Due to a change in the site hosting audio, we have had to replace the audio player and only audio from 2017-2018 is currently available.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brave Brock (Isaiah 62.1-4)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 30, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "What Wondrous Love" (Phillips)
Hymn of Praise: "What Wondrous Love" (WONDROUS LOVE)
Song of Praise: "I Will Change Your Name" (Butler)
The Word in Music: "Cry No More" (Forrest)
Offering of Music: "You Are So Good to Me" (Wyrtzen)

Song of Sending: "Come to Jesus" (Rice))
Postlude: "Menuet Gothique" (Boelimann)

"Brave Brock"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

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

Two weeks ago we read John 3:16, which says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.  Said even more succinctly, God loves you and has demonstrated that love toward you.  If you trust God for it, He will save your life.

During the month of September we have been hearing about what happens if you trust God and the love described in that famous verse.  We heard Jesus say to Nicodemus that you can’t understand your way to God; you first trust His love and then grow in understanding. Jesus compared that to being born again.  Last week we heard all this compared to finances and debts: God’s loving action in Christ reconciled, or settled accounts, between God and those who believe.  And that reconciliation makes things and people new.

This week we are going to look at names. Names are what we call each other and call ourselves, and they are powerful things because they shape how we think about ourselves and then how we act and relate to others and the world.  And God also has names for us.  In fact, part of being born again and becoming new through trusting God’s love in Christ is hearing and accepting the new names and identities God has for us.  And sometimes it is hard to let go of the old.

To illustrate the power of names and the power of God’s names for us, I’d simply like to share a few personal stories and a few biblical stories.  The questions I’d like to challenge each of you to consider are: What old names do I hold on to and what new names does God want me to receive?

Brave Brock

Some fifteen years ago I was leading a Bible club for elementary age children.  On the first meeting day of the school year I decided to play a name game with them.  I asked each child to say their first name, preceded by a word that described them and started with the same letter as their name.  So we had “marvelous Mary" and “sweet Sarah.”  I was “royal Robert” or something like that.  And then we got to Brock. 

Brock was about six years old and was VERY quiet and timid.  I’m not sure I had ever heard him say anything before.  When we came to him, he just looked at me and didn’t say a word.  After a moment, the others began to suggest some words that weren’t the most helpful or kind.  So, I decided to jump in and name him myself.

“You’re BRAVE Brock,” I said.  Now, if you had known him, this would have seemed like a real stretch – and some of the other kids looked at me like I had lost my mind.  But the interesting thing was that Brock smiled real big and said out loud, “I’m brave Brock.” 

Now another interesting part of this exercise was that I asked each child to start with the first child in the circle, say each name, and end by adding their name on the end.  Well brave Brock was about the third of ten children.  So, seven more times, Brock heard his name out loud – “marvelous Mary, sweet Sarah, BRAVE Brock…”  And would you believe me if I told you that he seemed different after that?  He was still quiet – but he seemed a little stronger… a little more THERE… and a little braver.

Names are powerful things!

Dancing King

I remember when I was closer to Brock’s age.  I was in seventh grade in Greenville, S.C.  One of the things most of the seventh graders at my school did back then was take a season of ballroom dancing classes.  Some of you middle schoolers may have taken or be taking cotillion.  It was sort of like that, but not quite as formal.

Anyway, most of my grade did this all at the same time and I remember one particular night on the way out.  As a group of us were walking out, one of the popular and athletic guys made some comment about how dumb he thought I looked dancing.  Now in hindsight, as an adult, I can imagine that he probably thought HE looked dumb dancing and he was just taking precautions to divert the attention onto someone else, and I happened to be the beneficiary that night.  But at the time all I felt was intensely embarrassed and ashamed.  The last thing any seventh grader wants is to be singled out, especially for looking dumb or uncoordinated or something.  It was approximately four and a half seconds of horrible shame that felt like much longer.

I say four and a half seconds because then a girl spoke up.  She was one of the very pretty and popular girls and she just happened to have been my dance partner that night (they were randomly assigned).  And she said, very loudly, “I think Robert is the best dancer of all the guys.”

And nothing really happened after that; we all went on our way.  But something happened in my head and my heart.  I was on my way to carrying “dumb and uncoordinated” home with me and probably would have carried those names for a long time, when Sonia spoke other names over me.  And all the embarrassment and shame melted away, and in fact, gave me a boost of confidence that lingered for a long time.

Names are powerful things!

Forsaken or Delightful?

In our scripture text today from Isaiah 62, the prophet Isaiah was speaking a message from God to the people of Israel.  They had been disobedient to the Lord and to the Law and the covenant and were simply suffering in what that had brought them to.  You can see two of the names that described them there in verse four: FORSAKEN and DESOLATE.  Though they had wandered from God, it felt like God had abandoned them and they were once again in a desert place… a deserted, desolate place.

