9/24/2017 Sermon: “Flip this Life!”

A while ago, I was looking over some new ideas for a series of sermons.  Sometimes I look at what other churches are doing and this title kind of jumped out at me: “You Make Me Crazy!”  The series was about relationships that stress us out.

Have you ever thought or said those words?  Now who would be saying words like that?  And to whom?  Normally, we’re too polite, true?

There’s an old saying that goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Notwithstanding what’s going on in politics (and global relationships) right now, the people that generally make us craziest are the people closest to us – in our families and even in the church, where relationships are supposed to be great.  We get frustrated when they’re not great, or not what we think they should be.

Jesus comes to bring reconciliation with God and a new level of relationship with each other.  But it’s work.  Hard work sometimes.  These days, I think we make it too easy to give up instead of work things out.

This morning, we’re going to look at some words of Jesus that reach us where we live: our ability to tolerate and forgive other people, especially Christians, especially people we know in the church.  What was it Jesus said?  “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:35)

We just learned that our next-door neighbors, who only bought their house a few months ago, are selling it.  They fixed up a few things and they are “flipping” the house to sell it for a profit.  God would like to “flip” our lives, change them for the better,  through the power of forgiveness.

Matthew 18:21-35.   Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church* sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven* times.

23 ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents* was brought to him;25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii;* and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.”29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt.31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?”34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt.35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister* from your heart.’

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ (Matthew 18:21)

You know this guy Peter, right?  He shows up a lot in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament.  One of that small group of people God used to create the Church, the community of believers.

Remember his occupation?  Peter was a fisherman, one of the least likely people to be a spiritual leader.  Among those first followers of Jesus, Peter was the “Alpha dog,” the one with something to say, the natural leader.  Quick to take charge.  Not easy to be around for some people.  And in those two verses, you get a little picture of another little piece of Peter’s personality.

It’s a scene from one of the Jesus movies (Jesus of Nazareth), and it’s not hard to imagine. Jesus is invited to the house of Matthew, who is a tax collector.  Maybe Peter has had a bad experience with Matthew, or maybe he just doesn’t like tax collectors, which is easy to understand in that time and place. Jesus should know that Peter doesn’t want to be anywhere near Matthew.  So Peter refuses to come in and he’s angry with Jesus for putting him in this spot.

Right before Jesus goes inside to the party, they have this conversation outside the door:  “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”’22

 Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

How much of our lives do we spend working out the tension of relationships!  The party is going on, people are laughing, maybe Jesus has turned a little water into wine, maybe a nice Cabernet, and everybody is having a good time.  But Peter is on a slow burn outside the door.  And he’s talked a couple of other disciples into staying outside with him.  “You going in there?  I’m not going in there.”

Jesus positions himself near the doorway and motions for the party crowd to be quiet – he wants to tell a story.  And so he tells his parable about forgiveness and the consequences of unforgiveness– loudly enough so that Peter can hear it from the other side of the doorway.

There might have been a few at the party who understood Jesus to say that even they can be forgiven.  They think, “Wow, even me.  I thought I was untouchable.” There are a lot of people who think they can’t be forgiven.  But Peter heard something else.  He knew at that moment, that his grudge was a burden.  His grudge was an illness.  His grudge was keeping him from being complete.  He needed to be with Jesus.

He realizes: “If I’m going to be with Jesus at that party, I have to learn to live a different way.”   The moment of his release comes when he lays the burden down, steps inside the house, and embraces Matthew.  Who’s writing this story?  Matthew.  And the way Matthew remembers it, it was the presence of Jesus that made this miracle happen.  Oil and water, but Jesus in the lives of these two people made a relationship  happen.

So, let’s think about forgiveness.  Think about the last time you offered forgiveness to someone.  A time when you were able to let it go, whatever it was. Was that hard to do?

Think about the last time you needed forgiveness – and received it.  Doesn’t forgiveness feel good?

Life is too short to hold grudges, and this is one of the common-sense things that God would love for us to know.  Forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and mercy are key teachings in the Bible, and important for all of us to know.  Important for all of us to experience.  An attitude of forgiveness reflects the image of God; it is key for God’s people.  Somehow, I think you know that.  Forgiveness is an important key to living a healthy life, period.

Forgiveness is actually the subject of scientific study.  University researchers have been studying not just the psychological effects of forgiveness, but the physiological effects as well.  You’ll find the health effects of forgiveness listed on the website of the Mayo Clinic.  Achieving forgiveness isn’t just God’s will for us; it’s actually proven to be part of a healthy lifestyle, like exercise and not smoking!

