Friday, December 24, 2010

Quiet and Soft and Slow (Philippians 2.5-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 24, 2010
Some Music Used
Winter Snow (Audrey Assad); Sung by Maddie Shuler

Quiet and Soft and Slow
Texts: Philippians 2:5-8

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Tomorrow morning is Christmas morning. In past weeks we’ve talked some with the children about the giving and receiving of gifts and how that can be seen as a reminder and extension of God’s gift-giving love. In addition to being an expression of love, gifts are also wonderful because of the surprise factor. While kids big and small may look around for weeks before Christmas to catch a glimpse of a gift, most don’t really want to find out until Christmas morning.

God’s people had been waiting for the Messiah for a long, long time. They knew that God loved them and was faithful, and that one day Messiah would come. While they did not know the timing of his coming, they were pretty sure they knew what they were getting. The Messiah was going to be the descendant of King David, returning as King over Israel to once again establish God’s people in the world. This was the gist of their prayers as we saw last week in Psalm 80. And this was the expectation of many in Jesus’ day, as described in the Gospel stories when people wanted to make him king.

But the Messiah didn’t come the way people thought he would. And later, he would not behave or preach the way people thought he should. That was one of the huge surprises, and even one of the great obstacles concerning Jesus. God’s gift was not what we expected, though it was the very best gift, given out of perfect love, wisdom, and grace.

And while I might only speak of the ancient Israelites awaiting the Messiah, or the people of Jesus day with all their hero-expectations, we come at God with our own substantial set of expectations that are not so far from those ancient people. And so I want to speak of us all together as we ponder the gift of God.

We want the gift we want, not the gift God is giving. We want our answers to our problems and we want them quick. We are frustrated by God’s timing, God’s answers, and God’s silence.

We want a splashy gift – big and bold, thunder and lightning; we want a miracle for the problems we can’t see around.

We want a sweeping gift that covers all situations, all circumstances, all problems – like some sort of cosmic band-aid.

And when the gift comes, like the child whose parents give the first two-wheel bike instead of this week’s fad, we miss the significance and the durability and the depth of the gift we’ve received, wanting the quick fix of what we didn’t. And we put on a fake happy face or we pout or we just miss the significance of what has transpired.

People expected God to raise a man to greatness. Instead, God condescended to live among us. That’s a strange word to use, but it literally means “come down with” – and that’s what God did in Christ… Emmanuel, God with us.

In the scripture passage from Philippians, we read of the character and quality of God’s gift in Christ, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of men.” This is what happened at Jesus’ birth: he set aside his divine rights to be born of a woman into this world, into time, as a baby. No thunder and lightning there, just a young mother, the straw of a manger, and all the frailty of infancy. Later, in his adult ministry, Jesus would still turn aside from earthly power – he further “humbled himself,” says Philippians, “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

While there are times God shows up BIG, those are the exception rather than the rule. Scripture speaks most often of a God who speaks in whispers or comes to the last and least. We are told again and again to “wait on the Lord” and “trust in God” and to “rest in the Lord.”

This suggests several things if we want to understand and receive God’s gift in Christ.

We must be willing to trust God’s gift-giving ability, that God knows better than we what we need most.

We must look and listen for God’s whisper of direction or response or comfort. I don’t know about you, but I have way too much noise in my life to do that well. So whether that means simplifying or setting aside time and space to be still before God (or both!), we may miss what God is doing because of our failure to tune in.

We must not make God into a genie in a lamp, answering wishes for our every need, or a cosmic band-aid, but as Scripture says, a “very present help in times of trouble.” This winter and spring we are going to study the story of the Exodus. If there is one great lesson there, it is that God doesn’t rescue us out of life, but leads and delivers us through it.

God is indeed the great and perfect gift-giver, for those who have the eyes and ears to receive it.

What if God is already speaking in your life? What if God is already acting, but in a way that is quiet and soft and slow? Will you hear Him? Will you see Him?

The Good News is that God has given you the greatest and perfect gift in Jesus Christ, born this Christmas morning. Welcome, receive, and open up what could be your greatest Christmas gift ever. Amen.

Winter Snow
By Audrey Assad

Could've come like a mighty storm with all the strength of a hurricane
You could've come like a forest fire with the power of heaven in Your flame
But You came like a winter snow, quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below

You could've swept in like a tidal wave or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
To wipe away the things we've scarred
But You came like a winter snow (Yes, You did);
You were quiet, You were soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below

Oh, no, Your voice wasn't in a bush burning
No, Your voice wasn't in a rushing wind
It was still… It was small… It was hidden

You came like a winter snow, quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below
Falling (Oh, yeah) to the earth below
You came falling from the sky in the night to the earth below



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let Your Face Shine Peace (Psalm 80.1-7,7-19, Romans 1.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 19, 2010
Some Music Used 
Anthem: "There is No Rose" (Britten); Trio: Lynda, Morgan, and Maddie Shuler
Offertory: "Tidings of Comfort and Joy" (arr. Maddie Shuler)

Cong. Hymn: "How Deep the Father's Love"

Let Your Face Shine Peace
Texts: Psalm 80:1-7,17-19; Romans 1:1-7

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

bulletin artwork by Lynda Shuler

Today we are going to talk about peace. That’s something I think most of us could use about now… only six days ‘til Christmas. Have you finished your shopping?

Certainly we understand what peace might mean relative to hectic and busy lives. But that kind of peace is really just the outer layer or overflow of something much deeper, and that is what our scripture text gets at this morning.

That deeper and more significant kind of peace is peace with God. And just because God loves us (which most people might agree with) doesn’t mean that we all feel like we are at peace with God.

Today we will mainly look at Psalm 80, but we will see through Romans 1 that what is promised and held out as good news of peace in Psalm 80 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as described in Romans 1. 

A Common Refrain

There is a refrain repeated several times in Psalm 80. You heard it three times in the selected verses read in the service today. That refrain is this:

O Lord God of hosts, restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved. (vv. 3, 7, 19)

Those may not be the words you and I use, but isn’t that a common refrain in our life? Or shouldn’t it be?

bulletin artwork by Kathy Larson
God help me! I’m in over my head… I’ve turned away from you… I can’t handle the stress… I’m lonely… I’m afraid. Isn’t that cry to God our deepest cry for help?

The people of Israel knew where that help came from. It came from their God – the God of Israel. And unlike the gods of all those around them, God couldn’t be bought or bribed. They also recognized two important things in the narrative underlying this Psalm: 1) they had strayed and were not at peace with God; and 2) only God could really do something about that.

And so, they cried out; the Psalmist cried out: “O Lord God of hosts, restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.”

What We Need

Let’s look more in depth at the first half of that refrain: “Restore us; Cause your face to shine upon us.”

In those two phrases we very much hear what we need. We need restoration; we need peace with God. That’s what God “shining His face” means. Even across the cultures and the years, that’s not hard to understand because it is still so close to our own experience. My own kids know the gist of it, even as I did as a child. I could tell when my father was displeased with me, without him even using words. And I’ve been told the same. After an argument or having to discipline them one of the girls has asked me, “Dad, do you love me?” Even as I answer with words, “Yes, I love you!” they are looking for more – for that smile and twinkle that puts truth to the words. They are looking for my face or “countenance” to shine upon them. It’s simply a vivid and personal way to understand what it means for things to be right between two people. And it was a common Hebrew way of describing peace with God. Maybe you know the old Hebrew blessing, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

The Psalmist describes well what it feels like to not be at peace with God. Listen again to verses 4-6:

How long will you be angry with the prayer of your people? (v. 4) – I’ve felt that way, like not only are my prayers not going anywhere, but maybe God doesn’t WANT to hear my prayers.

