Monday, July 6, 2015

Romans 2 Podcast

Romans Part Two

Part 2
“Out of Alignment”

5 July 2015         The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost     
Year A  Color: Green

Scripture Reading: Romans 1:18-32

Before scripture reading

Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States (1923–1929). A Republican lawyer from Vermont, who became governor of Massachusetts Soon after, he was elected as the 29th Vice President in 1920 and succeeded to the Presidency upon the sudden death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small government conservative, and also as a man who said very little, although he had a good sense of humor.  

Once, at a dinner party, a woman sitting next to him tried all night to strike up a conversation with the president, only to find she couldn’t.  Finally, she leveled with him, saying, “Some of your people bet me ten dollars I couldn’t get three words from you.  What do you say to that?”  He answered with two words, “you loose.”  

On another occasion, a reporter approached the President as he was leaving church.  The reporter said, “So, I see that you’ve been to church today?”  The president said, “Yes.”  The reporter continued, so what did the preacher talk about today?”  The president said, “Sin.”  “Oh yeah?”, the reporter commented.  “So what did the preacher say about sin?”  The president answered, “He was against it.”  

Today, our Scripture lesson is about sin; and I want you to know that only Jesus could preach about sin and not blush.  Everyone in this room is a sinner, whom Jesus died to redeem.  There is no one here this morning, who is here because they deserve to be.  We are here because of the mercy of God.  Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.  That proves God’s love toward us.  

In the context of our communion service, you will hear those words again.  Following an invitation to confess our sins, I will say to you, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”  You will then say to me, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”  We will then approach the table as forgiven sinners. 

Scripture Reading

Romans Series Picture

Sin is an awkward and difficult topic, but one which is essential to understanding the human condition, the situation in which we find ourselves, and God’s answer to both.  

The topic is even more difficult than it used to be, because I believe that the church of today houses two different religions.  The two religions have a lot in common, including using the same vocabulary.  However, the two religions use the same vocabulary in very different ways, to mean very different things.  To clarify, I will call one religion progressive Christianity, and the other Classical Christianity.  As we look at each, we will see that while using the same words, each means something very different from the other. 

For example, both talk about God and both say that God is love.  But when progressive Christianity talks about God, it seems as if they are grasping for straws as what to call this God.  Their prayers seem to be saying, “To whom it may concern.”  While Classical Christianity knows that it is calling upon the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Progressive Christianty speaks of God’s love as if it were merely a romantic feeling, like you read about in greeting cards; while the Classical Christianity knows that God’s love is holy and robust, like the love of a mother who stays awake through the night, to watch over her sick baby.  God’s love is robust, like the firefighter who rushes into the  burning building to rescue a trapped resident.  

When Progressive Christianity speaks of Jesus, they seem to be describing someone so nice that he seems to be what you would get if you mixed Richard Simmons, Mr. Rogers, and Oprah.  He is so nice, that you have to ask, “How in the world did someone this syrupy sweet get himself crucified?”  

Classical Christianity describes Jesus as the Lion of Judah, who is deeply good, but who is no tame housecat.  

Ask Progressive Christianity what Jesus came to do do, and they will tell you that he came to tell us that all we need is love; which leaves me asking, isn’t that why we have the Beatles.  When you ask Classical Christianity what Jesus came to do, they will tell you, “He came to save the world from death and sin.”  

Ask Progressive Christianity why Jesus died and they will tell you, “because the world is so bad.”  That is partly true.  But the complete answer, which only Classical Christianity will give, is that Jesus died, not only because the world is bad, but more importantly, because God is good!!!

Progressive Christianity feels no obligation to stick to the Bible’s teachings.  They believe that the Bible is only a reflection of what ancient people once thought about God, much of which is wrong.  Progressive Christians do not feel obligated to teach what the Bible teaches, because they think that it is littered with errors and opinions that do not reflect God’s will.  Now, they still like to preach and teach from the Bible, because they find it inspiring that the ignorant men who wrote the Bible sometimes happened to say something that they agree with.  And when it comes to the topic of tithing, some of these progressive Christians seem like near fundamentalists.

