Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Apostle's Prayer

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21

Focus: being filled with the Spirit

Function: To help people desire the filling of the Holy Spirit

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

We have another “so then,” “because of” or in this case, “For this reason,” to examine before we move into the bulk of the passage.

We already mentioned how Chapter 2 deals with the question of racism or division. It is important to understand a little bit about the Galatians. They were sincere converts but at the beginning of their faith, some people who believed that Christians needed to obey the entire Old Testament law had come to town and sown division among the Church.

Paul writes this letter to point out how they have left grace for legalism and they are trying to be perfect without the power of the Holy Spirit.

The For This Reason is a couple of paragraphs describing Paul’s ministry to Gentile believers and how the mystery that the Jewish people did not seem to grasp was that salvation from Jesus Christ was for the entire world. It comes to everyone who trusts in Jesus regardless of their geological heritage.

He reason for the prayer, the Apostle’s Prayer, is because he has been given responsibility for them, to teach them what Jesus wants them to know. When I read the passage, it feels like a fatherly affection for his children and a desire that they succeed in their witness to Jesus’ love.

So, let us break down this prayer.

His first request is that they be filled with the Spirit according to the riches of His glory. I read about the transition of power from Elijah to Elisha last week in my devotions. Elisha asked for a double portion of the Spirit to be placed upon him. Paul is asking for the same thing here. He doesn’t want them merely to have a small taste, a smattering, of the blessing of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, but to be filled to the extent that Christ Jesus Himself was.

I resonate with that desire of the pastor for his or her congregation. Moses wished that everyone would be filled with the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God who gives us wisdom, courage, faith and trust. We cannot do this alone, or in our own strength.

I hope you notice that include all of us when I pray that we be filled with God’s Spirit every week during the pastoral prayer. It is also my passion for you.

The power of the Spirit, his prayer is, is for the Spirit of God to strengthen us in the inner person. I know that sounds mysterious and is hard to put a handle on what it means. But it is experienced by that presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I find that there is one main thing that seems to block the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and that is unforgiveness. Jesus said it, when we pray, stand forgiving and whatever we ask for will be given to us. (Mark 11:25)

The next one speaks to me. That Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.

I have to remind myself that it is Jesus in me, and not me, that does the good works in this world. Otherwise, I can get proud. It is done by faith in Christ.

It isn’t natural for us to love our enemies, but Jesus commands us to treat them as well as we treat ourselves. That can only be done by faith. We do it, not seeking revenge, but trusting in the grace of God to be given to us as we give that grace to others.

And, that isn’t just my idea. The text says it. As we dwelling in Christ, we are being rooted and grounded together in love.

Rooted and grounded in love.

I love that metaphor. I mentioned that Paul tells them in chapter 2 that they are saved completely independent of any works that they could do to earn their salvation. Salvation is a gift of God’s love to us.

I mentioned also that they are saved in order to do the good works that Jesus did and then he goes on to say that those good works are breaking down the barriers between the races.

And here is the thing. We can get so focused on breaking down the barriers that we forget that it is in Christ Jesus that we have forgiveness of sins, and because of that, the filling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

It is because of Christ’s love for us, not our own efforts that we are saved. And another part of his passion, in this prayer is that they understand the power of God’s love to keep them and to protect them.

It is not that they are rooted and grounded in their love for others -that love for others is a result of the Holy Spirit’s actions in their lives-. But they are rooted and ground in the love that Christ Jesus has for all of us.

Brother John tells us that fear can be the result of the fact that we do not understand the nature of God’s love for us. Perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear. We feel that love when we connect with God in prayer, worship and in service toward others. At times, while we are worshiping here together, I see that mysterious love of Christ filling our hearts.

Again, the nature and the power of God’s love to overcome sin is a miraculous mystery to me. I see it often and I know it to be true.

And that leads us to the final part of the prayer.

That they have the power to comprehend.

The power to comprehend.

Again, this whole prayer is about the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It gives us the power to believe. It gives us the power to love. And it gives us the power to comprehend.

And again, the thing that he wants us to understand is the power, the width, the depth of God’s love for us.

