The Gift

I was asked by some out of town followers to share this week’s sermon. To recap, our pastor raced to Connecticut to be with his daughter as she delivered her second child … leaving the pulpit empty this week. We had planned to have me fill the pulpit next week, but you can’t argue with God’s timing.

So, here it is, although texts are based on next week’s (Aug. 18) Lectionary readings, Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Luke 12:49-56.

Know I take the words from Psalm 19:4 very seriously today. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

A Sunday school teacher at a church slightly larger than ours was testing the children in her class to see if they understood the concept of getting into heaven.

She asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”

“NO!” the children answered.

“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard and kept everything tidy, would that get me into heaven?”

Again, the answer was “NO!”

“Well then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?” she asked them.

Again, they all answered, “NO!”

The teacher was just bursting with pride for them! She figured they understood the concept.

“Well,” she continued, “then how can I get into heaven?”

The room was quiet. Finally a five year old sheepishly said “yougottabedead.”

“What, Joey? Speak a little louder so we can all hear.”

The little boy shouted out, “YOU SORTA, KINDA GOTTA BE DEAD!

Of course, what our school marm was after was we don’t have to do anything. It’s through God’s grace that we enter heaven. It has nothing to do with what we do, how committed we are, how much we give. Our ticket gets punched through the grace of God. As John Piper said, “What defines us as Christians is not most profoundly that we have come to know Him but that He took note of us and made us His own.”

But that doesn’t get us off the hook. We do play a key role in getting into heaven. While heaven is a gift from God, we have to accept it. We have to unwrap the present.

Certainly some of us just tear into that package. Chards of paper go flying as we rip open the wrapping to reveal the gift. Others are more deliberate, carefully unwrapping the box. It takes seemingly forever to separate the paper from the gift.

That leads us to our second responsibility. What are we going to do with that gift? Are we going to place it on a shelf and look at it from a distance? Or are we going to use it, enjoy it, share it.

You see, I think when we meet God face to face, He’s not going to ask us how much money we gave or how often we went to church or how we supported missions. He’s going to ask us two simple questions.

First, He is going to ask us if we believe in His Son.

I think everyone who passes themselves off as a Christian will correctly answer that question. You see, Jesus Christ — His Son — is the gift. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). That’s the good news.

But I think there will be a second question. What did you do with that gift?

It might be enough to get us into heaven just believing in Christ but if He is just a trophy sitting on a shelf to be seen only on Sundays and special occasions, do we really believe? Or are we fooling ourselves?

That’s why the second question is so important. We have to believe not only in Christ but in His power. And we have to use that power every day. And we have to share that power. And we have to allow Christ to shine through us in all we do and say.

Is it easy?

No. In fact, it’s hard … real hard. And there will be times when we fail to let Christ shine through us. We’ll do things we shouldn’t. We’ll say things we shouldn’t. We’ll go places we shouldn’t. We’ll try to outshine Christ, take His glory. It’s called sin.

God knows we fail. And we’re in good company. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Samson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Peter denied Christ … three times. The disciples fell asleep while praying. Martha worried about everything. The Samaritan woman was divorced. Zaccheus was too small. Paul persecuted early Christians. Timothy had an ulcer. Lazarus was dead.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what was foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

That was Paul’s take in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Do you seriously think God can’t use you?

God doesn’t look at our failures. He looks at our actions. He looks at how we share our gift.

With thanks to  Jerry Goebel of ONEFamily Outreach, today’s gospel reading is one of those gotcha moments. We see a side of Jesus we, well, don’t like. Who likes to hear I came to cast fire on the earth … or Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Is that the power we’re asked to share? Divide people?

We want to remember the Lord who held children in His lap while teaching, who told the little girl, “Tabitha, rise little lamb.”

We know Luke’s passage takes place on the way to Jerusalem as Jesus neared the end of His earthly ministry. Were His words somehow less compassionate and harsher as His time neared?

Not likely. Yet to come, this same Jesus would still heal the blind beggar in Jericho. He would still heal the woman who had bled for 18 years. He healed the man of dropsy and dined with sinners. This was the same Jesus who looked down upon Jerusalem and wept. It was the same Jesus who shielded the poor and placed Himself between the seething crowd and the broken adulterous woman.

This same Jesus had a stomach that churned for the vulnerable and yet, seethed with anger at the temple priests who made a mockery of worship. This same Jesus who forgave a criminal on the cross and restored an ear on the soldier who would arrest Him would also condemn the religious leaders and even pierce Peter’s pride when the apostle tried to keep Him from His destiny in Jerusalem.

Confusing?

Not really. Jesus felt seething anger, anger that led Him to pull the cords from His waist and whip the temple coin changers, but His anger was never self-righteous. His anger was never self-protective or a “sudden mood-swing.” His fury was an anger of advocacy directed at any who stood between God’s love and lost sheep.

