Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Posting last two sermons:

Sermon # 1020
December 12, 2010
Hebrews 4:1-11
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Rhythm of Faith”

In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert goes on a yearlong journey to find something that is missing in her life. After a broken marriage and general disillusionment about life, she begins her journey with something of an indulgence: four months in Rome – eating, drinking, playing, and learning the art of pleasure in what the Italians call “the sweetness of doing nothing”. After her time in Rome she moves on to India for a more “spiritual” quest at an ashram, a retreat center, to practice rituals in meditation. Liz finds her way back in Bali, Indonesia, where she returns to meet with a ninth generation medicine man named Ketut who, a year before, told her she would loose all her money and get it all back and would return to Bali to live for 3-4 months.

One of Liz’s quests is to find balance in her life – a goal to which we all might aspire. Ketut defines balance as “not too much God and not too much selfish”. We sometimes call that - moderation in all things! In the Christian faith we speak of a balance between work and rest. We use terms like balance or rhythm, health, and in more theological terms, graceful or grace-filled.

Today I want us to think together about the balance or rhythm of faith. Biblically we know such balance and rhythm from the very beginning of creation when God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. This is the rhythm of life and faith that God has built into creation itself – work and rest.

Robert McAfee Brown uses the terms withdrawal and return. A balanced life of faith oscillates between work and rest, withdrawal and return, action and contemplation. Without this rhythm of faith, life becomes…well, a mess! It seems to me that this time of the year, as we prepare for Christmas, life can easily becomes unbalanced. I don’t think that is what John the Baptist had in mind when he preached: “prepare the way of the Lord!”

The scripture for today from Hebrews 4 speaks of the elusive rest we too easily find ways to avoid.
9So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs [Israel’s].

Fascinating that failing to rest leads to disobedience. Busyness may be one of the great curses of modernity. Sometimes we don’t even ask people how they are doing, but are you staying busy! When was the last time you were asked if you were getting enough rest? Maybe your doctor? Lynn Baab has a chapter in her book on Sabbath entitled: “Too busy to rest”. We have a culture that promotes busyness and productivity.

Resting is not a positive concept in our culture. But if we are busy we believe that we are good and right. We are doing something right if we are rushing along and keeping up with everything in the world and talking on our cell phones while we are driving to the mall. But what we find is that busyness leads to exhaustion. Busyness leads to emptiness. Busyness leads to despair. We feel pressure to be productive, to be constantly active, and that pressure increases during this time of year when we are “getting ready” for Christmas. People are asking me now: “are you ready for Christmas?” What do they mean by that? Have I got all my shopping done? Have I chopped down the tree and decorated the house and cooked a ham and sent out Christmas cards and planned all the family visits and wrapped the presents and attended parties? I’m not sure how to answer that question anymore.

Unfortunately I had to get out into the world on Friday. Fridays are usually very hectic in and around Princeton anyway, but Fridays in December seem especially so. I wasn’t feeling well; the medicine was not ready at Wal-Mart on the first visit, so I knew I was going to have to come back out again. Hectic shoppers, traffic overload, and all I wanted was somewhere to lie down! I know some people love the label of shopaholic and the frenzy of Christmas shopping, but to me it is just a blur and a tiresome commercialization. (I know, the economy would collapse without all this.)

I prefer the imagined stillness of a dark Christmas Eve only illuminated by the stars and the bright star that would lead the Magi. Silent Night – Holy Night.
Should Christmas time leave us exhausted and spending more than we want? It is sad that we have to consider the question: can we find rest in Christmas? Can we find Sabbath in December? Can we maintain the rhythm of faith?

9So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. 11Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs [Israel’s].

Christmas is a time, not for frantic planning and hectic shopping, not for exhaustion, but Sabbath rest and peace. Peace on earth and good will to people.
Peace of mind.
Peace of spirit.
Peace of body.
Peace of home.
Peace of worship.

The New Interpreters Bible contains this commentary on Hebrews 4: “The introduction of the theme of ‘rest’ into the presentation of the Christian life as that of a pilgrimage provides a striking image of the rhythm of faith: movement and rest. Psychologists and counselors have long understood this rhythm as basic to a healthy life, and leaders of organizations, including churches, are using it to design programming. But Hebrews can be additionally helpful in the reminder that the life of faith is not simply scheduled as periods of movement and periods of rest. Rest, says the text, does not just follow pilgrimage but occurs during pilgrimage as well (4:3). The rest of God is both present and future. Therefore, just as the Near Eastern proverb says, ‘There is going in my staying and staying in my going,’ so also does the preacher in Hebrews say, ‘There is rest in movement and movement in rest’” (Hebrews, pp.55-56).

We are on a pilgrimage of faith. We are on a specific faith journey in December – a journey to the manger. What I seek for myself and for all of us is a journey that can take the time to enter that rest that enables us to contemplate the joy of Christmas and the peace of Christmas. The pop theology phrase is: “the reason for the season”, but that has become something like a commercial jingle rather than a genuine call to enter into that rest that we might not fall into disobedience.

Perhaps we should take the time to ask ourselves if our over activity is disobedient. Perhaps we could rest long enough to see that we sometimes look like people who have camped out on Black Friday to make that 4:00am shopping run, plowing over anyone in our way to get that new cell phone or new toy. Rhythm does not rush, rhythm keeps balance, rhythm gives new life. Let’s keep a rhythm of faith, especially at Christmas when it is perhaps most needed. Amen.

Sermon # 1019
December 5, 2010
Luke 1:57-80
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Benedictus”

The Benedictus is the title given to Zechariah’s speech in Luke 1:68-79. Benedictus is the Latin word for blessed or blessing, the first word Zechariah speaks in this passage. It is the last word spoken to us in worship, the benediction or the blessing, when the minister proclaims a blessing to the people: “may God’s grace be with you” is a blessing or a benedictus. Mary’s song is called The Magnificat named also by the first words of her song: “my soul magnifies the Lord”.

The preface to Zechariah’s prophecy is the birth of John. Last Sunday we looked at the pronouncement of the angel Gabriel, that barren Elizabeth would have a son and Zechariah was struck mute because he doubted this could happen since they were both getting on in years. Now we come to the time of the birth and, as was and still is custom, friends and family came to celebrate with Elizabeth.

On the eighth day it was time to circumcise and name the child. When we think about naming children we consider a variety of options. Should we go with a family name? Whenever we run across some strange name with someone we often ask if it is a family name. We might consider a name that has some specific meaning or we just like the sound of a particular name. Naming is important and we usually give it a great deal of time and consideration. Edwin was my grandfather’s name and Hoyt, my middle name, was a name from a good friend of my father. His name was Hoyt Hand. At least mine was in the middle and did not get full time use!

Elizabeth and Zechariah may have had ideas for a name when they were very young and expecting to have children in their early years, but no children came. Elizabeth was barren. But now, as they are getting on in years, they have a son, a most unexpected blessing, and the time has come to name him. During the circumcision the name would be given. The family members and religious leaders were expecting him to be named after his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth spoke up and said: “No; he is to be called John.” This caused a stir among the gathered folks and so they motioned for Zechariah to clear things up, maybe they thought Elizabeth’s age was causing some unclear thinking. Zechariah, still unable to speak, wrote his name on a tablet: His name is John. The people went from confusion to amazement and just as quickly, Zechariah’s voice returned!

He began to speak and to praise God and everyone then went from amazement to fear and this event became the talk of the town. The buzz was about what this child would become and all this surrounding the process of selecting a name. The narrator adds: “the hand of the Lord was with him”. I suspect Luke is looking back over the story knowing what kind of person John would become and there is no other explanation of his life than “the hand of the Lord was with him”!

The next part of the narrative is Zechariah’s speech. I imagine, after being unable to speak for the duration of a pregnancy, that Zechariah had plenty to say and was ready to say it! The beginning (68-75) is unique to Jesus and the remainder (76-79) is in reference to John. Zechariah’s phrasing and content is along the lines of Old Testament prophecy. God has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them by raising up a mighty savior. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors. The language of rescue leads God’s people to the ability to serve without fear (74).

After this prophetic word about the savior, he addresses his son who will be called a prophet, preparing the way, leading people to salvation and forgiveness and this section ends with the language of leading our feet into the way of peace (79).

Jesus will rescue us from fear. Fear is a powerful force in our lives. Imagine being delivered from the fear that holds us back from achieving great things with God. I do not just mean fear of walking down a dark ally, but fear of risking ourselves for God. We fear of letting ourselves go, surrendering ourselves that we might grow even closer to God. We fear completely giving our lives over to the Lordship of Christ.

