August 4th, 2019
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
You all know that I enjoy Bill Cosby’s wisdom and wit. I think he is very intelligent as a comedian and on life for that matter. His material is Christian based and he does include God in many of his routines. He has material that involves the raising of children and his religious roots as well. He talks about his father’s wrath such as in the line “I brought you into this world, I can take you out, and I can make another that looks just like you”, He also reminisces about his wife on “the beatings will now begin”, even though these lines contain wrath, they make us laugh at ourselves, because he also includes love.
Bill Cosby wrote a book on “Fatherhood” and it deals with the difficulties in parenting. According to Bill, the first parents were not Adam and Eve. God was the very first parent. Even God had trouble with His kids. God set down a few ground rules and we all know how that worked out. God was unable to instil obedience and faithfulness in His two children. They were rebellious and then look at how their children turned out. So if God had that much trouble with his kids, we should not be too hard on ourselves nor should we just give up or be overly strict on our own children no matter their age.
Now we also know that Bill Cosby has fallen from favour in the eyes of the public because of human mistakes as a father and role model for us. Not minimizing those gross errors in judgment Bill made, but we all make gross errors in judgments. Before his fall, those words he spoke carried wisdom to most of us. Today the feeling of the public is that when someone goes astray, then they have fallen beyond any chance of redemption no matter what. This does not minimize his errors but his redemption is between himself and God, not us.
Isn’t it strange that God gives us the ability and blessings to create children, a very precious gift, and yet nowhere in this world can we find an owner manual? We have had a multitude of people think that they have all answers such as Dr Spock, Dr Ruth and Dr Phil. There is not a guide book that is reliable on how to maintain or nurture those living things. We can find guides and YouTube videos on growing plants but not on growing children. My new phone came with a manual in five languages. Children are more complicated than this phone and I can only hope that I’ve done it right.
Most of us here have experienced the agony of being a parent. The bond that develops with our children is one of the most powerful things we will experience. When the child is hurting we hurt also for them. There is almost nothing that will cause us to give up our loyalty to them. I have even seen parents turn on each other, over children. My mother and I had much the same temperament and we would take just so much of each other and then explode in a shouting match. Dad was very strict on arguing with mom. When we would start yelling at the other, dad would jump in and start corrective measures on me and then, out of left field mom would jump on him with both feet. He never saw that coming, any of the times. He took her side, no matter what, and then she started in on him. Children and our love for them, what can we do? We can always be there to listen to. Let them know that we are here for them, even when they make mistakes.
The eleventh chapter of Hosea is a very remarkable passage. The prophet paints a picture of God as a parent, a loving parent that is ready to bring down His wrath but He changes His mind. Israel is illustrated as a child. The relationship between God and Israel is just as a parent-child relationship and yet, it is much, much more.
The first thing we notice is that the parenting love God has for Israel goes far beyond the earthly love we know as humans. In the language of Hebrew, they have a special word for the love of God toward His people and it is HESED. This word is used throughout the entire Bible and it means “constant love or loving-kindness” yet it is much stronger than the mere words we can attach to it. It is an unending love because it is a love that is in a covenant of complete trust and faithfulness. God’s people know his love will never leave them, God promises his love is unfading. It does not matter what the kids do, He still loves them.
Modern Christology says that the Old Testament is about a God of wrath and judgment and the New Testament is about a God of love and forgiveness. That could not be farther from the truth. Throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s of constant love for His kids. Do we ever not love our children when they misbehave? We may not like them very much, we may not be happy with them but we still love them.