I find this to be true. The longer I spend time with Jesus, the longer I spend time in God’s word, the more time I spend in prayer about things, especially those who would consider themselves to be my enemies (like atheists since I am a preacher and etc), I realize that God loves them. The Circle of who gets included keeps getting bigger and bigger for me the more I begin to understand the width and breadth of God’s love.

If that is true, then how can we hold anyone as an enemy?

So, his prayer is that the Holy Spirit will give them the power to both understand and implement God’s love in their lives.

I pray that the Spirit would fill us as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joy, Love

Focus: Joy and Love
Function: Advent preparation
Form: Story

Intro: Well, praise God, it looks like we are promised a white Christmas. For me, a white Christmas is another part of my Advent.
This year, Advent has been especially meaningful for me. Maybe it was the task of trying to refocus myself and us on to something more positive, more community orientated after the election cycle so that we can continue the work of Jesus Christ.
All though you missed last Sunday’s worship, the delight of preparing it in the presence of the Lord kept me focused.
We started with how hope helps our Advent. We moved to Peace. And since last week we were to focus on how allowing the emotion of Joy affects our Advent, today we will focus on both Joy and the effect of doing Love. Doing Love.
Christmas Eve, we will focus on Jesus, the Light of the World.
Which leads me to today’s passage.
My morning devotional calendar breaks the book of Isaiah into 2 of its 3 sections. The book was not compiled chronologically, but by themes. I love that because it starts what I call “The Restoration Section” at the beginning of Advent and continues until the end of the calendar year.
But today’s passage comes from the judgment section. Some of the passages are very bleak.
But I noticed something this year while reading. I remember, it was mid October and I was seeking some real hope in my morning prayers and I read Chapters 34-36 on the same day.
In Chapter 34, Isaiah starts listing off just how bad Edom and Judah are going to get it. In Chapter 36, the sad story of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem begins.
And right in the middle of it is this chapter about the future restoration of Israel.
I still have verse 9 memorized in the King James because it picks up the exciting cadence of the joy that is there in the song: “Therefore..., the redeemed... of the Lord... Shall return…,”
There is a garden road blooming right in the middle of a desert to nurture and succor God’s people.
In the middle of all that tragedy, God, God the Holy Spirit, And since the Jews referred to the Holy Spirit in the feminine, I think we need to be more biblical and get used to the idea so, God Herself stops and reminds us of the path to holiness is right there in the presence of God Herself.
The scene described is an impossible scene of a desert blooming as the people whom God rescued are lead home to their peace, rest and security. In the middle of the journey, the desert blossom for those who are not sinners.
There is a contrast in the passage between “the sinners” and “the rescued.”
The popular Christmas song “Mary Did You Know” includes a line from this song written by the prophet Isaiah as well. I wish I had that kind of tenor voice as he gets to a crescendo and shouts out in the song: “The Lame will walk…, the Blind will see…,”
And, it is the next line from verse 5 that sort of places the whole thing in perspective for me when the Holy Spirit promises that “those who cannot speak will shout for joy!”
I think this one fits the most. This imagery is about how the we, the Church, the Kingdom of God that is still here on planet earth and not yet gone to heaven, have the power to create a garden in the middle of a desert when we continue the work of Jesus Christ.
I love Psalms 22:3, “Yet You are Holy, You are enthroned on the praises of Israel.”
We are called to reconnect with the Divine through worship.
Through our joy we rejoice in the presence of God and live in a divine community together.
That is the image that Isaiah creates here.
But there is more.
Now we apply the passage with the theme of Love.
Isaiah speaks of this great community of Love that is so powerful that its effect can create a garden in the desert.
He speaks of our Christian community who also strives to build a garden in the middle of a desert.
It is our motto. We do this in community. We do this together.
And remember, we do that (say it with me) “simply, peaceably and together.”
Now back to the passage, “The Blind will see...”
We do not have the physical power to make the blind see, but we do have the power to inform people about a different way of living.
We don’t have the power to open the ears of the physically deaf, but we do have the power to share good news instead of judgment, fear and hopelessness.
Christians are not greedy people. If one falls into the temptation of greed, it most likely sprouts from listening to all the reasons why we should be afraid and think only of ourselves instead of our community.
Remember the message from John the Baptist about repentance: Sincere repentance, the thing that separated the sinners from the people of God, was that the poorer people appeared to be the only ones who were willing to trust God enough to share.
And this idea, that those who cannot speak will Shout for Joy is important to this morning’s theme.
In the verse, the prophet tells us that the deaf will hear. But he does not say that the mute will speak. The idiomatic expression switches gears and instead of speaking about physical impairment, the Holy Spirit speaks about giving voice to the powerless.
This is something that we have the power to do!
To me, this is a prophecy about hope and the power of our love in the middle of a desert.
Yes, God Herself is the One who makes this road for the righteous, this road of celebration, this road of holiness, this road of redemption but it is with the people of God.
We get this Supernatural image in the prophecy of this holistic place that brings redemption to God’s people.
It might be an image of heaven. It might be an image of the millennial age when the Lion lays down with the Lamb, or...
...It might be an image of the power of the Church to create a new and better world.
It might be the hope of the Christmas story. The hope and revelation that God sees our need, to our weaknesses is no stranger and that we can respond this advent with the simple emotions of Joy, hope, peace and love as we allow the revelation that God did not forget humanity when God became Jesus the Nazarene.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Focus: Peace
Function: To help us be peacemakers.

