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Risking it all on Job and Us (click here)

Scripture

Job 1:1-22, Job 2:1-10
The story of Job takes place during the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It is the story of just man who suffers unjustly without knowing why.
We read the introduction and a conversation between God and Satan that gets the story going

James 5:7-12
The only place Job is mentioned in the New Testament is James 5:11, where he is an example of patient endurance.

Sermon: Risking it all on Job and Us

In the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”, comedian Steve Martin plays a businessman who attempts to get home for American Thanksgiving. The movie begins with Martin trying to catch a flight home, but he misses his flight.

Then he attempts to rent a car, but this too is complicated by a number of freak incidents that turn this into a major crisis.

Every time Steve Martin attempts to move forward, he is frustrated by events beyond his control that turn a simple trip home into a literally a traveling nightmare.

And to make matters worse, Steve Martin is hooks up with a not so helpful traveling companion played by John Candy, who adds more frustration to Steve Martin’s travels. Everything that can possibly go wrong for Steve Martin, does go wrong and in a big way.

In this movie, there seems to be some cosmic force, which is working against him and preventing him from getting home.

This all adds up to a very funny movie. But it also makes for an extremely painful movie, especially if you have had terrible traveling experiences.

Steve Martin is both an honorable hero as well as a tragic victim in this movie. His character is one whom we can easily identify with. For in many ways, he represents all of the thousands of people who encounters difficulty while traveling every year.

This movie in many ways echoes the story of Job. Like Steve Martin in the movie “Plane, Trains and Automobiles,” Job experiences great personal tragedy, he has friends who attempt to help him, and there are cosmic forces working against him of which he has no understanding.

Like Steve Martin, Job is also a representative, but in this case of anyone who has ever suffered great loss in this life. Job represents anyone who has wrestles with WHY there is great suffering and tragedy in our world. He represents everyone who has ever tried to be faithful in circumstances beyond their control.

Job is also representative of the person of faith who has dared to honestly question God, doubt God, or complain to God about their tragic circumstances. If you are such a person, or if you are a person who wants to help others in their suffering, then you will find in Job an insightful friend and a helpful traveling companion on life’s mysterious highway.

Over the next several weeks, I want to explore with you this most challenging books of the Old Testament. The book of Job, like the movie just mentioned is both comical and tragic at the same time.

Job is both comforting and unsettling; appealing, and offensive; thought provoking and mind numbing all at the same time. My prayer for us is that we will gain some wisdom in living faithfully for God in times that seem beyond our control.

First of all, the book of Job explores the great themes of human suffering, the flaws of conventional human wisdom in trying to make sense of suffering and God’s mysterious will. It explores not why there is human suffering, but how to be faithful in the midst of it. All of these themes are complicated issues, which defy any sort of simple human logic and understanding.

And this is why I must tell you right up front, that you are not going receive pat answers to these great questions of the human condition. But rather we will wrestle with issues of being faithful as the book of Job prompts us to do.

With that said, let us look at the first two chapters of Job and explore begin our journey together.

The issues just mentioned are explored through the life of an individual named Job. He is a model of the successful and faithful person of his day. He has family, he has riches, he has great faith and integrity. In our day, he would have easily made the cover the Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

The Conventional or generally accepted wisdom of Job’s day was that wealth was God’s reward to those who are faithful to him. If you were poor, then God was punishing you for not obeying him. Good faithful, hard working people just did not suffer. Suffering was only for losers and sinners. Job, as we discover in the first chapter with his enormous wealth and unquestionable character, would have been considered a very spiritual and godly man.

Then the story of Job shifts from the earthly realm to the heavenly realm where God has an interesting conversation with Satan.

In Job, Satan is not the devil as we have come to think of Satan him. The Satan of Job is not the mythological figure that has been portrayed in literature and in the media of our time. Rather in Job, Satan is more like a prosecuting attorney who charges people with wrongdoing. The name Satan literally means “the accuser” a heavenly prosecuting attorney if you will.

God asks Satan one day where he has been and Satan tells God he has been traveling the world looking for people who have been unfaithful to God. Then God asks Satan a very important question…

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” (v. 8)

Satan plays out his role as accuser or doubter of human behaviour and tells God that Job is only faithful to him because God has richly blessed him. Satan makes a bet or wager with God that if God were to remove all the blessings of money, family, and reputation, Job will cease to be faithful and will curse Him.

Satan, who is a keen observer of human behaviour, makes his bet with God based on the selfish behaviour he observed from other humans. Satan in essence, calls into question God’s ability to create humans who will love him and serve him without regards to what can be gained from him.

And surprisingly enough God takes on Satan’s assumptions and takes the bet.