Classical Christianity, admits that many parts of the Bible are hard to understand. They admit that it takes a life time of study to understand some parts of the Bible and correctly apply them to one’s life; but, they believe that the Bible is fully reliable, and that its message is truth.  
As you can guess, the two sides do not see eye to eye on the topic of sin.  In fact, most progressive Christians like to avoid passages like the one before us today.  As an Orthodox Christian, I do not feel like I have the liberty to skip passages like the one for today, simply because they are  difficult passages.  Instead, I believe that if we will look honestly at our topic today, we will find a word of redemption for our lives and lives of others.  

Today we are dealing with a topic that requires a great deal of nuance and careful thinking.  That topic is sin.  For as long as humans have thought about themselves and the world in which they live, they have asked themselves two questions:  1.  Is this world a good or a bad place?  and, 2.  Are humans basically good or basically bad?  

At times we are very tempted to say simply that both the world and humankind are good.  There are days when the sun shines and the wind blows gently.  Butterflies caress the air as they wand the way through the park, flitting from flower to flower.  People, too, can be such a pleasure.  Just when you have given up on the world, a random act of kindness comes from an unexpected source.  

But then, there are times when we are not so sure about the world being good.  Even in the most beautiful forests of trees and animals are diseased with parasites.  That’s why animals in captivity usually fair better than animals in the wild.  Animals in captivity are given antibiotics from a veterinarian.  Animals in captivity do not have to fear being attacked by a predator.  In a zoo, a gazelle or penguin, is unlikely to have some predator come running into their enclosed habitat to eat them. 

Nature can be brutal.  Whole species have been wiped out by totally random events, like forrest fires or the spread of a fungus.  It’s not just the fittest that survive.  Sometimes superior species are killed off while more sickly, poorly-adapted species survive, all as a happenstance of chance.  

People can be terribly wicked.  The 20th century was one of the most blood-soaked epochs in human history.  And, a lot of historians believe that the reason the 21st century has not been as brutal is not because we are more kind and enlightened than former generations; but, because nuclear weapons have raised the stakes too high for most countries to want to get into another world war.  

So, which is it?  Are people basically good or basically bad?  Our world, is it bad or is it good?   The Bible gives a more nuanced answer than simply a yes or no, or simply good or bad.  But, by giving a more nuanced answer, the Bible is able to make sense of more of the data.  

The Bible’s answer is that humankind and the world in which we live is something God has created to be very good and that they are essentially good things by nature; but, the world and we who live in it are profoundly broken.  Something has gone terribly wrong with the good creation God has made. 

The shorthand or code-word the Bible uses for all that is wrong with us and the world is Sin.  Now, there is Sin and then there are sins. 

Sins   sins are those individual behaviors, like stealing, adultery, and gossip, which show just how out of sync we are with our Creator. Individual sins also have a way of slowly making this mis-alignment worse.  

SIN  - Sin, with a capital S, is the very condition of being out of alignment with God and his purposes for us.  When the Bible uses the word sin in this way, it is speaking about the condition in which we and are world are in.  It is the shorthand word to describe all that is wrong with us and our world. 

Paul tells us that humankind has been infected by the corrupting force of sin.  The Bible teaches us that humankind was made in God’s image; which means that we were created for the purpose of playing a central role in God’s reign on earth.  We were to rule and govern the world on behalf of God, and by doing so, spread the glory of God throughout creation.  We were meant to extend the reign or Kingdom of God on earth.  

We were made to know, worship, love, and serve God.  This is what it means to live healthy and fruitful human lives.  

Paul says that one of the first signs of sins impact on the human race is spiritual arrogance. Spiritual arrogance we have tried to usurp God, and to steal his glory from him.  Paul says that humankind has purposely suppressed what we know to be true about God.  

Imagine that a friend has asked you to come over to her house to assist her in putting something together.  Now imagine that when you ask her if you may look at the instructions, she informs you that she has thrown them away.  She says, “There’s no freedom in following the instructions.”  When you ask if you may at least see a picture of what you are supposed to be building, she replies, “We are going to decide what we are building as we build it.”  That is analogous to what Paul says the human race has done in relation to God.  We have purposely concealed the truth of God.  