And yet God’s Word through Isaiah was not unlike God’s Word through Jesus and the New Testament writers.  God loved His people and had promised to never forsake them.  And speaking through Isaiah He held out the promise of deliverance and “new names” in their future.  God would provide, and when they turned and remembered and listened, they would know the new names God spoke over them: “My delight is in her” and “Married" (that is, reconciled and reunited with God).

Names are powerful things!

New Name – New Identity

You may have grown up hearing from your father, “You can’t measure up!”  And you still call yourself FAILURE.

You may have grown up as a cast-off from the popular kids and have accepted the name LONER or LOSER.

You may have lost a job, or jobs, and can’t seem to land anything with permanence and think of yourself as WORTHLESS.

You may have made bad decisions – immoral decisions – and feel unclean and full of shame.  Though you have trusted Christ, you still would label yourself DIRTY.

And yet… and yet… God has declared you and me new creatures in Christ.  God has given us a new name and marked us with Baptism to signal that we have a new identity.  Isaiah 62 describes how God gives a new name and identity to those who trust and follow Him.  Listen to it again, mindful of the names you designate for yourself.  Listen to God’s Word…

…You will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will designate.  You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; but you will be called, “My delight is in her,” and your land, “Married”; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married…

The old names… no longer say; no longer…

You will be called “My delight is in you.”  Can God delight in such as me? Such as you? Listen – this is God speaking… right here in His Holy Word: “My delight is in you.”  Your land – your life, is marriage material – pure, holy, clean, and new.

Hear the good news: Jesus Christ has come that we might have life and have it the way God meant for it to be.  Through Jesus, you ARE a new creature.  Your name is beloved, chosen, fruitful, blessed, Son and Daughter of God.  Amen!

[You may have noticed these baskets up on the communion table.  I’m going to invite each of you to come forward, a row at a time, during the final song.  I’d ask you to take a name tag out of the basket and put it on.  We have written names that God names those who trust in Him. Consider this as one tangible reminder that in Christ God has made you new and spoken these names over your life.  You may even want to hang on to it and put it somewhere where you will continue to see it.  There’s something about us that keeps returning to the old names; but I invite you to keep listening for God’s voice in your life, naming you as His.]

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Old Made New (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 23, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Duo and Musette on 'Praise to the Lord'" (Peek)
Song of Praise: "Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons" (Redmond)
Hymn of Praise: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" (TRENTHAM)
The Word in Music: "Wondrous Love" (Schwalm)
Offering of Music: "Appalachian Sunrise" (Martin)

Affirmation of Faith: Heidelberg Catechism Qs#88-91
Song of Sending: "All I Have is Christ" (Jordan Kauflin)
Postlude: "Toccata in D" (Frescobaldi)

"Old Made New"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

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

Last week we listened in on the conversation between a religious man and Jesus around the topic of seeing what God was up to. After much back and forth, Jesus told the man that trying to understand God is not what opens our eyes to God; TRUSTING God is what opens our eyes to God (and then helps our understanding). And we heard that most famous verse in the context of that conversation in John 3: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And talking about what it means to trust in God’s love, I compared it to my love of my children. When they were young, they could not understand the depth of a father’s love; they first learned to trust it, and are coming to understand it. So it is with God.

This week we read a bit more about what happens in a person who trusts God’s love, shown through Jesus Christ. Last week, Jesus told Nicodemus that this trust was like being “born again.” This week, the Apostle Paul describes what happens in a letter he wrote to the early church in Corinth.

Listen, here is the key verse; then Paul spends the rest of our text trying to explain it:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Old and New

This text begins with “if anyone is in Christ.” (v. 17) This is an unusual term to be sure. You can be in a room, but not in a person. Well, I suppose the only time that happens is when a baby is in the mother’s womb, which does make a connection to being “born again” from last week! But what else could it mean? I can think of a few ways we use IN – we talk about being “in love” or appearing “in person.” Both suggest, and rightly so, that being “in Christ” involves a strong connection of heart and mind, and perhaps even presence. I’d like to suggest one more way we use the word IN – we talk about being “in good hands,” implying trust of another person. I think that adds one more dimension to what is in view here.

To be “in Christ” means to trust Jesus completely – to entrust heart, mind, and soul to his care. Being “in Christ” means to belong to Jesus Christ and to identify yourself with him. It is one more way to describe being a Christian. A Christian trusts Jesus, follows Jesus, belongs to Jesus – we are in Him, in His good hands.

That’s a brief side-trail to get us to what follows. Paul is trying to describe a Christian and he uses this term “in Christ.” He could have said “a Christian is a new creature…” but he chose instead to use this term that suggests a little bit more of what it means to be a Christian.

Let’s turn now to what he says. One who is in Christ, who has trusted Jesus Christ, IS a new creature.

The old things have passed away and new things have come. What could the old be? He doesn’t say directly here, but in earlier verses (v. 15-16) he talks about no longer living for ourselves. He talks about living and knowing things “according to the flesh.” It suggests that the “old things” are human selfishness, pre-occupation with self, and perhaps the cravings and sins of this world. But things have changed because of Jesus. And note that order! We don’t change in order to know Jesus; we trust Jesus and he changes what we know and want.