Intro: John the Baptist was the forerunner to Jesus. He came to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He was the original Advent calendar.
John was an oddball. His diet consisted solely of grasshoppers and wild honey. He made his own clothes out of camel hair, which is hot, and he wore it in the desert. He was an enigma. He was weird.
John came at a desperate time. And perhaps such an oddball is exactly what they needed. The people were seeking peace and listening to this odd prophet seemed to help them. He did have God’s true message and God’s Spirit was opening their eyes.
And here is what I see about the people’s reaction. The People were sincere (verse 6).
They confessed their sins. Remember JTB’s message was simple living, if you have an extra coat, give it away to the poor and insure your business dealings are honest and etc.
His message of repentance was a message of repentance from greed and selfishness to sharing vital resources because people around them were freezing and starving.
The People repented and confessed the sinfulness of the greed that comes from fear. John told them to trust God again.
They believed him and were getting ready for Jesus to come.
JTB, they do not know, has the dual role of prophet and the first evangelist to call people to come to Jesus Christ. He is literally the first ever Baptist preacher and his version of Christianity is still to be invented because this is before Jesus Himself begins to preach.
He is getting the people ready for the new Kingdom of God which is coming.
His job is to get their hearts prepared spiritually and to convince them that their hope is not in vain.
And it is working!
By the thousands the crowds are leaving the comfort of their homes, traveling into the desert to look at this man who is dressed so oddly simple that he has become an event in history himself. Exciting things are happening and the people, who are desperate, are sincere in their desire to live in a new kind of kingdom where people share resources and love each other as much as they love themselves.
This is pretty exciting. The Christmas Spirit is catching on among the populist.
God’s Spirit is moving and people are responding in a positive way. Hope is reborn, and because of hope, love begins to flourish in little outbreaks of sincere generosity and sharing.
And it is happening everywhere among all peoples near the region. Even Roman soldiers are hearing the words and are so moved that they are willing to lay down their arms and join the movement.
And then the religious leaders are afraid that they cannot control the population anymore.
(hold 2 fingers up) The religious leaders were not sincere. And somehow, John the Baptist, the prophet, sees through their insincerity and shouts a warning to them that we read in Vs 7 “Who warned you that you could escape…?”
Why does John the Baptist make such a blanket statement about these leaders? isn’t that prejudice?
Both Nicodemus and Gamaliel were from this group and they were sincere. Why this judgment against them?
I am going to have to stretch this on the principle that pre-judging people based on their class or occupation is a sin. We label it prejudice when we refer it to race, religion, and gender identity. This is also prejudice.
So why is John prejudiced against the group of people when we have later evidence from scripture that some of them were sincere?
Based on that stretch, I am going to surmise that it is the system that John is decrying.
It really is not that big of stretch because John the Baptist is talking about the Kingdom of heaven. This is huge. This is the introduction to the Jewish people that God is not really that interested in the Jewish nation, or any nation state, God is interested in an heavenly kingdom that refuses to place any earthly kingdom above the command to love one another as much as we love our own selves, our own families, and our own nation.
Again, that is why most Churches of the Brethren do not have American Flags in them. That is another reason why Brethren have refused to take up arms in support of any human kingdom.
And John is laying out the structures, the principles and the looks of this new heavenly kingdom to God’s people.
He says it almost as succinctly as Jesus when Jesus said in the upper room said: A New Command I give you, Love one Another and then, The Holy Spirit is coming.
