Salt, Light and Righteousness

“Salt, Light and Righteousness”

Isaiah 58:1-12   Matthew 5:13-20


          The Beatitudes that we focused on last week are sometimes called the “Beautiful Attitudes” because they describe the inner character of those who are true members of the kingdom of God.  Realizing that the Beatitudes are essentially on the inside a person might be tempted to think they can live in isolation…away from the world that seems so contradictory to God.  But…actually it is impossible to live the eight Beatitudes in private.  They are very social and outward when we put them to work.  It is putting them to work that Christ emphasizes in our gospel for today.

Think about this.  Jesus Christ spoke these words early in his ministry…when he had only a few poor…uneducated followers.  To those listening his words might have seemed a bit absurd.  He told them that they and they alone were the salt of the earth…not just of Palestine…but of the whole earth.  He was telling the few who were listening that they would perform a vast and universal task that would affect all mankind.  He was expressing confidence in his followers…and the Spirit that would fill them.  And…despite their shortcomings and inconsistencies you and I know that they accomplished their mission.

What did Jesus mean when he said “You are the salt of the earth?”  In the world of Jesus’ day the number one function of salt was to be a preservative.  Jesus was telling them that the world around them…and us…tends toward decomposition and rotting away.  Jesus had no illusions about the world that was apart from him.  When the world is left to itself it festers just like an untreated wound.  The germs of evil and hate remain present and active today…at all levels of our society.

That story is repeated over and over.  The world began as a perfect creation…but when sin came…decay set in…and God eventually removed most of the population with a flood.  Mankind was given another chance but failed again…leading to the time of Sodom and Gomorrah.  We live today in a world that is constantly tending toward decay.  Some of the Christ-less structures…leaders and thought-shapers may look okay…but they are rotting away on the inside.  Christ wants us to be the salt that stops that rot.

The church…you and I…are to function as a retardant to decay…and as a preservative.  Jesus was saying…in effect…”Humanity without me is a dead body that is rotting and falling apart.  And you…my followers…are the salt that must be rubbed into the flesh to halt the decomposition.”  The church…that is…you and I…must be rubbed into the world so that it might be preserved.

Being a preservative has a negative and a positive side.  On the negative side…the presence of a salty Christian will retard the decay simply because his or her life is the opposite of the sin of those around them.  We all know there are certain people in whose presence certain stories are told and there are others before whom no one would think of telling such a story.  The salty Christian is not self-righteous or condemning…but their life makes ungodly conversation seem shabby and inappropriate.

The simple presence of such people influences the community.  Their presence reduces crime…restrains corruption…promotes honesty…sharpens the conscience…raises the moral atmosphere…and opens hearts to love.  The presence of such people will raise the level of those around them.  And…their absence could have the opposite effect.  Salty believers are the world’s preservative.

There’s the positive aspect.  Our lives are also meant to bring out the best from those around us.  To live a life that is so salted that others are drawn to God and want to live lives like ours is indeed beautiful.  Sad to say…however…not everyone who claims to be a Christian has this effect.

Salt is also a spice…a condiment.  Christianity is what brings spice and zest to life.  Believers must be salty and write the best words…be the most courteous…work the hardest…be the best at who they are…and…show open hearts and love.

And…salt creates thirst.  Jesus made people thirsty for God.  Whenever anyone met Jesus that person became thirsty for God.  Are we salty enough to make other people thirsty for Jesus?

If we are salt…how do we be the most effective?  We must be spread out on the world.  Salt can sit for years in the saltshaker…but it will never do any good until it is poured forth.  In Jesus’ time its effect was maximized when it was poured upon and rubbed into the meat.  We must allow God to rub us into the world…without our becoming like the world.  We may fear that we will disappear…and disappear we may.  But…that is the point.  Salt dispenses its power as it dissolves into the world’s flesh.  That is when its effect is greatest.  As salty people…empowered by the presence of Christ’s Spirit within us…we are to penetrate society…not hide from it.  We are to become involved in life….in the community…in our schools…in politics…in our neighborhoods.  That’s when we truly become salt for Christ.

