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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Gutsy Compassion (Philippians 2.1d,2d, Psalm 103, Luke 10.30-37)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 31, 2019 - Philippians 2:1d,2d; Psalm 103; Luke 10:30-37

:: 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." 

::: Music ::
Mighty to Save (Morgan, Fielding)
Hear the Call of the Kingdom (Getty, Townend)
Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service (BEACH SPRING)

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

Today’s text contains one of my favorite words – compassion.

In the call to worship from Psalm 103 we heard it over and over. The Lord is compassionate and gracious. God crowns us with compassion. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear or worship Him. The result of God’s compassion is His lovingkindness and it is from everlasting to everlasting. It doesn’t run out!

In our series on having the attitude of Christ, we have been moving slowly through Philippians 2. There we are commended to have the affection and compassion of Christ. It is, in fact, described as our “one purpose.”

And Jesus famously told stories about compassion: the compassion of the Father in the Prodigal Son story, the story of a great debtor and the man who forgave him, and the story of the Good Samaritan, which you heard today.

Today I want to talk to you about what it means, how you show it, and how you grow it.

Feeling is Tied to Action

Compassion literally means “suffer with.” It is the emotion and the interest in others that stirs us to caring action. It is the motivation behind love of neighbor. Jesus would see a sick person, or an outsider, or even a hungry crowd, and he would feel compassion toward them. And in each case, he would act in some way. In the story of the Good Samaritan two people passed by a man who had been beaten and robbed. They saw the man’s condition; they took note of it. But they did not feel compassion. How do I know? Well, they may have felt sorry for the man, but compassion is a specific response that is tied to action. It is not feeling sorry for; it is suffering with.

The Good Samaritan gives us a picture of compassion. The story tells us that he saw him and “felt compassion.” But even without that narrative note, we would have understood that he did because he took time to tend his wounds and take care of him. Interestingly enough, the Samaritan also had to keep moving (as did the first two too-busy folks who didn’t stop); but the Samaritan took the man to an inn and made sure that he would continue to get the help he needed. At the end of the story Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” The answer: “The one who showed mercy toward him.” And Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.”

Compassion is part of the definition of being a good neighbor. It is a feeling but it is tied to “showing mercy” – an action. And Jesus wants us to go and do the same!

Compassion with Guts!

People in Jesus day had an interesting way of talking about compassion. In English we locate deepest feelings in the heart: as in “I love you with all my heart.” In Jesus’ day the equivalent would be something like “I love you with all my guts!” – which, you gotta admit, is further down than our heart!  

In our translation of Philippians 2:1, we read “If there is any affection and compassion.” ‘Affection’ is the English translators trying to say something like ‘heartfelt.’ But if you have the sanctuary Bible open you’ll see a footnote that ‘affection’ is literally ‘inward parts.’ In Jesus day, people thought the deepest feelings came from deep down, literally from your guts. It’s also a pretty fun word to say: splachnon… guts.

We actually haven’t lost that idea; we just don’t use it with compassion. I’ve heard kids say “I hate you with all my guts.” Or talking about courage we still will say “that was a gutsy move.” That means it was really brave mixed with real commitment… perhaps more than I would have in a similar situation. We sometimes say that with a mix of admiration and incredulity.

To get a sense of what biblical compassion is, I’d like you to apply some of those uses of ‘guts’ and ‘gutsy’ back onto the idea of compassion. So for Paul, writing Philippians, the kind of compassion we are to show is like that of Jesus, which is “gutsy compassion” – something that that is more than surface and skin deep. Rather, true compassion comes authentically from the deepest part of who we are. Remember it is connected to being a good neighbor and to showing mercy. It’s the kind of thing that might even stir some incredulity.

It’s also purposeful and committed. I think that’s what Paul means at the end of the verse in Philippians about being “intent on one purpose.” That purpose is the compassion we are talking about. Remember the Samaritan helping immediately and also following through with the innkeeper. That’s gutsy compassion. It responds quickly, but also thoughtfully plans ahead. It was unexpected: why would a Samaritan (a foreigner of a different religion) help a Jewish man? Because that’s compassion… gutsy and godly. That’s a Good Neighbor. That’s what Jesus is like.

What might gutsy compassion look like?

It could be taking an interest in the education and welfare of elementary age kids at our neighborhood school or in our neighborhood. Several folks in our congregation do that, tutoring or subbing at Olde Providence Elementary or helping in other ways. We have, in the past, made connections with some families with significant economic need in the neighborhoods behind our church. I have prayed for God to stir up some people to do that again.