But mainly today’s text focuses on what is new – not what will be new, but what already is for those who trust Christ.

A City of Bankers (vv. 18-20)

After saying, “Behold, new things have come,” Paul begins a list with “Now all these things are from God…” (v. 18). I’d like to look at the list of new things in verses 18-20.

There are three things God has done, followed by a fourth thing that results:

1. God reconciled us to Himself through Christ
2. God gave us the ministry of reconciliation
3. God has committed to us the word of reconciliation

4. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ…

Clearly, there is a word that appears more than once in there. Paul uses the word RECONCILIATION to explain and describe what God has done in and through Jesus. What does that mean… reconciliation?

Think about it; we use it to talk about forgiveness and restoration between two people, like a split couple being reconciled. But perhaps the most familiar usage is a bit more mundane. It’s an accounting term. You may not do it any more with online banking, but do you remember what we used to call going through your checkbook and your bank statement? It was reconciling your statement. You make sure they match, that things are even-steven. You made sure that you didn’t owe the bank or the bank owe you, but that your records were straight. Accountants do the same thing to balance their books. When things are reconciled there are no unaccounted debts.

And related to that, if I loan Mike Slade $100, he is in my debt until he repays the debt. When he does, we are reconciled. In fact, if a friend pays his debt for him, we can be reconciled. Or if the debt is forgiven we can be reconciled. So that’s kind of an unusual way to talk about what God has done, isn’t it?

Consider this: the New Testament is full of the story of Jesus. And it is full of the story of Jesus being shared with different people in different contexts. If you read the book of Hebrews, you will read about Jesus’ death in terms of the old priest and sacrificial system. It is the Good News of what God has done, particularly for the Jewish context. We are looking at a letter to people in Corinth, which was a very secular, worldly seaport near Athens, Greece, along the trade routes. As such, it was a commercial hub, not unlike our own city of Charlotte. Said another way, Paul was writing to a group of non-Jewish folks who lived and talked money, trade, and commerce. What better way to communicate to them what God has done than to translate it into language and transactions that are familiar to them!

Hey, Mr. Banker, do you know what God has done in Christ? He has cancelled your debt! Actually, He didn’t just cancel it, but Jesus paid your debt through his own death on the cross. It was a larger debt than you could have paid and he took it on himself for you. You and God have been RECONCILED! Who would understand that language better than someone who dealt in trade, money, and commerce – in debt and payment.

So what does Paul say here about those who trust in Jesus for salvation?

1. He says that God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Our debts are paid and we are made right with God. Even-steven. Accounts have been settled.

2. He says that God gave us the “ministry of reconciliation.” There are two things to note about that. One is that Paul defines “ministry of reconciliation” right there in verse 19. What is it? “Namely, it is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (v. 19) That’s a straight-out definition of reconciliation – not counting trespasses (that is, crossing the line) against them. But even more, God has given that same merciful and forgiving posture to us as a ministry. In other words, we are to do unto others as God has done to us! God has forgiven our sins and trespasses; so we are to forgive others. That’s our ministry – to love like God loves!

3. Paul also tells us that God has “committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (v. 19) The word is the message or explanation about God’s reconciling love and action. We are not only to do it ourselves, but be able to talk about it and explain it. So, in word and deed, we are to imitate the love that God has shown us.

4. It should be obvious then what results from those declarations. If we are to imitate God’s love in word and action, then we are like “ambassadors” for Christ. Like any ambassador, we represent Christ. That is exactly what is NEW and different from the old. Back in v. 16, the old us was described as being pre-occupied with our own needs and wants and self; now we live IN CHRIST, for Christ, as representatives and living witnesses of Christ. We are ambassadors extending the appeal on behalf of Christ: “Be reconciled to God!” (v. 20)

So do you see what Paul is doing here? More importantly, do you hear it for yourself? Using words and images that people who deal with money, transactions, and accounting should understand, Paul tells us that if we trust Jesus as God’s loving and reconciling action toward us, then we will become new. Our focus will move away from ourselves and onto Jesus. If we trust we will begin to understand how God has set things right with us and we will be able to explain and demonstrate that to others through our own forgiveness, mercy, and love.

Beyond the Illustration (v. 21)

There’s one last part. And this is where Paul moves away from accounting language and speaks more directly of what God has done in Christ.

And perhaps it’s because accounting language can only go so far. Jesus didn’t just pay our debt and reconcile our spiritual bank account. That would not have been enough because God says our problem runs deeper than that. Our sin is not just what we do wrong, but it is at a very deep level who we are. Jesus did more than pay our debt; he actually became who were are and took our place. The cross wasn’t just “I’m here to settle Robert’s account.” It was, “I am here in Robert’s place.” Listen again to verse 21: “God made Him who knew no sin to BE sin on our behalf…” Jesus didn’t just get in the line for criminals; he became a criminal. God turned His face away.