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and you have made them to drink tears in large measure. (v. 5) – If you’ve known tears – real sorrow – you’ve probably asked the question whether God caused it to be. This Psalm is not answering that question, but is describing the sorrow of making tears our food when we are not at peace with God. 

You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves. (v. 6) – Likewise, this is not teaching that God punishes us by making people laugh at us. Rather, it is describing some of the emotion and struggle we experience when we are not reconciled with God.

“Restore us and cause your face to shine upon us” – God, do you still love me? Like my own children (or me, for that matter), what we need is more than the words.

What God Has Done (and what these have to do with Christmas)

The Psalm gets to this “more than words” down in verse 17. The Psalmist recognizes that to make things right, God will have to act. Listen:

Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself. (v. 17)

It is most likely that the Psalmist envisioned this “man of God’s right hand” as the king of Israel. With God’s blessing or anointing on the king (by this time it would have been one of David’s grandsons), the people might be called back to a right relationship with God. And the envisioned result is in the next verse:

Then we shall not turn back from you; Revive us, and we will call upon your name.” (v. 18)

Surely another great king like David would make this easy!

This actually sounds like pretty classic bargaining with God, though I said earlier that the God of Israel didn’t work that way. (That doesn’t stop us though, does it?!) It is a familiar pattern to me. God, I’m not doing well, so I recognize that I probably have disobeyed you and I need your help to get back. If you’ll just help me out of this situation, I promise to do and be better!

So much right and so much wrong in that. Yes, our turning away or not trusting in God is problematic. If we do not have peace with God that often translates into not having peace in the here and now. But the solution is not for us to make promises, but to trust in God’s promises.

Look with me at Romans 1 for a moment, to see what God has done.

Whether the Psalmist could see it or not, the New Testament writers see God’s promises written through the pages of their Hebrew scripture. Paul introduces his letter by saying that he is a servant of Jesus Christ and set apart for the Gospel (Good News) of God, which God promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures. (vv. 1-2) That’s God’s promise – that He would save… that he would establish peace and a way to be at peace with Him.

And this is what all this has to do with Christmas: Paul goes on to describe Jesus in terms of God keeping His promise to save. And it is this very description that ties Romans 1 together with Psalm 80 and with the birth of Christ. Remember Psalm 80:17 – “Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself.” Now listen to Romans 1:3-4…

[God’s son] was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh… [and] declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.

The hope in Psalm 80 was that God would anoint and choose the “man of His right hand” to accomplish the salvation or help that we need so much. Romans 1 declares Jesus as the anointed, chosen, and PROMISED heir to King David and the one God declared Savior through His power.

This is the Good News to the ancient Hebrews, to the Romans of Paul’s day, to us today, and in the Christmas story. Jesus is God’s way of making peace and demonstrating His peace to the world. And I don’t just mean “peace to the world” but “peace with God for all who believe.”

That’s where Paul turns next. It is through Jesus that we receive grace and are sent to the world. That’s what Romans 1:5 is about when it says, “…through [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake….”

Through Jesus Christ, God has acted to let His face shine peace on us that we might extend the Good News and experience of that peace throughout the world.

Peace on Earth

I began with asking if you had finished your shopping. But God’s peace is far deeper than not being rattled the week before Christmas. The real gift of these scriptures is the promise that God HAS acted in Christ for us to know true spiritual peace. That’s more than words in a book; that is God acting in human history, and that’s what we celebrate at Christmas – God coming near to smile upon us in the deepest sense of that phrase.

Not only does that deep peace address life-long and substantial questions of our relationship with God, I also believe it can bear fruit in our day-to-day life as we “rest” in the security of that fundamental relationship with God.

And that is not just a gift to be received, but also a gift to be shared, as scripture reminds us that God has made things right with us so that we might share the news with others. That’s where peace on earth begins. Amen.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding Joy (Isaiah 35.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 12, 2010
Some Music Used 
Joy to the World (arr. Austell)
Good Christians, All Rejoice (arr. Austell)

Finding Joy
Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This is one of those cases where the spoken (and sung) version of the sermon developed quite a bit from this early manuscript.  I also think the Spirit was moving significantly during the service, and I encourage you to listen to the sermon audio.


Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. (v. 3)

With those words, Isaiah got my attention. For all the supposed happiness of the Christmas season, it can carry with it an elevated level of exhaustion, and a whole lot more.
bulletin artwork (photo)
by John Wright

Isaiah was writing to a people who were exhausted, beaten-down, and worn out. The Northern portion of the country, Israel, had been betrayed by their Edomite neighbors (the descendants of Esau!). They had been conquered by Babylon. The routes in and out of their country, and particularly the road to Jerusalem, were fraught with danger from animals, robbers, and thieves. They had lost hope of God’s presence or salvation. God had been alive and well for their grandparents, but life was mostly challenge and frustration now. And into that void, Isaiah spoke of God’s Anointed, the Messiah, who would change everything.

Things are not so different now. The context has changed: we have new enemies, betrayals, disappointments, obstacles, challenges, arguments, and fights. But internally and spiritually, the struggle is not all that different. We admire the faith of those who went before, or perhaps even those around us. But the challenges can seem overwhelming. And there’s nothing like the Christmas season to bring that out. Whether it’s the overspending, the ramped-up family dynamics, missing loved ones no longer with us, or being overwhelmed by the hype, we can get exhausted and even feeble. Or worse, we can despair. I’ve listened to enough stories of what goes on beneath the wrapping to know how many people are really struggling right now. I believe Isaiah’s message is for you this morning, even as God used it all those years ago to encourage and hold out hope to His people of old.

Isaiah continues… “To those with an anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not; behold, your God will come [to judge]… but He will save you.’” (v. 4)


Journeying on the Way (v. 8)

Isaiah again moves into the kind of end of the age imagery we heard last week. Remember what I said about the Messiah and the end of the age. Jesus, as God’s Messiah (Anointed One), announced the coming of God’s Kingdom: it had arrived with him. But he also pointed to a future consummation or completion of God’s reign. Jesus arrival was the beginning of the end, ushering in God’s Kingdom values, including His judgment; but His return will mark the end of the age, when God will make all things right and new. So listen again to Isaiah’s description of what was yet to come. In verses 5-6:

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.”

Does that remind you of anything? It should! Think of Jesus’ ministry of healing, specifically to the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. Think of how Jesus announced the beginning of his public ministry, recorded in Luke 4:18-19. He went to the synagogue and read from the scroll of… yes, Isaiah (61:1-2)!

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

So what Isaiah describes as a hopeful future is both fulfilled in Jesus and yet to be. Jesus has won the redemption of God’s people (see v. 9). He has ransomed us from sin and death (also v. 9). And in doing so, he has united us with himself to walk on the highway of holiness. That was a “road” only he could walk. But in granting us his righteousness, he brings us up with him.

Isaiah goes on to describe the Highway of Holiness and it sounds trouble-free! And this is where I think the poetry and the vision and the New Testament reality get confusing. Maybe this vision is accurate enough; we just keep straying from the road and into trouble. But I don’t think that’s it. The Bible doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life, but promises those who trust in God that we will not face the trouble alone. Rather, I think Isaiah’s vision was of all the Messiah would accomplish rolled up into one event, and specifically with Isaiah’s contemporaries in mind. Instead, God unfolded His plan, indeed bringing the Exiles home, but sending the Messiah generations later, and even then pausing between redemption and judgment out of what I understand to be gracious love and patience. We live in that pause where God has provided who and what we need to journey home.

