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Monday, April 27, 2015


"Tested with Us and for Us” Series (2015)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
February 22 - April 26, 2015

This series focuses on the humanity of Jesus. To be clear, Jesus is fully God and fully human. But, the days leading up to Easter are one time when we see so clearly the humanity of Jesus. The theme verse for the next six weeks comes from Hebrews 4:14-16, which reads:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

In this series, we consider passages that describe Jesus as the high priest who does sympathize with our weaknesses and temptations, but who doesn’t sin.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Well-Planted, Bearing Fruit (John 15.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 26, 2015
Text: John 15:1-11

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

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Great is the Lord" (Rick Bean, piano; Linda Jenkins, organ) (Smith)
Hymn of Praise: "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go" (Matheson and Miner)
The Word in Music: "Canticle of Praise" (Don Phillips)
Song of Response: "Be Thou My Vision/Open My Eyes" (SLANE; chorus, Austell/Youngblood)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "I Love to Tell the Story" (HANKEY)
Hymn of Sending: Rick Bean, piano

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

As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the church this morning, I was drawn to a teaching of Jesus that describes the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and the followers of Christ (aka the Church). In John 15, Jesus teaches about this relationship using an image or word-picture common in his day and in the experience of his listeners. Using the image of a grape vine, he first describes the relationship between himself and God the Father. Then he teaches about his own relationship to us. Finally, he breaks out of the word picture to speak directly to the way that he connects us to the love of God. It is a vivid and compelling picture and is particularly applicable as we celebrate what God has done through Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church and as we look ahead to being God’s people here in the days and years to come.

The FRUIT: Vine and Vinedresser (vv. 1-4)

Jesus begins with a picture of Himself and the Father: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” (v. 1) Now it is important to not try to over-do the metaphor. We don’t need to figure out everything there is to be known about vines or vinedressers. Jesus is not offering a comprehensive explanation of who he is or who God is. Rather, he tells us exactly what this image is to teach us, and in these first verses it’s all about the FRUIT.

And there are two specifics here for us:

1.    The vine-dresser is interested in fruit and prunes the branches that don’t bear any. (v. 2)
2.    The vine is necessary to the fruit-bearing capability of the branches. (vv. 3-4)

What is the “fruit” in which the vine-dresser is interested? What is the fruit that is produced because of the connection with the vine and how does that connection work?

Jesus drops the metaphor in v. 3 and reveals those things. The fruit is being “clean” before God – another metaphor, but one more easily correlated to being cleansed of sin… that is, being made right with God. And he says we are clean because of the Word he has spoken to us… God’s message, the truth, the Good News about the Kingdom and about Jesus.

So cleansing from sin is Jesus’ work (good thing!); but we experience and accept and appropriate that work through listening and obeying God’s Word, written and Living. As Jesus says – there is no fruit apart from Him! We reflect that in our order of worship. We listen to God’s Word and then we confess our sin and accept the grace of God in Christ. It’s like regular tending and maintenance of the grape vine; it’s why we gather regularly to be nourished, fed, and cultivated by God through scripture and Christ. Jesus is describing how God works in us!

Vine & Branches (vv. 5-8)

Back in the vine image in verse 5, Jesus explicitly focuses on the CONNECTION in the vine and names us as “branches.” Now he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And now he explores in more detail the relationship between himself and us. Though already stated once in v. 4, he now makes clear that branches do not bear fruit apart from the vine. He also says it explicitly, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5) and “[he/she] dries up.” (v. 6)

There are some other intriguing details in this middle section. There is the frightening imagery of being “thrown away… and cast into the fire” (v. 6) – that is not describing a capricious God, but the results of rejecting Christ and his Word.

On what seems like the other extreme is the promise of “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (v. 7) But again, this is not a capricious genie-God, granting wishes to the faithful; rather, it is the natural blessing of living in God’s will. Leading up to Easter, we looked at how rooted Jesus was in God’s Word and seeking God’s will. That is the same thing being described here in the first part of v. 7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… THEN ask… and it will be done.” What do you ask for with that kind of abiding in Christ and His Word? You ask for God’s will to be done!

