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Sunday, November 29, 2015

I Have Hope in God (Isaiah 9, John 1, Luke 2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 29, 2015
Text: Isaiah 9:2-6; John 1:1-5; Luke 2:29-32

:: 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."  

There are some audio difficulties in the opening minutes of today's recording, but they resolve after a minute or two.

:: Some Music Used ::
Song of Praise: Prepare the Way (Evans/Nuzum)
The Word in Music: Our Hope is in Emmanuel (Victor C. Johnson)
Hymn of Response: O Come, O Come Emmanuel (VENI EMMANUEL, arr. Austell)
Offering of Music: Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates (choir; Handel, from the Messiah)
Hymn of Sending: Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming (ES IST EIN ROS)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Testimony :: Marty McKenzie shared about Hope (audio link) 

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

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, which marks a special season in the year of the Christian church. It is a time of waiting hopefully and faithfully on God. It is also special because the waiting has two layers. On one hand, we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ by putting ourselves in the place of those ancient people of God who were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But on top of that hope and expectation, we remember the promises of scripture that Christ will come again gloriously at the end of things to make all things right.

In addition to scripture, we will also hear some of your stories over these weeks as members of the church family share on the week’s theme in answer to the question, “Where have you seen God?” So these weeks, will be full of scripture and promise, but not the kind of happy, sappy sentimentality that we sometimes hear, but an authentic hopefulness found in the reality of life in this world. That’s why it is truly Good News – because, as we will be reminded today, God sent Light into the dark places of this world through Jesus.

Living in Dark Places (Isaiah 9)

Isaiah 9 is famous for its hopeful and prophetic language. It is perhaps most known for verse 6 and following, the “For unto us a child is born” that Handel set to music in the Messiah, followed by the names that would be given to that child – “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” We will return to that verse and what follows in a few weeks. But today I want to focus with you on the first part of Isaiah 9, “The people who walk in darkness… and those who live in a dark land...” (v. 2)

This chapter points with hope to God’s promise to intervene and break in to life as we know it. As Christians, we believe God kept that promise through Jesus. But don’t miss the context of these verses. You get that in verse 4, which describes what God’s people were facing in Isaiah’s day: the “yoke of their burden… the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” Going on to verse 5 we read of “the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak[s] rolled in blood.” At the time of Isaiah, God’s people lived in a tough world, full of warring and loss and difficulty.

That’s why God’s promise through Isaiah rings with such strength and hope… it’s not another silver bow on a shiny Christmas present, it’s the news that this dark place that is the world they lived in was not all there was. There WAS hope to be found, even beyond the seemingly powerful and threatening powers of this world: those in the darkness “will see a great light… the light will shine on them.” (v. 2)

Isn’t that a timely word for us as well? Have you not had moments of wondering what is happening to our world, with news of terrorists, bombings, genocide, and more? Is it not real Good News that God is more than a happy hymn in a candle-lit church service? Rather, God is present and on the move on the battlefield, in the midst of oppression and slavery, in the dark, dark places of this world. That is the HOPE toward which Advent points us, that Immanuel – God is with us – is not just sweetness and light, but life-saving, life-freeing, evil-destroying, and dark-dispersing light in the dark places of this world.

The Light Shines (John 1)

It is no mistake that the Gospel of John picks up this same Good Word, this same prophetic hope. John begins his account of Jesus with the same imagery. Of Jesus, that Word in the beginning with and as God, he writes, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it.” (John 1:4-5)

We are still the “people walking in darkness” that Isaiah named, but John tells us that God Himself stepped into the world to shine in that same darkness. John makes explicit the hope that was only envisioned in Isaiah’s day. Isaiah promised that a child would be born to usher in God’s promised light, but John tells us, “It’s this one – Jesus; he is the Light sent from God and is himself God in the flesh.”

John also tells us something else important – something intuitive to us, but also something that grounds all this in reality – we still live in a world of darkness and light. John’s Gospel is no dreamy vision of a Utopia where there is no evil or sadness or loss. He does have such a vision, set off in the future after Christ’s returns again – that’s the book of Revelation, no Utopia, but a final and eternal victory of God. But here – this account of Jesus’ birth and life and death in the first century, describes what we still see and experience: a world full of darkness and evil, yet one with God showing up and lighting the way.

