How can love be the answer

Intro

What can begin to solve the problems of the world? What answer do Christians have that is unique?
Goal 
Let us understand that love is the only practical and realistic answer.
Sermon Plan 
We will look at the easiest and at the same time most difficult of Jesus' teachings. We will see love in the context of betrayal, denial and foot washing. We will discuss living in denial of denial and how love can possibly be the answer.
Easiest and most difficult
What proves where God’s people are? Is it a keeping of the “right” rules of church doctrine? In John 13:31-35 Jesus discussed one of the most important of his teachings: love one another. It is evidence of who we are. It is one of the easiest doctrines to understand and most difficult to practice. None of us loves perfectly, yet we can and do love. It is also very difficult at times. The introduction to this topic is the act of washing one another’s feet. I have witnessed churches that do this literally, but never lift a finger to help their neighbors and other churches that do not literally wash feet but obey what it portrays. Jesus would not have asked us to do the impossible. It is possible and Jesus taught that love is the most important commandment.
Betrayal, Denial, Footwashing and Love
In the context of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial and Jesus’ footwashing is the new command to love one another (John 13:31-35). Churches are filled with imperfect humanity and the weaknesses and mistakes that come with the territory. Every church will likely experience some form of betrayal especially of its leaders. Pastors know that being verbally crucified is part of their job description. Some people will also deny that Christ is in the membership of a local church. Yet in the midst of all this is also footwashing, where people serve each other in love. We Christians are a strange mixture of denial, betrayal and love. That’s the way it has always been. Betrayal and denial also exist outside the church. But, real pure love from heaven can only be found in one place as testimony to where God is.
Living in denial of denial
When someone betrays our trust in them of granting them citizenship by terrorizing and bombing us, we tend to act in denial that such things will happen. When someone turns their back on us denying our human dignity and right to live peaceful lives, we act in denial that such denials will exist. Perhaps it is time we face facts. In this world we will have troubles (John 16:33). How can we combat such horror, by perpetrating even greater injustices? By lashing out in anger? By bombing countries far and wide in an effort to eradicate things which will not disappear until Christ returns? Perhaps that is why Jesus said that instead of trying to erase the unerasable, or denying the undeniable, or perpetuating the betrayal of one another, we should consider an alternative answer, love (John 13:31-35).
How can love be the answer
When things go terribly wrong in this world and terrorists strike or nutty foreign leaders threaten, vengeance and acts of aggression seem to be the answer. Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies seems terribly naive and impractical. Yet, in the midst of being betrayed by close friends who denied even knowing him, and being brutally murdered for daring to preach good news of a better world, his practical solution was forgiveness and love. Let’s take the Israelis and Palestinians. What solution have their unending rounds of retaliation provided? None. They have brought no peaceful solution. Military and business warfare have not brought about peace or solved economic troubles. Love and mutual respect are not the rules of Wall Street. Yet, Christians are called to live as examples of the only practical solution to this world’s problems, love (John 13:31-35).
Outro/Take Home 
Love can seem like the easiest command but it is at the same time most difficult of Jesus' teachings. In the midst of betrayal and denial, Jesus set the example by washing the disciples' feet. Love is the only practical answer to the world's major problems and it starts right here with us.

YHVH is my shepherd


Intro

What is it like being a sheep in God's flock? What kind of care can we expect?

Goal

Let us understand Psalm 23.

Sermon Plan

We will learn that we lack nothing, that we are filled and safe, will be led on the right track, comforted by his care and correction, that in the midst of terror we need not fear and that he will give us every blessing when he is ready.

I shall not be lacking

When we look at that most famous of David’s melodies, Psalm 23, we begin to see healing in the midst of greed. The traditional translation of verse 1 is now moving out of use in everyday language. To not be “in want” is becoming strange terminology to our ears, when every advertisement encourages us to want more materialism in our lives. Yet that is not the original meaning. The Hebrew words lo ehser simply mean I won’t be lacking, or I have all my needs. We could call this a theology of sufficiency. In a world of lust for more, it is rare to hear people say that they lack nothing, that they are satisfied and need nothing more materially. Yet, that is the point of the Psalm, to be satisfied with life, and that is a truly happy life.