Gutsy compassion might look like visiting some of our members in assisted living facilities, sitting for a conversation or to play a hand of cards or to pray together. Or helping give rides to folks who can no longer drive. Any of our deacons would be a good way to get into those ministries.

Gutsy compassion might stir you to give up some time to help with our youth or children’s ministry, to help with one of the outreach projects we are planning for the year, or to be a part of our prayer ministry.

I think the first question is: where is God stirring you? We’ve spent some time this year on that question… asking what God is doing and responding with “Here I am.” Has God been nudging you this year? It’s easy to think of those kinds of things in terms of programs or ministries, but I think the most effective and lasting ministries are those stirred up and fueled by true compassion. Where do you see need around us? Is it in our neighborhoods? In greater Charlotte? In our culture? In the world? Where is your heart – your guts! – moved on behalf of others? That’s the first step towards responding with compassion like Christ.

Growing in Compassion

A last question, and perhaps this is one on your mind: how do you get and develop that kind of compassion? Most of us can’t just summon it out of nowhere. Many times, we may find ourselves relating more to those who passed by than to the Samaritan of gutsy compassion.

I can think of two ways to get and grow that kind of compassion. One is through suffering. One way to be attuned to the suffering of others is if you have been through it yourself. Now, this isn’t to say we should go out looking for suffering or put ourselves through it in some artificial kind of way. But it is to say that if you have been through suffering, you are uniquely equipped to notice and respond to the suffering of others. You may well find yourself strangely moved, strongly moved, when you see another person suffering, particularly if it is in a way similar to the way you did. Encouraging and helping others through something you have faced is one way God sometimes redeems the suffering we have experienced. Don’t hear me saying that if you have suffered you somehow owe God something. Rather, know that you may have a capacity – a depth – of compassion that only comes through suffering.

I do think, however, that it is possible to have and show compassion, even gutsy compassion, without having suffered. That comes through paying attention, through noticing others’ suffering, and responding in love. It can come through walking with and alongside someone, even if you have not experienced what they are experiencing. That caring companionship is compassion.

How do we grow compassion? I think it comes through growing in Christ, who is compassionate. It comes through growing in our love of neighbors, others, which is what Jesus taught us to do. Again, that is what I think Paul means by “intent on one purpose.

He wrote, “If there is any affection and compassion – any gutsy compassion – make my joy complete by being intent on one purpose.”

See what you notice this week – WHO you notice. Is there an opportunity to walk alongside, to help, to care? What would “gutsy compassion” look like? And can you set your intent on that purpose: showing gutsy compassion like Jesus? With his help, each of us can! Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Fellowship of the Spirit (Philippians 2.1c-2c, Psalm 51, John 17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 24, 2019 - Philippians 2:1c,2c; Psalm 51:10-12; John 17:20-23

:: 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." 

::: Music ::
In Christ There is No East Or West (ST. PETER)
Spirit of the Living God (Iverson; v2 Baughen)
Create In Me (Shepardson, Ferguson)
CHOIR: Amazing Grace (arr. Forman)
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.

We are continuing in a series called “Full Alignment,” in which we are talking about what it means to line up our mind, heart, and actions with those of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2, Paul writes that we are to “have the same attitude” that was in Christ Jesus. In the first week I talked about how ‘attitude’ is not only an emotional state, but is used in aviation to describe pitch, yaw, and roll – what it means to align a plane on every axis so that it’s flight will be true. The dangers of a misaligned attitude are certainly at the forefront of the news right now with the 737 Max planes being grounded. It sounds like a faulty sensor fed false information into the plane’s computer. What a tragic parable for us as we think about the information we take into our lives as we try to maintain a Christ-like course, a Christ-like attitude.

Today we will be looking at the third of four attitudes or readings in the alignment of the Christian life. To plug those into the full verse Paul writes, we read:

If there is any… fellowship of the Spirit… make my joy complete by being… united in spirit. (vv. 1c,2c)

Today we’ll try to understand the fellowship and unity of the Spirit and why those things are important for being in “full alignment” with Christ.

Fellowship of the Spirit

I want to talk first about ‘fellowship’ and what it means. It’s something we enjoy in a number of settings, a kind of camaraderie or enjoyable connection, like on a team or among a group of friends. For church people it can describe social gatherings like a potluck dinner or the close-knit connections in a small group or prayer gathering. In fact, sometimes the whole community of a church is referred to as “a fellowship.” But those are all examples of what I would call fellowship with a lower-case ‘f’.