The writer of Hosea paints a very real picture of a loving God for his naughty children when in verse 1 “When Israel was a child I loved them” and then in verse 4 God says “I bent down to feed them”. There is a saying in Scouting that goes like this, “no man stands so tall as one who stoops to help a child”. Verse 4 also talks about being lifted up and held. I remember as a small child being whisked up off the ground into my parent’s arms and the funny feeling in my stomach as I was snatched up. Kind of like the feeling we got when on a car ride and dad would take the hills quickly and you felt like your stomach was going up in your chest and you would just burst out giggling. What a wonderful sound of a child giggling. You cannot help but laugh yourself. Here we are seeing in Hosea snippets of God’s tender caring and his intimacy with his children. But alas Israel, his child, is not being faithful and it hurts God.
Hosea is one of the Minor Prophets, but Israel was drifting away from God and in a few decades will be overthrown by the Assyrians. Hosea knew God was watching in despair. At times God was so taken by this that Hosea says he heard God talking to himself. Isn’t it the truth that children can cause us to talk to ourselves? Dad had a statement; do you think I am talking just to hear myself think? In despair, he would mutter I’m talking to myself. Bill Cosby says Insanity is inherited; we get it from our kids. God is going through all the things we do as parents with our children, we lecture, we reason, we shout, we warn and we even beg, but nothing works to get through those thick skulls. God is in Agony. He has done everything possible to get through to these kids and the last thing He can do is something that we all as parents hate, we have to let them learn the hard way.
This whole story is like something you would read in Ann Landers or Dear Abby. In verse 8 God is arguing with himself. How can I hand them over and give up on them? In verse 9 I am God for heaven sake I will not give up on you. I still love you because I am God, not a man. God had then and still has today unconditional love for all His Children.
Have you ever witnessed unconditional love at work? It is beautiful. It heals those that are broken-hearted and gives the spineless a way to stand tall. Have you ever heard the story of Dave Roever? He was a Vietnam War vet. A phosphorus grenade went off inches from him. He did survive the explosion and was shipped to Brooke Army Hospital. The day before his wife was due to arrive; the person in the bed next to him had a visit from his wife. Disfigured from his injuries the wife took off her wedding ring as she stared, put it on the nightstand and walked away forever. Dave witnessed this and so the next 24 hours was the worst for him as he waited for his wife to come and see him. Finally, he heard his wife Brenda’s footsteps coming down the hall. When she got to his bed her first words were” Welcome home Davey”. Dave responded with sorrow when he said: “I am sorry that I can never look good for you again”. Brenda retorted “Oh Davey, how silly. You were never good looking anyway”. One would ask where a 21-year-old would learn to love like that. She grew up as a committed Christian, nurtured by the Scriptures in a church with Christian fellowship. These building blocks formed her into the mature woman she was at 21. So when the test of unconditional love fronted her, she pasted. She and Davey now have the Dave Roever Ministries in Fort Worth Texas. She had the unconditional heart of God saying Welcome Home.
The parable in Luke today is only found in the Gospel of Luke. The point here is that we need to forego the thoughts of selfishness and thinking only of our personal well being. When we are that shortsighted there is no way that unconditional love has room to enter our lives. We then become the fool in the story. No matter what our wealth, be money, food, knowledge or just plain patience we need to share it with others, and yes that includes our kids. God gave us everything when He gave us dominion over the earth.
So the earlier thought that there is not a guide or owners manual to raising children is wrong. The manual to Parenthood is right here in the Bible. The Bible tells us the troubles and heartaches God went through with the raising of His children over the aeons. It also shows us the unconditional love God has for us. God is willing to hold us close to his chest when the rain is falling all around us and on us when we are screaming at the top of our lungs. He is willing and ready to show us the way home out of the storm. And yet He is willing to let us make a life for ourselves including our mistakes we will encounter along the way; as much as it will pain Him not to interfere. When we do make mistakes and become disfigured, He will still say Welcome Home, my child. How beautiful it will be when we all can deliver that kind of unconditional love.
