Sunday, November 25, 2018

Known By God - A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday - Jeremiah 1:4-10

Today marks the last Sunday of the Christian year. For believers next Sunday is our New Years. Our Year begins in anticipation waiting for the messiah, our king and our year ends by remembering and celebrating that Jesus is our king. So this Sunday, we celebrate the very One for whom next week we, once again, wait and long.
 And these thoughts of the years’ end and the kingship of Jesus bring us to the call of Jeremiah. God called Jeremiah out of God’s own intimate knowledge of Jeremiah. God knew Jeremiah. God created Jeremiah. The particular word used here, “to know,” implies deep understanding. It is an understanding of another that goes beyond that of an acquaintance.
Nasrene has been frequently been our cashier at Star Market since we move the parsonage to Cambridge eight years ago. I know Nasrene. I know a few things about her. Her daughter is on the city council. Nasrene knows us; she has watched the girls grow up. She knows what grades they are in and which school they attend. But the knowledge God has of Nasrene is deeper than this kind of “knowing.”
I also know Jennifer Couchman. I have known Jennifer since I was in sixth grade, when I decided she was my friend, even when she was not quite so sure she wanted to be friends with the strange new girl who just moved in across the street. We know things about one another that few other people know. She is one of the very few people in the world who still thinks Katie when she thinks about me but will nonetheless always call me Kaza. Our knowledge and understanding of each other is deep enough that may live half a country away from each other, and not speak nearly enough, but whenever we get together, catching up on the “stuff” in our life is perfunctory. Jen and I know each other pretty well, but still the knowledge and understanding God has of Jeremiah is deeper than even Jen and I’s nearly life-long friendship“.
The kind of knowing that is here in this passage is the deep, long lasting, intimate knowledge that develops between two spouses; the kind of knowledge that is found in “doing” life together with another; the kind of knowledge that comes from being with someone through the long haul of life’s journey. The kind of knowledge that knows what a person looks like first thing in the morning, funky breath and all. And the kind of knowledge that is gained when night after night their face is the last face you see as you turn out the light. Knowledge found in struggling together, in parenting together, in fighting together and yes loving together.  The idea is that two people, who live together, are together and move through life together, should know each other better than any two people know one another. This kind of knowledge is the kind of knowledge spoken of here.
God KNOWS Jeremiah. But it is even deeper than that. God knows Jeremiah better and more intimately than I know Michael.  God has known Jeremiah not merely as long as he has lived, but since even before that. God has known Jeremiah since the moment of his creation. God knows Jeremiah, more deeply and more intimately than anyone else could possibly ever know Jeremiah. 
The God loves Jeremiah. And out of that love and in the knowledge that God knows from “knowing” Jeremiah, God chose Jeremiah to bring a message to the Israelite people. God knows that Jeremiah is the right person for this. God knows this because God knows Jeremiah.
The thing about Bible characters, the more you read about them the more you find out that they are simple flawed human beings just like the rest of us, just as you and I would, just as so many before and after him have, Jeremiah, interrupted God in the middle of God speaking to him and calling him to do God’s work, and he told God exactly why he believed that he was not up to the job that God had given him. He believed that he knew himself better than God did. That he had been Jeremiah all his life. So he needed to let God know some things about himself that he was sure God did know or understand.
Jeremiah charges in, interrupts God and tells God all the reason he objects to God’s call. Jeremiah sees himself as a small child. The word he uses here is one that is only used of very small children who as of yet do not know enough to be of any consequence. Jeremiah does not believe is not up to this task. He is too young; too inexperienced; he does not know enough. Nobody would listen to him because he is really just a child.
God then tells him that he will go to whom, “I send you.” God is not worried about Jeremiah’s age, real or perceived. God, who knows Jeremiah, does not believe that he is too inexperienced; not old enough; or is not up to the task. It was not up to Jeremiah to worry about whether any of these things, or anything else, would inhibit people in listening him. God choose Jeremiah. God knows Jeremiah. God knows that Jeremiah is really the best person for this task. God knows that Jeremiah can do it. Besides, God did not call Jeremiah to make other people listen, or to decided what other people will or will not do. God called him to go and give them the message God was giving him to give to them.
All though the message God gives to Jeremiah at this point is specifically for the Israelites, but God is not God over just the Israelites. God is not just the God of one nation, or one group of people. God is not just the God of the chosen. God is not just the God of Christians. God is God of all, so therefore God’s call for Jeremiah is not for him to speak to just his people, or the people who so happen to live near to him. God’s call is bigger than that. God’s call is for Jeremiah to speak to all people in all the nations. God is the God of everyone, not just some, not just the special, not just the “chosen”, not just the nice, the good, the worthy; God is the God of everyone
Almost every time God called people, God called them to all go into al the world. Think of God’s blessings of Abraham which is that all people will be blessed through him. God’s reach is vast and God’s kingdom encompasses the whole of creation. God’s call is never limited it is just as vast and included the entirety of God’s kingdom.
