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Friday, March 30, 2018

Love One Another (John 13.3-35)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 29, 2018 (Maundy Thursday)
Luke 22:24-27; John 13:3-17,33-35

:: 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 ::
Behold the Lamb, vv.1-3 (Getty/Townend)
CHOIR: Remember Me - song of preparation
Here is Love (Lowry/Rees)
CHOIR: Ah, Holy Jesus

:: Sermon Manuscript ::
There is no manuscript for this sermon. The sermon texts are included below if you'd like to read them or follow along while listening to the audio of the sermon.

Luke 22:24-27
24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. 27 “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

John 13:3-17,33-35
3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. 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.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

All the City Stirred (Matthew 21.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 25, 2018 - Matthew 21:1-11

:: 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." 

::: Scripture and Music ::
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (ELLACOMBE)
Hosanna - Praise is Rising (Brown, Baloche)
Hosanna (Andrew Peterson) - Mike Slade, soloist
All Glory, Laud, and Honor/Hosanna (arr. and refrain, Austell)

:: 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 Palm Sunday! Each year on this day we remember Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem with the crowds waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not only is this event important in its own right, it marks the beginning of Holy Week, which includes the plot against Jesus, his last meal with his disciples, his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, and then on Easter Sunday, his resurrection.

I want to pick up from where we left off last Sunday. We looked at the text immediately preceding this one in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus, the disciples, and a crowd were leaving Jericho to travel to Jerusalem. On the way out two blind men called out to Jesus and he stopped, against the wishes of the crowd, to heal the blind me. Not only were their eyes opened physically, but they followed after Jesus, presumably in this same group coming into Jerusalem, which is where our text picks up this morning in Matthew 21. I mention that because I am struck by the role that spiritual blindness or partial-blindness plays in the Palm Sunday story.

Last Sunday, and then again for those who came out to dinner church on Wednesday night, I asked what you see. What has God opened your eyes to this past week? We will again be challenged with that question as we hear about Jesus revealing himself and a crowd that saw more of what they wanted to see than what Jesus was revealing to them. I pray that we will see more clearly and with open hearts.

Signaling Greatness

As the chapter opens, Jesus and the disciples – and possibly the crowd from Jericho – arrive at the Mount of Olives on the hilltop next to Jerusalem. From there the road dips down into a valley and then rises back up to the gates of Jerusalem. I have walked that path myself, perhaps a 30-45 minute walk. Jesus pauses there at the Mount of Olives and sends two disciples into the village of Bethphage to find a donkey and colt. While that seems very strange to us, the reason becomes quickly clear to the disciples and would have been clear to whomever owned the animals. There was a prophecy from Zechariah (9:9) about the Messiah that specifically said he would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The word had already spread that Jesus might be the Messiah. There had been several instances of the crowd wanting to declare him King. And the expectation at that time among the Jewish people was that the Messiah would be a King to take on the Roman occupation of their country.

So Jesus sending the disciples to get the donkey was a signal. It was him publicly making the claim to be the Messiah. And it set up the reception he was about to get when he entered Jerusalem. And indeed, when the crowd following him saw the donkey, the signal, they went crazy. On the way into the city they cut the palm branches and spread them in the road. They threw their coats down before him, as people would do with royalty. Many ran ahead and everyone began shouting news of the arrival of the Messiah, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” The signal had been given and everyone responded.

But here’s the thing: they saw what they wanted to see, but were blind to the truth. Ironic, since the last miracle had been healing blindness and rebuking a crowd for not having the patience for the Son of David to fulfill his calling. I wonder if the two healed blind men who had followed Jesus from Jericho really saw Jesus for the Messiah he was or if they were swept along with the crowd.

For Those With Eyes to See

There was much more to see for those with eyes to see. It had been there all along, of course, from the Messianic prophecies of a suffering servant to Jesus own teaching about the Kingdom that was not like an earthly kingdom. Most of his parables were “the Kingdom of God is like” parables, but that did not seem to keep the crowds from expecting him to fight the Roman Empire. All that is present right here in the Palm Sunday text as well.

