Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Tangible Kingdom (1 Peter 2.9-10, Luke 4.14-21)

Sermon by: the Rev. Betty Meadows; July 16, 2017 - 1 Peter 2:9-10; Luke 4:14-21

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Hosanna/Praise is Rising (Brown, Baloche)
Singing Together: Great are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordan, Leonard)
Offering of Music: This Kingdom (Bullock)
Song of Sending: Our God Has Made Us One (WEBER)

:: Sermon Manuscript :: there is no manuscript this week

Sunday, July 9, 2017

That Voice (Psalm 29, Revelation 5)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 9, 2017 - Psalm 29; Revelation 5:11-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: O Worship the King (LYONS)
The Word in Music: I Sing the Mighty Power of God (arr. Fettke)
Song of Response: I See the Lord (Falson)
Song of Sending: Revelation Song (Riddle)

:: 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.

I’ve written songs since I was a kid. When I was younger the music came first and the words were a labor. As I experienced more of the world I found that I preferred to write the words first, then compose music that fit them. Sometimes I write in my “man cave” and my mind roams to situations or settings that inspire what I’m going to write. Other times I have taken time away in a beautiful setting like the mountains or the beach and found inspiration away from the clutter and distraction of daily life.

I share that to say that I believe this particular “song” that is Psalm 29 was written in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. I can’t prove that, but I can relate to it. Maybe the Psalmist just imagined such a storm. Regardless, that is the backdrop for this songwriter, this poet, to write about the glory of God. With each crash of the thunder, the Psalmist thought of the voice of God; and it inspired praise.

There are many Sundays where the scripture text gives us something to do, some application into our life. And certainly this Psalm has application, but it is primarily focused on our glorious God. I mean, think about a thunderstorm. It doesn’t really generate a to-do list in your head. You may think about getting in out of the rain, but mostly it’s just a “wow!” I may draw out some implications for us today, but mainly my hope is that you and I will get a sense of “whoa!” as we think about God. If we can catch even a bit of that, I think it generates its own application in our lives.

Along those lines, I want to share a video clip with you. I saw this when it circulated on the Internet – maybe two years ago. It may make you giggle, which is fine. But it’s for real. You may think the man is intoxicated, but I don’t think he is. (Remember the apostles were accused of the same on Pentecost!) This 53 year-old farmer saw a rainbow and the sheer beauty of it overcomes him. In the last two years this video clip has been viewed over 44 million times.

I believe that’s what is going on in Psalm 29 (and in our other text in Revelation 5).

That Voice (vv. 3-9)

I’m going to start in the middle of Psalm 29, because that’s where the storm is happening. Then we’ll look at the beginning and ending.

In seven verses the Psalmist delivers seven visuals to go with seven thunderclaps. Like the guy in the rainbow video, I can imagine the Jewish songwriter sitting in the storm with the words rolling out in sequence:
[boom] The voice of the Lord is upon the waters – the God of glory thunders! (v. 3)
[crash] The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is majestic! (v. 4)
[crack] The voice of the Lord breaks ...even the mighty cedars of Lebanon. (v. 5)
The mighty countries of Syria and Lebanon skitter and buck like animals terrified
by the storm. (v. 6)
[boom] The voice of the Lord spits lightning like fire and rattles the earth. (vv. 7-8)
[crack] The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth (or twists the oaks?)
and strips the forest bare. (v. 9)
And after all that, this powerful verse: “And everything in His temple says, ‘Glory!’” (v. 9)

When the whole created world seemingly yields before the mighty sound of thunder, the Psalmist sees in that a powerful glimpse of all Creation declaring the glory of God.

It bears a striking resemblance to the scene in Revelation, where all the angels, creatures, elders, and nations gather around the throne of God and declare, “Glory!” They say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:12) Every created thing in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea, and all things in them join in, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (v. 13)

Like the cascading peals of thunder and the response of nature to those, the gathering in Heaven offers praise after praise before the throne of God. The Psalmist has caught a glimpse, inspired by something in this world in the general revelation of God’s creation.

Have you glimpsed it? Can you imagine even the smallest part of what all Creation means by “Glory!”?

The Lord as King (vv.10-11)

The Psalm ends by coming out of that metaphor. Moving from God’s voice as thunder, the Psalmist declares God as King:
The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace. (vv. 10-11)
This is the Psalmist’s conclusion – not an “if you do this, God will do this” statement, but a recognition of what God does with all that power and glory and might. It is more praise and wonder, as if recognizing that with the mighty thunder comes the needed rain. The one with this voice is also the one who rules over us and does so with compassion, strengthening and blessing His people with peace.

Maybe the inspirational thunderstorm gave way to rain or maybe the Psalmist just recognized the goodness of God alongside the wondrous power and might. But it is a wonderful connection and reminder to us of who God is.

Giving Praise (vv. 1-2)

So to the beginning of the Psalm. It begins with this word, “Ascribe.” It literally means ‘give’ but here carries the sense of “recognize and respond.” O sons and daughters of the mighty One, recognize the glory and strength of the Lord. The recognize part is to realize who God is. God is not a deity of your or my imagination or creation. We could not invent such a God. Like the thunder that will follow, God IS and (at some point) we will be confronted with God on His own terms. Just as we have to “respect the storm” – God demands respect. Not ‘demand’ in a petulant, “won’t you worship me?” way, but demands like if you really caught a glimpse of that voice, that power, that glory, there is only one response. Whoa! Glory!

So the Psalmist appeals to those who will hear his song, “Recognize and respond!” And if you don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s about to tell you all about that time the mighty thunder reminded him of an even greater God. So recognize the Lord’s glory and strength, and respond. That is what worship (v. 2) is… it’s the response we make after recognizing who God is. If worship is dull or boring or shallow, it may well because we’ve not seen or heard the thunder… or the power behind it.