And Jesus goes on to say that his Father is glorified by THIS – living in Christ, living in God’s Word, bearing the fruit of righteousness because of that CONNECTION. That is not only what proves or shows us to be his disciples, but is what brings God honor. (v. 8)

That is the real work of the Christian, the real work of the Church: this is, in the broadest sense, what worship means. It is not salvation – that is Christ’s work. Our work is honoring God, glorifying God, worshiping God, serving God – and Jesus has told us we do that through loving God and loving others.

REAL FRUIT: Love and Joy (vv. 9-11)

Starting in v. 9, Jesus drops the vine and branch imagery completely and speaks directly, leading to the listing of two more “fruits” we bear: “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you.” He also makes a link between obeying God’s Word – that’s the “commandments” – and “abiding in his love.” Abide means stay, remain, live; it’s where we make our home. That’s how we are to relate to Jesus; he is our home! To trust Christ and His Word is to obey and follow Christ and to experience God’s love through that. It’s all of one piece.

And love is not the only tangible fruit; look at v. 11! He is teaching us this to know God’s love, but also so that his “joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” As we trust, follow, obey, and live with Jesus, we not only know true joy, but that joy grows and grows in us. It is “made full.”

To return ourselves to the image for a moment, it is Christ who connects us as branches to the loving purpose of the Father vine-dresser. We can’t manufacture our own fruit – cleanness, obedience, love, or joy – but only truly know those things through our connection with Christ.

Well-Planted, Bearing Fruit

So let me try to say all that in a few sentences, with application for us both as individual followers of Christ and as a community of followers called a church:

Teaching: God’s purpose for us is to know and share his love and joy – that honors God and blesses others. We cannot truly do any of that apart from Jesus Christ. So Christ has come to make us clean, make a way, invite us, and connect us to God’s purpose.

Application: Fix your eyes and heart on Christ! He will help you; he will lead you; he will cause you to flourish as you seek and follow him!

So the secret is not in output. Out between the church building and the lower lot, one of our community groups is planting a garden. They aren’t just piling produce up in the garden boxes; that would dry up and die. The secret is planting well, cultivating healthy plants, and bearing and enjoying the fruit (or veggies) that result.

This is a timely word for us, individually and as a community of believers. We have a wonderful and treasured history to celebrate and appreciate, but we also have a future. This image at the center of Jesus’ teaching today reminds us that we will only fulfill our earthly purpose through connection with Christ and obedience to His Word. As we continue to follow Christ together, submitting to God’s Word and will, we will bear the fruit that God has designed for us and desires from us. That connection to Christ is what compels us out into the world in love and sustains us in joy, even in the difficulties of our lives and this world.

We have been well-planted in Christ; God meets us regularly to cultivate us through His Word and His Spirit. As we listen and respond to that Word and Spirit, we will continue to be a community that honors God and we will bless each other and the world around us with the fruit we bear. Amen!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Resurrection Life (Romans 6.1-14)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 19, 2015
Text: Romans 6:1-14

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

:: Some Music Used

Gathering Music: Hail the Day (Sovereign Grace)
Hymn of Praise: "We Know that Christ is Raised" (ENGLEBERG)
Song of Praise: "You Have Been Raised" (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "Let the Peace of Christ Rule in your Hearts" (Susan Slade, flute) (Courtney)
Song of Sending: "Hail the Day" (Sovereign Grace)
Hymn of Sending: "In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock" (arr. Travis Cottrell)

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

We are fresh off of Easter and I’d like to talk with you about why the Resurrection of Jesus matters. Today we are going to look at Romans 6 and talk about the “Resurrection Life,” trying to understand better what that new life in Christ means, what it looks like, and how we can more fully live in it. We are looking at Romans 6 to try to understand better the implications of the Easter message that Jesus was raised from the dead FOR US. What are the implications of the “for us?”

