Sunday, December 28, 2014

==IMMANUEL - GOD WITH US (2014)==

“Immanuel (God with Us)” Advent Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
November 30 - December 28, 2014

During this Advent-Christmas season, our series theme is Immanuel or “God with us.” As we’ll hear on Christmas Eve, the angel told Mary that Jesus would be Immanuel, the living embodiment of God with us. This series was sparked when I looked for occurrences of God with us in the Bible. It is only used as a name twice, in a prophecy to Isaiah and when the angel speaks to Mary. But it is a name that is literally a Hebrew sentence. So as I found various forms of the words ‘Im,’ ‘anu,’ and ‘el,’ I found the great promises of God, “I will be with you” and the great declarations of God, “I am with you.” And we’ve been reminded that not only has God not turned away from us, but that He pursues us in love and is and will always be with us.

With Us Until the End (Revelation 21.1-6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 28, 2014
Text: Revelation 21:1-6

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Song of Praise: "I'll Fly Away"
Offering Hymn: "Great is thy Faithfulness" Song of Sending: "Soon and Very Soon"
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


Today we come to the end of a series on God’s presence with us, embodied in the person of Jesus and the name, Emmanuel. Over the weeks we have seen God’s present manifested in the Garden, in the moving Tabernacle, in the fixed Temple, in the Exile, in the Holy Spirit, and in the person of Jesus. We have seen God’s faithfulness in “dwelling with us” as a covenantal God – a God who keeps His promise throughout all of history. We’ve also seen the role of God’s Word and our obedience in experiencing God’s presence. And we’ve heard the angel’s invitation to the shepherds and to all the world to “come and see” what God has done in Christ.

So today, we jump to the end, to these magnificent verses at the end of the Bible. It is the end, but it is also a new beginning – there is a new heaven and a new earth.  God is still with us and this particular language calls to mind the covenant of old and the whole scope of God’s story. I want to walk through these verses with you and be reminded of what God has done, is doing, and will complete.

Covenant Promise (v. 3)


“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (v. 3)

You’d think you were reading something from Genesis, because God said those same words to Abraham, later to his children and grand-children, and then later to King David; even later, God said as much to the world through Jesus and the New Covenant: “I am with you; I will be your God and you will be my people.”

That’s the core of God’s covenant pledge to humanity and it has never been conditional on our goodness or faithfulness, but has been anchored in God’s goodness and faithfulness. And that is Good News!

Tangible God (v. 4a)


I love the verse that comes next! You have probably heard it spoken at funerals. And it is comforting; but what I love most about it is that God is no longer invisible, un-touchable deity. Indeed, in Christ, God truly came near for a time. Now God is with us for good. And the imagery is so near and tangible:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” (v. 4a)

What a tender and intimate thing. In a book where God is victorious warrior and mighty Deity, it is especially meaningful to be reminded of God as the compassionate Father Jesus spoke of so often. And in a world where we do still weep tears and suffer loss, this picture of comfort is especially meaningful and a reminder that God’s comfort and help were also a part of His covenant presence, captured often in words like, “Do not fear; do not be afraid.” That picture of God’s comforting presence leads right into the next part, which is where God’s justice and peace are finally complete.

All Things New (v. 4b)


“…and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (v. 4)

And not only is God present and tangible; God is re-creating everything. The first things – or what we thought were the first things… sin, sickness, sorrow, and death – they have passed away. Death has died! Like “D-Day” on the beaches of Normandy, Jesus signaled the beginning of the end; now, in the scene in Revelation, the long night is over and with the speaker shifting to the one who sits on the throne, God declares:

“Behold, I am making all things new.” (v. 5)

And yet, this is not a shiny, new disconnected reality, but one related to what we have known. I surely can’t explain all the ins and outs of that – I don’t understand it. But I do know that Jesus modeled that in his own death and resurrection. His body and the sin he took upon himself died and God raised him to this new life as a glimpse of what would one day be for us. And Jesus was different, but his friends recognized him. He still bore the scars of his crucifixion. We will recognize “all things new” but God’s justice, healing, and rightness will be brought to bear in a way that is like creation all over again – a new “making.”

Day is Done (vv. 5b-6a)


“It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (vv. 5b-6a)

The only break between “I am making all things new” and “it is done” is a pause to tell John to write this down, these words that are “faithful and true.” Yet even here in a vision of the end, the covenant is in view, with the parties of God and creation, the pledge of God’s faithfulness, the witness of John (and all of us reading the words), and the blessings that follow.

Then, with words echoing the “it is finished” from the cross, we hear a strong reminder that God has been with us from beginning to end. Not only has God been there, God is Himself the beginning and end, the A to Z, creator of time and maker of history. And for such a One to declare, “It is done,” is significant indeed.

And as a brief excursion since I raised the topic, the difference between “It is finished” and “It is done” is the nature of what each describes. I take Jesus’ words on the cross to be describing his act of obedience sacrifice, which was finished with his death. Indeed far more was in view, and I’ve noted that it was the beginning of the end, but I think he was specifically describing the ordeal and it’s completion. “It is done” has the whole scope of redeeming fallen creation in view… the making new of all things. And finally, with that redemption and re-creation accomplished, and from the perspective of the one fully present from beginning to end, it makes sense to say, “It is done.”

From the Tree to the Stream (v. 6b)


“I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” (v. 6b)

In the last part of these verses, we hear some of the blessings of God’s presence in the new creation. And it calls to mind at least two reference points. One is the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden; now in the new creation – understood even as a new Garden – there is a Spring of Life. And then I am reminded of Jesus’ own teaching, particularly in John 4 and 7, where he offers those who thirst “water of life” and also claims to BE the “water of life.” Though much of Revelation gives us images to try to understand what is mystery to us, it seems entirely likely that Jesus himself is the reference point in this description of the new creation. He who once said, “Come to me, all who are thirsty” is now the eternal source of life, given freely and graciously.

One Year Ends, a New One Begins


As a take-away exercise, I’d like to suggest the following. This series and today’s text have reminded us of God’s faithful presence and provision – past, present, and future. And we’ve paused along the way this past month to ask questions like, “Where have you experienced God?” and “How can you be a part of what God is doing in and around you?”

As we conclude one year and are about to start a new one, I’d challenge you to do what many of us often do at such a transition: pause to remember the year past and pause to consider the year ahead. But let me frame that exercise in terms of the Emmanuel promise we’ve been studying.

As you think back on 2014, with all its highs and lows, pause to consider where God showed up. If scripture is right, God was and is present with us in highs and lows. Unfortunately we are often tuned out, but I believe that in remembering and looking back sometimes we will see God in ways we did not at the time. And as you remember, consider how you experienced some of the aspects of God’s presence that we’ve studied: God’s faithfulness, God’s comfort, opportunities for spiritual obedience that were taken or not, God’s gracious forgiveness even when we didn’t listen or follow, and where God might be inviting you to obey and follow moving forward.