I want to invite the worship team to come up. The prophet Isaiah wrote about a vision he had of the Lord. Let me read it and then we’ll sing in response:
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.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:1-7)
After we sing ‘Holy’ we will confess as Isaiah did; then we will hear God’s assurance of mercy and grace. Come, let us ascribe glory to the Lord!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sweeter than Honey (Psalm 19, Matthew 5.14-19)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; July 2, 2017 - Psalm 19; Matthew 5:14-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Gathering (Lyric) Video: Voice of the Skies (The Shiyr Poets)
Singing Together: God of Wonders (Mac Byrd, Steve Hidalong)
Singing Together: Joy (Amy Grant)
Singing the Word: Your Law, O Lord, is Perfect (Landis, CHRISTUS, DER IST MEIN LEBEN)
Offering of Music: We Will Feast in the House of Zion (McCracken, Moore)
Hymn of Sending: Behold the Morning Sun (Watts, LAUDES DOMINI, arr. Austell)

:: 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 past week at Vacation Bible School we talked about the Creation story. One of the great themes of that story is captured in the beginning of Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God… declaring the work of His hands.” That Psalm continues with vivid metaphors to explore the ways in which God’s creation glorifies it’s Maker. Then, in what may be a surprising turn for us as modern readers, the Psalm turns to the beauty and perfection of God’s Law… another life-giving and God-glorifying product of God’s person and power. Today we will look at these two gifts of God – creation and commandments – and then see how Jesus connects and embodies these two gifts.

Creation (Psalm 19:1-6)

Psalm 19 declares that the heavens “speak” – they tell of the glory of God and declare the work of God’s hands. (v. 1) This kicks off a string of metaphors where the passing of days and nights also “pour forth speech” and “reveal knowledge.” (v. 2) What is this message? What is this knowledge? It is that GOD IS CREATOR and GOD IS GLORIOUS. And yet, these are not actual words and speech, and too many miss the majesty and glory of God all around us in Creation. Creation’s “voice is not heard.” (v. 3) Though the rising of the sun is like a groom coming out of his chamber to see the bride or an athlete racing to the finish line (v. 5), we sometimes still miss out on the message: GOD IS GREAT AND GLORIOUS!

Nonetheless, theologians speak of Creation as God’s “general revelation” – it may not contain the specifics of salvation or forgiveness from sin, but it does proclaim – even “shout” – in its own way that THERE IS A GOD! And the reach of this general message is far further than the written word. It stretches and reaches “to the end of the world.” Bible translators are still laboring to get scripture translated into every tongue, but the sun rises and sets, the starry expanse displays to peoples in every distant part of the globe. The Psalmist uses these images and metaphors as if to ask, “How can you miss it?” Isn’t it evident all around you?

Commandments (Psalm 19:7-11)

From there Psalm 19 shifts to talking about the “Law of the Lord.” This is not as abrupt a change as it might seem at first. The Psalm had been using communication metaphors like “speaking” and “telling” – how natural to shift into actual words given by God to reveal His purpose and will.  And after saying that some people do not “hear” the proclamation of Creation, it makes sense to make the point that God has ALSO revealed Himself through the literal spoken and written word.

For the modern reader, what may be more surprising than the shift from Creation to Commandment is the affection and imagery with which the Psalmist talks about the Law of the Lord. There are six pairs of sayings  (remember the love of Hebrew poets for repetition?!) that line up with a description of the Law and its effect or blessing in our lives:

The Law of the Lord is perfect… restoring the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure… making wise the simple. (v. 7)
The precepts of the Lord are right… rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure… enlightening the eyes. (v. 8)
The fear of the Lord is clean… enduring forever.
The judgments of the Lord are true… they are righteous altogether. (v. 9)
Then, after that, a startling claim about what can seem to us a dry, boring subject: [God’s Law/Commandments] are “more desirable than gold… sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honey comb.” (v. 10) I remember tasting honey from the honeycomb from my aunts beehives as a child. There is nothing more sweet and natural than honey. And this is comparing that to God’s Law? To Leviticus and the Ten Commandments and all the rest? Really?!

Let me talk for a moment about God’s Law or Commandments. In Hebrew scripture – in our Old Testament – the Law served three main purposes. Some of it was civil law, instructing Israel how to govern itself as a nation. An example of that is Exodus 21:33-34 – “If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.” While there is an underlying principle of fairness and restitution, this “case law” was the equivalent of our traffic laws or other national laws and is not meant to be replicated in other nations. It was specific to ancient Israel.

Some of the Law or Commandments had to do with the practice of religion and was ceremonial in nature. Examples include the various feasts and sacrifices as well as the kosher food laws and laws about mixing fabrics.

And some of the Law or Commandments was moral or ethical, describing God’s intent for things like sexual purity, the value of human life, or the treatment of family or neighbors. The best known examples are the Ten Commandments.

In every instance, the follower of God in ancient Israel understood that God’s Commandments were for safety and blessing. They weren’t for salvation, but for thriving and flourishing. They were given and spoken out of God’s love for His people, much like parents make rules for their children’s health and safety.

Calling (Matthew 5:14-19)

In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks of the Law, saying “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (v.17) In his teaching, Jesus goes on to help us understand the value and beauty of the Law. While he lives in the context of the nation of Israel ruled by Rome, he acknowledges the need to keep the laws of the land, even acknowledging the lawfulness of Caesar to tax – that’s the famous “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” statement; though people rarely finish the sentence – “…and render unto God that which is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Yet Jesus isn’t focused on proclaiming a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, but announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

The religious ceremonial laws were meant to point to something beyond themselves; Christians believe that something is a SOMEONE, Jesus Christ. He has gathered up all the feasts and sacrifices into himself as the once and for all sacrifice. He has fulfilled and completed the food and clothing laws – rather than eating and dressing in a particular way to be distinct in the world, believers are now to “eat his flesh.. the bread of life” (John 6:48,53) and are to put on “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12) as their distinctive clothing.

And regarding the moral law like the Ten Commandments, and right after his statement in Matthew 5 that he is not doing away with the Law, but fulfilling it, Jesus teaches through a number of those commandments and presses them even deeper – God’s desire is that we not only keep them externally, but also in the heart and mind.

And so that is all very interesting – Jesus does indeed value the Law and he helps us understand how all the Old Testament Law relates to us as Christians and modern people. But here’s the really fascinating part, given our starting place in Psalm 19 today: Jesus connects us and calls us through his fulfillment of the Law back to the role of Creation to declare the glory of God. Look, it’s right there in Matthew 5 before he starts talking about the Law. He uses a metaphor that calls to mind those first days of Creation:

You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (v. 14,16)

Do you see the connection and the CALLING? When we keep God’s Law – now embodied, explained, and fulfilled in Jesus – we function like Creation itself, shining God’s GLORY for the world to see. It is not to show ourselves off, but to point the world to God.