Life Looks Different: a new reality

The first thing to say is that because of Jesus Christ life looks different! He makes a difference in one’s life. If life with Christ and life without Christ look no different, then we have missed something crucial about who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he is doing even now. We could talk about that in a number of ways, but the place Paul picks up in chapter six of his letter to the Romans has to do with sin. One answer we still sometimes hear today is that sin doesn’t matter because God’s grace abounds! God has forgiven it all and we shouldn’t get wrapped up in naming sin, judging sin, or paying much attention to sin, because God will forgive it. But Paul nips that in the bud, asking “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Paul’s response is: “May it never be!” While we do continue to sin, we should also struggle against it. What follows is an explanation of how we are to live in Christ, particularly with regard to sin.

After Paul’s “May it never be!” he goes on to ask two more questions that will set up what follows. The first question is: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” The second is related to it: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Both are rhetorical, meaning the point is not just coming up with the answer, but understanding the answer and why Paul asked the question. What Paul is trying to remind us of with these questions is our new reality because of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus did not need to die and be raised for his own sake. If Jesus death and resurrection were not FOR US, then there was no point to them. During Easter week we talked about what happened to Jesus; now we are focusing on the FOR US part.

Paul describes those who trust in Jesus Christ as those who have “died to sin” and are “baptized into Jesus’ death.” Those are not conditions of Jesus’s work; you don’t have to stop sinning for Jesus to die for you. That wouldn’t even make sense because then he wouldn’t have had to die! No, these are the RESULTS of Jesus’ work. Because Jesus died, we have died to sin. That is one of things baptism signifies; that we are marked by his action. That’s what Paul wants you to understand with his two questions. You have died to sin because you belong to Jesus and he died to sin… don’t you know it? Paul then offers a series of illustrations to help us understand resurrection life.

First Picture: United in Baptism (vv. 4-7)

Paul’s first illustration or picture is that in baptism we have been buried into death and raised to newness of life. (v. 4) Clearly, this is not literal, as we have not been physically buried. But we are joined to Christ in faith, signified through baptism, by God’s gracious love toward us. And so when Christ was crucified, our debt was joined to him; our “body of sin” was joined to him and put to death (v. 6). And when he was buried, our debt and the consequence of sin was complete. When God raised Jesus from the dead in victory OVER sin and death, we too were raised (still joined to him), but no longer under the curse of sin and death.

Let me try to illustrate. I completed the tax forms for our family a few weeks ago. If the IRS were to send Heather a tax bill next week that said she owes taxes on our family income, she could respond legitimately by saying, “How shall I who have paid my taxes still owe taxes?” Now she did not do the Austell family taxes or send them anything, but listen to this second question while you are looking at verse 3. “Do you not know that all of us who wear this wedding ring can file jointly?” Now I realize that anyone can put on a wedding ring, but so can anyone splash water and say they’ve been baptized. The point is that the covenant of marriage, signified by a ring, enables one to be fully represented by another. So the covenant of baptism, rightly used, enables one to be fully represented by another. So if I have been baptized into Christ, who has died to sin, then I have died to sin. And I have also been raised with him to new life.

Now we also can ignore “resurrection reality” just as surely as we can ignore our “marriage reality.” The ring or even the reality of being joined in marriage doesn't do commitment for us. In the same way, we must choose obedience to honor our being joined to Christ. So Paul declares a glorious reality: through Jesus Christ sin and the curse have been buried and we are raised to a new resurrection life. And with that covenanted union comes the opportunity to choose obedience and live it out faithfully in our lives. That indeed makes life very different – as different (even more so!) than being single and then being joined to another in marriage. That’s what the Apostle Paul is getting at in Romans. Through faith we are now united to the risen Jesus, so we have the opportunity to live for him.