The prophecy points the way: “Behold your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” It’s like all the people heard was “Your King is coming!” But an earthly king, a warrior, one to take on Rome would be on a warhorse, right? Not this King! He rode a lowly creature, a beast of burden, one who carried the burdens of others. And did you hear the whole prophecy? “Your King is coming, GENTLE and mounted on a donkey.” That sure seems out of place in describing a warrior. Yes, the Messiah is a King, but like the Kingdom of God, it is not of this world. This King is gentle and comes to serve others.

That should sound familiar: it is what Jesus has been teaching in the previous chapters. We talked about it here. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, the mother of two of them asking for special seats for her two sons. Jesus responded that greatness in the Kingdom of God meant loving and serving God and others. He was the gentle and serving King, but with their great expectations and hopes the crowd seemed to miss that entirely.

Hosanna, Save Us Now!

They know all the right scripture, shouting out one of the great Messianic texts from Psalm 118: “Hosanna, blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Literally ‘hosanna’ means “save us now!” It is a cry for help and salvation, exactly the right words (salvation) spoken to exactly the right person (God’s Messiah) but not understanding. The salvation they imagined was freedom from Roman rule of Israel. No more Roman taxes, no more Roman soldiers, and restoration to the glory days when King David sat strong on the throne of an independent kingdom.

The next verse in Psalm 118 speaks of God’s light or illumination. It speaks of a sacrifice on the altar. The salvation was not political, but was spiritual and existential… atonement for sin and reconciliation with God. Jesus was indeed the right person at the right time offering the right thing. He was God’s Messiah, bringing news of God’s Kingdom, and about to accomplish God’s salvation to claim humanity back from the clutches of sin and death. But everyone’s eyes were fixed elsewhere even though all that was in plain sight.

The good news is that they didn’t have to understand fully for Jesus to love and serve them with his life and his death. That’s the gift of his love for humanity. He died and offered forgiveness even for those who “know not what they do.” His disciples and others and Jesus himself would help unpack the meaning of his death and resurrection afterwards.

All the City Was Stirred

But the crowd and the city also didn’t miss him altogether. We read in verse 10 that “all the city was stirred.” And they were asking, “Who is this?” So somewhere between no knowledge and full knowledge, a whole city recognized that God was doing something.

I am always thankful when someone is aware of God stirring in their life. The hardest person to deal with spiritually is the person who is indifferent to God. But someone who notices spiritual things or even one who is antagonistic to God is at least partially tuned in. The Palm Sunday crowd was looking for God to work and to work mightily. They just missed. But note that Jesus pressed forward amidst the passionate, the misdirected, the confused, and even those who would betray him.

As I consider what we might take away from today’s text, there are two things that come to my mind.

First, are you stirred? I asked last week if you could see God at work and what you have seen. Do you have any sense that there is a God who is at work in the world and stirring you to think about spiritual things? If not, but you’d like to know more, I encourage you to pay attention to those stirrings. Use the prayer of the two blind men, who simply cried out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”

Secondly, if you are looking for where God is and what God is doing, examine your focus… examine your lenses. It is easy, like the Palm Sunday crowd, to look for our version of God and our version of God’s rescue. But the declaration of prophets, apostles, and Jesus himself – this Word of God – is that we do not create God, He created us. God is not validated only when our dreams or wishes or prayers come true. God IS and has come among us announcing His Kingdom – His rule and reign. King Jesus is gentle and serves us, but it is not as a waiter taking our order, but as a Shepherd caring lovingly for His flock. It is as a parent caring for a beloved child. It is as one who would lay down his life for you. Indeed, Hosanna – save us, now! But save us, Lord, as you would, not as we would.

So I’ll ask again: Can you see? What do you see?