And let me add this so you don’t miss it. Neither the Old Testament Law nor keeping the Commandments now is salvific. The point of them is not to “get us to Heaven.” That’s God’s job in reaching down to us. The purpose of the Law is two-fold: 1) to help us experience God’s best (particularly when it is fulfilled in Christ) and 2) to demonstrate God’s glory. It is when we yield to that and live in it that we can begin to experience it as “sweet as honey.” That’s also when we really start to “shine.” Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

That Salvation Would Come (Psalm 14, Romans 3.9-24)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 25, 2017 - Psalm 14; Romans 3.9-24

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Come Ye Sinners (Matthew Smith/Indelible Grace)
Singing Together: Here is Love (Lowry, Rees)
Offering of Music (Chris Orr, fiddle): Ashoken Farewell
Hymn of Sending: And Can it Be (SAGINA)

:: 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 continue in our Psalm+1 series, in which we look at one of the Psalms, the ancient song and prayer book of God’s people. Each week we also look at one New Testament scripture that connects the Psalm to the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Today we are looking at Psalm 14 and Romans 3, which quotes that Psalm.

There are four kinds of fools: the fool, the jester, the righteous fool, and God’s fool. Today I want to speak to you about each one.

The Fool (Psalm 14)

This Psalm is attention-getting from the start: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (v. 1a) And apparently there are many such fools, because THEY are “corrupt” and commit “abominable deeds.” (v. 1b) But the net quickly widens again, before we can start passing judgment on all those other fools: “There is NO ONE who does good.” (v. 1c) In good Hebrew poetry fashion, verses 2-3 rinse and repeat, with the Lord looking down to see if there are any who understand and seek after Him. But again, “They have all turned aside… and become corrupt; there is NO ONE who does good, NOT EVEN ONE.” (v. 3)

Are the foolish aware of their foolishness? That’s what the Psalmist asks in verse 4, citing their particular injustice towards God’s people as one example of their wickedness. And then in verse 5 we read the first hint of anything other than foolishness and wickedness. The Psalmist warns that the foolish should be worried – “in great dread” – because God is on the side of justice and righteousness; in verse 6, God is a refuge; and in verse 7, God has salvation and restoration in mind for His people.

This pitting of human injustice and wickedness against those God would defend, protect, and deliver, is the ultimate description of the fool. The fool either denies God or set’s his or her heart against God, and this plays out harmfully in the lives of others.

The Jester

It seems harsh to define a fool in that way and then say in the same set of verses that no one does good. How can that be? Surely some of us are better than that!

When I originally thought of this second category of fool, it was just to highlight a different way that ‘fool’ has been used: the court jester, the distraction, the entertainment. I did not originally see much connection to the Psalm. But as I worked through the “fool” I realized that the jester describes many of us (or all of us, at times) and is a deceiving way we live in the spiritual fool category without realizing it. If your reaction to the description and definition of fool in Psalm 14 was like mine, you thought, “That doesn’t describe me; I don’t intentionally practice injustice against others or deny God’s existence.”

But I’d use “the jester” as a sub-category of the fool, to describe the ways in which many of us often play the fool. The jester is distraction; the jester is entertaining. I may not have said in my heart that “there is no God,” but I’ve certainly thought, acted, and lived AS IF there were no God. I put God far out of mind and far out of the way so I can do what I want. And I’m a fool.

Because the jester is out of touch with God and God’s right ways, he or she may perpetrate or perpetuate injustice and have no idea. There is no moral compass or standard of God’s Word residing in the heart or guiding the way. Likewise, the jester may not feel any dread of God, because the dismissal of God is so casual, so to the side, so non-combative. But the jester is a fool, nonetheless. I’ve been and often am the jester.

The Righteous Fool (Romans 3)

But what if you think, “Not me!” I believe in God; I take God seriously… I don’t intentionally hurt others or perpetrate or perpetuate injustice. Maybe I’m in that group in Psalm 14 of the “righteous generation.” Maybe I’m one of the good guys! Well, remember that Psalm 14 said, “there is no one who does good, not even one?” That’s the part that gets quoted in Romans 3, when the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome.

What he is combatting in this densely theological and long letter is a third category of fool I’d call the "righteous fool.” That he’d need to do so is no surprise; I felt that “not me” surge up in me as I read about the foolishly wicked in Psalm 14. In Romans, Paul is dealing with the early Christians and the tension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians believed they had an advantage over the Gentiles because they had the Law and the Covenant and the history with God. In some early cases, the Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism before being accepted in the Christian community. But Paul takes that on in Romans and elsewhere, challenging the Jewish Christians with, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” (v. 9) – this is what Romans 1-2 dealt with. Then, as support for his assertion, Paul quotes… Psalm 14! He quotes those same verses about “none righteous, not even one.”

In this chapter and continuing on Romans, Paul calls out a particular kind of foolishness, which he even calls sin. It is thinking that, whether by heritage or behavior, I am superior to others and worthy of God’s favor. That makes a righteous fool. Rather, Paul insists that Psalm 14 is right – there is NO ONE who is good or does good. If it helps, this is not “help an elderly lady across the street” kind of good deed, but the kind of upright, spiritually pure, consistent and persistent good that can hold up to God’s pure and holy righteousness. In fact, Paul delivers a kind of ‘gotcha’ to those who pride themselves in being morally superior by saying that their disdain of “others” is itself sinful and disqualifying of righteousness.

So, here’s the bad news, already delivered in the first few lines of Psalm 14: we’re all fools of one kind or another.

God’s Fool

Neither Psalm 14 nor Romans 3 leaves us hopelessly foolish. Psalm 14 ends with God’s saving activity: providing justice, refuge, salvation, and restoration. It ends with the cry, “Oh! that the salvation of Israel would come!” (v. 7) And that’s the very salvation Paul describes in Romans. God’s salvation has come out of Zion, but not just Israel, but to all who would believe. Paul writes, “…the righteousness of God has been manifested… through faith in Jesus Christ FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE; for there is no distinction…” (vv. 21-22)

God’s mercy is wide and God is showing His original intent, that He would bless Israel in order to bless the world. So His salvation has come out of Israel and is for the world, for all who will believe and receive it. Just to remind us, the end of that last sentence in v. 22 is again the reminder “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). It’s not our goodness, but God’s which saves us. That’s good news, especially if we are hopelessly prone to disobey, turn away, fall short, and rebel.