The fact that God is King of all is exactly what we are celebrating today in, “Christ the Kind Sunday.” All creation belongs to God. The sovereignty of God and therefore Christ whose kingdom has come through his life, death and resurrection, is as vast as creation itself. Christ is king of all. Christ is our king and also the king of anyone and everyone. As Christians, followers of Christ who not only believe in Jesus Christ, but are transformed by his life, his death and resurrection into people of Christ’s kingdom and as such we are all called to carry the good news of the Gospel to the entirety of Christ’s kingdom. We are all called to carry the message of the good news of the gospel. We are all called, just as Jeremiah was, to all nations, to all peoples, to all creation.
Our call from God is to take the good news of the gospel to everyone, far and near; to our family, to our friends, to the people of our neighborhood; to people that you meet each day. And our call is also to those far away.
This is what foreign missions is all about. This is why as a Nazarene church we pay the general church our world evangelism budget faithfully every year. This is also why we have missionaries come and speak to us about the work they are doing and how they sharing the Good News to those who are far from here, to people we may never meet, so we can know how our giving, how our support is helping to fulfill God’s call to all people everywhere.
But our call is even bigger than that. Our call is to go to those we have a hard time believing can or will come to Christ. That includes our enemies, people who are outright hostile to us. But also simply people don’t like; people we fear, people who make us uncomfortable; people who, perhaps, we would not really want in our church. But it is not up to us, to share the Good News with only the people we want to share is. Our call extends to All; our call encompasses the entirety of God’s vast kingdom; our call is to EVERYONE.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Deuteronomy 6:1-9: All Saint Sunday: Remembering the Past, Living in the Present, Looking to the Future

For their thirtieth anniversary my father wanted to do something really special for my mother.  It had always bothered him that he was unable to get my mother a diamond engagement ring when they were young, so he decided he would get her a diamond ring that year.  After looking at several different rings he decided up one of those rings that have three diamonds all in a row.  The lady at the jewelry shop, who sold it to him, told him it was called a yesterday, today and forever ring. 
Each diamond in the ring symbolized a different facet of their love.  The first diamond stood for their love of the past, the second was for their love today in the present and the third diamond symbolized their love tomorrow and into the future.  It is a way of saying the love of the past is what has brought them to this point in their relationship, i.e. their thirtieth anniversary, and the love of both yesterday and today is what will lead them to their love in the future.
All Saints Sunday is like a Past, Present, Future ring for the Church.  Today we celebrate and remember how Christ has worked through the lives of Christians, in the past, and how their lives which so exemplified faith, affect who we are as Christians today and at the same time we look to the future thinking about the Christians who come after us and think about the quality of the legacy faith we are leaving for them.
During the service we have shared faith stories of saints, Christians who have gone on before us, whose lives spoke volumes about who Christ is and who Christ is calling each of us to be.  It is their lives and lives of thousands of Christians like them have brought the church to the place it is today and their lives and as well as our lives, for we are the saints of the future, are what will bring the church forward into the generations to come.
All Saints Sunday is a Past, Present, Future ring for the Church and this passage highlights the same kind of idea of looking at the past has brought us to where we are today, and how what we choose to do today determines the kind of future we have together as the people of God.  Let’s begin with the past.  The children of Israel as they stood waiting to enter the promise land were standing on the promises the Lord had made, and the miracles the Lord had done in the past.  God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each in turn that their ancestors would someday inherit the land before which they were standing that day.  These Israelites knew first hand what every high school history teacher tells her class as they continually struggle with obscure facts, names and dates of people and events that are long gone.  History is the building blocks for today; everything which has brought us to today is a result of what has gone on in the past.  A people who cuts itself off from the past, cuts themselves off from the very thing that holds them up and allows them to stand where they stand, causing the foundation of all that makes them who they are to crumble and fall.
Israel knew they could not cut themselves off from the past, because the past contained their promise to God and God’s promise to them; his promise to take care of them and protect them, his promise to lead them and to guide them, but most importantly it contained his promise to give the descendants of their ancestors, in other words them, the land into which they are about to enter.  Also they could not forget because the relationship with God which their ancestors had in the past, brought about the promise God was full filling in them by bringing them into the Promised Land.  Even though they knew this, God made sure to remind them that God was not merely giving this land to them, because God felt like it, or because it seemed like a good thing to do at the time, but God was doing it because God had promised their ancestors that someday their children would be given this land and God does not go back on promises.
Like the ring, the passage not only speaks about the past, but it speaks of the present.  It is fine and good that God promised to give this land to these people’s ancestors, but God required the people who stood to receive; the people there on this day, that they were to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, with all their souls and with all their might.  They were there because of their ancestors but they could not stand on the faith of their ancestors without making it their own. There was a stipulation to the promise; two halves.  God had said I will be your God and you will be my people.  I will give you this land and you will worship and obey me all the days of your lives.  It was a pretty fair trade and needed to be made over again with this new generation.
