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Monday, November 26, 2012

Your King is Too Small (John 6, 12, 18, Revelation 17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 25, 1012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Italian Hymn" (Albert Travis)
Hymn of Praise: "Come, Thou Almighty King" (ITALIAN HYMN)
Song of Praise: "Let Your Kingdom Come" (Kauflin)
The Word in Music: "Be Thou My Vision" (Rutter)
Offering of Music: "You Are the Great God" (Geiler, arr. Terrell)
Hymn of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH, arr. Austell) 
Postlude: "Joy to the World" (Anna Laura Page)

"Your King is Too Small"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 6:14-15; 12:12-18; 18:33-38; Revelation 17:14

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

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving!  Thanksgiving is over, though I hope you never stop giving thanks.  Next Saturday we will flip the page on the calendar to December; Christmas is on its way! 

Now the calendar that we flip from November to December is not the only calendar, especially in the worship life of the church.  You may have heard me talk before about the liturgical calendar, or the worship calendar of the Christian Church.  Some denominations follow it more than others, but the basic idea is that over the course of the year, one celebrates not only the significant anchor points of Christmas and Easter, but the whole story of God’s redemptive history, from the prophets anticipating the coming of the Messiah to the birth of Jesus at Christmas to the life and ministry of Christ to his death and resurrection at Easter on through Pentecost to the glorious return and reign of Jesus as described in Revelation.  Though I don’t follow that order every week every year, I often will note key moments in that calendar and God’s redemptive history.

Today is one of those days.  In the liturgical or church worship calendar, this is actually the last Sunday of the year, and next Sunday starts Advent, the watching for the birth of the promised Messiah.  This is known as “Christ the King Sunday” and is an opportunity to be reminded of how the story ends, with the Lamb on the throne in worship.

It is a fitting conclusion to our series this Fall, which moved from the definition of a Christian to the nature of the Church as the gathered community of Jesus to the mission and purpose of the Church, including the particular community we call Good Shepherd. 

The Lamb is King (Revelation 17:14)

I want to start at the end, with the description of Christ as King, but then work backwards a bit to where we are now and what we do with that knowledge.

We actually started the service with the scripture I have in mind.  It comes from Revelation 17:14.  There are a number of passages in Revelation that describe Jesus on the throne as King, but this one is short and sweet.  All the enemies of God will war against Him, and the Lamb Jesus will overcome them.  A few weeks ago we talked about worship from a passage in Hebrews and I noted that Jesus was both the spotless lamb and the Great High Priest.  That’s why he’s called the Lamb here, because he sacrificed himself for the sin of the world.  Revelation 17:14 says that he will overcome his enemies because “He is Lord of lords and King of kings.”  All of creation, those with God and those against God will acknowledge His reign.  As scripture says, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is Lord.”  He truly is Lord of Heaven and earth.

Making a King (John 6, 12)

What I really want to focus on today is how we take this King of kings and Lord of lords and try to make him into something else, and not just something else, but something much, much smaller.

In the first scripture reading today you heard John 6:14-15 and John 12:12-18.  The first is the end of the “Feeding of the 5000,” a miracle story where Jesus multiples five loaves of bread and two fish into more than enough for a huge crowd.  The verses I pulled out are from the end.  It’s what happened after this amazing miracle.  The people saw the sign and said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  And Jesus realized that they were intending to take him by force to make him king, and he withdrew. 

He was king, right?  Why would he not want this recognition and approval?  How better to get the word out than with a crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children, endorsing you as “king?”  The problem was, they wanted him to be the king they wanted.  They wanted an earthly leader, a revolutionary.  They wanted someone to take on the Roman Empire and re-establish their sovereignty as a nation.  They wanted to regain the glory days of King David and the united kingdom of Israel. 

The John 12 passage is what we call “The Triumphal Entry.”  It’s the event we remember on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter.  There, too, Jesus was given the hero’s welcome, hailed as the revolutionary Messiah who would take on the Romans.  The people were calling out “Hosanna,” which means “Save us now!”  But they weren’t talking about sin, but about their desire to be free of Rome.