As you think ahead to 2015, with the past year in view and God’s promises of presence in mind and heart, consider where God might be leading you; consider what it means to listen and follow in the various areas of life and action that you know are coming and those you don’t. Take some time to ask again, “God, what are you doing in and around me and how can I be a part?”

And may you come to know God’s blessing and presence in the coming year. Amen!



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014 - lessons and carols

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 24, 2014
Text: Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:46-55; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:8-16; Luke 2:17-20

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (MENELSSOHN)
The Word in Music: "O Holy Night" (Angelique Freeman, soloist)
Hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "Christmas Child" (Lisa Honeycutt, soloist)
Hymn: "Angels, We Have Heard on High"
Candlelighting Hymn: "Silent Night" (STILLE NACHT)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript: There is no manuscript for this sermon.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

With You to Save You (Jeremiah 1, Matthew 28)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 21, 2014
Text: Jeremiah 1:4-9,17-19; Matthew 28:16-20

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (IN DULCI JUBILO; arr. Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels from the Realms of Glory" (REGENT SQUARE)
The Word in Music: "Once in Royal David's City" - choir, handbells, violin (arr. Helvey)
Time for Reflection: "Joy to the World' (Kaitlyn Hetterly, piano)
Offering of Music: "What Child is This" (Bobby White, piano)
Song of Sending: "Go, Tell it on the Mountain" (arr. Rick Bean)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


During this Advent-Christmas season, our theme has been Immanuel or “God with us.” As we’ll hear on Christmas Eve, the angel told Mary that Jesus would be Immanuel, the living embodiment of God with us. This series was sparked when I looked for occurrences of God with us in the Bible. It is only used as a name twice, in a prophecy to Isaiah and when the angel speaks to Mary. But it is a name that is literally a Hebrew sentence. So as I found various forms of the words ‘Im,’ ‘anu,’ and ‘el,’ I found the great promises of God, “I will be with you” and the great declarations of God, “I am with you.” And we’ve been reminded that not only has God not turned away from us, but that He pursues us in love and is and will always be “with us.”

On Christmas Eve we will see how that Immanuel promise is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, but for today and next Sunday we actually move a bit past the birth of Jesus to understand some of God’s PURPOSE in being with us. We have seen that part of that purpose is love – to pursue us though humanity turned away. We have seen that part of that purpose is comfort, with God often reminding us, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” We have also seen that part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance. And all that is SO much, but there is even more that God is doing; and we get a glimpse of that in our scripture texts for today.

I Am With You To Deliver You (Jeremiah 1)


Originally, I had chosen this Jeremiah passage as another example of God being with us. The key verse about God’s presence is v. 19, where God says, “I am with you to deliver you.” If we read that verse out of context, we might think it is a promise about salvation, but the context here is crucial – and is also what connects this passage to the one we’ll look at from Matthew 28.

This is the beginning of the book and story of Jeremiah, one of God’s prophets. And this introduction to Jeremiah’s story sets out God’s purpose for Jeremiah’s life and calling. It’s a wonderful reminder of God’s plans and purpose, even before we are born! God tells Jeremiah that before he was formed in his mother’s womb, God purposed for him to be set aside as a prophet. And God makes this known to him when he is still a young boy. In verse six we read of Jeremiah’s hesitation because of his age, but God responds by saying that God will provide the plan and the message: “…everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak… I have put my words in your mouth.” (v. 7,9) God goes on to say for the first time, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 8) 

And there we realize the different context for “with you to deliver you.” God is not bringing Jeremiah OUT OF something; God is sending Jeremiah INTO something. But God promises to be with him and protect him. After challenging him to “gird up” and “do not be dismayed,” listen to the strong imagery in verse 18: “Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land… to the kings… princes… priests… and people.” And God is honest: it’s not going to be easy or comfortable: “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you….” (v. 19) And then, for the second time, “…for I am with you to deliver you.” (v. 19)

Hold on to and ponder that and let’s turn to the New Testament, to Matthew 28.

I Am With You Always (Matthew 28)


Matthew 28 is the end of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ life. Not unlike Jeremiah, God planned Jesus’ life and calling long before his birth. He, too, was born for the sake of “the nations.” Reminiscent of Jeremiah 1, Jesus several times says something like this: “… I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me. And He who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” (John 8:28-29; cf. also John 12:49)

So fast-forward through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, and we find him with the disciples at the end of Matthew. And Jesus is giving them direction for after he leaves. He has told them he is leaving his Spirit; he has told them that the Spirit would give them the words to say (like Jeremiah, like himself). And now he charges them with what we have come to call the “Great Commission” – which simply means the mission in which we participate in God’s great work. He says, famously, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you….” (Matthew 28:19-20a)  And then this, which is what connected this passage to all the rest we have been looking at this month: “…and lo, I am WITH YOU ALWAYS, even to the end of the age.” (v. 20b)

The one who is called Immanuel – God with us – ends his earthly ministry by telling his followers, “I am with you always.” That is, God is with you always! It’s the old promise: underscored, highlighted, set in triple-bold, and read out loud. God is with you and will never leave you and never forsake you. It’s not something that comes and goes with the Christmas birth of baby Jesus; it is the very life and death and even leaving of Jesus which underscores the promise even more: God is with you and will never leave or forsake you.

From vs. For


I said earlier that God’s presence with us has PURPOSE. Part of that purpose is love – and God does love you! Part of that purpose is comfort, and we often do need to hear and know, “Do not fear” and “you are not alone.” Part of God’s purpose is bringing us ‘home’ to Himself through salvation or deliverance – and we know that completely through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But here’s the bottom-line that I think we must hear from today’s texts, and it has broad implications for our understanding and experience of faith and life itself. God is not just about rescuing us FROM something – sin, death, hell, enemies, fear; God has made it clear time and time again that He pursues us FOR something.

God was with Jeremiah to deliver him – not out of danger or away from harm or out of the world, but because God was sending him into the world with a message from and about God.

God was with us in Christ to deliver us – not only from sin and death, but for a Great Commission to the world.

The Christian faith and life is not ultimately about be safe or comfortable or keeping out of Hell; it is about following Jesus Christ into the world God loves to act and speak in the ways God the Father has shown us in His Word and in Christ. This is what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ; this is what it means to be the Church.

And God is with us for that purpose. God is with us for love; God is with us to encourage and strengthen us; God is with us to save us; but don’t miss that God is with us for a PURPOSE – for our good and that of the world, for His name’s sake, for His glory… that Heaven and Nature might indeed sing, “Joy!” Amen.