But listen, also, to the end of verse 21: “[it was]… so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

God doesn’t just see us as “all paid up” but as bearing the righteousness – the rightness – of His beloved Son, Jesus. Just as Jesus took on our full identity, we take his on before the Father.

That’s where we are heading next week, to really try to wrap our minds around this change of identity that God declares over us because of Jesus. It is and should be life-changing.

So, God so loved the world – including you – that he reconciled you to Himself in Christ. If you have trusted that love, you are given a ministry and a word, to share with others what has been lavished on you. You are an ambassador for Christ. And you don’t just work for him; you belong to him as a new creature. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Born Again (John 3:1-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 16, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices" (Manz)
Hymn of Praise: "To God Be the Glory" (TO GOD BE THE GLORY)
Song of Praise: "Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons" (Redmond)
The Word in Music: "Amazing Grace" (arr. Lojeski)
Offering of Music: "Jesus Loves Me" (Debussy/Bock)

Affirmation of Faith: Heidelberg Catechism Qs#88-91
Song of Sending: "And Can it Be?" (SAGINA)
Postlude: "Toccata on 'Amazing Grace'" (Pardini)

"Born Again"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 1:35-51

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

Who is Jesus and what does it mean to be a Christian?  Those are not the kind of questions that are easy to ask, in OR out of church.  If you ask it out in public, like to your server in the middle of lunch, or to the kid sitting next to you in geometry, you are likely to get a look.  Or at least that’s what we expect.  And, ironically, I think a lot of folks would be hesitant to ask at church because we have this kind of cultural expectation that people at church have it together and have it figured out.

Ha!  My first response is, “Welcome to Good Shepherd!”  We don’t have it together and we haven’t figured everything out.  So ask away!  In fact, if you ever come to one of our Sunday morning classes or Wednesday night discussion groups, I hope that will be clear.

But even if you don’t believe me, this morning’s reading is just the thing.  It’s the story of a man – a prominent religious leader, of all people! – who sneaks to see Jesus at night, when people won’t see him; and he asks those very questions.  And we get to listen in.  We get to read and hear this very open conversation back and forth between Jesus and Nicodemus (I’ll call him ‘Nick’ for short).

So let me describe the conversation to you and then we’ll ponder what that might mean for us today.

Question #1: Who is Jesus?

Nick actually didn’t ask this question outright.  But it was the underlying question.  Basically, the story was getting out about Jesus.  He is credited with some crazy-sounding stuff… people’s lives changed, miracle stories, claims to divinity.  What’s it all about and is he for real?  There must be a good explanation to all this – some good morals or life-lessons or something to learn from Jesus.  But nothing more than that, right?

That was basically how Nick led off: “Everyone knows you are a teacher, even a GODLY teacher.  God is with you, that’s clear.”  There was no question, but throw in all the context and you have an interesting situation.  If everyone really knows it and that’s all it is, why is Nick sneaking around at night?  What else could be the explanation?  Is Jesus something MORE than a godly teacher?  What could that ‘more’ even be?

And Jesus doesn’t give any kind of direct-sounding answer to that setup.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Well I guess that’s a kind of answer.  It’s basically saying, “Unless this ‘born again’ thing happens, you really can’t judge who or what is of God.” 

So, Nick shows up in the night and says, “Everyone knows you are a godly teacher; what’s the deal?”  And Jesus responds by saying, “You (or anyone) will only know if you’ve been ‘born again’.”

So the follow-up is obvious, right?  What is “born again?”

Question #2: Can I get a practical answer?

That’s exactly what Nick asks, except he shies away from the spiritual explanation that might be evident to us.  But imagine if you were hearing it for the first time.  What if Jesus had said to you, “Well, you’ll never understand unless you ‘butterfly’.” 

Now Nick wasn’t slow; it just wasn’t apparent where Jesus was going.  “Butterfly?” you ask.  “Do I need to flap my wings? Get some color in my life? Take up swimming?” 

“Jesus, are you comparing me to a bug?”  I think Nick latched on to the more familiar of the two things Jesus said when he responded.  He mentioned birth and he mentioned the Kingdom of God.  And religious leader or not, he understood birth. “So is an old man born again?  How exactly does that work?”

Said another way, I hear Nick just asking for a practical answer that he can use.  He came to check out Jesus and see what he was about, and now he’s getting birth and the Kingdom of God.

I feel his frustration.  How many times have you gone to church, talked to a Christian, read a bit of the Bible, or otherwise been looking for a practical answer to something and gotten what sounds like spiritual mumbo-jumbo in response.

Should I go back to school and finish my degree? – “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.”

Should I break up with my boyfriend or girlfriend? – “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”

How much easier would it be if God would dispense advice like a Magic 8 Ball?  Or like “Dear Abby” in the paper?  "Dear Confused in Charlotte...".

All Nick wanted to do was confirm that Jesus was a legitimate teacher and in two sentences he’s headed towards the deep end.

Question #3: What do you mean “spiritual rebirth?”