Here’s the thing: they were not being intentionally heretical or unscriptural.  That hope for a revolutionary Messiah had simply become the standard interpretation and dream for a people subjugated by Rome for generations, with heavy taxes and a strong presence of Roman soldiers to enforce the law.  And to give them credit, it’s not like they were turning the Messiah into a lucky charm or a bobble-head doll or something.  A king to take on Rome is a big vision.  I’ll give them that.  King David returned – that was no small hope.

It was just so much smaller than who Jesus actually was!

What Did Jesus Say? (John 18:33-38)

I included the second scripture reading, from John 18, because it gives us a unique window into Jesus’ own language about himself and God’s Kingdom.  This is the scene where Jesus is on trial before his crucifixion, and he is talking to the Roman governor, Pilate. 

Pilate is questioning Jesus and asks him outright, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33)  They have an exchange about how Jesus ended up before Pilate – basically, the religious leaders accused him of plotting against Rome, which required a response from Pilate.  This next part is the part I want to focus on:

My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm. (v. 36)

Pilate hears his language and presses in, “So you are a king?” And Jesus confirms it.  He is a king; he was born for this, to testify to the truth to all who will hear.  And there is more… Pilate’s famous response, “What is truth?”  But it was Jesus' description of his own kingship that I want to focus on.

It is so much bigger than what he was on trial for.  He was not a threat to Caesar in Rome… well, he was, but not in the way they imagined.  His Kingdom was not an earthly one, but a godly one.  And his whole life – his whole coming into the world – was wrapped up in this Kingdom and his Kingship.  If you read the Gospels and his teaching, it’s about this Kingdom at every turn.  It’s the thing he talked about the most.  He was announcing the beginning of God’s reign, breaking into this world in himself.

In fact, the religious leaders were far closer to the truth than Pilate.  They understood that he was claiming to be God and they opposed him for it.

Kingdom Come

I want to say a word about announcing God’s reign.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus didn’t teach that “one day God’s Kingdom will come”; he taught “the Kingdom is here among you.”  He spoke of the arrival of the Kingdom like the vanguard of a victorious army; the victory was assured, but the “arrival” would take some time.  His resurrection sealed that victory, a victory over evil, sin, and death itself.  But again, God’s Kingdom was both “now here” and “not yet fully arrived.” 

And that’s the time in which we live.  The victory has been declared through Jesus' death and resurrection.  God has won.  God’s reign has been announced through the words of scripture and Jesus’ own teaching.  That’s what happens in a believer’s life when we trust in Jesus as Savior and LORD – we accept his reign in our life and begin living as citizens of Heaven.  Get that?  Citizens of Heaven right now on earth.  That takes dual-citizenship to another whole level!

That’s why, in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  We aren’t praying for one day way out there, but for God’s reign to be a present reality in our lives.

And let me return again to Revelation 17:14 and finish out the verse.  Speaking of the Lamb who is Lord of lords and King of kings, it says: “those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”  Those are all words we have used to describe what it is God saves us for.  That’s our mission and vision – that God doesn’t just save us for Heaven, but saves us for His work here on earth.  That’s what called and chosen and faithful describes – you and me engaged in the Lord’s work.  That’s what it means to be with Him!   

Your King is Too Small

Earlier in the week, I read this quote on a friend’s Facebook wall.  It is attributed to Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not only are human beings guilty of having too small a view of Jesus the King, these days we’ve packaged him down far smaller than the vision of Jesus’ contemporaries of a Messiah as earthly ruler.  We turn Jesus into an expletive, a lucky charm, a tag on the end of a quickly muttered prayer.  We sing sweet songs to him, but are not brought to our knees in humility and awe before the King of the Universe.  I think many of us simply have no idea and are comfortable having our name associated with the milquetoast Jesus of culture.

Imagine the most overwhelmingly powerful and awe-inspiring thing or sight or force you’ve ever witnessed… something that took your breath away and made your stomach sink at the same time.  Something on the magnitude of a category five hurricane, or the 180-degree spread of the Appalachian Mountains or meeting a great earthly leader.  That’s barely scratching the surface of the Lamb seated on the throne, in power and glory and dominion and strength, with all bowed down before him.  That’s the one we so casually call Lord.