[In the spoken sermon, this is where I used the imagery of a 2D painting compared to a 3D musical composition that unfolds over time.]

All that is to say that the Christian life is yet a mixture of trouble and help, obstacles and deliverance. We are not yet to Heaven, but because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, we are on the way. And we are not yet impervious to harm or distraction or discouragement or pain. But we are not alone. And so God’s words are not empty: “Take courage, fear not; God will save you.” And that part about vengeance? The Bible also says that vengeance belongs to the Lord. God will judge all things in the end. Our part is to trust Him, follow His Messiah, and enjoy the journey.

Finding Gladness and Joy (v. 10)

I included that last part because it’s what the passage builds up to. Having encouraged us to take heart and to follow God’s Messiah on the way, Isaiah ends by describing the joy of those who do so. Listen again to verses 9-10:

“…the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

That’s the good news for us, anxious hearts and all. If you have trusted in Jesus (God’s Messiah), God will bring you home. Isaiah’s language calls back to the Exodus, when God redeemed and ransomed His people from slavery in Egypt. So also God would bring His people home from Exile in Isaiah’s day. So also God still brings His people home.

I’d like to end by singing a song to you about this very journey. It is written by Michael Card and describes the joy that we can find in this journey – what Isaiah called the way of holiness. Listen, I think he gets it just right.


JOY IN THE JOURNEY (Michael Card)

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

Monday, December 6, 2010

God So Loved the World (Isaiah 11.1-10, Romans 15.4-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 5, 2010
Some Music Used 
Children: Prepare Our Hearts (by GSPC children)
Of the Father's Love Begotten (arr. Austell)
Offertory: Away in a Manger, Walker Austell, piano (Murray)
Children: Come, Lord Jesus (Bedford)
The Gospel Song (Kauflin)

God So Loved the World
Texts: Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
Bulletin Art by Maggie Slade

Today is the second Sunday in Advent and we are focused on love, particularly God’s love for the world as shown through His Son, Jesus Christ. We will be reminded how God’s plan has unfolded in human history and over generations upon generations. In a sentence, we will see that God’s saving love was promised of old, kept in Christ, and wide as the whole world.

Promised of Old

Jesus – all he was and all he did – did not arrive unannounced in the manger. And I don’t just mean that an angel-messenger let Mary and Joseph know he was coming. No, Jesus coming was promised of old and the Messiah was the subject of generations of persevering hope. So our Romans text reminds us in verse 4: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

This verse was in direct reference to a quotation from the Psalms in the previous verse, but also applies to what follows, which summarizes Jesus’ person and work and ends by pointing to the passage from Isaiah. So let’s take a moment to look at the Isaiah passage in more detail.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. (v. 1)

This verse points to the covenant promise God made to David (the “stem of Jesse”), that God would preserve his lineage and kingship (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16). Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies to connect Jesus with the Davidic line and this covenantal promise.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (v. 2)

As Isaiah describes the promised Messiah, it is not hard to make the connection to what we know of Jesus. Consider the story at the end of Luke 2 of his childhood visit to the Temple, where he demonstrated godly wisdom and understanding. That story ends with a description that hearkens back to the Isaiah prophecy. Luke 2:52 says of the boy Jesus: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” As Jesus began his adult ministry, again and again he demonstrated the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, and knowledge. I think of his interaction with the woman at the well, or the scene we looked at for several weeks in November, with Simon the Pharisee and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.

And if you keep reading in Isaiah, it only sounds more and more like the Jesus we read of in the Gospels:

And he will delight in the fear of the Lord and he will not judge by what his eyes see, nor make a decision by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth… (vv. 3-4a)

I think of the many times Jesus spent time with the poor and outcast, with prostitutes, sinners, lepers, the sick, lame, and blind. He was more interested in a person’s heart and faith than in their outward appearance, station, or standing.

From there, the Isaiah prophecy starts to sound a little fantastic, describing both a judgment and a peace we have yet to see. But that, too, is the message of the New Testament, that Jesus not only fulfilled Messianic hope, but inaugurated or ushered in the age to come, which will not be consummated until his return. So, unlike Isaiah’s original audience, we have seen the beginning of hope fulfilled; and like Isaiah’s original audience, we still wait in hope of God’s completion of His plan.

Let’s look back at Romans, though we will return to the end of the Isaiah passage once more before we are done.

Kept in Christ

God’s promises were kept in Jesus Christ! The Romans passage says a number of important things, but that essential truth is right there in the middle of it. Listen to verse 8:

For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers…

The part that is a little obscure is “becoming a servant to the circumcision.” What that means is what is taught throughout the New Testament, and Romans in particular. Circumcision is the Old Testament sign of both the Law and the Covenant with God. There in that one obscure reference is the whole Good News story. Though humanity could not live up to covenant faithfulness and God’s law, God was eternally faithful and Himself kept both “sides” of the covenant by assuming humanity through Jesus Christ. Jesus was the true covenant-keeper of Israel who was obedient to the Law and faithful to the covenant in our stead.

Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished all that God intended, which is all God had promised of old. Jesus was the shoot from the stem of Jesse, and not only did he come to save each one in the covenant who believes, but he came to extend God’s salvation as wide as the whole world.

Wide as the Whole World

This breadth of God’s salvation is really at the heart of both the Isaiah and the Romans passage, as well as the original Abrahamic covenant itself. Listen first to how it is described in Romans:

Christ has become a servant to the circumcision (i.e. the covenant-keeper of Israel… to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy. (v. 9)

And again and again in what follows, as if Paul wants us to understand just how significant it is that God’s salvation is as wide as the whole world.

…as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles…” (v. 9b)

Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” (v. 10)

And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.” (v. 11)


Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, and he who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in him shall the Gentiles hope.” (v. 12)

And there is the connection back to our passage in Isaiah. In Romans, Paul quotes Isaiah 11:1, which goes on in verse 10 to say, “Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples….”

What’s the point in all this? It is that from the beginning, and spelled out in the covenant with Abraham, God has set apart a people as a witness to all. He set apart Abraham and his family, and then their descendants, in order to bless the nations and the world. He established David’s kingship and line in order to bless Israel, but also the surrounding nations. And He sent His one and only Son, when the time was right, as the shoot from the stem of Jesse, to be savior not just the set apart chosen people, but to fulfill their purpose within the covenant, to be the witness, savior, and blessing agent for the world.