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”  He goes on to say that there is physical birth (of the flesh) and there is spiritual birth (water and the Spirit, like in our call to worship today).  He continues, “Don’t be amazed (or confused); I’m talking about spiritual stuff here… Spirit of God stuff.”

He elaborates a bit further about the Spirit of God.  It’s like the wind – you understand that, right?  You can’t see it, but you can tell when it is blowing; you hear and see the effect of it in the world around you.  It’s like that with the Spirit of God, blowing through the lives of people.

[Incidentally, this past summer we studied what are called the “fruit of the Spirit” – basically different illustrations of what it looks like when God’s Spirit blows through the lives of men and women.  We see godly peace, godly patience, godly love, and so forth.]

“So that’s what I mean,” says Jesus.  “Being born again is something God’s Spirit does in you by its own initiative and it allows you to catch a glimpse of what God is doing in the world.”

Then Nick says, “How can these things be?”  Or my paraphrase, “Come on, really?”

And Jesus doesn’t let that response go.  As a Pharisee, Nicodemus is a “teacher of Israel” – and Jesus names him as such and asks if he really doesn’t understand these things.  And then Jesus asks this piercing question: “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (v. 12)

Said another way, “You can’t handle the truth!”  Rather, human brains can’t really understand God directly.  We do much better with analogies and comparisons and the indirect experience of God’s Spirit, like the wind blowing through a tree.  God has given us examples and experiences to help us, not primarily to UNDERSTAND so much as to BELIEVE.

At this point Jesus reminds Nick of a famous story (at the time).  It was in the history books of the Jewish people, as well as their collective memory.  It was the time when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.  It’s in Numbers 21:1-9 if you want to look it up later (or you’ll study it in Kathy Larson’s Bible class if you go there on Sunday mornings this Fall!).  Basically in that story from their history, the people had been disobedient and were complaining bitterly that they were better off without God.  And God sent poisonous snakes among them.  Many began to get sick and die from snakebites and Moses prayed for God to intervene and show mercy.  So God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and lift it up high among the people.  And anyone that would come look on it in faith would live.  It’s a strange story, to be sure.

But Jesus tells Nick that God is going to do something just like that: lift the “Son of Man” up high so that all who BELIEVE will live.

And then we arrive at the most famous verse in the Bible.

Before I get to that, let me summarize what all has happened.

Nick at Night

Someone came under cover (of darkness) to check Jesus out and try to understand better who he was.  The long and short of the conversation was that Jesus is not so much to be understood as to be believed.  It turns out that when one believes, God does a kind of spiritual eye-opening maneuver that gives us understanding; but that’s the order in which that works, not the other way around.

That goes against the way we expect, right?  If we want to know something, we study up or go to school or ask questions.  And I don’t fault Nick for doing that.  In fact, it’s what I would have done.  But Jesus responded, not by saying, “Learn about me,” but by saying, “Trust me.”  That’s the difference between understanding God and believing God.

And that’s the context for this statement, which broadens out far beyond the individual conversation between Jesus and Nick, to encompass the entire world.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Ever since my children were babies I have told them that I love them.  Did they understand how and why and to what extent?  Not at first; and only in part, even now.  But have they come to believe it?  I sure hope so.

God loves you.  God loves me.  Do I understand that?  Only in part, and probably only the tiniest part.  But do I believe it?  Yes; and that is what has led me to trust that declaration in John 3:16.  I believe God loves me and has given extravagantly out of that love; and that has and does save my life.

Belief goes on to shape behavior.  Jesus circles back to Nick, challenging him in those final verses that the one who believes lives life out in the open, in the light.  Interestingly enough we do run into Nicodemus again later where he defends Jesus' legal rights publicly (John 7:50) and then asks permission of Pilate to take Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (John 19:39).  It seems as if he may have come to believe and be “born again.”

Come and See

So for each of you here today, whether regular church attender or just-checking-it-out guest, what can we take away from this encounter?

For one, it’s okay to ask questions.  I sure don’t understand everything about God, so you should fit right in! 

Jesus prioritized believing over understanding anyway.  We might say that we can’t believe until we understand, but he seemed to be saying something different… that belief has more to do with trust than intellectual knowledge and that trust actually opens up understanding in a way that won’t happen otherwise.  That itself is a head-scratcher except that I’ve experienced in with my own children… the ability to trust and learn to love without understanding all the details.

And finally and related to that personal experience, I hope you heard in all this God’s declaration of love for you.  How do you respond to that?  What do you do with that?  If what Jesus is saying is true, then responding to and trusting that love will open up doors you may not even know you had.

It’s something to ponder.  It might just be everything… if Jesus is who he claimed to be.