Christ the King.  King of kings.  Lord of lords.  Sovereign ruler of the universe.

Now listen to this unexpected and mind-boggling declaration: though in eternity what will be true has always been true, he did not grasp onto his place or power or glory, but willingly emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and the likeness of humanity.  He humbled himself and offered himself for you and for me. That’s the story we begin again next week and the one that, really, should inspire our awe and adoration and worship even more than the power.

That’s our King.  That’s our Savior.  Amen.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

== Identity, Community, and Witness Series Index ==

Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
September 9 - November 18, 2012

"Christian Identity" - who you are in Christ
"Christian Community" - who WE are in Christ
"Christian Witness" - the foundation stones of our story

      Monday, November 19, 2012

      Light #3: Sent into the World (John 17:13-21)

      Sermon by: Robert Austell
      November 18, 1012
      Some Music Used
      Prelude: "Thanks Be To Thee" (G.F. Handel)
      Hymn of Praise: "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" (ST. GEORGE'S, WINDSOR)
      Song of Praise: "Mighty to Save" (Morgan, Fielding)
      Offering of Music: "We Gather Together" (Steurlein/arr. Sanborn)
      Hymn of Sending: "Christ for the World We Sing" (ITALIAN HYMN) 
      Postlude: "Sing to the Lord of Harvest" (Dutch tune/arr. Sanborn)

      "Light #3: Sent into the World"
      (Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
      Text: John 17:13-21

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

      This month we have been talking about why God gathers Christians into the community called the Church.  This has also provided a good opportunity to talk about the spiritual underpinnings of our capital campaign, as we ultimately want to be about God’s business as a church!  We have talked about the spiritual foundation of confessing Jesus as the Christ and the Son of the Living God.  We’ve talked about the core purpose of gathering in worship, and how that worship not only honors God, but fuels us for God’s mission in the world.  And today we are going to look at that mission.

      It should not be anything new.  We have been trying to keep before us for many years now that the church is not just gathered, but gathered and sent, gathered and sent.  We have talked about not only maintaining and strengthening the bonds of fellowship and faith within this worshiping community – our LIGHTHOUSE – but also equipping each member to carry the light outside the walls of the church – our SEARCHLIGHT mission.

      Today we are going to look at one of the very significant passages in understanding how God wants us, as the Church, to relate to the world around us.  This passage is actually a prayer of Jesus to God the Father.  In this portion of that prayer, Jesus is praying about his followers, both the immediate disciples and all who would come later, including us! 

      In the prayer he distinguishes two ways we are NOT to relate to the world, and then the one way we ARE to relate to the world; in each case, paralleling his own relationship to the world that God loves.  So, we will look at that and then try to understand at least part of God’s purpose for us as a church in the world in which we live.

      So what did Jesus pray?  Let’s start with the relationship of his followers to the world in which they live, then we’ll conclude with what he prayed for them and what his desire is for the world.

      Prepositional Truth (not of, not out of, into)

      It may have been a long time since you studied English grammar (or you may be in the middle of it!), but the key to understanding this prayer and our relationship to the world comes through prepositions.  Remember those?  Prepositions are words like “in, about, through, with, and many more.”  They indicate relationship between people or things.  Here they will specifically describe the relationship between Jesus-followers and the world.

      It would be good to briefly describe what is meant here by ‘world.’  There are other ways ‘world’ is used in the Bible; but often, as here, ‘world’ refers to the broken and darkened place that human beings live apart from God.  And there has always been a tension between Christians and the world.  Sometimes Christians have withdrawn altogether (from the 1st century Essenes to the present-day Amish); sometimes there is no distinguishing the Christians from the culture (from the New Testament Corinthians to some of what passes for American Christianity); and sometimes there is a balance of retreating into community but going out in and amongst the world (many of the early to present day monastic communities and other Christian groups).  Let’s consider what Jesus said about this relationship in his prayer to the Father.