Although John says it in a negative way, John does say this: “bear good fruit” (verse 10) and let the Holy Spirit change your heart (verse 11).
I don’t know about you, but I rejoice that Salvation, the Salvation, the healing that God has for the world is no longer dependent on the blood sacrifices offered day after day and year after year for 4,000 years.
Instead, the healing and salvation comes from when people are living out the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their Christian lives.
And that is what was happening right then during the ministry of John the Baptist.
There was a revival in Israel going on in the desert. It was indeed a great awakening and a popular movement.
It was healthy, holistic and genuine. It was a picture of what should and could happen when God’s people start living out the love for others that God has given them.
And those religious leaders at this time were concerned that this was a revival that they could not control.
John warns them sternly and in so doing he warns the systems of the world that reinforce selfish living. He condemns greed, especially when others are harmed by ones greed.
Let me put this in perspective.
About 10 years ago I posted on the Internet that I was preaching this passage from the gospel of Luke that emphasizes “he who has two coats should give one to the one who has none.”
My daughter, in complete sincerity asked the group this question: “But what if my coat does not match my outfit?”
The bible says, If you have 2, give one away. Her response, “But what if it does not match?”
That is the perspective we have to approach that scripture with. It is one of privilege that those people could have never imagined. Two coats for a commoner? Impossible!
Of course, I have several hats so that they do match my several coats.
It begs the question. When do I have too many? Of course, we can always point to someone who has more and justify ourselves as not as greedy. But we have to remember this: To the person who has none and is freezing, I have one too many.
It kind of put this whole repentance thing in perspective. The people had a sincere repentance. But those who were accustomed to privilege, in this case, the religiously wealthy class, their repentance reflected their greed. The poor were sharing everything so that they could all survive and the upper class was still hoarding their excess because they believed that somehow they were entitled to more because of what family or class to which they were born.
The elephant is the room is that we too, historically and currently, are in the World’s upper class.
Here is the question for me: What if sharing costs me to much? What price is to much for sharing? Is it the color of my outfit or is it my neighbor’s survival?
The consumerism of our culture is indeed an indictment because I want my daughter’s coat to match her outfit.
These are hypothetical questions for a moment. Indulge me.
Would it have been a sin if my vote was indeed “America first” when the whole system of greed that excuses basic care for the least of these in exchange for my convenience or excuses turning my head away from the poor because serving them would inconvenience me?
Is nationalism a sin?
Well, if it comes before the command to love one another, then yes it is.
I cannot save the world entire. We know that. We also know that we are indeed sincerely generous people who care when others are struggling. We are the kind of people that would sacrifice to help another. Many of us would even give our lives for another.
And Jesus Himself knew that there were sincere religious leaders. I know many!
So I assume, John’s indictment is indeed against systems and not specific people.
John reminds them that it is okay to be good. It is okay to share. It is okay to love the other, the stranger. It is even commanded that we do good.
He preached this message to desperate people in desperate times and started showing them how individually caring for others is the true form of Godliness. It is the gospel fleshed out in their actions.
And that leads us to peace, today’s theme.
Peace comes in the individual nature of our salvation as I stop worrying about how others are doing and renew my commitment to trust God for my resources and continue to share Jesus.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Focus: Advent Hope
Function: To help people hope in the power of Christ to change the world.
Form: Bible Study