We have a choice, then; we can live among the shadows, “walking in darkness” apart from God; or we can trust God’s promise, that Jesus is indeed the “Light of the world.” One of my favorite scripture stories describes someone with that hope.

Hope from God (Luke 2)

When we look at Simeon’s story in Luke 2, it is often after Christmas, because in it baby Jesus has already been born and Joseph and Mary are bringing him to the Temple to be circumcised. But focus with me on Simeon. He is an old, old man who lived in the dark and difficult time of the first century, when the Roman Empire ruled Palestine with a brutal efficiency. Simeon believed and hoped in those old prophecies though, and his prayer had been that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, the child that would be born to God’s people.

And that day when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple, Simeon saw his hopes fulfilled; not the final fulfillment of all things being made right, but the coming of the Light into the world. In his words you can hear the gap being bridged between Isaiah and Jesus, and an example for all of us who continue to hope in faith:
Now Lord, you are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)
Isaiah’s message, John’s testimony, Jesus’ birth, and Simeon’s song – they all name and describe the HOPE that God promised us. They all represent the hope that comes from God. But there is more to consider…

Hope in God

Our part – YOUR part – is what you do with the message. What do you do with Isaiah’s prophecy, John’s history, Simeon’s testimony, and the person of Jesus. There is a crucial move from the message of hope from God to a person’s hope in God. But that’s the question and invitation in these scriptures and stories.

This is the Good News: THE LIGHT HAS COME.

In this dark and dangerous world, whether you walk in darkness or live in fear of the darkness, have you – would you – put your hope in God. We will yet in this service hear one more personal account of hope. We will pray IN HOPE as we consider the dangers and darkness in the world around us. We will sing once again of our hope in Christ. And the question and invitation will remain – have you, would you, put your hope in God?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tangible Thanks (Psalm 107.1-9, Ephesians 5.15-21)

Sermon by: The Rev. Albert Moses; November 24, 2015
Text: Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 5:15-21

The Rev. Moses is pastor of Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church and was the guest preacher at our annual "Community Thanksgiving Service" with six ecumenical partner churches from the neighborhood.

:: 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." 

Monday, November 23, 2015

==PSALM 24 (2015)==

Psalm 24 Series (2015)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
November 8-22, 2015

    Sunday, November 22, 2015

    Lift Up Your Heads (Psalm 24.7-10)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 22, 2015
    Text: Psalm 24:7-10

    :: 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: Ancient of Days (Sadler/Harvill)
    Song of Praise: Lift Up Your Heads (Tommy Walker)
    Song of Confession: Give Us Clean Hands (Charlie Hall)
    Offering of Music: Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates (choir; Handel, from the Messiah)
    Hymn of Sending: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (LOBE DEN HERREN)
    Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

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

    Today we conclude our short series from Psalm 24. In only ten short verses this Psalm tells the sweeping story of the whole Bible. It begins with God’s creation of and rule over all things: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” (v. 1) It moves on to the covenant relationship of a faithful God providing a means of righteousness and salvation for an impure and disobedient people. (vv. 3-6) And today we get to the conclusion, the welcome, recognition, and celebration of this creating, saving God as the King of Glory.

    As a Psalm likely written and used originally when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:1-6), the Psalm continued and continues to depict this fuller story of creation, redemption, and celebration for God’s people. Verses 7-10 contain two rounds of this sequence: welcome, recognition, and celebration. I want to break down those three parts and I’ll mention the repetition of each one.

    These verses (7-10) are poetically structured as an exchange between an authority and a host or guard at the door. The ‘gates’ and ‘doors’ are personified either to represent someone standing guard, who will only let in the rightful King. Or they are personified as all of Jerusalem – that God’s people are in view, being told to prepare for the arrival of their King. Both interpretations really serve the same purpose, to challenge us to prepare ourselves to welcome, recognize, and celebrate God as the King of Glory.


