God With Us – March 29

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Sermon: God With Us
Text: John 1:1-14

Rev. Audrey Spencer

A Firm Foundation – March 1

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Series: Reckless Love
Sermon: A Firm Foundation
Text: Mark 12:28-34

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction. This Lenten Season, we are going to talk about foundational principles upon which we are to build our lives as followers of Jesus. Please note that much of this material will be drawn from a presentation made by Rev. Tom Berlin at our annual conference meeting last year.

The Most Important Commandment. Jesus said the most important commandment was “… love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This was drawn from Deut. 6:6-7 and was included in a prayer known as the Shema. Jews were to repeat this prayer every night and morning. They were also to recite it to their children and write it on the doorways of their respective homes. Keeping this law also reaffirmed and protected their relationship with God.

Lent is a great time to hear this foundational command anew and ask ourselves: Am I fully loving God? If not, what has gotten in the way and needs to be reprioritized or jettisoned? Conversely, do I need to undertake another spiritual discipline – like daily Bible Study – in order to strengthen my relationship with God?

A Second Command. Jesus went on to say: “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” It can be hard to love even those family members, friends, co-workers, classmates and neighbors who like what we like, look like we look, vote like we vote, etc. Loving others is challenging because they are not perfect, and we are not perfect. Yet, Jesus makes love of others a foundational principle for us, so we are obligated to try.

Lent is a great time to look within ourselves and determine if we are becoming more loving. If not, what has stood in the way? What is keeping you from loving others as much as you love yourself?

Growing In Love. If we confess and repent, we will find God ready to offer us forgiveness for how we have failed to love in the past. But here’s an important question: after I accept God’s forgiveness, how do I keep the sins of resentment, jealousy, etc. from taking up residence in my heart all over again?

  1. We’ve already touched on the first part of the solution – we can take part in spiritual practices that help us grow in love for God. As we grow in love for God, God will help us become more loving, kind and patient. This will aid us in our relationships. So, committing to practices that help us grow in love with God is essential.
  2. But equally essential is making the commitment to act and react in love. Growing in love for others will not happen automatically. We must intentionally commit to speaking, acting and reacting in a manner that shows love.

Challenge. This week commit to showing love for God or love for a specific neighbor in a concrete manner. Perhaps you might commit to reading your Bible each night to grow in your relationship with God. Or, perhaps it might be offering an olive branch to a friend with whom you’ve had disagreement. Determine what you will do this week to show love. Write down one word that summarizes your commitment and place it in a location where you will see it daily. Offer it as your sacrifice to the Lord of Love.

Beyond the Letter of the Law – February 16

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Sermon: Beyond the Letter of the Law
Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Rev. Laura Brewster

Read Matthew 5:21-37. Focus Verses: 21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.

Introduction. How do you envision God? How we envision God impacts our receptiveness to God’s laws. If we envision God as a wrathful being, we’re likely to view God’s laws with some element of fear and even resentment. However, if we view God as a loving parent, we may be more apt to see God’s laws in a more positive manner – as rules crafted by a caring parent for the good of his children.

Mosaic Law. God provided a myriad of laws to his people, the Israelites, through the Moses. Those laws were designed to help the Israelites keep in right relationship with God and with each other. However, someone could live according to the letter of those laws and still fall short of how God intended them to live.

Sermon on the Mount. Jesus radicalized certain existing laws during the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began by quoting the command: “Thou shalt not kill.” Most of us recognize that as one of the commandments, and it’s a commandment we don’t typically argue with or try to circumvent. We may even like this law because there’s a certain comfort in being able to say: I may not be the best person in the world, but at least I haven’t killed anyone. The trouble is, we can avoid killing someone and still speak poorly of them and hurt their reputation, retaliate against them if they make us angry, or otherwise injure them. We can follow the letter of the law and still hurt others. So, Jesus radicalized the law.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘Don’t commit murder’, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. The word radical comes from the word “radix” and “radix” means root. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged his followers to live according to the root of the commandment. At the root of this commandment is to not allow anger to lead you to say things or do things that will hurt others and hurt your relationships with others. Again, the first command said we should not kill. But the radicalized command tells us that we cannot allow anger to overwhelm us in ways that leads us to hurt others and kill relationships.