Here’s the interesting postscript on the topic of fools. One of God’s amazing graces is that He redeems us lock, stock, and barrel. He scoops us up in our imperfection and uses us for His glory. And strangely enough, God even redeems fools. In the beginning chapter of another of Paul’s letters – the first letter to the Corinthians – he points out (irony!) that to those who do not accept or believe in God, the message and manner of God’s salvation sounds like foolishness. That is, the incarnation, the cross, the redemption, not only don’t make sense to those who reject God, but make believers seem the fool

Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v. 18)

One of my favorite songwriters wrote a song about this called “God’s Own Fool.” In the chorus, Michael Card writes:

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable and come be a fool as well

Irony of ironies: it may be that we are all fools, but because of what God has done, I can be God’s own fool; and that is a good kind of fool to be. Amen!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Everlasting Love (Psalm 136, Ephesians 3.14-19)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson; June 18, 2017 - Psalm 136; Ephesians 3:14-19
Kathy Larson is the Director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: For the Beauty of the Earth (DIX)
Singing Together: Breathe On Us (Kari Jobe, Ed Cash)
Offering of Music (worship team): How High and How Wide (Altrogge)
Hymn of Sending: Forever (Tomlin)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: there is no manuscript this week
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.

link to the children's book Kathy referenced in the sermon - "Mama, Do You Love Me?" on Amazon

Sunday, June 11, 2017

God's Glory and Human Dignity (Psalm 8, Genesis 1, Hebrews 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 4, 2017 - Psalm 139; Acts 2:1-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Holy is the Lord (Tomlin, Giglio)
Singing Together: Our God Saves (Brown, Baloche)
Offering of Music (women's trio): O Lord, How Majestic is Your Name (Larson)
Hymn of Sending: Jesus Shall Reign (DUKE STREET)

:: 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.

The Psalms are the original songbook of God’s people. They are poetry – sung, recited, memorized, shouted, and prayed. They cover the range of human experience and emotion, from lofty praise to anger and loss seeking some answer, some help from God. This summer we are looking at one Psalm each week, tying in a verse or passage from the New Testament that has a similar theme or connects the Psalm to the Good News of Jesus Christ. We began last week with Psalm 139 and the hard-to-wrap-our-minds-around message that God is with us and wants us wherever we are, high or low, whether in the midst of worshipful wonder or intense anger. Today we look at a Psalm that focuses on God’s glory, which has significant bearing on our understanding of our own worth and dignity as human beings made by God and in God’s image. In a day and age when we get so focused on the trivial or the worst of humanity, this Psalm is a reminder that we were made for more and with great hope and beauty despite the ugliness that often threatens to overwhelm us. We’ll look primarily at Psalm 8 today, but also refer to the other scriptures you’ve heard in the service: part of the creation account in Genesis 1 and a reference to Psalm 8 found in Hebrews 2.

The Glory of God (vv. 1-3)

Psalm 8 begins with the glory of God: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (v. 1) From there the Psalmist invokes creation language: “splendor above the heavens… the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars…” (vv. 1,3) Nestled between that creation language is an interesting description of a God so mighty that even the sounds of the weakest of His people – the infants and nursing babes – because they are His, declare the greatness of His power and authority.

The creation language intentionally calls to mind the great creation story of Genesis 1-2, where God speaks all of creation into being. Sun, moon, stars, water, earth, sky: it all was made by God and belongs to God. The ancient Hebrews, whose song this is, would have understood creation itself to declare the glory of God. Generations later, the Apostle Paul would write in Romans of non-believers: “Since the creation of the world [God’s]… eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” (1:20) Old and New Testament scriptures declare that Creation displays the existence of a Creator and the nature of the Creator. If that is true in general, how much more would someone who believes in God (“O Lord, OUR Lord”) see glory in God’s creation!

It is important to have that backdrop – in the first part of Psalm 8 as well as in the creation story of Genesis 1 – to understand the significance of what comes next in Psalm 8. Next the question is raised: Where does humanity fit into the picture?

Human Dignity (vv. 4-7, Gen 1)

In verse four the Psalmist asks, “What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” What follows is a poetic reflection on the story of the creation of humanity from Genesis 1. There, having created the rest of the world and all that lives in it, God saw that it was good and said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (v. 26) In the next verse we read: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (v. 27) According to Genesis, humanity was created uniquely in the world to bear the image of God. Sometimes you hear that by the Latin terminology: imago Dei.

And there is a DIGNITY inherent in that image-bearing. Think of it! You and I are image-bearers of God. On one hand we can scarcely understand what that means. But we also have some analogies. Children often resemble or bear the image of their parents. And that’s not just in looks. Often a child will share mannerisms or qualities of their parents – even when they don’t want to! But it runs much deeper than that because we do not bear God’s image in a biological or psychological way. Rather, God is our Creator and He made us in His image. And did you notice the plural language there? “Let us make man in OUR image, according to OUR likeness” (v. 26) There are a number of scholarly explanations for that, from kingly language that is often set in the plural to a hint at the Triune nature of God. Or perhaps both! Perhaps the image includes that relationality as well as the eternal soul or the capacity for relating to God.

Some of that becomes speculative, but what is obvious is what comes next. Right along with that language of creating in God’s image is a purpose and stewardship extended to humanity: to “rule/fill/subdue the world” (vv. 26,28) As Creator, God clearly is the Great King with all authority over everything. But part of the imago Dei also seems to be God extending both the capacity and the responsibility to govern this world for His sake. Likewise, Psalm 8 waxes poetic about this capacity and responsibility: “You crown him [humanity] with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feat, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field…” (vv. 5b-8)

What dignity that great responsibility implies! Yet hearing it immediately sends my thoughts in two directions. One is “well what a mess we’ve made of that!” The other, related to that, is “Did God really give us this world to have our way with it?” Both of those directions miss what is actually said in Genesis and reveal the tragedy of the human condition. In Genesis 1:28, we read that this responsibility to rule/govern/subdue, that reflects the image of God, is part of God’s BLESSING of humanity. (v. 28) This past spring we spent about eight weeks talking about blessing. It is not what we want; it is aligning ourselves with what God wants! We are only bearing the image well, honoring the family name, pleasing God, when we care for this world and its inhabitants as God would. In fact, to willfully rule or “subdue” the world, its inhabitants, or each other the way we want rather than as God would is the essence of sin and disobedience.