Sunday, December 14, 2014

With You in the Straw (Isaiah 41, 43, Luke 1)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 14, 2014
Text: Isaiah 41:10,14-15b; 43:1-2,5-7; Luke 1:26-38

:: Sermon Audio (audio not available) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "O Holy Night" (Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (HYFRYDOL)
Hymn of Praise: "Lo, How a Rose" (ES IST EIN' ROS')
The Word in Music: "Go Tell it on the Mountain" (Children's Choir)
Offering of Music: "Joy to the World" (Mira Pearce, piano)
Nativity Hymn: "Christmas Offering" (Baloche)
Postlude: "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" (Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


This Christmas season we are looking at God’s great promise to be with us. That promise is captured in one of the names given to Jesus: Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” We’ve looked at the origins of God’s presence with humanity in the Creation story. Then, remarkably, we’ve seen that God did not give up on us when we fell short and turned from Him; but God came after us in loving pursuit. Through a series of covenants, God pledged on His own name and life, to be with us and remain with us. He invited (and invites) us to faithfulness and relationship, but His love and presence are not contingent on that. We’ve also followed the progression of God’s presence from the mobile tabernacle in the oldest times to the fixed Temples of Jerusalem to the in-the-flesh presence of Jesus and the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit in all who believe.

Thus far our main focus has been on God and God’s action. Today we turn a bit more toward what the means for us. What does it mean that God has come TO US where we are? We’ll see that God has indeed come among us and into our mess, both in the Old Testament as well as in the new.

Promised Presence (Isaiah 41,43)

10 ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’… 13 “For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ 14 “Do not fear… your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 41:10,13-14b)

1 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. …5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. 6 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, 7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”  (Isaiah 43:1-2,5-7)
We start in Isaiah, in chapters 41 and 43. We’ve talked about the context for this before. It is some years after David and Solomon and God’s people have been disobedient, struggling, and have lost much. They have been conquered by foreign powers, taken captive, and scattered abroad. Indeed, much of what happened was a consequence of their disobedience and disregard for God. It would have been easy to draw the conclusion that God was done with them. (Have any of you ever drawn that conclusion about your own life?)

But God speaks through His prophet, Isaiah, to say a series of astounding – and comforting and encouraging – things.

From chapter 41:

    “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.” (v. 10)

    “I will strengthen you… help you… uphold you” (v. 10,13a)

    “Do not fear… do not fear… your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (v. 13-14)


What do you hear over and over? – “Do not fear.” And it’s not just, “Don’t be scared; pull yourself together.” It is, “Do not fear; I am with you.” “I’ve got you; I am with you; I am your God.” God has not abandoned His people, just as God hasn’t given up on you. God is the “Redeemer” and the “Holy One of Israel.”

And from chapter 43:

    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”

    “Through the waters… through the rivers… through the fire… and the flame”

    “Do not fear, for I am with you… I will bring you (and your children) home”


Again, “Do not fear… do not fear… I am with you.” This time, God gives context to his presence. It’s not just “with you” but with you in the most difficult places and parts of life: the raging water, the burning flame. And not only does God still claim His people “by name”; He also promises to bring the scattered people (and their children!) home.

These themes are echoed in 100 more places in the Old Testament. My mind goes to the 23rd Psalm and the declaration of the song-writer, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v. 4) That is an example of someone trusting God’s promise and presence and describing that trust. But all the texts I chose today are God’s words to us: “I am with you; do not fear; I bring you blessing.”

Promises Fulfilled (Luke 1)

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 “And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
In Luke 1, we hear the familiar Christmas story of the Angel coming to Mary. Though there is much to be learned from Mary there, today I want to focus on what God is saying and doing. The angel bears the news, greeting Mary and beginning with the same three things promised to all God’s people through Isaiah: “The Lord is with you (v. 28)… do not be afraid… you have found favor with God.” (v. 30)"

Then, in a fascinating connection with some of the things we talked about last week, the angel says these things: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of His father David; he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (v. 32-34)

Do you remember the promise to David? God would make an enduring house, and that wasn’t in reference to the Temple, but to David’s royal line. And though David’s children and the people of Israel were notoriously disobedient, God’s promise is good. That’s part of the reason for the genealogies in the beginning of Matthew and Luke – to show that Jesus is of the royal line of David.

But he will also be born of the Holy Spirit and will be a “holy Child” who “shall be called the Son of God.” (v. 35) And with this birth, God has come near, not as blazing deity or as invincible earthly king (both of which people expected in various ways). Rather, God came after us and came among us with this almost scandalous “low birth.”

In the Straw


That the God of Creation and the heir of King David would be conceived by a virgin not yet married and born into the straw of a stable in Bethlehem with shepherds and sheep gathered as witnesses while SIMULTANEOUSLY fulfilling the Old Testament promises and prophecies should be ample proof of the angel’s words in verse 37: “Nothing impossible with God.”

In another reminder of last week’s sermon, we see that Mary’s experience of God’s power and presence is intimately tied to her hearing and responding to God’s Word, here spoken by the angel. Mary hears all this and responds, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (v. 38)

So what does this old (and even older) story mean for us today?

I continue to be amazed at the consistency and continuity of the message from the earliest pages of the Old Testament through to Jesus and beyond. That story is this: the perfect and powerful God made this world and humanity with it, inviting us to a unique relationship as those “in His image.” We made (and continue to make) a mess of it, but God did not and has not abandoned us. Nor has God simply waited for us to fix it or find our way back to His presence and blessing. Rather, God has come running after us, at times as unseemly and ungainly as the old father running out to meet his errant son and then slipping out of the party to invite his prideful son in.

Further, God has come down among us in Jesus, down in the straw. Someone asked me recently why it was important that Jesus experienced the suffering, temptation, and limitations of humanity. After some pondering, I think that it was not important for Jesus to have that experience, but for us to know that Jesus had that experience. With that, we see and know a God who we can trust has seen and known us, not from a privileged position, but from our own position.

With Jesus, God has come down in the straw with us. He is with us even now; with YOU even now. And whether you’d describe your life and your experiences as straw or a raging river or a burning fire or the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you even now. Don’t be afraid.

God is with you. Do not fear. In Him – in Christ – there is also the blessing of knowing, not only is God with me; I am with God. Amen.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sent With You (John 14.23-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 7, 2014
Text: Deuteronomy 31:23-27a; 1 Kings 11:35-39; John 14:23-27 

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Prepare Ye the Way" (Caedmon's Call) - GSPC worship team audio
Hymn of Praise: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (ADESTE FIDELES)
The Word in Music: "The Yearning" (Craig Courtney)
Offertory Hymn: "He Leadeth Me" (HE LEADETH ME)
Song of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose. 


Today we are continuing the theme of Immanuel (God with us) that Kathy introduced last week. She gave us an overview that stretched from Creation to Revelation and she focused on the covenant – God’s promise to a people and to the world to be with them.