      NOT OF (v. 14, 16)

      To be “of the world” is to belong to it, to the culture and to the values.  It is to so identify with the human world around us that we lose our Christian identity and witness.  The church in Corinth that I just mentioned struggled with being too much “of the world” and looking just like the depraved culture around them. 

      In his prayer Jesus says that his followers are “not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Jesus stood out.  He was light and the world was dark.  He lived out God’s Kingdom here on earth.  And he was opposed, arrested, and eventually killed.  In his prayer he says that the world will hate his followers in the same way.  That’s some of that persecution that Quay preached about a few weeks ago. 

      Now think about a real-life social setting, like the high school lunchroom or Friday night out on the town.  There are two obvious solutions if you don’t belong in a group.  One is to retreat and one is to blend in.

      One kind of blending in has us so indistinguishable in appearance, morality, beliefs, or practice, that the “salt has lost its flavor” and there is no way to tell the difference between a Christian and one who is not.  Look at the diagram again – which blue bubbles are the Christians?  Would the world know one if they saw one? And then there are the embarrassing cheap ways we substitute to try to make ourselves stand out.

      Consider “Jesus coffee” – this is one example of many where we are blending in, with embarrassing results.  You probably can’t read the names of the coffees on there: they are “Raise the Dead, Vanilla from Heaven, Holy Grounds, and Be Still.”  This may actually be a sincere attempt to do outreach to the world, but it has just resulted in a kitschy knock-off of branded coffee.

      But there is no talk of blending in here.  We are NOT OF this world.  Becoming indistinguishable from the world around us is not an option for a Christian!  If we belong to Jesus, we become like him, and like him is not of the world or its values.  And that will cut against the grain, against the culture.

      Said another way, if you belong to Jesus you won’t belong to this world.  Some days that may feel lonely – “I don’t belong.”  But don’t miss the first part!  You belong to Jesus!  You do have a home and a family and a belonging.  That’s all part of belonging to Jesus and not being of this world.

      NOT OUT OF (v. 15)

      So there’s option two: retreat!  Get me out of here.  That might be to a place of solitude or it might be with a group of people just like me, but it’s out of here.  In reaction to the sins and evils of the world around them, many groups of Christians through history have retreated into an enclave or sub-culture.  By that I mean a mini-world where they are out there and we are in here. 

      And if your goal is to not be part of something, that kind of isolation can be one of the best defenses.  Don’t want to deal with the pressures of dating?  Go to an all-male or all-female school.  Don’t want to deal with the moral slide of society?  Withdraw into a commune and set up your own rules.  Don’t want to deal with the world?  Withdraw into an all-Christian, all-the-time sub-culture.  And so on. 

      It’s a circle the wagons strategy. Christians have been taking that approach since the beginning. Heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls?  They are famous and important partly because they are religious history from the time of Jesus, but also because they are the writings of a religious branch of Judaism like the Pharisees, but one that withdrew into their own community apart from the rest of the Jews and especially the rest of the world.  And it’s not just an ancient phenomenon.  The Amish and Mennonites have done something similar in more recent and even current history.  And there is something admirable about it.  It definitely helps to preserve a purity of belief and morality.  But it’s also missing something crucial.

      BUT INTO (v. 18)

      Jesus did not pray for God to take us out of the world, but to protect us in it.  That’s a huge difference!  Rather than retreat and try to protect ourselves, we are to remain in the world, but seek and depend on God’s spiritual protection.  As you realize that, your eyes are opened to just how consistent that approach is throughout all of biblical history.  God created the world to be a part of it.  Even when humanity sinned and the world “turned dark,” God did not withdraw back into Heaven, but sent His Law, His prophets, and finally His own Son INTO the world.  And when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, God sent the Church out INTO the world with the message about Jesus.

      And that’s just what Jesus prays for all who would follow him.  Jesus asked God to SEND us INTO the world as he was sent.  How was he sent?  Good old John 3:16 tells us: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”   He was sent in love to the world for life instead of death.

      And so, Jesus has sent us in love to the world with the message about him for life instead of death.  That’s actually the purpose and goal of all this, there in verse 21: “so that the world may believe…”

      So that’s the relationship we are to have with the world.  Not of it; not out of it; but sent to it in love, but not just lovey-dovey let’s all get along, but love expressed through the true word about Jesus, for life instead of death.