Look closely, listen intently. God not only gives sight, but invites us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)  Amen!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sight for the Blind (Matthew 20.29-34)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 18, 2018 - Matthew 20:29-34

:: 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 ::
Open the Eyes of My Heart (Baloche)
Open Our Eyes (Cull)
CHOIR: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (arr. Manor)
Lord Have Mercy (Merkel)
Glory to God Forever (Fee, Beeching)

:: 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.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me 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)

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. (Ephesians 1:18-19a)

Hear the Good News: Jesus gives sight to the blind. And though he healed physical blindness, the greater miracle is opening our spiritual eyes to see God.

Can you see? What can you see? What do you see? Jesus would speak to you this morning.

Blind Men Stood on the Road and Cried (vv.29-30)

Every week Melissa and I have chapel with the children at our preschool. A few years ago we did the story of Jesus healing a blind man and I taught them a song called “Blind Man” which has become one of their favorites. The words are simple… I’ll sing the first verse to you:

Blind man stood on the road and he cried
Blind man stood on the road and he cried
Blind man stood on the road and he cried
He cried, “Oh, oh, oh…
Show me the wa-a-a-ay
Show me the wa-a-a-ay
Show me the wa-a-a-ay
The way to go home.

Jesus healed the blind more than once, which is no surprise given the words he read from the prophet Isaiah to begin his public ministry of teaching and healing. By the time this story takes place in the timeline of Jesus’ ministry, people have heard of Jesus and gather in crowds to hear him and witness the miraculous signs he performed. In fact, this is the last miracle recorded in Matthew before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, five days before his crucifixion. It is right after the passage we looked at last week, in which Jesus lifted up serving God and others as the greatest thing.

We read that as Jesus and the disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men sitting on the side of the road heard that he was coming by and called out loudly to him: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (v.30)  Calling Jesus “Son of David” was acknowledging him as the Messiah, who was understand to come from the line of David. And more than one prophecy in the Hebrew scriptures spoke of the Messiah healing the blind and helping them to see. So they were crying out in faith, believing or at least hoping that this was in fact the Messiah, and the one who could help them see. Now it’s not clear if they wanted or anticipated more than physical healing. You might wonder why they didn’t shout “Heal us!” But it may be that simple – that the Messiah taking time to hear them and heal them was a great mercy. But, as it turns out, there was much more involved!

Shush (v.31)

The reaction of the crowd both fascinates and concerns me. This was a crowd presumably following Jesus in hopes that he was the Messiah. Given the times, it was likely a distorted understanding of Messiah as political figure, King David returned to confront the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, their reaction to these blind men calling out to Jesus AS the Messiah clearly misses something. The prophet Isaiah had written about the Messiah healing the blind. Jesus himself had already performed many signs of healing, including giving sight to the blind. Why would the crowd not want to see Jesus perform another miracle?

Perhaps they thought the time for signs was over… time to head on to Jerusalem to march in victory. Jesus and the crowd were, after all, headed toward Jerusalem. The very next passage is the Palm Sunday passage. But no time for healing?

Perhaps, as is human nature, they had found the truth and were “in” and were not focused on those who had not yet heard or followed or joined in. As we’ve seen the past few weeks, the last several teachings of Jesus recorded here in Matthew were focused on others rather than self. Maybe Jesus was directly addressing a self-focus he saw evidenced in the disciples and the crowd that followed him.

Maybe all of the above. It leads me to pause to remind you of my desire to not only welcome, but embrace visitors, children, and those new to this fellowship who may dress differently, make noise, move around, or otherwise seem like a distraction. Hear this, whether you identify with the crowd or with the blind men: these two calling out loudly for God’s mercy were not a distraction to Jesus, they were why he was there in the first place. If church gets loud, if church gets messy, if there are babies and new faces and rattling papers and children having trouble focusing… PRAISE THE LIVING LORD! I remember a while back when God was really leading us out beyond the walls of our church. I warned you that it might get messy and loud. And I challenged you that if that happened, not to withdraw, not to get nervous and resistant, but to recognize that it was working… God was, in fact, working in us and through us as good neighbors in this neighborhood.