Intro: I think I used this as an intro to my first Advent sermon last year, but I just can’t get the idea out of my head.
I love the 4 Themes of Advent because they all focus on the 5th theme from their own particular perspective. The 5th week, Christmas Day or Eve, the focus is on Christ alone. The rest of the weeks focus on Christ from these 4 perspectives:
1st -Hope. 2nd -Peace, 3rd -Joy and the 4th -Love.
We know that great scripture from 1 Corinthians 13: There are three things that remain, Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is Love.
Paul describes emphases on three aspects of our Christian faith as if they are three legs to a stool, the kind of stool I used to use when I was a drummer, it has one strong weight bearing leg and two more for balance.
Hope is one of those other legs that provides balance and support to our faith.
Without hope, faith sort of dies.
But without hope, love is hard to muster.
I believe that Christ Jesus is the source of our faith, hope and love through His Holy Spirit that dwells inside of us.
So again, Brother Paul instructs us to stir up the Spirit of God inside of us.
Today, let us stir up hope.
Our lectionary text goes back to the apocalyptic literature of the time.
We touched on this theme a two weeks ago when we read that there are always times when people are saying that the end is near and most of those events are merely the common stories of tragedy that have occurred during the history of humanity. Don’t panic, seems to be the message that Jesus is preaching.
But here, we read different aspects of the account from Matthew. The scene is Herod’s temple. It was indeed a tremendous wonder. It had a solid gold roof. It was the Roman’s attempt to appease the Jews. They built this incredible temple that took 46 years to build for the Jews, but they also attached the Roman seat of government there to remind them of their domination.
However, the temple was indeed opulent and a fantastic building and it gave the Jewish people a great sense of pride and national identity.
And the disciples are marveling at it when Jesus tells them that before this same generation has died off, there will be a total destruction of this great building.
And tragically, in the year 70, the Israelites rebelled, the Romans came and destroyed all places of worship in Jerusalem, sowed the fertile fields with salt and ruined them and that was the end of the Jewish nation until 1948.
This passage is a prophecy about those events.
Taken at face value, there isn’t a lot of hope offered in this passage. In order to use it to tell us to wait in hope as a symbol for the coming of Christ celebrated at the first Advent of Jesus takes it way out of context.
But, look specifically at verse 42, out of context: 42Watch out, then, because you do not know what day your Lord will come.
In a very real sense, the verse itself is out of context. Jesus is explaining the coming terrible tragedy and then He tells the crowd to watch out for Him in the midst of this calamity.
In the midst of hard times, focus on Jesus. We do not which direction or what source God will use to send us the answer we are hoping for. We do not know if God will send us reprieve. We know this, focus on Jesus.
Jesus is explaining the calamity and He tells them that in the middle of it, stop and look toward Him and for His coming.
What is God doing in the world through this?
What does God want me to do in the middle of this?
And again, by looking at Jesus, we can get some sort of idea.
Jesus tells them that no one knows God’s plan for when God will arrive. God keeps that a mystery. My guess is because it builds faith.
So God, knowing full well that 74 years later, in the year 70 AD, the entire nation that Jesus came to save will be destroyed.
A Jewish/Roman historian, Josephesus, said that they ran out of wood to build crosses because they crucified almost the entire Jewish population. The destruction that Jesus is prophesying about was more brutal than Auschwitz.
I think about that. I read a book written by Rudolf Vrba, an escapee from Auschwitz. The title was “I Cannot Forgive.” In it, the author concludes that there cannot possibly be a God because there is no way any loving God could permit such evil.
And yet, out of that tragedy, the Jewish nation was reborn.
So, back to Jerusalem, AD 30, 40 years before the events of this prophecy and the book of Revelations take place.
Jesus is prophesying a coming tragedy that we know from history was worse on the Jewish nation than the Nazi’s.
People then, just like Mr. Vrba, were wondering where God was and why God was letting this happen.
We, however, from the hindsight of history we could literally answer when they say: “where was God?” with the statement: “God was actually right there, 40 years before.”
Of course, that might not be much comfort, but the point that Jesus is making is this: In the midst of your life, look toward Me.
And that time, the Church was born and the Western culture reset its clock to year 0 to celebrate the first coming of Jesus Christ.
God is at work in history.
And there is much more to this passage.
There is the hope in this passage of deliverance.
Although this part of the story is included in the prophecy about the destruction of Israel in 70 AD, there is also a reference, unique to the Matthew account of this sermon, about the Second coming of Christ.
One of the things I love about Advent and the celebration of Hope and how Jesus taught us to love one another and Jesus’ teachings, if they are ever applied across the world, will indeed bring peace and the coming of God’s kingdom of love, mercy and grace instead of man’s kingdoms of dominance, oppression and exploitation.
I call that “the Christmas Spirit.”
But the other part of the celebration, the hope that still keeps us alive is that Jesus is still coming to us. This prophecy is about Jesus coming again and again into our lives, into the situations of the world, of God having God’s own hand in history.
Jesus is coming again. Maybe that will be when the teachings of Jesus change enough of humanity that we will beat our weapons into plowshares.
Maybe it will be a miraculous Kingdom after a Millennium where Satan is bound in a real live pit somewhere. Only God knows.
But the fact is, Jesus is here. (point to heart).
Jesus is in the face of these children right here. Jesus is in the face of (start naming people).
And Jesus says it like this: One will be taken and one will be left. Taken by whom? Taken by the enemy? Raptured into heaven? The only idea here is that one will be in safety and one will not.
There is a subtle message in it which is “do not be taken unawares.” Apparently our own watchfulness has something to do the outcome or he would not have told us to prepare. But then, Jesus says that we can not be adequately prepared unless we are constantly vigilant.
Is it a warning of fear like “The thief is always there, so you better not sleep tightly, live in fear?” Or is a warning of faith, “keep your eyes focused on Me, Jesus?”
I hear this from Jesus:
Look for Me. (pause)
Look toward Me. (pause)
Look at Me. (pause)
It is Advent, let us look in hope at Jesus.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Seeing the Invisible