Jesus then goes on to radicalize several more laws – laws dealing with adultery, divorce, and speaking truthfully. Some of what Jesus said should not be taken literally. For example, it is unlikely that Jesus literally meant for us to chop off our hands and gauge out our eyes to prevent sin. However, all can be taken radically. That is, we can indeed ask the Holy Spirit to help us live according to the root of the laws. And at the root of each is the call to live in a manner that shows care and respect for others, protects relationships and community, and reflects the will of God.

Salt and Light – February 9

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Sermon: Salt and Light
Text: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 5:13-16

Rev. Laura Brewster

Read Isaiah 58:1-9a. Key verses: 6 Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? 7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?

Read Matthew 5:13-16. Key verses: 13 “You are the salt of the earth… 14 You are the light of the world.

You are Salt. In Jesus’ day, salt was a valuable commodity because it had multiple purposes. By calling us salt, Jesus says we are of value.

You are the Light of the World. In Jesus’ day there weren’t street lights or headlights or security lights on buildings everywhere. So, lamps were an important resource. By referring to us as light, Jesus proclaims we are of value.

We live as salt and light for the benefit of others. That’s right, YOU are salt and light. You are people of value. Jesus makes something else clear too, however. We have a purpose. Jesus says: let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. We are asked to live as salt and light for a purpose – to point others to God.

Sometimes We Forget. Sometimes we forget that God intends for us to serve as salt and light in order to do his work in the world and make a difference in the world. The contemporaries of the Prophet Isaiah forgot. They engaged in religious activity such as worship and fasting, but they didn’t care for those in need. Hence, they had to be reminded that it was not enough to be heavenly minded; they also needed to be of earthly good.

Sometimes We Minimize Our Potential. Sometimes we appreciate the fact that God can indeed share light in the world through US. We see that capacity in others, but we fail to see it in ourselves. Today’s readings remind us that Jesus has pronounced that you are salt and light too. God has given us both our identity and the capacity to live out our identity in ways that make a difference in our corner of the world.

Summary. There is no such thing as private Christianity. Our faith should be visible. It should be lived out in ways that will be seen, in ways that cannot be hidden. None of this is meant to put ourselves in the spotlight. It’s all meant to help others see our good God. So, go and be who Jesus says you are – salt and light – and make a difference.

Violence in the Bible – January 26

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Series: Wresting with the Bible
Sermon: Violence in the Bible
Text: 1 Samuel 15:1-9

Rev. Laura Brewster

Introduction: In recent weeks, we have wrestled with biblical passages that trouble us in an effort to learn lessons we can use in our lives. This work of biblical interpretation is referred to as hermeneutics. Today we conclude this series by wrestling with scripture that is violent in nature.

Read First Samuel 15:1-9. Key verse: “So go! Attack the Amalekites; put everything that belongs to them under the ban. Spare no one. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

Context. The group that King Saul was called to obliterate – the Amalekites – were not strangers to the Israelites. The Israelites and Amalekites fought when Israel first entered Canaan. (Exodus 17:8ff). At the conclusion of that story we are told: “The Lord is at war with Amalek in every generation.” It troubles some modern Christians to read that the prophet Samuel told King Saul that God wanted all Amalekites – including children – wiped out. It may be even more troubling to realize that it is not the only time God gives the order to annihilate a group of people.

Other passages. Speaking through Moses, God commanded the Israelites to kill the inhabitants of numerous cities once they moved into Canaan. In Deuteronomy 20:16-17 we read “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you…. At the end of that campaign, the populations of 31 cities were utterly destroyed. So, the order that Samuel gave to Saul to destroy the Amalekites is in harmony with other orders given in God’s name in other portions of the Old Testament.