    So by welcome I mean more like what a parent might say to the children when guests are about to arrive. “Get ready, kids, Grandma and Grandpa are about to arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. Lift up your heads; look them in the eye! We want to welcome them when they get here!”

    And so, to God’s people: “Lift up your heads and be lifted up… that the King of glory may come in!” (v. 7) And that is repeated again exactly in verse 9. And it’s not, “Leave the door open so the grandparents can get in”; it’s “we want to be there ready to throw open the door and greet them in the right way.” So it is with the King of Glory. If a king was coming to dinner, you’d really want to look alive at the door. You’d probably do more than usual to make ready the house. You’d pick things up; you’d vacuum. You’d put on your best clothes and prepare your best food. You’d extend your best WELCOME. And this isn’t just any king; it’s the King of Glory… the King of Kings… the biggest King of all.

    That actually naturally feeds into the next part. “Mom, why do we make such a big deal with Grandma and Grandpa come to visit?”


    Or in the words of the Psalm, “Who is the King of glory?” (v. 8)  And the second time, “Who is this King of glory?” (v. 10) We can imagine it either as a clarifying question from the children – from God’s people. “Why is this such a big deal?” Or we can imagine it as a rhetorical question from the person speaking with authority. “Kids, tell me why we should greet your grandparents at the door?” In terms of usage in a Psalm that God’s people would have memorized and repeated from childhood on, I think this latter use is probably the better fit.

    We’ll use it that way in the Assurance of God’s grace today. The lay assistant will read the verses and ask YOU the question, “Who is this King of glory?” That gives you the opportunity to speak the answer with your lips. I imagine that’s how the Psalm was used. The people would be told to get ready for the coming of the Lord, then asked, “Who is this King of glory?” And then they would shout the answer.

    Either way, the second part of these verses is RECOGNITION. You can’t welcome a particular guest if you don’t recognize them. So to welcome God into our lives, we have to recognize God for who He is. That’s why scripture is so important; it tells us who God is and what God has done. That’s why Jesus is so important; he has shown us the very face of God.


    And the response to the question not only answers the question, but CELEBRATES the One we will welcome. Who is the King of glory? – “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” (v. 8) And on the repeat: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.” (v. 10) There’s no way to know that if you don’t know who God is or what God has done. For the people of Israel in the days of King David, God is being remembered here for being the mighty one who led them out of slavery, out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. The wandering people and the portable Ark of the Covenant have found a permanent home in the land God had promised Abraham, in the city of Jerusalem.

    We could add to that description because we know even more of the story. God is not only strong deliverer, but faithful covenant-keeper and enduringly compassionate. Knowing Jesus as God in the flesh, we also recognize and celebrate Him as suffering Servant and compassionate Savior. To be sure, in his victory over death and sin, Jesus also shows God as strong and mighty!

    What I want to highlight is not just the answer to the question, “Who is the King of glory?” I also want to highlight the joy and celebration of the answer. You get that a bit with the final “He is…” – the King of glory is the one who is strong and mighty who has done all these things… HE is the King of Glory!  In the repetition and the call and response and the final phrase, you can hear the energy building.

    Sometimes as parents we do the same kind of thing. The kids have to put down whatever is engaging them at the moment and told to man their stations. But that’s not enough; we also sometimes need to take a moment to remember just who is coming to dinner, and not just remember, but celebrate who is coming. And usually, when we have taken time to do those things, it becomes the real celebration it should be.


    So… what if I told you that God is stopping by? We’ll just leave for a later discussion the biblical imagery of Jesus standing at the door and knocking or the Holy Spirit making a home with you. Let’s just deal with the simpler picture of God stopping by. This Psalm is the reminder to look up, to get ready. I understand the momentary frustration of life being interrupted. I’m in the middle of something important. Look up. Lift up your head. BE lifted up. Do you recognize who it is that wants your attention? Can you put words to that? Will you put words to that?

    The King of Glory. God-who-loves-me. Faithful one.

    Do you believe those words? Is that for real? What are you going to do with that?

    It could be a celebration!