Today I want to look at three related passages in which God says in one way or another, “I will be with you.” Over the past number of weeks we have talked about experiencing God’s presence – His GOODNESS and GREATNESS. I realize that many of us – and all of us at one time or another – struggle to experience God in a tangible way.

Each of the passages about God’s presence also includes some kind of challenge to obey God’s Word, so I also want to look with you at the relationship between our attentiveness to that Word and our experience of God’s presence.

Mobile Home (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)
23 Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” 24 It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, 25 that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, 26 “Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. 27 “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness… (Deuteronomy 31:23-27a)
Last week Kathy talked about the word ‘tabernacle’ – both the noun and the verb which describe God “pitching a tent” among His people. After Creation, when God walked with humanity in the Garden, and before the Temple of Solomon, God was understood to travel with the Israelites and dwell in the Ark of the Covenant. At the end of Deuteronomy, as leadership of Israel was passing from Moses to Joshua, God commissions Joshua, saying, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.” (v. 23)

This is a reminder and renewal of the covenant promise – both for land and for God’s presence and blessing. God is telling Joshua (and all Israel) that the covenant is still good and God is still with them. What immediately follows that verse is the account of Moses completing the writing down of the Law and instructing the Levites to put the written Law/Word beside the Ark of the Covenant, that it may remain there as a witness against you. (v. 26)

Moses has seen the tendency of the people to stray from God and says so out loud: “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness…” (v. 27a). So the written Word serves the purpose, among others, of testifying or witnessing to God’s will and purposes. I appreciate the physical proximity of that Word, as if to underscore that “if you set your minds and hearts on this Word, you will be setting your minds and heart on God, who is present here with you.”

This is the first indication, with more to come, that if we want to see and experience God (who has already promised to be with us) that we are more likely to do so if we are following His Word, written in the Scriptures.

An Enduring House (1 Kings 11:35-39)
35 … I will take the kingdom from his son’s hand and give it to you, even ten tribes. 36 ‘But to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may have a lamp always before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen for Myself to put My name. 37 ‘I will take you, and you shall reign over whatever you desire, and you shall be king over Israel. 38 ‘Then it will be, that if you listen to all that I command you and walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight by observing My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build you an enduring house as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you. 39 ‘Thus I will afflict the descendants of David for this, but not always.’ ” (1 Kings 11:35-39)
Last week Kathy indicated the progression from the “mobile home” of the tabernacle to the fixed house of God which was the Temple. The first Temple was built by King David’s son, Solomon, yet this passage is not about what you might think. At this point (1 Kings 11), Solomon has been unfaithful to the Lord and this passage describes God speaking to Jeroboam (through the prophet, Ahijah) with an invitation to obedience and blessing. The Kingdom is about to split and God tells Jeroboam that he will be king over 10 tribes and prosper if he will “listen to all that [God] has commanded and walk in [His] ways.” (v. 38)

Nonetheless, unfaithful Solomon will retain one tribe (and Jerusalem, which includes the tribe of Benjamin) for the sake of God’s promise to his father, David. Here’s where it gets complicated, yet also amazingly gracious.

God renewed the covenant with David, just like he did with Joshua. And God explicitly renewed the promise of descendants and blessing, promising David that his ‘house’ or kingly line would endure forever. So there were TWO “enduring houses” connected with David and Solomon: one was the ‘house’ of David’s line and one was the physical ‘house’ of the Temple Solomon would build to house the presence of God. It was all tied together; and it was so tangible and visible a sign of God’s witness against them when excessive sin and disobedience finally resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the Exile.

The beginnings of those consequences are seen in Jeroboam’s rise to power, introducing an interesting dynamic that we will see played out in the New Testament again. God never abandoned the promise to David, though there were certainly earthly consequences for David’s children completely abandoning God’s Word. Yet the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people (or King) did not stop God from blessing those who would be faithful and obedient.

And in a God-sized move, even when humanity seemed to have wrecked the enduring temple in Jerusalem and the enduring house of David, God rebuilt the Temple and redeemed the kingly line through Jesus. Both of those are themes Jesus speaks to in his ministry!

Let me summarize all that another way: God promised to be with us – to never leave us and never forsake us. Our unfaithfulness cannot thwart, derail, or sidetrack God’s holy promise; it can only get in our own way of experiencing that blessing and presence. Let’s look at one more text and then we’ll take a look at our own experience of these things.

Home With You (John 14:23-27)
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:23-27)
In John 14, Jesus has told his disciples that he is about to leave them. He is offering words of comfort before his impending crucifixion. And now the promise is not just to be near them in a moving tent or established in a fixed Temple. Now Jesus promises that He and the Father will “make our abode” – make their home – WITH us. But again, the experience is rooted here in obedience… even more strongly this time: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” (v. 23) He goes on a few verses later to speak of the Holy Spirit – the “Helper” – who will abide with those who believe and listen to him.

The promise of presence is even stronger now: God in Christ through the Holy Spirit promises to make a home with you and in you. How will we experience this? We experience it through love of God and keeping His Word.

Does that mean God goes away when we are bad? No indeed; it does mean that we can get deceived and distracted and lose sight of God and God’s best. But God is still near.

Sent With You

I called the sermon, “Sent with you.” That may seem like an odd title when so much of this has been about God being with us. But here’s the thing: all along, our experience of God is tied to our listening to and following His Word, from the time of Moses and Joshua to the time of the Kings to the time of Jesus and to today.

What does God’s Word say about this God who pledges to be with us? It describes God as having a huge heart for the world that He made. It describes God who did not turn away from disobedient children, nor even one that reluctantly receives them back if they are really, really sorry; rather, God is pictured by Jesus as the foolish father, running to look for and welcome home the disobedient child. Indeed, God moved Heaven and earth to come after us, travel alongside us, give us commandments, dwell in a Temple, work through Kings, call together a people, and more. And even when we wrecked almost all of that, he gave His Son to do all that in a personal and perfect way. Even when we tried to wreck THAT gift, crucifixion, torture, and death were not enough to defeat God’s reach of love.

So what do we hear when we listen to God’s Word? We hear about that God who still has the world on His mind. We hear about loving our neighbor and going to teach the Word and share the Good News. We hear about doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

The point is that God is on the move. So if we listen to God, we follow after Him. Sounds like Jesus’ teaching, right – “Come, and follow me!” In a word, we are SENT because God is at work. And all the promises of God meet that obedient act to remind us that we are not sent alone, but we are sent with God. God is present with you and known most fully when you go with Him.

Let me paint one last set of pictures:

Our spiritual development is not unlike our physical and emotional development – and not necessarily tied to those things. There is a spiritual immaturity (or even lack of faith) that doesn’t listen, doesn’t follow, doesn’t care; if we think of God at all, we wonder, “Where is He? Why can’t I see or feel Him? Does He care at all?”

