Keep Calm and Carry On – April 7, 2019

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Series: What Did He Say?
Today: Keep Calm and Carry On
Text: Matthew 25:31-46

Rev. Laura Brewster

If you’ve ever wondered when Christ will come again … and how that world changing event will unfold, you aren’t alone.
Jesus’ first disciples wanted to know as well.
So one day, after the crowds had melted away, and Jesus and his disciples had made the trek up the Mount of Olives, Jesus disciples seized the opportunity to ask Jesus about that momentous day.
They said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) ,
In response, Jesus offered what we consider to be his fifth and final sermon — one which scholars oft refer to as Olivet Discourse or the Discourse on the End Times.
This sermon or discourse, begins in Matthew 24: 1 and continues through 25:46.
The start of the sermon could not have been at all comforting to the disciples.
Jesus said, before I come again, some pretty dramatic things will take place.
There will be wars, famine and earthquakes.
Believers will experience intense suffering.
In fact, some of you will be tortured and killed.
Along with being attacked by outsiders… the church itself will be plagued by disputes, betrayals, and some folks falling away from the faith.
Oh, and there will be false prophets around to cause trouble too.
Jesus said … after all this unfolds, I’ll come again.
Then he says, “Truly tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
Because of Jesus’ words, the first generation of Christians believed that Jesus would be returning any day.
That point of view intensified after Roman troops destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. and unleashed a wave of persecution.
But God obviously chose to extend the period of waiting.
Many a believer in this era is just as certain that Jesus will be returning in our era.
Christians have been waiting nearly two thousand years.
And God only knows how much longer the wait will be.
That doesn’t stop some folks from poring over the Bible to try and pinpoint a date and time.
But understand this: the scriptures are not meant to help us calculate a date of return.
Instead, they are meant to guide us regarding how we are to live as we wait.
One author puts it this way: “People who. pore over the books of Daniel and Revelation, attempting to crack their code, are fooling themselves. We are called to be agnostics about the time of Jesus’ return. We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime … we are always to be ready … that means doing the deeds of mercy, forgiveness, and peace that characterize the kingdom people.
In other words, don’t panic, but don’t fall into indifference either.
Stay vigilant and attentive … as you carry on with life.
Way back in 1939, the British government created an advertising campaign designed to encourage the British people to stay calm and keep on working even as they prepared for an attack by the Germans.
A key slogan in that ad campaign as “Keep calm and carry on.”
We could use that slogan too with regard to our understanding that one day Christ will come again.
We don’t know when he’ll come… we don t know exactly what we’ll face until then … but until then … keep calm and carry on.
But what does it mean to carry on as a Christian?
What does that look like?
In his final sermon, Jesus offered his disciples a series of parables to help them understand what it looks like to carry on in his absence.
He began with a parable about 10 bridesmaids who were waiting for a bridegroom to arrive to begin a celebration.
In this parable, by the way, the bridegroom represents Jesus and the bridesmaids represent Jesus’ followers who are waiting for Jesus’ return. From the beginning, Jesus tells us that five of the waiting bridesmaids were foolish, and five wise.
He tells us this because we would not know this fact if we just looked at them.
They all looked the same.
Presumably, they all were wearing their gowns and they all had the same expectation.
What sets them apart, says Jesus, is not how they look on the outside … but rather whether they are ready … whenever the bridegroom comes … even if he is late.
Readiness in Matthew, of course, is living the life of the kingdom.
This parable tells us that lots of folks can do it for a little while… but not everyone stays faithful over the long term.
The wise engage live in ways that allow them to be prepared whenever Jesus returns whether it is tomorrow or in another millennium.
The foolish do not.
The wise seek to live according to Jesus’ instructions day after day after day.
The foolish give it a try for a while — then stop giving heed to Jesus’ counsel and commands.
Exactly what does faithful living look like?
Friends, it means more than simply saying that Jesus is our savior and Lord.
Jesus made that clear with the final parable in his final sermon.
He said, “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a
stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine; you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
When you look at photos of sheep and goats grazing together, you can see that there are similarities.
But a shepherd has no trouble separating the two species.
Though this parable, Jesus tells us that when he does return … he will sort humankind into two groups – sheep-people on the right and goat-people on the left.
The ones on the right are welcomed into the kingdom of God. The ones on the left are told to depart from Christ’s presence forever.
And the criteria for the sorting?
The criteria will be whether folks have been merciful and helpful to those in need.
There are several takeaways from this judgment story.
First, our sins of omission can be just as serious as our sins of commission.
So many times when we reflect on our sins, we reflect on the things we have done wrong.
We think about the hurtful words we have said to someone or the hurtful way we have treated someone.
But this parable tells us that sometimes sin involves refusing to do what God asks us to do.
Sometimes our sins are sins of omission – the sin of refusing to show compassion and mercy to those who are in need.
A second takeaway is that when we refuse to help people in terrible need, Jesus takes it personally.
He says that when we refuse to help the hurting, the needy, the marginalized … it is as if we are refusing to help him.
I want us all to take a moment now to try and visualize how personally Jesus takes our labor.
Think back to a time during the past few weeks or month when you actually paused to help someone.
Perhaps you visited someone in the hospital; perhaps you cooked a meal for someone who is ill; perhaps you tutored a child who is struggling in school; perhaps you gave clothing to someone who is homeless; perhaps you sent a generous check to UMCOR or Doctors Without Borders or UNICEF.
This past week I saw a little boy – about ten years old – mowing the lawn for one of our elderly church members.
He didn’t realize it, but he was also mowing the lawn for Christ.
Right now … picture the face of Jesus on that person or persons you aided.
Because … when you helped that person or persons … you were essentially helping the Lord.
Isn’t that an awesome feeling?
But now, friends, think about a time when someone asked you for help, but you didn’t do anything at all.
Maybe it was a beggar on the street, or a neighbor who needed a hand, or images of desperate refugees at the border.
From whom have you turned away?
Now see the face of Christ on those persons.
I don’t know about you, but when I do that, it’s sobering and painful.
A final takeaway from this parable, we don’t do good deeds to earn our way into heaven.
However, they are an essential part of being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Having compassion for the marginalized is a part of living faithfully until that day when we see Christ face to face.
Showing mercy to the “least of these” is the way we remain calm and carry on until Christ comes again.
In summary, Christians throughout the ages have wondered when Jesus will return and usher in a new age.
For example, some thought it would happen in the year 1000.
In anticipation of his return, some Christians disposed of their belongings, left their jobs, and abandoned their homes.
Turns out … they were wrong.
In reality, no one knows the day or the hour.
But we do know this … Jesus expects us to use our time wisely until that day.
He expects us to keep the faith, share the faith, live out our faith.
In other words, don’t worry about the day to come.
Instead, stay calm … and carry on.
Let us pray.
Lord, as we reflect on eternity, our deepest hopes and longings are stirred. We’ve wept so many tears that we can’t imagine a day when they’ll be no more. We’ve known mourning and sorrow and pain for so long we can scarcely believe they’ll be wiped away. And so we pray for faith, hope and love. Faith to believe you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do. Hope to keep heart as we wait. And love to care well for those around us as we live out the priorities of your coming kingdom in the here and now. Amen.