One thing I know about this place; we’d love to ponder those things along with you.  Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Each One Bring One (John 1.35-51)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 9, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Come, Now is the Time to Worship" (Doerksen)
Hymn of Praise: "Praise to the Lord/Hallelujah!" (arr. Nockels)
Hymn of Praise: "Wonderful Words of Life" (WORDS OF LIFE)
The Word in Music: "Every Promise" (Getty/Townend)
Offering of Music: "Wonderful, Merciful Savior" (Rodgers & Wyse)

Song of Sending: "As You Go" (Altrogge)
Postlude: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (arr. Sanborn)

"Each One Bring One"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 1:35-51

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

This video was shown at the end of the sermon and was made by Kathy Larson and Elizabeth Austell.
I remember being in third grade and being at my church in Greenville, SC.  My friend, Will, was a year younger than I was and his parents were youth advisors to the high school youth group at church.  It was a large church and I had never been inside the building that doubled as a boy scout hut and the high school youth room.  But because Will’s parents were youth advisors, he invited me to go in with him one Sunday night and see youth group meeting.  Now I’m sure the pillows and chairs were just as grungy as any youth building’s, but let me tell you it was a pretty magical space for an eight year-old.  For one, there was a kind of a loft in the back and we got to climb up there to watch.  And there was a kitchen area with a counter and a real-live soda fountain.  We got there in time to get some Coca-Cola out of it… which I thought was absolutely amazing… that the youth group pretty much could have all the Coke they wanted for free anytime.  And instead of classroom chairs and tables, everyone kind of sat on the floor on cushions and pillows.  And all the teenagers seemed huge and cool and there was guitar music and the whole thing was pretty fantastic.  I’m sure when the actual talk began we got a little bored, but I don’t remember that; I remember that I couldn’t wait to be old enough to get to go there.  And I remember to this day what a great and exciting gift it was to get to “come and see!”

I remember being in college as a freshman and an upperclassman named Nelson invited me to come be a part of a small discussion group that he was a part of.  It became a real source of encouragement and community during that first year away from home.  I was already a Christian, but I also was away from home for the first time, away from all my high school friends, and alone in a new place.  And without me really knowing what it was about, he invited me to “come and see” through a small group of students who were trying to live their faith out in college.  I later led a similar group as a junior and senior and invited some freshmen guys to come meet and pray and study with me.

What is my point in telling you these personal stories?  It is to illustrate the power of being invited to see or hear something or someone, to be a part of something a friend thinks is important.  I will tell you those events were a LONG time ago, but along with the events themselves I still remember the feeling of being included.

Simon’s Brother

Today’s text has the story of Jesus directly finding several men who would become students – his disciples and followers.  But the text also has the very powerful story of two people being invited to come and see Jesus.  I want to highlight that today.

The first of these is Simon, whom Jesus would call “Cephas” or “Peter” (loosely translated as “Rocky”). Peter is probably the most well-known disciple, right?  He had great highs and lows.  He briefly walked on water, in faith.  He healed people in Jesus’ name.  He also denied Jesus just after Jesus was arrested.  But he also made the great profession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” 

And how did he come to know Jesus?  His brother brought him!

Andrew had been a student or disciple of John the Baptist.  When he heard John the Baptist look at Jesus and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” he went after Jesus and stayed with him for the day, and thereafter as a student or disciple of Jesus.  And look there in verse 41, we are told that he “followed Jesus” (that is, became a disciple): but “He found first his own brother Simon...”

Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, and told him that he had found the Messiah, the Anointed One.  And he “brought him to Jesus.” (v. 42)  Andrew had found something and someone of greatest importance, so much so that he was going to follow after him as a student and disciple.  And before embarking on that journey, he went and got his brother.  He wanted him to “come and see.”

Nathanael’s Friend

As the text continues, we read of another invitation.  First, it is not clear to me whether Jesus found Philip or whether Andrew also invited Philip to meet Jesus.  Either way, we find Philip also to be an inviting kind of Jesus-follower because we are told that Philip finds Nathanael. Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (v. 45)  Now at that last part, Nathanael balks a little, because Nazareth was kind of the “wrong side of the tracks” in those days (I guess donkey tracks). But the challenge, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” doesn’t put Philip off; he presses on, “Come and see!”

I want to note two more things about Philip inviting his friend to come and see Jesus. First, he didn’t wimp out when Nathanael didn’t eagerly jump up to come with him.  Nathanael was cynical and resistant.  But neither did Philip try to argue him to Jesus.  He winsomely replied, “Come and see for yourself!”  And that’s the second point I want to make: Philip let Jesus speak and be for himself.  Jesus got through to Nathanael and broke through the cynicism.  Philip just did the inviting… persistently and winsomely.  It’s a compact story, but I think both points are helpful lessons from which we can learn.

Each One Bring One

Is inviting people to “come and see” Jesus all there is to being a good Christian?  No; there’s plenty more, including worship, growing in faith, being in accountable relationship in a church family, caring for those in need inside and outside the church, and much more.  And we try to provide for all the many aspects of faithfully following Christ through the worship, study, fellowship, and mission of Good Shepherd.  But here’s the very simple truth that we dare not miss: the pattern from the beginning of Christianity (and even God’s design before that) is for those that love God to be the primary witnesses to those who don’t yet know God.