There is a kind of spiritual adolescence that does listen from time to time, though more in terms of what God can do for me than the other way around. So, in times of need, we might be aware of God’s peace or presence or strength or help, particularly if we are looking and listening and asking for it.

But there is also a spiritual maturity that still listens, but begins to discover that God isn’t just waiting around to feed us and clean us and respond to our every need; rather, God is at work all the time in a God-sized way. And it begins to cross our mind that if all of history and scripture points to a God like that, and God does delight in our presence and our participation, then maybe we should be asking if and how we can be a part of what God is doing.

Ponder that. And ponder it with these two disclaimers: 1) You can be 10 years old and have spiritual maturity, and 50 years old and be starting out in faith; 2) Just as in other areas of our life, we can revert to immaturity at any point. Just like I can stub my toe and turn into a big 46 year-old baby, I can whine at God or even question and doubt His whole existence when I get shaken up. That’s okay; that’s human. But be drawn onward to the promises we’ve heard today: God is with us and we know it best when we are listening to and following God’s Word to us.

So listen; God is nearer than you know.

Trust and love God; He lives in you through His Spirit.

And go with God in obedience; you will know Him best when He is working in and through you. Amen.







Sunday, November 30, 2014

With You From Beginning to End (Genesis 26, John 1)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - November 30, 2014
Text: Genesis 26:23-25; John 1:1-5,14

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (arr. Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah" (arr./chorus, Nockels)
Offering of Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (arr. Austell)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Manuscript
There is no manuscript available this week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

==WE BELONG TO GOD (2014)==

“We Belong to God” Discipleship Series
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
September 14 - November 23, 2014

If you trust and follow Jesus, then your life is not your own. Work, wealth, family, free time, health, hope, and everything else and everyone else that makes up LIFE – it belongs to God. That’s why Paul says YOU are God’s field, YOU are God’s building, created for God’s purposes and God’s glory.

Thanksgiving and Seeing God's Glory (Luke 17.11-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 23, 2014
Text: Luke 17:11-21

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Be Your Name" (Redmon)
Hymn of Praise: "For the Beauty of the Earth" (DIX)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (SCHUMANN, arr. Austell)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” 20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:11-21)
Today we are looking at one of the better known stories about giving thanks. In it Jesus heals ten men with leprosy; actually, he sends them to the priest to verify that they are healed and on the way they are healed. Only one of the ten stops and runs back to Jesus to thank him. This story is often lifted up as an example of the importance of being thankful, and rightfully so. But there is a lot more going on here than we usually realize. For one, and not our focus today, there is a wonderful picture of the interplay between human prayer (“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”), a godly response that is not instantaneous, but involves our faith and participation (“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”), and a miraculous answer to prayer (“as they were going, they were cleansed.”)

There is also the whole dynamic of the one who returned being a Samaritan. In fact, this was probably the main point for including this story, as Luke includes the reaction of the Pharisees in conjunction with this interaction with a doubly-unclean man (leper AND Samaritan). And I will not ignore that key part of the story, but these things are worthy study for another day. Today, I want to dig into what this story teaches us about giving thanks.

Thanks for God’s Goodness 

Over the past few weeks we have been talking about God’s glory, which I defined as a combination of what God has done (goodness) and who God is (greatness). The most obvious reason and way we give thanks to God is for what God has done, particularly in our own lives, but also as we see what God has done in the lives of those around us. This is what we most often pray for as well, for healing or help or blessing or deliverance. And it is most appropriate, when those prayers are answered or simply when we see God’s goodness, to say, “Thank you, God!”

When the man realized he had been healed of the terrible and isolating disease of leprosy, he turned back from his mission to see the priests and have himself declared healed and he returned to Jesus and “gave thanks to him.” (v. 16)  In response to his prayers for mercy or help, Jesus had responded and God had been good to him. The man was thankful and immediately went to say so.

One of the primary ways to be thankful to God is in response to God’s goodness. But, only being thankful in this way is like only praying and asking for things from God. If you remember that acrostic, ACTS, prayer should at least involve adoration, confession, and thanks in addition to supplication or asking. Likewise, thanks itself is far richer than responding to God’s goodness.

Thanks for God’s Greatness

The man in the story was also thankful for God’s greatness, or who God is. We see this expressed twice: in v. 15 when he is found “glorifying God with a loud voice” and in v. 18 when Jesus describes his thanks in terms of “giving glory to God.” Jesus equates “giving glory” then with thanks. And this shows thanks to not only be a “thank you for what you did for me” but an “everybody look how amazing and awesome God is!” Indeed, the man is public with this expression of thanks, as he offers these words (and perhaps gestures) “with a loud voice” on his way back to see Jesus.

I would describe this as “thanks for God’s greatness” – in other words, the thanks is God-focused rather than self-focused. It’s the difference between “look at what God did for ME” and “look at GOD, who helped me.” In fact, we find that it’s not one or the other, but both that are appropriate.

Said another way, this kind of God-oriented thanks – publicly focusing on who God is – is a form of worship because worship is simply “declaring God’s worth.” We see another aspect of this worshipful thanks after all the public glory-giving, when the man falls on his face at Jesus feet, also an expression of extreme humility and respect, and appropriate to a posture of worship.

So in the past weeks I’ve asked you if you’ve EXPERIENCED God’s goodness and greatness; we’ve heard testimony about how that experience has CHANGED people; and today we read about a person’s GRATITUDE for God’s goodness and greatness: what God has done and who God is.

Seeing God’s Glory (foreigners, faith, and Pharisaical blindness)

As a final point, I’m going to lump several things together for comment. First, Jesus notes that the man is a “foreigner.” (v. 18) Luke has already told us he is a Samaritan. (v. 16) Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as racially and spiritually compromised and most Jewish people held a great animosity towards them.  One of the remarkable things about the inclusion of this story is that it underscores God’s movement among the non-Jewish people, the so-called “nations.” This was always part of God’s promise, but Jesus’ contemporaries seem to have forgotten this. So we see this man – a double-outsider as leper and Samaritan – calling on Jesus for mercy. We see him publicly worshiping God and thanking Jesus. We hear Jesus credit his faith. Truly, the man’s thankfulness showed something of God’s greatness in addition to his words of public praise; it showed God at work in a bigger way than folks expected.

Secondly, over the past few weeks, many of you have asked how to see or experience God’s goodness and greatness. It’s inspiring to hear the testimonies and stories, and I’m interested. How do I see that for myself? Over the past few weeks I’ve suggested looking with “expectant hope.” Another word for that is FAITH. How was it that this man recognized that Jesus could help him and that God had healed him? Jesus says he was full of faith: he was looking and hoping for it. If we could punch a code in our phones or say magic words or perform the right rituals to get God to act, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be something else and it sure would make God a lot smaller. Faith is trust, hope, and expectancy; and it opens our eyes so that we don’t miss God showing up.