Think then of the implications of having been created in God’s image. There are implications for the stewardship of natural resources. There are implications for beginning and end of life issues. There are implications for racial justice and reconciliation. There are implications for how we view family and friend and neighbor and so-called ‘foreigners.’ When Jesus spoke of any of these things he wasn’t just making up a new ethic or commandment. His teaching was deeply rooted in creation itself, in the human dignity implicit in bearing the image of God, and in obedience to God.

Dignity, Bound and Set Free (Hebrews 2)

Do you see the problem though? I’ve already named it. And it’s right there in Genesis, not long after this glorious creation and establishment of human dignity. We did and we do mess it up. God gave us this world to care for in a godly way, but in our sinfulness we have not only failed again and again in that task, but become ruled by sin. Where we were to steward and relate to each other with godly wisdom, care, and compassion, we have become ruled by sin. And that’s not just a spiritual category; it has practical and worldly implications. We are made to relate to each other and to this world and so we do, but we do so out of selfishness, greed, and other sin-warped ways. The very qualities God built into us in His image are often warped into something damaging and destructive. To use one analogy, sin is the warped mirror that distorts and twists the image so it is hardly recognizable. To use another analogy, it is as if our dignity has been bound up captive, but we must continue living and relating to this world and everything in it. And what is left falls so short of what God desires and designed for us.

The New Testament book of Hebrews picks up these themes and frames them in light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus is named as the “True Human” – one like us who bears the imago Dei and yet who has not been bound up or distorted by human sin. In Jesus we have an undistorted image of humanity bearing the undistorted image of God. Hebrews 2 quotes Psalm 8 and names Jesus as the “son of man” to whom all things are subjected. And though we wait for all the implications of Jesus’ death to unfold – that is, “we do not yet see all things subjected to him” (v. 9) – we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor… so that He might taste death for everyone.” (v. 9) In the language of the prophets, announced by him early in his ministry, Jesus came 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.” (Luke 4:18) By taking our sin and death onto himself, he frees us to experience and extend the dignity of our creation and purpose into the world around us.

Dignity, Captivity, and Freedom

Psalm 8 first points us to a glorious God who made the world. Then it places us in that world with great dignity, as bearers of the image of God. Yet we also know and experience the distortion and entanglement of sin, that so often we act and live with a sense of that dignity bound up or hidden away. Hebrews reminds us of the Good News, that Jesus has come as True Human to set us free. That is not just in terms of salvation, but in terms of how we live and move in this life and this world. Jesus truly rescues us, from sin and death, but also to restore our identity in him, which resets our place and purpose in the world.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Ever-Present Holy Spirit (Psalm 139, Acts 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 4, 2017 - Psalm 139; Acts 2:1-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Breath on Us (Jobe, Cash)
Singing Together: Holy Spirit (Torwalt)
The Word in Music (Choir): Psalm 139 (Pote)
Preparation for Communion: We Will Feast in the House of Zion (chorus) (McCracken, Moore)
Hymn of Sending: Holy Spirit (Townend, Getty)

:: 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 begin a summer series entitled, “Psalm+1.” Each week we will look at one of the Psalms or ‘songs’ of God’s people. They cover a wide range of topics and themes, sometimes celebrating, sometimes grieving, and much in-between. The “plus 1” of the series is because each week I will also look for a New Testament text that lifts up the theme of the chosen Psalm, rooting that theme in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, that day fifty days after Easter when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Apostles and the Good News of Christ began to spread in earnest throughout the known world. The beginning of the Pentecost story is told in Acts 2 and continues on throughout the book of Acts. I’ve chosen Psalm 139 for our starting point because it describes God’s Spirit in a memorable way and reminds us that God’s Spirit is not new with Pentecost or the New Testament.

I want to divide Psalm 139 into four main sections before looking at Acts 2. There is more there than we can look at in a sermon, but I hope it will whet your appetite to dig in a bit more on your own.

God Knows Me (vv. 1-6)

The first section of the Psalm is found in verses 1-6, though verse one also serves as a summary of the entire Psalm: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.” That’s what the Psalm is about: God knows us thoroughly, inside and out. And really, I should note that as the main idea of this Psalm rather than it being specifically about the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, we will see in the second section that God’s Spirit is named specifically and is part of this deep knowing from which we cannot hide.

Verses 1-6 serve as a general (but powerful) introduction to the theme God knows me, walking us through our sitting, standing, sleeping, waking, coming, and going. Verse four even describes God knowing the words we will speak before our tongues even form the word. But remember, too, that this is poetry, and it is Hebrew poetry. This is not a treatise on divine mind-reading; it is a poetic song trying to get across the message that God is interested in you and knows you, and is as close as close can be.

The Psalmist pauses in verse six to reflect in awe at this God who knows us: it is “too wonderful” and “too high” to truly grasp. It is not something to fear (because God is not out to smite us), but is a wonderful mystery.

God Sees Me (vv. 7-12)

A question in verse 7 marks section two, which runs through verse 12 and might be described by the theme, God sees me. The question is “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” The answer is clearly going to be “nowhere” and it is here that God’s Spirit is introduced as God being ever-present, such that we are never alone or abandoned from God. What follows is a series of evocative, poetic images and examples to ‘test’ those bounds, but they serve simply to mount up the understood answer that there is nowhere where God’s Spirit is not present: “If I ascend to heaven… if I make my bed in Sheol… if I take the wings of the dawn… if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea…” (vv. 8-9)

Even in the highs and lows and extremities of our existence the Psalmist can affirm, “You are there… you are there… Even there Your hand will lead me… Your right hand will lay hold of me.” (vv. 8-10) Even darkness is no match for God, who’s can “see” and be present even in the places most fearful to us. (vv. 11-12)

Since this is the section where God’s Spirit is mentioned, I will simply add here that the Old Testament is full of God’s Spirit. The Spirit hovered over the waters of Creation; the Spirit appeared as a cloud and fire to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and through the wilderness; the Spirit filled prophets that they might speak, “Thus saith the Lord.” And the Spirit was promised by those same prophets to one day be “poured out” on sons and daughters. All that is to say that God’s Holy Spirit is not a New Testament invention or phenomenon, but deeply understood as God, ever-present with His people throughout time.

And because of that Spirit, we are assured that God sees us.