As it turned out, I think – I hope – that the two men were not the only ones that had their eyes opened that day. Those who were listening and paying attention to Jesus also glimpsed God’s will and God’s purpose. It is my prayer that whether you identify with the blind men or with the followers of Jesus, you too will SEE God in our midst and God at work.

Mercy, Sight, and More (v.31-34)

The crowd did not dissuade the two blind me. They cried out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” And Jesus stopped and called out to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they answered, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.”

With detail that I appreciate so much, we read that Jesus was moved with compassion, touched their eyes, and healed them. They had called out for mercy and that’s exactly how Jesus responded. Compassion is full-blown mercy. It’s not just the act of kindness, but the sympathetic and empathetic connection with a person’s situation that stirs response. Jesus didn’t just bestow healing as a sign of his power and authority. He was moved by their situation and their plea. And he reached out, touched them, and healed them, restoring their sight, but also instigating more. They connected back. They didn’t just start seeing, they also followed him. There’s so much that happens in that one verse (v.34): “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed him.”

That’s Jesus; that’s the Triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit. God is not remote and detached, but has created us in love, pursued us relentlessly across time and history, and come among us in the flesh and then in spirit. God is personal and is vitally interested in humanity and in you. This is evidenced in Jesus’ life and ministry as a whole and it is demonstrated in this particular encounter.

Receiving vs. Following

Last week I confessed my tendency – and perhaps yours as well – to approach God with a “what can you do for me?” attitude. And indeed, God does invite us to make known our wants and needs. But God is so much more! These men cried out for mercy and asked for healing and they were not wrong for doing so. But notice how Jesus’ response re-orients everything. As we talked about last week, his teaching lines up with God’s words in the Hebrew scriptures through Jeremiah: as you seek the shalom or blessing of others, as you pray for others, you will come to know that peace and blessing for yourself. His teaching undergirds what the Apostle Paul would later write about what food Christians should or should not eat: let the defining question be what is God’s best for those around you rather than what you want. There is great freedom in Christ, but it is most experienced with heart set on God and on others.

In our call to worship, we heard a wonderful metaphor about the heart. The same Apostle Paul writes and prays in Ephesians 1, “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened… to know the hope… riches… and greatness… of God toward us who believe.” Paul’s prayer describes the gift Jesus gave those two men and the gift he offers us. We may be asking God to “fix our eyes” and the greater gift he offers is to “fix our eyes on Him.” Those two men regained their sight and followed Jesus. I believe the greater gift, the greater healing, was fixing their eyes on Jesus and following after him.

There is a second verse to that simple song I began with. It goes like this:

Jesus stood on the road and he cried
Jesus stood on the road and he cried
Jesus stood on the road and he cried
He cried, “Oh, oh, oh…
I am the wa-a-a-ay
I am the wa-a-a-ay
I am the wa-a-a-ay
The way to go home.

Can you see? What can you see? What do you see?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Can I Be Your Favorite? (Matthew 20.17-28)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 11, 2018 - Matthew 20:17-28

:: 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 ::
Glory to God Forever (Fee)
How Great the Father's Love for Us (Townend)
CHOIR: Compassion Hymn (arr. Courtney)
Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love (Colvin, folk melody)

:: 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.

This is a week I'd particularly commend the audio over the written draft below.

Today we continue our focus on freedom in Christ, but between now and Easter we also turn to some of the texts describing Jesus’ last weeks and days leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. In fact our text begins today with the third of four examples of Jesus predicting or being aware of his impending death. In Matthew 16:21 we read that from that point Jesus began telling his disciples about what was coming in Jerusalem concerning his death and resurrection, though indicators are that most or all of them only heard selectively beforehand, probably interpreting his words into their preconceived ideas about the Messiah. But Jesus continued to speak of his death. In Matthew 17:22-23 he tells them in more detail and we read that they were grieved. Here, in Matthew 20, he adds additional details, mentioning betrayal and being handed over to the Gentiles (the Romans). He will predict his death one more time just days beforehand, as recorded in Matthew 26:2.