The greater fellowship is with God and when God is present. And the Holy Spirit is what enables us to experience God’s presence with us and among us. Consider the language in Psalm 51, David’s prayer of confession after Nathan confronted him about his sin with Bathsheba. David prays for a clean heart and a renewed spirit, then prays:

Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” (v.11)

In Hebrew form, he is essentially saying the same thing twice: God’s presence is the presence of the Holy Spirit with David, and with us. The fellowship of the Spirit is the reality and experience of God with us through the Holy Spirit. And out of that fellowship with God overflows the human inter-connection that is human fellowship. In fact, it is a reflection of humanity created in God’s image that has gifted us with capacity and desire for fellowship.

So yes, while we can experience soccer fellowship around a shared interest, or dinner-club fellowship around a love for food, it is Spirit-fellowship that those point toward and for which God created us. And that is, like the Great Commandment, fellowship with God and with neighbor. That’s the fellowship of the Spirit, upward and outward.

United in Spirit

That fellowship of the Spirit is also unifying because it is God’s unchanging Spirit at the heart of it. Team allegiances may change; dinner tastes may vary; but God’s Spirit is eternal and unchanging.

We did not look at it today, but most of the book of Ephesians is given to the topic of unity and the Holy Spirit. Writing to a diverse group of new believers, to Jews and Greeks, to different cultures, Paul exhorts the early church in Ephesus and surrounding areas, as he does here in Philippians, to seek unity in the Spirit. Unity does mean we all think alike or parrot the same sets of words and phrases. In fact, God’s Kingdom is characterized by a stunning array of gifts, personalities, races, languages, and expressions. But they are nonetheless united in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

What does that look like practically here at Good Shepherd? Well, we exhibit a range of tastes and preferences. We vote differently. We come from different backgrounds and parts of the country. We are different ages and stages. Some like more traditional instruments and harmony; some like more modern instrumentation and rhythm. But we worship the same Christ. We read the same Scriptures and seek to follow them. We don’t set our earthly allegiances and preferences above obedience to Christ or above the bonds of love within the community. We bear with one another in love. We seek forgiveness when wronged. We comfort when afflicted. We sharpen one another where there is space for trust and questions and conversation.

In fact, I experienced the unity and fellowship of the Spirit with a fellow pastor. That person had posted an article on Facebook that was typical enough, expressing disagreement over something they had read online. Well that happens every moment of every day, right. But the way the comments were framed, all the friends of one theological/political persuasion jumped on board for what is, these days, a pretty typical stereotyping and condemnation of folks who are on “the other side.” Since this was a friend and colleague I reached out privately and shared that her comments, directed at a group “out there” actually might as well be directed against me. And I just encouraged her to recognize that, like many of us do often, she might have crossed a line into tearing down the relationships she values. Well, she pulled it down and wrote something in its place, holding up the value of unity and fellowship of the Spirit, even in disagreement over particulars. In it she was able to make the same point about her own beliefs and values, but crossed the line into BUILDING UP relationships she values. What a difference, and what a demonstration of the fellowship and unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ. And, interestingly enough, some 10x the number of people responded compared to the first piece, thanking her for the positive tone and active interest in building up rather than tearing down.

What does it look like for our pitch, yaw, or roll to get out of alignment? It could be our political preferences becoming our first uniting priority or shutting others out. It could be our personal style preferences getting in the way of experiencing the presence of God in our worship. It could be making church about what I get more than whom I serve and whom I do it with.

Having said all that makes me recognize that fellowship and unity of the Spirit is not easy or automatic. There is no auto-pilot for being Church together. It takes attention, renewal, and a constant calibration to that upward and outward focus, which is fellowship and which is love. But it’s worth it! It’s not just something God asks of us, but something that blesses us.

It also blesses the world around us.

That the World May Know (John 17:23)

I’d also like to say a word about the reason for desiring this fellowship and unity of the Spirit. Paul tells us in Philippians that it is to emulate Jesus, to calibrate our lives to his. I’ve also shared that though it takes effort to experience, it also brings blessing to us. But I’d also like to direct you to Jesus’ prayer for you.

In John 17 Jesus is praying just before his arrest and crucifixion. He prays first for himself and what he is about to face. Then he prays for his disciples and what they will face because of association with him. Finally he prays for “those also who believe in me through their word.” (v.20) That’s you and me; we are the ones that have believed in Jesus because of the testimony of the disciples, written in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament that we read. And what did Jesus pray for you and me?