    Sunday, November 15, 2015

    Those Who Seek Him (Psalm 24.3-6, Romans 10.4-9)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 15, 2015
    Text: Psalm 24:3-6; Romans 10:4-9

    :: 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: Holiness (Underwood)
    Song of Praise: Jesus, All for Jesus (Robin Mark)
    The Word in Music: Offertory (John Ness Beck)
    Song of Confession: Give Us Clean Hands (Charlie Hall)
    Offering of Music: Autumn Carol (choir; arr. Schulz-Widmar)
    Hymn of Sending: Take My Life and Let it Be (HENDON)
    Postlude: Linda Jenkins, Organ

    :: 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 in the midst of a short series on Psalm 24. It has so much in it, from Creation to Fall to Redemption to consummation. As a Psalm it is poetry and music, and it packs the story of the bible into ten short verses. In many ways this is the song of the Bible. I encourage you to spend some time with Psalm 24 this week; perhaps even commit it to memory.

    Last week we looked at the first two verses, which named God as both Creator and Sovereign Ruler of the world. We also looked at part of the Creation story in Genesis to see that God has entrusted us to care for this world as an act of obedience and worship. We often do that imperfectly, even sinfully, because of the Fall; but God has also come to redeem us and the world, restoring His image and purpose through Christ, who alone is capable of perfectly fulfilling what God has intended for us.

    Today we will focus primarily on the middle part (vv. 3-6), though you will hear all of the Psalm over the course of the service. In this middle part, we will also be pointed to Jesus, because he is the one who has done perfectly what the Lord set out for us and he is the one who bids us to come after and follow him.

    Who May Ascend? (v. 3)

    Our text today starts with the question, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?” (v. 3) On the one hand you might think the answer is ‘no one’ because we read it in order in English and think verse 4 is the answer to the question. And no one truly has “clean hands and a pure heart,” therefore no one must be able to ascend the hill of the Lord.

    This Psalm was sung as God’s people went in procession into the Temple of the Lord for worship. It is actually the case that ALL ISRAEL could ascend the hill because they were God’s people under the covenant.  The questions are celebratory because they highlight the generosity and graciousness of God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his children. Verse 4 actually serves to describe who will experience the BLESSING of God’s covenant faithfulness.

    The way God set up His relationship with His people was not conditional – God did not promise to only be God of those who were good, because he knew we would fail. That’s a contract; you do this and I’ll do that. Rather, God set up a COVENANT, a one-way promise with God’s name on the line, that God would be the faithful covenant keeper. And part of that faithfulness was imparting Laws for the health, benefit, and blessing of His people. Keep these and you’ll be better off, because I love you and give you life-giving laws. That’s what covenant BLESSINGS are. And that’s what is described in verse 5, “He shall receive a blessing from the Lord.” Who shall receive it? …“The one with clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.”

    We can’t keep the Law perfectly, but we aren’t talking about earning our salvation, but experiencing God’s blessing. And, in fact, verse 5 points out that righteousness and salvation come from God. They are gracious gifts of God. What a great pointer to Jesus!

    Christ IS the one who has kept the Law perfectly. He is the perfectly righteous one. He is the one who truly has clean hands and a pure heart. And he IS God’s gift of righteousness and salvation. Christ has saved those who trust him through HIS covenant obedience.

    So who can approach God? … all who will come. Who can experience blessing – God’s goodness? …all who obey God’s Word (that’s covenant obedience). What of the fact that at our best we can only do that imperfectly? …Jesus has gone before us and is the best of God’s blessings, God’s good gift of righteousness and salvation for all who trust him.

    And verse 6 tells us how to do that; we “seek His face.”

    Who Seeks His Face? (Romans 10:6-7)

    The New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is the tangible, touchable, seeable, enfleshment of God. Very God of very God; the visible image of the invisible God. We seek God’s face by seeking and following Jesus. That is what Jesus taught about himself as well when he repeatedly invited, “Come, follow me.”