God So Loved the World

To summarize, then, these scriptures flesh out the verse we know so well, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

From the beginning, God has pursued fallen humanity wherever and whoever they are. From old, God promised to save, and in Christ God has kept this promise with a love that is as wide as the whole world. This is both our motivation to come to Christ and our motivation to go with the news of Christ, that all who believe might know the depth and breadth of God’s love. Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Christmas Drama (Matthew 1.17-23)

Sermon by: Greg Joines (student intern)
November 28, 2010
Some Music Used 
Prepare the Way
Hail, Gladdening Light (Passion Hymns)

A Christmas Drama
Texts: Matthew 1:17-23

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Manuscript not available.
bulletin artwork by Cathy Youngblood

2010 Community Thanksgiving Service

Sermon: "A Thanksgiving of Deliverance"
Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Preacher: Allen Schuyler (pastor, Candlewyck Baptist Church)
November 23, 2010
Some Music Used 
Come People of the Risen King (Getty/Townend)
Choir - Passacaglia of Praise (Courtney)
Praise to the Lord - Alleluia (Passion Hymns)

A Thanksgiving of Deliverance
Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Rea Road Churches
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (2010 host)
Candlewyck Baptist Church
Cross and Crown Lutheran Church
Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church
Peace Moravian Church
Wesley United Methodist


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You (Luke 7.37-50)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 21, 2010
Some Music Used 
Good to me (Craig Musseau)
Choir - Look at the World (Rutter)
Now Thank We All our God (arr. R. Austell)
Thank You
Texts: Luke7:37-50

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today is the third Sunday in a row that we have looked at this same text and story. We looked at the first three verses of chapter eight to talk about the meaning of Christian stewardship. We looked at the actions of the woman in the story last week and saw a vivid, living picture of consecration – setting aside one’s self materially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for God’s purpose and presence. And we return to the same story one more time today to look at the theme of thankfulness, mindful that many of us will gather with family or friends this week, and hopeful that all of us will take time to give thanks to God for our many blessings.

Prophet, Teacher, and More

While I want to focus on Jesus’ parable in verses 41-43 today, it is important to note the layers of things going on in the larger context. So let me mention those and then we will return to the specific teaching of that parable.

Remember that the host at this dinner party is Simon the Pharisee, a religious leader who has invited Jesus over for a public meal, presumably to either show him off or show him up to other religious leaders and to other listeners-in. I noted last week that this particular type of dinner party, characterized by the reclining-style eating and the open house was designed so that people could listen in to the table conversation without being invited guests. So it was that the woman was able to enter the party.

Based on Simon addressing Jesus several times as ‘Rabbi’ or ‘teacher,’ we understand that Jesus was at least viewed as that. Following on the public ministry of John the Baptist as a latter-day prophet (see earlier in chapter seven), and Simon’s interior or under-the-breath thoughts to himself, there was some talk or speculation about Jesus being a prophet. Certainly later, and maybe even this early, there was also talk about him being more – a king or even the Messiah. This is too early in Jesus’ public ministry for all that to have developed fully, but there was certainly a let’s-check-him-out aspect to this dinner party.

I mention all that to highlight that, over the course of the dinner, Jesus demonstrated just who he was with respect to all those possibilities. Let me explain.

Simon had invited Jesus to dinner as Rabbi or Teacher. The expectation would have been that they dialog about the Scripture or other theological matters, and those present could see for themselves what kind of teacher Jesus was.

In verse 39, we are privy to Simon’s thoughts or mutterings that if Jesus were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this crying mess was. Last week I mentioned the irony that Jesus did prove himself to be a prophet (or more!) because not only did he read the situation correctly, and know precisely who the woman was, but he also read Simon’s heart and thoughts and responded to them, though they are described in verse 39 as being said “to himself.” By the time Jesus was done, he had clearly demonstrated himself teacher and prophet.

But he was even more. At the end of the text, in verses 48-50, he forgives the woman’s sins, tells her that her faith has saved her, and tells her to go in peace. Here he is at least assuming the role of priest, and in fact is doing far more in forgiving sin – he is claiming to be God.

In the broader narrative of God’s plan, Jesus’ identity, and the unfolding story, this passage plays a major role in describing and defining early on who Jesus said and demonstrated himself to be: far more than a teacher.

That’s not the point of this sermon or the parable he told, but it is worth highlighting. Now, given all Jesus said and showed himself to be, let’s take all the more seriously his teaching in this text.

Not Missing the Point

If you’ll remember, I’ve talked before about parables being a certain art or story-form. While they are intended to make a serious and spiritual point, they are somewhat similar in form to the modern joke in that they have a “punch line” that creates a kind of ‘gotcha’ or ‘aha’ moment that makes the point all the more memorable and powerful. So let’s look out for that as we look at this parable.

The parable starts off simply enough: there are two people that owe a debt, and one’s debt was ten times as great as the other. For what it’s worth, even the smaller debt was significant. With a denarius equivalent to one day’s wage, 50 would be about ten weeks’ wages. Let’s get that out of ancient coinage. At a ballpark minimum today of $10/hour times 40 hours, ten weeks’ worth would be $4000. Not impossible, but not insignificant if you’re only making $400/week. Now ten times that is $40,000… on the same wages. Get it?

Now here’s the really insightful part of this parable. If you had two minimum wage earning friends and one had a $4000 credit card debt and another owed someone $40,000, what would you think? Wouldn’t be easy to judge the one with the big debt a little? What in the world did they do wrong to incur that kind of debt? And you might even have more debt than the $4000. Here’s one part of what is so insightful: if you were at the dinner party, without knowing the how’s and why’s of the Pharisee’s life or the woman’s life, it would be easy to assume that he was basically a “good guy” and she was a “bad girl.” Just look at the differences between them!

Now here’s where Jesus sets up the punch line. What if the one to whom they owed the debt graciously forgave them both? That was the brow-raising setup… sure, someone could forgive a typical debt for a “good guy.” It would be great, but not unthinkable. And how easy it would be to give the good guy some credit. Maybe the debt-forgiveness was partly in response to some good quality or thing he had done. It would be so easy for Simon to fit into that character. But the $400,000 debt? Who does that? No one could possibly deserve that kind of forgiveness. Now, I realize Jesus said the debt was “graciously” forgiven, but don’t we all just blow right past the idea of the free gift of grace? That’s why this parable so quickly gets to the heart of what’s going on at this dinner party. Simon has judged the relative merits and shortcomings of himself and this woman and, using the simplest of stories, Jesus gets right through the surface to the attitudes and motives underneath.

But here’s the punch line – here’s where all these dynamics, in and outside the story, come into focus. Jesus comes out of the parable and asks Simon, “So which of them will love him more?” Well the answer is obvious – the one with the greater debt, which is the answer Simon gives. But here’s the twist. The “normal debt good guy” may not even recognize the graciousness of the gift at all. Certainly, that’s the point Jesus goes on to make in real life. Simon has not shown him the kind of hospitality Jesus is worth. Rather, the focus of the evening really has been on Simon himself – in being seen hosting this up-and-coming Rabbi. And Simon has not recognized – and worse, judged – the woman’s correct show of appreciation and love.

Finally, as part of the punch line, notice Jesus’ word choice. You would expect, “Which one of the debtors was more grateful?” But Jesus asked which one LOVED him more. Think about that. What an odd and surprising ending to what sounds like a simple story. That’s the punch line and the twist. Not only is it unusual that such a large debt might be forgiven, with no possible trade-off with “deserving it,” but that kind of forgiveness results not just in gratitude, but in love.

In the shortest of stories, Jesus has moved – or challenged Simon to move – from judging another to recognizing love of God in another.

What is the Relationship between Debt, Forgiveness, and Love?

Finally, I would press a little bit more deeply into that punch line. The point for us is not just that those who have more to forgive will love God more. Sometimes they won’t, if they don’t recognize that God loves them. There is not an automatic link between spiritual (or any) poverty and love of God. In fact, there is a very specific link – Jesus. And Jesus is precisely who was in the middle of the story unfolding in Simon the Pharisee’s house.

The point is that in order to truly love God, we must first recognize our spiritual need – our debt – whether great or small. And honestly, we all need to see how great it is – there is only thinking it is small.