Much of the world is in darkness.  And…many of the people living on it enjoy that.  John wrote…”And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John3:19)

It is this reality that makes Jesus’ pronouncement so thrilling.  He told us that you alone are the light of the world…you and me.  If we are truly believers then…we are the light of the world.  To say something like that…if Christ hadn’t said it…would be the height of arrogance.  But Jesus did say it…about you and me.

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus…”at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8)  Our acceptance of Christ allows us to become light…however imperfect.  And…it works.  The church…this church…has had…and has…some great shining lights. The question is how can we shine even more.  We must expose ourselves to Jesus…delight in his Word…and spend time in prayer soaking up his rays…then be about spreading his light.

He gave us a couple examples…a city on a hill and a light set in a home.  There is no way to hide the lights of a city on a hill.  The city of Quito, Ecuador…at 10-thousand feet above sea level lights the sky for 75 miles around it.  It cannot be hidden.  Yet…when you get into the city of Quito…the light from the tiny villages higher up in the Andes can be easily seen.  Cities on hills cannot be hidden.  Believers are like this.  They are visible.  There is no such thing as an invisible believer.

Jesus also said believers are like a household lamp.  The principal function of the lamp…and the believer…is to provide illumination to all around it.  Light reveals things as they really are.  We have all walked into an unfamiliar room…felt our way to the lamp…turned it on…and discovered a room different from what we had imagined.  Light also promotes life.  In colder climates…like Chicago…summer patio plants flourish in basements in the winter if they are provided enough light.  Light also awakens us.

Jesus…our captain and model…did all of these things and more by bringing spiritual light into the world.  He made us able to feel the darkness of sin…imperfection and impurity…made us feel the difference between good and evil.  He ended the option of thinking ourselves good by comparison with others.  Jesus was and is the standard for all of us.  His life drew men and women to him.  You and I are lamps…and Jesus…the householder… places us perfectly where we need to be…to shine at the best advantage for him.  God calls us to shine where we are.

Jesus gave us a command…not a suggestion…”to let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” It’s not an option.  If you are a light…then shine.  He tells us to shine by good works.  He is not recommending self-conscious staged works.  He would tell us that works of compassion and caring are top priority.  He would tell us to hear the words from Isaiah…take them to heart…and live them…openly and publicly.

Jesus has called us to strive for radical righteousness in a world that prefers darkness.  Apparently…Jesus thought some of those listening would feel he wanted to overthrow the Old Testament law.  But…his opening words said that he came to fulfill the law…not to undo it.  Christ was the author of the Law and is its Fulfiller.  He spoke of the Old Testament Prophet’s and Law as God’s perfect…enduring Word…and furthermore…he saw his life as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

The righteousness of Christ is radical…not because it is new…but because he truly lived it.  Though you and I are under grace…the Old Testament is tremendously important.  The Law clearly instructs us in the righteous demands of God.  Through the Law we see how high his holiness and his standards are…and we see how far we fall short and desperately need God’s grace.

John Wesley…initially tried to keep the details of the law…but failed.  He finally realized that even he had been saved by grace and lived and believed in a powerful Christian life.  Like him… we need to be people of both Testaments.

Righteousness for Christ…living the law as taught by the Prophets…meant exceeding the word and deeds of the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus said that clearly.  To the average person on the street…the Jews of Jesus’ day…that was absolutely shocking.  The scribes and Pharisees made obedience to what they called God’s law the master passion of their lives.  They calculated that the Law contained 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions…and they tried to keep them all.  How could anyone do better than that?  And how could such righteousness be made a condition to entering the kingdom?  Jesus seemed to be saying, “Don’t think I have come to make things easier by reducing the demands of the Law.  Far from it?  In fact, if your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you’ll never make it!”

The problem is this….the Pharisees’ righteousness was only external.  It focused on the ceremonial and the visible.  It was for show.   Its man-made rules actually were unconscious attempts to reduce the demands of the Law and make it manageable.  Those rules insulated them from the Law’s piercing demands on the heart.  Those men were also self-satisfied.  A Pharisee could stand on a corner…looking at a publican…and say…”I thank God I am not like that man.”  Jesus was demanding a deeper obedience…an obedience of the heart.