God Made Me (vv. 13-18)

Still talking about the depths to which God knows us, the Psalmist turns in verses 13-18 to talk about God’s intimate knowledge of us as our Creator, the One who made me. In what is a beautiful description of the mysteries of conception and development, the Psalmist writes, “You formed my inward parts; You wove (knit) me in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (vv. 13-14) After more artistic description of our creation, God’s knowledge through making us culminates with “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” (v. 16) As earlier, the point is not a treatise on fate or destiny, but a poetic emphasis on just how thoroughly God knows us – as our Creator and Maker.

And again, as in the first section, these reflections lead to wonder and praise. The Psalmist declares, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (v. 17) Indeed it is mind-boggling (and heart-boggling!) that such a powerful, infinite, all-knowing, ever-present God not only sees and knows us with such depth and detail, but that God cares to see and know us with such depth and detail!

God Knows All of Me (vv. 19-24)

Finally, in a fourth section, the Psalm takes an unexpected turn. For four verses (vv. 19-22) the Psalmist pours out what can only be described as hatred for the wicked, for those who shed blood and despise God: “O that You would slay the wicked, O God.” (v. 19) I admit not knowing what to do with that right off, though I do note that the prayer is for God to enact justice (rather than personal vengeance). Nonetheless, it is the kind of thing that we are taught not to feel or express and it’s the kind of thing we critique in other religions as fanatical. Yet there it is. What do we make of that?

And then I read the conclusion to this section and to the Psalm. Right or wrong, we can’t say that the Psalmist wasn’t being honest. Then as abrupt as the turn to those hate-filled exclamations, the Psalmist turns again to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (vv. 23-24). What I make of the four verses are a brutally honest expression of what rages through the heart of the Psalmist. He struggles with some real enemies who have shed blood and done wickedness. And then he lays that before God. Having gone through this whole Psalm about the God who sees and knows and made him, he trusts that God even knows the most brutal parts of him. And he invites God into that, to know the “anxious thoughts” and the “hurtful way.” And he asks God, finally, to lead him in the “everlasting way.”

It’s hard reading, but I wouldn’t have you miss it. This is why the Psalms are so important to us and this is the perfect introduction to the summer study. This Psalm begins with what we might expect: inspiring words about God and how God sees and knows us. But it’s not just words; the Psalmist puts it to the test before he’s done. He says what’s really on his mind and he doesn’t hold back, and precisely because God sees and knows us – all of us – he can lay the anger and hatred before God and invite God to take it and do something right with it.

So don’t hold back with God. But also, don’t miss the part at the end. Rage and anger without inviting God in just destroy us or others. “Search me… try me… know me… and LEAD ME.” (vv. 23-24)

God Lives and Works In Me (Acts 2)

Finally, I just want to say a brief word about Acts 2 and Pentecost. There’s so much going on there, but I want to focus on a piece that overlaps with Psalm 139.

If you think the Good News of Jesus is that God was born into the world to come among us, you wouldn’t be wrong. He did that, but that’s just Christmas.

If you think the Good News of Jesus is that he died for the forgiveness of sin so that we would know God’s mercy, you wouldn’t be wrong. He did that and it’s amazing! But that’s just Good Friday.

If you think the Good News of Jesus is that he rose from the dead so that we might also experience the grace of a new life and a new start, you wouldn’t be wrong. He did that, but that’s just Easter.

The Good News is also that God partners with us to do His work in the world. He sent His Spirit on people like denying Peter, doubting Thomas, revolutionary Simon, and more. They weren’t perfect, saintly, or model human beings, but they trusted Jesus. They experienced God-in-the-flesh, the forgiveness of their sin, and the new start of the risen Christ. And on Pentecost, God’s ever-present Holy Spirit joined with them for what God was going to do next in the world.

Like the end of Psalm 139, each one encountered the powerful presence of God and had to decide whether to stick to their own plans or say, “Lord, lead me in the way everlasting.”

That’s the over the top goodness of the Good News: that God partners with imperfect ordinary people like you and me to accomplish His work in the world. And if you think that God wouldn’t want someone like you; God wants someone just like you. And didn’t you hear? God sees you and knows you – intimately. I get it; that can be terrifying. But if you really understand how much God knows and loves you and wants you, it can also be reason for wonder and awe, as it was with the Psalmist.

So, will you join the Psalmist in praying?  “Search me, O God, and know my heart… and lead me in the everlasting way.” Amen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Season of Remembrance (May 2017)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
May 14-28, 2017

In this series we remember God's past faithfulness as we hope in faith for God's future promises.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Spiritual Memorial (Joshua 4.1-13, Exodus 13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 28, 2017 - Joshua 4:1-13; Exodus 13:1-14

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: We Will Remember (Tommy Walker)
Singing Together: Merciful God (Getty, Townend)
Offering of Music (Madeline Buchmann, piano): Sonata No. 16 in C Major (Mozart)
Hymn of Sending: Great is Thy Faithfulness (FAITHFULNESS)

:: 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.

I’d like to begin today with a question, not for you to answer out loud, but to think about: What is a challenge you are facing right now?

I imagine for some of you there is something that comes immediately to mind; for others, you may need to think for a moment, so I’ll give you that moment and ask again. What is a challenge you are facing right now? Hold the answer to that question in your mind – you may even want to jot it down on your bulletin or in your Bible next to this Joshua 4 passage or in the back. As we study that passage I hope that remembering what God has done will help provide some insight and hope into how God will help you in what you are facing today.

Tomorrow our nation observes Memorial Day, a day in which to remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to our country.  Indeed, when we come to prayer later in this service, we will remember and give thanks as well. Memory is a powerful thing. It is often tied to the emotion of the past; it can inform our present; and it can shape our future. The wise person remembers and learns from the past; the fool forgets the mistakes of the past, doomed to repeat them.

As I thought about a sermon text for this morning, I was struck by the role of “remembering” in the Bible. It is a significant and major theme, for all the reasons already mentioned and more. And there is an additional link to Memorial Day, for not only are their many reasons to remember the work of God in history, but we also have in Jesus the prime example of one giving his life for the sake of other, in service to the highest authority.

So, I’d like to look with you at one story in which remembering played a significant role and we will see how that “Memorial Day” can be a spiritual blessing in our own lives.

Remember the Jordan

In the text we heard from Joshua 4, the Israelites have just crossed into the Promised Land. This has been a looooong, multi-generational and wandering journey, but they were finally there. A whole generation had lived and died in the desert, because of the sins of those who first came out of Egypt. Even their great leader, Moses, had died and the mantle of leadership had passed to Joshua. The Jordan River marked the edge of the Promised Land and Jericho now lay before them. In this text, Joshua and the people pause between a miraculous crossing of the Jordan (ch. 3) and the “Battle of Jericho” (ch. 6) for an unusual and memorable celebration. It was their Memorial Day!