Second, when we hear of God’s gracious love and forgiveness, we must recognize it for what it is, no strings attached, profound and deep mercy and love, extended uniquely and specifically through Jesus Christ.

And the rest will follow! We don’t have to work to conjure up gratitude or love at that point. Rather, it is not recognizing our debt that gets in the way of gratitude and love. Or it is thinking that our debt is small and we are somehow deserving that makes us miss the kind of gratitude and love Jesus describes.

The questions I asked last week had to do with who we are before Jesus, and under what terms we have welcomed Jesus into “our house.” It is finally not about us at all, but about Jesus – who he is and what he has done.

If we can hear that and see ourselves truly and honestly with respect to our sin-debt, God’s grace, and Jesus’ work, then we will be left speaking from the position of the one Jesus praises in this story:

From those who know the debt and to the one who has forgiven it: thank you, Lord; we love you, Lord.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Special Reserve (Luke 7.37-50)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 14, 2010 - Consecration Sunday
Some Music Used 
These Hands (Deyo)
Take My Life (Tomlin)
My Jesus, I Love Thee (Sjolund) - Jim Terrell, soloist

Offering (Baloche)

Special Reserve
Texts: Luke7:37-50

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**


Today is Consecration Sunday. That may mean something to some of you and others may have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s okay! My hope is that after looking more closely at the significant story in today’s text, that we will come face to face with a powerful and moving picture of consecration.

Last Sunday I looked at this same passage – actually the first few verses of chapter eight – to talk about stewardship. Stewardship has to do with giving or giving back to God, understanding that everything already belongs to Him. So stewardship can refer to time, money, affection, and any other number of offerings to God. And there is such thing as a good stewardship and a bad stewardship. We can give God our best, our second best, or our leftovers.

Stewardship describes our understanding and handling of resources, that we are stewards of what God has entrusted to our care.

Consecration describes the act of setting apart our resources (and ourselves) for God. In baptism and communion, I consecrate or set aside ordinary tap water, bread, and juice for God’s purposes and activity. So today we take time, having considered the meaning of stewardship, to consecrate our ordinary selves and resources for God’s holy or extraordinary purposes. It relates nicely to the sentence we have out front: “Ordinary people; extraordinary God.”

In today’s story we will see two people responding to Jesus’ presence in significantly different ways. And there is a marked contrast there. The first and apparent contrast is in their station in life – their appearance and reputation. But as the story unfolds and Jesus teaches, we see that the deeper contrast has to do with themes of stewardship and consecration – how and what each person has done in response to the presence of Jesus.

First, there is a lot going on in terms of the historical context. Let me walk through that and then we’ll look at the great contrast and how we might be challenged in our own lives before God.


A Lot Going on Here

There is a lot going on culturally in this story, and it is not all immediately apparent. Much of what I will say comes from historians, archaeologists, and biblical scholars diligently studying aspects of first century Jewish, Greek, and Roman culture. I mention all that to say that there is great value in trying to understand the context and culture of different portions of the Scripture, much as one of our Sunday school classes is doing this Fall.

So in our text, a Pharisee asks Jesus to come eat at his house. We read the detail that they “reclined” at the table. This clue answers several questions we would have of this story. For one, it indicates a certain kind of dinner – a certain social kind of dinner – where the house was open to outsiders. Particularly with Jesus being treated as a Teacher or Rabbi, the custom would have been for the poor or interested to come quietly listen to whatever he might say, though they would not have had a place at the table. That explains how it was that a woman such as the one in the story might come into a dinner party.

The style of meal also explains some of her actions. She brought the alabaster jar of perfume with her, most likely to anoint Jesus head in recognition of him as King, or perhaps prophet. Because the dinner guests were reclining – lying down toward the table, with feet away from it, she only had access to his feet. You heard what happened next. She began weeping – we’ll come back to why in a moment – and as her tears fell on his feet, she wiped them with her hair.

That is probably the strangest part of the story for us, right? But it is not without precedent. You have probably heard about the washing of feet. It is something a host would provide for a guest. With sandals and lots of dirt, people’s feet quickly became dirty. In a household of means, a servant would wash a guest’s feet, either with a towel (as Jesus did to his disciples before the Last Supper), or if a female servant, sometimes with her hair. It was a startling gesture, to be sure. That her hair was down and showing indicated she was not a woman of standing. That she used it to wash Jesus’ feet indicated a servant attitude toward one of greater importance. But those two facts were what was startling, not the use of her hair for this purpose (which is the odd thing to us).

And then, having washed Jesus’ feet, she anointed them with the perfume as she kissed his feet. Again, we can be confused or draw the wrong conclusions from the kissing. There was nothing romantic; in that culture it was a kiss of greeting, respect, and honor. Basically, her anointing and kissing Jesus’ feet were both actions honoring someone of high standing or reputation. She just didn’t have access to Jesus’ head – at the table – and washed, anointed, and kissed the only part of him she could reach, which only served to accent her respect of him.

Now, why was she weeping? On one hand, we can only guess. But the context – from Jesus talking right before this passage about the repentance signified in John’s baptism, to his explanation about the woman’s debt, to his acknowledgment of her faith and forgiven sins – suggests that she is repentant, believing, and grateful… that these are tears of sorrow and joy mixed together in the presence of the one in whom she has found peace.

There are a few other points that are not immediately obvious. One might think, when Jesus turns to Simon and begins a parable, that Simon Peter is present and Jesus is having a teaching moment with his disciple as he so often does. But what actually seems to be the case is that Simon is the name of the Pharisee hosting Jesus. Quickly, several things suggest this. Simon was a common name (even among the disciples there is Simon Peter and Simon the Zealot). The Simon in this scene calls Jesus “Teacher (Rabbi”; in Luke, the disciples almost always call Jesus “Master” and the Pharisees and others refer to Jesus as Teacher/Rabbi. More directly, in verses 44 and following, Jesus rebukes Simon for not showing standard signs of hospitality. It would not have been a disciples’ place to do these things, but the host’s responsibility.

Realizing that Simon is the hosting Pharisee rather than the disciple Peter makes the contrast between Simon and the woman all the more significant, and that’s where I want to focus now as we try to understand what consecrating ourselves and our resources means.


Special Reserve or a Bare Minimum

Hopefully we have a handle on the customs and culture and dynamics of the story. Next week we will look particularly at the short parable Jesus told Simon, focused on gratitude. But today I want to focus on Jesus’ “explanation” in verses 44 and following. It is only there that the startling contrast between Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman come to light.

At first glance, and evidently from Simon’s perspective, one thing is going on. Simon, a Pharisee and man of some standing, is publicly hosting an up-and-coming popular Rabbi in his home. It seems to be a social event meant to be seen and heard, though only by the “right sort” of people. The woman’s intrusion is disruptive in a number of ways and seems on the surface to be anything but a thoughtful offering. It is perceived as rude, messy, unnecessary, and anything but respectable.

Simon didn’t say these things to Jesus, but “to himself.” But Jesus read his heart (ironically proving to be the kind of prophet Simon reckoned he wasn’t!).

Jesus allows the whole thing to play out, only turning toward the woman in verse 44, after allowing all her attentions and after having an exchange with Simon about debts and gratitude. But it is when he turns to her in verse 44 that he speaks to Simon (turned away from him) and interprets her actions in front of Simon, the woman, and everyone else in the room.