John’s preparation for the coming messiah guides us to the way of peace, not because John is the way – he makes that clear in his message – but because Jesus is the way to peace. Life without fear, life with total peace. It is only made possible because God chose the most unlikely people to bring peace and to release us from fear.

Luke makes a point to set the redemption of God under the nose of King Herod of Judea. The people of Israel expected the redeemer to come like a great king, but God chooses to bring the message of salvation through the son of a barren woman and an old priest. In the reign of the great King Herod, God does not act through him, but through a virgin named Mary, through the very people oppressed by Herod’s rule.

That is how God seems to work, choosing the weakest people to do the greatest things. Think about how you might plan to save the world. Would you start with a barren woman? Would you start with a couple too old to have children? Would you start with a teenage girl and then put her in a situation where she would have to tell her fiancé that she is pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think anyone could have dreamed up this kind of plan, well, other than God.

Zechariah was told by the angel Gabriel earlier in chapter one, that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit and would turn many people to God (15-16). In this prophetic word from today’s reading he sees two things John will do: prepare the way of the Lord and give the knowledge of salvation (76-77). I guess you can’t ask for greater expectations out of your infant son!

Zechariah’s Benedictus is a testimony to God’s amazing plan of salvation for God’s people. It is grand in language, but in another sense, it is a most simple, humble plan. God does not use royalty or people of privilege to bring forth his plan, but people of humble means, even people we would see as unable to bring forth any plan, let alone one that selects a barren woman to give birth to the messenger of God and a virgin to give birth to the savior. It is amazing. It is surprising. It is the way of God. It reminds us that God can do amazing things through any one of us. It assures us that God can and will do amazing things for the sake of our salvation and peace.

Perhaps the word for us from this text is to receive God’s word today – not in the sense that God needs to bring a Savior to the world as he did then, but God calls each of us to become the storytellers, to speak through word and deed of the Savior and the amazing voices of Zechariah and John. We are the voices today – telling the amazing story of redemption and peace. Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1018
November 28, 2010
Luke 1:5-25
1st Sunday of Advent
Dr. Ed Pettus

“Sing, O Barren One”
Isaiah 54 begins with these words:
Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
Burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!

Barren women do not sing. Barren women cry because they are without children. The shame of not giving an heir to the family often led to other arrangements like we have when Sarah and Abraham feared that God’s promise of a son would not and could not come to fruition. Sarah gave Abraham one of her servants to serve as a surrogate mother for God’s promise to be fulfilled. But that was not God’s plan. The barren Sarah would indeed bear a son, Isaac, and so she would sing, and she would laugh.

Isaiah continues:
For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the LORD. Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns.

The promise is for more children than can be imagined, so many children that you will have to build a bigger house, or as the poem says: “enlarge your tent”!

Hannah, from the book of Samuel, is another example of this kind of story. She was barren. She was in misery and prayed to the Lord and the Lord heard her prayer and she conceived and had a son named Samuel. When God’s plan comes to pass Hannah sings her song:
“My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. ‘There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Hannah’s song becomes the model for Mary’s song, another woman who has a miraculous birth, not one from barrenness, but one greatly unexpected, nonetheless!

Today’s gospel lesson takes us along another journey with a barren woman. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, is one who exemplifies the Isaiah song. She is barren. She and Zechariah are old, old enough to know they are too old to have a child. But that was not God’s plan.

Zechariah was a priest and the story points both to his and Elizabeth’s lineage, Zechariah from a strong line of priests and Elizabeth from the house of Aaron. Luke tells us:
Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

It is an interesting contrast: they are both righteous, blameless in accordance with the commandments and regulations of the Lord and yet there is a contrast to that righteousness, the enigma is the conjunction “but”. They are righteous, and yet, they are righteous – “but” – they have no children. In essence the story makes no sense at this point – righteous, but no children. According to Jewish thinking, righteousness equals a house filled with children. So the story sets us up for this odd circumstance of barrenness.

I think also there is a bit of humor here in the phrase “getting on in years”. I guess it is a polite way to say they were getting old, too old for children. Well, God has a sense of humor too and sometimes God’s sense of humor works out with tremendous blessing. One day Zechariah is in the sanctuary and an angel appears to him:
“When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.”

This is great news to Zechariah, but also a little hard to believe. After all, he was getting on in years. He even tells the angel he is an old man and his wife is getting on in years too. Well, in this case it is not wise to second guess the angel of the Lord and Zechariah is struck mute until John is born. Elizabeth does conceive and she sings her own song: “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Elizabeth will give birth to the one who will proclaim the coming of the Messiah, John the Baptist.

Barren women cannot sing until God intervenes, then there is singing and laughing and celebrating.
Barren women having children are stories of the impossibilities of God. It is the lesson we will learn again in the Christmas narrative, that nothing is impossible with God. These are the stories of life when life seems impossible. These are the stories of hope when hope is lost. These are the stories that bring us into Advent, a time of hope and great anticipation as we look to God to do the impossible: to give barren Elizabeth a child named John who will announce the good news of the coming Messiah; to give Mary a child named Jesus, the Messiah, who will announce the good news of the kingdom, of salvation, of healing, of hope. God intervenes and God intervenes still today.

When we think nothing can come of a situation, when we think someone is beyond redemption, when we think there is no way to make all the payments due, when we think no peace is possible in a conflict, whatever the hopeless circumstance, the message of scripture comes to us: Sing, O barren one. Sing, O hopeless one. Sing, O depressed one. We can sing only because we know that there is nothing impossible with God. We can sing because we know that the Lord still intervenes. The good news to begin our Advent journey is that we can sing no matter what “barrenness” we may face.

The song may not be today, but it will come. Elizabeth thought she would never sing, but even when she was getting on in age, she was able to sing of the glory of God. Hannah thought she would never sing, but out of her barrenness – a child. Sarah thought she would never sing, but even when she laughed at God’s promise of a son, she could sing. Sing, O barren one. Barrenness can sometimes serve as a metaphor for what seems impossible to us. Advent is a season in the church year to consider our impossibilities and the possibilities of God. Sing, O barren one. Sing, O unhappy one. Sing, O (insert your impossible situation here) one! For the Lord hears our prayers and the Lord does impossible things that we may indeed sing. For the Lord has come. O come, O come, Emmanuel! Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2 Sunday Sermons!

Sermon # 1015
November 7, 2010
1 Thessalonians 2:13
Dr. Ed Pettus

“Essential Tenets: The Authority of Scripture”

A few Sundays ago I preached on the God-breathed word, the inspiration of scripture. Today I want to take up what is considered an essential tenet of our faith, a key orthodox belief, a cornerstone of the Reformed faith – the authority of scripture. If you were able to be here when I preached on inspiration, we observed that the scripture is given a spiritual life of sorts, for God has breathed life into his word. God has poured out his spirit on the word. According to Hebrews the word is active and living. We can believe all that, confess that, and trust that, but what does it mean that the inspired word of God is an authority for our life and faith?

The point or question I want to raise this morning is not about our view of scripture, but what authority does scripture hold? Not about inspiration, infallibility, and the like, but what authority do we give to the text? We can believe in the authority of scripture in accordance with the word and with our confessions, but will be submit to the authority? Will we let it be with us according to God’s Word?

Reformed Theology holds to two forms of revelation. One is general revelation, basically that God is revealed to us in nature, creation, and just in simple observation. Psalm 19 would be an example of general revelation: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (1). The other type of revelation is called special revelation of which there are three kinds: revelation in the history of Israel and the person of Jesus Christ, revelation in scripture, and revelation in the Christian church. Shirley Guthrie understands these two forms in the sense that the first (general revelation) is from us to God, that we seek God in nature and human life, and the second (special revelation) is from God to us, that God seeks and finds us (Christian Doctrine, p. 40).

Our focus this morning is on the scripture as a special revelation wherein God has taken the initiative to reveal himself to us. We experience that revelation in three ways: in the person of Jesus Christ – the word made flesh (John 1); the written word (2 Timothy 3:16); and in the preached word and sacrament (Acts 13:44).

What do our confessional statements say about the authority of scripture?
From the Second Helvetic Confession:
We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of [humans]. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures (5.001).

This is God reaching out to us through the scriptures!