I lie down in green grass

When sheep are hungry or frightened they will not lie down. This picture from Psalm 23 is one of serenity and security. How can we experience peace and safety in the midst of terrorism and other world problems? Terrorists can kill the body but not the soul protected by God. This is not a promise to everyone, but it is a picture relevant to those who allow themselves to come under that rod and staff of the Great Shepherd. When we go to funerals and this Psalm is read, many people just assume that it applies to them, but it does not apply to those who cannot be bothered with the things of God. It only applies to the sheep of the one who is. The Lord’s sheep experience lush pasture and quiet waters in the midst of dangerous predators.

The right track

For most people the right track in life is one of the ways of the world. It may be a meticulous kind of political correctness, a particular gender bias, the quality of foods we eat or the way we teach our children. However, the ways of the world often deceive us. They cannot guarantee a full and happy life, but God can. The word righteous is not popular today, but it simply means the right track and there is only one who can lead us there. In Psalm 23 that is often translated as the paths of righteousness, meaning the right tracks picturing the ways of justice and fairness. Anyone who has experience with sheep knows that they create and follow well-worn tracks. As God’s sheep, if we follow the Good Shepherd, he will lead us down the right track.

His rod and staff

The two tools of shepherding mentioned in Psalm 23 were a rod and staff. A sling was not mentioned. The rod was a often a club used to protect the sheep from predators, but also to discipline them for their own good. Jesus’ rod is also a vehicle of comfort, even though momentarily perhaps a little painful. Discipline is for our good. The staff was a bent piece of wood that could be used to catch and rescue sheep. In our age of mass manufacture we imagine that they were all of the same model as pictured in our Sunday School books. But that is unrealistic. They were homemade and just about anything that would do the job was chosen. There are many times in life that we need Jesus to rescue us and he sees that as his job.

In the midst of enemies

David’s 23rd Psalm pictures a table prepared right in front of our enemies. All his life David faced antagonists, from those in his own family to Saul the king of Israel and when he was king to enemies round about. In the midst of our own enemies we seem strangely shocked by terrorism and world troubles. It is as if we cannot accept that this has always been and always will be until Jesus’ returns and brings about world peace. From the first murder of a brother by a brother to Viking terrorism to the most recent bombing God has made a promise: that in the midst of all this, he would set a table for those in his sheepfold. The choice is ours. Who is our Lord? Is it this world or is our Lord the God of heaven?

You anoint my head

In Psalm 23 is a metaphor of anointing our heads with oil. Understanding the original language and culture helps us see the deeper meaning. When a shepherd came in from the fields as did David when he was to be chosen king, he would have been rather dusty and perhaps even have dirt in his hair. Just as many moderns prefer to cleanse with perfumed oils rather than soap today, so did the ancients. The original language actually says you “remove ashes” from my head with oil. As David was ill-treated by his brothers, and ashes on the head symbolized mourning, this removal also symbolizes the Good Shepherd healing our emotional pain. Also, the anointing was to make David king, and symbolizes God lifting us up high after humiliation by others. Most importantly, God anoints us with his Holy Spirit.

Outro/Take Home

Truly as members of Jesus' flock we lack nothing, we are filled and safe, we can be sure that Jesus leads us on the right track, comforted by his care and correction. We can be sure that in the midst of terror we need not fear and that he will give us every blessing.

Gospel of second chances


Intro

What does the resurrection do for you and me today? Is it something that is only relevant for our eternity or are there wonderful blessings that it promises us today?

Goal

Let us understand that the resurrection is about second chances.

Sermon Plan

We will look at a different approach, our need for Jesus, some misconceptions about God's love and the Gospel of second chances.