Second Picture: New Lease on Life (vv. 8-10)

In verse 8 Paul moves from “here is what God has done” (buried and raised you) to the more active (for us) “here is the way to experience it” (die and live with Christ!) And so he repeats himself about being united with Christ, but now we must choose how to live. And we are to live our life like Christ did: “…the life that he lives, he lives to God.” (v. 10) I think of Lazarus in terms of that passive and active resurrection. Lazarus, much like we who trust Christ, was raised from death to life. It was beyond his power or control, and more than a little mysterious. But from that moment on, when he gazed upon Jesus’ face, he had to make his own decision to live life again, moreover to life it to God. He could have turned away, come to forget the miraculous as a hazy dream, or even figuratively crawled back in the cave to die. But part two of being raised in the power of Christ was choosing to live in grateful and loving obedience to Christ.

Think of someone who has survived a terminal diagnosis or dying on the operating table or being resuscitated after drowning. Those things don’t automatically result in a new perspective on life and living, but often they do. People talk about having a “new lease on life” or embracing life with new hope and purpose. That’s the kind of change of perspective Paul is talking about and what it means to “live to God.”

A Third Picture: Enlisted with Gratitude (vv. 11-14)

And so in verse 11, Paul charges his readers with that active obedience: “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” How are we to do that? Paul illustrates the answer with an image that is obscured a bit in English, particularly to our modern ears. Twice, when Paul uses the word “presenting,” that’s a military image. We still use it; it’s just not our first use for “presenting.” It is the image of presenting arms before one’s commanding officer. It is a picture of being prepared, primed, present, and ready for battle. It is also a sign of respect, of willingness to obey, serve, and be led. And then also twice, Paul uses the word “instruments.” That word can mean “weapons” as in “instruments of war.” In this context, I believe this is what Paul has in mind.

How does that image of a soldier presenting his or her weapons as ready for battle describe the Christian’s daily choice to die to sin and live to God? We have a choice of whom to serve, of whom our “commanding officer” will be. Though Jesus has won the battle, literally saving our lives, we may yet not choose to present ourselves in service to him. In that case we are, in effect, presenting ourselves to sin as our commanding officer, even offering our bodies (and minds) as weapons to be used for unrighteous purposes. Or, in response to Jesus saving us (those “alive from the dead” in v. 13), we can choose to present ourselves to him as our authority, offering our bodies and minds as weapons… perhaps now rightly turned from weapons to “tools” or “instruments” for what is good and right.

Will our bodies and minds be weapons of destruction for sin or tools of righteousness in God’s hands? Having been saved from death to life, we have the opportunity for a kind of “grateful enlistment” in service to God, the One who saved us. Those words famously declared by Joshua in Old Testament times prove most appropriate now: “Choose this day whom you will serve!”

The Resurrection Life

As we continue to try to understand and experience the “resurrection life,” we are reminded that God invites us to choose obedience. Jesus Christ has done the hard work – the impossible work – of defeating sin and death and living to God. Jesus has changed reality itself and life is different for all who are united to him in faith! As with marriage, a new chance at life, or military service, life and reality are different, but we must still choose daily how to live and whom to serve. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Things? (Luke 24.13-31)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 12, 2015
Text: Luke 24:13-31

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

:: Some Music Used
Song of Praise: "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (Baloche)
Song of Praise: "You Have Been Raised" (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "Hail the Day" (Sovereign Grace)
Hymn of Sending: "In Christ Alone/The Solid Rock" (arr. Travis Cottrell)

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

Today’s text, often simply named “The Road to Emmaus,” describes one of many encounters with Jesus after Easter, after his resurrection from the dead. We often hear about the appearance to Mary and the women, or even to Thomas and the disciples in the Upper Room. But in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes that Jesus appeared to over 500 people. Today’s text gives us one of the most in-depth descriptions of one of those encounters.

