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Parenting Practices

This is my list of practices for becoming an even and ever better parent.

  1. Keep the environment and relationship safe at all times.
  2. Only impose negative consequences that are prescribed.
  3. If there are no prescribed negative consequences, promise them, identify them, then impose them later.
  4. Remember that anger and blow ups always lead to regret. They damage the relationship, model bad behavior, and are almost always exaggerated.
  5. Take a time out.
  6. Take time to determine what is going on behind the presenting problem.
  7. Use “Because I told you so” sparingly.
  8. Have a list of chores, jobs, etc., ready to assign as negative consequences.
  9. Get good sleep, meditate, exercise, and eat well.
  10. Identify stressors related to your spouse, work, health, and anything else, and deal with them without projecting them onto your children.
  11. Pray for your children and your spouse.
  12. Accept that you will fail, acknowledge it, learn from it, change because of it.
  13. Apologize as soon as possible.
  14. Keep trying.
  15. Celebrate everything you can about and with your children.
  16. Recognize that your children have their own stressors, including school, relationships, changes to their bodies, fear, anxiety, regret, and confusion. And respect that they probably don’t know how to manage or even talk about them.
  17. Remember the love and hope which led to your children’s conception, and the joy that accompanied their birth.
  18. Look at pictures of your children as they grew. You probably took those pictures to record a good feeling.
  19. Remember it takes a village. Through church, extended family, chosen family, neighborhood adults, teachers, coaches, music instructors, parents of friends, etc., God is helping you raise these children. They’re not solely your responsibility.
  20. Let their emerging independent identities teach you how to parent. They have their own personalities, preferences, gifts, etc. Your own insecurities may feel threatened by this. Overcome your ego.
  21. Teach them to weigh pros and cons, but also to honor the marginalized and unimposing forces of Spirit, wisdom, intuition, etc.
  22. Honor their freedom to make choices, and let them experience the consequences of those choices, whether pleasant or painful.
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09.16.18 When we Pray Matthew and Luke on Lord’s Prayer Sermon Summary

In all the best church programs that are sent to the office each week, there are five things in common. This is what we’re talking about this fall: the Practices of Faith.

The five practices are

  • meaningful Worship
  • Prayer in private and public
  • Service in the church and world
  • having Spiritual Friendships
  • knowing and applying the Bible

Last week we started our series with worship and we continue this week with prayer. If worship sets the week, prayer sets the day. Just as worship invites everyone, prayer evokes our whole self. In worship we love God and love our neighbors, in prayer we love God and love ourselves as God loves us.

Prayer is a proven practice of faith throughout the scripture, by all kinds of people, and in a variety of ways. We practice prayer over and over because it reframes our vision. In prayer we offer ourselves to God. Prayer gives us spiritual resources for managing anxiety, fear, loss, and overwhelming joy.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In the Gospel of Matthew, the teaching is embedded in the Sermon on the Mount. In Luke, the disciples witness Jesus praying and they ask him to teach them. Jesus also modeled prayer as a practice, withdrawing often to pray and praying publically a number of times.

We’re looking at the Lord’s Prayer because it is a nearly universal practice of prayer. Not every Christian church prays the Lord’s Prayer, and those that do don’t agree on which version to use. That’s because the Lord’s Prayer you have memorized isn’t in the Bible.

In the Bible, just as in the churches, there are various ways to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The Gospel of Matthew has added “Who art in heaven,” and “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Much later, the ending we all know was added by liturgists who thought sin wasn’t a good way to conclude a prayer. Called the “closing doxology,” “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever,” it borrows from 1 Chronicles 29:11 where David prays, “Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”

While disorienting, confusing, and perhaps troubling, this variety in the Lord’s Prayer dating all the way back to the Bible is actually good. It shows collaboration between Jesus and the disciples, and the ongoing evolution of prayer in the churches. The variety permits our own adaptation today. It also gives us an opportunity to trust God and love others as we practice the Lord’s Prayer in diverse ways.

And Jesus must have known all this change would happen, for he taught the prayer in the plural: Do something in committee and you’re bound to get diversity. Matthew added “Our” to the beginning “Father” so we wouldn’t miss it.