Picture this:  a young volunteer steps into a lab, sits in a chair, and puts on electrodes that measure heart rate, etc.  In a moment, she thinks about a hurt that has been done to her and dwell on it for 16 seconds.  At the sound of a tone, she escalates her thoughts to nursing a grudge and making the offender feel horrible.  Another beep, and she shifts gears to empathize with the offender.  Then finally, she imagines ways to wish that person well.  She may not know it, but she’s taking the advice of Jesus to “love her enemy.”

The study shows that we are drawn toward holding grudges because it makes us feel like we are in control, and many times, we stop there.  But there is greater control and better health all around when we actually grant forgiveness, when we let it go.

These are the keys to forgiveness; it starts with a test.

Empathy for the Offender.  What was it like for that person as he or she was growing up?  How do you think they learned to interact with people?

Did the offender come from a home where there was conflict or abuse?

What was happening in the person’s life at the time he or she hurt you?

Can you see the person as having worth simply by being a member of the community?  (or the church?)

Having thought these questions through, you choose to apply forgiveness.

Applying Forgiveness.  And while doing so, it is important to remember…

Forgiveness is not a legal pardon.

Forgiveness does not assume the other person will change.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation.  It only takes one person to forgive; it takes two to reconcile.

Forgiveness is a process.  Forgiveness is not often simple, linear, fast, or even complete.  Anger can often remain after forgiveness.

Forgiveness acknowledges pain.  You will never truly forgive if you haven’t honestly acknowledged how wrong the person was to hurt you.

Let’s not be naïve here; this is actually a very difficult thing to do.  There are very difficult things to forgive.  There are many stories of amazing wrongs that human beings have done to each other. You know some of them from reading the newspaper.  You know some of them from reading history.  You know some of them from reading the Bible.  You know some of these stories because you have lived them personally.  But through faith, God does what seems to be impossible.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was such a thing as a “grudge-ectomy?”  You come to the doctor, who diagnoses your problem.  Holds up the film and says, “There it is, you can see it right there.”  Points out this black little spot.  Schedules you for surgery the next morning.  Afterwards, you wake up, feel a little sore, but better somehow.  Your grudge is gone.

It’s not exactly the same, but God does do a kind of spiritual surgery.

God diagnoses the problem:  [Slide 14]  “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)  We all are capable of offending God and others.

God sends the medicine in the form of Christ, who says, among other things, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)  Now, Jesus was being crucified when he said this.  God is in the business of forgiveness and has had experience in forgiving personal pain.  Jesus was speaking truth beyond that moment: we often don’t know what we are doing and are always capable of acting in a way that hurts other people.

And then to the church, God says through the apostle Paul, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  (Colossians 3:13)

Forgiveness is freedom.  God call us to a lifestyle of forgiveness.  Unload the burden.  Give it to God.  Let God in.  Let God forgive through you.  Feel the grace of God flow.

Prayer

O God, you are so loving and forgiving, and these are muscles we just don’t use as much as we should.  We don’t exercise our ability to forgive enough.  You give us the command to confront behavior we don’t like; that’s hard, but we do it.  Give us also the capacity to forgive.  It’s harder to forgive, Lord.

Lord, we need the change of heart that comes through faith in you.  We trust that through your Spirit, you will be able to help us become the people we should be.  Help us show Jesus to each other and families, our neighbors, our world, and especially to each other in your church. Amen.

9/17/2017 Sermon: “Leaps of Faith”

Walking the Abrahamic Trail between Nazareth and Jerusalem. CN – 2011.

If I were to ask you to make a list of significant moments in your life, I’m sure you could do that.  Maybe you could think of each of those moments as the beginning and ending of a chapter.  Before and after.  Maybe you could think of them on a timeline, and if you saw your life laid out like that, maybe you could see how God was with you in those times when things changed, how God held you, God was with you, and you were only able to realize that later.

Try to imagine doing that for our church – lots of churches so this timeline exercise every now and then. It’s a good way to handle on who you are.  No church gets to where they are without a past, without a history.  What were the events of the last 5 years, 10 years, 30 years, 60 years that steered us to where we are now?  If you have a grasp of where you’ve been, you’re better able to understand how you’ll face the future, even if it’s just how you tend to deal with obstacles and opportunities.  Do you trust and jump in, or play it safe?

