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Sunday, June 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fool (Psalm 14)

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

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

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

The Jester

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

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

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

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

The Righteous Fool (Romans 3)

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

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

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

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

God’s Fool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Everlasting Love (Psalm 136, Ephesians 3.14-19)

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

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

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

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: there is no manuscript this week
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Glory of God (vv. 1-3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dignity, Bound and Set Free (Hebrews 2)

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

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

Dignity, Captivity, and Freedom

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Knows Me (vv. 1-6)

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

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

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

God Sees Me (vv. 7-12)

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

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

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

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

God Made Me (vv. 13-18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Lives and Works In Me (Acts 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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