Later, in the letter to the Romans, Paul will describe how the disease of sin can be cured, but for now, he will describe the disease/condition. 

Twisted thinking and the darkened heart

Paul says that the first sign that something is wrong with humankind is that our very way of thinking is faulty.  We have failed to honor God with our mind.  How?  By worshiping created things instead of God.  Humankind sets its highest sights and desires on money, power, sex, consumerism, and many other god-substitutes.  

Whatever captures our imaginations captures us.  God deserves to have our highest affections; but we have given them to lesser things.  We have failed to honor God with our minds.  

Paul uses same-sex attraction to demonstrate what he is talking about.  His claim, whether you agree or not, is that God made humankind, male and female for each other.  He is not saying that a single person is incomplete without a mate.  Paul himself was single, as was Jesus.  But he is saying that the only complete picture of humankind is one that includes both the male and female.  

That many humans are attracted to people of the same sex is but one sign that humankind is out of sync with God and with reality itself.  But what are some other signs that humankind is out of sync?  

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Paul says that our being out of sync with God is the result of God allowing human beings to follow their desires where ever they lead.  God allows us to explore the full consequences of sin.  
Along the way, as we follow sin, God offers us exit ramps, so that we may repent and change direction.  Yet, he will not stop us, should we decide to see where this broad road leads.  We can, and often do, destroy our own humanity, bit by bit. 
Paul’s claim, if we accept it, is that we become more human, more fully ourselves, as we align ourselves with God.  Otherwise, we diminish the image of God in us.  
Good or Bad?  
So which is it?  Are we good or bad?  
Fritz Haber is probably the most important person in your life that you've never heard of. He was a secularized Jew in Germany who started to make his mark just prior to World War I. Haber was a chemist, who was married to a brilliant woman named Clara. Before World War I, in the midst of a looming food shortage in Germany, Haber discovered a way to separate the nitrogen out of the air that produced an ammonia drip. This ammonia could be put into fertilizer. Fritz Haber is the one of the main reasons that the world today can support almost seven billion people through fertilizer.

If this was all you knew about Fritz Haber's life you might think, This man was good because he made a tremendous difference in the world. But there's more to Fritz Haber's life. He was also a very loyal German who signed up to fight in World War I. As the war progressed, he made an ammonia gas that could kill enemy soldiers.

In 1915 at Ypres, Belgium, Haber turned on his gas machine, and a great green cloud about the size of a whale emerged. The soldiers on the other side could see it coming across the no-man's land. As it approached, every living thing in its path dried up and died. Then it hit the Allied soldiers on the frontlines, and it killed every last soldier. The lingering gas even hurt innocent civilians. Haber thought this was a grand success.

The German officials agreed. Haber went back home to visit Clara, and she expressed outrage at his gas machine. The very thing that he had used to save lives was now an instrument of death. Clara confronted him, but he did not want to listen to her. So in the middle of the night, she took his service revolver, walked out into their garden, and shot herself in the heart. The next morning Haber put on his uniform and went back to the frontlines to unleash more of his deadly gas.

After the war Haber tried to help Germany pay the tremendous war reparations by devising a process to distill gold from seawater. But when Hitler rose to power, he decreed that all the Jews who worked for Haber had to be fired. Haber resigned in protest and left Germany, but no one would receive him. He died alone, unloved.

Is the world better or worse because he lived? How do we categorize Fritz Haber? In some ways, you and I are no different than Fritz Haber. We don't easily fit into the category of good or bad. Like Haber even the good things we do are tainted by underlying wickedness.  Though we were created in the image of God, and our world was created to be very good, something has gone profoundly wrong with us and our world.  The word the Bible uses to describe this condition in which we all find ourselves is Sin.  

Adapted from Hershael York, from the sermon "Why Can't You Be Like Your Brother?"