In that context, then, we have this interesting exchange with the mother of two disciples and then with the rest of the disciples. We will look first at the exchange with the mother, then at the exchange with the other disciples. Then we’ll consider the implications for our own freedom and how we follow Jesus.

Just Looking Out for My Boys (vv.20-23)

Starting in verse 20 there is this interesting request from the mother of two disciples. First, let me offer even a little more context. In the prior chapter (19:27-30), Peter had probably kicked off this whole topic. He asked Jesus, “We have left everything and followed you; what then will there be for us?” (v.27)  Jesus responded and said that the disciples would join him in the new heavens and new earth as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. I know, that raises questions, but is not our focus this morning. And Jesus mysteriously ends his response by saying, “Many who are first will be last; and the last, first.” (v.30) Then, in Matthew 20, he tells this strange parable about laborers in a vineyard who all agree to a certain wage but then complain when, at the end of the day, they realize that some who came late worked less with a different wage. Again, too much there to unpack today, but it is helpful context to know that two things were on the minds of the disciples: their personal status and reward for faithfulness, and how they compared to each other and other non-disciples. Said more simply: What is the benefit of following Jesus?

So it is no wonder that the mother of James and John asked the question. And it’s not like she rode a camel in from the country to confront the Rabbi. We can piece together names and information from the Gospels to name her as Solome (not the one who danced for Herod), one of the several women who traveled with and followed Jesus, likely a relative of Mary, and one of those who went with spices to the tomb on Easter morning. She was just looking out for her boys. She came and kneeled down or bowed low to make a request of Jesus: “Command that in your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on your right and one on your left.” (v.21) He had already said that the disciples would be seated around him in the Kingdom to come. She wanted to make sure they were in prominent positions and roles when he came into his own.

Jesus does not seem angry or put out, but responds to the two disciples, who are apparently also present: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (v.22) He is thinking of the suffering that is to come and the judgment for the world’s sin that he is about to bear. They enthusiastically claim, “We are able!” (v.22) But he presses on, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on my right and on my left, this is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (v.23) They will indeed share in Jesus’ suffering, though not in the same sense he does. And he defers the question of sitting on his right and left; it is the Father’s decision. Though his response harkens back to talk of the disciples’ role in the world to come, and does use ‘sit’ at his right and left, I cannot help but picture the thieves hanging on crosses on the right and left of Jesus as those who truly share in suffering and the judgment for sin in the way he means. All in all, he seems to be telling the two disciples and their mother, “You don’t understand what is happening or about to happen.” They will indeed share in what he is about to do, but he does it in their place even as he does in our place. He is also further illustrating what he would illustrate many times: God’s Kingdom is not of this world; it is an “upside-down Kingdom” where power is upended and true peace, justice, and rightness with God is restored. Those who follow closely to Jesus will indeed share with him, but in roles and ways that are unexpected to the mindset of this world.

Can You Believe Those Two!? (vv.24-28)

In verse 24 we read, “And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.” They also want in on the power and the good seats. This won’t be the last time they argue about who is the best and the favorite among the disciples. Since apparently they did not understand the answer Jesus just gave, he calls them over and expands on the lesson: in this world rulers lord over people and exercise authority… “but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” (vv.26-27) It’s more of the first shall be last and the last shall be first. This is about the fourth repeat of that lesson in a row! And he will have to repeat it some more until he dons the towel to wash their feet on the night before crucifixion that we call Maundy Thursday. Then finally he will demonstrate the lesson by his own suffering and death on the cross.