This is not all what we normally expect from God. But God shows how much trust He has in Job and believes that when push comes to shove, Job will worship God regardless of the circumstances and will not curse him.

God risks or places his own good reputation on the line by betting that Job’s motivations for worshipping him go way beyond the material benefits that God has given him.

God is also betting on his ability to influence not only people’s actions, but also their very motivation in following him.

God believes that he has the ability to change and influence people’s hearts for the good. And so God gambles his reputation on Job.

Does the idea of God risking his reputation on Human faithfulness offend you, surprise you, or is this part of how you perceive God to be?

The idea of God risking his good reputation with respect to the creation should not surprise us. Think about the huge risk God takes in creating creatures with Free Will.

It would have been easier for God to create people who act more like robots with an automatic response or internal programming to love and serve God without question, than people with the ability to freely choose him among a host of other options. But, God chooses to create people with the ability to wisely choose his ways over and above their own selfish desires and wants.

God also risks his reputation in sending his beloved Son to earth to teach our world about his love. God risks his reputation by allowing his Son to suffer and die in order to redeem and lost and foolish humanity. God surely must have known that some would respond to his gift of salvation in Christ, while others would blatantly reject it and scorn Him.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, God risks his reputation by calling into being his church, his tool for proclaiming his good news and winning people over to his side. Surely God knew the risks in depending upon his people to be his agents of hope and salvation in the world.

It is like the old story of Jesus being asked by an angel before he returns to heaven after earthly work is done, what his plan was for redeeming a lost humanity.

Jesus replies, “I have a bunch of fishermen who have lived with me for three years and who I have taught how to reach people and they will go into the world to share the good news of my life, death and resurrection.”

The Angel responded, “What if they don’t follow your plan and fail to do as you have commanded to do. What other plans do you have in bringing people to faith?” To this Jesus replied, “I have no other plan.”

The Biblical story of creation, the work of Christ, and the history of the church is in part the story of how God has taken huge risks with his beloved creation in order to have a people who will respond to his love because it the only way to truly live and not simply for the rewards to be gained from Him.

God is willing to risk his reputation on creatures he has made because God has confidence in those whom he has created, redeemed and sustains with his power, love and presence.

The Book of Job demonstrates how God was willing to take a huge risk with Job, but did so knowing that Job was up for the task. When God creates the church, God placed his confidence in men and women, who would grow in their faith, become a loving missional community, and would reach and draw people to God.

This begs the question, are we Christians because we believe God owes us something for our obedience and faith?

Would we be a Christian if God didn’t offer us any eternal benefits at all or even any earthly benefits?

Or are we Christians because we love and value what God has done for us in Jesus Christ above anything else in this life?

It is an important question to ask ourselves today. It is not an easy question to answer honestly and truthfully, but one that needs to be answered.

Job represents for us a model believer
* who walks by faith and conviction,

* who values his relationship with God more than anything else.

God allows Job’s faith to be severely tested and tried in the crucible of his afflictions. It is with Job that God chooses to risk his reputation to demonstrate to the Satan, that his love is able to transform human hearts.

God will do so again more powerfully by allowing his own Son to suffer for the sins of the world to demonstrate that God’s love can transform human hearts. Christ’s humble endurance and suffering showed the purpose of God’s compassion and mercy.

And so for us, we may not know exactly what God is doing in our lives, or in our life as a church, but we are assured that God will continue to do His transforming work through those who value their relationship above all else. God’s mercy and compassion do not end when we suffer, but deepen and help us to rely more heavily on the mercy and compassion of God.

Through our suffering and through our compassionate response to those who suffering, God points us out to our world and asks them to consider our reasons for following Him. God has the same confidence in us as He had with Job, to live faithfully in any and all circumstances because we love who first loved us.

To the Father, Son and Spirit,
be all glory, honor and praise. AMEN.

Two Kinds of Wisdom (click here)

Sermon: Two Kinds of Wisdom

Today we have at our disposal today more knowledge than at any time in history. More information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand. We also know that there has also been a steep rise in mis-information.

Our world has plenty of knowledge and education, but it has not always translated into being wiser people. With so much information one has the difficult job of knowing which info is good and which harmful.

We used to talk about this thing called “common sense,” or the common ability to choose the right over wrong and to make wise choices based on God’s wisdom. But more and more what we see in our world is a rejection of God’s wisdom in favor of one’s own person wisdom based on one’s knowledge and experience.

What we use to call “Common Sense” is now “Uncommon Sense.”

James’ whole letter is an explanation about the about how to live wisely and faithfully in difficult times.

In chapter one, James’ advice to us who are struggling to live faithfully and wisely is this…
“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5).

James tells us to know our human limits of understanding and application of knowledge. He encourages us to humbly ask God for help. Asking for help is one of the wisest things we can ever do.