We judge, therefore, that from these Scriptures are to be derived true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety; and, to be short, the confirmation of doctrines, and the rejection of all errors, moreover, all exhortations according to that word of the apostle, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,” etc. (II Tim. 3:16–17). Again, “I am writing these instructions to you,” says the apostle to Timothy, “so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” etc. (I Tim. 3:14–15). SCRIPTURE IS THE WORD OF GOD. Again, the selfsame apostle to the Thessalonians: “When,” says he, “you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God,” etc. (I Thess. 2:13.) For the Lord himself has said in the Gospel, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaking through you”; therefore “he who hears you hears me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20), (5.003).

Two points on the authority of scripture from this confession:
1) the Bible has sufficient authority in and of itself. What I believe that means for us today is that we do not need to defend the authority of the Bible by using sources outside the Bible. Part of the problem in the church is that, after years of study since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the church has bought into the belief that we had to prove the Bible valid by using outside sources. For instance, science and archeology became authorities to which the Bible must submit itself to be proven true. We basically gave up the notion that the Bible has its own authority and thought we had to give it credibility from something else. In other words, we gave more authority to science, reason, rationality, modern philosophies, and the like, and in turn, lost our confidence in the scripture as God’s Word

2) The second point from this confession is that the Bible is our authority in how we life our life. “From these Scriptures are to be derived true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety…(quoting the Bible) that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God”. The Bible is sufficient for us to know how we ought to live. To that end the Westminster Confession adds:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of [humans]. (6.001).

The Larger Catechism also speaks of the authority of scripture for faith and obedience:

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.
Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation. But the Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of [humanity], is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

The Holy Spirit is at work in us to persuade that the scripture is the very word of God. So, how do we give authority or demonstrate that authority in our life?

The Bible recognizes authority by submission. It is not too far away from Christmas and so I’ll begin with Mary, in her conversation with the angel Gabriel. Mary comes to believe that God’s word is true and she will bare a son. She yields her life to that word in Luke 1: “Let it be with me according to your word.” I can think of no better prayer for the believer when it comes to living under the authority of God’s Word. “Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”
Say that prayer with me!
Let’s say it as a congregation!

That is a prayer that submits to the authority of scripture!

Jesus demonstrates the authority of scripture when he quotes Deuteronomy as he faces temptation in the desert, telling the devil that we do not live by bread alone but we live by the word of God. We live by the word! It is not just the food we eat that sustains us, but the very word of God. We know that the body will eventually cease to function without bread, without food. So too will the spirit, the soul; our being will die without the word of God.
Sometimes we use the expression “get a life” when we come across someone who complains about everything or really when someone complains about the most insignificant of things. “Man, get a life.” In essence we are saying that there is more to life than some of the petty things we so concern ourselves with. “Get a life.” “Dude, stop focusing on minor things. Get a life!” What the authority of scripture is telling us is: “Get a life.” Not just a life, but get life in this word of God. Psalm 119 testifies in numerous verses about God’s word for life: Revive me according to your word (25); your promise gives me life (50); I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life (93); give me life, O Lord, according to your word (107).

What if our imaginations could again be stirred with the understanding that God’s word gives us life? What if we took the time to engage the word seeking to live under its authority? What authorities do we live by? When we are young we look to parents and teachers as authorities. Dad seems to know everything when we are ten years old. As we grow up we look to other sources as authoritative: education, government, ourselves, philosophies, experts on everything from finances to diet, and all sorts of views to which we are eager to submit. We want to trust the Bible as the authority, but we question and doubt and try other things. What Reformed Theology advocates is that the Word of God, the Bible, is our authority for all things for faith and life and obedience to God. This means that the Bible does not take a secondary role to any other authority: human, cultural, ideological, political, scientific, and so on.

The scripture has authority only in that this word is God’s word. It is illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is alive and active in our lives (Hebrews 4:12) and as believers it is at work in us (1 Thess. 2:13). As we get into this word, the word gets into us, to reform our lives, to lead us to obedience, to bring us joy and hope and love and faith and promises and all that the person of Jesus Christ gives us through his life, death, and resurrection.

The scriptures are the word of God revealing God to us. God is seeking us through this word. May we submit to its authority, yielding our lives to the truth revealed in God’s word, in the word made flesh – Jesus Christ, and in the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon # 1016
November 14, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The Message of the Cross”

Foolishness. We do not use the word foolish as much as I think people used to. We use words like stupid or idiot, but fool or foolish is not as vogue as it once was. The apostle Paul uses a word in the Greek that is usually translated as foolish: the message of the cross is foolish – to those who are perishing.

Some of our guests today (Madrigals) know about foolishness on TV these days. How many of you watch The Soup? For those who do not know, The Soup is a show that makes fun of other shows, reality shows, dumb comments on talk shows and so on. Basically The Soup highlights foolishness. There is plenty of foolishness on TV!

To those who do not know the cross of Christ, Paul says they consider the message of the cross foolish. The message of the cross is idiotic. Those who take up the cross are foolhardy. Those who take up the cross will be branded as absurd and unwise. Call us crazy, foolish, absurd, idiotic, but we see it as wise to follow Christ. So many in the world hear what we say and they think we are foolish, or they hear the commands we take seriously and they think we are crazy: “Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Sacrifice your life for the sake of others. Pray for those who persecute you.” We are seen as foolish, and yet, we know, as Paul knew, that to the ones being saved the message of the cross is the power of God. It is amazing that the cross can be seen so very differently. To the lost the cross is foolishness. To the saved it is the power of God.

Those people we might watch on a show like The Soup are truly the foolish ones, not just because of the things they say and do on TV, but they do not know the message of the cross. There are fools and there are fools. I do think we who believe are fools but a very different kind of fool. I think of it this way: it is foolish like a child who does not know to get out of the rain or who knows to come in but stays out anyway! Children do not stay in the rain because they have weighed the consequences of getting wet with the possibility of catching a cold. They do not consider the rain may be accompanied by lightening. No, they want to play in the rain. They are deemed foolish because they want to play in what adults have learned, through years of their parents calling them out of the rain, as a foolish thing to do.

It is foolish for a child to stay out in the rain, at least from the adult perspective. The child’s foolishness is expressed in the desire to play in the rain. Jesus once said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mk. 10.15). I imagine that in some way, we used to know that playing in the rain was something of a recognition of the power of God. I imagine that in some way we know that the message of the cross is the power of God.

God’s foolishness in the cross is the power of God because it can only be understood by those who have come to reclaim the power of being like a child. It is foolish in what we might call a good way. Foolish like a child who steps innocently into the commands of her parent. Foolish like a child who trusts wholeheartedly in the unconditional love of parents. Foolish like the foolishness of children, playful, spontaneous, and laughing at the world that doesn’t get it!
We need foolishness that is like a child who easily allows the Spirit of God to break out in surprising and amazing ways. We love the innocent and joyous attitude of children. A Sunday school teacher asked the children just before she dismissed them to go to church, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" Little Sally jumped up and yelled, "Because people are sleeping!"

It is funny and it is somewhat profound. Some of us do sleep, sleeping with our eyes wide open because we can look out into the rain and see no reason to go play! Children never “sleep” through the fun. They never miss an opportunity to romp in the power of God!

Jesus had a playful foolishness about himself, especially in his stories. The kingdom of God is like…a mustard seed that starts out little and grows up to be big. Like a man who throws a party and nobody came, so he got mad and invited people you wouldn’t hang out with if your life depended on it. The kingdom of God is like a guy who is careless in how he sows his seed. Like bread dough that you have to play with awhile to get it to rise.
Jesus used a totally different rationality than that of the world. He was playful, foolish, and imaginative. We want to come in out of the rain where everything is safe and dry. But the gospel is never safe; it is outrageous, insubordinate, like a kid who won’t come in out of the rain. The gospel is a call to become foolish, like a kid again.

~ Grow a milk mustache. ~ Read the funnies--throw the rest of the paper away. ~ Dunk your cookies. ~ Play a game where you make up the rules as you go along. ~ Step carefully over sidewalk cracks. ~ Go home today and change into some play clothes. ~ Try to get someone to trade you a better sandwich. ~ Have a staring contest with your cat. ~ Give someone a "hug-around-the-neck." ~ Blow the wrapper off a straw. ~ Refuse to eat crusts. ~ Make a face the next time somebody tells you "no." ~ Ask "Why?" a lot. ~ Have someone read you a story. ~ Eat dessert first. ~ Whatever you're doing, stop once in a while for recess. ~ Walk barefoot in wet grass, in the rain.

