A message for 3/29 “The Road Towards Easter Continues”

This week continues the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. We’re still having Food Pantry to serve the community on Tuesday 3/31 (outside in the church parking lot, with some additional precautions). Otherwise, we’re working at “being the church” outside the building, learning to worship, serve, and fellowship in new ways. Here’s a message that Pastor Steve has prepared for us for this Sunday.

29 March 2020 Sunday Message

“The Road Towards Easter Continues”

Call to Worship

Psalm 27; Of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Tithe and Offering Prayer: Our Father in Heaven and Universe beyond; today we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to you and to our neighbors. Please teach us how to find our lives by losing our egos for you. Amen!

Message Reading; Mark 8:31-37

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“Further Down Our Road”

Today, as I think about what all this means to me as a person, I can’t help but be a little overwhelmed by the greatness of our God, and be a whole lot of underwhelmed by my own shortcomings as a Disciple of Christ. Every time I go a walkin into scripture, I am amazed by how the Word of God has a way of imprinting on a person’s heart new ways of hearing Him each time you try to get closer to Him in a personal relationship. And I guess what’s so disappointing in me, is that I still get surprised by the majesty of God’s greatness.

Like most slow learners, it takes a while for me to catch on to what the Lord is instructing. I am reminded of my Grandmother. Marie Reid. One of the most beautiful people I have ever met in this life. A gifted teacher who loved people without ever having to say she loved people. This is a woman who instructed the piano to multiple generations to some families, and was teaching thirteen students three weeks before she passed away at age 99.

Each Sunday, we would talk on the phone and would share with each other what we were reading. She would ask penetrating questions like, why is that important, how is that helpful. Not to impugn or be disagreeable, but to teach how to think critically. Sundays have never been the same since.

When she looked at you, it was as if she was looking deep into your soul. I have known only a couple of people that could pull that one off, and she was a master. Marie was also patient, as only a slow learner could appreciate. When you finally were able to piece together the plan of attack on any project, her affirmation of praise was, “that’s the system”, or “that’s the stuff”. And it made it all worthwhile!

I miss her deeply, and there are three children, ten grandchildren, and innumerable admirers with their own claims to closeness who have an emptiness from the vacuum of her passing. So how does this relate to a Sunday morning sermon?

God has a way of putting the most perfect people in your life at just the right time and just the right place to give you the opportunity to grow deeper in your walk with God. If you will let Him, he will pick people you never would have picked for yourself. (Which is why all people intending on being married should have some faith-based counseling! Or a 65-pound sheepdog with a better judge of character than I ever had, but that’s another lesson entirely)

Even the people that we are constantly around and we begin to take them for granted, are a gift from God. The hope is that we don’t wait until they have passed like my grandmother before we recognize just how special those people are. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of a pandemic before you start to worry about the people in your life. But if you do, pray for those you know with a gusto that will rattle the depths of your own sole, and then love others deeply. It’s not too late. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Love covers a whole lot of bad stuff in this life. It’s what the Lord was referring to in our today’s Message reading in Mark 8 when Jesus teaches the Disciples:

34“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

When I love my neighbor as myself, I am putting their best interest ahead of my own. Taking up our cross, isn’t being the living martyr, but being alive and loving deeply those that God has chosen to place in your life.

It is that same love that gives the opportunity for Peter to grow from his worldly thinking as expressed by the Lord’s rebuke again in Mark 8:

       31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

After Peter thinks he is correcting the Lord’s mistaken teachings of the future, Jesus’ rebuke explains that Peter is thinking in a worldly way. And, because love covers a whole lot of bad stuff, dumb stuff, selfish stuff, worldly junk, revenge and payback, ignorant misplacement, ego and fear; the Lord will grow Peter into a future leader in our faith family, and a rock foundation of God’s church.

Peter’s road towards Easter and Salvation will be epic and yet remain very human, replete with the ups and downs of life. Like you and me! Never replacing the true founding corner stone that is Jesus Christ, but serving to show all, what kind of growth can be found in all of us, when we walk in the Lord of life and salvation.

Just as the Lord matured and grew Peter during his times of trial and affliction, there is hope. In love, the Lord will forgive you and I of anything, when we are truly sorry for our missing the mark, and work with us as we build or rebuild our lives that have fallen prey to the stuff love has always be dedicated to heal. Not based on your church membership, but your family status which is written in your heart. Something only God can read.

During this time of trial, many of us are feeling very alone. The isolation that has been asked of us is intended to save us from the pandemic attacking our nation at this very hour. It’s at times like this that many of us begin to doubt our selves and our Faithwalks in the Lord. I believe that is why the Lord gave us scripture to show us in many different ways why we are not alone during times of heartache, trials, and anxiety.

Here some Good News of the Gospel as explained by Paul in Romans 8:

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?

I remember being tasked with providing the Call to Worship 22 years ago in the church my wife Lynn and I were attending. I recited this passage as a way of encouragement, and the Pastor at that time proceeded to tell us just what we were up against, with adversity facing us dead on. This missed the intended whole train of thought, and yet, it proved the point. Regardless of what we may come upon in the days to come, my thought is that we will be stronger than the challenge.