In doing so, it not only gives us insight into that brief period of time after Easter when Jesus still walked the earth. It also, it offers eye-witness testimony and corroboration of the Easter story. But most personally, it offers us a kind of living parable into how even today people come to faith in the risen Jesus. We will track the coming to faith of the two on the way to Emmaus as we move through the text.

What Things? (vv. 13-20)

The scene opens with two people (Cleopas and another) leaving Jerusalem on Easter afternoon to head to Emmaus, some 7 miles from Jerusalem. Luke has just told us about Mary and the women visiting the empty tomb and then going to tell the disciples. Peter runs to see for himself. That is, in fact, the text we looked at last Sunday for Easter.

Now, on “that very day” these two were heading out of town. And they were talking about and discussing all the things that had taken place in Jerusalem. It had been an eventful week to say the least! And while this was going on, “Jesus himself approached and began traveling with them.” (v. 15) In other post-Easter encounters, Jesus would just kind of show up, but here we have him “approaching.” And they didn’t recognize him. And in so many words, he asks, “What are you talking about?” (v. 17)

And here’s a bit I’ve never noticed before (and I’ve preached on this passage multiple times!). At his question “they stood still, looking sad.” (v. 17) These were not disinterested spectators, but had some vested interest and feelings about what had happened. They also can’t believe the question. Cleopas asks, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” (v. 18)

And Jesus responds, “What things?” (v. 19) And here is where we get both the eye-witness level of detail, but also a glimpse into what they did and didn’t “see” – what they understood and did not understand.

They respond, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene…” (v. 19) – yes, he was from Nazareth, but many others (including Himself) understood him to be the “Son of God,” the “Son of Man,” the “Messiah,” or even “King.” Perhaps they thought he was just the man from Nazareth.

They respond that he was “a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people…” (v. 19) – yes, he was all that; so much so that we now describe his threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King – in the final and ultimate sense. Human prophets spoke the Lord’s Word; Jesus WAS the Word… not to mention that he wasn’t only a prophet. Perhaps they thought he was just another holy man in a long line of holy men.

They respond by describing “how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him” (v. 19) – yes, all true; but either they had not heard yet about the empty grave or did not believe it. Perhaps they thought Jesus was dead and gone.

Sometimes in the midst of singing all out or preaching with all my heart or feeling the warmth and affection of this church family, I find myself wondering what people are experiencing. If I could crawl inside another person’s head or have a super-honest interview, what would I hear. Surely it would resemble what we all see: oh yeah, “I teared up a bit when the choir sang this morning” or “Robert sure was fired up about that tithing sermon” or “It was great to see so-and-so; I sure was missing them.” But do we see and hear and feel – do we comprehend – the whole story?

We Were Hoping (v. 21)

The travelers continue, “But we were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel.” (v. 21) – so they DID know about the whole Messiah thing!

And “Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.” (v. 21) – wow, they even knew to expect something on the third day! They were way more tuned in than I gave them credit. Jesus did talk about the third day and there were some scriptural allusions to that, but it seemed like mostly his followers didn’t know what to do with that. These guys weren’t just casual observers; they must have been devoted followers of Jesus!

And wow, they DID know about Easter morning: “Some women AMONG US (yes, they are part of the ‘us’) amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.” (vv. 22-23) – some women AMONG US? These were close followers of Jesus. They were there when the women gave their report!

In fact, “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said…” (v. 24) – they were even there when Peter left to go to the tomb and returned with his own eye-witness account.” They had seen and heard all that!

And yet, “We were hoping…” is book-ended by “But Him they did not see.” (v. 21) They had heard and seen and witnessed… and hoped and trusted; and those hopes were disappointed.

How many times I have seen (and myself experienced) hoping and losing hope. It is perhaps most keenly felt by those who have spent so much time in the church hearing the great promises and words of God. Is God not faithful and true, loving and powerful? If there is anyone that more deserves God’s blessing than we who hope in God? And yet, sometimes we do not get what we pray for. Sometimes our hopes are dashed. Sometimes we suffer profoundly. And we find ourselves metaphorically walking out of Jerusalem (or literally walking away from church) because “Him we did not see.”