Jesus said we should become like children. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:10, we are fools for Christ, and Paul says God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.

Oh, to be a kid again…foolish, playful, willing to trust God unconditionally, speaking the truth as you see it, sharing, caring, seeing smooth stones as precious gems, romping in the rain, and in the reign of God.

Be a kid like little Johnny. Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer. "Fine," said the pleased mother. "If you ask God to help you not misbehave, He will help you." "Oh, I didn't ask Him to help me not misbehave," said Johnny. "I asked Him to help you put up with me."

Little Johnny makes no apology for his behavior, which is called “misbehavior” by his mother. He simply prays for those around him to put up with him. Jesus made no apology for his behavior, which the scribes and Pharisees called misbehavior (healing on the Sabbath, picking grain on the Sabbath, forgiving sin, etc.). Jesus just prayed for those around him, even when he hung from the cross – Father, forgive them, they just don’t get it!

The message of the cross is radical foolishness, impetuous, spontaneous, like a kid who refuses to come in out of the rain. Perhaps it is an attitude that we adults should use when approaching God. Such an attitude of childlike foolishness will help us to shed our tendency to be in control of the gospel, to make the gospel seem like sanity to the perishing. We may try to make the message of the cross sound sane, but in believing and proclaiming, we become fools. Ω

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1014
October 31, 2010
Romans 5:1-11
Dr. Ed Pettus

“Always Reforming”

While many people have or will be recognizing and celebrating Halloween this weekend, today is a great day in the life of the church for a very different reason. Today is Reformation Sunday. On October 31, 1517, in Wittenberg Germany, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, 95 theological statements published for debate. This was the way theological debate occurred in the 16th century, theologians posted their beliefs for debate with church leaders. Martin Luther’s 95 theses started the chain reaction that lead to the great reformation and the beginnings of the Protestant Church. Luther was not alone in the reformation as many theologians took off in various directions with ideas that challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s teachings lead to the formation of the Lutheran Church.

John Calvin was another theologian who began preaching, teaching, and writing theology similar to Luther but also differed enough to branch off into another strand of thought that would lead to the Presbyterian Church. There were others who also challenged the status quo of the church and thus we have today Methodist, Baptists, Pentecostals, and all other Protestant denominations.

In Luther’s 95 declarations there were two leading issues addressed in the life of the church: justification by grace alone (instead of works) and the church’s sale of indulgences (paying to have sins forgiven). Indulgences were the most egregious corruption in the church. Priests collected money from people basically charging them for forgiving sins, even to purchase forgiveness for those they believed to be in purgatory. The other major theology was works righteousness. Luther claimed that nothing we did could earn us salvation, but said: “we do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds” (A History of Christian Thought, Gonzalez, p. 29).

The Reformation was a long process over many years of debate and thought. John Calvin, for instance, began writing the Institutes (his systematic theology) in 1536 and they were not completed in the form we have today until 1559. Over twenty years of refining what Calvin interpreted in the Bible. Calvin redefined how the people of God thought about the character of of God and God’s relationship with humankind and his thought helped to shape what we know today as Reformed theology. One theologian who studied with Calvin was John Knox, from Scotland who helped shape the the church in Scotland. More reforms developed all across England, Holland and France until the Reformed movement was growing all over Europe.

Now let me take an aside here to point out that the Catholic Church today is vastly different from that of the time of the Reformation. The Catholic Church has itself been through reforms that have redefined how Catholics view scripture and grace and faith. The Reformation taught the Church that every group, Protestant or Catholic, need reforming any time we get away from scripture as our authority.
Donald McKim, in his book Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, distinguishes the Reformation in this way:
Other reformers agreed with Luther’s criticisms of the Roman Church, but also began to differ with him on some items of biblical interpretation. This led to be recognized as another “Protestant” movement. Theologians such as Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and Heinrich Bullinger became leaders of this movement, which became known as the Reformed tradition. The term “Reformed” came from a comment by Queen Elizabeth I in England that the followers of Zwingli and Calvin were more “reformed” than the Lutherans, in that they wanted a more thoroughgoing reform of worship practices based on their understanding of the Bible.
”Reformed theology” refers to the theological beliefs taught by these early Reformed theologians and the tradition of their followers that began after their deaths and which continues to the present day…Reformed theology is marked by a recognition that Christian faith needs constantly to be articulated and confessed (Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers, McKim, p.4).

Presbyterians consider Calvin to be the father of Presbyterianism. His cornerstone theology is his work called Institutes of the Christian Religion where he discusses topics such as God, humanity, sin, grace, sacraments, scripture, and our “favorite” predestination. One of the most prominent theological articulations from Calvin are his five points that set Calvin apart from another theologian named Ariminius, those five points are popularly known as TULIP – T-U-L-I-P. TULIP stands for T- Total Depravity, that humans are totally affected by sin, U- Unconditional Election, that God elects persons to salvation, L- Limited Atonement, that Christ died for the elect, I- Irresistible Grace, that we cannot resist God’s grace, and P- Perseverance of the Saints, that once we are saved we will not be lost. TULIP has been debated ever since Calvin proposed these five points. Not all Presbyterians adhere to all the points, but that is the nature of reformed thought, we are always debating theology!
Other hallmarks of the Reformation for Presbyterians are recorded in our Book of Order, part of our church constitution. In Chapter two we read:
(G-2.0400) In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) identifies with the affirmations of the Protestant Reformation. The focus of these affirmations is the rediscovery of God’s grace in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. The Protestant watchwords—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone — embody principles of understanding which continue to guide and motivate the people of God in the life of faith.
(G.2.0500) In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of God who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love. Related to this central affirmation of God’s sovereignty are other great themes of the Reformed tradition:
(1) The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;
(2) Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God;
(3) A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation;
(4) The recognition of the human tendency to idolatry and tyranny, which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.

When at seminary we would joke sometimes that it seems impossible to have three “alones” but there they are, grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone. These were three foci of the reformed movement: focus on the grace of God to bring us justification in the righteousness of God, faith alone as the way to that justification, and scripture as our authoritative source to reveal grace and faith.

I selected the Romans 5 reading today because Romans was a key book for Luther in criticizing the church. The phrase “justification by faith” completely changed Luther’s life bringing him the joy that had been missing from his life prior to reading the Bible. What Luther took joy in discovering was that God’s gift of grace and God’s gift of faith and God’s gift of salvation is truly a gift, not something we earn. This reading of the text changed the Christian Church forever. We are who we are today because of those who came before us to pave the way in Reformed theology.

As the Book of Order states we are “The church reformed, always reforming…” Perhaps better said still: “The church reformed, always being reformed, because God does the reforming. Reformed and always reforming demonstrated a faith that is living, growing, changing, learning. We cannot be settled with faith. What we know of God at age ten is different when we are twenty and thirty and as we grow older we come to know and appreciate more about God. The Reformed tradition itself calls us to be ever studying, ever growing, ever faithful, ever grateful. Today we celebrate our history as the church reformed.

Perhaps we could consider this Reformation Sunday as a call to reclaim our history as a people of reformed faith – to renew our understanding of the centrality of the scripture and the gifts of God in grace and faith. Some would argue that we have forgotten who we are as the church of Jesus Christ, that our identity has become shaky at best, and that we need to get back to our roots as reformed thinkers. Who knows, the Spirit of God may once again move through the church and lead us to another great reformation. Ω

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1013
Psalm 65
Dr. Ed Pettus

“Praise To You, O God”

Each Sunday we spend a few seconds in silent reflection to prepare our hearts for worship. This time is intended to move us from the noisy, hectic world of the week into a place of reverent peace and into a joyous and thankful attitude of worship. It is a brief moment in time, a silence of anticipation, a stillness that we sometimes think comes before we sing praises.

But perhaps that time of silence is not a preparation to praise, but praise itself. In Psalm 65 there is that moment of silence before the singing, before the shouts. We are certainly not the first to ever practice a time of silence at the beginning of worship. Psalm 65 helps us imagine Jews centuries before Christ, sitting in a synagogue or in an open space while in exile as they worshipped God. Or we might picture the earliest Christians huddled in a secret place reading Psalm 65 as a liturgy for worship. And here we are carrying on that same tradition, the church today in silent reflection.
You see, Psalm 65 begins with a couple of options in the translation. As we read from the NRSV, verse one says: “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion”. We are uncertain of the meaning of the Hebrew and so the NASB renders it this way: “There will be silence before You, {and} praise in Zion, O God.” One Jewish Bible says it another way: “To you, God, in Tziyon, silence is praise.” Silence is praise to God. Remember that next Sunday when we practice our time of silence” – silence is praise to God.