Is our anger so selfless? And, the anger we do feel, is it on behalf of the forgotten, the neglected or the discarded? Do we even feel anger over injustice?

There was a bonfire the Messiah came to light. But, is there one burning in us? Do we feel any fire beyond the anger at the car that cut us off in traffic? Would Christ look into our hearts and find it burning for anything worthwhile?

The Hebrew word for fire or trials is pur.  It is a root for purity or purification. In Scripture, fire is often used figuratively – like with the “fire of God” which transforms all it touches into light and likeness with itself.

To the Hebrew, baptism represented a ceremonial cleansing. It was used to make things or beings ceremonially pure. Through baptism, normally secular objects would be cleansed for a holy ‘pur[e]’-pose. Being clean was never an end in itself. Jesus was perfectly focused on being cleansed for a holy purpose. His purpose was to become a sacrifice for our sins and His baptism was the crucifixion.

God’s Spirit, like a holy fire, enlightens and purifies so believers can share more and more in His likeness. Indeed the fire of God brings the uninterrupted privilege of being transformed which happens by experiencing faith from Him. Our lives can become true offerings to Him as we obey this imparted faith from God by His power.

Is our anger even close to pur? Do we have any fire that has eternal merit? How I wish it were already kindled!

Are we consumed by a holy pur[e]-pose or a self-focus?

A holy pur[e]pose would be to bring God’s wholeness into the brokenness of our world. A selfish focus makes the world more broken. If someone walked 10 yards behind us throughout our day — a football first down — would he find a trail filled with more kindness than if he walked 10 yards in front of us?

The answer to that question would say more about our purpose in life than any message I could ever deliver.

Through our faith, we actively make choices to do something. Is that “something” always the right choice?

Probably not, but if it is guided by our faith, we’ll make another choice to correct it and get back on our original path.

We all look for the “flashes” of miracles, but we ignore the everyday miracles right in front of us.  That’s what happened 2,000 years ago. People were mesmerized by the miracles, but couldn’t figure out the message. That has happened through the ages. That continues to happen today.

Chances are, we are going to see few “flashes” of miracles in our lives. But there will be times when we get by — and not know how we did it. That’s our fish and loaves miracle. There will be times when our illnesses go into remission. That’s our healing miracle, even if it’s just temporary.  There will be times when we see the hand and heart of God with complete clarity — perhaps just a precious few times. That’s our burning bush. Truth be known, the burning bush is there all the time. We just fail to see it.

Even Jesus did things … made choices … performed actions. He instructed the servants on what to do when He turned water into wine. He told the disciples to find the kid with the fish. He healed the sick … but not everyone. He raised people from the dead including Himself — again not everyone. He took advantage of the circumstances at the time and used them for God’s good.

That’s what we’re called to do. Use the gift. Make choices. Do something. Be observant. Keep the big picture in sight. Let the Light of the fire shine through. Take time to witness the little ordinary everyday miracles. Watch spring spring. Enjoy the sunshine even on a cold, windy day. Hold a baby. Dance in the rain. Sing. Soak in life. Each day, angels visit the footsteps of the faithful, leaving gifts that quietly offer God’s grace, comfort and protection. All we have to do is recognize them and pick them up.

Some of us received the gift at an early age. I, for example, accepted Christ as an early teen when I received the sacrament of Confirmation. It was then I reasoned, if I was talking the talk of following Jesus, I had to walk the walk as well. And even though I’ve strayed from the path from time to time, I’ve tried to make sure my way was synonymous with His way. Others come to Christ later in life, an epiphany, an “ah hah” moment. They tend to be passionate about their faith. I call them Paul Christians, turning their back on their past on their own road to Damascus and using the gift to move forward.

Others, unfortunately, are still waiting. Some may be working on the wrapping. Others may be working on other presents — self, idols, control, anger, impurity, evil desires, greed.

It’s up to us seasoned and newbie Christians to let the power of Christ shine through for them, not by telling them but by showing them. You can’t preach or prod or persuade or nag them to salvation, but you can show them salvation. You can be the example. You can be the spark. You can be the conduit God uses to present His gift to another soul.

Analyze this present time! heralds our Lord.

This present time! Who did I drive by this morning? Who was I too busy for today who needed a word of encouragement?

The Jesus we read about this morning is angry. He is red-in-the-face and stating, “Forget about the ‘end times,’ forget about some day, quit yakking about My return. Analyze this present time!

Don’t leave your Jesus in the pew. Bring Him home with you so others can see why Jesus — complex and complicated, simple and uncomplicated — is such a valued gift.

Don’t wait until you’re sorta, kinda dead to realize the importance of the gift we’ve been given. Let the Light shine through us while we’re very much alive.

What are you doing with the gift of Jesus Christ?

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Your gifts and talents were given to you so you could pour out into others (1 Peter 4:10).

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About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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