      Sanctified and Sent (v. 17-18)

      There’s one last part I want to focus on.  That is the word “sanctify” in verses 17 and following.  It is a translation of a word from which we also get ‘holy,’ ‘consecrated,’ and ‘saints.’  The basic meaning of all of those is “set apart.”  The bread and juice on the communion table is sanctified or set apart for the special use of communion.  This sanctuary (hear the root of the word ‘sanctify’ in there?) is set apart for worship.

      It is natural to think of things being holy, sanctified, consecrated, or set apart as being removed from common usage.  That is true in one way.  But think about it, anything that is truly set apart for God is not hauled off to a museum or put under glass or not used.  It is used for God with people.  The bread and juice of communion are no longer used for preschool snack or lunch, but are set apart FOR USE with you and me at the Lord’s Table.  The sanctuary is not walled off as meeting space, but is dedicated to worship and the proclamation of God’s Word.  Even Jesus, the holiest of the holy that the world has ever seen, did not remain vaulted away in Heaven, but was born into the world in the lowliest of places, to walk and suffer and fully be a part of this world.

      The true explanation of how Jesus’ followers are to be sanctified or set apart is right there in verses 17-18.  We are set apart in the truth to be sent into the world.

      Don’t you see, then, why that’s the way God designed it?  The difference between life and death in the world is hearing and trusting the Word of Jesus.  If we become completely of the world the message will be lost and if we withdraw completely out of the world the message will be hoarded.  We are sent into the world for the sake of the world, just as Jesus was.

      Building Buildings

      So, a final word about the third part of our capital campaign.  We want to build a youth and family life center.  It would be easy for it to become a retreat, a hide-out, a place to go and gather and send our kids to get them out of the world.  And it will be a place of fellowship and teaching and training.  But just as there are deeper spiritual purposes to the other parts of our repair and renovation projects, so this one has an underlying spiritual purpose.  We must continue to grow in our understanding and practice of being the church for the world.  It’s especially easy to protect and hoard something new… even sometimes from our messier selves (like teenagers!). But if we build, it will be not only for teaching, training, and fellowship, but to extend hospitality send us out into the world God loves. 

      Not of the world; not out of the world; but sent in love into the world God loves with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

      Sunday, November 11, 2012

      Light #2: Keeping the Light through Worship (Hebrews 10.19-25)

      Sermon by: Robert Austell
      November 11, 2012
      Some Music Used
      Prelude: "Dialogue en trio" (Couperin)
      Hymn of Praise: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" (SOLID ROCK)
      Song of Praise: "Speak, O Lord" (Getty/Townend)
      The Word in Music: "A Prayer" (Halls)
      Offering of Music: "This Little Light of Mine" (Berg)
      Hymn of Sending: "Take My Life/Here Am I" (Tomlin/Giglio) 
      Postlude: "Carillon" (Tambling)

      "Light #2: Keeping the Light through Worship"
      (Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
      Text: Hebrews 10:19-25 

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

      19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25)
      In November I am taking several weeks to talk about what it is that the gathered community of Christ-followers that we call the church does… what our purpose is in God’s Kingdom.  Alongside that, we have the opportunity to consider how that purpose specifically lines up with what we are doing in THIS community that we call Good Shepherd.

      Last week we talked about the foundation of who we are – our “rock” – and that is Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  That’s the core, the heart of our mission and purpose.  Right alongside that comes our created purpose as God’s people and that is to worship God.  From the moment God created man and woman and called them good, He purposed them for worship in all its rich array of expressions: work, service, praise, love, community, offering and more. 

      Today we are going to look at a key scripture passage on worship, from Hebrews 10:19-25.  There two Gospel truths are stated and several purposes derived from that for the people of God.  That’s what we want to look at today as we consider how we specifically can live out God’s purpose for us at Good Shepherd.

      First, the two Gospel truths.