The variations in the Lord’s Prayer are another example of something we looked at last week: The distinction between practices and principles. Practices are those specific instructions on what to do. They may or may not translate easily to today. Principles are the enduring foundations for the practices, and they translate to today more readily. The differences in the Lord’s Prayer are matters of practice. It’s the principles that interest us in this series—principles that can help us to develop our own practice of prayer.

So, for example, “sins, debts, and trespasses.” Which is it? All three words appear in the Bible. All three have theological importance. Insisting on just one deprives ourselves of the value of the other two. For a fuller treatment of this issue, see my message from 05.13.12.

The point I want to make here is regarding the underlying principle. Matthew’s “debts” is probably the most literal translation of what Jesus likely said. In his Semitic context, speaking in Aramaic, Jesus probably said “debts,” but his audience would have understood him to mean “sins.” Luke, writing in a Greek context, made this change to “sins” for his audience, then switched back to language of “indebtedness.” It’s clear that Matthew also intends “debts” to refer to sin when he concludes the prayer with the warning, “Unless you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will not forgive you your trespasses.”

There are two principles to embrace here: One is that changing the language is OK. Luke did it for his context, and so can we. Second, there is a direct relationship between our God-relationship and our human-relationships. In all our prayers, our relationship with God and with others are related. God forgives us; we forgive each other. Our vertical and horizontal relationships are connected. And this applies not just to forgiveness, but to providence, delight, rejoicing, all of it. Whatever we talk to God about regarding our own lives, there’s an application to how we relate to others also.

Take another example: “Lead us not into temptation.” This rendition has been a stumbling block for many people, because James says God cannot lead us into temptation. (James 1:13) Last Advent the French Catholic Church rendered this petition as “Do not let us enter into temptation,” and it got the Pope’s blessing.

Back in 1988, a group of English speaking liturgists from many denominations (the English Language Liturgical Consultation) published this rendition to clarify the petition: “Save us from the time of trial.” The petition is indeed hard to translate, but these renditions bring out the principle: We need God’s strength on account of our weakness. See my sermon 05.20.12 for a fuller treatment of this petition.

In closing let us remember that Jesus taught us how to pray for God’s kingdom, and he lived according to that prayer. He concentrated his example at the Lord’s Table. Here we are reminded of our daily bread, and also that we live not by bread alone but by God’s Word.

I encourage you to use the Lord’s Prayer as a model for your own worship at home. Go ahead and change it to make it fit your life. Remember to keep the vertical and the horizontal dimensions together. And remember it’s not a question of which words to use, because prayer can occur even without any words at all. Instead prayer is simply our trusting God through anything and everything.

As an example, I leave you with this paraphrase from English liturgist Jim Cotter:

Eternal Spirit, Life-Giver, Pain-Bearer, Love-Maker,
Source of all that is and shall be,
Father and Mother of us all, Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The Hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!
The way of your Justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your Commonwealth of Peace and Freedom sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever.

09.09.18 Why we Worship 1 Corinthians 10.23-11.1 Sermon Summary

“Do you have faith?” This was the question that preoccupied me as a young conservative evangelical. “I think I may be losing faith.” This is the statement that begins many conversations in my office as a pastor. A helpful approach to faith I’ve found over the years is, “How are your practicing faith?”

For several years our church has been focusing on Five Practices of Faith. These have arisen from our various church consultations and from within my various pastors groups. Our church leadership has asked that I do a sermon series on the Five Practices to remind the whole church of our mission. This we will do for the next ten weeks.

What are the Five Practices?

  • meaningful Worship
  • Prayer in private and public
  • Service in the church and world
  • having Spiritual Friendships
  • knowing and applying the Bible

There is no required order of the five. If you start anywhere, you’ll be led everywhere. In this series I’m starting with worship because many people’s church journey starts with worship. It’s also our most commonly shared experience. We’re also tinkering with the order of worship, and starting with the practice of worship may help us make the adjustments.

Worship is also the main point of at least the first four of the Ten Commandments. The first two commandments direct us to have nothing above God and not to make idols. One of the best ways to avoid letting something take the place of God and become an idol is to thank God for it. Then ask God to show you how you can use whatever it is to glorify God. This helps us keep God the object of our lives, the object of our worship.

Paul’s letters to Corinthians show that they wrote back and forth at least a few times, seeking Paul’s guidance on a number of conflictual issues like baptism, dress, and sexuality. Their correspondence shows Paul’s authority in the church, but also evidences diversity within the church.