Having shared how a Christian’s loving, merciful and positive actions and words reveal their faith in Christ, James asks this question in verse 13,
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (Jas 3:13).  

Google may provide us with tons of information, but it doesn’t always help us to know how to apply that knowledge in specific situations.

You can read everything there is to know about car, its history, how it works, how even drive one, but you only learn to drive a car by getting the wheel and driving. Hopefully with a good teacher.

Wisdom is gained through applying what we know in real situations.

James makes the important observation in verse 13 that wise individuals will demonstrate their wisdom in the choices they make, the insights they share, how they live and by positive influence they have on those around them.

I thought of four people: C. S. Lewis (English Author) Mother Teresa, an elder from a previous congregation, and Billy Graham. All known for their love of Christ, their wisdom, and for the fruits of their lives.

I am sure we could name others.

We follow the wisdom of people who walk their talk. No one is perfect in the practice of all their beliefs, and no walks their talk all the time, but on the whole, a truly wise person’s life will back up who they follow and whose wisdom they live by.

James then goes on to tell us in our passage that there are two kinds of wisdom. There is the Wisdom that comes from God and the wisdom that comes from the humans.

How can you tell the difference? The same way James tells us that we can discern a faithful and wise person from the unfaithful foolish person. We tell by the fruit of character that is evidenced.

Earthly OR Human Wisdom (James 3:14-16)

First, there is human wisdom, which James says in verse 15

“Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” (Jas 3:15).

Earthly wisdom is based on the wisdom and knowledge of creatures and not of the Creator. Earthly wisdom measures success by human standards: wealth, achievement, popularity, etc. Its goals are self-serving.

According to James this type of wisdom is also unspiritual because the wisdom does not have any connection with God. It is unspiritual because it comes from those who close themselves off from God and rely on their own wisdom instead.

Any wisdom that opposes or rejects God’s love, distorts God’s truth, and encourages destruction and division can rightly be described as devilish.

In calling the wisdom of this world as earthly, unspiritual, and devilish, James is asking us to evaluate the source of the wisdom that comes to us before we embrace and follow it.

We sadly live in a time where we need to double check or fact check the information that comes to us through various means because there is so much mis-information floating around these days.

In verse 14, James gives us several criteria for determining if the wisdom we encounter is earthly wisdom.
“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.” (Jas 3:14).

This false wisdom is characterized by selfish motivations and actions. What is the motivation of the person sharing the wisdom?

Earthly wisdom reveals itself in Bitter envy or the attitude where one becomes upset or angry because another prospers or has more or has advantages that you don’t’ have.

Earthly wisdom has an angry edge to it and not a loving or joyous one.

Earthly wisdom is also characterized by Selfish Ambition. Who ultimately benefits from the wisdom, the giver or the receiver of the wisdom? What and who gains from the wisdom?

Earthly wisdom Boasts and is False to the Truth. If the wisdom we have encountered boasts first and foremost about the author of the wisdom and not God, then question it. If the wisdom intentionally opposes God’s revealed truth in Christ, then question it.

The Spirit always leads us to truth of what God has revealed in the Bible, while the evil one leads us to oppose the truth—even in our boasting.

In verse 16 James declares what the ultimate consequence or fruit of earthly wisdom.
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (Jas 3:16).

Following earthly and human wisdom divides, creates barriers between people, promotes the prosperity of a few at the expense of the many, and it promotes beliefs and behaviours that move people away from God

James provides us with a very strong standards for identifying, questioning and avoiding earthly wisdom.

God’s Wisdom (James 3:17-18)

Having identified the kind of wisdom to be avoided, James shares the kind of wisdom to be embraced and followed. In verse 17, James gives us a comprehensive and helpful description of God’s wisdom that he encourages us to continually embrace as we put our faith into action.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (Jas 3:17).

The definition includes the following descriptions of God’s wisdom.

Pure. It is a wisdom that honors God first and foremost compared to self-focused and self-promoting wisdom of our age.

God’s wisdom is Peaceable. It is wisdom that brings peace, wholeness, and well-being to people. God’s wisdom brings people together and builds up the community.

God’s wisdom is Gentle. To be gentle is have soft touch. It is considerate of others. Paul writes to Titus “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” (Titus 3:2). The current political Attack adds don’t meet this criteria.

God’s wisdom is Willing to yield. This has the sense of being open to God’s teachings. The wise person is open to being taught, willing to admit their mistakes, willing to see another’s perspective, and is willing to learn from those wiser than they.

A characteristic of the wise is they listen first and then speak.

God’s wisdom is Full of mercy. Jesus’ parables of the Lost or Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan reflect the wisdom God’s mercy demonstrated in forgiveness and generosity to others. All that Christ taught and did was reflection of God’s mercy toward us and all people.