The scripture today is some encouragement from God to have faith – not just faith in God, but faith in the future God has for us, for you and me, especially when times seem unstable.  This scripture is for people who are feeling nervous about where they are and where to go, what to do next.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-11.  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

8 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. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

Faith starts with that first moment of trust: believing that hard-to believe story that Jesus really did die for our sin and rise from the dead?  How real is God?  Are you willing to believe, to trust in what you don’t see?  The hardest step might be making the decision that God can be trusted and giving yourself to God.  There are a million excuses not to step out spiritually, not to make that trip.  “I don’t want to think about it today.  I’m just not prepared; maybe I need to visit more churches, maybe even explore other religions, think about it more.  What if God asks me to do something I just don’t want to do?

God says, “Take that first step.  Trust me.”

“But there are so many other things to do first, before I get serious about God.  Being a Christian is something you do when you’re ready to settle down, settle yourself, and think deep things.  I should read my Bible a little more.  I really need to get my theology and philosophy of life figured out before I can make a commitment.”

God says, “Take that first step.  Trust me.”

These words are for people who need to get up and move.  They’ve been in one place for too long.  God needs them to go to a new place.  They can’t stay where they are.  They may think where they are is great, they’re settled, and life is good.  Things are the way they should be.  But God doesn’t think so.

Hiking on the “Abrahamic Trail.” Palestine, CN – 2011.

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

Maybe you remember that story from Genesis – Abraham’s not young anymore, he’s done well for himself, and he’s just retired.  The best years, the good times, are past and there’s not a whole lot to look forward to.  Basically, he’s a rich guy with not much life left and no good reason to take chances or have faith in anything.  Just the sort of situation God loves.  God loves to take the most impossible circumstances, the most unlikely person, and do a miracle.

But how about moving – relocating, loading the UHaul truck – with no particular place to go?  Not too many people have that kind of faith.  But sometimes that’s what Christians are called to do: sell out, step out, and move to a new place spiritually.  Go to the place you’ve never been to.  Trust God completely.

The punch-line of this story is not that God helped Abraham go from point A to point B.  God didn’t say, “Abraham, you and your family need to go to the address I give you.”  Abraham never even knew where he was going.  Simple trust.

Faith was what God wanted from Abraham – trust.  Faith that when he packed up everything he could carry and left home for good, he would be in a better place simply for doing what God wanted him to do.

God says, “Take that first step.  Trust me.  If I could do this with Abraham, think of what I could do with you, if you only said ‘yes.'”

You can substitute yourself in this story…

By faith, you headed back to school.

By faith, you changed your job.

By faith, you dealt with that habit.

By faith, you stepped out to fix that relationship.

By faith, you organized yourself to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.

By faith you got to know somebody who was a complete stranger not long ago. Then you made time for them.

By faith, you brought that group together so that they could know each other and express the love of Christ for each other.

You trusted God and took that step.  God put you in a place where you made a difference.  But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move on.

Think for a moment.  What is the purpose of your faith?  Does it involve a list of things you hope for?  A wish list? Having faith does not mean making exchanges with God so that we get what we want; having faith means simply saying yes to God, believing that Jesus is who he says he is.  It means taking a deep breath, stepping out and trusting.  “God, I believe.”  And then going in the direction God sends you.

This is not easy.  It’s one of those things that’s so simple it’s hard.  Some believe that faith is the belief/hope that God will change circumstances.  But faith is allowing the Spirit of God to change you.

Hiking on the “Abrahamic Trail.” Palestine, CN – 2011.

Abraham had to decide for himself whether God could be trusted.  But once he took that step of faith, that leap, he found a friend who never left him, and this is still true for anybody who has faith.   And we don’t just have God with us on this trip; faith is something we do together.  That first step is between God and you.  Then God uses all of us, together.  Personal faith may be a private decision, but there is no such thing as a strong solitary Christian.  We need each other, and together, we are a force.  Faith is all about and changes the world.

The challenge I would have for us goes like this.  If we had to start over, if we were starting from scratch and all we had was God and our faith in Christ together, what would we do?  What we do to witness to the gospel and make a difference for Christ?  How would we care for others and communicate good news? Let’s do those things.  It’s the way forward.

Prayer

O God, we believe; help our unbelief.  For the things you’ve taught us on the journey, we thank you. All along, we know that the ups and downs, the good times and bad times along the road, all these things have been leading us to you.  You are the destination; you are the one we have been looking for.  Within ourselves, we know you hold the key to the peace and fulfillment we know we need and only you can give.  Forgive our lack of courage in turning to you.  Forgive us for ignoring you when you call.