And it is himself that he holds up as example here: do this “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (v.28) If you can’t get the lesson, then at least take note of the teacher. The disciples and the mother of James and John had this right: the way to greatness is to attach themselves closely to Jesus. But he redefines greatness as… are you ready for this… serving God and serving others. He defines faithfulness as loving God and loving others. He defines freedom as living life within the bounds God has provided and giving your life away in love and service to God and the world God loves.

And that’s the lead in to our application and the theme of freedom. 

Real Freedom

Last week I said that freedom is not doing whatever you want, but living within the bounds given by a loving, wise God. This week Jesus fine tunes that definition: freedom is not attaching to or riding the coat-tails of the powerful, but following Jesus’ own teaching and example, which is to service and love of God and other. I realize this sounds like everything boils down to a simple Sunday school answer. But it is a profound answer and we struggle to grasp it as much or more than the disciples did.

We often want to approach and use God in a “what can you do for me?” mentality, perhaps even with good intentions. We don’t want to become kings and queens of the world, we just want a little blessing, prosperity, and happiness. But the message keeps coming back throughout scripture: true blessing, true freedom, true peace, is most keenly known when we are living in the heart of God’s will, God’s best for us. The lie is that God pins us down, ties us up, and limits our freedom. But the truth is that there is no better place to be then the center of God’s will and God’s best. That’s the boundaries of freedom. We were enslaved to sin and self and God has set us free. But that is not freedom to more sin and self, but freedom to discover God’s best and live there.

That takes a mindful submission. We must choose to follow Jesus and honor the life-flourishing boundaries God provides. And God does not abandon us when we go off the rails. Thank God He does not abandon us when we go off the rails! But real freedom and real life is there trusting, seeking, and serving God. Think about the parable of the Prodigal Son. He was miserable out doing his own thing, but that did not change his father’s love or desire for him to return home. It did not eliminate the home that he had, even though he couldn’t imagine returning to it as anything but a hired hand. But there was true life and freedom and his father looking out and ready to celebrate his coming home.

When we start with “what can God do for me?” it is easy to get disillusioned, disappointed, and disinterested. Consider Jesus’ response and come see where God will lead you, where God will move you, how God will invite you in to that place of freedom, life, and peace. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lawful and Profitable (1 Corinthians 10.23-33)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 4, 2018 - 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

:: 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 ::
Come Praise and Glorify (Sovereign Grace)
Holy is the Lord (Tomlin/Giglio)
In My Life, Lord, Be Glorified (song of confession)
CHOIR: Your Love Will Be My Song (Choplin)
To God Be the Glory

:: 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 continue today in a series on spiritual freedom, the result of the truth of the human condition and the grace of God in response to it. So often we focus exclusively on truth or on grace, moving into extremes that move beyond biblical teaching. These excesses can be described as legalism (over-focus on the rules) or license (over-focus on getting away with something). But the biblical reality and God’s intent is to hold truth and grace in balance, in order to experience freedom in Christ. Today we continue in 1 Corinthians, where Paul has used a specific example of eating meat sacrificed to false gods (idols) to explore some of these matters. I want to divide the text up into three sections to follow Paul’s line of thought and we will consider how it all applies to us today.

Proposition: Lawful and Profitable (vv.23-24)

Paul begins with his main proposition in verse 23. Now remember that he’s been building up to this for several chapters. We first talked about the specific example of eating meat sacrificed to idols two weeks ago in chapter 8. Now we are in chapter 10 and he’s still talking about that, but moving into the broader application he sees in this particular situation. He writes:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.
All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