God’s wisdom is recognized in the good fruit of character it produces. Jesus declared that people would identify us as his followers by the good fruit we produce by abiding in him. The fruit of God’s wisdom within us is summaries by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

God’s wisdom shows no hint partiality toward anyone because it recognizes that all have fallen short of God’s intentions and we all need God’s help no matter who we are. We all stand on equal footing before God both in receiving both judgment and in receiving God’s mercy.

Godly wisdom is without hypocrisy. God’s wisdom is the real deal. God clearly reveals His motives, intentions and goals through what God says and does. In Christ, God’s grace and truth are clearly revealed for all to see clearly and plainly.

James reveals in verse 18 that end result of embracing God’s wisdom.

“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (Jas 3:18).

The Goal of God’s wisdom is always to move us closer to Him and closer to one another. Those who live by God’s wisdom have a positive role to play in pulling people together and not apart as so many are doing these days

In an age and time where so many people embrace so much foolishness that harms and destroys individuals and communities, it is imperative that we be wise students and practitioners of God’s wisdom.

As James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13)

Let our answer be
“It is us, for we listen and follow the wisdom that God teaches us through Christ
and those are inspired by Him.”

To God who is all wise be honored, praised and followed.
Amen.

The Ongoing Adventure of Faith

Sermon: The Ongoing Adventure of Faith
Genesis 12:1-9
Mark 1:14-20

When you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they read like travel narratives, especially the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is always on the way to somewhere else. Mark tells the story of Jesus with a breathless tempo. Mark says that Jesus did that and then immediately Jesus goes on to do or say something more. Immediately is one of Mark’s favorite words and he uses it 27 times in his short Gospel.

The image you get of Jesus’ followers, his disciples, in a gospel like Mark’s is a group of people who are always breathlessly trying to catch up, always just one step behind Jesus as he moves on to somewhere else. Jesus is always out front leading them to discover new things about himself and about God.

I love the way Mark begins his gospel with the calling of Jesus’ disciples. A couple of the disciples were at work one day, bent over their nets, working on them. (Author Tony Campolo says that the disciples seemed to be the worst fishermen in the world – they were always mending their nets!)

At any rate, while they were working, they saw this strange figure up on the road above them, calling to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mk 1:17).

Mark says they stopped everything they were doing, left their father, and went trudging right after Jesus. One would think they might have asked, “Well, who are you?” Or one would at least think they would say, “Fine. But where are you going?”

They asked none of that. They just stumbled after Jesus. Maybe that’s exactly the way it happened. In fact, in Mark’s Gospel, that is the image you get of discipleship. Discipleship is following Jesus on a journey without ever knowing exactly who he is or precisely where he is going.

Isn’t that typical of Jesus? Just about the time we are about to get the point, almost ready to catch up with him, he is on the way somewhere else! .

Jesus is always on the move, bringing his followers along on his great Kingdom Adventure.

If you have been journeying with Jesus very long, you know that it is quite typical to keep making surprising discoveries with Jesus, even when you are on the way to somewhere else.

Then, when you get to the very end of Mark, Mark says that the women came to the tomb on Easter morning. But by the time they get there, they are greeted by a “young man in white” who tells them, “You’re looking for Jesus? Sorry. Just missed him. By this time in the morning, he is already all the way out in Galilee! Now go and meet him there!”

I think that is the main reason why this gospel ends the way it does. Mark ends his gospel with the women at the tomb, shocked that Jesus is not there. He is going before them to Galilee. That sums up the entire experience with Jesus. Just when they get there, he has already moved on to somewhere else.

Discipleship is all about discovery and adventure. Discipleship becomes the ultimate road trip one can make.

I think this is Mark’s way of saying that, because of Easter, this journey of faith is not over; in fact, it is never over until God says that it is over.

So if you are thinking about faithful discipleship, don’t think about getting your heads straight on a list of fundamental beliefs. Don’t think about discipleship as memorizing a whole string of Bible verses. Don’t think of discipleship as a spiritual oasis where we can kick back with Jesus. Think about discipleship as a lifelong adventurous journey with Jesus.

This is the story that Jesus is writing for each of us and all of us at the same time. Each of us is busy tagging along behind Jesus, being surprised, or angry or confused by Jesus, trying to figure out what he said at the last stop. Being amazed at the places that he leads us on this adventure.

There are many ways one could describe the last 18 months, it certainly has been challenging, but not dull. We have been stretched emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. We have learned new things about ourselves, others and about God. To see the past 18 months and what lies ahead is an important and helpful perspective to embrace as Christ’s followers.

The Bible as a whole adds many things about how we are to join God in the adventure of faith.