The response this passage calls from us is confession.  To confess our sins means:

  1. That we agree with God, calling our sins by their proper name. They are not weaknesses, or goof-ups, or errors in judgement, or mistakes.  They are sins.
  2. It means that we stop pointing the finger at others and admit our helplessness to re-align our lives with God.  Without him, a re-alignment cannot be made.  
  3. We ask for forgiveness. 
  4. We ask the Holy Spirit to begin remaking our life, restoring the image of God within us.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Romans Part Three Podcast

Romans Part Three

Part 3
“The Weight Beneath the Water”

10 May 2015         The Sixth Sunday of Easter     
Year A  Color: White

First Reading:Acts 10:44-48 ; Psalter; UMH 818
Second Reading: Romans 2:1-12 (Alt. Rd.) Gospel: John 15:9-17

First Light Reading: Romans 2:1-12;

In Romans chapter two Paul is going to speak about two topics: the judgment of God and his (Paul’s) own extended family, the Jewish people.  And, Paul is going to show us that his own extended family, the Jewish people, were in just as much need of God’s mercy and grace as any other family.

A Ship’s ballast is the weight beneath the boat.  Sometimes the ballast is internal, built into the bottom of the ship.  This is common in freighter ships.  Sometimes, ballasts are external, such as in sail boats.  The external ballast helps these boats be more agile and faster.  Ballasts are to ships what foundations are to buildings.  They keep them standing through tough times and rough passages.  

Today is Father’s Day, and it seems a proper time for my family to begin getting to know your family.  Family days are important to churches; but they are difficult and awkward days for some families, because they are embarrassed that their family has been through some tough times.  They may also be embarrassed, because they know that their family is far from perfect.  They may even look at your family and mine and mistakingly come to conclusion that our families have never had difficult times or embarrassing and awkward moments; and they begin to really feel that their own family is somehow inadequate, while our families are strong and healthy.  But, if they could just look below the surface, they would find out that what keeps Christian families strong is not something that can be found in the exterior, human components of the family.  Below the surface, is a unseen source of stability and strength, and his name is Jesus.

In Romans, chapter two, Paul is going to talk about the judgement of God, which all people must sooner or later face.  He is also going to talk about his extended family, the Jewish people.  He is going to tell us that his extended family needs the grace and mercy of God as much as any other family.  

The good news this morning is that God is impartial in his judgement.  That is also the bad news, by the way.  God is completely fair and even better than fair, he is merciful.

If God was looking for a reason to send us to hell, he would not have to look very long or hard.  If God were ready to pounce upon us, punishing us for every wrong doing, we would have been hopelessly lost forever.  But, God is merciful

But, part of the logic of love is that love freely offered, can be accepted or rejected.   There is a hell and people do go there.   But, hell is not what many think it is.  Our idea of hell has likely been shaped more by the literature of the Late Middle Ages than it has been shaped by the Bible.  When we use the word Hell, many of us picture a Turkish prison, where boiling pots and devils with pitchforks wait to torture humans for doing bad things.  

I want to suggest to you that what makes Hell a terrible place is that it is the result of people saying and an eternal “NO” to God, not some Medieval torture chamber.     It is the state of living in an eternity without God, who is himself the source of all that is good and blessed.  

God judges evil and wrong doing, not because God likes doing mean things to people.  Judgement is real and must take place, otherwise, evil would be able to hold God and God’s world hostage forever.  

Have you ever tried to do a family outing with the extended family only to discover that there was one family member or friend who simply refused to be happy, no matter what choice was made or what destination was selected?  Sometimes people choose to stay in sorrow and unhappiness.  At some point, every family has a choice to make.  They can allow that one person to hold the family’s happy outing hostage, or they move on without the unhappy person, or in spite of them.

I know that our sense of fairness leads us to think that no one should ever be left behind; and, I basically agree, to a point.  But, at some point, the bus driver has to close the door and the trip has to begin.  And sadly, there will be some who will not consent to the world’s true happiness.  Judgement has to take place in order for God to be good, and for the sake of the world’s good.    

But God is slow to anger and quick to give mercy and pardon.  God is committed to our world and the people who live in it; even the most stubborn of sinners. That is the foundation of our hope.  But, God will deal with sin and wickedness.  And, the judgement of God leaves no one standing superior and smug.  