That leads to a final comment. The Pharisees were missing it. They had asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was going to come. (v. 20) Jesus said it would not be with “signs to be observed” – that’s stuff like comets and alignment of planets and such – nor would it be ‘here’ or ‘there.’ Instead, he says, “Behold (look!) it is in your midst.” In other words, it is already here and it’s all around you. That’s the assumption behind my favorite question: What is God doing and how can you be a part? I assume, with Jesus’ teaching, that God is at work in and around us, in the church and outside the church. The real question is not, “When will God show up for me?” It is, “How can I be a part of what God is doing?” That is the question of faith and I think God honors that question.

Addendum: Eternal Thanks


I know I said that was my final point; and it turned into three points. But there is one last addendum to all of this and it was found in our Call to Worship this morning from Revelation 4:9-11. Those verses are a picture of the heavenly and eternal worship of the Triune God. I was struck at the parallels to our story today. This is true thanksgiving – worship that is described as “giving glory and honor and thanks” and which declares, “Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created.” Do you hear it all in there? You have God’s goodness and God’s greatness together… thanks that is public declaration and also the humbling picture of elders who “fall down before Him who sits on the throne.” And Revelation tells us those gathered will be from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s all there in that glorious picture… as it was in a moment in time there with the Samaritan man. No wonder Jesus said the Kingdom of God was there in their midst!

So as you celebrate Thanksgiving this week and every week, ponder what it means not only to thank God for what he has done, but also for who he is – as an act of humility and worship, in recognition that God is present with you and in the world even now. Amen!




Sunday, November 16, 2014

Church Matters, pt 2 (Luke 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 16, 2014
Text: Luke 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons" (Myrin, Redmon)
The Word in Music: "We Seek After These Things" (Ruchonich/Zabriskie)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Blessed Be Your Name" (Redman)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sharing
Early in the service I asked the congregation the same question I asked last week, "Where have you experienced the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God at Good Shepherd?" To start off that sharing time I shared this video of three responses from church friends who are out of town right now - Cameron Cary, in Washington state; Jason and Tiffany Hinton, who are in Hungary; and Karen Katibah, who is at college at ASU. Here are there responses...
 

I think all three were done in the wee hours...   :)

:: Testimony (audio link)
I asked Shannon Klar to share her testimony as a "living illustration" of the scripture text from Luke 19:1-10, an example of what it looks like to encounter God's goodness and greatness and be changed (like Zacchaeus). Her testimony really served as the 'sermon' for today, so I'm including below the brief remarks I had prepared, but didn't use; and I'm linking her testimony here and on the podcast. 

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. This particular week I prepared an abbreviated sermon to make space for a testimony in the service. What I actually said was even more abbreviated than below. I'm including this here as what I had prepared to say, but the testimony linked above really served in place of the sermon this week and as a "living illustration" of the scripture text.

Like last week, today’s sermon and service are a little different format than usual. It is our “Consecration Sunday” and we are talking about why church matters.

We’ve been talking about God’s glory. In an effort to better understand what that means, last week we broke that down into God’s GOODNESS (what God does) and GREATNESS (who God is). And there’s no place we see that goodness and greatness more clearly than in Jesus Christ. John 1:14 reminds us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Last week we looked at two biblical stories of people encountering God’s goodness and greatness through meeting Jesus. Those were the stories of the blind man in Luke 18 and Zacchaeus, the hated man, in Luke 19. We then heard testimonies and sharing from the congregation around the question, “How have you experienced God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS through Good Shepherd?” We’ve also shared some more responses to that question at the beginning of today’s service.

The biblical stories raised three application questions for us last week:

1.    Are you expectantly looking for God to show up?
2.    Will you listen and respond when He does?
3.    How is that changing your life?

Today we are going to look at that third question of what happens when we encounter God’s glory – God’s goodness or greatness – how experiencing God has or is changing people’s lives. For that, and for time’s sake, I’m just going to look at the story of Zacchaeus, and then I’ve asked one of our members to share her story of encountering God and her life being changed.

The Tax-Man (Luke 19:1-10)


We talked last week about tax collectors being hated in New Testament times because they were Jewish people working for the Roman Empire, taxing their own people and free to overtax and line their own pockets. We understood that Zacchaeus was especially hated and despised because we are told he was a “chief tax collector and he was rich.” His wealth came from taxing his fellow Jews.

We saw that Zacchaeus went to check Jesus out… from a safe distance; but also that Jesus came TO him, in more ways than one. Jesus called up to him and called him by name. Jesus called him down; and then Jesus invited himself to his house: “Today I must stay at your house.” Now the change hadn’t happened yet; hospitality would have dictated that Zacchaeus welcome Jesus at that point. But we can sure guess that he was surprised, especially in the face of the public and expressed sentiment that Zacchaeus was a “man who is a sinner.” (v. 7)

All of this is the encounter with God’s goodness and glory in Jesus, but it is in the next verse that we realize Zacchaeus has been changed by it. It is not clear to me whether he says this there at the tree, on the way to his house, or once they are at his home… though the grumbling crowd does say, “He has gone to be the guest….” So, perhaps on the way or at his home Zacchaeus “stopped and said.” Maybe stopped on the way or stopped in the middle of dinner or conversation. But something happened; something in the encounter significantly changed Zacchaeus.

Up to that point Zacchaeus’ life had pretty well been defined by the accumulation of wealth, and at the expense of others. We don’t get to peer into the workings of the change, but it is clear that it has happened, because this man who was notorious for squeezing wealth out of others vows to give it back four times over AND to give half of his possessions to the poor. So there are themes of restitution and of compassion. It sounds so simple and Sunday school-ish to tell the story here, but it is transformation of the wildest kind. Take the worst known traits of the most notorious criminal and meeting Jesus has flipped those traits and that person on their head.

Stealing from children turns into running an orphanage.
Addictions lose their grip and families are healed.
One turns from mocking and hating God to a life filled with love of and service to God.


That’s the change. And it’s not once and done; it’s over and over again because God keeps coming to us in Jesus with His GOODNESS and GREATNESS. That’s why I love to hear your stories. They are the stories of God being faithful to show up.

With that I want to draw to a close, ask the ushers to come forward for the offering, and invite my sister-in-Christ, Shannon Klar, to some share her story with you.