First, the journey with Jesus is not only an adventure, but is also best done with others. We do not follow a set of laws, but we follow a person who we have come to love, who we can learn from, and whose company we enjoy along the way. And we don’t always know where our relationship with Jesus will take us and that is part of the enjoyment of following Jesus.

For example, I did not have the slightest clue how my life would drastically change when I asked my wife to marry me.

I asked my wife to marry me while enjoying Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. I didn’t fully know how wild a ride marriage would be when I choose that particular location to “pop the question.” My wife and I have joked about how prophetic my choice of places has been.

The important aspect of any relationship is that we commit ourselves to be on a journey with them, no matter where that journey leads, even through times of abundance and poverty, times of sickness and health, for better for worse,” etc.

When we respond to Christ’s call to follow Him, we commit ourselves to follow Christ, just as married couples do. It is a much deeper commitment to be sure, but we commit to travel together wherever Christ leads us.

We are reminded that faith is first and foremost a commitment to journey with Jesus and WITH one another. And it is always best done in the company of others as God planned from the beginning.

Secondly, a journey always implies a movement from here to there. Therefore, in characterizing discipleship as an adventure, the Bible declares that faith is a long process of spiritual growth. Whenever we follow Jesus, we are asked to stay on your toes and to be ready for wonderful surprises that expand and deepen our faith.

I don’t know if the disciples who left their nets, their tax collecting booths, or their everyday lives knew for certain where they would end up. Nor do I believe that Abraham and Sarah knew where their journey with God would end up as well.

The author of Hebrews declares

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

They all set out with a promise that God would lead them to where they were supposed to be.

Because our life with God is an adventure, we are called upon to follow wherever Jesus leads us. God may accept us “Just as I am” as the old gospel hymn declares, but Jesus will not ever leave us just as we are unless we choose to do so as an act of disobedience to his call.

Jesus was always on the move and seeks to move us from where we are to some place better.

That is one of the lessons we learn from God’s call to Abraham and Sarah. They responded to God’s call because God was offering them something better than anything they could have imagined left to their own devices.

Think for a moment about where God has led you over the course of your faith journey. Think about what you have learned because at some point in your life, when you choose to leave something behind in order to follow Jesus.

If you had the ability to go back and change your mind about following Jesus, would you?

I don’t think the fishermen or Abram and Sarai would for a moment even think about changing their minds about going on an adventure with God.

Perhaps that is what has kept each of us traveling with Jesus, day after day because we see the growth in our lives and in our relationships. The adventure with Christ has been worth it with all of its ups, downs, twists, and turns.

None of us has a clue as to what the future holds for us individually or as a congregation. I join Dorothy of “The Wizard of Oz” in acknowledging “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.”

I do know enough about God and about following Jesus, just as our spiritual forbears knew, that God will lead and get us to the destination God has planned for us.

God will lead to the people we need to love, serve, bless, and witness to.

And God will continue to provide us with travel companions to share the adventure of faith with us, wherever God takes us in the coming year.

To the Father, Son, and Spirit,
Be all glory, honor and praise.
Amen.

I owe, I owe! It’s off to work I go!

Sadly, our video recorder/editor has moved out of town. We are grateful for the work he has done for us. So in until we can find a new person, we will provide just a manuscript of the sermon for you.

On this Labour Day Weekend, I thought we would spend some time reflecting on work.
Just for kicks and giggles, how many different paid jobs or employers have you had? Think for a moment from your first to your current or last?

1-2? 3-5? 5-10? 10-15? More than 15?

The statistic that is frequently quoted on-line is that the average North American male or female will have 12 jobs in their lifetime.
If you are older, then this number will be smaller. For example my father worked essentially 4 jobs in lifetime: paper boy, stock boy at his father’s story, and for 2 companies in his 40 year career as an Electrical Engineer.

And if you are younger, this number will be greater for we live in a time where jobs comes and go at the drop of hat.

One of the most important things Christians have in common with those without or little faith is that we go to work just like they do. Work and Retirement is common ground for getting to know people.

You know how important work is to our society by realizing that one of the first questions we tend to ask people is “What do you do for living?” Or if they are retired, “What did you do for a living?”

We spend most of our waking hours engaged in some kind of work, whether it is paid or unpaid work such as raising a family or maintaining a household.

It is therefore not surprising that our work and worth have become closely related in our contemporary society. And too many people find retirement difficult, because giving up their job means losing a part of their identity. And those who were not able to work or find work during the pandemic suffered in numerous ways.

The Rev. John Stott, an Anglican minister and church leader, provides us with a helpful definition of work in his book “Issues facing Christians today,”
Work is “the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God” (John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, p.162.).

