Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Week's Schedule 12/13/09

Sunday December 20th-
Christmas Celebration
No Sunday School
Congregational Worship 10:00 am
Brunch to Follow!

Looking Ahead! Sunday December 27th-
Regular Schedule
Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship 10:30 am
Congregational Worship 10:45 am

Women's Book Study: What's So Amazing About Grace, Coming in January!

This Week's Sermon: Love Your Neighbor

The Parable of the Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-28
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Who is my neighbor? It is the question asked by the expert in the Law. It is the question each of us asks when God tells us that we need to do something. We always want to know how far we are required to take it. Like Peter with his question of how many times he needed to forgive his brother. Like the Pharisees who asked, “Can’t we divorce our wives for any and every reason?” When given a law, we want to know where the line is. So our friend, the expert in the Law asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

He wanted to see who exactly he was required to love, and this is an interesting response by Jesus. The man asks a simple question. Jesus could have responded with a simple answer, “Everyone is your neighbor.” But he does not answer that way, instead he tells a story. We have heard this story before, and many times the focus is on how we should love everyone and be willing to help those in need. I want to take a little twist on that focus this morning.

Many know of the racial tension between Samaritans and Jews, it is seen as a clash of cultures. Here is what we don’t get in our modern reading of this passage. Samaritans were not just of a different culture, they were considered unclean. They were considered idolaters and those who would pervert the true worship of the One God. Jews saw them as so unholy, they would not even speak to them. That is why the Samaritan woman at the well was so surprised that Jesus would talk to her. Not only was he a Jew and she a Samaritan, but He was a man and she was a woman. On top of all of that, Jesus a clean Jewish man was asking her, an unclean Samaritan woman for a drink. It was a double breaking of tradition and ceremonial cleanliness laws.

I don’t know if there is even a good comparison of the relationship of the Samaritans and the Jews today with Christians. I know a pastor friend of mine was debating how to express this giant rift between the Jews and Samaritans and he considered for a modern parable substituting the Samaritan with a member of Al Queda, or a homosexual couple. Those may be shocking comparisons for some of us, but I think that what Jesus sad in this story was supposed to be shocking. Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He told this story.

A Jewish man is walking down the road, gets jumped by thieves and we see the Priest come by. He is not willing to be a neighbor. He passes by on the other side, too concerned with cleanliness to come near blood and possibly a dead body. So multiple choice answer A is off the table. This is shocking because Priests are those offering sacrifices, serving in the temple, handling sacred objects and privy to all the inner workings of the sacrificial system. They are clean, holy guys with important work to do. But this is not the person Jesus says to imitate.

So we see the Levite come by. Levites were set apart unto God. They served in the temple from age 30 to age 50, some were priests others managed day to day affairs. The Levite comes by and passes by on the other side as well. Some could argue that the Priest has to keep himself ceremonially clean so that he can do his job in the temple. You could feasibly make an excuse for him, but the Levite is not a Priest. He has a job to do, but it is not nearly as integral as the Priest’s, and yet, here he is forsaking his brother Jew and crossing to the other side of the road. Multiple choice answer B is out as well. Jesus is saying, “You may expect me to tell you the Priests and Levites are your examples for neighborliness, but in this case they are not.” These men left a person to die because he might make them unclean.

Then here comes the Samaritan. Samaritans were the villains in the story. If they had first century melodramas, this would be where everyone would go, “boo-hiss!” The Samaritan, hated and despised and shunned by the Jews, comes by and picks up this wounded man. He binds his wounds, he puts him on his own donkey, walks him out of the way to an inn, pays for his care and promises more if the bill exceeds the payment. Multiple choice answer C wins again. I don’t know if we can grasp this story. The Samaritan in the story, the unspiritual and idolatrous enemy, is the example we are to follow.