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Church Matters, pt 1 (Luke 18.35-43, Luke 19.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 9, 2014
Text: Luke 18:35-43; Luke 19:1-10

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Christians, Join to Sing" (MADRID)
Hymn of Praise: "I Love to Tell the Story" (HANKEY)
Hymn: "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Hymn of Offering: "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" (DENNIS)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons)" (Myrin, Redman)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Testimonies From the Service 
How have you seen the GOODNESS or GREATNESS of God through Good Shepherd?
Mark Katibah (link)
MaryGene Longenecker (link)
Matt and Megan Butler (link)
Chuck and Linda Jenkins (link) 
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

CALL TO WORSHIP
7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. 9 I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations. 10 For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens And Your truth to the clouds. 11 Be exalted above the heavens, O God; Let Your glory be above all the earth.
Today’s sermon and service are a little different format that usual. It is our “Stewardship Sunday,” but instead of talking about the giving of time, talent, and treasure or teaching on tithing, I want to talk about why church matters. For the past few months we have been talking about “Belonging to God,” and most recently have focused on how all things (including our belonging) reflect back on God’s name. Both God’s being (holy, loving, right, just, etc…) and God’s works (creation, salvation, redemption, etc…) shine in what we refer to as God’s GLORY.

Another way of using everyday words to talk about God’s-being-and-works-showing-forth-as-glory is to talk about God’s GOODNESS and GREATNESS. And there’s no place we see that glory more clearly than through Jesus Christ, who is at once the foundation, the center, and the head of the church. John 1:14 reminds us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today I am using the same scripture texts as I will next week. These back-to-back texts from Luke describe two people experiencing God’s goodness and greatness through an encounter with Jesus. This week I want to describe those encounters to you, highlighting God’s glory. Then, over the course of the service, I want to invite several folks to share with you how they have experienced God’s goodness and greatness in this place. Finally, I will give you an opportunity to stand and briefly do the same. You can see the question there in the bulletin: “How have you experienced God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS through Good Shepherd?”

Bottom-line, what I hope you’ll walk away with is a strong reminder that church matters because this is a place where God shows up – and that is an amazing thing… even a life-changing thing.

Blind (Luke 18:35-43)
35 As Jesus was approaching Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. 36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 And he called out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he came near, He questioned him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Both of today’s stories take place in or near the ancient city of Jericho. In Luke 18, Jesus is on his way into Jericho with a crowd following and walking with him. A blind man hears the commotion and asks what is going on. When he hears that it is Jesus, he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” We don’t have to wonder what he wanted or meant by that because Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the man responded, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately, he regained his sight.

Isn’t that the way you wish it would always work… that you could just ask Jesus for something and he would do it?

But wait, let’s look a little more closely. First, Jesus was already showing up; he was present there on the road that day. The man was attentive enough to ask questions, to recognize the power before him, to call out, and to believe Jesus could do what he asked. That’s all on the front end. Do we come to church expecting God to show up? And assuming God does (I believe He is faithful to do so!), do you see it? Do you call out? Do you recognize who we are worshiping? Do you believe God can do anything?

And then look at what followed: after regaining his sight, the man began following Jesus and glorifying God; and all the people around gave praise to God. This encounter with the power and presence of God wasn’t a point in time thing; it was more than healing blindness; the man was CHANGED. He didn’t just start to see; he started to follow and to worship. And the whole encounter spurred the crowd to worship and praise.

There are several parts to consider when we talk about encountering the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God here.

1.    Are we expectant?
2.    Will we believe and be touched?
3.    Will we remember and be changed?

In a bit you will hear stories of people here – people you know – who have experienced the GOODNESS and GREATNESS of God. I imagine each of us will hear those stories from one of these points of view.

You may think, “I’ve never had that experience.” I’d ask, “Are you expectant? Are you looking and waiting and hoping to?”

You may think, “Oh yes, I have encountered God’s GOODNESS or GREATNESS!” If so, I hope you’ll share that with us at the appropriate time.

A third point of view either realizes “I had forgotten that” or also realizes that the encounter with God changed you. If that is the case, praise God! And I’d like to know and maybe hear about it next Sunday!

From this story, realize that God showed up through Jesus and more than healing physical blindness occurred; a man was changed – through his experience perhaps even a community.

Hated and Despised (Luke 19:1-10)
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man called by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. 3 Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. 7 When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
We’ve talked before about tax collectors; one of them named Matthew (Levi) even became a disciple. As Jesus was passing through Jericho, he encountered another one named Zacchaeus. We’ve talked about how tax collectors were hated and despised because they were Jewish people working for the Roman Empire, taxing their own people and free to overtax and line their own pockets. We know that Zacchaeus was especially hated and despised because we are told he was a “chief tax collector and he was rich.” His wealth came from taxing his fellow Jews.

Like the blind man, Zacchaeus also heard the commotion of Jesus coming through Jericho and went to check it out. Because he was small – or perhaps because he was hated? – he ran ahead of Jesus and the crowd and climbed up in a tree to see him. Unlike the blind man, Zacchaeus did not call out to Jesus; instead, Jesus called out to him. And it wasn’t a “hey, how are you?” or a “come, follow me.” Jesus looked up and called his name and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” How did Jesus know his name? Maybe because he was Jesus… or maybe Matthew knew him. But Jesus did the same thing he did with Matthew’s friends in Capernaum; he went for dinner at his house. And Zacchaeus received him gladly.

The people grumbled just as when Jesus ate with Matthew… Jesus is hanging out with “sinners” again! But that storyline is interrupted by a declaration from Zacchaeus, who says, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Again, God showed up through Jesus and someone’s life was changed. There’s no other way to explain Zacchaeus’ declaration. We don’t quite have all the figures to do the math, but it sounds to me like he’s pretty much giving all his wealth away, both to help those in need and to make right his wrongs.

Again, thinking back on the blind man and now on Zacchaeus, I ask:

1.    Are you expectantly looking for God to show up?
2.    Will you listen and respond when He does?
3.    How is that changing your life?

Big questions; but then again, we are talking about when God shows up!

I look forward to hearing more from you later in the service and also to digging some more into these texts again next week. Amen.

**Audio links to the testimonies from the service are included in the top section of this post.
 



Sunday, November 2, 2014

For God's Glory (Isaiah 43.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 2, 2014
Text: Isaiah 43:1-7

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (arr. Robert Austell)
The Word in Music: Choir - "Psalm 86" (Nygard)
Hymn of Response: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (arr. Robert Austell)
Video: "Thought on Worship: What is meaningful about communion?"

Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Sending: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin et al.)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

     1 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
     3 “For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 “Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
      5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. 6 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, 7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:1-7)

We have been talking for weeks about belonging to God, first through our experience of responding to Jesus’ call to “follow me” and then last week through Kathy’s reminding us that we are God’s own possession, more surely and purely His than anything we can comprehend or imagine belonging to us. Today we continue looking at how we belong to God, turning to words of the prophet, Isaiah.

This part of Isaiah is directed to God’s people in the Babylonian Exile. If anyone had reason to question whether they belonged to God, it was the defeated and conquered Exiles who had been taken from their homes and land and Temple. So much of their experience and understanding of God was wrapped up in that former place of land, family, and blessing. And with all that seemingly stripped away, it was natural for God’s chosen people to wonder if they even belonged to God at all.