And Jesus doesn’t just interpret her actions, but does so by contrasting Simon’s actions (or lack of them).
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. (v. 44)

You [Simon] gave me no kiss [of welcome or greeting]; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. (v. 45)

You [Simon] did not anoint my head [even with basic olive oil]; but she anointed my feet with perfume. (v. 46)
Simon the Pharisee, invited Jesus to come to his house, on his terms, and provided the bare minimum of hospitality. The woman, sought Jesus out, likely having heard Jesus’ earlier teaching on repentance and she poured out everything she had, materially, emotionally, spiritually – not to be seen and esteemed, but in complete humility, mingling tears, humble service, and treasured possessions.

Do you hear the contrast? Let it sink in… it nearly wrecked me when I got it all untangled.

I find far too much to identify with in the religious person who gladly welcomes Jesus into my house as long as it’s on my terms and with the limits I set. I congratulate myself on “being seen with Jesus” and miss the depth of faith and love of a sinner, broken in repentance and gratitude.

I know who I am more often. What about you? Who are you?


Consecration

Today we pause to consider consecration as the act of setting aside ourselves for Jesus. As I said last week, this is not about raising funds for the church budget. It is far, far deeper than that. Consecration is the deep response of one who has understood the depths of our sin and the deeper mystery and grace of God’s love. It is not bringing a few dollars for a nice lunch with Jesus, but bringing that which we reserve as our best, most, and deepest – from our sorrow and disappointments to our hopes and dreams to our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The message is not, “You aren’t doing enough.” It’s not that at all.

Rather, the question of this text is, “Who are you in relation to Jesus?”

You can’t fake what the woman was doing. That’s authentic; that’s real; that’s consecration. Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Not Mine, It's Yours (Luke 8.1-3)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 7, 2010 - Stewardship Sunday 

It's Not Mine, It's Yours
Texts: Luke 8:1-3

Sometimes the spoken version of the sermon varies from the written version. And some very few times, such as this week, there is no manuscript to publish.  I will include below my November newsletter article, to which I refer in the sermon and which describes the same core analogy of the sermon between music styles, stewardship styles, and the underlying worship principles of both.

Dear Church Family,

At Good Shepherd we are interested in doing good ministry – particularly ministries to which we believe God has called us. We are likewise interested in being good stewards of money that is given to the church. It is tempting to equate and define stewardship from the “receiving end” and get wrapped up in justifying programs, creating and balancing a budget, and encouraging tithing or sacrificial giving for the sake of the ministries to which we are called as a church. However, this is getting the cart before the horse, as well-intentioned as it may be. Stewardship is first and foremost an act of personal and corporate WORSHIP, a faith-full response to the being and character of the Triune God we experience in Spirit, Truth, and Christian community.

In scripture, stewardship and being a steward has to do with serving a higher authority through wise use of that which belongs to the authority (whether God, king, or master). If “the earth and all it contains is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), then all that we are and all that we have belong to God. Our stewardship is not a tax, tithe, token, or charitable gift, but our complete and obedient service to God. That is the definition of worship in the broad sense.

What about tithing? Tithing was part of the Law, intended to “train spiritual children” (Galatians 3:24-26). Tithing is not our expected maximum; it is like training wheels until we learn what it means to submit everything we have to God as an act of worship. As long as our stewardship is understood as giving that is tied to a budget and a set of ministries, or even to the concept of a tithe, we have put limits on our worship, just as surely as saying one can only worship with traditional music or King James English.

At Good Shepherd, we have glimpsed the freedom and blessing of worshiping God musically and artistically in Spirit and in Truth, using “every means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God” (from the worship philosophy on the back of the bulletin). Could we discover a similar freedom and expansiveness in terms of our stewardship-worship?

There are other parallels between stewardship and music. Just as some people worship most deeply with traditional hymns, others with more contemporary styles, and yet others through creating new musical offerings in response to the Spirit, we recognize that people understand and exercise stewardship best in different ways. So we’d like to encourage an approach to stewardship-worship that parallels our approach to musical worship: united by the shared theme of worship expressed through a variety of ‘styles’ of giving. There is no preference or priority to any of these; rather, we hope you will find one to be your “language” for worshiping God in this way. 

Stewardship as Obedient Commitment

Some folks have expressed a preference for the old pledge-card system. You find it helpful to commit up front to giving on a regular basis and doing so builds a helpful and regular pattern of obedience into your life. We’d like to honor that and offer the opportunity to pledge and provide regular communication from the Financial Secretary in keeping with your pledge. Pledging does not preclude other more spontaneous giving, nor does it bind you if income or situation changes. Rather, it is an expression of obedience and commitment that is a wonderful expression of worship. 

Stewardship as Ongoing Response

Some folks have expressed a preference for maintaining the flexibility to give more or less as the Spirit leads or as needs arise. On one hand you appreciate not being constantly pressured or reminded about giving, but on the other hand you may feel freer to give above a pre-set commitment. We’d like to encourage and offer some accountability for those who want to give in this way by inviting you sign a “covenant of stewardship” that doesn’t specify a pledged amount, but an intent to give regularly and prayerfully as an act of worship. 

Stewardship as Creative Faithfulness

Some folks, particularly among younger generations, have demonstrated a preference for what I would call “creative faithfulness.” No more or less faithful than regular, weekly givers, you are willing to give sacrificially and even extravagantly if so inspired by the Holy Spirit. Examples include purchasing a house with extra space to use to house those in crisis or need, or living off one spouse’s income while giving the other’s salary away. Having had to cut back ministry expenses to a bare-bones minimum in recent years, we still have big dreams and visions that God continues to put before us. We’d like to put some of these out there before you and see if God is stirring you in a faithfully creative way.

I will be preaching on Christian stewardship on November 7… We’d like to ask you to prayerfully consider your response, with family and including children, and then on November 14 we will have a time of consecration in the service to offer our responses before the Lord. I hope you will set aside some time to consider your own response along with that of your household.

In Christ,

Robert



Sunday, October 31, 2010

God's Glory Alone (Ephesians 3.20-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 31, 2010
Some Music Used
 Holy Art Thou (Handel)
Lion of Judah (Robin Mark)
Blessed Be Your Name (Matt Redman)

God's Glory Alone
Texts: Ephesians 3:20-21

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Sometimes the spoken version of the sermon varies from the written version.  This is one such Sunday and I commend the audio/spoken version.  I have included the written version below for all the "glory" references, but hope you will listen to the audio.

An amazing number of verses in the Bible speak of God’s glory. The Old Testament is full of the manifestation of God’s glory: as a cloud, as the Spirit, in visions, and in person.
  • Numbers 14:21 – [the Lord said] ...but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
  • Deuteronomy 5:24 – “You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.
  • 2 Chronicles 5:14 – …the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
  • Psalm 72:19 – And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen.
  • Psalm 79:9 – Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.
  • Isaiah 6:1–3 – In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”
The New Testament frames what God is doing now and forever with this same terminology.
  • Romans 16:27 – …to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
  • Ephesians 3:21 – …to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
  • Philippians 4:20 – Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Timothy 1:17 – Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 2 Timothy 4:18 – The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
  • 1 Peter 4:11 – Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • 2 Peter 3:18 – …but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
  • Jude 25 – …to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
  • Revelation 1:6 – …and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • Revelation 5:13 – And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
  • Revelation 7:12 – “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

I’d like to start with you by looking at several passages of scripture that describe why we are here – as a church and as human beings. Then, I’d like to look at how our vision and purpose squares with scripture as a “picture” of who we are and who we want to be. Finally, I’d like to offer an analogy and a challenge for our life together as God’s people.