Christ’s strong statements…his hard…unbending words…were actually full of grace.  When he said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”…he was speaking as kindly as he ever spoke for he was explaining in the most dramatic terms the impossibility of salvation apart from his grace.  This takes us right back to the first Beatitude…”Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He was saying…”Blessed are those who realize they can’t make it on their own…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

When we understand and accept…as John Wesley did…that there is no way but that of grace…we will see that Jesus did what we could never do.  Jesus fulfilled the Law.  His righteousness was greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees.  And…because he fulfilled the Law…he can give us a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.  He fulfilled the law by leading a perfectly righteous life.  He fulfilled his demands against us…and saved us…by dying for us.

Let us come to the Lord’s table this morning…the table of the one who died for us…yet lives with us…celebrate and remember…then leave this sacrament…serious about utilizing all of God’s gracious gifts of time, talent and treasure…to be the salt and light… reaching out to those who hurt…and those whose righteousness…like that of the Pharisees…was only for show…actively reach out to them as Christ would have us do.

Give Us – February 28, 2016

“Give Us”

2 Samuel 11:26-12:14 John 6:24-35


In 1921…the American writer Myra Brooks Welch…wrote a poem entitled “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.” ‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer Thought it scarcely worth his while To waste much time on the old violin, But held it up with a smile: “What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried, “Who’ll start the bidding for me?” “A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two? Two dollars, and who’ll make it three? Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice; Going for three—-” But no, From the room, far back, a gray-haired man Came forward and picked up the bow; Then, wiping the dust from the old violin, And tightening the loose strings, He played a melody pure and sweet As a caroling angel sings. The music ceased, and the auctioneer, With a voice that was quiet and low, Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?” And he held it up with the bow. “A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand! And who’ll make it three? Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice, And going, and gone,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them cried, “We do not quite understand What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply: “The touch of a master’s hand.” And many a man with life out of tune, And battered and scarred with sin, Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd, Much like the old violin. A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine; A game–and he travels on. He is “going” once, and “going” twice, He’s “going” and almost “gone.” But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd Never can quite understand The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought By the touch of the Master’s hand. Jesus told us how to get that touch in our own lives. He told us…and the crowd by the lake at Capernaum that it can’t be bought or earned. It comes from the bread of life…Jesus Christ…a gift that God gives us. Suppose you invited another family over for dinner this Sunday afternoon. You prepared and served a grand meal…a really fine spread. You fixed their favorite meat…cooked just as they like it. There was a big tossed green salad, steaming baked potatoes with a hot cheese sauce, a cool refreshing beverage and apple pie a la mode. What a dinner! When it was completed everyone sat back patting full tummies. Now, suppose that when they started to leave your guests pulled out their wallets and asked, “How much do we owe you for this?” You would probably say, “You don’t owe me anything!” But, what if your guests respond, “We most certainly do! We are not freeloaders! How much do we owe you?” They even threw a couple twenty dollar bills on the table. Just the mention of a payment in such a setting would be a grievous insult. Yet…we find ourselves going through life trying to pay for free bread and in the process giving the same kind of insult to our Lord. Jesus said…”This is the word of God that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Jesus was telling us that the bread that endures…that is eternal life…is bread that is freely given…bread that we should freely receive. It comes through belief. We do not pay for it ourselves. The price has already been paid. So often…we become like Brenda. She was the daughter of members of an evangelical faith. She became involved in a church of another faith where people celebrated loudly and were expected to speak in tongues. She was involved in the politics of those who wanted to lead the church. Brenda became tired of church politics. She was tired of revivals and religious rituals that no longer captured her imagination. She had witnessed people taking Jesus’ name to use in their own campaigns for something. She was worried that there was no chance of discovering something beyond her own being. Even the Bible had lost its power. God’s voice had been silenced by what was called religion. Brenda decided she would spend some time in a Catholic convent. She was apprehensive when she approached. She had called ahead and they said there was room…but she had never seen a nun up close…nor had she ever seen that part of the world called Catholic. The monastery grounds were beautiful…large…and private…with many places for contemplation. The buildings were old, but good. A sister answered her knock at the door, but she didn’t wear the expected black and white habit. It was her face that said everything. Brenda felt that she was among people who knew God…who knew what she needed…and who knew how to nurture her. She was taken to her simple room and told she could stay as long as she needed. She asked about costs and was told no money was required. In the silence and simplicity and beauty of that place…Brenda’s soul was restored. Fellow pilgrims in the Christian journey…the priests and nuns…who had walked the road of faith far longer than Brenda spoke to her gently about their discoveries of knowing God. And…they loved her. The clutter of her religious history…with all of its rituals…rules…and politics…began to go away. She began to hear God’s voice speaking words of affection and assurance. She realized how many so-called religious habits she had acquired when all that she really needed was a pure and pristine walk with Jesus. He alone was the bread of life. Her earlier life had been filled to the brim with religion in abundance…but there had been little life in it. Being fed by God is so simple that in a world congested with busyness…it has become hard to understand. Like the pursuit of joy…the more we run after it with strategies and plans…the more it seems to flee. It is not gained by ministry accomplishments…righteous efforts…or the intellectual mastery of the Bible. Being fed by God requires a conversion of thinking…a discovery that God is eager to give…to give us…life and renewal…to give to anyone who can listen in simplicity and piety. The weekly invitation to come to the communion rail during the singing of our last hymn is a short version of Brenda’s trip to the monastery. Coming to the Lord’s Table…as we will be invited to next week… is another similar opportunity to be with God…to be with Jesus…to allow him to give you…give us… life eternal…and comfort and strength for the day. Jesus…the bread of life sent by God to give us eternal life…tells us we will never be hungry…never be thirsty…when we believe and go to him…like we do at the Lord’s Supper…like we do when we come to the communion rail…like we do when we are in prayer…meditation and study. And…we don’t have to go to a far off monastery. He’s right here…has been here…and will be here…walking with us every day. Be reassured that when we turn to him…in belief and trust…we too will be touched by the master’s hand.