In this way of thinking,
• the unemployed person cleaning up the streets by picking up pop cans,
• or the person who volunteers in schools or retirement homes,
• or the retiree who volunteer with any community group,
• or parents changing diapers or cooking meals,
are working and in fact contributing to the greater good of society as much as a person who is paid for their work.

During the pandemic, besides those who work in the health care and those who continued to work without interruption during the pandemic were those in the skilled trades like the building and road construction trades. This is a reversal from other periods where university trained individuals were in high demand.

Regardless of what you may have heard or read, about what the oldest profession is, according to the Bible the oldest profession is not prostitution, but farming and taking care of the creation.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15).

If you explore the wide-ranging biblical imagery of divine work can give us a greater sense of being junior partners in God’s work of creation, preservation, and redemption. Work is not a curse, but rather an opportunity to work with God.

God reveals his character and activity among us as an architect and a builder (Prov 8:27-31), a doctor-healer (Mk 2:12, 17), a teacher (Mt 7:28-29), a weaver (Ps 139:13-16), a gardener/farmer (Gen 2. 8-9; 3:8; Jn 15:1-8), a shepherd (Ps 23; Jn 10), a potter/craftworker (Jer. 18:1-9; Rom 9:19-21) and a homemaker (Lk 15:8).

By seeing our work in the light of God’s work, we can see God’s hand in our everyday tasks. Our work will have meaning when it is connected to God’s ongoing work and mission in our world.

Our work is meant to be an expression of our worship and fellowship with God. It should not be confused with or replace our corporate worship, but it is an everyday offering of our whole selves, bodies, and minds, to God as Paul says in Rom. 12:1-2. Paul also says in Ephesians “Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women” (Ephesians 6:7 NRSV).

God graciously invites us to work. The world is not yet finished. There is still work to be done in God’s creation, and lots of room is left for human creativity.

As Christians we believe that we all we have and are, is a gift of God. We are saved by God’s grace, not by human works. And God is also the giver of all work, the giver of skills, talents, and opportunities. These are given to us to be used to love and honor God, to love neighbor, and used in the service of God. God gives us voices to sing his praises and gives us hands to work to put food on our tables.

When our work becomes the sole purpose and focus of our lives, then we either end up frustrated with it like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims, or our work ends up becoming an idol. A life totally devoted to work and nothing else can become an act of rebellion against God.

Therefore, we are challenged in the Scriptures to strive for a greater integration of our faith and our work.
We do so by recognizing the fact that we spend more of time as the church scattered, that is in the workplace or in retirement, in our homes, and at play, than we do as the church gathered on Sunday morning.

This simple observation must shape and direct our ministry and mission in the communities where we live.

We don’t cease to be God’s people when we leave the church building. Instead God sends us out and scatters us, like a farmer sowing seed, in our communities Monday to Saturday to love, serve, bless and witness to others as His representatives.
We follow the example of Christ’ work as our Prophet, Priest, and King.

First, the Prophetic: Advocacy in the Workplace. Economic life is more often spoken of as the sphere of sin rather than an area of blessing in the Bible. As a result of this, the Old Testament shows a remarkable concern for economic justice, giving attention to minute details of wages (cf. Jer 22:13), contracts, and fairness. “You shall not keep back a hired man’s wages till next morning” (Lev. 19:13).

The Bible never condemns the poor for their poverty, but rather see it a great tragedy. On the other hand, those who can work should work and not be a burden either on the church or society as Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:12.

In washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus demonstrated that no job or task is never seemingly too small or out of bounds for one of his followers. All are to be appreciated for their work and contributions to church and society.

Therefore, advocating for jobs in one’s area, or for the fair treatment of employees, affordable housing for workers, and fair wages are issues that are within the bounds of our Biblical principles and by our Presbyterian heritage of being actively engaged in local, national, and global justice issues.

Secondly, we fulfill our priestly role in supporting those who are in the work force or who have retired to find meaning in their work.
Like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who wrestled with the meaning of work, my dad wrestled with his work as at a munitions plant during the Vietnam War years. It was a good paying job, but he struggled ethically as a Christians with the kind of work he was involved in.

Thankfully, he was able to retire early and went to work using his administrative and organizational skills with company called LIFE SERVICES. This company provided important services for struggling Seniors who needed a helping hand. He was much happier working for Life Service than for his previous employer.

His example helped me to understand the importance of these Biblical questions about work.:
• “Are we giving to our job or work that which should only be given to God?” (i.e. our highest devotion)

• “What are the limits that we should expect of ourselves in our work? (i.e. Work and Family Balance)

• What changes ought to be made in our patterns of our work / retirement so that they reflect a more Biblical understand of calling? (i.e. How does it serve God’s purposes)

And finally, The Kingly role: Living to the Glory of God. How we work and find balance between life and work witnesses to our loyalty to Christ our King? This does not matter if our work is paid or volunteered, done at home or at a designated work place.

