A message for 3/22 “The Road to Easter”

As we worship from home on March 22, here’s a message from Pastor Steve.

22 March 2020 Sunday Sermon

Call to Worship: John 3:16-17

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Prayer: Father in heaven, today we confess to you our sins of omission, and commission, of ingratitude, and greed. Fear has driven much of our behavior in the past, and we want to make a change. Too often we forget that every moment we live is a gift from you. With this in mind Lord today our gifts tithes and offerings, are the greatest we possess. Today, we give ourselves to you. We recommit to you and your way of life. Receive us and bless us, Father, so the message of your love may be spread to the far ends of the earth. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

Message Reading, John 3: 1-15: “The Road to Easter”

3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied,

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Message:

Today, we face a new reality in our society. In our congregation and church family. In the way we are processing things as people. Never before have the vast majority of us faced a real and systemic threat to the workings of our society. Perhaps we are not at that point in this crisis, but suffice it to say, we are experiencing a crisis of fear and frustration in many realms of our communities.

The Road of Easter, or the “Road to Our Salvation” suddenly seems much more complicated than many of us originally thought it might be. For many in our country, being a Christian meant that: “if I go to church, pay my tithe, rebuke evil and evil people, say the right things, and don’t do most of the bad things (at least in the open), I can get into Heaven”.

And if your salvation depended on you and just your actions, I guess you might be well on your way. At least if you are not like me who doesn’t stand a chance on my own. Thankfully, if and when the Lord decides to claim me as one of His family, it will be totally based on what He has done and not on what I am wavering on. That is the good news of the Gospel, and yet what does all of this really mean to me in the midst of a pandemic, an earth quake, and a meltdown of the financial community along with the departure of yours and my savings?

I guess this is the time for real soul searching, letting go of the worldly stuff, and coming to terms with who God is, and where we really are in our Faithwalk in the Lord.

Make no mistake, this is an exercise that is long overdue for me and I suspect, many of us in our Faith-family. Asking the question, why do I believe, what I believe, and what makes a person a Christian?

Before I go further, I want to share with you, that I am not having a crisis of faith in my own right. I am even more excited today about getting to be a pastor in our Lord’s Church and serving you than ever before! Thank you!

I personally do not see it a sin to having a crisis of faith. If you are in a faith crisis right now, it means you are alive and it may be what is needed at this time to spark your growth and maturity in Him. There is no sin in the struggle with God. A good Jewish Rabbi would say that you are obligated to speak out against injustice and for other people struggling in this life.

The sin comes into play when I am in open rebellion, or in outright apathy in my thoughts towards the author of my creation. So, as I claim my middle name “Israel” meaning “to struggle with God and live”, I begin to understand that a faithwalk is based on struggling and chewing over the hard to understand things of the Lord.

Before I venture any further in today’s message, I think we need to review and absorb just what John had to say in our Call to Worship, John 3:16-21;

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Every time I read or recite this passage, I am reminded of a true love in my life. Margarete Christiansen. This was her favorite passage, and I recited it at her funeral, and all of her family knew this passage. It stood her well decade after decade, through the great depression, and the heartache of losing loved ones in this life. And yet, when I give a sermon in our beautiful church on the corner of 25th and Jefferson, I know that I am never alone. Even when I don’t feel good in my own skin, she is there smiling in my heart. Margarete always stressed a key verse in this passage;

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

On any given Sunday, many of us can feel the presence of peace come from and go out to the people we have loved deeply and carry with us in our hearts. Our families and loved ones, our family in God from the very room we worship Him in our Church Sanctuary. The Lord has cemented us together by the presence of the Holy Spirit that creates a bond that endures forever. We complete each other, in our service, hope, and love for Him.

Our love for those who have had such an influence on us spiritually, begins to refresh us. This is where trust in the Lord really begins to awake me from my spiritual sleepwalking, and begins to provide a new perspective about what is happening right now. All of this stuff that we are experiencing right now. The never before seen, the unexplainable, fear, the ups and downs of our emotions, the joys and heartaches, they are foundation stones for our development and growth into a deeper relationship with God and each other. And even when things seem completely outrageous, I am reminded of what Ecclesiastics 1:9 has to say,

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Even though, everything appears to be happening for the first time for us, the world has witnessed the vast majority of events before. The only permanence in this life is God and His agenda, not me or mine.

When we to contemplate the larger things in life by really believing that God has a higher purpose for us, and the rest of His creation, we can begin to take what He has to say more to heart. Continuing with what John says in John 18-21;

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

       But we already know this, because there has from time immemorial, since the fall of mankind always been people who believe and are working on a closer walk with the Lord, and those who didn’t believe that God could or wanted to save them. Leading some people to a life of outside of the scope of God’s plan, or existing in a state of out & out rebellion or extreme apathy, and not caring about anything.

Maybe right now there are some who are thinking, “Why is all of this bad stuff happening to me, I’m a good person.” “I believe. Kind of.” Or perhaps, “God is punishing me”.

My answer is; none of us are good. We are all fallen people in a fallen world, and the end result of free choice. When we decide to take over for God, our free choice results in bedlam. Some are saying a kind God wouldn’t let this happen. But if God fixed everything, where would our growth, our faith, our humanity and caring for others be? We would be autonomous. Robots without the opportunity of a real relationship in Him, and a future in eternity that we could appreciate.