Water and Truth – February 21, 2016

“Water and Truth”

Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42


The famous British author and Christian apologist…C. S. Lewis wrote these words. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal.” Clearly God…Jesus…and the woman at the well were vulnerable…because…clearly… they loved. Twice before…in their wanderings…God had heard the complaints of the Israelites. And…he provided for them. He provided water. He provided manna. Yet, they were grumbling once again. This time it was because they wanted water. Because he loved them…God gave them water…even though the Israelites demanded God’s action on their terms. Don’t we sometimes do the same thing? When God does not do for us what we think he ought to do, in the way we think he ought to do it, we complain about it. At home, at work, and in the church, we demand God take care of us on our own terms. God so loved them that he gave them water…even though the Israelites were denying God’s protection. They assumed the worst. They had concluded that God had abandoned them. Don’t we sometimes do the same thing? We complain that what God is doing in our lives…especially the suffering we must endure…is not good for us but actually harmful. That is a way for us to deny God’s protection. Even though they tested God….he gave them water because he loved them. And…they still asked “Is the Lord among us?” Our own trials often raise the same question. We may feel that God isn’t blessing us very much right now. This is one way we deny God’s presence. The Israelites were suffering from spiritual amnesia…forgetting the love of God. They forgot that because of His love God had provided for them…had protected them… and had always been with them. Sometimes in our daily lives we have the same affliction…spiritual amnesia. The remedy is to pause and remember the immeasurable ways God has demonstrated his love for us. When Jesus got to the well He was weary. The long walk from the south to the north…the disciples pressing him with endless questions…the constant crowds…the never-ending questions and badgering made him a tired man. He felt like some of us feel from time to time…maybe often. Then the woman came to the well. Jesus had every reason to ignore her. He was tired. He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. There had been great animosity and separation between their races for seven centuries or more. He was male. She was female. At that time it was considered highly inappropriate for a Jewish male to speak with any woman in public. But…because He loved…Jesus spoke with her….Jesus reached out to her. Jesus loved his Father and all of His creation. He was energized by service to God. He was feasting on the potential he saw in that woman’s life. He was so absorbed in what could happen to her that he forgot himself. Jesus loved. The Samaritan woman had lived a difficult life…five former husbands. She was a social outcast…not even able to interact with other women who went to a well closer to their home in cooler parts of the day. But…she loved also. Once it was clear to her that she was being offered the love of the messiah she showed her love. She was so excited that she ran to tell other Samaritans…leaving her all-important water pot behind. What happened when she acted out of love is typical of the way in which the Gospel is spread. First…she told her friends about Christ and how he knew of her life…how he had ignored the barriers and reached out to her…how he had helped her discover herself…how he had offered her the living water. Secondly…as their knowledge grew…that prevenient grace within them that Wesley told us about…the same grace that’s in all people…believers and non-believers alike…caused them to be curious and want to go meet Christ. Thirdly…when they met Christ…discovered who he was and encountered His love…they surrendered. They were the first to discover in Christ the savior of the world. A discovery that came to them because God loved…Jesus loved…and the woman loved…and they all acted out of love. So…we are loved…and given the opportunity to love. We can do as Lewis suggested. Keep our hearts closed…never show love…and never enjoy love. Or we can share the love that’s been shown to us. Even when we’re tired and alone we can…like Christ… be energized by God’s love shared with others…who are ill…who have lost a loved one…whose body has become frail…who are imprisoned…who are poor…who have little education…who live next door…who don’t know Jesus Christ. When we’re facing barriers that society and tradition have created…or we ourselves have created… like Jesus…we can eliminate those barriers and reach out…to the child who plays in the church parking lot…to the neighbor who attends no church…to the person of another faith or no faith at all…to those who are or act suspicious. Not long ago I read a book entitled “Suspicion Nation.” It was written by Lisa Bloom…a lawyer and court analyst for a number of TV networks. The premise of her book is that we are a divided nation because we are a suspicious nation….rich are suspicious of the poor….poor are suspicious of the rich….old are suspicious of the young….young are suspicious of the old….highly educated are suspicious of those with little education….those with little education are suspicious of those with a lot of education….races are suspicious of other races…..women are suspicious of men and men are suspicious of women…people of each faith are suspicious of people of other faiths. We are all suspicious of those not exactly like us. We have seen the result of that suspicion in recent headlines. We have also seen the result of God’s grace and love. The families of the victims of the massacre at Mother Emanuel surely did not suffer from spiritual amnesia. They had drunk of the living water. Many people saw last year’s removal of the confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds as a thing of beauty…like a rainbow. Others saw it as devastating…like a tornado. This reminder… both rainbows and tornados…are short lived events. The real question for each of us…for the United Methodist Church…and for all of South Carolina…is how do we truly heal and go forward together? In addition to the demonstration of forgiveness shown by the victims’ families …three of our state’s leaders…who are all United Methodists have given some sound advice. I like best the indirect advice coming from Governor Nikki Haley…someone with whom I don’t always agree. The governor said she made her decision after asking herself how she could look her children in the eye if she chose to leave the flag in place. How will the children and grandchildren… who will one day lead and care for us… see our words and actions if they are not words and actions that heal and show love for all of God’s creation and all in God’s creation? Former Governor Dick Riley…a friend and member of Buncombe Street United Methodist Church…wrote “significant disparities in our systems of education, health and justice have a disproportionate impact on poor and minority citizens in our state…. Let us think and act deliberately about a new legacy for our state, one that brings the two South Carolinas together in one.” And, our Bishop…L. Jonathan Holston…has told us…”It is imperative that love be vigilant and truth be bold….let us think big. Pray bigger.” It’s likely that none of us will be in a position to single handedly change the world…or by our own single word or deed to ultimately heal and bring the two South Carolinas together. But we can each of us diligently…daily…in every word and deed hear…and live out…the words of Saint Teresa of Avila….who in the 15th century wrote… “He has no hand but our hands To do his work today: He has no feet but our feet To lead men in his way He has no voice but our voice To tell men how he died: He has no help but our help To lead them to his side.” God has done the hard work…sending his Son…and providing that prevenient grace…the living water. The rest is up to you and me. Through comforting word and simple deed filled with grace and love…as Christ has done for you and me…whose heart and mind can we…help heal…and open…to the truth and thirst-quenching living water…today?