He prayed that we “may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You.” (v.21) Jesus prayed for unity, based on the unity of the Godhead. He wants us to experience the fellowship that he experiences with God the Father (and the Spirit). But he goes on! He prays for us to experience that unity so that the world may believe that You sent me… and loved them. (v.21b,23b)

Our fellowship and our unity not only keeps us focused on Christ and blesses us; it bears witness to the world. It doesn’t bear witness about how great we are, but about how great Jesus is, that he is the one sent by God because of God’s love. Let me say that more directly: our fellowship and unity in Christ communicates to the people around us that God loves them!

What a multitude of reasons, then, for you and me to regularly pay attention to our pitch, yaw, and roll, to ensure that we are fixed first on Christ, and living out loud the fellowship of Christ, united through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Consolation of Love (Phlippians 2.1-2, Luke 2.25-32)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 17, 2019 - Philippians 2:1-2; Luke 2:25-32

:: 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." 

::: Music ::
Here is Love (Lowry, Rees)
What Wondrous Love (arr. Austell)
Create in Me (Shephardson, Ferguson)
CHOIR: The Holy Heart (arr. ljames)
Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (ST. CATHERINE)

:: 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.

“Consolation of love” – what a powerful, evocative phrase! Just days ago a group of Muslims was gunned down in New Zealand. Is there any consolation for their families and community? We’ve read of a whole class of planes grounded because two of that type have gone down without explanation. Is there any consolation for their families and friends? Some of you have lost loved ones in the past days and weeks, or are reminded of loved ones even though years have passed. Is there any consolation of love? Some of us – many of us – continue to be discouraged and disillusioned by politics, by systemic racism, by divisions and hate and hopelessness. Is there any consolation? any love?

Today we continue in a series called “Full Alignment.” We are taking a number of weeks to look at part of Philippians, a letter from the Apostle Paul to the early church in the Greek city of Philippi. The heart of that chapter is a plea to line up our lives with Jesus – to align ourselves with his character and his actions. And today we focus on this full statement taken from verses 1b and 2b:

If there is any consolation of love… make my joy complete by maintaining the same love.

Paul is assuming all these “ifs” to be true, but I want to take a moment and ask, “Is there any consolation of love” for us? If so, then we’ll look at what it means for us to maintain that same love.

The Consolation of Israel

To help us understand what “consolation of love” means with respect to Jesus I was reminded of the story of Mary and Joseph taking the eight day old Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised. There they encountered two old people who had been waiting to see the Messiah. One was Simeon, to whom God had revealed he would see the Messiah before he died. He was old; he had been waiting a long time! When he saw Jesus, he exclaimed that now he could die in peace… he had seen God’s salvation, a “light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)

Now why did I think of this story? It’s there in verse 25, where it describes Simeon. He was “righteous and devout” and was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” That was how the Messiah, Jesus, was described. It’s one of the only other places the word “consolation” is used, particularly with respect to Jesus. So I point us to that to help us understand what the kind of consolation Jesus does is like. Here, it is in reference specifically to the work of the Messiah to save God’s people and show God to the world. Specifically, of course, that work would be Jesus’ saving death on the cross.

How exactly would that console Israel? It would precisely because it would reconcile Israel – and all who believe – to God. Separated by sin and weighed down by the consequences of spiritual unfaithfulness, the Messiah would reconcile the world to God and restore the relationship with and blessing of God.

In short, the consolation of Jesus is the consolation of the cross. And that is a consolation of love because Jesus demonstrates God’s love toward us to reconcile, rescue, and redeem us from sin and death for life and service.

Consolation of Love

So back to Philippians, what is “consolation of love?” Particularly because the whole passage is about attitudes and behaviors that align with those of Jesus, consolation of love is the love Christ demonstrated in his life, teaching, and death on the cross.  That love is the gracious and welcoming love he showed towards outsiders: women, lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, outcasts, and others. That love is the tough love he showed to the religious to call them to a compassionate and inward faithfulness beyond the letter of the Law which they idolized and used to elevate themselves. That love is the sacrificial love he showed on the cross in offering his life “as a ransom for many.”

Have you ever experienced any form of that consolation of love from Jesus Christ? If you are a Christian then you believe God has forgiven your sins and continues to show you mercy because of Christ’s love on the cross. We confess our sins because we believe God forgives them. Today we will not only do that in words, but in song. And our assurance of God’s grace will come, appropriately, from the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13.