Life is scary, and times are hard and dark, and uncertain. That is why you have been place into history at this perfect time of the Lord’s choosing. Fact is that God wants to have a relationship with each of us so that He can redeem each and every one of us that will accept the invitation. You are here to extend that invitation to any who will listen. Every generation has had a moment in time like this to some extent.

So, If as Ecclesiastics 1:9 states;

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Maybe we can be the spark of a renewal in the Lord for our own community today. Yes the world is a mess right now. But it always has been. Maybe our experiences are pushing the limits at this time, but God’s plan, will not lead us where His Grace cannot keep us!

In today’s message scripture we read of the Lord teaching Nicodemus, about being born again which begins a much greater journey in life. Following our Lord and walking in His footsteps.

On our path, our road to Easter, or our salvation, the Lord affords plenty of opportunities to grow and thrive in Him. Our pathways began at some point in our lives, and for each of us it was a different experience that led us to the Lord. Everyone has their own special experience in being born again. Some of us it was an explicit moment when the Lord called us. For others, it was something more intellectual and a slow brew. Others, it was on again, off again, and still others, it was painful, then joyful all at the same time.

If you have not had something change inside yet, step back and take a breath. You will come to this in His and your time. The key is to be open to the Spirit that wants to lead you in a direction towards Him. Remember, the only thing that made Abraham different from the other pagans he lived with, was that he was open to go where god wanted to take him. Now, three world faiths call him dad. The key is to keep on hoping, and believing in your Lord, and to work on loving Him and others before yourself. For many, this is the beginning of our transformation. Some of us simply learn as we do, and after a while, there is a real change happening inside.

At some specific point, we began to know who we were and to long for our Lord. Much like David who wrote in Psalm 42:1-2

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

This, coming from a murderer, an adulterer, and a man of war. And yet, Paul says that David was a man after God’s own Heart. Acts 13:22, Only your God can do stuff like that! There is nothing you have done that can keep you from Him, if you want to be with the Lord, except you. Thankfully, you are interested, because you have read this message up to this point. Thank you! In church, you might have been in deep REM at this point.

So, all of the things going on right now can and should remind us of what is important. And we are not alone in the longing for our Lord. Paul tells us in Romans 8:22-28

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Let go and dive deep into yourself, into the grace, peace, and bliss that is yours in Him, from Him, for Him! Of course, all of this sits soundly on a foundational bed of faith in Him. Little by little. This isn’t a lucky charm or a rabbit’s foot, but a new way of thinking. When you are able to place your faith in the one who created you, things in this existence become easier to understand, and then our faith builds on faith. Paul goes on to say three key things in Romans 8:

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

And…

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Let me summarize:

  1. All things with God are for good.
  2. If God is for us, who can be against us?
  3. God will give us all we need!

These three simple concepts make no sense to a world that is only interested in pleasing, chasing, and satisfying itself, and never getting enough. This is why our world is full of fear and worry right now. The battle for toilet paper domination and bottled water conquest began in an attitude of self before anything or anyone, to include God. Right now, it seems that fear is causing many of us to be in competition with everyone else. For stuff!

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Charmin and a Dr. Pepper, but if it is taking up all of your waking day, how is this any different than the person feeding their alcohol or nicotine addiction? And if you are getting into fights at the Fresh Market clinging to the last box of Fish Sticks when you are already stocked at home with food, maybe it’s time for a deeper look into what is really important.

This is where our being born again, and taking the Lord up on His invitation of showing you a better walk in life (our Road to Easter/Salvation) instead of the cereal aisle at Smiths, can lead us to a better existence in this life. Like Nicodemus at first it will take a little thought and a lot of prayer to begin to understand that the world’s way of thinking about things, is not the way God looks at the situation. Just look at the teaching of our Lord throughout the Gospel and scripture overall. We are to love God completely and other people as ourselves.

So where are we in our journey? Is everything on hold as we isolate from everyone else to contain this virus? Is my faithwalk on hiatus since I can’t attend Church this Sunday? I would say, no. And no. And no again! This is a time the lord has selected to grow your faith ever deeper, ever richer, more in tune with Him. Now we will learn a whole new aspect of ourselves by thinking of others during this trial.

We must be engaged. Those who think that it is possible to serve the Lord by sequestering their lives away into the Monastery, do not realize that those in the Monastery are tasked with praying for a world full of hurt and fear. During this time of seclusion, we are tasked by the Lord to be in in active prayer for other people. It is the greatest gift we can give others and doing so teaches us to be more like our Lord by thinking of other people.

In conclusion, nothing mankind can do in this life is written in stone and unchangeable unless when we outright deny the Lord into our lives. That completely cuts us off from the faith, hope and love that the Lord wants to instill into our lives in Him. It is my hope and prayer that this week, may become one of your most active prayer weeks in your life.

Please pray that the Lord may use this time to grow and mature you in Him. For each other, and that we may live in even greater harmony than before this time of trial. This will be done by practice and thinking of others before self. Pray for our church that we may become even more innovative in our way of worshipping as a family in God.

May all of you love God and others deeply, hope extremely, and rely exclusively in a Lord that is thinking of you, for eternity. In His precious and heavenly Holy name, Amen!