God’s Glory Alone

Today we pick up one last great theme from the Reformation – “God’s glory alone.” It is the core biblical teaching that all of creation, all of history, and all that is exist for the glory of God. We are not here for ourselves or human accomplishment, achievement, or advancement; rather, we are here for God. Simply pondering the great assertion of “God’s glory alone” has great implications for why we are here today – our purpose – as well as for our vision for tomorrow.

In the past several weeks we have talked about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the story and salvation attested in Scripture. In Romans 5:1-2 we see the connection and conclusion of all we have talked about, framed in terms of the glory of God:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
All that God has done, encompassing both our sin and our redemption, finds completion in God’s glory. That is our future and our hope. As significant as grace, faith, the work of Christ, and Scripture are, they are all a footnote to the glory of God.

Revelation paints as vivid a picture as we can handle. The creatures of Heaven gather to worship God in His glory. The representatives of the people of the world lead the way in falling to worship God in His glory. The great multitude of Heaven, from every tribe, tongue, and nation all shout with praise. All that can compare is the crashing sound of the sea and the roar of thunder. And all of Heaven and creation sound together:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come… Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. (Revelation 4:8; 19:1,6)
But the glory of God is not just a future reality. We heard from Ephesians about God’s glory expressed in the life of his people, the Church:
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
That our purpose and the church’s purpose is the glory of God has great implications for our day to day life as Christians. Whatever we do, whatever we become, all the credit, thanks, and glory belong to God, who sustains us, answers our prayers, empowers us for ministry and life, and who saves us in Jesus Christ.

God’s Vision for Good Shepherd

As you can imagine, such “purpose-statements” as these from scripture should shape who we are, both as individual Christians and as the Church.

In 2002, after reading scripture, praying for wisdom and discernment, and sharing what we saw as the biblical strengths of this church body, the elders verbalized this vision for Good Shepherd. You can find it on the back page of every newsletter:
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church is a loving family,
JOYFUL in the worship of God,
FAITHFUL to share and follow Christ,
HUMBLE vessels for the Holy Spirit,
STANDING on scripture as the Word of God,
COMMITTING all that we are and all that we have,
To the glory of God, our Father.
All those are biblical principles as well as distinctives of this church – our worship, our discipleship and evangelism, our dependence on the Holy Spirit, our commitment to scripture and to God. And the adjectives… again descriptive of us and faithful to who God wants us to be – joyful, faithful, humble, standing firm, committed. And all of it – all of us – see the ultimate goal to be honoring God and bringing him glory.

That’s my goal; that’s the goal of our elders; and I believe that’s your goal as members of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church… to bring glory to God. That is the biblical example for the body of Christ in Ephesians; that is the biblical picture of heaven itself in Revelation. We are to be people completely heart-set on loving and bringing glory to God, our Creator and Father.

And so, not only all that we are and all that we have, but also all that we do and all that we want to be… may it be to the glory of God!

An Analogy for Our Life Together

I still remember the significant discussion we had about one particular line in our vision statement. It’s the one I just quoted – “committing all that we are and all that we have.” Isn’t that a little extreme? Isn’t that excessive and unrealistic? It does sound idealistic, but I would suggest that “to the glory of God” deserves nothing less from us.

Let me offer an analogy for our life together. And this isn’t one I made up – the Apostle Paul thought of this one. (Actually, God used it first with Israel in the Old Testament!) Our life together as God’s people related to God through Christ is like a marriage relationship. Remember those verses about wives submitting to their husbands and all? Those are not primarily about marriage – rather, Paul is talking about the Church and her relationship to Christ!

Think about the vows people take when they marry – to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Many of the older wedding vows included phrases like “with all that I am and all that I have I pledge myself to you.” A marriage is an all-out commitment between two people.

So, our relationship to Jesus Christ through his bride, the Church, is also an all-out commitment. Just as I didn’t just vow to be financially involved with Heather when we married, so church membership isn’t just about a yearly pledge. And just as a healthy marriage isn’t just about getting meals on the table, mowing the grass, and sharing a checkbook, so our relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church is more than attendance, committee work, and cookies before church.

All those things are parts of life together, but at the heart of it is an all-out commitment of one person to the other. And just as those “high moments” in marriage inspire us to be and give our best, a relationship with Jesus Christ in his Church can inspire us to be and give our best. That’s why the Bible talks about giving “first fruits” to God. As the one who loves us most, God’s desire is not for our leftovers, but our hearts, our love, and our best.

The Bible also gives us specific examples of what this all-out love of God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, looks like in different areas of our life. Let me name just a few:

Stewardship

When the Bible talks about tithing, it is giving a specific application – an example – of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of personal finances or “treasure.” These instructions are not unlike what I might suggest to a particularly hard-headed husband who doesn’t quite get all the stuff about communication, active listening, and expressing feelings. But it does help him to be reminded to get his wife a card and present each year for Christmas, her birthday, and for their anniversary – it’s just a GOOD IDEA! The tithe is like that – 10% of our income, given to God. It’s not the be-all and end-all of what it means to be a Christian, but it is part of a loving and committed relationship to God.

Music, arts, crafts, worship, and prayer are described in the Bible as practical examples of loving God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of our gifts and talents. By “offering” these to God, we are giving our minds, hearts, spirits, and attentions exclusively to God.

Discipleship

The call to discipleship – to follow Christ – is an example of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of priorities and choices. This day I will make choices and set priorities. They will either involve choosing my own agenda, my own course, my own ambitions, or they will involve choosing to follow Jesus Christ.

Sabbath Rest and Worship

The biblical pattern of observing the Sabbath – one day in seven – is a practical example of what it means to love God with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength – in the area of our time. One of the Ten Commandments is to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. That is a “first fruits” gift, setting aside the first day of each week for worship and service to God and for rest. And all of the Commandments require an ordering of our life in joyful submission to God.

Our Utmost for His Highest

No guilt – don’t be bullied into giving yourself to God. Be wooed and won by the height, breadth, width, and depth of His love for you.

One aspect of a marriage relationship that allows us to respond with generosity and enthusiasm to one another is trust. If we trust a spouse with our hearts, we are willing to give our hearts and more. The entire story of the Bible revolves around the faithfulness of God. He is worth trusting! God is worth ENtrusting yourselves to! God is the One to whom it is worth entrusting your time, treasure, love, goals, families, and adoration!

That is the Good News of the Bible: that God is utterly trustworthy and loves you with an unswerving, mighty, and tender love.

As we contemplate our purpose as Christians and as a church family, may we be found faithful in all we say and do to honor and bring glory to God, who gives us life and hope. God’s desire is for us to be a family bound together by a common love for Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. God’s desire is that we be filled with His Holy Spirit – filled with thankful and responsive hearts that are so moved by God’s goodness to us that we respond with our very utmost for God’s highest. Amen!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Christ Alone (Hebrews 1.1-4)

Sermon by: Greg Joines, student pastor
October 17, 2010

Christ Alone
Text: Hebrews 1:1-4


Due to a wiring issue in the sanctuary, we had to evacuate during worship and call the fire department.  Greg continued the service outside and we had planned to videotape the sermon anyway, so here is the 11:00 sermon with a few sirens.  Thank you to Kathy and Caleb for videotaping, and for affirmations during the sermon.  :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grace Alone (Ephesians 2.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 17, 2010
Some Music Used
O For a Thousand Tongues - One Great Love (David Crowder)
Your Grace is Enough (Chris Tomlin)
Now Behold the Lamb (choir; Gwen Ingram, soloist) (Kirk Franklin)

Grace Alone
Texts: Ephesians 2:1-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**
“The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.”  ~ Martin Luther, 95 Theses (#62)
Did you watch “Who Wants to Become a Millionaire?” when it came out? Or maybe some other big game show… Did you ever read stories about pirates and buried treasure when you were a child? What about “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp?” Or think about those Indiana Jones movies! Treasures fascinate us, whether they are hidden or it takes beating the odds to get them. And our minds just run with the idea… how much treasure can you imagine? How big a reward or a payoff can you contemplate?