What about consolation of love from Christ’s life or teaching? Have you ever felt alone or cast out or cast down? Has God’s promise to never leave you and never forsake you brought you encouragement and hope? Have you ever been at the end of your rope and remembered God is the “God who sees” us in every circumstance? Have you seen people in more desperate and dire circumstances than yours be helped by the presence, love, and mercy of God? As I see the outpouring of love towards people of another country, another religion, and another race in New Zealand, I am reminded of the consolation of love in Christ. As I see members here giving time and resources to help folks in our community who struggle with housing, basic needs, and education, I see the consolation of love in Christ. As I see some of you receiving the comfort and peace of God in times of struggle and loss, I see the consolation of love in Christ. Paul writes “if there is any consolation of love” and I can bear witness – I hope you can too! – that there IS consolation of love in Jesus Christ.

Last week we talked about “encouragement in Christ.” In many ways this is the same topic. The word for ‘consolation’ is a synonymy for ‘encouragement’ and is, in fact, sometimes translated that way. That’s the Hebrew way of communicating. If saying something once is good, saying it twice is better. So “consolation of love” is the “encouragement of Christ” but it is more focused and Paul is doubling down on the exhortation. Don’t just experience and offer general encouragement because of Jesus, but recognize the extravagant, unexpected, upside-down, and sacrificial love with which Jesus loved others. Receive it for yourself as true consolation and encouragement where you are struggling, outcast or downcast, or in need of reconciliation or restoration. And ALSO give as you receive.

That’s the essence of this whole passage in Philippians and in this series. Be reminded of how God sees you and loves you in Jesus Christ and share that perspective and love with those around you. And so, Paul says that if there is any “consolation of love” – and THERE IS IN CHRIST – then “maintain the same love.”

Maintain the Same Love

How then do we “maintain the same love?”

Well think of all those ways that we have experienced and witnessed the consolation of love in Christ. And go and do likewise! Are there those who need to hear the Good News that their sins, their mistakes, their pasts, their presents, and their futures are not beyond God’s love and mercy? Share that news! Are there those who are shut out, shut down, or struggling? Reach out with the expansive love of Christ. Are there those who are discouraged, despondent, and without hope? Speak and enact words of presence and care because of Christ.

Maintain the same love! Maintain the same love you have known and maintain the same love you have seen. And let’s not think of ‘maintain’ in terms of barely working, like as long as the kitchen sink doesn’t blow up it is maintained. Let’s understand it in terms of stewardship as something to care for so that it works in the best possible way. Let’s steward the same love we have known and seen so that the people around us – people we know and love as well as people we don’t know and wonder about – that they may know the full measure of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

The disciple John wrote something similar in the passage we heard today as our call to worship:

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are (v.1)… Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God (v.7)… We love because God first loved us. (v.19)

I’ll say that to you: beloved, let us love one another and love others, for love is from God. Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Encouragement in Christ (Philippians 2.1-2)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 10, 2019 - Philippians 2:1-2; Isaiah 35:1-4a; Romans 15:4-6

:: 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." 

::: Music ::
Breathe on Us (Jobe, Cash)
Great are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordan, Leonard)
OFFERTORY: Be Ye Glad (arr. Fettke) - Mike and Maggie Slade, duet
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (ST. LEONARDS)

:: 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.

What is your attitude right now?

Maybe you are interested… distracted… bored… enthusiastic… confused… happy… distressed…

What if you were piloting a plane and I asked you that. You would give a very different answer. Pilots have to be aware of and give account for the orientation of their plane in three different dimensions. The words used to describe the plane’s orientation are pitch, yaw, and roll. Pitch has to do with whether the nose of the plane is heading up or down with respect to level. Yaw has to do with whether the plane is skewed to the left or right – the nose and tail don’t line up when the plane is coming toward you. And roll has to do with whether one wing tip is higher than the other. All three variables can change the direction of the plane off of the desired path.

For the next eight weeks, through the Sunday after Easter, we will be in Philippians 2:1-18, which begins with a “therefore” tied to how we “conduct ourselves” in the end of chapter one. Chapter two then keys off of verse 5, “Have this ATTITUDE in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” These verses provide a rich picture of what the attitude of Jesus was, and all in terms of actions and emotions like you might expect. But I believe the challenge to “have this attitude” maps a course for us as followers much like a flight plan for a plane. If we don’t pay attention to our emotional and behavioral pitch, yaw, and roll, we can veer off course – that is, off Christ – and find ourselves lost or in trouble. The good news is that we aren’t on our own to figure out which way to go, but have a “flight plan” which this passage maps out in detail.