      We Have a New Way to God and a Great High Priest (vv. 19-21)

      Verses 19-21 describe what is the great declaration of the book of Hebrews: Jesus has, once and for all, become both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the centerpiece of worship was the high priest offering an unblemished lamb to atone for sin.  Coming not to do away with the old laws and worship, but to complete or fulfill them, Jesus offered his own life, unblemished by sin, to make a once and for all sacrifice for sin.  You can see some of that spelled out in verse 19.  We now have access to the “holy place by the blood of Jesus.”  This is a “new and living way” begun in and through the flesh, the body of Jesus.  The final and lasting sacrifice has been made!

      And yet, Jesus has also become the Great High Priest (v. 21).  No longer does a human priest enter the Holy of Holies once a year to offer the sacrifice; Jesus has become our mediator and go-between, and has opened the way.  He has made a way and IS the way, and he invites us to the Father.

      These two truths – Jesus is the sacrificial lamb and the Great High Priest – are what constitute the confidence of the Gospel.  Last week we focused on the sure foundation, the “rock” that Jesus is who he says he is, the Christ and Son of the Living God.  And Jesus said that the one who builds on that rock is wise.  Today’s truths are the building permit that says, “You can build your house here on this rock.”  It is God’s invitation to trust; it is the declaration that says, “this rock is here for you!”

      And these truths form the basis of our worship.  The writer of Hebrews goes on to urge three actions, all acts of worship, based on the confidence we have in God’s invitation to “come build here!”  You’ll see each one cued by the words “let us.” 

      Let us Draw Near (v. 22)

      First, in verse 22: “Let us draw near….”  This is near to God!  Having just said that we have this new and living access to the holy place and the house of God, we are to draw near to God.  This is new; in ancient times, God might visit a leader like Moses or speak to the King, but the people were one or more steps removed.  Now, because of Jesus – the Lamb and the Priest – we are invited into God’s presence to worship.

      The rest of the verse describes how to worship and the basis of our access in more detail.  We are to draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”  It is through the childlike faith in Jesus that we worship.  I wonder if you noticed the “confidence” of verse 19 and the “full assurance” of verse 22 and thought, “I don’t have that kind of sureness to my faith; I’m all full of doubts and questions.”  I understand that; my faith wavers and I have questions all the time.  But that’s not the point here.  Our confidence and our assurance is not in ourselves, but in Christ.  THAT is the point here… to describe in no uncertain terms how completely Jesus has accomplished what needed to be accomplished.  Sure, you and I may have days where we aren’t sure we want to draw near to God; the message here is: the way is clear and you are welcome!

      You and I may also have more than a few moments of thinking, “I’m just not worthy to draw near to God.”  You are absolutely right!  None of us are.  But look at the rest of verse 22.  This is also why we can have “full assurance”: Jesus has “cleaned us up” to come into God’s presence. 

      Let me just say all that again in a different way.  So many of us hesitate or don’t draw near to God because we innately recognize that God is holy and we are not.  Scripture would actually go on to validate that; you are not holy, should not come near to God, and in fact cannot approach God.  But this is the Good News: God has made a way and has issued the invitation.  There’s your confidence!  The one who by all accounts souldn’t have you has asked for you by name.  So, draw near with confidence, sincerity, and assurance!  That is Christian worship.

      Let us Hold Fast (v. 23)

      Second, in verse 23, “Let us hold fast….”  We are to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.  I think of Quay's sermon again, from two weeks ago.  And I think of Jesus’ parable from last week about building on the rock and building on the sand.  Whether because of persecution, hardship, or faltering faith, we are urged to hold fast.  The “confession of our hope” is that rock-like, foundational confession we talked about last week: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We are challenged to not waver; again, that’s not a statement about OUR strength or willpower, but about the firmness and the reliability of Jesus.  See how the verse continues?  “…For he who promised is faithful.”  What did Jesus promise?  He promised to build his church on the rock of who he said he was, and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.  He also promised never to leave or forsake us.  He promised to leave his Holy Spirit with us.  And this passage in Hebrews affirms Jesus’ promise when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

      Last week I said that our bedrock was the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  As we gather as the community God has pulled together in this place, we are purposed to worship.  And a key reminder here ties us back to the bedrock: as we gather and move and grow, we must continue to hold fast to that foundational belief.  That, too, is worship.