Was it Not Necessary? (vv. 26-27)

One of the most frustrating things about not getting what we pray for or hope for is that we are so sure we know what is best. And why would God not want that for us? Isn’t God good? (Yes!) Isn’t God powerful? (Yes!)

Isaiah 55:8-9 provides perspective: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

Or as Jesus put it to these two: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (vv. 25-26)

Was it necessary? Did Christ have to suffer? To die? To bear accusation and blame and punishment? Was it necessary for his blood to be shed? Jesus turned to their scripture – Moses and the prophets – to demonstrate the necessity of it. You heard examples of that as the call to worship today. In Genesis, the cosmic battle between Satan and humanity, sin’s curse and God’s blessing, was set forth. In Numbers God provided a means of healing from death – the people looking at the symbol of their sin’s consequence lifted high on a pole, and trusting in faith for God’s help. Jesus would later use that very event to explain his own coming crucifixion to Nicodemus. Isaiah foretold the Light in the darkness, the chosen and anointed One, the suffering servant. Zechariah foretold the coming of a King bringing salvation. Jesus didn’t just show up to a generation to impart some memorable moral lessons; he came at a time of God’s own choosing to accomplish salvation in and for history, from creation through consummation, as described, foreshadowed, depicted, taught, and promised over the centuries by God’s own Word and prophets.

God’s Word is more than an “explanation” of this or that; it is the comprehensive story of God’s dealings with humanity and points in its entirety to who Jesus was and what God accomplished through him. And we have access to that! Probably every one of us has one copy, if not five or ten, in our homes! And yet, like Cleopas and his companion, we too can be so foolish and slow of heart to believe what God has written.

At this point, Jesus prepared to part ways with them, but they asked him to say with them. It is not clear whether that invitation was only an act of hospitality (at least that – a strong commitment for middle-easterners) or perhaps a yearning within them to see and understand what they did not yet see and understand. And so Jesus stayed with them to share a meal and that is when their eyes were finally opened.

The only other time I am aware of that phrase “eyes being opened” was when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and they became aware of good and evil; in moving validation of what scripture would later teach, Christ the second Adam reversed the curse of the first Adam, seen here by opening their eyes to God once again!

Then Their Eyes Were Opened (vv. 28-31)

It is also not clear exactly why their eyes were opened at that point. Maybe it was the act of inviting him to stay – to “abide” with them. Maybe it was the repetition of what would become the Lord’s Supper – the breaking and blessing of the bread, so evocative of the sacrifice of Christ’s body (and blood) for us. Or maybe it was God opening their eyes in God’s own timing.

As I think about our own modern experiences of Christ, I probably would go with “all of the above.” What is clear to me is that neither knowledge nor experience is sufficient to create faith. These two knew the scriptures – the equivalent of having grown up going to Sunday school and church… knowing all the Bible stories and promises. In fact, they even HOPED in the promises of scripture, so it wasn’t just that they had a cold and dispassionate view of the scripture. But that was not enough for faith.

Surely, then a personal experience of God would suffice. Who of us hasn’t said or thought, “If God just talked out of a burning bush, it would be easy to believe.” But listen, Jesus was walking and talking with these two and giving what might have been the best Bible study ever given, and it didn’t create faith.

When did their faith bloom? It was when they asked this stranger to stay with them for a while. It was when he connected the common – breaking of bread – with the uncommon sacrifice and offering of his body. And it was when God granted the eyes of faith.