So here’s what I want to propose: in the spirit of Andrew and Philip, or someone who invited you to come and see Jesus, I’d like to challenge each and every one of you to commit to a month of “each one bring one.”  Sometime during the month of September, see if there is not one friend, relative, co-worker, or neighbor who you might invite to come and see Jesus in some way.  Perhaps the easiest way would be to invite them to church with you.  I’m going to gear the sermons and worship for the next 4-6 weeks to be especially for those who might be unfamiliar with (or alienated from) the story and person of Jesus.  Or invite someone to Wednesday night, where the dinnertime fellowship is sweet and there is much delicious home-made food.  We have a number of easy-going small groups that would provide a great entry point to find out more about faith and Jesus. 

I’m not keeping score, and there is no finish line at the end of the month, so if someone is not ready, don’t force it.  But also take a cue from Philip, that you don’t have to fix people or change their minds, just gently and persistently invite the opportunity.  Maybe it’s to play golf in a Friends of Timothy foursome with you in early October.  Or maybe it’s inviting a family to come by Trunk or Treat on Halloween night.  Or maybe it’s church and lunch one Sunday in September.  My hope is that you will discover how easy and joyful it is to invite someone to something that is truly exciting, joy-filled, and warm-spirited. The really hard work is God’s job!

Let me know how it’s going.  I’d love to meet your guest when you bring them.  And if you have questions, concerns, or need some encouragement, give me a call!  Some of the most passionate followers of Jesus came because someone brought them.  Wouldn’t it be exciting to see that happen here!  Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Faith, Hope, and Love (Matthew 8, 12; John 15.8-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
September 2, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)
Hymn of FAITH: "Be Still, My Soul" (FINLANDIA)
Song of HOPE: "In Christ Alone" (Getty/Townend)
The Word in Music: "Open My Hands" (Sara Groves)
Offering of Music and Communion Music: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)

Song of LOVE: "Holy Spirit" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: Jazz Piano (Rick Bean)

"Faith, Hope, and Love"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Matthew 8:5-13; 12:8-21; John 15:8-11

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

Today we wrap up our summer series on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, those qualities or traits that God promises to grow in each of us who trust and follow Jesus Christ. Each week we have taken one of those traits and looked to scripture to unpack, explain, and teach us what it means to exhibit that fruit. Let me remind you of what we have studied over the course of the summer (and you can see them hanging on our “fruit tree” to my right). First, from Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Then, from 2 Peter 1: moral excellence, knowledge, perseverance, Godliness, and today – love.

I think it is fitting to end with love. And in doing so I was reminded of the great verse at the end of the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, which says, “Faith, hope, and love, these three remain; but the greatest of these is love.”  And so, I’ve bundled together with love, these two other fruit of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they serve as a kind of frame for the list in 2 Peter 1. It begins with faith, doesn’t mention but requires hope (for perseverance), and ends with love. So, today we will look at three passages of scripture corresponding to each: faith, hope, and love.

FAITH Recognizes God’s Sovereign Authority (Matthew 8:5-13)

So the first of three passages we are going to look at is Matthew 8:5-13. It is the account of a Roman centurion asking Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant back home. If you’ve read the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, you may think, “Well, this is common enough FOR JESUS – healing someone who is sick.”  Sure, it’s a big deal because it’s supernatural, but there are lots of stories of Jesus healing people, and this is one of many such amazing stories.

But there is something more here that I want to highlight. It is true that Jesus performs a miracle and heals a sick man. If you read the story, it is even the case that Jesus does it at a distance, which is much more unusual; usually those he healed were right there with him. But pay attention to what leads to that healing-at-a-distance. It is the centurion’s FAITH, and faith is the spiritual fruit I want us to focus on.

The centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus offers to come to the home and do so. Already, there is something unusual; it is a Roman soldier, a non-Jew, who is asking for a miracle. While perhaps not despised in the same way as the Samaritan’s, the Roman soldiers were also despised in Israel at the time. They were the enemy, the occupier, the invaders who over-taxed and who caused God’s people to suffer. Why would Jesus even talk to such a one?  In fact, the expectation was that the Messiah was coming to fight, kill, and drive out the Romans and men such as these!

And this soldier was a centurion, a commander of soldiers all in place to wield Rome’s authority over the Jewish people. And Jesus offered to go with him. And listen to what the centurion said to that: “Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (v. 8)  That’s FAITH!  Faith is demonstrable trust in God. You didn’t have it just for being a Jew and we don’t have it just for being a member of a church. Faith is actively trusting God and this centurion had it!

But listen to him explain the basis for his faith. This is fascinating!  He continues, “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” (v. 9)  In other words, out of his own experience of earthly authority he understood the divine and supernatural authority that Jesus held as Son of God and he trusted that for the healing of his slave.