Said another way, if we are going to FOLLOW Jesus, we need to follow Jesus! It’s the logical next step after encountering Jesus and responding to his love with “Here I am!” If we are going to follow where he leads us – and that’s what we’ve been talking about for months now! – we need to fix our eyes and hearts and paths directly on him. This series will help chart that course for us so that we can be in FULL ALIGNMENT with Christ.


We’ll be in verses 1-2 for four weeks because there are four pairs of “attitudes” there. Here’s how that lines up:

If there is ______ (and there is in Christ!), then make my joy complete by _______________.

week 1 – encouragement in Christ
- - - being of the same mind

week 2 – consolation of love
- - - maintaining the same love

week 3 – fellowship of the Spirit
- - - being united in spirit

week 4 – any affection and compassion
- - - being intent on one purpose

So today we will be talking about “encouragement in Christ.” We’ll talk about what it is, how we experience it and how we are to stay on course by “being of the same mind” (as Christ). Each week I will also pull in some other scripture to help us understand the particular course heading for the day. Today, it’s ENCOURAGEMENT.

Course Heading: ENCOURAGEMENT (Isaiah 35:1-4a)

I chose two supplemental texts this morning to help explain encouragement. The first is from Isaiah 35 and you heard it as our call to worship:

1 The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the desert will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus 2 It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, The majesty of our God. 3 Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. 4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God… will save you.” (Isaiah 35:1-4a)

The imagery helps describe what encouragement is. It’s like a dry desert blossoming with flowering life. True encouragement brings joy and rejoicing, and brings glory to God. Stepping out of the word picture, Isaiah gives some practical examples: encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble (weak). Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage and fear not.” God will save you!

Can you relate to the word picture? Have you been or are you in a desert emotionally or spiritually? God’s promise to save you is not just for eternity, but to bring life and blossoming in those dry desert places. I have shared before one of the few times I believe God ministered to me in a dream. I had been in a spiritual and emotional desert for about a year and a half after graduating from college. I was going to church – I knew enough to put myself in the right place to hear from God, but I was all blocked up. And after that long period one night I had a dream where Jesus met me on a rolling hillside set in Nashville where I was living. He didn’t look like Jesus; he looked like one of the pastors at the church I was attending. But I understood it to be him; and really, that doesn’t matter. He came over and hugged me joyfully and the tears of joy just flowed in my dream and then in waking. That’s the encouragement of Christ.

Or can you relate to Isaiah’s more literal example? Are you exhausted, weak, or anxious? Isaiah describes God’s help as encouragement and strength in time of need. It’s one thing to say that God offers us encouragement in the dry, exhausting, weak, or anxious times. But we (naturally!) want to know HOW God does so.

Experiencing the Encouragement of Christ (Romans 15:4-6)

It’s interesting timing to be on this topic during Lent, which is often tied to the forty days in which Jesus was tempted in the desert. He was exhausted and weak from fasting, but when Satan came to try to lead him away from God’s plan, he relied on God’s Word to sustain him. He himself experienced the encouragement of God which he now extends to us. And that’s a good transition to look at our second passage, Romans 15:4-6, which describes in more depth how God’s Word helps us experience the encouragement of God through Jesus Christ:

4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)

God’s Word – the Scriptures – are for instruction; that’s probably pretty obvious to us. But did you hear what we are supposed to learn from this instruction? It’s not just head knowledge… no just how many cubits long God told Noah to build the Ark. God’s Word was written to teach us how to PERSEVERE, be ENCOURAGED, and experience HOPE. Persevere through what? Well how about through the desert, and exhaustion, the weakness, or the anxiety. In God’s Word we can read about people who endured the same. We can read songs and prayers by people crying out to God for help in those times. As I said, we can even read about Jesus enduring those things! And we can read of God’s help and provision, God’s faithfulness, God’s sustenance, and goodness. Reading the Scripture is one tangible way to experience encouragement. And the outcome of persevering and receiving encouragement through God’s Word is hope. We hope in God and in God’s faithfulness, witnessed again and again in the pages of Scripture.

And now Romans takes the same turn that Philippians does. In Romans, Paul says, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” Remember our outline from the beginning?

Being of the Same Mind as Christ (Philippians 2:1-2)

v. 1a If there is ______ (and there is in Christ!),
v.2a then make my joy complete by _______________.