What does that look like for us? I do think it is so important to read and learn scripture. Otherwise, there is no soil for faith to root or grow. I do think it is so important to worship in community. Otherwise, there is no encouragement or accountability. We often wait to “invite Christ into our life” until we believe. But look what these men did; hopes disappointed, not fully understanding, instinctively yearning for something more, they asked him to stay. Have you asked God to live in and with you, to “abide” with you, to “open the eyes of your heart?” Ultimately I do think faith is a gift from God. If we could do three things and guarantee it, we’d do that. But God’s timing and God’s ways are beyond ours. And yet, I think that is a request and prayer God delights to answer… in His time.

I’m also going to ask you, if your eyes have been opened, to think about your experience of that… to consider sharing that in some form with the church. In the month of May I’m going to be looking very basically at what is the “good news” about Jesus and I’d like to have someone share briefly each week – either in person or on video – about your own experience of having your eyes opened to Christ. Would you consider if you’d be willing to do that and let me know?

In closing, you know that song we started with? It’s a little dated now, but I love it because it comes straight from scripture. We sang, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord; I want to see Jesus…. Jesus, high and lifted up… Jesus, the holy one.” It’s taken from a prayer in the first chapter of Ephesians. I’d offer that for you and with all who would pray it as we close:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (vv. 18-19a)  Amen.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Living One (Luke 24.1-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 5, 2015 - Easter Sunday
Text: Luke 24:1-12; Revelation 1:17b-18

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

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "O For a Thousand Tongues" (Hayes/Gaspard)
Processional Hymn: "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (EASTER HYMN)
Song of Praise: "Come People of the Risen King" (Getty/Townend)
Offering of Music: "On the Third Day" (Pote)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Behold Our God" (Sovereign Grace/Baird)
Postlude: Rick Bean

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

Easter is the climax of the Christian faith.  It, not Christmas, is the biggest day of the year for a Christian.  And it is not about Jesus on the cross – that’s Good Friday.  That was the defeat of sin, but there’s more after Jesus’ “It is finished” on the cross.  Easter is the empty tomb and the defeat of death itself.  Easter is the news that Jesus is risen from the dead.  And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

I want to focus with you on one key question in the verses you heard today.  It is the question that was asked to the women who came to the tomb to see Jesus’ body:
Why do you seek the living One among the dead? (v. 5)
That is a critical question for people of faith and even for people without faith.  It gets at the very heart of what Christianity is all about and why we sometimes struggle to believe in or experience God at all.  These verses – and Easter itself – claim that Jesus is alive.  Let’s consider some ways that each of us struggle with an Easter faith.

Nonsense and Belief

I’m going to move through today’s text out of order, but I think the order will make sense to our experience.  First, look at verse 11.  The women came from the empty tomb to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive. 
But these words appeared to them as nonsense, and they would not believe them.
Remember, these were the disciples – holy men of faith, right?  No, they were just like you and I.  They had followed Jesus; they loved Jesus.  But they had been disappointed and were hurt and frightened.  And despite having seen amazing things, this was too much for their minds to believe.  It sounded like pure nonsense, maybe even the wishful thinking of hysterical women.

This is where so many people get stuck with Christianity.  It sounds like nonsense to our adult minds.  We want to stick to what we can taste, touch, smell, hear, and see.  Maybe we once had some faith – maybe as a child.  But we’ve lost too much and been hurt too much, and we’ve come to believe only in what is tangible and provable.

Jesus is one more fairy tale – perhaps the last one to let go of, but a fairy tale nonetheless.  The disciples had reached the logical end of that way of thinking… they were hunkered down and hiding out, with only themselves to depend on.  And like every other human being, trapped by the limits of our short lives, they were depending on themselves, the walking dead.

Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?  Are you looking at all?

Hide and Seek

Is there any other option for the adult mind?  Is there any other option when you’ve been burned and disappointed by God?  Many people, particularly if they once had a religious experience will describe God either as “nonsense” or say, “Well, if He’s there, He’s hiding from me.”