Paul will soon remind us, in the words of the Psalms, that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  

Even the most moral and upright person cannot claim to have never sinned.  Now, Paul does not imagine that every person has committed every single sin or that we all have the same moral weaknesses.  But, the Law of God is like a mirror; it really doesn’t matter at what point you break it.  Broke is broke.  God is impartial this way. 


At this point in the argument, Paul stops to reflect on the fact that not every one starts at the same point in the race.  Some, like his fellow Jews, had been given the advantage of growing up with the Scriptures, the Torah or what we call the Law of God.  But, he also knows that having it has not done them a whole lot of good.  Torah was suppose to be the blueprint for how the Jews lived, but most of them had not followed it.  But, no matter.  God is completely fair, knowing that not every one starts from the same place.  Paul assures us that God will play no favorites, instead, God will do what is right by every man, woman, and child.  


What is Paul’s deal, being so hard on the Jewish people?  He is anti-semitic?  No.  He is Jewish.  Well then, is he being disloyal to his own people.  No.  He knows that no family can start to address their problems and seek holiness and wholeness, until they admit they have a problem.

Paul starts by talking to his own people, the Jews.  Israel was meant to be light to the nations, by which all the world would come to know the Lord and learn to walk in his ways.  But, Israel had not just made a few mistakes along the way.  They had completely failed in their mission.  

The point Paul is making is not that all Jews were complete hypocrites, or that everyone of them were notorious sinners.  The point is that there was just as much corruption among them as there was among any other group of people; and that this fact discredited the mission God had given them.  

When nations looked at Israel and found them to be just as broken as every other nation, it caused the nations to write off the Lord as being no better than the gods of all the other nations.  The Jews were God’s chosen people and the Torah is holy and good, but Israel had failed in their mission.  

Israel’s Messiah would take the impact of that failure, so that the covenant could be renewed and the mission completed.  He would be the light they were meant to be, so that God would be glorified throughout the world.  God would be faithful, despite Israel’s unfaithfulness.  

Yes, the Jews are the chosen people, meant to be holy and good, but they had failed to be faithful to God. Yet, God would be faithful to his covenant, in spite their failures. 


Circumcision was the outward sign of the old covenant and marked the Jews as God’s people.  But Paul points out that an outward mark means nothing if heart is not faithful.  Paul is not the first person to have made this point.  He and the OT prophets of God anticipated a day when what marked people as belonging to God was not physical circumcision, but what they called the circumcision of the heart.  

Deuteronomy 10:16New International Version (NIV)
16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Deuteronomy 30:6New International Version (NIV)
The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

Jeremiah 4:4New International Version (NIV)
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it.

Jeremiah 31:33New International Version (NIV)
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

Ezekiel 11:19New International Version (NIV)
19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

This was something that the Messiah alone could do; something the Torah was not capable of dong, not because it was bad or deficient in some way.  It was because it remained external from us.  The Jewish people awaited the time when God’s Messiah would write his law upon their hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6New International Version (NIV)
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Jesus had come to reform his people, not around the outward law, but around the inward law, the circumcision of the heart.  It alone would be the mark of the New Covenant.  

Paul’s argument would have raised questions among Paul’s original audience.  If all of this was so, then what good was it being Jewish?  

To summarize chapter 3:1-8 Paul says, are kidding me!!!

The Jews have a very special place in God’s plans and in his heart. The Jews had been entrusted with God’s divine message, contained in what we call the Old Testament.  What an awesome privilege.  The problem is that Israel was supposed to deliver that message to the world.  But, instead, they kept it to themselves.  So, it begs the question, what good is being messenger if you never deliver the message?  

Not only did the world not receive the message, but they actually assumed all the wrong kinds of things about Israel’s God, because of the way many of the Hebrews lived.  Thus, the world ridiculed and vilified the Lord instead of praising him.  

At this point, you will sometimes hear people say something like this:  In the Old Testament, God had a plan, but it went terribly wrong.  So, in the New Testament, God scrapped the Old Plan, so that he could go with a new plan.

You will hear people say that in the Old Testament God set the bar so high no one could meet the standards.  So, in the New Testament God set the bar very low, so that all we had to do is say we believe in Jesus.  That, by the way, is a terrible way of explaining how the Old and New Testaments are related.  