How we work or volunteer, what we say and do at work, the compassion we show to fellow workers, how we serve them testifies loudly to our faith in Christ. We are Christ’s representatives wherever we work or volunteer.

I love this quote from American Presbyterian Pastor and Author Fred Buechner about calling.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Just as our Lord saw his primary calling as that of glorifying God and drawing people to God in his person and in his work, so too are we challenged to see this as our primary calling as well.

May God help us to more fully integrate our faith into all areas of lives including our working, retirement and our volunteering, so that we may glorify God Monday thru Saturdays just as we do on Sundays. AMEN!

Going or Staying?

Sadly no video this week.

Sermon: Going or Staying?

John 6:56-71

There has always been something about Jesus that has annoyed, disturbed, and angered people. Very few people seem to be neutral about Jesus. John, in his Book of Revelations tells those in the church of Laodicea, who have not made up their minds about following Christ fully, to make a choice to follow or not follow. (Revelation 3:15-16)

For the past four Sundays, we have listened to Jesus speak about himself as “the bread of life” and “the bread from heaven.” We have reflected upon how miracles don’t in and of themselves bring people to faith. We have reflected how Jesus’ use of creative language of himself create both a barrier and a stepping stone to faith in him. And we have wrestled with implications of Jesus declaration that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Today we heard the results of his Jesus feeding of the 5,000 and the conversations that followed it.

Some of those listening to him there in the Capernaum synagogue, strongly disagree with Jesus over what he meant by needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:52). In their anger, they turn away from Jesus and reject him.

Jesus is also aware that some of the larger group of disciples who followed him are equally disturbed, complaining “This teaching is difficult.” (John 6:60). They are gut wrenchingly annoyed and angered by what Jesus said and they no longer want to listen to or follow him.

Then you have twelve closest disciples. Their response is different from the other groups. Jesus asks them if they too want to leave him. Speaking for the group, Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

And lastly, John reveals that Jesus knows that one of the twelve has already lost faith in Jesus and is going to betray him.

All groups heard the same teaching. All knew the same Jesus. But there are opposite reactions. Some reject what Jesus says and then desert him. Others welcome his words, confess their faith, and draw closer to him. The same man, the same sign of feeding the 5,000, the same message, but opposite reactions.

Where does the difference lie?

The disciples who leave, see Jesus and what he says as a threat, a threat to their way of life, to their accepted notions and assumptions about Jesus, their understanding of that true and false, fulfilling and empty. And they reject and dismiss Jesus for not saying what they want to hear.

Jesus tells these groups with a bit of irony in his voice, if you were to see me ascend back to heaven where I came from, would that help you to believe in me? (John 6:62) The irony comes in to play in the fact they witnessed bread come down from heaven in the feeding of the 5,000. If that won’t convince them then nothing will, even Jesus coming back to life after his crucifixion.

Jesus also declares to those who walking away, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63)

Those who attempt to figure out Jesus with their own limited knowledge and experience without the help of God are engaged in a useless endeavour. Like the Preacher from Ecclesiastes’ metaphor of “trying catch the wind.” It cannot be done. If you close your minds, hearts and spirits to the Spirit of God reaching out to you, then you are naturally going to be blinded from the abundance feast of life that Jesus holds out to you.

This is why Jesus declares 6 times in this chapter that we don’t come to faith in Him by own devises, but we only come because God is pulling us toward himself at all times. We either hinder and resist God’s pull toward Him OR we embrace it and choose to be pulled toward God. (John 6: 37, 40, 44, 45, 57, 65)

Now on the other hand, there are those who hear the same words and same explanations, and instead of being threatened or challenged by them, they are intrigued by what Jesus says and who Jesus is. They are interested in him and what he says, even though they are uncomfortable with his strange language and ideas, they keep listening and following him.

When the looky-loos, the questioners, the complainers, the offended, and the fence sitters have gone home to their comfort of their walled off happy places, 12 disciples remain.

Jesus asks them “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67) Peter responds on behalf of the other 11 disciples, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69).

I have always heard Peter’s declaration as a guy who has been intently listening, always reflecting, always trying to understand Jesus. He is one who is often confused and bewildered, sometimes angered by what Jesus says. I hear in Peter’s declaration, a person who doesn’t take lightly anything Jesus says or does.

Peter is continually adding more pieces to his Jesus puzzle . When Peter makes his confession about Jesus on behalf of the other 11, he says something to the effect, “You’re not exactly what we pictured as the Messiah, but that’s all right, because we know there is more we need to learn to see the full picture.”