Adapted from the Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 and Sandy Wylie
August 19th 2019
10th Sunday of Pentecost
Readings: Hebrew 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56
This is Tough Love to Swallow
This is the second time I’ve preached on this passage in Luke, because it comes up in the Lectionary. Most pastors do not like to preach on it, so they simply skip it. If you do not follow the Lectionary it’s not the first choice of Scripture to preach on. All prefer the 2nd chapter of Luke, the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to Jerusalem for the birth of Jesus. We want to see the angels. We want to see and hear that one angel telling the Shepherds to “Fear Not”! John Wesley talked about it last week! Most congregants prefer to hear sermons that give them warm and fuzzy feelings. The stories that remind us that Jesus are always with us, that each and every one of us is important to Jesus. The pictures and paintings of Jesus that stick in our minds are the ones where Jesus is calm, cool and collected with this welcoming smile that is all inviting. We constantly hear Jesus did not judge, but he sure rebuked people.
You’re thinking, I’m dealing with this one and we don’t have to put up with this. Pastor Ed we just heard John Wesley preach last week about “the promise of Hope.” He was telling us that it is God’s great pleasure was to give the Kingdom. Yet here in Luke 13:57 Jesus gives us a flip side saying “You think I’ve come to bring you peace”? Well guess again buffalo chip! Wait a minute Pastor Ed we heard “I bring you tidings of Great Joy. With Peace on earth, good will toward men.” We sang “Hark the Hearld Angels Sing”.
But this text is a complete 180 degree turn from the teachings of Jesus we know and love. However, this is not a time that Jesus is puts on the gloves; this is up in your face teachings. This is a very rude awakening, like getting hit with a bucket of cold water after you have fallen asleep in the pew. Our first thought is that if Jesus loves us like he says then maybe ease into something before getting this blunt and harsh. Maybe we need preparation before this type of revelation. Something like; you remember that thing dad did as he was talking with Moses, to get Moses’ attention, Dad used a burning bush. Dad is going to use the burning bush again only different. You really are not going to like it, and oh yeah you are not going to like what is going on in the world either. Times are going to be different and some of the people you know are not going to see things the way you do. As a matter of fact they may not even like how you believe, in your faith or respect the fact that you are entitled to the way you want to believe. They are, but you cannot, so you may even be told to stop how you believe. No, Jesus does not dance that way nor does he beat around the bush, Pun intended. Jesus is blunt; as a matter of fact, Jesus has always been that way especially when dealing with the opposition. I don’t think we would want anything less than giving it to us straight. I’ve heard of people in town that are just simply frank about things. But you know where they stand.
Ok, so Jesus tells us that he came to bring fire to earth. Fire can be horrific and most of the time is destructive. We have stories in the news about fire burning houses and churches. In 2013, 14 Firefighters were killed out west and one of IFD’s own firefighters was in a coma from injuries sustained in a fire that same week. Fire has its great points; we heat, cook and it is used to cleanse things. Farmers use fire to clear fields in agricultural burning. The crops grow better and they’re able to raise more crops, thus have a better harvest. You know more fruitful.
Isaiah tells the story of how all that is given to us is so that we flourish in the land in which we grow. All that is given to us comes from God. When we prepare the land for planting in a proper way, the seeds will become more fruitful. It does require us to cleanse the land of weeds to prevent our plants from being choked out. This year too much water choked the fields as well.
Well Jesus is bringing fire to cleanse the earth so we can be more fruitful, God’s people to be more fruitful for His Glory, but wait; that ain’t all. Jesus also says that not only did he not bring peace to the earth; there will be division amongst you. Yes, division amongst us. With all the denominations of churches and boy, they do bicker amongst themselves. We see opposition towards us. Are we not seeing our religious freedom curtailed? No matter how bad we think we have it, there are people in the world that are being imprisoned, killed for being a Christian. People in the early church were killed for their beliefs. All of the disciples were martyred for being followers of Jesus the Christ. The bad news the good news is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Even in the United Methodist Church.