Focus: Christ The King Sunday
Function: To help Hope COB interpret Jesus to this culture.
Form: Bible study

Intro: I guess in one sense, next week, it would be appropriate to celebrate the New Year since this is the last Sunday in the Church year and next week starts Advent, already!
Today, the last Sunday in the Church Calendar year is titled “Christ the King” Sunday.
Today, is a day set aside for the global Church to focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Our highlighted verse of Scripture also ties in to the theme of Christ the King, the idea of Thanksgiving celebration.
I love a feast. Feasts are a biblical act of worship. They are a time for us to remember that God is the one who provides. I love the faith and spirit of that first Thanksgiving when after a brutally hard winter where many of those first immigrants arrived and the American nation welcomed us so generously by sharing that feast with us. That feast was an act of faith that even though the last year winter was extremely harsh, their trust was in God for this next winter.
And it was in the faith of Christian love as we, the foreigners were welcomed by people of a different religion and given succor.
Praise God when people live our Christian values across the faiths!
So, I have this dilemma this morning to prepare us for the worship celebration that we will share with loved ones on Thursday so that we can all have more meaningful worship celebrations as we feast together.
By worship celebration, I don’t mean coming to church and singing songs, praying and giving. No, we worship God by living just and grateful lives. We can worship by our attitude of gratefulness and that is why Thanksgiving celebration is so important to us.
And we know the history. I preached a community Thanksgiving service over 30 years ago with the title “Our most Christian Holiday.” I preached it because it was initially a Christian witness to people of a different religion to show them how we as Christians believe in the value of sharing and community for the welfare of everyone instead of for our own selfish interests.
It was the age of modernity and people were laughing at the idea of believing in God. Christians were spending more time defending the idea of God to a skeptical world than they were today. And my thesis was “to whom are you grateful?” It must be a god, so why not join one of our Churches on Sunday? Of course, at a community Thanksgiving service, one is already preaching to the Choir.
I don’t need to preach that message any more. When I preached last year in Hastings, I preached a message about relationship. People don’t want to know if there is a God, they want to know, based on what they hear, if God either loves the world, or if God hates the world. Or, more importantly, people outside the faith want to know if people in the faith will welcome them. The premise came from whether or not we would be as welcoming today as the Native Americans were that first Thanksgiving. I compared how we are supposed to be a Christian nation and they were not.
So, I get President Lincoln’s precedent that we Christians have a witness to those who serve Christ in name only when he called Christians to lay aside the feast and pray for healing.
We didn’t know, at the time, that the Native American culture valued community to the extent where almost everything was held in common by the community. All tools, food and community resources belonged to the entire community. It was a different and very Christ like way of living.
We also know that Thanksgiving celebration started around the time of the Civil war.
The nation was bitterly divided and President Lincoln instituted a national holiday, the last Thursday of November as a day for prayer for our nations healing.
And here we are, half way into the sermon about Christ the King Sunday and all we are talking about is US history and the issue with worship on this morning. Do we join the entire world and celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of heaven? Or, do we join the faithful in our own nation and either commemorate the faith of our forefathers and the generosity of the first Americans or spend the time in prayer for healing?
Can we do both?
And maybe that is the problem with empire and confusing faith with patriotism.
Or, we can frame the question this way, Christian community over Patriotic community?