Forgiven & Forgiving – March 31, 2019

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Series: What Did He Say?
Today: Forgiven & Forgiving
Matthew 18:21-22

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction:

We continue our series of sermons based on Jesus’ sermons which are recorded in the book of Matthew. Today’s focus is on Jesus’ fourth sermon which is found in Matthew 18. Key lessons in this sermon/discourse include: Jesus’ followers are to give up a quest for status and humble themselves. Jesus’ followers are not to create a stumbling block for weaker members of the community. Jesus’ followers should take temptation seriously. And, Jesus’ followers should go after members of the church who lose their way and wander away. Finally, Jesus addresses one more topic forgiving others. We can’t address all topics today, so we will shine a spotlight on forgiveness.

Scripture: Matthew 18:21-22

“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.”

Forgiving Others Can Make a Big Difference In Life – It Can Bring Peace

Thordis Elva found peace through the process of forgiving the person who hurt her. Thordis says, “Deep down I realized that this was my way out of my suffering, because regardless of whether or not he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace.” It took her years to be able to grant forgiveness to the person who hurt her. Forgiveness began with a choice, and it then became a process.

Jesus Calls For Us To Forgive Because We Are Forgiven

Jesus must have known that we would be resistance to his teaching that we show grace and forgiveness to others because after he told us that we are to forgive “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times,” Jesus went on to elaborate on his teaching. Read Matthew 18:23-33. Through this parable, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive others because our God forgives us. We who are forgiven are in turn supposed to forgive others.

So, yes, we forgive because it is good for us. It can bring us peace. It can help us get unstuck in the past. It can restore our personal power instead of leaving us feeling like victims. But the most significant reason is that we have been forgiven, and those who are forgiven are to be forgiving.

It’s Not Easy!

Will it always be easy? No. Will the forgiveness we offer others always be gratefully accepted or even acknowledged? No. Will we prefer to hold grudges against people who hurt us. Yes. Still, Jesus insists we push ourselves to try to forgive. Like a personal trainer at a gym, Jesus pushes us to forgive time after time. Ultimately, it is what is right for us… body, mind and soul.

There’s a Cost to Discipleship March 17, 2019

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Series: “”What Did He Say?”

Today: “There’s a Cost to Discipleship”

Matthew 8:18-22

Rev. Audrey Spencer

Introduction: Matthew 8:18-22: When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nest, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22. But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” There is a cost to discipleship and few will take the task.