      Let us Encourage Love and Good Works in Community (vv. 24-25)

      Third, in verses 24-25, “Let us consider….”  This one is a little longer; it has a first part, but then a “not this, but that” part.  Let’s look.

      “Let us consider how to stimulate (spur) one another to love and good deeds.”  What a great one sentence description of the Great Commandment and Jesus’ teaching!  Do you remember?  The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s the motto of our youth ministry: “Love God; love others.”  This, too, is worship, and recognizes that worship or serving God extends beyond gathering in a sanctuary to sing, pray, and learn; we are the church for the world!

      The “not this, but that” part is interesting.  Sometimes folks can get so into “love and good deeds” that they lose sight of love of God and the “drawing near” part (note the “as is the habit of some” part!).  But we are to spur one another on – we continue to work as a community of believers when we move out into the world.  And verse 25 reinforces that we are not to forsake “our own assembling together.”  Instead, we are all the more to continue to gather and send, gather and send, encouraging each other in every way.  All this, too, is worship!

      Sanctuary Stuff

      In talking about a capital campaign, we’ve used the term “three lights” as an application of bearing the light of Christ and as an exploration of our metaphor of being a lighthouse/searchlight church.  Though we are talking about repairing, renovating, and building wood and nails and block and mortar, these things wrap around three essential parts of our witness to Jesus, the light of the world.

      This passage names all three of these lights in one place, though in a slightly different order than we are taking them. 

      We can repair the core parts of our building – AC, lights, phones, and more – but it’s all for nothing unless we hold fast to Jesus as our foundation-rock.  Verse 23 names the importance of holding fast to our core confession of faith, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and is the foundation of this church. 

      We can improve the sound, music, lights, look, and more here in the sanctuary; but if what we are doing is not worship it is all in vain.  Verse 22 names the importance of drawing near to God in worship, understanding the truth of human sin and the grace of the new and living way in Christ. 

      We can build a new youth and family life center with space for eating, teaching, and reaching out, but without full participation of this community of believers, it either won’t happen or will become the work of a few.  Verses 24-25 remind us that God has called us all together as this unique church, to grow in love and community both inside and outside our walls.  The church is not this building (or a new one), but is this community where we gather and go, where we love and act.  You are the church for the world, first in our neighborhood, then beyond as God gives us opportunity.

      To this church, the community of believers God has formed together here and anchored on the rock, God has issued an invitation – a kind of “building permit” if you will – to fulfill the purposes laid out in this passage.  It ultimately is not a material endeavor, but a spiritual one, and one God has uniquely equipped us to carry out in this place.  Amen.

      Sunday, November 4, 2012

      Light #1: Built on the Rock (Matthew 7,16)

      Sermon by: Robert Austell
      November 4, 1012
      Some Music Used
      Prelude: "The Church's One Foundation" (Charles Ore)
      Call to Worship: "Light of the Word" Video (Kathy Larson; VBS 2011)
      Hymn of Praise: "The Church's One Foundation/I Lay in Zion" (AURELIA; refrain, C. Youngblood)
      Song of Praise: "Draw Me Nearer" (Fanny Crosby; Diane Sheets)
      The Word in Music: "Built on a Rock" (Jay Althouse)
      Song of Sending: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
      Offering of Music: "Rock of Ages, You Will Stand" (Baloche and Brown)
      Hymn of Sending: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (HAMBURG) 
      Postlude: "Prelude & Fugue in G Major" (Bach)

      "Light #1: Built on the Rock"
      (Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
      Text: Matthew 7:24-27; 16:13-16 

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

      In September we talked about basic Christianity – what it is to believe in and follow Jesus Christ.  In October we talked about the community of Christ – how God draws people together as Christian family for encouragement, worship, and a mission.  In November we are going to focus on that mission – what it means to be a community of Christ-followers, gathered and sent into and for the world. 