In the New Testament, the bar is still set high.  Holiness is still the standard. What God does in the New Testament is that he comes, in the form of Jesus, grabs us in his arms, and runs, jumping to clear the bar with us in his arms. He meets the standards of righteousness and holiness, doing for us what we could never have done for ourselves.

Yet, God being God, he not only stayed faithful to his ancient people.  He also stayed faithful to the original plan.  But, what God needed was a completely faithful Israelite to carry out the Old Plan.

It is around this Israelite, named Jesus, that God is rebuilding Israel.  But, then what good is being Jewish?  Paul tells us that God has not abandoned his Hebrew people.  We will come back to this theme in another sermon.  

Paul is raising questions to which he would come back to.  At this point, he wants to be clear that being Jewish is not un-important to God or God’s people.  The point is, God has been faithful to his promises to them and to the original plan. 

The original destination had been right, the boat just couldn’t make it the journey.

Michael Plant was experienced and passionate about sailing the ocean's wild winds. But his third trip around the world was different. He designed and built a $650,000 racing vessel called the Coyote, a lightweight fiberglass-coated, foam-core-hull sailboat that was very fast. Equipped with the latest in technology, on October 16, 1992, Plant launched from New York and headed across the Atlantic toward France, a 24,000 mile four-month race. But it wasn't long into the trip before Plant began experiencing trouble. No one heard anything from him for several days. 

Then, on October 21, a passing Russian freighter picked up his transmission.
"I have no power," Plant communicated, "but I'm working on the problem." He ended the transmission with his only request: "Tell [my fiancé] not to worry." That was the last direct communication anyone ever had with Plant. After 32 days, the Coyote was finally spotted on a Sunday morning by a Greek tanker. It was drifting upside down, and there was no sign of Plant.

The mast, still fully sailed, plunged some eighty-five feet into the frigid waters. The hull was intact. The keel was vertical, and it exposed the fatal problem: the eighty-four hundred pound lead keel bulb that weighted the boat had been sheared off. To this day, no one knows if it was a rogue whale, sea garbage, or just a faulty build that damaged the boat, but without the weight of the ballast, the small boat was useless against the crosscurrents and high winds of the open seas. The ballast's weight in the lowest part of the vessel would give it stability and balance in the rough seas, and without it, the vessel would become top-heavy and be easily overpowered by the angry ocean.

To put it simply, without a keel and ballast, the boat was broken.
Possible Preaching Angles: For a sailboat to navigate the open ocean there must be more weight beneath the waterline than above it. It's the weight beneath the waterline. It's the epicenter, the core of everything.

Adapted from Wayne Cordeiro, Doing Church as a Team (Regal, 2009), pp. 79-80

According to Romans chapter two, the people of God had become like the stranded ship.  Jesus came to finish the course God had set, so that the people of God might see promises of God fulfilled.

In our passage, Paul talks about his own family, the Jewish people.  He is not being disloyal or mean when he talks about their many disfunctions, failures, and shortcomings.  He stops, in them middle of describing their failures, to say that God deeply loves and cares about the Jewish people, just as he love all disfunctional and broken families. 

He is saying to them, “Family.  My people, if your going to make it through the turbulent waters of this world, you have got to have more weight blow the surface than above.  You’re going to need an unseen source of stability. God has offered one, who is the long awaited Messiah.” 

In this sermon, I say to you, “Family.  Milan First UMC, if you are going to make it through the turbulent waters of this world, you have got to have more weight below the surface than above. You’re gong to need an unseen source of stability. God has offered one, and his name is Jesus.“

Thursday, May 21, 2015

United Methodist Hymnal 1989

I have always said that Methodists hymnals are our best collection of collective theology.  The 1989 edition of the United Methodist Hymnal may be the last hymnal produced by the UMC.  Geography, language diversity, costs, and the use of electronic media may prevent us from every producing another hymnal.