Whether we read it “praise is due” or “silence is praise”, the point is to praise! The Psalmist knows that the praise it due, because the Psalmist is, as we say in the south, “fixin” to tell us why praise is due. The Psalm begins: To you, O God…to you is due the praise, and what follows that affirmation is gathering the testimony. We listen to that testimony in silent awe, the testimony is given – for to you, O God, shall vows be performed. We will praise you because you are the one who answers prayer. To you all flesh shall come. You forgive our transgressions. The silence praises God, performing vows praises God, coming to God praises God. So the Psalm begins with the threefold expression: to you, to you, to you, O God… “Praise is due to you, to you shall vows be performed, to you all flesh shall come”.

Praise is due to God because of all the things God does: You choose and bring us near…to live in your courts, to be satisfied in your house, your holy temple.
Verse 5 then turns to God’s saving acts and acts of creation…You answer us with deliverance, you are the hope of the earth, you established the mountains, you silence the seas, you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. Imagine the morning and evening, dawn and dusk calling out, “Praise the Lord!” We awake to the sunrise shouting, “Come and worship!” We enjoy the coming of night with the dusk shouting joy to the Lord. We stand before the wonder of God in silent awe.

And still we wait in silence for the testimony of God’s deeds to be proclaimed, for the Psalmist is not yet finished:
You visit the earth, you water it, you enrich it, you provide grain, you prepare it. You water, you settle, you soften, you bless.

And verse 11 – you crown the year with your bounty, with your goodness and your wagon tracks overflow with richness. Artur Weiser interprets that last phrase as “God’s tracks drip with fatness” (Weiser, The Psalms, p. 466). There is so much goodness given in the earth and to the inhabitants of the earth that it drips in abundance.

You, O God, have done all this. Eleven verses have chronicled God’s forgiveness, God’s provision, God’s awesome deeds, God’s salvation, God’s strength, God’s creation, God’s nurture, God’s overflowing graciousness. And in the final two verses we see the result of God’s work as creation is blessed to overflowing, girded with joy, clothed in flocks, decked with grain. In the end, after waiting in silent awe at this list of what God has done, the Psalmist says: “They shout and sing together for joy!” The praise that is due is given, singing and shouting, joyous celebration, people and creation – all flesh shall come. ---

The author of Psalm 65 imagines the world in a way that constantly leads to praise. God intervenes. God delivers, God saves, God forgives. God is the reason for worship and praise. God answers prayer, God creates, and God visits the earth. The testimony is that praise is due to God because God has done everything.

The implication is that all other reasons that might be offered are false. God alone is the reason for all there is. God is the source of our life. The counter claim to the world’s liturgy of deliverance, salvation, or forgiveness…is that God alone does these things, not any false gods like Baal of the Old Testament times, not Israel itself, not blind luck or happenstance, not economics, not military might, not homeland security. Only God delivers. Salvation is not from us, not hard work, not technology, not financial power, not anything else but God. That is the claim and affirmation of Psalm 65.

We can get so tied up in ourselves that we begin to think that we have done all these wonderful things on our own, that we brought peace, we made ourselves, we passed the test, we made the business what it is today, we did this and we did that, but we fail to give credit where it is due. An even deeper autonomy is imagining, not we , but “I” made all this possible! I made my success, I make my life, or I bring my own salvation.

The Psalm promotes a God consciousness. The message is that we give God praise because we recognize that God is the source of our life and all that we enjoy. One of the reasons for having a Psalm like this is to remind us of God’s deeds among us – because we tend to forget. Israel forgot over and over, they forgot that God had brought them out of Egypt, or that God had gathered them from exile, or that God loved them more than they could imagine.

We hear messages every day telling us God has nothing to do with our lives. This is the message from the world, assumed in every news broadcast, implied in television programs, and promoted in most ads, that God is irrelevant or does not exist or has nothing to do with the modern world. And unfortunately it is evident in the way we sometimes live, worried about so many things. That is why Jesus taught that we do not have to worry about what we shall wear or eat, because God will take care of those things.

Christian musician Phil Keaggy wrote a song about God’s provision. One part says: “Said the robin to the sparrow, “I would really like to know, why these anxious humans beings rush about and worry so.’ Said the sparrow to the robin, ‘Well, I think that it must be that they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.’”

So often we live just that way – rushing about and worrying so as if we have no heavenly Father who cares for us, who forgives us, who has created all to provide for us. The Psalm invites us to think differently, to imagine a world where all praise to due to God and all flesh will one day come, and God forgives, God chooses, God satisfies, God saves.

The example given in this particular Psalm is creation itself. Creation does what it was created to do, shout and sing for joy. Isaiah 55 says: “the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Psalm 65 ends with a creation doxology: the pastures, the hills, the meadows, and valleys shout and sing. You know what happens to us? We get too busy to shout and sing for joy. We forget to praise God, whether in a spoken word of thanks, or in song, or in silence.
Creation just does that naturally – why can’t we? Our lives could be a natural expression of shouting and singing for joy. Not to say that we go around shouting and singing all the time – but what if we sought a life that lived gracefully, faithfully, and joyfully that simply exudes praise for God? Then our lives might gain the same assumption of creation, that God alone makes all the arrangements necessary for our care. The Creator sustains all that is created. This Psalm brings creation to an animated expression of joy and praise. The Psalm lifts the activity of God thus bidding us to give praise where praise is due. Psalm 65 calls us to notice:

To notice God’s provision,
To see God’s salvation,
To receive God’s forgiveness,

And then…
To sing God’s praise,
To shout God’s joy.

Perhaps what is needed is a return to the beginning of the Psalm, a return to the place of forgiveness, which means a return to the place of confession. We live with the assumption that there is nothing and no one beyond ourselves and so we forget to sing and shout precisely because we see no reason to sing and shout. With an absence of God consciousness, God remains nothing more than a belief we call on when we need something.

Psalm 65 is also a national prayer for forgiveness: “You forgive our transgressions.” Israel was a theocracy, they held to the governance of God alone. We do not live under a theocracy but we do live with a national consciousness founded upon the Judeo-Christian tradition. What if our nation were able to confess its sins? What if our government was able to confess? Israel’s confession was a national public act. Of course, we will not see such a confession, not in today’s climate, but we can imagine the possibilities. We can assert this Psalm back into the public consciousness, at the very least back into our own consciousness. That is the call.

Psalm 65 is a Psalm for a nation and a Psalm for the church, a Psalm for us. It seeks to imagine a different reality, one that recognizes and lives with the wonder of God. The Psalm dares to imagine that God secures reliability about life that we can never secure ourselves. The Psalm was probably composed during good times, when everything about life was working out well – no disorientation and no problems. Some will argue that we are in a situation of conflict, whether we talk about war or crime or poverty or the conflicts between the left and right. How does a joyous Psalm reach out to touch our context of anxiety and pain?

Psalm 65 serves as an affirmation in the midst of chaos that God is still providing for us. God is still forgiving, choosing, bringing near, answering, silencing, making, visiting, enriching, providing, preparing, watering, crowning. God is still performing all the verbs of Psalm 65! You, you, you, God, you do it all! That is our song to sing. It is a song affirming life and, if forgotten, if we forget to sing this Psalm, we begin to think that it is not God, but us, or “I”, who have done great things. If we fail to sing this song and others like it, we will profane the very life we seek to celebrate.

God has made all the arrangements. God has made forgiveness possible. God is ready to begin again with us. So, let us begin anew with God, to You, O God, all praise is due! Let us make this Psalm our song of joy, affirming that God provides, God saves, God delivers, and we shall indeed be satisfied with the goodness of God’s creation. Praise God from whom all, all, all blessings flow. Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1012
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Dr. Ed Pettus

“The God-Breathed Word”

The Bible has a lot to say about the Bible. In our text for this morning, Paul writes: all scripture is inspired by God. Inspired literally means God-breathed, that is, God has breathed life into these words. The Spirit of God is at work in the scripture. When we read, hear, study, teach, preach, meditate, memorize, spend any time in the scripture, God is at work. The wind of God blows through our sacred texts. It is in this holy word where we find a refreshing wind of comfort, sometimes a strong wind of conviction, and other times a wind that sets us sailing in the right direction. God has blown the breath of life into these words.
When I reflect on the God-breathed word, I recall other times when God has breathed life into or onto someone. In Genesis 2:7 God breathed into Adam: “then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”. Adam had only the form of a human being before God breathed life into him. The other story I remember is in John’s gospel, John 20:21-22 when Jesus breathed on the disciples: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. Jesus breathed the life of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
What kind of life does God breathe into the word? What does it mean for the Bible to be God-breathed? We live in a world where we speak of words having meaning and power, but we sometimes speak about words being empty and, in one sense, lifeless. We are in that political season when we hear a lot of political rhetoric, especially in ads where promises are made and one opponent uses words to try and persuade us to give a vote one way or another. We are sometimes swayed by words, sometimes disgusted, sometimes frustrated, but we know that the words mean something important. Words have meaning in their context. A word of scripture means much more to us than words from politics or advertisements or news.