Trying a different approach with Jesus

The disciples went fishing after Jesus’ resurrection, but without success (John 21:1-19). They probably used a net made from flax, a circle net about 6 yards or meters across with small lead weights attached to the borders. it was thrown with great skill to open up as it hit the water. The weights dropped and the net encircled the fish. Men then jumped into the water to retrieve the net, so they often fished naked. The fish were then sorted into clean and unclean and counted so that each received a fair share and to pay their taxes. Day laborers usually helped with the duties. Fishermen probably knew the local Aramaic language, Hebrew and also Greek the language of trade. Jesus was not a fisherman but gave advice to the experts. Would we try a different approach with Jesus?

Without Jesus we all fail

The disciples of Jesus had failed to remain loyal to him during his trial and crucifixion. Highlighting that failure, when they returned to their trade they also failed (John 21:1-19). This world is run by incredibly intelligent and fabulously educated people, but world leadership continues to fail miserably. We are no different than Jesus’ first disciples. When they finally make an enormous catch, with Jesus’ help, he invited them put their bounty with his for a meal. This is one of life’s great lessons, that we must learn over and over. Whatever we accomplish, whatever talents we may have, it all comes from God and we need him every hour. Jesus then recommissioned Peter, as he denied Jesus 3 times, Jesus now reconfirmed his commission 3 times. We all fail many times and need Jesus’ reconfirmation time and again.

The agapé lie

Some who are ignorant of biblical Greek claim that agapé is divine love and phileo is a mere human love. This is sheer fiction. The Greek wordagapé can mean a wrong kind of love, like men who loved darkness (John 3:19), or loving the praise of men more than God (John 12:43), and one who loved this world more than Paul (2 Timothy 4:10). Jesus shows that if Peter loved Jesus then he expected him to show that love through an act of brotherly love, “feed my sheep.” (John 21:1-19) There is no greater love than to die for our brothers [philos] (John 15:13). Jesus also showed that he expects his followers to show love to him in acts of brotherly love towards the needy, like foreigners, homeless, sick and prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).

The eros-phileo-agapé myth

Lesser-educated preachers have perpetuated a myth that love in biblical Greek has three levels: eros (sensual), phileo (brotherly) and agapé(supposedly godly love). One example is a wrong explanation of John 21:1-19 where the risen Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Jesus' question was quite simple, not with the contrived assumptions sometimes preached. Depending on the context, agapé and phileo have similar meanings. Peter did not attempt to avoid the question, but replied quite plainly, "You know that I love you (like a brother)." Peter was not lessening Jesus' question to a lower level of love, as sometimes falsely claimed. Actually, Peter implied that he loved Jesus like a brother for whom he would die. "Greater love [agapé] has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [or brothers, philos]" (John 15:13)

Breakfast with Jesus

John 21:1-19 shows how the resurrection works in our lives: restoration to God and real forgiveness. The disciples had all acted like cowards. They felt guilty and ashamed. Retreating to the familiarity of fishing with fruitless efforts. Jesus provided fish and invited them to breakfast. It was time to move on from their grief and fear. They were no different than any of us. We love Jesus, but sometimes are afraid. With three confirmations of his love Peter symbolically undid his three denials. Each time Jesus reminded him of the next step. There was a job still to be done. Like Peter we are forgiven and invited to start over. No need for guilt, shame and fear. The resurrected Jesus invites us to the mission at hand. Come and have breakfast with Jesus. Then, let us feed his sheep.

The Gospel of second chances

A preacher in a legalistic church once claimed that God did not give second chances, but then we have the Gospel story in John 21:1-19. Here we see Peter who had royally screwed up after three years of apprenticeship in Jesus’ personal training program only to blow it completely at the last minute. How many of us have completely blown something in life? Perhaps it was our children that we hurt deeply because of family injustice or a spouse because of a betrayal or a friend because of a confidence we failed to keep. Like Peter, we too have denied Jesus Christ. Forgiveness does not mean that we trust completely the one who has hurt us deeply, but it does mean that we give them a second chance if they are willing. If we want it, God is willing.