So what were they remembering? They were remembering what had just happened and what had happened long ago.

What had just happened was that the Lord had instructed them to take the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River and the waters parted so that the people were able to cross on dry ground. It was a sign that God was in their midst and going before them into this Promised Land. It was also a reminder of a similar miracle a generation earlier, when their parents and grandparents had come through the Red Sea.

And so Joshua told a man from each of the twelve tribes to take up a stone and mark the place where the Ark had rested during this miracle. And Joshua specifically instructed them about it: it was a sign, “so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’” And so this was to be “a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (v. 7)

Think about that… imagine driving along the road and seeing a huge pyramid of rocks on the side of the road. And your curious 4-year-old in the back seat says, “What’s that, mommy?” And you could tell him, “That’s where thus-and-so happened; and our family was a part of it!” That marking of the passing into the Promised Land was what had just happened. What had happened long ago was Egypt…

Remember Egypt

Today we also heard several verses from Exodus 13. That’s the chapter that establishes the memorial meal of the Passover. That is a different kind of Memorial Day that recalls what God did in bringing His people out of Egypt. Every Jewish family and child, from then until now, knows that story. They know it because it is remembered every year. Moses explains in Exodus 13: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” (v. 3) When the children ask, tell them this: “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” (v. 8) And tell future children and grandchildren, “With a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (v. 14)

The reason God’s people were finally coming into the Promised Land in Joshua 4 is because they had remembered Egypt. Had they forgotten that deliverance from slavery or the long-standing promises to Abraham, they may well have settled for desert or any number of places before they ever got to the Jordan. Or they may have not risked the crossing and facing the city of Jericho. But God had promised this land and had brought them this far. God had parted waters before and had defeated superior armies before. And they hadn’t forgotten.

And this story – this REMEMBRANCE – was passed on from parent to child. It was shared and told and re-told, so that the children would know both the promises and the faithfulness of God and be able to respond in faith when the day of action came.

And so I would ask you this question: What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?

Jot a word or phrase down in your bulletin or there at Joshua 4. You may want to take it directly from these stories. In Exodus, God hears His people cry out in their suffering. God delivers; God saves. Or in Joshua, God goes before them; God is faithful to His promises. Or you may remember another story: Jonah and Ninevah, the fruit of the Spirit, the story of Lazarus. What was God like? What did Jesus do? What comes to mind. Maybe you want to write the question down and spend more time with it later… that’s a great start into remembering.

What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?


That brings me to today and one more question: What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?

Where has God shown up before in your life? If you are a Christian, He has. Even if you do not yet trust in Jesus Christ, God has shown up; it may just be harder to see or acknowledge.  So ponder that question deeply. We’ve looked to the stories of the Bible to remember about God’s character and involvement. Now consider the story of your own life.

Let’s start with Jesus. His life was spent in perfect service and obedience to God. And all the more, His death was an act of loving obedience, given in service to God for the sake of the world. That’s what John 3:16 teaches us… God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes will not die, but have eternal life. And Jesus embraced that mission. Jesus gave his life out of love for God and love for you. If you can remember nothing else, remember that! That is why Good Friday is the ultimate Memorial Day! In fact, the night before Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, which is our ongoing “Memorial Day” remembrance of that ultimate act. It’s right there on our Table and most others: “In remembrance of me.”

And then for each of you, the story of God in your life is as individual as you are. Can you think of one example of God showing up in your life? Maybe it was an answer to prayer, or encouragement deep in your spirit when things looked hopeless. Maybe it was direction or guidance when you were confused and lost. Maybe it was an experience of closeness or “connection” in worship or a feeling of peace in the middle of great distress. I have shared with you before one example from my own life when I was all closed up and closed off in my 20s and after an extended time of spiritual and emotional dryness, God broke through, first in a dream and then in real life. What about you? Where has God shown up?

What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?


And finally, think back to the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon. What is a challenge you are facing right now? And with that in mind, let me ask one more question.

How do these memorials of God’s character and involvement inform the challenge you are facing?

What does remembering God’s character and involvement in scripture tell you about how God will meet you in your current challenge? What stood out to you in your remembering… that God was faithful, strong, near, forgiving, merciful, or something else? What about God’s involvement; what stood out… that God listens, delivers, saves, or something else?

What did you remember from your own life? What stood out? Is that something you need to be reminded of… to remember?

I would encourage you to write these things down, to ‘mark’ them both to help in the current challenge and to remember in the future. Scripture even says we can use such things to teach the next generation about God.  If answers to these questions didn’t come to mind in the short time I gave you to answer, I’d encourage you to write the questions down and work through them on your own.  Here they are again:

What is a challenge you are facing right now?
What do you remember about the character or involvement of God from the Bible?
What do you remember about the character or involvement of God in your own life?
How do these memorials of God’s character and involvement inform the challenge you are facing?

If you were able to respond, I’d encourage you to write those responses down in your Bible or some other place you can find them again. Maybe you could mark them “Memorial Day 2017” or have a special page in the back of your Bible for “Things to Remember about God.” That was the purpose of the stones Joshua put in the Jordan River… it was to remember and be reminded, both for himself and for the generations to come.

Scripture says that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)  Trouble is, our memories are short and we forget that. Beloved, hear the Good News: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Remember that and be encouraged! Amen.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

God's Perfection (Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, Romans 12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; May 14, 2017 - Luke 2:21-24,36-40; 2 Timothy 1:3-8a

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Our God Saves (Brown, Baloche)
Confirmation Song: Now You Make it Your Own (Austell, Dawson) - lyrics+video after sermon below
Singing Together: The Wonderful Cross (Watts, Tomlin, Reeves)
Offering of Music (Choir): Revelation 19 (LaValley, arr. Schrader)
Hymn of Sending: It is Well (DiMarco, Spafford)

:: 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’s sermon is for the Confirmation students.  It’s the story of God working in time and out of time to bring about the salvation of His children.  It is a promise to those who have trusted Jesus Christ and committed their lives to him – that means this sermon is also for you, if you have trusted Christ and made that commitment.  The promise is that God is working on you and in you, perfecting you until you are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  God is getting each of you ready for Heaven.  Finally, the sermon is for you, even if you have not yet trusted Jesus Christ, because it describes the great love and purpose with which God pursues His children. 