If there is any encouragement in Christ… make my joy complete by being of the same mind…

Paul is consistent in Romans and Philippians. If you have known any encouragement because of Jesus Christ, then line up your mind with that of Christ. What will that do? That will mean you offer that same encouragement to others in times of desert, exhaustion, weakness, or fear. This may be the most obvious thing in the world to you, but I know how often I veer off-course and don’t encourage others. In fact, these days it is far more common to tear down and discourage others… or just remain withdrawn and silent.

It is interesting to me that the thing paired with encouragement is “being of the same mind.” Perhaps that’s because being encouraging is a choice. It takes concentration, discipline, and practice. And it is interesting to me that encouragement is paired in Isaiah and in Romans with scripture, which is something we first take in with our mind.

Later on in this same letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (Philippians 4:7-9)

We have to read or hear it, understand it, and receive it. It’s not something like music that you can sometimes just ‘feel’ or art that can make an impression on you. Scripture is words and we receive those with our mind. But Isaiah and Paul in both Romans and Philippians makes the connection: words, scripture, mind, encouragement, joy.

This is the course Jesus has laid out for us. We all need encouragement and we all need to be encouraging. If you are in Christ, you will be part of Christ’s ministry of encouragement. You may be able to draw on your own experience – and personal testimony is a powerful thing to share. But God’s Word is stronger still. On the course of encouragement, God’s Word will be your guide, tool, and best resource. Check your pitch, yaw, and roll; are you on course? In this case there is literally a manual to help keep you on course. Read it, soak in it, memorize it, share it; so that through perseverance and encouragement you and those to whom you minister may have hope in God through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, March 4, 2019

==HERE I AM (WINTER 2019)==

Here I Am (Winter 2019) Series Index
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
January 6 - March 3, 2019

Listening... Available... Ready to Go - the point of this series is to help us focus on responding to God and where He wants to lead us individually and as a church. It's also a follow-up to the "Come and See" series.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Here is Your God (Isaiah 40.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; March 3, 2019 - Isaiah 40:1-11

:: 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." 

::: Music ::
Here I Am to Worship (Hughes)
Beautiful Savior (Seiss) - alt. of Fairest Lord Jesus
CHOIR: Here I Am, Lord (Schutte) - w/Susan Slade, flute
Be Unto Your Name (DeShazo, Sadler)

:: 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 last eight weeks we have heard stories of people encountering God and responding “Here I am.” In most of those cases what God went on to ask or lead or nudge them to do was out of their comfort zone, beyond their skill set, or a little bit scary. You heard from some of our congregation who have said “Here I am” to God. Their stories were no different, but God has been present and faithful to go before and behind and with them as they stepped out in faith.

Today we come to the end of the series and we flip the thing around. Instead of focusing on the human side of things, the text focuses on the one TO WHOM we respond, the Lord. In today’s text we have God speaking to His people saying, “Here I AM.” It, of course, still prompts the question: “How will they respond… how will YOU respond?” But the great focus in the text is clearly on God.

So I want to work through this text with you and try to get a clear glimpse of who God is and what He has done. Then I’ll end by asking you the question one last time for this series: how will YOU respond?

Prologue: they won’t listen

I don’t know if you remember last week. We were in Isaiah 6. Same guy… Isaiah. He had a powerful vision of the Lord, an encounter with God Almighty. We talked about that whole cycle of encountering God in worship, confessing sin, being made clean, and being responding to God’s mission. And I pretty well glossed over his mission, but it was another challenging one. God told him that the people wouldn’t listen. “Here I am; send me!” and God does… and God tells you that they won’t listen. At least for a long time. It was kind of a God-sized, community time out. Or perhaps more accurately, God was letting them experience the consequences of their disobedience and sin. So Isaiah was to go among God’s people for a season of being tuned out to God until the people were ready to listen and really turn back to God.

That was Isaiah 6. Today we are in Isaiah 40 and time has passed. The people have experienced the wretched consequences of living in disobedience to God. And now Isaiah’s message is much different. Not only is it full of Good News, but now the people may be ready to hear it! Let’s listen.

Peace and Preparation (vv.1-5)

The chapter begins with amazing words of mercy and grace: “Comfort, O comfort my people” says your God. It’s THEIR God who is speaking now of comfort. The time for punishment and consequences is over. Isaiah goes on to share God’s message: “Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Have you ever delivered that kind of message as a parent? Okay; you did something wrong, but you have endured the consequences and now you can move on with life. And in this case God pronounces something that sounds so Gospel-like: your iniquity has been removed. They endured the consequence of their disobedience and faithlessness, but only God can remove sin. And He has; and He does. Things are right with God; His people have been reconciled to Himself. They have peace with God.