But now we open the door of our lives to you.  With faith in your son Jesus, we each give ourselves to you, and trust in your leading.  Transform us through your Spirit into the kind of people, the kind of church, known for their faith in a loving God.  Amen.

9/10/2017 Sermon: “Sharing Your Faith”

Prayer before lunch in Zimbabwe. CN – 2009.

For some weeks now, and for much of the summer, we’ve been watching how Jesus shows up in different places, changing people’s lives and giving them a better way to live.  You find him on a mountain and by the shore.  He’s healing folks and teaching them to pray.  Jesus is amazingly adaptable to both places and people.  You don’t find him stuck in any one place or with one type of person.  And over time, he has spread himself all over the world.  He’s here. The Holy Spirit of God makes the presence of Jesus accessible to anyone, no matter who they are.

Many people participate in churches because it’s their ethnic/cultural tradition.  Maybe it goes back many generations.  Faith isn’t necessarily the driving force.  But in our particular style of church, I suspect that you would not be here if someone had not shared their experience of Christ with you.  You believed and Jesus became real in ways you never expected.  Maybe it was a long time ago, or not so long ago.  At some point in your Christian life, you may have thought to yourself, “What would have become of me if Christ were not with me?”  and “How are other people coping without Christ in their lives?”  Both are good questions, really important questions.

This is not just a theological, religious exercise, like a process God uses to turn us into good people who believe right things.  It’s about salvation.

This morning, we’re going to think about sharing our experience of Christ with other people.

A great place to start is with our scripture for the day and we’ll move from what you believe, to how faith works, to giving faith away.

Romans 10:5-15.  5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 
9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.11The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Let’s unpack what Paul just said.

But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) ‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  Romans 10:6-7

Paul has heard the Romans ask: Who is the skilled, gifted religious person who will go get Jesus for us?  Nobody has to work at making Jesus present.  I’ve talked to a number of wonderful people desperately trying to reach out to God, doing all the right things, really working at being good people, who were astonished to find out that God was already trying to reach them. In Jesus, God comes to us.

But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)…
(Romans 10:9)

People!  You are so close!  The word is near you!

In the gospel of John, Jesus says,

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  (John 8:31-32)

This is one of the most misquoted verses in Scripture. Jesus was talking about more than just truth-facts when he said that.  Usually, we only hear the last part of that sentence: the truth will make you (or set you) free.

And that works; it’s true.  But the particular truth he was talking about is more than just facts that happen to be true.  The truth of the gospel is that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, who dies and lives again.  This is the truth you can know that makes you free.  We continue in this word.  It is not fake news.

The old Jewish religion was focused on meeting God in a certain place – the Temple.  But when you believe, you become the Temple and the word is near you.  You take the word with you and the amazing good news about Jesus spreads.  In order for the gospel to spread, it can’t be tied to a place, unless the place is your heart and my heart.  We take the Word home, to work, to school.  We have a portable place of worship.  We give the Word away.  It’s life; it’s hope.  It spreads because we use our lips; we speak.  People need to know that Jesus died for them and is living right now.  We aren’t just sharing a concept

…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  Romans 10:9-10

What do you confess with your lips?  (Jesus is Lord).  What do you believe in your heart?  (God raised him from the dead).

One believes with the heart and is justified – forgiven and cleansed from sin.  That’s God at work on the inside.  When we confess with the mouth, we confirm what God does in our hearts.

It seems like a formula, right?  Confess with your lips, believe in your heart.  But it’s gut-level stuff that comes from your own personal encounter with God.  Sitting in your car, laying awake in bed, maybe in a church pew, in that moment when you know you’ve got nothing left to lose, you can’t do life on your own anymore, and you need to take a step of faith toward Christ.

This would be a great place to share a story of salvation.  But there are so many.  You have your own.  We want people to experience Christ; we want them to experience salvation, because knowing Jesus unlocks the best things of life.  And God depends on us to share Christ.  Paul said How will they know if we don’t speak?  and, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  I want beautiful feet!  Sharing faith is one of the most fulfilling things a Christian can do.

So how do we share faith?  Don’t forget, salvation is God’s work; do the things that build your own faith, then get ready to be used.  I’m not a fan of bumper-stickers or t-shirts, although for some people, I know they have their place.  First, be yourself, don’t put on a Christian persona.  Don’t speak Christian-eze (e.g., using King James Bible words as “normal” language).  Be real.  Listen more than talk.  Sharing faith usually starts with asking somebody else how they are.  Don’t have an agenda.  This may take weeks, months, maybe years.  Pray for the people you’re talking to.  Allow the door to open.  Wait for the question…   “You seem to be a believer.  How does that work?”