Jewish theology taught that the Spirit of God “rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them so that their words did not come from themselves, but from the mouth of God and they spoke and wrote in the Holy Spirit” (Kelly, Linguistic Key to the Greek NT, p. 647). Paul describes these words as words of hope: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
According to the Psalms the word gives life, revives the soul, and it is our delight:

Psalm 19:7-10
(read slowly) The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 1:2
Their [the righteous’] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Psalm 119 contains 176 verses singing the praises of God’s word.

When Paul wrote to Timothy he encouraged Timothy to continue in the word, a sacred word he had known from childhood and a word that instructs to salvation. No doubt Paul had the Old Testament in mind, but Paul also understood, or at least the church understood that the gospel stories and the early letters of Paul were also God-breathed. Peter understood this in 2 Peter 3:15-16, “our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, 16speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures”. Peter regarded Paul’s writings as scripture!

The scriptures are God-breathed – dangerous sometimes, confusing sometimes, challenging, mysterious, our list could go on. Peter Holmes comments on A.J.Jacobs Book, The Year of Living Biblically, and says: A.J. Jacobs discovered that he could not read the Bible alone. So every day he met with others to discuss its meaning. It drew him into community and into a new way of thinking of others. For the first time he considered the possibility that there is One who created us, and soon he felt a deep connection to the whole human family. It may seem out of season, but it is the word the world needs. By the end, Jacobs referred to himself as a ‘reverent agnostic’ and wrote this: ‘Studying the Bible is not like studying sumo wrestling in Japan. It’s more like wrestling itself. This opponent of mine is sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel, sometimes ancient, sometimes crazily relevant. I can’t get a handle on it. I’m outmatched” (Jacobs, p. 119). We cannot get a handle on the Word precisely because it is a living word that comes from a living God. As Hebrews 4 says it: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). As someone once said the word we read is able to read us!

One of the concerns from Paul is that “the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). The time is here. Such a time has been here since Paul first wrote those words and we know that our culture is filled with teachings that can pull us away from sound doctrine, from God’s word, and lead us to hear what we want to hear. One criticism of the church is that we have lost our confidence in scripture. We no longer trust that it is God-breathed. Perhaps we are so busied by life and modern things that we are apathetic toward the word of God. We are even embarrassed somewhat by what we have in this word! Paul tells Timothy and Paul tells us, no, no, no! Do not be ashamed of this word. Continue to believe. Be persistent. Proclaim the living word by word and deed. Encourage one another with God word.
I think today Paul would warn us not to wonder off by putting more faith in the Oprah book list or even in the latest “new” teaching-self help-pop theology- “what would Jesus do?” -bumper sticker theology that seems to make the best seller Christian book list. I am so weary and leery of the most popular Christian books of the day, because one of the reasons why these books become so popular is that we are looking for something new, even beyond or in place of scripture, and maybe our ears are itching for something to suit our desires. We so quickly move away from the God-breathed word precisely because it is God-breathed, living, active, truthful, able to rebuke. But this God-breathed word is where we truly find life! The Psalmist said: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Psalm 119:93). But we are conflicted because we want life and yet we resist this God-breathed word of life because it is easier to find one more book that will give us something else, something different, something we think will satisfy our itching ears.

Paul was afraid Timothy felt the same way, so he wrote this word to encourage Timothy to never ever give up on the inspired word of God. The Message says it this way: “Proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don't ever quit. Just keep it simple. You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food - catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you - keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant”.

There is a lot of spiritual junk food out there; let us stick with a diet of God-breathed words trusting that God is breathing in and through these words of scripture. Let us join Jeremiah who said: “Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).

All I want to do this morning is renew the call in our ears – the call to renew our commitment to the Word of God, to listen to Paul’s word…God’s word, to stay the course of solid teaching that is found in the Bible. Trust this word for your life for this is the God-breathed word of life. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday Sermon 10-10-10

Sermon # 1011
Luke 17:11-19
Dr. Ed Pettus

“A Life Infused With Gratitude”

Wayne Mueller shares this thought on gratitude from his book on the Sabbath:

“Meister Echhart, the Christian mystic, asserted that if the only prayer we ever prayed our whole life was ‘Thank you,’ that would be enough. Gratefulness cultivates a visceral [intuitive] experience of having enough. When we are mindful of what we have, and give thanks for the many gifts we have overlooked or forgotten, our sense of wealth cannot help but expand, and we soon achieve a sense of sufficiency we so desire. Practice thanksgiving before meals, upon rising, when going to sleep. Friends, family, food, color, fragrance, the earth, life itself – these are all gifts, perfectly gratuitous. How can we not give thanks? During Sabbath time we are less concerned with what is missing, focusing instead on sharing our gratefulness for what has already been given” (Sabbath, p. 128).

Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of modern times, emphasized that the basic human response to God is gratitude, more so than fear and trembling, more than guilt or dread, our greatest response is thanksgiving (from Feasting on the Word, Yr.C, vol. 4, 165).
The Psalms give testimony to this as well. The Psalter ends with several Psalms that do nothing more than praise and thank God. This may be a sign to how an obedient life is completed – praise the Lord! This is how the cleansed leper from Samaria returns to Jesus, glorifying God and giving thanks to Jesus.

Our gospel story today has Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Back in Luke 9 Jesus “sets his face toward Jerusalem”. He has begun the journey to fulfill God’s will and this story is along the way of that journey. He is somewhere between Samaria and Galilee. He enters a village, no name is given, no more information, but as he enters the village a group approaches, lepers, those afflicted with a skin disease. The story says they kept their distance. By Jewish law they were required to keep their distance. Leviticus 13:45-46 tells us: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

It was an isolated existence – the only companionship was with other lepers. The isolation itself may have been more painful than the actual disease. We may not even be able to imagine what that life was like. Image no more contact with family or friends, no interaction with your community, no buying or selling in the market, no “Hi, how are you?” with strangers. Instead you have to keep your distance and cry out “unclean” any time you came close to someone.

We might experience that for a short time if we are quarantined in the hospital with some illness, but rarely for a lifetime. It is so unpleasant to have to stay away from others – like when we have a cold or flu, we have to separate ourselves or we separate our children so that no one else will catch whatever virus is making the rounds. Isolation from others is painful emotionally and physically.
Imagine that feeling of isolation compounded by the fact that there is no hope of ever coming back to family or church – never fitting into society again. Instead, you are cast out to live untouched by others with a few who suffer the same disorder. That is what lepers faced in the first century – total isolation from society, from family and friends. Torn from their lifestyles of work and play, torn from the physical touch of spouse and children. Ten lepers met Jesus at this village and this time they called out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (13)

They know who Jesus is. They know that he is the one who can and will show mercy upon them. The first request, the first act of faith is to ask for mercy. Mercy, in this case, means healing. Mercy means recognizing them and their condition. Mercy means seeing them, really seeing them – and Jesus does see them. When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’

Just as the lepers had followed the Leviticus code that kept them out of normal society, so Jesus follows the law of Leviticus here.

Leviticus 14:1-9 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest; 3the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. If the disease is healed in the leprous person, 4the priest shall command that two living clean birds and cedarwood and crimson yarn and hyssop be brought for the one who is to be cleansed. 5The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel. 6He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. 7He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field. 8The one who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, but shall live outside his tent seven days. 9On the seventh day he shall shave all his hair: of head, beard, eyebrows; he shall shave all his hair. Then he shall wash his clothes, and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.

This was the plan for the ten lepers as Jesus tells them to go to the priests. Go and show yourselves; the priests would examine them and see that they were healed and go through this ritual cleansing. They are certainly being faithful to the Jewish law, first in keeping their distance from Jesus and then keeping the law of ritual cleansing.