    So how do you do that? That’s where I want to turn to Romans 10. There is a portion of that chapter that brings to mind this language of ascending the holy hill. In Romans 10, Paul writes, “Don’t say ‘Who will ascend into heaven (to bring Christ down)?’ or ‘Who will descend into the abyss (to bring Christ up?’” (vv. 6-7)  We don’t go get Christ; we don’t go grab hold of our salvation by sheer will-power or good works or holiness. Remember, it is a gift of God!

    But God promised salvation and righteousness (rightness with Him) as a covenant. And Psalm 24 reminded us that in addition to the ordinary blessings of living obediently before God there is the ultimate blessing of God’s salvation. So we don’t (and can’t) go get Christ, whether in Heaven, Earth, or Hell. We “seek God’s face” through Christ through belief, trust, and obedience. And Christ leads us – rather shares with us – God’s blessing-gift of salvation and rightness with Him.

    The Word: God Has Come to Get Us (Romans 10:8-9)

    Paul continues in Romans 10 with this wonderful quote, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart… the word of faith we are preaching.” (v. 8) It and the preceding verses are a quote from Deuteronomy 30:12-14, in which God tells his people that hearing His commandments is not difficult. It doesn’t have to be pulled down from heaven or brought from beyond the sea. God has given it as a gift. It is very near, in our mouth and our heart. Like the holy hill in Psalm 24, which is itself not hard or blocked to ascend, we have ACCESS to God’s holy Word. The question is faith and belief. The question is trust. The question is obedience and a willing to seek after Jesus.

    So Paul continues, “If you confess Jesus and believe God raised him, you will be saved.”  (vv. 9-10) In seeking God through Jesus, we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and believe God raised him Savior, then we have and know God’s gift of salvation. Trust what God has done, and follow where He leads. That is how we seek His face.

    Those Who Seek Him

    Who are those who seek him? It is those who come in faith and obedience into the holy presence of God. Just like the holy hill of Psalm 24, our doors are open. Anyone can come in and worship here. But being here doesn’t make you right with God or impart salvation. God’s Word is near; it is read, sung, prayed, enacted, and cherished every Sunday. What will you do with it? God says that listening and obeying His Word is good. And God is ever faithful to meet us through His written Word and through the Incarnate Word, Jesus.

    Do you seek Him? Would you trust Him and follow His Word and His Savior? It is right here; He is right here… near you, in your mouth and in your heart. It is never the wrong time to trust and follow Him for the first time. It is never the wrong time to trust and follow Him again. It is God’s delight to show His faith and make good on His faithful promises. Amen.

    Sunday, November 8, 2015

    The Earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24.1-2, Genesis 1.26-31)

    Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 8, 2015
    Text: Psalm 24:1-2; Genesis 1:26-31

    :: 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 ::
    Hymn of Praise: All Creatures of Our God and King/Give Glory (Dawson/Austell)
    Song of Response: The Power of the Cross (Getty/Townend)
    Song of Confession: Give Us Clean Hands (Charlie Hall)
    Offering of Music: 10,000 Reasons (choir; arr. Lloyd Larson)
    Hymn of Sending: This is My Father's World (TERRA BEATA)
    Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

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

    For the next three weeks we are going to do a mini-series on Psalm 24. As famous as its neighboring Psalm (23) is, this is one you need to know. It has so much in it, from creation to Fall to redemption to consummation. As a Psalm it is poetry and music, and it packs the story of the bible into ten short verses. In many ways this is the song of the Bible.

    Today we will focus primarily on the first two verses, though you will hear all of the Psalm read and we will use parts of it throughout the service. Then over the next two weeks we will move through the rest of the Psalm. I’d encourage you to read it when you have a moment; perhaps even memorize it. And we’ll also sing some of so that hopefully you will have some of it running through your mind and heart that way.

    All the Things, All the People

    The Psalm starts with the beginning, with God as creator of the world and everything in it: 
    The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
    The world, and those who dwell in it.
    For He has founded it upon the seas
    And established it upon the rivers.    (Psalm 24:1-2)
    While it is good and right and helpful that Jesus has named God “Abba, Father” to us, it is easy to lose sight of God’s BIGNESS, God’s sovereignty, God’s authority and power as Creator of all. This Psalm reminds us of that.