Now, what if there were a treasure that made all those pale in comparison… including the million dollars, the magic lamp, and the Holy Grail. Would you be interested in hearing more?? Jesus even alluded to it once… telling a story about a man that sold EVERYTHING he had in order to buy this one pearl of great price.

Today’s scripture passage talks about this treasure. But, the real focus for us today is not on the treasure itself, but how we find it. How would you imagine we would find such an enormous and valuable treasure? The treasures we know about suggest answers… we’d have to know a lot – answer a lot of questions; we’d have to endure some great challenge; or we’d have to brave dangers like Indiana Jones. At the very least, we’d have to follow my father’s timeless advice, “Son, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!” He taught me that one has to earn something of value – and that almost always involves hard work.

Before I get to how we get this treasure, let me describe the treasure to you.

The Great Treasure

Hopefully, you’ve guessed by now that the enormous treasure I’m talking about is something spiritual and God-related. To say it’s spiritual, though, does not imply that it’s invisible, imaginary, or symbolic. This treasure is very real, and extraordinarily enormous. In Ephesians, Paul describes it in three parts – all making up the treasure that is salvation.

First, the great treasure is that God makes us alive (v. 5). This is not just to say that we are “alive like never before” or “full of life”. No – Paul goes out of his way to very clearly say that because of sin we were dead. This death was a result of and marked by wrath, lust, and selfish desires. You might ask, “Well, is that still not some form of life?” Paul would say no. Life without God is not life. In our sin, we are dead to God and dead to one another. That’s it. And no glimmer of hope is given – we are simply dead men and women walking this earth. And Paul says that even while we were dead, God acted. God acted out of His nature – being rich in mercy. God also acted because of his great love for us. And so, though we were dead to God, He made us alive together with Christ. Paul is clear to link this amazing act of God to God’s mercy and love and to Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!!… death to life, because we share in Jesus’ own resurrection from death to life. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But there’s more!!…

Secondly, God “raised us up” with Christ (v. 6). More than breathing life into our dead frames, God has raised us up – like the invalid beside the pool of Bethesda. God has a purpose for us, and has made us alive in order that we might rise and walk… that we might rise and LIVE. Further, in the way we use “raise up” to describe parenting our children as they grow, God raises us up for spiritual growth and for union with his Son, Jesus Christ.

What a treasure!! We are not only brought from death to life, but share in life together with Jesus Christ. What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this? But wait – there’s even more!!…

Thirdly, God seats us with Him in the heavenly places (v. 6). Jesus alluded to this reality when he told his disciples that he was going “to prepare a place for you” in the Father’s house. Not only do we have life and relationship with Christ, but we have a home and a place secured in Heaven in the presence of God.

Now, there’s so much more that can be said about our salvation and about this great treasure of salvation. But do you get a sense for it’s magnitude and scope?? What a treasure!! We are brought to life, united with Christ, and reunited with our creator and Heavenly Father! What would you do – how much would you pay – for a treasure such as this??

The Great Gift of God

Our natural inclination is to think such a great treasure must require a great effort on our behalf. After all, “Millionaire” contestants have to answer a series of hard questions, and even with lifelines, it’s no easy feat. Indiana Jones had to do the near-impossible to find the Holy Grail, and it’s just treasure because Jesus touched it. How much more significant and enormous is the treasure of salvation – life, fellowship, and a home with God through that same Jesus Christ?! And then there are my dad’s words. Surely, for something of such value, I must work extremely hard to earn it.

The medieval church wrestled with just this question. And as generation after generation of hard-working theologians, priests, and commoners wrestled with the great treasure of God’s salvation, it simply became accepted that to attain to this salvation, one had to earn it.

At this point, a young monk interrupted the progression of religious teaching and life to insist with great conviction that we could not earn such a great treasure. In fact, he said, salvation was not a product of human will or work at all – it was a gift of God.

This man, Martin Luther, was not merely stirring up trouble or trying to launch the Protestant Reformation. He was testifying to God’s own revelation in scripture – that salvation is not only an expression of God’s mercy and an act of God’s love; it is offered to us freely as a gracious gift. And Martin Luther clung to this gift as reality because it was God’s own truth and because he knew that if reality were anything other than this, then we truly were lost.

In these same verses in Ephesians, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (vv. 8-9)

Paul has already mentioned grace several times in chapter 2, one time jamming it into the middle of the first two parts of the treasure – being made alive and being raised, and another time as the explanation of being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

Martin Luther’s great slogan from the Reformation was this:

Justification (salvation) by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.

Grace alone – that is Paul’s assertion in Ephesians… that God has made us alive, raised us, and seated us in Heaven by grace – a gift we do not deserve.

Finally, Paul addresses the place of our “work” – and again relocates work in the person and power of God. What we DO is not us working our way to God, nor is it cause for boasting. Rather, what we do is for God’s glory and is an expression of who we are as God’s creation and child. We are God’s “workmanship.”

The Poetry of God

I don’t normally speak Greek to you, but try to explain what things mean out of study of the Greek. But here’s one worth knowing in the original… the Greek word translated as “workmanship” in verse 10 comes from the Greek word poeima. Does that sound like an English word you know?? We get our word “poem” from poeima. Another way to translate this verse would be to say that we are God’s “poems,” created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are God’s “works of art,” made so that when we work people will see God’s handiwork in us and God will be glorified. Paul writes that God prepared us in this way “so that we would walk in them [these works].” In other words, when we do good works – loving others in Jesus’ name – we are simply being who God made us to be: His poems… His works of art.

What do you do with a Gift?

All this talk of treasure and work and gifts has been to elaborate on the simple (if profound) truth in God’s Word: that the enormous treasure of our salvation and inclusion in God’s family is a precious and free gift of a loving God.

How do you apply such a truth to life?? I think we start with this question:

So what do you do with a gift?

I can think of several answers to that – at least several positive ones that don’t involve spurning the gift or the giver.

First, if offered a wonderful gift, we can receive it.
Second, we can say thank you.
Third, we can enjoy the gift.

Simple, right? But that’s the heart of the Christian life. In order to know, celebrate, and live in the joy of God’s salvation, we must receive God’s gracious gift of life and family in Jesus Christ. And beyond that, if we truly understand what we’ve been given, gratitude is the easy and natural response – and the compelling motivation of the Christian life. And finally, God’s intent is that we might enjoy the life and gift and freedom He’s given us.

It sounds simple – but when Martin Luther reminded the world of this scriptural truth, it stood the world on its head.

It sounds simple – but when those of us who are so wired to work and attain and earn and achieve hear it, it stands our world on its head. Thankfully, that’s a good thing. May God give us ears to hear and hearts to receive His Word. Amen.