The Word – February 14, 2016

“The Word”

Jeremiah 31:7-14 John 1:1-18


John…the apostle and gospel writer…had a challenge. He saw his task of gospel writing and story sharing as a way to help people believe “…believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 NIV) John’s task wasn’t easy. He was speaking to two audiences with some radically different perspectives. One audience was the Jews of his day who had their own idea of what a messiah was all about and what he would do. They weren’t sure whether Jesus was the messiah…and their religious leaders were strenuously arguing that he was not. The other audience was the Gentile Greeks. They had no idea what a messiah was…didn’t pay much attention to the leaders of the Jews…and worshipped their own gods…a number of them…or worshipped no god at all. John’s task was a challenge indeed. John’s task was just like ours today. There are people we encounter who have their own idea of what a messiah is or should be…what that messiah should do…and there are people telling us that Jesus is not that messiah. And…we encounter those who worship other gods…perhaps a number of gods…just check with them to see what’s important in their lives and what gives them guidance in their lives. And…despite the many messages about god or gods in some form…there are those who just aren’t buying any of those messages. In what’s called the “prologue”…the first eighteen verses of John’s gospel…he does a masterful job of speaking to all of those audiences. Perhaps we can learn something from John’s words…words that many of us still find hard to understand. The first three verses speak to the greatness of Jesus Christ…the one John calls “the Word.” 1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1-3 NLT) There never was a time when Jesus Christ did not exist. One pundit puts it this way…”Jesus always was wasing!” That is exactly right. Jesus has existed ever since before what we consider existence existed. Now…for some…that kind of thinking makes for a very strong headache. We might look back in time until time itself seems to disappear…and John is telling us Jesus existed before that. Indeed…Jesus did. Jesus was with God. The Father and Son were continually together…face to face. There has always existed the deepest equality and intimacy in the Holy Trinity. Jesus…without beginning or end…has been with the Father…with God. Jesus was God…wrote John. The meaning is that Jesus was God in essence and character. He was God in every way…though he was a separate entity from God the Father. He has been God through eternity to this very moment. To sum up …Jesus was always existing from before the beginning of eternity…as God…in perfect fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Finally…”Jesus is the Creator of the universe. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” The New Testament frequently tells us of Christ’s creatorship. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians…in Hebrews and in Revelation we see this testimony. In his first letter to the church at Corinth…Paul wrote…”…for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came, and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” If you like math…think about this…There are about 100 billion stars in the average galaxy and there are at least one hundred million galaxies in known space. That means there are probably ten octillion stars in space. That’s ten with twenty seven zeroes behind it. And…Jesus created them all. Not only is Jesus the creator of something so big…he is also the creator of something as small as the atom. Colossians tells us that in Jesus…”all things hold together.” That should mean to each of us that we can trust such a God with everything. Because he is the Creator he knows just what his creation…his people…need. Charles Steinmetz was a friend of Henry Ford. He was also a mechanical genius. Of Steinmetz people said he could build a motor in his mind…and if it broke down he could fix it in his mind. So when he designed it and actually built it the motor ran with unbelievable precision. One day the assembly line in a Ford plant broke down. None of Ford’s men could fix it. They called in Steinmetz. He tinkered for a few minutes…threw the switch and it started running again. A few days later Ford received a bill from Steinmetz for $10,000. He wrote back…”Charlie, don’t you think your bill is a little high for just a little tinkering?” Steinmetz sent back a revised bill: “Tinkering — $10. Knowing where to tinker — $9,990.” Only Jesus knows where the tinkering should be done in our lives to keep us in perfect running order. Christ always knows which screw to turn…which belt to loosen…and the most beneficial fuel to use. And he uses that knowledge…with love…for our benefit. John tells us to rest in Christ…to trust our life to him. When you consider the greatness of Christ…nothing else makes sense at all. In verses 4 to 13 John describes Christ as light… and stresses the revelation…rejection and acceptance of Jesus’ love as it came into the world. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. 6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:4-13 NLT) John clearly describes Jesus as light. The emphasis is on Jesus being spiritual…life giving light to a dark world…a light that benefits all of humanity. When we see Jesus as spiritual light we should gain insight into his loving attempt to reach the world. Where the light…Jesus…goes… darkness…evil and hurt disappear…the true nature of life in Christ is revealed. Jesus’ light shines continually in the darkness…touching our hearts and lives in the darkness through the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of the Scriptures. Whether someone believes or doesn’t believe in Christ…ask them to meditate on the thought that Christ is light. They will better understand how much Jesus gives love. But…sadly…a large portion of humankind rejected that light…rejects it today. The light was not overpowered but it did meet resistance. The very world he made did not recognize him…did not receive him. Think about it…then and today…the One who said…”let there be light”…the One whose love moved him to shine his saving light through creation and conscience…the One who mercifully enclosed his light in a human body so that he might bring light to humans…the One who set aside a special people to be the light for others…was rejected. The good news is…he is still light and continues to seek the way into even the most hostile of hearts to bring them to Him. Isn’t that amazing love? And…some respond. Those who respond…who receive the light…become children of God. And…the future holds for them the bright prospect of becoming like the risen Christ himself. Think of the joy of being children of God. Becoming one of God’s own comes simply by receiving Jesus…believe who he is and accept him as your own savior. Then…there’s God’s grace. 14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. 15 John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.'” 16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17 NLT) John wrote that when Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us…men and women saw his glory as full of grace and truth. From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. And…the grace just keeps growing. As the grace you receive is allowed to work in your life…more grace will come…and then more grace…and even more grace. Grace continues to overflow. Martin Luther put it this way. “The sun is not dimmed and darkened by shining on so many people or by providing the entire world with its light and splendor. It retains its light intact. It loses nothing; it is immeasurable, perhaps able to illumine ten more worlds. I suppose that a hundred thousand candles can be ignited from one light, and still this light will not lose any of its brilliance…. Thus Christ, our Lord, to whom we must flee and of whom we must ask all, is an interminable well, the chief source of all grace…. Even if the whole world were to draw from this fountain enough grace and truth to transform all people into angels, still it would not lose as much as a drop. This fountain constantly overflows with sheer grace.” For those without acceptance of grace…this grace is readily available. There is more than enough grace to cover each person’s sins and give that person an overflowing victorious life. Grace is abundant. Grace is amazing. For those who know Christ…it is clear that “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” The creator and savior has given us light and life…so that we can be like John…so that we can take Christ’s word…and light… and life…into the darkness of the world…not just with good deeds…generosity and kindness…but with love like Christ…love that shares endlessly and invites all to His side…to His comfort…to His eternal light and life.