    And the Psalm makes an explicit claim: that because God is the Creator, founder, and builder of this world, it all belongs to God – all the things, all the people. That claim raises the two take away questions for today. I’ll state them now and then again at the end.

    Do you believe that everything
    belongs to God?

    If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

    Since these verses call to mind God as Creator, let’s look at part of the Creation account to see what is said there in terms of everything belonging to God.

    What it Means to be a Steward

    We heard part of Genesis 1 this morning. It is the account of God making humanity. I want to highlight just three of many important themes in that account.

    Imago Dei (v. 26) – After creating sun, stars, moon, vegetation, animal life, and a place for each to dwell, God made the first human beings. And what was distinct about humanity was that God made them, male and female, in God’s image. Much thought and writing has gone into describing what that means, but at the least it means there is an awareness, a dignity, a purpose, and a connection to God that is unique to humanity. It is true that later in the biblical story we humans did and do much to distort and damage that image, but the healing and redemption of that true humanity is the Good News, also found in that story in Christ.

    Dominion (v. 26) – In the same verse that describes humanity being created in God’s image, we also read of God giving dominion or rule of the earth to humanity. Like the image of God, we did and do much to distort the kind of godly dominion intended for us; it doesn’t take much to call those distortions to mind, from damaging the earth to mistreating living things, to enslaving and killing one another. But like the image of God, that is not true humanity and true dominion, for God doesn’t rule over us in that way. And Jesus came preaching of the Kingdom God does have in view for us.

    Very Good (v. 31) – Finally, at the end of our text, as God did at the end of each day in the Creation account, God saw that it was good. In fact, after this sixth day and the creation of humanity, God saw that it was “very good.” It is a good reminder of God’s intent for us, even after we failed and fell, that God’s desire and purpose and redemption is for our good and for the good.

    That mixture of good purpose, human shortcoming, and Christ-centered redemption gives us some idea of how we are to relate to this world and all it contains. But there is one other part of the creation account that I would like to highlight. It comes in Genesis 2:15.

    The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

    This verse is the heart of biblical stewardship.  For though much time has passed and we no longer live in paradise, the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. 

    First, let’s look at what “cultivate and keep” really means.  What Adam was doing in the Garden was tending the ground, but in doing so, he was rendering an act of service to God.  Serving God is at the heart of worshiping God.  In fact, the word for ‘cultivate’ or ‘serve’ can also mean ‘tend’ or ‘steward’ and is one of the most used words in the Bible. It is a worship word. Broadly, it is what we offer to God when we recognize that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and God has entrusted a part of it to our care. We are to steward that part, to cultivate and tend it, for it ultimately belongs to him…. our families, our homes, the work of our hands, our money, our time, our dreams; it is all entrusted to us for God’s service. And if it is not something entrusted by God, it doesn’t belong in our life!

    The other key word in that verse is ‘keep’ – which means ‘work within the bounds’ or ‘obey.’ It is beyond our focus today, but it is also a frequent word in the Bible and is connected with worship and a life of following after God. These are what we were made for – to faithfully steward what God has entrusted to us and to obey and honor God in doing so!

    So again I remind you of the two questions arising from our texts this morning:

    Do you believe that everything
    belongs to God?

    If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

    Biblical Models for Stewarding

    Finally, I’d like to offer a brief survey of some of the biblical models for stewarding. Most of you have heard of tithing, but it is just one of many. Each of these could take up an entire class or two, so this will just be a brief listing and explanation. And each fits into a particular place in the history of God’s people. But I think you’ll see a pattern emerge and that’s what I want you to see and hear.

    Cultural Mandate – When Genesis talks about dominion it is understood as a caring and cultivating act, though we also see the significant effects of the Fall on this prime directive.

    Offerings – In Leviticus and elsewhere, God’s people are instructed to make offerings of animals and grains directly to God and to provide for the priests. These are to be the best and first of what each person has.

    Tithing – This is the one most people have heard of. God’s people were instructed to give ten percent of what they took in or grew to the Lord and the priests. This was not the maximum offering; it was the minimum offering, with acts of charity and other offerings in addition to the tithe.

