The rich man isn’t condemned because of his wealth.  He put his trust in money instead of mercy.  He showed no mercy to Lazarus and in the parable, he received no mercy as a result.

In Amos 6:1a, 4-7 – The prophet says the wealthy will be the first to go into exile.  Their crime isn’t wealth but the failure to be “grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” which represents the northern kingdom.

In both of those scripture passages the rich focused on their wealth and didn’t respond with compassion to those around them.

The letter puts it to Timothy in this way:
 6:9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

That last phrase is often misquoted as “money is the root of all evil.”  That’s not what it is saying at all.  It isn’t the money that’s the problem it is the senseless and harmful desires.  When money becomes the object of devotion then there’s a problem.

It’s not easy.  In Matthew 19:21-24 Jesus told his disciples it wasn’t easy.  A wealthy, law abiding, man asked Jesus to tell him what he lacked.

Mat 19:21-24
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Importance of trust
I think it comes down to trust.  We must trust Jesus at his word.  Giving to others doesn’t mean we will have lack. 

1 Timothy
6:13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
6:14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
6:15 which he will bring about at the right time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

God gives life.  Jesus can be trusted as the King and kings and Lord of lords.

The selection from Jeremiah for today demonstrated a trust like that.

Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, has no children and is currently in prison.  His future doesn’t look the most hopeful.  Babylon was about to take over Jerusalem.  In comes his uncle asking him to buy his field.  The price of land wasn’t negotiable like it is in our time.  The next of kin was the first to be offered land if the owner needed to sell, so it would stay in the family.  Jeremiah, who had been preaching gloom and doom, suddenly took an action of hope.  He trusted God would be true to his word.  He parted with his money and gave the people hope for the future.

Jeremiah 32:14-15 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time.  For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in the land.

The Psalm for today, 146, puts it this way:
146:3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
146:4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

Trust God above mortals and certainly above wealth.  It also said we would be happy.

Contentment combined with service
1 Timothy
6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;
6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;
6:8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

I looked up contentment and some synonyms listed were fulfillment, gratification, pleasure, satisfaction, serenity.

Timothy is not told to just get along with what he has; to grin and bear it.  He is being told to feel satisfied, and grateful for all he has.  There’s a difference in tone to those two feelings.  The first is you bear it like a burden.  The second is you feel pleasure in what you have.

The contentment is to be combined with godliness.  The letter to Timothy ends with verses of instruction to the wealthy.

6:17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,
6:19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

God provides.  Real life is the life of love and interrelationship.  It is focused on love of neighbor and love of God.  The Greek word translated as “take hold of” has a full translation of “take hold of, grasp, catch, sometimes with violence.”  Eternal life and true life are to be seized. 

I was raised to be a good steward of my money.  I was taught to always keep three months of income in savings so if you lost your job or had a major home repair you wouldn’t be caught off guard.  Keep your spending below your earning.  These are all words of wisdom still.

I have also gone through lean years.  During those times the help from family and neighbors bridged me over until I could get back on my feet.  There are times now I worry about my financial future, and I need to remember those past times I already lived through and trust I will be OK.

Money can be a god or a demon in that way; by causing you to race after “more” or by causing worry.  Be a good steward of your money but don’t let it control your life.  That is not true life.  We are to turn our attention to things that are lasting beyond the material. 

Last weekend I went to my childhood church in McGregor Iowa.  My brother happened to be filling the pulpit last Sunday.  Part of his message included teaching that we can use our time and money in this life to feel a special welcome when we enter our afterlife.  My brother had us imagine with joy the people that we had helped or led to Christ greeting us as we entered heaven.  Those are lasting things.  That is Heavenly treasure!

We know this world is not our end.  We have been promised access to true life.  This final chapter of First Timothy is advising us to live like we are already there.  Live as if you are before God already.  Don’t wait.  Seize it. 

Amen