      November is typically the time we talk about stewardship – that is, giving to the church financially and with time and talents.  This particular November also brings us to an exciting time of raising capital funds for maintaining our facilities, enhancing our worship, and providing for new ministries of welcome, fellowship, and outreach.  As I wrote in this month’s newsletter article, while we must talk about the specifics and logistics of raising those funds, what undergirds the fund-raising is more foundational and central to our lives as those God has called together in Christ to be the Church in this place.

      So in my sermons these next few weeks, I want to dig into that foundational and central purpose – the mission and vision that inform and explain the activities of pledging and capital fund-raising.

      In keeping with our lighthouse/searchlight imagery, we find some imagery for the next few weeks and for our campaign.  In order to fulfill its purpose, a lighthouse must be built firmly and maintained well.  Likewise, we want to be continually mindful of our spiritual foundation as we seek to maintain both our faith and our facilities.

      Built on the Rock (Matthew 7)

      I chose two scriptures from Matthew today.  The first comes from Matthew 7 and is a short parable in which Jesus stresses the importance of “building on the rock.”  There is such a thing as building on sand, and the parable makes it clear what foolishness that is.  Storms, rain, flood, and wind easily weaken and demolish such a house; but one built on the rock withstands all that comes against it.

      I am reminded of Quay’s sermon from last week.  If we follow Christ, we should expect trouble to come.  There will be persecution and there will be suffering.  And the way through is not to run from such things, but to anchor ourselves in Christ.  He is the strong and firm foundation. 

      What does it mean to have a spiritual foundation of rock?  Jesus tells us: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

      Do you want to have a secure faith, even when storms come?  Then listen to the words of Christ and act on them – follow them.  That was our definition of being a Christian, remember?... believing and following. 

      The same holds for when Christ-followers are called into community as the Church.  How can we have a Church founded on the rock of Christ?  We must listen to the words of Jesus and act on them. 

      I Will Build My Church (Matthew 16)

      The second scripture reading, from Matthew 16, is more explicit.  Jesus asked his followers who people were saying that he was.  After getting several different answers, he asked them who THEY said he was.  Who has been listening?  Who was laying a spiritual foundation of rock?

      Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  He has heard and believed.  Jesus tells Simon that he is blessed – truly blessed, for God has put it in his heart to believe and profess this.  Then Jesus says this: “…you are Peter (petros, rock), and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (v. 18)

      What a direct connection to the other scripture! Want to talk about how to build one’s Church on the rock?  It must be founded on the most foundational declaration: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Never mind storm and rain; Jesus says that even Hell itself will not prevail against such a Church. 

      Whatever else we do and say and become, that must always be at the very heart of our testimony at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

      He is the Christ - the one God sent in love into the world, for the world. He is the Son of the living God - he IS God... God-in-the-flesh, God with us. That declaration of Jesus as God with us in love for the sake of the world not only shapes who we are and what we do; it is the foundation upon which all we are and do is built.

      So, when we have a new members class, or a baptism, or examine new officers for leadership, we do not test on knowledge of Presbyterianism or whether you can memorize facts about Good Shepherd’s history.  Our first question, the most important question – in some ways the only question – is “Who is your Lord and Savior?”  That’s the foundation; that’s the rock.

      In our preaching, teaching, music, drama, worship, fellowship, service, mission, and more; there are tasks to accomplish, people to help, songs to sing.  But at the very heart of it all is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He is our foundation; he is our rock.

      What Are We Building?

      The scripture says that “unless the Lord build the house, the laborers labor in vain.”  Jesus said that Peter didn’t get the answer on his own; God gave him the answer through the Holy Spirit and Peter was faithful to listen and speak.

      We could raise a million dollars to strengthen the wood, stone, and mortar of this facility; but if we lose sight of our true foundation, it would be in vain.  So let me be clear.  Good Shepherd exists first and foremost to be a house built on the rock of faith and proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  Whatever we build, whatever we do, is being built on THAT foundation.

      So, is replacing failing lights, heat, air, phones, and stuff important?  Yes, but in the big picture it is important not first because it takes care of our facility, but because it takes care of a house of God built on the rock that seeks to endure as a testimony to Christ in this place for generations to come.

      Who are we and whom do we serve?  Jesus alone; he is our rock and our foundation.  Amen.