Now he’s writing in good Jewish form, repeating himself but with two slightly different thoughts to present a fuller picture. By ‘lawful’ he doesn’t mean keeping the speed limit lawful, but is referring to God’s Law… that is, what is allowed by God’s Law or God’s Word. But he is writing as a follower of Christ, for whom Christ has fulfilled or explained significant portions of God’s Law. Said another way, Paul’s premise is that though there are some things we are allowed to do, there are other considerations than simply “being allowed.” And he gives two qualifiers here: being profitable and edifying. While ‘profitable’ conjures to mind profits and money, the sense here is more “what is good for you.” And he has already used the word ‘edify’ in the previous chapters, to focus on the well-being of others. So it carries the sense of “what is good for others.” So Paul is saying that there is great freedom in Christ, but there are at least two guiding principles for how we use that freedom: what is good for us and what is good for others. And since our opinion of what is good for ourselves might be all over the map, Paul would clarify ‘good’ as God’s good or God’s best for us in this way: we are free so that we might pursue God’s best for us and for others.

And on top of that, in the next verse, Paul adds this reminder, which he has already lifted up in the two previous chapters: “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.” (v.24) Again, the sense of that first part is “let no one seek FIRST or ONLY his own good, but that of his neighbor.” I am reminded of Jeremiah 29 and God’s message to the Exiles to seek the shalom – the blessing and peace – of their captors and in doing so they would find God’s blessing and peace for themselves. Jesus and now Paul very much lifted up that same concept that when we love God first, then our neighbor, then that’s the best way to experience God’s love and blessing in our own life. That is what is ultimately “profitable”!

Specific Application and Examples (vv.25-30)

So in verses 25-30 Paul returns to the specific situation and application regarding the meat sold in the market in Corinth. And now he walks this situation through the filter of his proposition in the preceding verses.

Is it lawful? – Yes, he says: “Eat anything sold in the meat market… for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains.” God allows it! God had given Peter a vision along these lines for the new Christian movement; it was not necessary to keep the kosher food laws because all that they signified and pointed to had been fulfilled in Christ. He was now the Bread of Life, our spiritual food and drink, and we are free to enjoy food as a good gift of God.

What if an unbeliever invites you and sets food before you? Paul says that you are free and the unbeliever’s conscience is clear. Go ahead! Refusing might even cause offense or provide a poor witness. (For some reason this makes me think of the notorious under-tipping of Christians in restaurants. If that’s news to you, ask any server about it and ask them to be honest.)

What if someone raises the question about the meat being associated with idol worship? That’s where Paul’s other questions provide guidance. Is it good for you or them to go ahead? Well, perhaps, if you have a chance to sit down and teach and explain. But in the moment, better to just not partake so as not to cause offense or confusion to the conscience of the other person. It would seem that Paul has been in both situations in Corinth and has received some questions or critique. So, in part, he is also writing to clarify his motives and method. And I’m thankful for the peek inside his thought process!

Broad Application (vv.31-33)

In verses 31-33, Paul returns to a broader guiding principle that can be used for any number of situations. He leads from the specific – “whether you eat or drink” – and expands to everything – “or whatever you do” – do all to the glory of God. This is where we get the threefold priority: God, others, self. Instead of focusing on “mmm, do I want this delicious steak” or “how do I vote?” or “what should we do about school violence?” or any number of other specific applications of our day, a follower of God first asks: What will bring glory to God?

Then Paul focuses on others – the watching world that God loves – and cautions against creating obstacles or scandals to their faith or your witness to God. He warns “give no offense.” Mind you that giving glory to God is a certain kind of offense to those who reject God. But that is not what is in view here. Paul wrote about that in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians. Here he is talking about our words and actions tripping up someone or blinding them from seeing or hearing about God. And you see his end goal at the end of verse 33: it is “so that they may be saved.” So after asking what will bring glory to God? we must ask: What is God’s best for those around me, believer and unbeliever alike?

And finally, if Jeremiah and Jesus and Paul are right, then when we seek first the Kingdom of God and pray and seek for the blessing and peace of the friends, strangers, and even enemies that Jesus classifies as ‘neighbor’… then we will be headed towards God’s best for us. That is what is lawful and profitable. May God bless our hearing of His Word. Amen.