Jesus asks the religious expert, “Who was this man’s neighbor?” The expert of the Law can’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan.” Instead he says, “The one who had mercy on him.” He can’t wrap his mind around the answer. This is not the way that religious stories are supposed to go. The good guy is the Priest, the bad guy—the Samaritan. It’s Heroes and Villains. It should be an easy answer. Your neighbor is the person like you. We expect Jesus to say, your neighbor is any good person in your church or your family or your town or country who shares your faith and values. But that is not what Jesus says. Jesus asks the question, “Who acted as a neighbor to this man?” He does not ask, “Who should this man be a neighbor to in the future?” Jesus is not asking the religious expert to be a neighbor to Samaritans, worse, he asks him to place himself in the shoes of the Samaritan. Jesus does not ask him to love the one he hated before because he thought the man was unclean.

Jesus is asking him to consider this Samaritan and all he would have to overcome to be a neighbor to the Jewish man. The Samaritan knew that the Jewish man probably hated him. He knew that his act of kindness may be misinterpreted and misunderstood. He knew he would never get a thank you card for helping. The Samaritan, the outcast, the discarded person in this story becomes the hero that Jesus tells us to emulate. It is not enough to go to those we have disliked and help them. We must go to those who hate us. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of me.” Jesus says, “Love your enemies, so that you can be perfect like your Father in heaven.” Jesus says, “Go and be like this Samaritan and show unbelievable kindness to those who insult, persecute, and slander you.”

To us today, Jesus might say we are to love the terrorists. He may say we are to show kindness to those who are antagonistically atheist. He would definitely tell us that we are to be like that Samaritan—loving, caring, going beyond the call of duty, going out of our way to help those who are hateful toward us, whoever that might be. Not those we consider enemies, but those who consider us to be their enemies. That is who we are to love. That is who is included in Jesus’ command to love our neighbor. It is the extreme case of crazy, sold-out devotion and love for God. Loving those we don’t like, or those we have a grudge against, or those who have wronged us is a given. That is just a starting place. But we know that Jesus calls us above the status quo, beyond the elementary stages of devotion to be completely consumed by the same kind of love he has for us. Romans 5:8-10 tells us that while we were enemies of God—while we despised him—he loved us enough to bridge the gap between us with the death of his only son. It is that love we are to have for others. It is that love Jesus shows here in this parable of the Good Samaritan: the love that gives sacrificially on behalf of the one who hates us.

This is not a feel good sermon. It was not a feel good parable. It is, instead a stark contrast to the way we think things ought to be. It turns our world upside down and asks the impossible of us. But Jesus tells the story anyway. He does so knowing that the only way we can love like this is with the love he himself pours into our lives. We can only love like Jesus if we have given him our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength. Surrendering to God produces in us love for our fellow man, even those who are our enemies, even those who consider us to be their enemies. To love those who hate and persecute is the love of Christ lived out in our lives. I challenge you to so surrender your lives to Christ that he can bring about this transformation in your hearts and lives today.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Week's Schedule 12/6/09

Monday & Tuesday December 7th-8th-
Emporia Public School's Seasonal Celebration
William Allen White Auditorium 7:30 pm

Wednesday December 9th-
Friends Women Christmas Brunch
9:00 am at Mildred's
Bring $2 gift, Goodie Plate items, and your Name The Store entry!

Sunday December 13th-
Family Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship with refreshments 10:30 am
Worship 10:45 am

Looking Ahead! Sunday December 20th-
Christmas Celebration
No Sunday School
Congregational Worship 10:00 am
Brunch to Follow!

This week's sermon: Love God with All Your Strength

Luke 12:22-34.

There once was a father who wanted some quiet time so that he could read the paper. His daughter Vanessa, however wanted her father’s attention because she was bored. Finally, he tore a sheet out of his magazine on which was printed a map of the world. Tearing into small pieces he gave it and some clear tape to Vanessa and said, “Go into the other room and see if you can put this together.” He thought surely he would now have time to finish his article in peace.

After only a few minutes, Vanessa returned and handed him the map correctly fitted together. The father was surprised knowing his daughter did not have great knowledge about geography, and asked how she had finished so quickly. “Oh,” she said, “on the other side of the paper is a picture of Jesus. When I got Jesus in His place, then the world came out all right on the other side.”