Peter’s confession in John 6:68-69 is the equivalent of Peter’s declaration in the other three Gospels when Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter declares, “You are the Messiah!” (Mark 8:29)

I love Peter’s response to Jesus in this John 6. In moments when I have questioned . . .

the breadth of God’s mercy to all and have questioned God’s goodness and sovereignty over his creation,

or when I questioned why am I following Jesus in light of my experience with the church that does not live up to it calling?

Or when I have struggled to understand why awful stuff is happening in the world, to those I love.

This has been the passage that the Holy Spirit has brought to my heart, mind, and spirit to chew on, reflect upon and pray over.

“Lord, to whom can I go? You have the words of eternal life.”

When I have stacked other religions and philosophies side by side Jesus, including walking away, there is nothing that compares or that can replace Jesus. Nothing or no one else grabs my attention like Jesus does even though he drives me crazy at times.

And yet I totally get why people don’t follow Christ. I understand why many have left the Jesus and church choosing instead what they believe are better paths to happiness and self-fulfillment.

There are an abundance of other religions and philosophies, both ancient and modern to choose from. The Self-created and chosen buffet type religions and philosophies of our day are the far easier to follow than what Jesus declares of himself and demands of his followers.

Loving and seeing God in the face of our neighbors who are different from us or who don’t think like us or seeing God in face of our enemies is hard to embrace and follow. And Jesus says we are called to do it.

But why do we keep coming back to Jesus? It is simply that we know Jesus to some degree and we like the familiar and don’t to explore something new? Maybe. Or is it something more to it?

Down through the ages, attempts have been made to tame the words of Jesus, but these attempts never enjoy lasting success. We do a disservice to ourselves and to our witness when tame Jesus or take the edge off his teachings that challenge our thinking and living. Taming Jesus demonstrates how we as humans try to be more spiritual than God.

The fact remains that what Jesus says about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is among his boldest, bluntest, and most shocking statements. No wonder some of his disciples are scandalized by it!

Consider what he says about eating his flesh. Here most English translations become fainthearted. The original word refers to “munching” or even “gnawing.” It describes what a famished man does with a turkey drumstick. And Jesus says we are to do this with his body.

Jesus links this strange, repulsive munching with the gift of eternal life. In effect, he asks: “You want to live forever? You want to enjoy life that is life indeed? You won’t find it by eating junk food. You won’t find it by eating health food. You won’t find it by eating at the best restaurants. To live that eternal life, starting now, you must munch on me, gnaw on me!”

To accept what Jesus says here, to act on it, to live by it, means that something in us has to die. What dies is different for each of us. It could mean dying to our childhood ideas of a Jesus, who caters to our needs and who asks nothing much of us.

It could mean letting go that Jesus never promises a life without pain or suffering, but only one that redeems and makes meaningful all we experience. Jesus never promises a life without change, but only one where change brings about transformation of our hearts, minds, loyalties, and goals.

Every follower and disciple of Jesus must die to something to room available for new life, life nourished by Christ’s body and blood. Something has to die.

Is it any wonder then if the larger group of disciples are scared stiff, and if many pull back and no longer wanting to have anything to do with Jesus?

Of course, Jesus never asks of his disciples–he never asks of us–what he has not already done himself. Jesus who came to earth, gladly limited himself in becoming human for us so he could reveal God up and personal. And ultimately Jesus would give his life in exchange for us on the cross.

Jesus commits himself to us fully without regret, without hesitation. He commits to us out of pure love for us.

Jesus’ unbreakable commitment to us has its echo in our commitment to him.

We are spiritually empty, we hunger for new life, we hear or accept God’s call, we sense the Spirit’s push toward Christ, and we find ourselves committing ourselves to Him and following him We commit to Him even when we are not always sure of where he is leading us. But we trust that wherever he leads us will be where we need to go because we know he loves us.

When we listen and seek to understand Jesus in a deep and full way, there will always be something Jesus says and does

* that disturbs as well as comforts us.
* that challenges us as well as assures us,
* that pulls us closer to him as well as making us want to run away from him.

This comes with following and loving Jesus .

Regardless of how we feel about Christ at any given moment, we are given the promise that staying close to Him and following him, results in a life that is beyond what anyone or anything can offer us in this life and in one that follows it.

May our confession always be that as voiced by Peter (John 6:68-69)
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know
that you are the Holy One of God.”

Amen!

A Religion of Cannibals

Jesus speaks of our need to consume his body and blood to have eternal life. We explore what this means.

The Bread of Heaven

The crowds wrestle with Jesus’ statement that he is “The Bread of Heaven.” Jesus points to himself as the source and pathway to filling our spiritual hungers.

A Deeper Hunger

The crowds struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus as the Bread of heaven.

A New Celebrity in Town

We look at Jesus feeding the 5,000. Thanks to Frank Logue for his insights into this passage.