Jesus goes on to “marvel” aloud to those around him, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” (v. 10)  Thus, Jesus uses this man’s faith and actions to define “great faith” – all the more surprising because it is found outside the place where God had most clearly revealed His character and power!  And Jesus concludes in response to the man of faith, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And we are told that the servant was healed that very moment. (v. 13)

So what does this teach us about FAITH?  It is something lived out in word and deed. And at the least, FAITH recognizes God’s sovereign authority.

What does it mean for God to have and hold authority in your life?
…In the world in which you live and work and move? 
In what way does your faith recognize God’s authority?

HOPE is Rightly Placed in Christ Alone (Matthew 12:8-21)

The second of three passages we are going to look at is Matthew 12:8-21. It is the account of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. See, it’s another healing miracle; Jesus did that a lot!  In this case, Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand. Whether it was curled up from arthritis, or some other debilitating situation, Jesus restored it to normal health. Like the last story of healing, something stood out over and above the miraculous healing. In this case, it was because Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

Now, if you are like me, your first thought might be, “So what, he healed someone; isn’t that a little more important than what day it is, even if it’s a holy day?”  Well, in fact, it is!  But this was also a time of scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses, and keeping the Sabbath was a very big deal. In fact, it was one of the measures of being good and religious.

And we read that some that were there at the synagogue questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” and trying to accuse him. (v. 10)  But Jesus quotes the Law right back to them; it allowed for an animal that had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath to be lifted out. That was acceptable “work”; how much more valuable, then, is a man than a sheep!  Jesus not only upholds the Law about rest and work, but lifts out another vital part of the Law, the value of humanity as God’s creation.

And we go on to read that the Pharisees left, conspiring against him for another day.

Now here’s the part I want to highlight, that has to do with hope. Matthew goes on to offer commentary on this event, saying that Jesus was fulfilling what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah prophesied about one God would send: “Behold, my Servant whom I have chosen; my Beloved in whom my soul is well-pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” (v. 18)  That description reminds me of Jesus’ baptism, when God proclaimed just those words and the Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus as a dove!

And Matthew goes on to quote some more, ending with this statement: “And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (v. 21)

Jesus didn’t come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill or complete it. He affirmed it and lifted it up to a higher level, reminding God’s people that we weren’t made for the Law, but the Law was given by God for us. Jesus affirmed his own Lordship over the Sabbath and the Law, even as he said in verse 8, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The man with the withered hand could have put his trust in the Law alone, and missed out on the healing power of God. In trusting in Jesus to heal him, he did not disregard God’s Word, but hoped in the One who was the Word in the flesh, God’s Living Word, Jesus.

What does this teach us about HOPE?  It is centered in the person of Jesus Christ, the living Word of God. Said another way, HOPE is rightly placed in Christ alone.

What does it mean for you to hope in Christ alone?
What competes for your hope?

LOVE is What We Share with the Triune God When We Abide in Christ (John 15:8-11)

The third passage we are going to look at is John 15:8-11. Unlike the other two passages, which were narrative accounts of Jesus healing, this is Jesus teaching on love, which is our final spiritual trait, described here as well as “fruit.”  Jesus says several important things here about love.

First, Jesus tells us that God is glorified – is honored and worshiped – when we bear spiritual fruit like love. We also know this from the Great Commandment, right?  That loving God with all that we are and all that we have is intimately connected to loving others as ourselves. The spiritual fruit of love gives worship back to God.

Jesus has loved us first. He says, “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you.”  And then he invites us to “abide in my love.” (v. 9)  “Abide” means to know his love for us and make our home there… remain there… stay there.

And then he connects love with obedience, with keeping God’s commandments. That’s probably not the first think we would have linked with love. He is elaborating on HOW to abide or remain in his love… it is through obeying His word and teaching. This is interesting in conjunction with what we already looked at related to keeping the Law. Jesus has elevated obedience and focused it in himself, and this is the case in this passage as well. True obedience to God’s Word and commandments are right there connected to abiding in Christ’s love.

And finally, Jesus describes this love-obedience relationship in terms of joy. It is not obligation and drudgery but FULL of mutual joy. It is mutual because it is something we share with Jesus, who shares it with the Father through the Spirit. So what does this teach us about LOVE?  Love comes from God and is intimately bound up in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Said another way, LOVE mutual and joyful submission to the Triune God – it is what we share with Father, Son, and Spirit.

What does it mean for you to “abide” in Christ’s love?
How do you understand joyful obedience to God’s Word? 
What does it mean for you to glorify God through the spiritual fruit of love?

Finally, as you think back over whatever summer Sundays you were here, I would challenge you to take a few minutes this afternoon or this week to list out the fruits of the Spirit, to pray through each one and ask God to cultivate them in your life. Maybe pick one each day or week and try to be conscious of the work God is doing in your life. The teaching on love from John 15 summarizes well what can and should happen, that God is glorified when we “bear much fruit.”  And if you’ll remember back to Acts 2 at the beginning of the series, that witness back to who God is and what God is doing is one of the key reasons God sent the Holy Spirit to live and bear fruit in us in the first place. Amen.