What happens when both are calling for a good thing?
Like many, over the last several weeks, I have had to examine my own priorities about the second line to the Lord’s Prayer.
Let me remind you, It starts with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy Name,” and then it is: “...Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done...”
God’s will, not mine.
God’s Kingdom, not any kingdom of men, not even the US.
God has reminded me that as a Christian, I can never vote “MY NATION first” if it causes hardship in another country or damages the planet.
Our first priority is that we constantly pray this: “God, establish the Kingdom of heaven on earth.” This is our regular prayer. That is what Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer.
Based on that prayer this is, or should be, if not explicitly stated, at least implied in the spirit of our requests to God: “God, establish Your love, mercy and justice on this earth.”
That is why President Lincoln asked for a Thursday to be set aside to pray for healing and or worship with a feast.
When the Church focuses on Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven and remembers to place Christ at the position of supremacy, then politics and the fears related to it begin to pale.
We do not know what God is doing in the world.
But, it was a reminder to pray.
We do not have to compromise the Christian calendar to continue to pray and be a blessing to our nation. We use this Sunday to remember that Jesus is King of heaven and no nation state, no matter how powerful is going to change that.
So, let us focus a little bit more on Jesus Christ this morning. Let me re read our text starting at verse 15: 15Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things.
The visible likeness of the invisible God. When we hear the words: “The Word of God” we find a big change in the New Testament. Up until the gospels, it was the OT scripture. After the gospels, whenever they preached “The Word of God” it meant that they were preaching about Jesus.
You see, John calls Jesus “The Word made flesh.” Jesus is God’s self portrait. We cannot comprehend the infinite God, so God gave us a sort of finite picture of God’s own self when God became the man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus is the Supreme description of God
Let us read on as we read that Jesus is supreme in all of His own creation:
16For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. 17Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place.
Different translations render these verses different ways. The Jehovah Witness bible says that Jesus was the first thing created and is a created being. But the context seems consistent with the rest of scripture that Jesus, there at the beginning of creation, was in partnership with the rest of the Trinity in the creation of the world.
Jesus is supreme in Creation because He too created the universe and all that is in it.
And then we read how Jesus is supreme in the realms of the Church:
18He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body's life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things.
Perhaps more focus has to be on this verse for us to keep proper perspective. Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church must reflect the Spirit and love that Jesus showed to humanity.
We live because of Jesus. And we place Jesus first.
Christ is supreme in the Church.
And Christ is supreme in the universe:
19For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. 20Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven.
Through the Son, then God decided to bring the whole universe God to Himself.”
God’s purpose was to make peace and reconcile the world to God and each other.
It was so simply put to Jesus, what is the greatest command and Jesus answered with a twofold answer that He equated as one answer:
Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.
In John 13, He said it like this: “A new and singular command I give you, Love each other.”
Jesus said in very plainly in Matthew 25 when He says that when we love the worse of humanity, we love Him. We love God by loving others.
And my thesis this morning is that we can better do that when we focus on Jesus and His calling in our own lives. His calling? Love one another.
When people see us do that, then they too will see the invisible God.