With that peace, God now tells His people to get ready. It’s the language of preparing for the King to arrive: clear the way, make smooth the road. In ancient times, this preparation literally happened when a king was coming.  The roads would be cleared off and even leveled out to “make way” for the king. What are they preparing for? It’s there in verse 5: the GLORY of the Lord will be revealed and everyone will see it. It’s Messiah language, the promise of the return of God’s blessing, and Kingdom, and King. Remember, God’s people have been in exile because they turned away from God. They lost the land, the earthly kingdom, and it felt like they had lost the blessing of God. Those were all the covenant promises to Abraham and they had lost all of it because of their sin. But Isaiah is announcing that all is not lost. The glory of the Lord will be revealed!

Here is… your God! (vv.6-11)

In verse 6 and following what comes next is an announcement, literally answering the question posed in verse 6: “What shall I call out?” Then, in an interesting contrast, the fleeting lives and efforts of humanity is contrasted with the eternal nature and Word of God. I’ve heard a number of preachers use these verses right before preaching, a reminder of our impermanence and the permanence and solidity of the Word: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of tour God stands forever.” To be clear, it is humanity that withers and fades. But that is in stark contrast to God and God’s Word. Though hundreds of years had passed, God had not forgotten His Word – His promise – to Abraham. And God’s Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom; it is an eternal Kingdom.

All of this is building up to a declaration. The herald is told to get up on a high mountain to declare the good news… to raise the voice mightily. It is not going to be a human hero with a “Here I am” moment, as important as our response to God is. This is the foundational “Here I am” statement. It’s all eyes on God time. So the herald shouts it from the mountaintop: “HERE IS YOUR GOD!”

And more description follows. This is God who will come with might (v.10) but who is also a tender Shepherd (v.11). But the real point here that I want to lift up is that before we can ever say “Here I am” we must see and say, “Here God is.” That’s what happened in each of the stories we’ve looked at in this series. Each human encountered or experienced God. Each was humbled, sometimes in full repentance and confession of sin. And it was only then that they could truly respond, “Here I am.”

So it may be that I’ve run the whole series backwards… but maybe this is the piece you have been needing for things to click. Church and religion and Christianity – is not about what we do, but about who God is and what God has done. If it is something we build or imagine or cobble together, it is as permanent as the grass the withers and the flower that fades. But if we can catch a glimpse of God – not a God we create, but the God who created us – then something glorious will happen. God’s purpose and plan will SHINE through us and around us and bless those around us.

Last week I talked about the importance of regular worship. It’s important because it makes sure we are intentional about encountering God. Yes, God can reveal Himself to you anywhere. But ordinarily and faithfully, God reveals Himself through His Word and His Spirit, both of which are present when we gather to worship here.

God to Us: “Here I AM” (Rev. 3:20)

I included one verse from Revelation in today’s scripture. I did because it uses similar language to what we’ve been looking at. It also came in a vision from God; in this case, to the disciple John in his old age. It is part of Jesus’ message to the early church, specifically one of the seven churches mentioned in the first chapters of Revelation. While our NASB translation begins the verse with ‘behold’ the NIV renders it this way: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” (Rev 3:20)

It’s a great image. We can operate as a church or as individuals by preparing meals and events that we think will be good. We can do things we think are good or might be looked on favorably. But the image that God gives to His church is that God is the primary visitor who must be invited in to the dinner. God says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

That’s a familiar image to anyone who may have been to an evangelistic rally or a revival before. And it’s true: to be a Christian you must welcome God into your life. But what many church-going folks miss is how important that image is to a church. And it was written to a church. It’s easy to be about our churchy things and forget the key guest. Especially when we are in a mode of wanting to grow and welcome new people into our midst, it’s easy to focus on the events and the welcome and the outreach. But THE critical thing before we say “Here I am” and “here are our plans” is to open the door to God. “Here God is” comes first because it is God who directs what we will do next.

That’s why worship and prayer and scripture are so important all the time, but especially right now. Our first realization must be that GOD IS HERE. And then our first question must be: What is God doing here? And then “Here we are!” Let me say those three things again:

    God is here!
    What is God doing here?
    Here we are – listening, available, ready to go!