A few more ideas that might create an opportunity to share…

Be ready; have something to say.  Your own story works, and God can use it.  You don’t have to quote scripture (usually best if you don’t!) Your faith may be a personal thing that you work out with God in your own way, but it is not a private thing.

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you…   1 Peter 3:15

If you’ve never done it, write out your faith story.  It helps when you need to remember.  You may never be asked to share in front of a group of people, but if you have that opportunity, it won’t freak you out!  When he wanted to share Christ, the Apostle Paul used his own story more than scripture.  Like him, your words may be rejected; that doesn’t mean you haven’t been heard.

Respond to a need.  Be the city on a hill.  There are needs in our town and huge needs right now in our country (or maybe you don’t watch the news!).

…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16.

 Maybe it’s a project with a group of people or something you do on your own – someone who was the target of your good work will say, “You helped me; you didn’t have to, but you helped me.  Thank you.  Why did you do that?”  Or somebody else watching will ask, “Why did you do that?”  Then you get to tell your story.

God has a thousand ways of opening doors, and they may not open right away.  Often, usually I think, you are just one piece of a big puzzle that God’s putting together.

I remember a girl named Stacy who was a high school student in one of my art classes, years ago, before I went into the ministry.  After high school, she went to college near where we lived.  We took her to church once, and I remember telling her my faith story (new at the time).  We lost touch with each other.  But she reached out a few years later to say that there was a time that she became suicidal and remembered something I said about God at a critical moment.  In that moment, she came to faith.  Frankly, I don’t remember doing much, or exactly what I said, but clearly, God was at work.

It might be most important to remember that reaching out to others is God’s work.  We just make ourselves available.  This is where it becomes real.  God can use us to change someone’s story.

Prayer

Lord, there are such needs on our streets right now, and on the streets of our country.  People are in trouble.  Some of us are in trouble.   And in Jesus, you give us the way to go, and you give us a mission to use our words to point to you. You give us hands and feet to serve you and lead others to you.  In these times of trouble, we must be followers of your Christ. Only with the guidance of your Holy Spirit, O God, can we possibly be the people You want us to be in this hour. Send your Holy Spirit! Make of us a model of Your vision, a sign of Your hope, a beacon of a different future. Use us. In the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of the world, we pray, Amen.

 

9/3/2017 Sermon: “Jesus at Work”

It’s Labor Day weekend, and this morning, we’re going to think about Jesus and work for a few minutes – at his work and how he is with us at our work.  Before he started his ministry around the age of 30, you know what he did to make a living, right?

There’s not a lot of description, but people called Jesus a carpenter (Mark 6:3 – “is this not the carpenter?”), and he was also known as a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55). Neither reference is especially positive.  The Greek word used for “carpenter” (tekton) could also be translated more as “artisan,” “contractor,” or “handyman.” So, it’s possible that Jesus and Joseph were the sort of people you call when something needs to be fixed— whether it was made of wood, stone, or something else. Can you picture Jesus doing that?  I can see him visiting somebody’s house, seeing a broken chair and saying, “Give me a few minutes; I can take care of that.”  I’ll bet it was hard for him to stop being a carpenter, and maybe he didn’t totally stop.

“Morning, Going Out to Work” by Vincent van Gogh (1890).

What are the vocations represented in the room today?  Nurses, teachers, bankers…  I wonder if you could tell the congregation what you do (or what you did).  Was there a job you did that people would be surprised to know about?  If you’re retired, put your mind back into working for a few minutes!

Every time I have a conversation with a member of our church about their job, I come away thinking, I am really glad you are doing what you do.  We get so focused on training and wages and such that we forget that your job is how you contribute to community.  You may not think of it as ministry, but I see it that way.  Somebody has got to be able to do what you do and I’m glad you’re doing it.  I know that you might be thinking about your work as occasionally depressing, or oppressive, inconvenient, maybe even boring.  Maybe you had a job situation that really made you grow in your faith.  I’ve had jobs like that!

Blacksmith. CN – 2010.

And I ask, what if you weren’t doing what you do, or did?  You say, “Well, somebody else would do it.”  That’s beside the point I want to make.  Somewhere along your life journey you found a niche – a thing you could do, that you enjoy doing or at least don’t mind doing.  And I’ll bet you even help other people when you do it.  If you are a believer in Christ, it’s not a stretch at all for you to believe and understand that what you do is a ministry.