    First Fruits – God’s people were instructed to give the first and best of each crop to the Lord and His work.

    Gleaning – Part of God’s law, you can read one example of the benefit of gleaning in the story of Ruth. God’s people were instructed to leave part of each crop unharvested so that the poor could live off of those portions.

    Love of Neighbor, Care of Neighbor – Made famous to us by Jesus, love and care of neighbor is at the core of the Old Testament Law (which Jesus noted). While not an offering itself, this concept is at the core of stewardship practices like gleaning and is a consistent value in Old and New Testament when it comes to stewardship.

    Sell All You Have – Remember the “eye of the needle” quip? Jesus told a rich man that he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather than thinking about salvation and eternal life, hear the overlap with what we’ve talked about in Genesis with the earth and people belonging to God’s Kingdom and Jesus restoring the true view of human dominion. We were made, not to hoard riches, but to serve God and neighbor with them.

    Not Hoarding – Speaking of not hoarding, Jesus also told a parable about a “Rich Man and Lazarus” where a man’s hoarding of treasure got in the way of his participation in the Kingdom of God.

    Holding all things in Common – The book of Acts describes the early church and describes those early Christians as “holding all things in common.” Rather than being a socialist or communist manifesto, it is simply a description of what that early group understood it to mean that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

    To take any of these practices as the rule for this church or your life is to miss the point. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they had turned tithing into a sinful distortion of its intent. But do you hear the common theme? What each practice DOES point to is an understanding that everything we have belongs to God, including US! And if we belong to God, that has big implications for how we view our time, money, work, family, and purpose.

    We will continue through Psalm 24 over the next few weeks. I encourage you to read it, perhaps memorize it, and to wrestle with these two questions: 

    Do you believe that everything
    belongs to God?

    If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

    Monday, November 2, 2015


    "Welcome Wanderers" Series
    Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
    October 4 - November 1, 2015

    “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

      Sunday, November 1, 2015

      The Love of God (Ephesians 3.6-19)

      Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 1, 2015
      Text: Ephesians 3:6-19

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

      :: Some Music Used ::
      Hymn of Praise: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (arr. Enfield)
      Song of Response: The Power of Your Love (Bullock)
      The Word in Music: The Love of God (arr. Ferguson)
      Offering of Music: Maggie Slade, piano
      Communion Music: Rick Bean, Piano
      Hymn of Sending: And Can it Be (arr. Enfield)
      Postlude: 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.

      Today will be more of a short devotional sermon. Our context is most of Ephesians 3 though we will focus on the love of God described in vv. 14-19. But before we talk about the love of God, let’s consider what has come before.

      The Message

      I chose the Message translation for this part (vv. 6-12) because I knew we wouldn’t have time for me to preach through the whole thing this morning. This translation does a great job of capturing the context for us. And there are two key parts of the context to mention here.

      First, the essence of the Message is found in verse 6: “…people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of Him all their lives stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.”

      We’ve talked about that in recent weeks as we’ve worked through chapter two of Ephesians and as we’ve looked at the story of the Prodigal Son. There were those who had grown up hearing of God – these were the people of God called the Jews. Many of us have grown up hearing of God – also the people of God called the Church. There were and are also those who are outsiders… wanderers… far away; whether Gentiles or way outside the influence of the Church. And an essential part of the Message – God’s Good News – is that being in or out of Israel, in our out of the Church, in our out of cultural Christianity, doesn’t give you advance standing before God. Whether preacher’s daughter or gypsy wanderer, you get the same offer, same help, same promises in Jesus. The Message – and Jesus – is accessible and welcoming across the board.

      Second, Paul introduces as his “life’s work” helping people understand and respond to this Message. Noting his own insufficiency to present the Message to those with no background in God’s way, he says nonetheless that God gave him what he needed. But that’s the Apostle Paul – a superhero, if you will. Here’s the part I want to highlight in verse 10: “Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!”

      Let me say that again with language that should be familiar around here:

      The ordinary work of the church – you and me – is to help people near and far to God understand and respond to this Message.