I would submit to you, though, that God was not and is not the one who is hiding.  In these verses, it is the men who are hiding.  They don’t think they are hiding from God, but they are hiding from those who killed Jesus.  They are hiding from what they fear.  But look what changes this:
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb… (v. 12)
Other disciples apparently remained, hiding out, but Peter got up, stopped hiding, and started seeking.  He went looking for God and went to the place where this news of a living Jesus originated.  He went to check it out for himself, and he left “marveling at what had happened.”

One of Jesus’ recurring invitations in his life was to “come and see.”  As long as we’ve written God off, it is unlikely that God will ever sound like more than nonsense or a fairy tale for children.  But God says more than once in the Bible, “Seek and you will find.”

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  What are you looking for?

Forget and Remember

Peter ran to the tomb, which is what the women had already seen.  They each saw evidence of Jesus’ body being gone, yet that was just a start.  One cannot prove God with evidence.  One cannot be saved or find assurance of salvation through intellectual arguments.  Such arguments may provide a start – they may support faith; but they are not faith.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead? 

The women had forgotten.  The rest of the message to them was this:
He is not here, but he has risen.  Remember how he spoke to you while he was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. (vv. 6-7)
They had an experience of Jesus when he was living.  They had heard his words of promise and hope.  And they had forgotten.  We go on to read that after the reminder of what he had said, “They remembered his words.” (v. 8)

Some of us here – perhaps many of us here – have experienced God in our lives at some time.  Perhaps we were children or teenagers, or perhaps it has just been a long time.  God was as real to us as the love of a parent or spouse.  God’s promises were just as real.  And either we’ve retreated to hide out of disappointment or we’ve simply forgotten.

And the angel’s question gets at all of that.

Why do you seek the living One among the dead?

God is not a fairy tale.  God is not a set of religious principles.  God is not a dusty book of ancient wisdom.  Jesus was not a first century wise man.  Christianity is not a set of do’s and don’ts.  God is not a psychological concept we’ve concocted to either get us through or to grow out of.  If God were any of those things, God wouldn’t be a true God, and we wouldn’t find Him.  That’s looking among the dead, and God isn’t there.

The key to the angels’ question is in the description of Jesus.  He is the “living One.”

The Living One

To find God, we must believe, we must seek, we must remember.  But those are all things we do and they are secondary to the declaration and reality that Jesus is the “Living One.” 

Only a living God can offer you more than you can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell.

Only a living God can rescue you out of anything we might consider the “universal human condition.”

Only a living God can speak any word after death.

Only a living God can be a relational God.

Only a living God can answer your hurt, disappointment, fear, and loss.  A dead God cannot begin to do so.

Only a living God can continue to speak words of truth, hope, and life generation after generation to a struggling and changing world.

Only a living God is worth your belief, searching, and trust.

And Jesus Christ, risen Son of God, is the Living One. Amen!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maundy Thursday Reflections (Mark 14, John 13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
April 2, 2015 - Maundy Thursday
Text: Mark 14, John 13 (see below for specific scriptures used)

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: this service was a series of reflections; these have been edited together into one audio file
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used ::
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, piano
Song of Praise: "O Great God" (Kauflin)
Song of Praise: "Merciful God" (Getty/Townend) 
The Word in Music: "Bread of the World" (Pote) - listen
The Word in Music: "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" (Townend)
Confessional Music: "Ah, Holy Jesus" (HERLIEBSTER JESU)
Sending in Music: "Thy Will Be Done" (Courtney) - listen

:: Scriptures Used ::

The One Who Betrays
(Mark 14:17-21)

17 When it was evening He came with the twelve. 18 As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me—one who is eating with Me.” 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, “Surely not I?” 20 And He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 “For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

The Last Supper
(Mark 14:22-26)

22 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is My body.” 23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Serve and Love
(John 13:5–17; 13:33–35)

5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. 6 So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. 16 “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

33 “Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I Have Betrayed Jesus
(John 13:36-38)

36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” 37 Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.

Thy Will Be Done
(Luke 22:41-44)

41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.