God called you to do it.  Even when it’s not fun.  How does that affect the way you think about your work?

Hera are a few thoughts on work from the Apostle Paul:

2 Thessalonians 3.  6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

14 Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. 15Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

Amish farmer. CN – 2014.

It seems that some people in this church in northern Greece believed that since Jesus was coming back any day to bring judgement and change life as we know it, why bother working?  So, they went for early retirement.

Because the early church was a community of people who depended upon each other for basic needs, Paul tells them to hold back food from anyone refusing to work (tough love!).  To give them an example, Paul worked for his food, probably as a tentmaker, and then most likely shared the profits with the church.  He did this for two reasons:  First, to show them that Christians do not just sit around waiting for Christ to come back, and secondly, to show them what they could accomplish if they worked together to survive, if they pooled their skills and resources.

Spiritual growth happens in the church when we share resources that start with the relationships the Holy Spirit creates among us when we believe.

Does the Christian life have a retirement age?  No, but retirement from work has become an expectation in our culture; something to fight for.  It’s a cultural right.

Retirement, as we know it, didn’t exist in our culture until just over a century ago, partly because so few people lived to old age (you know, over 40).  So, to understand what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians, you have to imagine a place where you don’t stop working just because you reach certain age.  That wouldn’t have made sense to anybody in that time and place.  Good thing we’ve evolved, right?  (a little sarcasm!)

Just a few thoughts on working…

There is no perfect job.  As much as you may not enjoy, it, there is someone who wishes they had your job.  Every job has parts that are enjoyable and parts that are not.  You learn how you balance the two and eventually, you may actually enjoy doing the things you once hated.  Your faith can help you adjust. 

You don’t have to stay in your job.  My father worked for the same bank for 35 years.  Most people don’t do anything close to that today (3-5 years?).  It’s okay to admit that in whatever job you’re doing, you’ve done what you can do and it might be time for a fresh start.  Your faith can help you step out into uncertain places with confidence.

The working world has changed and will keep changing – fast.  There are very few jobs today that are being done exactly the were they were done 10 years ago.  I remember reading that many college freshmen will end up in a job – after graduation – that didn’t exist when they started college.  Your faith can give you flexibility when changes come.

Your work is not your life.  Letting your job own you takes a toll.  Early in my ministry career, I knew 3 senior ministers who used to brag that they were workaholics.  Their families suffered and within a few years, they were all divorced.  But at the time, being a workaholic was a badge of honor.  I came to a point myself when I realized I had to set limits.  Your faith can help you stay balanced and set limits that allow you to be healthy.

Does thinking about work stress you out?  It’s ironic that volunteer work in the church can burn you out. You know, Jesus once said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you [a lot more work to do].” (Matthew 11:28)

The church may translate the last word of that verse as “work,” but Jesus didn’t.

He said “rest.”  When you have faith in Christ, Jesus gives you a place to stop, a place where you can find rest.  No matter where we work or what our job is…. It doesn’t matter what car you drive or what sort of clothes you wear.  It doesn’t matter how good your grades are or whether you’re popular at school.  We all have the same basic fears  — the fear of the future; the fear of growing old; the fear of losing control of life and health; the fear of being left alone; the fear of dying; the fear of loneliness, rejection, and emptiness.  However beautiful the surface of things, there can be an ocean of fear and pain down below.  In the midst of all this pressure to cope with all of those stresses and show up for work, you need to remember that Jesus gives rest.

Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. (2 Thess. 3:13)

For all of us, no matter what our work situation is, or even if we’re retired, there is some right thing waiting to be done.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think working is risky these days, at least riskier than it used to be.  Being the church is risky too.  This means taking the risk of relationships, the risk of giving, the risk of stepping out, the risk of change, the risk of moving toward a vision, the risk of making a difference in Manheim (or wherever you are), and the risk of changing our world for the sake of Christ.  What risk do you think God might be asking you to take?

Prayer

God, forgive us for those times when we think we can be the church without you.  You know that we are only human more than we know it ourselves.  In our weakness we turn to you.  With faith in the resurrection of your Son, we pray for a filling of your Spirit, so that we might face the future and face the world as strong Christians, known as people with great strength.  And the strength will be yours – you are the foundation on which we stand.  When you return, we pray that you find us taking care of your business, following through on the commitments we made to you.  For now, change us individually and as a church into the people you want us to be.  Amen.