Mountains and Valleys – February 7, 2016

“Mountains and Valleys”

2 Kings 2:1-12 Mark 9:2-9


Just imagine that you were on that mountain top that day with Peter, James and John. You had gone there with Jesus…the one you believed was the messiah…the one who you believed had come with the power of almighty God to release you from the rule of the Romans. You had gone there to pray with him after he had told you a most unbelievable thing. He said he had to go on to Jerusalem to be killed at the hands of those who were the religious leaders. He had told you that he would die and rise from the dead on the third day. You had been thinking about this for six days…and it still wasn’t any clearer. How could someone who wasn’t leading a mighty army…who was going to be killed shortly…really be the messiah? You’ve climbed the mountain top. You’re tired. You’re still trying to figure it out. Jesus’ face glows in a way that words can’t come close to describing. His robe seems to do the same thing. It becomes whiter than any white you’ve ever seen. As you’re there with your eyes wide open and your mouth open even wider… Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus. You become as astounded and dumbfounded as Peter when he suggested building shelters. There you are…in the presence of Moses…the great law-giver…the presence of Elijah…the greatest prophet to tell of the coming of the messiah…and Jesus…the one who told you he was the messiah…but not a messiah who would lead a mighty army to crush the oppressors. Then a cloud descends and covers everything and everyone. For the Jews of that time a cloud meant the presence of God. And…out of that cloud…you hear a voice…a voice that tells you, “This is my beloved Son.” The message is clear to you. God is telling you that Jesus is indeed His Son. The voice gives you a command. “Listen to him.” What would you do? I’m not asking what you would do right at that moment. My guess is that no one here today would have acted with clarity any greater than that of Peter. Mark tells us all of the men were terribly frightened and didn’t know what to say. What would you do after you had come down from that mountain top? Clearly none of us was with the three disciples that day. That particular experience will likely never be repeated for anyone…here or elsewhere. But…reflecting back on our lives we can all probably identify some kind of similar mountain top experience…a time when we felt so close to God that we didn’t know what to say…that we felt so close to God that we were almost delirious with joy…hope…comfort…and peace. For some it might have been a special Sunday in worship…the music was moving…the message was uplifting…and you felt especially close to God. For others the mountain top experience was a wedding…perhaps a baptism…a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It might have been an experience at a Christian youth camp. It might have been a time alone…alone with God. I vividly remember one of my mountain top experiences. I had been struggling for a year with real challenges in both my personal and business life…trying to establish a business while trying to keep a weakening marriage together. I took a business trip to Phoenix, Arizona. It was the second or third time I had been to Phoenix. It was the first time I stayed in a hotel close to Squaw Peak. Phoenix is a city that is built in a valley in the Rocky Mountains. All around it are mountains that are close to two miles high. The valley is rather large…known as the Valley of the Sun. However…in the middle of this valley…near the heart of the city…is Squaw Peak. It’s a small mountain….about 4-thousand feet high. It has a hiking trail to the top that’s a little over a mile long. I like to hike…on the easy mountain trails…and that’s what attracted me to the trail at Squaw Peak early one spring morning. It was about an hour before dawn. I climbed the trail to the top of the peak. I got there before the sun rose. What I saw was the street lights and house lights of the city below me…twinkling like small stars. Above me…I saw the stars. I felt I was surrounded