Below, I have included a link to one of my Spotify playlists, entitled United Methodists Hymnal 1989.  I have spent weeks producing this list, and it includes nearly every song in the UMH, in the order they appear in print.  My attempt was to include every song.  I didn't quite meet my goal, but I did come close.  I hope it will edify many and be enjoyed by all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

“Extra Pieces”

19 April 2015         The Third Sunday of Easter     
Year A  Color: White

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19; Psalter UMH 741; 
Second Reading: Romans 1:1-5 (alt. rd.); Gospel: Luke 24:36-48 

First Light Reading:Romans 1:1-5        

Romans 1 New International Version (NIV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

Since the 16th century the Book of Romans, (more properly, the letter of Paul to the Christians at Rome) has been the battle ground around which Protestants and Roman Catholics theologians have wrestled over which view of salvation is most accurate and true to the Bible.  One of the un-intended consequences of this theological joust has been to cause most of the Christians in the Western Church to misread the book of Romans.  This misreading has occurred because each side has been busy, scouring through the pages of Romans, looking for ammunition for their arguments, rather than paying attention to the story Paul is actually telling.  We have also been ignoring how the rest of the Church, prior to the 16th century, and in the Eastern church have read Romans.  

You have probably been taught to read the Book of Romans in this way.  If so, you have been taught to see the book of Romans as an outline of doctrines.  For example, one summary of Romans I found on the internet says, 

•    In chapters 1-8, Paul explains the fundamentals and foundations of the Christian faith. In chapter two Paul teaches about the sinful nature of all men in the eyes of God, in chapter three he teaches about justification, and in chapters 7 and 8 he teaches about freedom from sin, and victory in Christ.

This isn’t all together wrong; but this clunky sort of reading seems to leave a lot of extra pieces left over.  Paul does seem to cover justification in chapter three, but if Romans is all about outlining doctrines, why does he suddenly want to start talking about Abraham in chapter four?  And why, then, does he want to spend so much time talking about the role of the Torah?  

The outline then goes on to say that chapters 9-11 are about God’s sovereignty and about election and predestination; which seem almost right. But then, why does Paul go on for so long, talking about God’s love and commitment to the Jewish people?  Again, the reading strategy that teaches us to read Romans only as an outline of doctrine seems to leave too much un-explained.

The outline I found on the internet ends by saying, that having laid the proper beliefs and doctrinal foundations, Paul spends the rest of his time talking about how to live in light of this Gospel.  This part seems mostly on track, but again, it leaves much to be desired.

When I was growing up, it seemed that my mom always had something she wanted my dad to build.  Sometimes she wanted something for herself, like having dad put up a porch swing.  At other times, she had something in mind for the kids, like having dad assemble a swing set or a bicycle.  

Whenever dad worked on something, it was always good sign if at the end of the project all the parts in the box had been used.  It was always a sign of future trouble if there were extra parts still lying around after dad had finished the project.  As most of you know, companies do not usually include extra and un-needed parts.  Chances are good that the instructions have not been read correctly or carefully enough if there are parts left lying around.  

If, at the end of the project, you have parts left over, you are probably going to have to go back to the instructions and re-read them. 

The same thing is true of reading a portion of the Bible.  If your reading strategy leaves too much unexplained, the chances are that you have not read it correctly or carefully enough.  Paul and other early Christians believed that they and most of Israel had mis-understood the plot. The destruction of Temple and the realization that they had failed in their vocation was quite shocking.  Also, it must be said that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah most of God’s people were looking for.  And, he had not done some of things they thought Messiah would do.  Realizing who Jesus was forced them to go back and re-read the ancient words of Scripture, re-interpreting them through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus changed the way they read God’s book.

Paul wrote the book of Romans to show how God is fulfilling his ancient promises to Israel, in and through Jesus.  Paul is taking us on a tour of the of the Old Testament (what Jewish people call the Tanak) showing us how Jesus fulfills every chapter of the Old Testament and showing us how Jesus becomes the lens through which we come to truly understand the promises God has made to Israel.

That is why I am giving this series the title, Romans: the power and relevance of Israel’s ancient story.  This title could really be given to a series on any book in the New Testament.  Every book of the New Testament is an interpretation of the Old Testament.  But, I think the reason for giving this title to my series on Romans is that it helps us to read it correctly, in a way that covers all that’s in the book Romans without leaving extra pieces lying around. 