We also believe that families are supposed to stay together and help each other out. Yet we know that does not always happen. In the church, we are a community and help each other but we bicker and fight over trivial things. I know at Old Bethel there are those who back the IU Hoosiers and those that back Purdue Boilermakers. You constantly see Cream and Crimson along with Black and Gold in the church. One person had a front license plate that read “Half my money goes to IU and the other half goes to Purdue.” Now isn’t that a house divided. Does not Jesus tell us in Luke 11-17 that a House divided will not stand? And yet in Luke 3:17 John the Baptist foretells that “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”. Now you’re sitting there thinking I’m totally confused. Well so was I in the planning stages of this sermon. The division is not based on whether you wear cream and crimson or black and gold, it is more about how and if you put Christ on and in your daily life. It is how we walk when we say we are followers of Christ. Do we go the road toward the Cross or do we follow the ways of the world.
An example; at Wal-Mart as I have traveled down the aisles looking for a space to park, as I come to the end of the parked cars, someone cuts across the lot forcing me to hit the brakes to keep from colliding. Of course I use my horn only to receive the salute. But the lanes are designed for ease and protection of those in cars. People do not paying attention, all they see is going the direction of choice. So cutting across the lanes of parking was the most direct route to their goal. Biblically we could use the prodigal son approach. Do we give forgiveness to a wayward son that has gone into the world and lived the way of the world even if he does not deserve it? But there were ill feelings from the other son who refused to come to the party. Doing what is right may not always bring out warm and fuzzy feelings from all it affects.
Families are not the only ones that suffer in divisions. Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth was written because of conflict. There is not a church today that has not had some sort of conflict from within. Conflict can produce division and strife in a church community. “There will be division” Jesus says. Why in the world would Jesus say something like that to his Church? He did it to Warn us! He did it to assure us! He did it to prepare us! This passage did not just come out of the blue. No, Jesus has been telling us all along that there will be conflict and division in our lives. Jesus also says that we need to be watchful and aware of what is going on around us. When we continue on in the Gospel of Luke we will read that Jesus says we must continually work on and work out our differences that cause conflict.
I myself do not like conflict. I will do whatever I can to avoid it. I get an upset stomach and become very nervous about an approaching conflict. I have a bad temper so I fear that I will lose that control of my temper which can make a conflict very ugly. Conflict does not need to be ugly. Conflict can be productive and helpful to a community. We prefer to only think of that baby in the manger that God sent here to bring peace on earth good will toward men. The angelic hosts singing in the heavens and the shepherds gathered to adore him. But guess what! That baby grew up! So do we. Babies don’t stay warm, cuddly and innocent.
God calls us to feel the heat of the fire and get involved in the action. Firefighters do but only with the right equipment. As God called Moses to stand toe to toe with the pharaoh, we need to stand up to the conflict, injustice, hatred, poverty and work to free those who are oppressed. By doing so, we gain the Glory for God.
Hebrews basically tells us this is a journey of faith that is a race. Runners know that if they focus on what is ahead of them, they are enabled and encouraged to keep on the course. We love to see runners in the lead and we cheer them on which enables them all the more. When I started Course of Study in 2005, that 10 year program seemed such a long journey. I would hear and see those who started long before me, finish, but they had the same distance to go and I was encouraged to keep on plugging. Then, there is the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train. This journey cost me a lot but there were rewards along the way. Hebrews gives us all encouragement by telling us there is a cloud of witnesses that surround us.
We are called onto this journey of faith and we are to do it together. We need to set our sights on the kingdom to come with all its glory and rewards. As it was with the Israelites of old and the people in Jesus’ time, so it is and will be for us as well, there will be battles that constantly confront us. That tests us and divides us, but as a community of Christians we must take the division with stride and allow that conflict only to strengthen us as a whole. Listening to these hard to swallow words of Jesus to help us and makes us stronger by testing us. When we become stronger and more united, we seek the same goal, living to bring God to the world in need and to Him be all the Glory and Honor.
Adapted from “The Abbingdon Preaching Annual 2013” and “Sara Shaver”