The order to destroy the Amalekites was not, however, in harmony with scriptures in which Jesus taught us about how to relate to our enemies. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us: “Blessed are the peacemakers . . . ” “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Using Reason. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory messages? When we use reason, we can actually arrive at two different conclusions. One possible conclusion is that God did order the destruction of certain groups of people because he had a greater purpose in mind. God’s greater purpose was to ensure that the Israelites survived and become a nation that followed him and a nation that could serve as a light to others. A second possible conclusion is that the orders given by Samuel (and Moses) did not accurately reflect God’s true will. Rather, the orders were based on their flawed understanding of God’s will. Persons who hold to this second way of thinking would say that God’s true will is revealed through the life and teachings of Jesus. And, the life and teachings of Jesus tell us that God loved the entire world and wants us to love all people in the world too. Jesus’ call to love trumps any seemingly contradictory message. It is the ultimate litmus test.

A Lesson for Us. Whether or not we believe that God actually gave the order to kill all the Amalekites, King Saul did believe that, and Saul disobeyed the order by saving the king of the Amalekites. This raises an important question for us. How often do we know what God wants from us but fail to follow through because we prefer to do something else? Understand that there are consequences for disobedience. When we intentionally fall short of what God asks of us, we risk our relationship with God.

Women in the Bible – January 12

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Series: Wresting with the Bible
Sermon: Women in the Bible
Text: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35

Rev. Laura Brewster

We Treasure the Bible. The Bible nurtures our faith and guides us in life. We love, rely on it and trust it.

Some Parts of the Bible Trouble Some of Us. Some of us are confused or troubled by some stories in the Bible. For example, you may be troubled when you read about the time that God used Samuel to say: “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Don’t Ignore Troubling Passages. There is a temptation is to ignore troubling passages. But we are better served by trying to interpret them and seeking their message for us today. We’ll do that in coming weeks. We’ll use five tools to do our work of biblical interpretation: 1) Identify literary style. 2) Look at the larger context. 3) Consider the historical situation. 4) Look at other relevant passages in the Bible. 5) Use our reason.

Read First Corinthians 14:33-35. This passage clearly states that women should be silent in the church. Let’s not ignore that. Instead, let’s wrestle with it using the tools I referred to earlier.

Literary Genre. This is a letter. Because it is in the Bible, it is for us. However, it was not specifically written to us. Rather, it was sent to specific people at a specific place for a specific reason.

Context. When we read what precedes 1st Corinthians 14:33, we see that Paul thought that the worship services in Corinth had become chaotic. Somehow, the women he wanted to silence were adding to the chaos. Paul gives guidance to different groups to bring order to worship, even though that curtailed personal freedom.

Historical Setting. Paul wrote these words in 53 or 54 A.D. a time when Christians had begun to realize that the end of the world was not coming immediately, and that they needed to learn how to live within the Greco-Roman world in which they found themselves. That culture was very hostile to Christians. As a result, early Christians tried hard not to draw too much attention to themselves. And that likely meant adopting traditional cultural views on appropriate behavior for women.

Other Passages in the Bible. There are other passages, such as First Timothy 2:11, which prohibit women from speaking or teaching or exercising any kind of authority. However, in Galatians 3:26, Paul argues for equality among believers. Additionally, other passages make it clear that Paul did allow women to exercise leadership in other churches. See Romans 16:1, Romans 16:3, and Romans 16:7. Additionally, in the gospels we see that Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn like a disciple (Luke 10:38-42). And after his death and resurrection, Jesus sends women to tell others about his resurrection.

Reason / Common Sense. Reason tells us that Paul had to navigate between a belief that women were capable of serving as leaders and a culture that believed that women needed to be quiet and subservient. So, Paul would silence women if he thought that their voices might keep the church from sharing the gospel with culture. However, Paul encouraged women to work in ministry in other settings. Thus, Paul’s words against women in ministry were not binding on all women then, and they don’t need to be binding on all women now.

Modern Application. Jesus accepted people of different genders, different ethnic groups, and different social spheres. Today Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, continues to call all types of people to follow him and to use their voices to speak out on his behalf. The Lord has given you a voice to share his love and his message, are you using it?