by stars…below me and above me. “My goodness,” I thought. “I have walked away from earth and all of its challenges…and walked straight into heaven.” I sat on a rock at the top of the peak and looked up and looked down…stars twinkling all around. I became lost in God’s presence. I sat there for about a half hour. I watched as God turned off the stars above me… He replaced them with the glow of red from the sun shining on the wispy clouds above my head…. All around me God had created the jagged black outlines of the mountains in the distance. They hadn’t been there just a few minutes earlier. I had feelings that must have been similar to those of Peter, James and John. No words could describe them. I was in a lost reverie until I heard the voices of other hikers coming up the trail. You’ve all probably had some kind of mountain top experience. Reflect back on it and be refreshed and rejuvenated by it. Know that more will come. The real question is what to do in the valleys that we all must encounter between the mountain top experiences. Valleys like difficulty in business…trouble in the family…changes in health…the loss of a friend or loved one…hurt in your community…untruths or detrimental actions by those who we have chosen to lead us. The valleys don’t have to be that deep. Valleys are found in everyday life. Do as the disciples did. Follow Jesus. While he may not be here in the flesh today…his Word is here…the Spirit that he sent to us is here. It’s that burning in your stomach or the twinge you feel when you’re about to do or say something Jesus would not want you to do or say. Elisha…too…had his valleys. He followed the teachings of Elijah…and the leading of God…through the valleys of his life…more than a couple thousand years ago. Following God has been working for more than two thousand years. For each of us…there will be valleys. Some will be deep. Let us not be among those who suffer from Biblical amnesia. Yes there are parts of the Bible that promise good things. But…Jesus also asked us to make sacrifices…told us that we would suffer…and told us that…like him…we would have a cross to bear. Too many Christians want to skip Suffering 101 and go to the advanced placement class called Glory 909. Mark’s gospel told us differently. The Messiah had to shoulder a cross…embrace humility…and renounce brute force. His disciples…you and I… must do the same. I encourage you to seek and enjoy new mountaintop experiences…time alone with God…to glorify in reflecting on those mountain top experiences you have already had. But…don’t think that’s the way the game will be all of the time. And…let us not think that the game is over. We who call ourselves Christians cannot be like the football player who recovered a fumble in the last minute of the Super Bowl. As he neared the goal line…he began to go into a victory dance. He held the football out in a taunting gesture. Out of nowhere an opposing player raced toward him. The opponent knocked the ball from his hands on the two-yard line. Instead of crossing the goal line for a game winning touchdown…the kind of glorious moment rarely achieved by an interior lineman…he blew his opportunity by his premature merriment and celebration…thinking that his mountain top experience was all there was to consider…that it would always be with him. Mark makes it clear that glory is to come. The final mountain top experience will be ours. In the meantime we must be prepared to live and serve in the valleys of a hostile world bent on destroying God’s messengers and God’s servants. Let us be as the disciples….be in awe and wonderment when on the mountain tops. When we are in the valleys…walk with Jesus to the very end through each of them… sharing his love with all through our words and deeds…and relying on Him to lead the way…through the valleys…to the final mountain top. In fact…this very morning Jesus invites us to follow Him…to the Lord’s Table…where…in fellowship with our sisters and brothers…we are rejuvenated and encouraged….remembering He is with us always…as we experience the difficult valleys and the glorious mountain tops.