The first five verses lay all of this out and provide on outline for the book of Romans.

verse 1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news.” 

In the book of Genesis, God set apart the family of Abraham and called them to be the human instrument through which the rest of the world come to know the LORD.  That was Israel’s vocation, which of course, they failed miserably.  But, through Jesus, God was calling Israel back to their original calling and vocation.

The reason Jesus called 12 disciples was because he was sending an unmistakable message that he was renewing Israel, even as the book of Deuteronomy and the prophets promised God would. God was giving his ancient people another chance to live out their calling. And, when God renewed Israel, he would again set them to the vocation of making God known to the world.  Paul and other early Christians, all whom were Jewish were part of this calling.  And now, they were calling their fellow Israelites to take up their vocation and calling to bring the good news to the world. 

verse 2 called to be an apostle of God’s good news, “which he promised in the sacred scriptures-”

The story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the same story found in the Old Testament.  Long ago, God made promises to his ancient people Israel.  What Paul and other Christians were sharing with others was that God had kept those promises.  The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of the Old Testament.  It is not a stand alone story or something new.   What Paul will do through the rest of the book of Romans is walk us through the entirety of Israel’s scriptures, showing us how they are all about Jesus.

This should sound familiar to us.  In Luke 24 we read about something that occurred shortly after Jesus’ resurrection: 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Through the book of Romans, Paul does for us what Jesus did for his disciples, on the road to Emmaus; he is opening Israel’s Scriptures to us, so that we can understand them correctly.

verse 3 and 4  the promises God made in the Old Testament is fulfilled in“the good news about his Son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully in the resurrection as God’s son in terms of the spirit.”

Humanly speaking, Jesus was the rightful heir of David’s throne, and the heir to the eternal dynasty God had given to David’s family.  Through the Holy Spirit God appointed - the Greek word “orinthentos” means something like “demonstrated or to make something clear or understandable.  I would paraphrase the verse like this:  “Through signs like the resurrection, the Holy Spirit made it obvious that Jesus was more than the human descendant of David.  He is none other than the LORD himself in human form.”  God fulfilled and kept the promises in an extraordinary and unexpected way.  

verse 5  “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”

Because of what Jesus had done, not only has Israel been remade and given a new opportunity to live out its vocation, but the world has finally been given a chance to know and serve the Lord.  All of this comes from God’s own faithfulness, received by us through faith, so that the glory of God might be known throughout the world.

That, my friends, is Paul’s outline of the book of Romans.  That is his summary of what is book is about; and that is what we are going to explore together for the next several months.

A writer in his 50s had written a manuscript for a book, and had sent it to several publishers without success. He grew so discouraged that he threw the manuscript into the wastepaper basket. His wife tried to salvage the manuscript, but he told her sternly: "We've wasted enough time on it. I forbid you to remove it from the wastebasket!"

Undeterred, she decided to show the manuscript to at least one more publisher. When she arrived at that publisher's office, she pulled out the most unusual looking proposal that the publisher had ever received. Underneath a wrapping of brown paper was a wastepaper basket still holding the writer's manuscript. This way, she reasoned, she was not technically going against her husband's wishes. She did not remove the manuscript from the waste basket the publisher did it for her. And when he read it, he loved it.

The writer in this story is Norman Vincent Peale; the manuscript was The Power of Positive Thinking. The book that Peale tossed in the trashcan eventually sold 30 million copies.

Israel had been called to be a light in a dark world.  They were God’s chosen people, blessed with the task of helping the world come to know the salvation of God.  Unfortunately, Israel was in as much need of being saved as any of the nations of the world.  By the end of the Old Testament, Israel had failed to live up her calling and was in exile.  She had broken faith with God and not upheld her end of the covenant.  But, that was not the end of the story.  

God still loved Israel, broken and dejected as they were. God came to them, wooed them back to him, and gave his life for them, so that they might be given a new opportunity to live out their calling of bringing the good news of the rest of the world.  That is Israel’s story and it is the message of the book of Romans.  It is full of explosive power, capable of turning the world upside down.  It has more voltage than a power plant and is capable of transforming the lives of men, women, and children everywhere.  Nothing could be more relevant for our times.