So the lepers go as Jesus commands:
(Luke 17:14-18) And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’

The first act of faith for the lepers was to seek mercy and now the second is to return thanks – to say “thank you”. But only one returns, only one comes back. Jesus responds to the first act and sends the lepers to the priests for cleansing. The second act of faith is returning to Jesus to give thanks, to offer gratitude. As Meister Echhart asserts, when we are grateful we are cultivating an intuitive experience of plenty, of enough, of satisfaction, of healing and wholeness. Like the lepers we are so enamored by the experience of healing and wholeness that we cannot help but return to praise and give thanks. C. S. Lewis “observed the connection between gratitude and personal well-being. ‘I have noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most; while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible’” (Reflections on the Psalms, 78-81).

Notice then what happens to the leper who returned. He receives something even greater than the first healing – for now he receives salvation. The plea for mercy leads to healing, which leads to gratitude, which leads to salvation. Jesus said to him: ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
The word translated here as “made well” is the same word translated in other texts as “saved”. It is the same word used in Luke 19 to say that salvation has come to Zacchaeus. Ten are healed and one of those ten is saved!

There is in this story, and in many others, a mysterious (mystical) connection between faith and healing, praise and healing, thanks and healing, obedience and healing – and salvation. It is the kind of connection that we know as people of faith, but even the medical community has become more aware of the connection between faith and healing. A great connection is suggested in this story. When this particular leper sees what has happened to his skin, he returns in gratitude. It bids the question, what do we do when we see what God has done for us? It has been suggested by one commentator that: “gratitude may be the purest measure of one’s character and spiritual condition. The absence of the ability to be grateful reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that I deserve more than I ever get, so I do not need to be grateful” (NIB Luke, p. 327).
Gratitude, in other words, demonstrates faithfulness.
Gratitude reveals character.
Gratitude expresses the depth of our relationship with God – our spiritual condition.

A life infused with gratitude is a life acutely aware of God’s gifts, God’s grace, God’s love, because we cannot help but return praising God and giving thanks when we have seen what God has done.

Gratitude recognizes that there is another to thank. We are not autonomous beings without need to thank another. We have not done this work on our own, but we owe thanks – and that Other is God. The lepers displayed faith when they cried out for mercy and obedience when they left to go to the priests, but one leper went a step further and displayed gratitude in response to the mercy received. The result was salvation – wholeness – wellness.

John Buchanan says: “The basic Christian response to God is gratitude: gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the world, gratitude for the dear people God has given us to enrich and grace our lives. The basic Christian experience is gratitude to God for God’s love in Jesus Christ and the accompanying gift of hopeful confidence and wholeness and wellness that comes with it, regardless of the worldly circumstances in which we find ourselves” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C vol. 4, 169).
Foster a life infused with gratitude, giving thanks at mealtimes, giving thanks in the morning when you awake, giving thanks in the evening when you go to sleep, praising God for what God has done throughout your days. In Psalm 126 we read: “The Lord has done great things for us…” God has indeed done great things for us and we return, even if no one else does, we return to Jesus to simply say thank you and to praise and glorify God for all that God has done for us. Let us nurture gratitude – a life infused with gratitude – by giving thanks today and every day. Thanks! Amen.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1009
Acts 2:37-42
Dr. Ed Pettus

“For You and Your Children”
Today we celebrate the sacrament of baptism. It is one of our two sacraments we celebrate in the Protestant Church. The other is the Lord’s Supper.

Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Baptism symbolizes our participation in Jesus’ death and resurrection. It symbolizes the faithfulness of God, the washing away of sin, rebirth, putting on the fresh garment of Christ, being sealed by God’s Spirit, and adoption into the covenant family of the Church. That is a lot of stuff!! One reason we baptize infants is, as the Book of Order states, the baptism of children witnesses to the truth that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith. Before we are even able to respond in faith, God loves us! That means that there is a claim upon our lives in baptism that is at work in us until we reach an age when we choose to respond to that claim, and that claim continues to work through God’s grace even if we delay a response. Our understanding is that God is at work in us whether we realize it or not. God is calling us whether we hear well or not. God is loving us even though we are sinners. God is active in our lives before we are even aware of God’s activity. God is with us even if we have yet to acknowledge God. God keeps God’s promises; God has promised his love, his grace, and his mercy…and so much more.

Some claim that God is at work in all people whether they realize it or not. When we minister to people, share our faith, or call them to follow Christ, we are simply participating in a work where God is already present. We are involved in the ministry of Christ; it is not our own ministry, but Jesus Christ’s ministry. It is part of our call in our baptism to be a part of this ministry…a call that, when we are baptized as infants, we are given opportunity to respond to later in life. One response is to give one’s life to God, what we call “confirmation” in our tradition, but all of us who have been baptized are asked to respond to that baptism throughout our lives. Today is one of those days because today we are all reminded that we are the baptized people of God. We are constantly learning more about the importance and meaning of our baptism.

We are the baptized community in need of ministry and compassion from Christ. Our proper response to the compassionate call of Christ is to attend to our relationship with Christ. Our baptism begins a journey that grows in relationship with God in such a way that we participate in the life of Jesus Christ in the world. Life and ministry is through Jesus in the same way that our prayers are through Jesus or in the name of Jesus. That is what it means to be baptized into the community of faith. Whether we are baptized as infants or as adults, we are acted upon by God to enter a covenant relationship that is initiated by God. Now an infant will not respond to that initiation of relationship until he or she is older and made aware of this act of God. But who are we to deny our children access to the covenant of God?

We can no more deny our infants baptism than a Jew could deny their male infants circumcision. Infant boys in the Jewish tradition are circumcised at eight days old making them a part of the covenant between God and God’s people. The infant knows nothing of this rite at eight days old, but is claimed by the parents and the community of faith as a child of the covenant. We use the same phrase with every infant baptism: “this child is a child of the covenant”.

In Acts 2 there is the account of Peter preaching to the crowd that had gathered on the Day of Pentecost. He presented to them the story of Jesus in relationship to the promises of the Old Testament scripture and when he had finished the word says: “they were cut to the heart…and said…what should we do” (2:37)? Peter’s response informs our theology of infant baptism. He says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (2:38-39). The promise is for us and for our children, so we do not deny children this opportunity to receive the promises of God.

Our detractors take this story and turn it into a formula that requires you first repent, then baptism, then the Spirit will come. Obviously infants cannot repent so the thought is they should not be baptized. Let’s look at two other stories in the book of Acts that guard against such formulations.

The first is another scene in Acts 10:44-48 where Peter is preaching Christ and while Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came upon those who heard his sermon and they began speaking in tongues and praising God. In this case the pattern is different. It is not a case of repentance, baptism, then receiving the Spirit. There is not even any indication that the hearers had any say so in anything, the Spirit just “fell upon all who heard”. There were Jewish believers with Peter and they were amazed that Gentiles had been touched by the Spirit. Peter basically said that there was no reason not to baptize them and he ordered them to be baptized. If we held to a pattern of repentance, baptism, and Spirit then this story is out of order because the order is Spirit fell, then they are baptized.

The second scene is from Acts 9 where the Pharisee, Saul (who would later be named Paul), was, as the text says: “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1). Paul is on his was to Damascus to find believers when the Lord confronts him on the road and after his conversation with Jesus he is blinded for three days. His companions lead him on to Damascus and he remains blind until a disciple named Ananias came to him. Ananias lays hands on Saul and prays: “‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (9:17-19). Saul regains his sight, the prayer speaks of Paul being filled with the Spirit, and after his sight is restored he gets up and is baptized.

I lift these stories only to demonstrate that baptism, repentance, and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not defined by our attempts to make formulas. We cannot easily claim repentance must precede baptism or that the Spirit will automatically wait to come after someone is baptized or that any other pattern might be applied. Granted the characteristic way we have seen the invitation in scripture is we hear the word, we repent, we are baptized and we receive the gift of the Spirit. But the Spirit works as the Spirit so desires. The Spirit blows where it chooses (John 3:8) and we are not the ones who decide, nor are we the ones who can deny our children the promises given in baptism.

In Luke the disciples try to keep some people from bringing their infants to Jesus so that he might touch them: “But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’"(18:15-17). The disciples thought that the babies should not be brought to Jesus. I don’t know if the disciples thought Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with so many children or whether they thought children were not to be included in Christ’s work. Whatever they thought, Jesus received them all.