Outro/Take Home

If we have ever done things that we truly regret, the resurrection of Jesus Christ offers us a second chance.

Peace be with you

Intro

Do we experience fear and doubt? Everyone does from time to time. How can we experience peace rather than fear and doubt?

Goal 

Let us understand that such peace only comes from heaven. 

Sermon Plan 

We will look at fear, doubt and peace.

Peace from God

What changed the Apostles from a fearful band of fleeing cowards to men of faith and action? Certainly, the coming of the Holy Spirit caused dramatic changes at Pentecost, but the changes in the Apostles began seven weeks before that after the resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives power, but only to those who are prepared. Three times in John 20:19-31 Jesus proclaimed peace to his disciples. Could peace with us be a necessary preparation for the Holy Spirit? First came the resurrection, then blessings of peace and a commissioning followed weeks later with the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of their cowardice we can imagine that the disciples had no peace. Yet, Jesus blessed them with peace. Could it be that an answer to fear and lack of faith is the peace that passes all understanding.

My Lord and My God

At the cross all the disciples of Jesus abandoned him. However, after his resurrection Jesus appeared to them and offered his peace. After seeing the scars Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:19-31). This was a very personal expression of faith. He did not say OUR Lord or even THE Lord, but MY Lord AND MY God. This is what is meant when people speak of a personal relationship with God. Jesus then went on to bless those of us who would believe even though we, unlike Thomas, have not seen, at least not with our physical eyes. There is a seeing that is not with the eyes. When we see Jesus with that insight, then we like they will believe. And as Jesus revealed himself to those disciples, so he reveals himself to each of us.

Easter Ignorance

Thomas doubted the resurrection (John 20:19-31) and some Christians doubt Easter. Does the Friday-Sunday tradition equal three days? In the ancient world three days and three nights was colloquial for sometimes parts of three days and not a scientific expression for exactly 72 hours. They also counted differently than we do. To them if today was Friday, it was day 1 and Sunday day 3. If today was Friday, we could count Saturday as day 1 and Monday as day 3. It’s called inclusive versus exclusive counting. Is the word Easter pagan? Most languages still call Easter Passover. Whether or not the English word is of pagan origin is irrelevant. Historians and theologians are well aware of counter Easter theories, but reject them as ignoring all the facts. The overwhelming majority honestly agree that Friday-Sunday makes the most sense.

What can a Doubter Accomplish

The thing that most of us remember about the Apostle Thomas is the epithet “doubting Thomas” from his initial doubt at Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:19-31). Was he then a failure? After that Thomas went on to southwest India and established several great churches. Though severely persecuted by overzealous Portuguese Catholics in the 1500’s, these descendants of early Jewish Christians still exist as various churches today. Despite the shameful persecution by those who claim to be successors of Peter and Paul some of these Thomas Christians still observe elements of their Jewish heritage. Today, various groups of them either adhere to the younger western Catholic Church or are attached to the older eastern Orthodox Church. Historians consider these to be the oldest Christian churches after the Assyrian Church. So, what can a doubter accomplish in Jesus? — a great legacy.

Are we like Thomas

In the gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19-31), we are perhaps surprised to see that Thomas doubts. Yet his weak faith is not unique. It is rather the sometime condition of all of Christ’s disciples, including us. What is more remarkable is the incredible authority that Jesus entrusts to such faulty disciples, the power to forgive sins or not. This is not a contradiction to Jesus’ instructions after giving the Lord’s prayer regarding forgiveness. It relates directly to the gospel message. It is a message of forgiveness of sin to those who accept it. It also contains the message that those who refuse it will not be forgiven. Those who do not accept the message of Jesus, delivered by ordinary people, cannot be forgiven until they do. We have that authority today.

Outro/Take Home 

If we have fear and doubt, let us ask God for the peace that passes all understanding.