Just look at what the Lord has done for our little Congregation on the corner of 25th and Jefferson. We are still alive and well, because we have moved on from fear of the unknown and clung tightly to the Lord we do know. This has afforded our providing food to the hungry, and encouragement to those searching for their path forward. God has given us this gift in the greatest little city in the most beautiful clean state, of the greatest Country human beings have ever lived in.

Yes, God has been and will continue to be for US. A people who love Him and will continue to cling to our Lord with all of our ability, and care for other people as ourselves knowing; “it was Him who created them!” This reminds me of where we began in our “Call to Worship” from the 27th Psalm. Another of David’s love songs to a God he had a personal relationship with. Beginning with:…

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

These aren’t just David’s words with Paul adding to the thought in Romans a thousand years later; they encapsulate a relationship with God for all of us to follow suit and dive deeply into a faithwalk in Him. Remember this is a man after God’s own heart is also a murderer, adulterer, a thief of another person’s wife and life (Uriah). God’s relationship with David, is visited today upon us, as His personal gift to you. God loves you not because of what you have or have not accomplished, but because of who He is. I guess there is hope for me, because He loves me in spite of me, and even more to the point; He loves you!

David goes on to say:

When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.

My thought, most of the time my enemy has been me! Yes, there is this pandemic out there that concerns us all, but what counts is the right here and now. How I choose to deal with my own fears and selfishness. As Sherlock Holmes would say; “The game is afoot”. (I think) The war we fight today began in the recesses of our own hearts, before there was a virus and an excuse.

Our battle is wrapped up in a greater cause that the Lord is addressing. Reconciliation with all of humanity. That’s just a fancy way of saying, God wants a reunion with all of us who profess to love Him. And if we really do love God, He will show us how to grow in that relationship, as David goes on to sing this song to God and across the ages of time, to us:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple…

When I am in relationship in the Lord, my heart becomes a living breathing House of the Lord, that I take on the road with me on my path, my faithwalk towards salvation. I learn the right things to ask for from God, and He is ready to provide, now that I know what to do with what He has provided. All of a sudden, we begin to realize that we have never really been alone in this walk of ours, in Him. As my head is exulted above my enemies, in reality, I now have clarity of though as I arise from my slumber if sin and selfishness.

We begin to have confidence, and pray with expectation for God’s will to be done in this fallen world. I begin to understand my role in the scheme of things, and begin to understand that we can surmount any challenge before us. Case in point:…

10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.

This NIV translation along with the King James provides the words without any context to what I believe God is teaching us through David. I much more prefer the Complete Jewish translation, that states:

10 Even though my father and mother have left me,
Adonai will care for me.

Perhaps the Wyclif Bible translation approach comes even closer to the point: …

10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me; but the Lord hath taken me (up). (For even if my father and my mother desert me; the Lord shall still take care of me.)

In other words, even when we lose our parents through death (and all of us have or will at some point, and it feels like desertion and forsakenness!), we will rise above the devastation and emptiness because the Lord will remain in our lives and will heal us, mend us, grow us, if we will let Him.

This is where being a part of God’s family, is such comfort. We understand that our household in God is a large, large, family. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know everyone in your family it’s that large. (People living in Utah have a greater insight to this than those living in Burlington Iowa.)

One analogy goes like this; The comfort comes from the concept that we are all enjoying each other’s company for as long as we can stay up the night before the big Family reunion. It’s hard to sleep, because excitement abounds. Some of us have already retired for the evening and are asleep in blissful dreams. One by one each of us take our leave for rest and slumber, to awake for the surprise of surprises in the morning when we see all of our relatives awake and ready for the family reunion.

Unlike many reunions here in life, there are no fights, drinking to excess, and animosities. No, recounting of past hurts, or trips to the emergency room, due to good fireworks gone bad. The Highway patrol was not notified, nor were they needed, and because of our being glorified, we have everyone else’s best interest at heart as we Praise Glorify, and Magnify, God’s Holy Name.

And yes, there are cousins from the Catholic branch of the family, the Lutherans, Episcopal, and Latter-day Saints, even some of the Reformed ones! There are Methodist, and Disciples of Christ, Presbyterians, Orthodox, and some from the East as well. The whole Body of Christ even including some of us from the First Baptist variety. I know I have unintendedly left out some churches, but please trust me, I have every expectation that God knows His family, and they are represented by people from places you have no idea of, but He does. And, since God is doing the Judging, we have been content to take the day off and find new ways to appreciate and love one another at our Family Reunion of the future.

All of a sudden David’s words take on new meaning in our lives:

11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.

Maybe it takes a pandemic to force some of us to understand that many times our oppressors, and enemies that we confront, are our combined fears of the unknown or unknowable. But I believe David completes the thought for us in our hope in the Lord:

13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

My prayer and hope for you, is that today, you are one step closer to the ecstasy that is life in Him.