John Calvin said: “If it is right for infants to be brought to Christ, why not also to be received into baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them, why is the sign denied which, so to speak, opens the door into the church, that, adopted into it, they may be enrolled among the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? How unjust of us to drive away those whom Christ calls to himself! To deprive those whom he adorns with gifts! To shut out those whom he willingly receives” (1330)!

The Reformed faith teaches that infant baptism takes as its model the practice of circumcision in the old covenant. The Book of Order says: “As circumcision was the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with Israel, so baptism is the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with the Church.” The Old Testament is not without its elusions to baptism – perhaps a foreshadowing of the new covenant practice. Paul reflects on the ancestors of the Jews in 1 Corinthians 10:3-4,
“I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.”
They passed through the water – every Israelite who left Egypt. I suspect there were a few babies in the crowd as they passed through the sea!

Paul also compares baptism to circumcision in Colossians 2 when he says:
“In him [Christ] also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (2:11-15).

Now who are we to deny our children this sacrament? The sacraments are larger than us. They are the symbols and signs that say to us more than words, more than feelings, more than our theology, because they attempt to show us something of what God has already done for us. They dare to speak the mystery of faith – that God loves us so much and that God desires so much a relationship with us – that God would take the first step toward us even before we are able to respond. Jesus is the One who loves us before we even know it, before we can even begin to know it. Jesus is the One who gives us his Spirit before we know that he is present. Jesus is the One who works his compassion and love in and through us before we even realize he is here.

Jesus continues to work his ways in us even after we proclaim his presence. Even when we think we know Jesus and know what Jesus might be up to, he is working his mystery in and through us. He is doing something of a miracle in Owen’s life today and something of a miracle in your life today if you are a baptized believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He is working to bring you to a fuller relationship through your baptism, because each one of us shares in the sacrament having passed through the waters, dying with Christ and being raised to new life in him.

When we baptize our infants we promise to look after them in the faith, to show them the love of God that we too are seeking to know and understand. No matter what age we are baptized, we will spend our lifetime learning what our baptism means for us. We are reminded today that we have promised to nurture the baptized – children and adult – to nurture and love one another as Jesus commands.

Today is a day to celebrate. Today is a day to rejoice. Today is the day to baptize another infant and to remember that we together are the baptized community of faith. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Sermon

Sermon # 1008
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Dr. Ed Pettus

“A Quiet Life”

I wonder what you thought when you first read the sermon title today, “A Quiet Life”. Did you read into it something of a yearning: “Oh I wish my life were more quiet”? Or did you read it another way: “I don’t care much for quiet”? Modern life is loud, noisy, and filled with words, music, sound, hectic schedules, just very busy. Modern life is also filled with violence, abuse, conflict, war, and unrest.

When Paul wrote these words of a life of quiet and peace, he was no doubt referring to a life free of violence, persecution, and imprisonment that was a real possibility for Christians in his day. Paul himself suffered many beatings, jail time, and various sufferings because of his faith, so it is no wonder that he would desire to live in peace and quiet. That might be our desire as well, even if in a different way.

But we know too that Paul desired a quiet and peaceful inner life. He once spoke of being content even in the face of hardship: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It is on this kind of quiet, peaceful life that I want to set our focus today.

Quiet – the joy of silence. Most of the time we avoid quiet. We get into the car and turn on the radio. We come home – turn on the TV. I challenge you to find a teenager without either a set of earphones stuck in her ears or a cell phone glued to the side of his head.

We sometimes call moments of silence, awkward. One of my favorite movie scenes is the kitchen table scene at the end of Moonstruck when the family is sitting in a somewhat comedic tension about the engagement situation for the character played by Cher and after a quiet tense filled 30 seconds the old man, the Italian grandfather cannot stand the tension any longer and as they sit at table almost pretending to eat, he says: “Someone tell a joke!”

The quiet is sometimes too much to bear because we have become so accustom to noise. But the noise, the busyness is the enemy of the quiet inner life. The hectic world of words and sounds and sound bites threaten our ability to listen for and to God. In Paul’s day the desire was certainly for a quiet life without threat from an oppressive government and so it is still today in some parts of the world. But for us, at the moment, the threat is from a life that is so loud we cannot hear God. The risk is becoming so engaged in the loud that we completely ignore the quiet.

We need quiet time! It is a common practice among Christians to have precisely that, a quiet time each day to read the scriptures, to pray, to listen, to reflect. Most believers who practice this discipline do so in the morning. Jesus did this as well. We read in Mark 1:35 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” It is believed that this was a typical day for Jesus. In my younger days I spent time like that at night, but no more, I have come around to the Jesus way and have some time during the morning hours when I can stay awake!

It is very much a Christian disciple to cultivate a time of quiet reflection, scripture meditation, prayer, silent time of listening for the word of God. Such listening is always aided by knowledge of scripture. But such quiet time is hindered when all we have is noise in our life. We see in scripture this theme of quiet devotion:

I have calmed and quieted my soul ~ Psalm 131:2

Why would the Psalmist calm and quiet his soul? Perhaps to simply be in the presence of God like a weaned child with its mother. Perhaps to focus the heart and mind on God. Perhaps to rest in God. We do not know precisely why this position of calm and quiet is taken, but it is surely a common practice among the faithful in the scriptures.

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. Psalm 62:1
In Psalm 62 we wait for God in the silence. We wait to hear a word, an insight, an answer to prayer. Waiting is time consuming. Waiting, especially waiting in silence, is not something we are used to.

‘Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10
In Psalm 46 we become still that we can know that God is God. This is a great reason to quiet and still ourselves – to know that God is God.

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15
In Isaiah 30 the admonition is that we are strengthened in the quiet. No need for anxiety and worry, in fact, the very opposite is called upon – quiet and trust.

All of these testimonies speak to the benefit of the quiet life.

For some of us the quiet life seems too far removed from our everyday existence. We don’t have the time or we cannot seem to ever get quieted. For others there is plenty of room for quiet but we do not know exactly what to do with the quiet. We all need that familiar voice of our teacher, you know the voice I’m talking about, she raised her voice above the chatter of students and called out” “Be quiet, class!” We need to heed the action of Jesus who fostered his life through the practice of prayer and silence.
We spend just a few seconds at the beginning of worship practicing silence, fostering quiet.

The practice of quiet time: read a scripture passage, focus on a phrase or word that you like, close your eyes and focus on that word or phrase. Think about what it means, who is speaking. You might want to journal, silent prayers to God, quiet reflections of your day. Quiet time is about calming the soul that is so bombarded every day, feeding the soul that is starved by busyness. Take some time to be quiet. We were quiet together for about 30 seconds at the beginning of worship.
What about sixty seconds, or ninety, imagine 20 minutes? It drives some of us crazy to disengage from the world for such a long period or what can seem like a long period of time. St. Augustine once said that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. “Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” One of the goals of our silence is rest in God. We can live in quietness all the time and yet not have the rest that is needed in the soul. The quiet we need is not just an absence of noise, but an intentional focus of quiet within.
A time to sigh,
to release,
to pray (listening),
to truly be still and know that God is God.

Let’s try sixty seconds of quiet, focused silence. You may bow your heads, close your eyes and simply repeat a prayer in your thoughts: “Quiet my soul”. Repeat that prayer. If you find your mind wondering off to what someone else on your pew might be doing, come back to your prayer: “quiet my soul”. We were joking last Wednesday at Bible Study that we could not do this exercise if our service was on the radio. Silence is not the radio’s friend, but it can a tremendous benefit to us as we seek to grow in Christ through quieting our souls. I’ll keep an eye on the second hand! Sixty seconds of quiet: “Lord, quiet my soul”.

(sixty seconds)

After about ten seconds we start to sense the awkwardness. After thirty seconds we start to think this has to be sixty seconds by now. But if you tried to focus through the prayer perhaps you began to feel a little bit refreshed. I hope that in sixty seconds you could begin to feel the refreshment of silence. I hope that such an exercise would lead us to consider longer periods of quiet. This is not some new age nonsense, but it is a practice centered in the life of Christ’s church. This is one practice or discipline that fosters a soul at peace. The quieted life, an inner quiet, can lead us to be content with our circumstances, to be at peace, and to rest in God’s presence. It lowers blood pressure too! Bonus! Consider the goal of living a quiet and peaceful life. We do not have to drop out of the modern life, but we do have to be more intentional in nurturing the soul and setting aside the time for the quiet. “O Lord, quiet our souls!” Amen.