What is a disciple? Jesus Christ commanded us in Matthew 28:19-20 “to go and make disciples of all nations…” What does it actually mean to be a disciple of Jesus? The standard meaning of a disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another. A disciple is a follower or a learner. But Jesus Christ also said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” So, a disciple is someone who takes up the ways of someone.

What does a disciple do? If we call ourselves a disciple of Jesus, we are a worshipper of Jesus, a servant, and a witness of Jesus. Being a disciple of Jesus means we worship Him exclusively. He told the woman at the well that the Father was seeking true worshippers. Scripture tells us that Jesus is a servant. He came to earth not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). When Jesus knelt before His disciples and about to wash their feet, he says, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to serve like Jesus. John gives another picture of who a disciple should be. In a commission to His disciples, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you (John 20:21). This means a disciple is one who is on a mission to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus had a purpose on earth: to reveal God and redeem sinners (John 1:14). And so, this is our purpose as well.

What is the cost of discipleship? Our text this morning tells of a time when Jesus reminded His disciples that discipleship is costly. In Matthew 8:19, a teacher of the law approached Jesus and promised to follow Him wherever Jesus went. He is committing to being Jesus’ disciple or His follower. But our wise Lord tells the man about the cost of following Him. Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Jesus Christ is saying here that following him is not an easy venture. It is costly to follow Him or be His disciple. A person must leave everything to follow Him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Book, “The Cost of Discipleship” makes the assertion that grace is free, but grace is not cheap. Grace was paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because of the price paid, His disciples are led by grace to surrender their lives to God in faithfulness and gratitude to God.

So what is the cost of discipleship? One cost of discipleship is the loss of one’s identity. Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth tells the Corinthians, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold all things have become new” (2Cor. 5:17). Once we were part of the world and its sinful nature. As disciples of Christ, our old nature or identity is in the past. The cost of discipleship is also the sacrifice of personal freedom. When we become disciples of Christ, God gave us the freedom to choose. We called it free will. We chose to follow Christ and live in Christ. I give up prejudice, envy, lies, slander.

Conclusion: Discipleship is costly because it cost a man His life. That man is Jesus.
It is costly because it offers a man the only true gift, the gift of everlasting life.
To follow Jesus is the greatest thing we can ever undertake, but not without a cost.
God bless you.

A Call to Rethink Conventional Wisdom March 10, 2019

Series: What Did He Say?

Today: A Call to Rethink Conventional Wisdom

Matthew 5:38-48

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction. The book of Matthew records five of Jesus’ speeches. The first speech is known as The Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in Matthew 5:7, and it is Jesus’ longest uninterrupted speech in the book of Matthew. Today we will focus on one small portion — that dealing with how to respond to those who wrong us. Read Matthew 5:38-48.

Jesus Calls Us to Rethink Conventional Wisdom

What Jesus taught is contrary to conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom says, “If someone hits you, hit them back harder.” Jesus calls for us to renounce our right to retaliation. In lieu of retaliation, we are called to show love! Jesus offered concrete examples. He said, suppose someone takes you to court and sues you and wants to take your coat as compensation for something you allegedly did to harm them. Don’t just give them your coat; give them your cloak too. The coat, by the way, was an undergarment, and the cloak was a tunic-like outer garment. If someone gave away both coat and cloak, that person would be left nude. Knowing this, we can assume that Jesus may not have meant these words to be taken literally. However, he wanted them to be taken seriously. He wants his followers – including us – to be willing to renounce a right to revenge and respond with love instead. Why? Jesus says do this “so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” In other words, do this so you can be the type of children who reflect the loving and forgiving nature of God.

How to Love Unlovable People

As Christians, we want to be obedient to Jesus’ commands. But this is a tough one. How do we love someone who spreads gossip about us or betrays us? How does a Democrat love a Republican or vice versa? How does a traditionalist love a progressive and vice versa? Jesus suggests that the answer to that question is prayer. Jesus says, “pray for those who harass you!” Presumably, that means more than praying for God to step in and change the attitude and behavior of our enemies. Our prayers must also include a petition for God to help us see our enemies through his eyes. Our prayers must include a petition for God to help us love our enemies as he does.

Cautionary Note:

Loving people who hurt us does not mean agreeing with all they do or excusing what they do. It does not mean turning into a doormat for people who perpetrate evil. Being loving people and forgiving people does mean letting go of our right to take revenge, refusing to stay mired in resentment and anger, praying that our enemies eventually get into right relationship with God, and moving on.

Summary

Jesus didn’t just repeat Jewish law, he radicalized it. In doing so he taught us a new way to respond to those who wound us in life. He taught us to move from embitterment to embodiment of the kingdom of God. Why? Because we are children of the God of Love, and as such, we want to live like that.