Today’s text rings with the assurance that they not only still belong to God, but that God has held them securely all along. And God is at work in and around them in a way that all of it – their exile, their redemption, their protection, their deliverance, their testing – it will all point back to God’s great love and holiness and character, to God’s GLORY. And that demonstration of glory – that God is GOOD and God is GREAT – will serve to be a reminder that God is still working through them to bless the world around them… the very thing God had originally promised Father Abraham and the promise they thought they had left behind in their conquered land.

Do Not Fear, You are Mine! (vv. 1-2)


The text divides neatly into three sections, forming an A-B-A pattern with the first and third sections repeating the same refrain: “Do not fear!” (vv. 1,5) In the first A section, God names Himself through Isaiah as “Creator” and “He who formed you, O Israel.” (v. 1a) This same creating and forming God then declares to a people who have wandered, strayed, and believe themselves cut off: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” (v. 1b) What a glorious declaration! I often like to describe salvation history in similar terms, saying that God created us, and though we turned away from God in disobedience and sin, God did not abandon us, but pursued us in love to rescue and reclaim us. That’s just what we read here in Isaiah: God’s people had wandered far away, spiritually and physically; but God reminds them, “I made you and love you and haven’t given up on you. Indeed, I know you and have named you and you belong to me!”

God continues in v. 2, using both water and fire to illustrate the great challenges they have faced. And God declares His faithfulness in terms of presence and protection

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you (PRESENCE)
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. (PROTECTION)
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched (PROTECTION)
Nor will the flame burn you. (v. 2) (PROTECTION)

What a reminder for us, who are no less God’s people as the Church than Old Testament Israel was. God has created and formed us, has redeemed and rescued us (despite ourselves!), and walks with us and protects us.

Do not fear; you belong to God!

I AM the Lord (vv. 3-4)


There in the middle, in the B-section of vv. 3-4, we hear the great declaration of who God is: “I AM the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v. 3) There is so much in so few words! “I AM the LORD” is the great self-revelation – God’s name, Yahweh, spoken to Moses from the burning bush and used throughout the Old Testament as God’s self-identifier. Then a whole string of other names and descriptors: God, Holy One, Savior. Each reveals who God is and what God has done. Perhaps most unusual in this Old Testament setting is “Savior,” since we often think of Jesus when we hear that term. But the verses that follow, which reference God’s rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt, show God to be just that: Savior.

The end of verse 4 is confusing, speaking of giving others in exchange for the lives of God’s people. But the references to God as Redeemer (v. 1) and Savior (v. 3) and the naming of Egypt, Cush, and Seba, point not to the value of one person or people over another, but to the lengths God went to for the rescue of His people in the Exodus and beyond. Even a world power, if set against God’s purposes, will not prevail.

More personally for us, what a reminder that God is no less our Lord and God, our Holy One and Savior. Has God not gone to even greater lengths to buy us back (as Redeemer) and rescue us (as Savior) from captivity and enslavement to sin, and even from death!

Do Not Fear, for I am With You (vv. 5-7)


Finally the third section parallels the original A-section and is signaled by another statement of “Do not fear” in verse 5. If in the first section the message was, “Do not fear, you are mine,” here it is “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (v. 5) The connection with the old promises to Abraham are strong, for now God promises to look after the children of Israel – sons and daughters. In a poetic survey of the four corners of the world, God declares: 

I will bring your offspring from the east
And gather you from the west
I will say to the north, “Give them up!”
And to the south, “Do not hold them back!”
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth. (vv. 5-6)

 Back in v. 1, God was identified as “He who formed Israel” and said, “I have called you by name; you are mine!” Now, connecting back to those statements, God identifies those covenant sons and daughters with “everyone who is called by my name and whom I have created….” While it is secondary to the main point, this whole text is strikingly poetic; it’s the kind of thing that would have stuck in the mind of Hebrew people like a memorable song does for us. It is in classic Hebrew form in so many ways.

The reminder for us here is much as in the first section: that section reminded us that God walks with us and protects us. This third section reminds us that the same God will not forget us though we wander far and wide. As Romans 8:38-39 will later remind us, nothing can or will separate us from God’s extraordinary love, neither life nor death nor things present or future, or anything else.

Do not fear; God is with you!

For God’s Glory (v. 7)


Before I let go of the format of this text, I would note that any time there is an A-B-A format, the main idea – the thing to not miss – is there in the middle. In this case it is there in v. 3, “For I am the Lord your God.” Though so much of this text focuses on what God has done for us, it really is all about God – God who is Lord (v. 1), Creator (v. 1), Redeemer (v. 1), Holy (v. 3), Savior (v. 3), and (implicitly) Covenant Promise-Keeper (vv. 5-6).

And just in case you were a Hebrew student who failed Poetry and Prophets 101, the very end of the text points us back to the main idea in case we missed it. There, at the end of the list of all that God has done FOR US, we are reminded that we were “created for [God’s] glory.” (v. 7) It is certainly true that in overcoming Pharaoh, the Egyptian army, and the Red Sea, God delivered His people from slavery; but it is all the more true that doing so demonstrated to the watching world (in Israel and outside of Israel) that God is God, more powerful than Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, and more powerful even than the waters of the sea.

Let me make that more current and applicable to you and me. Though it is true that in sending Christ to die for your sin that you might live, God became your Savior; it is even more true and significant that God shows himself in Christ to be THE Savior. At every point you and I encounter and experience God in our world and in our lives, it also points to the greater news of God in THE world. God is ultimately not my thing or your thing; God is God. That’s what glory means. That’s why, in v.3, before any other qualifiers like “your God” and “of Israel” and “your Savior” we simply read: “I AM the LORD.” That’s glory; God is who He is and will be who He will be: YAHWEH.

Why is that important? It’s important because we dare not lose sight of just how “God” God is. Otherwise we package and limit and personalize God into an experience, a mini-god, a controllable god, a thing we can take out when we need it and dismiss when we don’t. If we can begin to acknowledge and comprehend and WORSHIP and SERVE the One who is “I AM the LORD,” that’s when we will witness and experience God in our own lives and in and before the world. And that’s when we will know and understand those declarations: “Do not fear, you are mine; do not fear I am with you.”


Sunday, October 26, 2014

His Treasured Possession (Deuteronomy 26, John 10.11-15)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson - October 26, 2014
Text: Deuteronomy 26:17-19; John 10:11-15

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music:"Oh, How He Loves You and Me; I Love You, Lord" (Kaiser/arr. Shanborn)
Hymn of Praise: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" (FAITHFULNESS)
Song of Praise: "One Pure and Holy Passion" (Shelton)
Offering of Music: "Thrive" (Casting Crowns)
Song of Sending: "How He Loves Us" (McMillan)
Postlude:"There is a Redeemer" (arr. Sanborn)

:: Sermon Manuscript: No manuscript available this week.