God Chose You in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4)

Today I’m simply going to talk about three different passages from the Bible.  The first is Ephesians 1:3-4.  There Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.

This is the truly mind-boggling part!  God, who exists outside of time and space was pleased to choose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  This is neither the time nor place to get mired down in discussions of fate, predestination, free will, temporal mechanics, or if-God-chose-me-what-about-the-other-people.  Today’s message is directed at YOU.  If you are a Christian, the Bible says God not only knew about you before the world was made, but God chose you for the purpose of salvation and being perfect in His presence – “holy and blameless before Him.” 

It’s that purpose of God that we are focusing on today… God’s perfection.  Why did God create human beings?  Genesis says that it was because He was pleased to do so, for mutual relationship, and for humanity to worship God.  Even with Sin and the Fall and all that seemed to mess that plan up, God’s plan was bigger – when the time was right, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and accomplish salvation for all who believe.  That means you, confirmation students.  That means you, brothers and sisters in Christ.  That means you, who may not know Christ, but who would believe in him.

And these words in Ephesians not only say that God purposed to rescue us from sin; God’s purpose all along is that we might be made perfect to stand in His presence to enjoy relationship and worship of our God and Father.

God Told His Story to You (Philippians 1:3-11)

The second passage I want to mention is Philippians 1:3-11.  In short, this passage reassures us that God does not leave us on our own to accomplish either our salvation or the perfection of our lives.  This passage says that God is at work in you, willing and working in you to make you perfect.  There are two handy theological words to describe all this.  The one is “justification,” which describes the instant right-standing granted to us by the grace of Christ.  Christians are justified by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ – we are forgiven and viewed by God as having the perfect righteousness of Christ.  The second word that describes God at work in us is “sanctification” – God has not only declared us holy in Christ, but is MAKING us holy through the work of the Holy Spirit. 

All that is a complicated way of saying what Paul says pretty simply in Philippians 1:6 – “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” 

God not only chose you and made you for salvation through Jesus Christ; God is in you, working on you to mold and shape you into the likeness of Christ, to do what the old children’s Christmas hymn says, “fit us for Heaven to live with you there.”

This assurance of God-at-work is both testimony to what is going on in the lives of these confirmation students and hope for all of us as we look ahead.  Each of these students have been loved and raised in the church.  Like the young Christians to whom Paul was writing in Philippians, the seed of the Gospel was planted by parents, Sunday school teachers, VBS after VBS, youth advisors, church services, summer camps, and friends.  And now in hindsight we can see how God has been at work to cultivate faith, belief, and commitment.

And the hope for all of us as we look ahead is that God is not finished with us.  He will continue to cultivate and grow our faith, belief, commitment, purity, and holiness until the day we stand before Him in Heaven.

It’s such a great promise and such a relief!  We don’t have to get our act together to get into Heaven.  God has given us that gift in Christ.  Rather, God’s additional gift is that he continues to participate in our lives to cause us to become more and more like the one whom we call Savior.

Each Day You Will Follow (Romans 12:1-2)

All I will say about predestination and free will this morning is that the Bible makes it clear that there is a mystery – God is sovereign over everything, including our salvation AND He invites and requires our participation in life and salvation.  This work that He is doing in our lives is not the tinkering of a great inventor on inanimate robots; it is the interaction of a Father and a child. 

In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul urges us to present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.  He goes on to challenge: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  These are concrete acts of commitment on our part.  This is what the confirmation students are doing today.  Most, if not all, of them trusted Jesus as their Savior a number of years ago. But in addition to making absolutely clear what they believed, we also made it very clear that being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ, and that means committing our lives to him completely.  Each of them has made that conscious decision, marking it in a memorable morning on our retreat this past February.

That’s what Paul is calling for in these verses in Romans – commitment.  Again, it is not so that we can earn our way to Heaven or clean ourselves up enough to please God.  Instead, and here is the great and mysterious connection between our will and God’s will… it is “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.  That is important enough a statement that I’ll repeat it: Our commitment to God helps us see and understand God’s commitment to us.

God’s Perfection

So, what does scripture teach us?

It teaches that God created us with purpose. 

It teaches that God intervened in human history to provide a means of salvation through Jesus Christ – and that to accomplish His eternal purpose.

It teaches that God continues to be involved in the lives of His children, to lead us, mold us, make us, and shape us into the likeness of His Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

It teaches that our part in God’s plan is to respond to the great gift of grace by offering ourselves whole-heartedly in obedience and service to our Lord.  In doing so, we realize more and more how much God loves us.

God’s purpose is perfect.  God’s purpose is for you – for your life and your salvation.  He who began this good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus – that is what is good and acceptable and perfect to God.

You are God’s perfection!

Now You Make it Your Own

To the confirmation students:

As I said earlier, God planted the story and the seed in your hearts.  For some of you that began as far back as you can remember.  The Bible said it began before the world was made!  When you were little children, you depended on your parents for everything, including your relationship to God.  You have all shown that you are old enough to hear Jesus’ call to “Come, follow me” for yourselves.  So now you take your parents’ faith and training, your church’s teachings, the testimony of the Bible, and God’s timeless purpose for you, and you make it your own.

Today you have publicly confessed and demonstrated your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I charged you to “remember your baptism” – for all baptism is a witness to the saving event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to God’s eternal purpose and plan for your lives.

Though you are still young and have some years before you are adults in the world’s eyes, you are adults in your faith – choosing for yourselves to trust and follow Jesus Christ with your lives.  Know that God goes before and behind you, above and below you, working with and within you for His perfect will. Amen.

Now You Make it Your Own
By Gerrit Scott Dawson and Robert Austell, 1997

God chose you in Christ before the world was made
He came here for you... the Word was enfleshed
In Jesus, on the cross, your sins were laid
So dying, then rising with him, you are kept

Long love foresaw this day
Parents vowed before the throne
Friends in Christ showed the way
... now you make it your own

God told his story through those in your home
Christ showered love as water was poured
The Spirit brought friends, you’re never alone
So in the Church, you share one faith, one Lord


The world will insist that you turn its way
But dear ones resist, remember this day!!

Before God and us, you make holy vows
The name of Jesus you confess in Word
And in your heart.  Each day you will follow
The Savior whose call to serve you have heard