God expected these people to be in relationship God, to walk in righteousness before God, just as their ancestors, to whom God had made the promise, had done.  God did not require anything new or special of them, which was not required of the generations who gone before them.  God merely wanted them to love God with their whole beings, with all their heart, with all their souls and will all their might; simply to love the Lord with all they were.  Not much to ask for, considering, God promised to love them back; to guide them and take care of them.  Obedience is a fair trade to have the God who created the whole universe on your side, loving you and looking out for you.  Not a bad deal considering land for each and every one of them to build homes and raise their families on was included as well.
As they stood on the edge of the promise land God spoke to them about the past, the present and the future.  God told them, they were to obey God’s command to love, but not only did God want their love, but God wanted their children and their children’s children love as well.  God did not just want to make promises with living people, God wanted the living to pass this promise down to their children, just as the promise had been passed down to them.
God does not passively wish their children and their children’s children will fear the Lord and continue to live up to the promises that were made, but God tells them what they need to do to be sure this promise and the command that goes along with it, is transferred to each new generation.
God tells them they are to immerse their lives and the lives of their children in this command to love God.  They are to first of all tell their children about it.  They are to recite it to them.  It is to be so well known to them that they have it memorized and they can recite it to their children from memory in hope that their children will also commit it to memory.  But not only are they to recite it and encourage their children to also commit it to memory, but they are to talk about it.  They are to talk about it when they are at home, when they are away from home, when they get ready for bed and when they get up in the morning.  The command to love God should be such a part of their lives that it is incorporated into every part of their life.  There should be no part of their lives that is not touched by this command.  It is to surround everything they do and become a part of every day life.  It is not something that should only be talked about when they go to the temple or only when they are in trouble and need God, but it is to be talked about at all time, in everything they do and in this way become a part of every aspect of their lives. 
Their homes are to be so filled with the love of God that it is as if it is nailed to the doors of their house, so they litter did this to remind them of this fact. It is to be so much apart of what they think that they are to bind the command to their forehead.  It is to be so much a part of what they do and their actions that they are to bind them to their hand.  The love of God is to totally encompass every part of their lives.  In this way they can teach their children about God and God’s command to love, and thus ensuring that this promise which was passed down to them from their father’s and their father’s fathers, will be passed down to their children and their children’s children.
Like the ring my father gave to my mother which spoke of their love of the past, their love of the present, and their future love, God speaks to the people of Israel as they are getting ready to enter the holy land, about the past, the present and the future as well.  They are to remember they are where they are today because of their ancestors who came before them and the promises God made with them and the promises they made with God.  They are to be concerned with the present by loving the Lord in the way God commanded them to.  Last but not least they are to look to the future by so filling their lives with the teachings of the Lord and his command for them to love God, they will be teaching their children in all they do and all they say to do the same, so their children and their children’s children will also love and obey God, ensuring the promise be preserved.
We are like the Israelites we are looking into the future and what has promised for us and we also need to heed the words God spoke to the Israelites as they stood looking into the promise land and what God had in store for them.
We stand in the middle between the past and the future.  We are to look to the past and learn from and build on the faith of all the Christians who have gone before us.  Their lives are testimonies to us about how we are to live our lives, and their words are words of wisdom which teach us how to live our lives loving God the way that God has called us to live them.  They might not always have done things we approve or of we are proud, but we are in good company, as the Israelites looked back at those who had gone before them, the lives of those who had gone before them had not always been expletory.  After all look at Abraham and his habit of lying about Sarah being his wife (a habit he unfortunately passed down to Isaac), or a Jacob and how dishonest he was with almost everyone which whom he dealt.  We are to still look to those who have gone before us, drawing from their triumphs and learning from their failures, and also rest assured in the fact that if God used those rascally people in the past God surely can and will us today. 
We like the Israelites are not to only look to the past but we are to look to the future, because we are the saints of the future, we should be sure our lives are lives that will teach the next generation what it means to love the Lord with our whole beings and to obey God all the days of our lives, so our children and our children’s children will love the Lord.  Just as the saint of the past have passed their faith down to us, teaching us and showing us how to love the Lord, we also are to teach the love of God in all we say and all we do, so that the Christians of the generations to come can look to us and learn to love God the way we have.
We are always standing in the middle owing where we are and who we are in Christ to the lives of so many who have gone on before us, while at the same time knowing those who come after us will also owe their Christian walks and their faith to us who will have gone before them.  All saints day is a day to remember we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and helped show us how to love the Lord and it also reminds us of our responsibility to those who come after us.  We follow the lights of the Christians that have gone before us and helped show us the way and we are to look to those who come behind us and show them the way in everything we do and everything we say.