      What’s the Message again? It’s that people near and far to God ALL have access and welcome with God – the same offer, same help, and same promises in Jesus. Helping people near and far to God understand and respond to that is the everyday work of the church, of you and me. And THAT is God’s extraordinary plan!

      God’s extraordinary plan to love and rescue the world is to use ordinary people like you and me to help people near and far understand and respond to God’s love in Christ. So let’s see what Paul has to say about the love of God.

      Humbled by Love

      Where all this reflection on the breadth of God’s offer and salvation leads Paul is to a kind of song or prayer of praise. Indeed he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” (v. 14) Bowing the knee is not only a posture of prayer, but also an expression of humility. Paul has been humbled by God’s love and now leads us in prayer or song about that love. (And after the sermon, a choral ensemble is going to lead us similarly in song about the love of God.) Let’s briefly walk through what Paul says in this humbled reflection.

      ...from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name (v. 15) – Having explored God’s love for those near and far, Jew and Gentile, rule-bound and prodigal, we remember that God created all human life. We ALL derive our name and our being from God. When God made the great covenant-promise with Abraham, God blessed Abraham and his descendants as His people, but also said that they were being blessed to be a blessing to ALL the nations of the world… all the human family. Likewise, God has blessed us, calling us together as His Church through Jesus in order that we might be a blessing to the whole world. Again, that is the everyday and ordinary work of God’s Church.

      That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man (v. 16) – Remember Paul’s own testimony in v. 7? Paul thought himself as the last person qualified for this work, but God saw to it that he was equipped… nothing to do with his natural abilities. It’s an old saying, but a true one rooted in this passage: “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.” You and I are called together as the Church; and God promises to give us what we need for the work we are to do. We are simply to show up, ask God what He wants us to do, and do it faithfully. And that starts with inner spiritual resolve, also a gift out of the “riches of God’s glory!”

      So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (v. 17) – An interesting statement, that. Scripture tells us that when we trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, he DOES dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. But here it is linked to our actions. I often hear people say, “I just don’t FEEL it; how do I know God is in my heart?” I think this passage is giving us a great key to this question: we feel it when we say ‘yes’ to God’s work. Imagine making the football team and then never going to a practice or game. Would you feel like a member of the team? God says you don’t have to be the star; you don’t have to score or even be particularly skilled. Just show up to practice and the games and listen and follow the coach’s directions. Even better, this coach can impart to you exactly what is needed for the particular situation!

      That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend…the love of Christ (vv. 18-19) – How are we “rooted and grounded in love?” It is through this ordinary and everyday participation in the extraordinary love-in-action of God. That’s what it means to BE the church; that’s what it means to BE a follower of Jesus. And when that happens, we will share in what followers of Christ (aka “the saints”) have known in every age and time: the fullness of the love of Christ – the breadth, length, height, depth… surpassing knowledge. You will be “filled up to all the fullness.” (v. 19)

      The Love of God

      How do you experience the fullness of the love of God? You participate in living out the love of God. It reminds me of that chapter from Jeremiah that we’ve studied several times (ch. 29): how were God’s exiled people to experience the peace (shalom) they longed for? They were to pray for and seek it for their city… the city of their captors!

      Or maybe you realize you don’t really know much about the love of God. God’s love is not giving you what you want when you want it. Think about the best parents you know: good, deep, meaningful love protects, serves, honors, guards. You can learn more about it in 1 Corinthians 13 or here in Ephesians 1-3 or in the stories of Jesus like the Prodigal Son or in the actions of Jesus, who served and loved and sacrificed for others.

      How do you know when you’ve understood or experienced the love of God? I think Paul’s reaction was representative: he bowed his knees before the Father because he had glimpsed just how extraordinary the love of God was. It shouldn’t be something that you have a quick and easy definition for that you can whip out for a dinner party conversation. It should feel more like being knee deep in the crashing waves of the ocean, realizing you are in the midst of something vastly larger and more powerful than you can imagine; yet there you are!

      With Paul, I pray that you may come to comprehend and know more this day and in the days to come what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in Christ. Amen.