We have been talking about the greatest commandments: Loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This week we are focusing on Loving God with all our strength. To love God fully, all of our labor and energy must belong to him. Let’s turn to Luke 12 :22-34 and see what Jesus has to say about the matter.

Luke 12:22-31 [pp -- Mt 6:25-33] 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

You will see that as we study this command to love God with all that we are, that the areas of our lives that need to be surrendered to him overlap, they don’t stand alone. In this passage, Jesus talks about not worrying which is a product of the mind and heart working together. He talks about our value to God, our core identity—our souls—being placed in his hands. He talks about considering and pondering the world around us and how God is at work in caring for the simplest creatures—which requires our minds to be focused on Him. Jesus is giving instruction on surrendering all those parts to God right here in this one scripture passage.

He also shows us what it looks like for those areas of our lives to be out of alignment with God’s will—worry, and fear producing people who run around crazy trying to make sure they have enough food and shelter and clothing. All of these things, Jesus says, his Father will provide as we seek his kingdom.

Too often we see the world, which is pagan apart from God, running after food and drink. You can observe this in just a little tv-watching. Many commercials are geared toward this drive, whether they are for restaurants, junk food, soda, beer, or sports drinks. We see it in the epidemic of obesity our country is facing on one side, and equally disturbing eating disorders depriving the body of nourishment on the other. We can see it surfing tv channels or on the internet, whole channels devoted to displaying recipes we will never fix and internet sites with millions of tips on getting things just right. The world chases after food.

Now, Jesus is not saying that meal planning or grocery shopping is bad. He means, don’t let it consume your life. Don’t become a slave to gourmet food or junk food or healthy food or even dieting. Food is there to serve life, not the other way around. This is one of the reasons that God calls his people to fast, or abstain from food for a time. It is in the holy habit of fasting that we learn that God is our strength (Psalm 118:14). If we live our lives obsessed with food, we will miss out on all that God has planned for us.

Another area we see the world obsessing over is clothing and shelter. Just walk past the magazine rack and you will see countless articles on what is hot this season in fashion. Walking down the same isle, you will also see row upon row of decorating magazines. These magazines are not produced because the editors think it’s fun, they are produced to feed a desire in many people to wear the best or live in the best, most fashionable way.

Again, Jesus is not saying, don’t wear nice clothes or live in nice houses. He is telling us not be consumed by what we wear or where we live. If we have clothes and shelter, we need to be content. If we let fashion and trends control our lives and resources we will miss out on all that God has planned for us. Psalm 127 says this: 1 Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-- for he grants sleep to those he loves.

When we are busy chasing the things of the world, we live frantic, worry-filled lives. Jesus says, "Come to me you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest." Many times we are weary and carrying heavy burdens because we are chasing things that do not satisfy or will not last. Jesus says in our main text, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom." God does not want us to live deprived, he wants us to live an abundant and fulfilled life. We find this fulfillment in Him.

I don’t just want to tell you things not to do, and neither did Jesus. He said, instead of letting all these things consume your life, producing worry and fear, seek first the kingdom of God and trust that God will provide adequate food and shelter, clothing and all the things you need for living your life to build his kingdom. We are promised that as we are faithful to use what God has given us to build his kingdom, God will provide for us. Philippians 4:19 “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Loving God with all our strength is giving him all of our means of influence, whether that be our ability to work, our community influence, our money and resources—everything that we can use to make a change in the world around us. We can make a choice to do that today instead of letting our work, our influence, our money and resources be dominated by an obsession over food, drink, clothing and shelter. God wants to give us rest and peace in our lives, this comes from giving him our entire lives, all our resources offered up to him--not to be deprived, but to walk in peace. Just like that little girl putting together the picture of the world, if we can get Jesus in the right place, everything else will come together as well. Choose to give him your strength today and receive his rest in return.