Paul responds sometimes with specific practices, instructions that he expects the Corinthians to follow. Sometimes he offers principles that transcend the Corinthian churches and which we can apply today. This is a helpful insight to always keep in mind when we read any part of the Bible. Which things are historically bound practices, and which are more universal principles?

In our passage the issue is whether Christians can eat food that has been sacrificed to idols.

On one hand, Paul responds, is the recognition that there are no other gods. Idols are without reference or substance. The act of sacrificing to them is meaningless and so the food is fine.

Other hand, he says, some Christians are hung up on past convictions and actions. It’s a hard thought-habit to break. Someone’s eating food sacrificed to idols creates a distraction of faith at least and a crisis of faith at worst.

How does Paul work it through? First he instructs those without a crisis of conscience to, “eat whatever is put before you.” The principles underlying this practice include being a gracious guest, acknowledging that, “the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), and receiving all things with gratitude (like the method offered above related to the first two commandments).

But then Paul says it is right to abstain from eating out of respect for the other person’s conscience. He anticipates the counter argument: “But all things are lawful!” True, he replies, but not all things are beneficial, not all things build up.

So there is a tension between what is lawful and what is loving. The Christian is free according to law but bound according to love. One of Luther’s great rediscoveries that fueled the reformation of the church is his statement that, “A Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”

The Christian standard is not what is lawful but what is loving. This is helpful to remember in conversations about economics, and politics, and parenting. Our standard is what love requires, not what the law allows.

In the end, Paul says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Paul simply taught what he learned from Jesus, which is why he can write, “Imitate me, for I imitate Christ.” Love God, Jesus and Paul teach, but also love your neighbor.

And that’s what worship is all about—loving God and loving our neighbor.

The Confession of 1967, part of our denomination’s constitution, says, “The church gathers to praise God, to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to pray for and present the world to God, to enjoy fellowship, to receive instruction, . . . to speak and act in the world’s affairs as may be appropriate to the needs of the time.” (9.36)

Notice what worship is NOT. It’s not about:

  • my taste in music
  • my interpretation of Scripture
  • my political affiliations
  • my race, income, education level, or special needs

It IS about

  • loving God
  • loving our neighbor

In the words of Paul, worship is not about “seeking our own advantage” but rather “the advantage of others.”

That might mean:

  • I don’t eat the meat sacrificed to idols, though idols mean nothing to me
  • I don’t regulate what others do with their bodies, though my interpretation of Scripture regulates my choices
  • I show hospitality to people, though the law excludes them
  • I welcome families with children, though it is a distraction
  • I welcome people with disabilities, though it can be awkward
  • I sit through and sing music, though I don’t like the sound of it
  • I join in prayers faithful to the Bible and tradition, though they challenge my thinking and lifestyle
  • we reorder the way we worship, though it bends our habits

Since worship is the practice of loving God and loving neighbor, it means making room for God in our lives, and also room for others. We practice it over and over because it is our calling now and our destiny into eternity.

The Table of the Lord is the sacrament of the body of Christ and the symbol of the kingdom of God. Here we eat meat sacrificed not to idols but out of love for God and for the world. Here where Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave bread and cup, Christ’s life is rehearsed for us for inspiration and imitation.

Let us practice the faith in worship, let us imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, doing all for the glory of God, giving thanks for all God’s gifts, loving God and loving our neighbors.

09.02.18 God’s Love and Ours Ephesians 3.5-6, 14-20 Sermon Summary

Today we look at how God overcomes a universal and destructive human tendency through a universal divine attribute. This is the final installment of the Hymns of Faith (Presbyterian Church) series. For three months we’ve explored mostly well-known hymns in order to gain a deeper experience and appreciation of their biblical roots and theology.

You can search recent sermons which covered such topics as:

  • Greatness of God’s faithfulness (June 10)
  • The solidity of Christ as our Foundation (July 1)
  • Joy of worshiping the Creator (July 22)
  • Assurance of God’s ongoing work in our lives (August 5)
  • How every moment is sacred in God’s hands (August 12)
  • What it means to be saved by the Spirit (August 19)
  • How God sustains our souls (August 26)

It is a universal human tendency to fear limits. In recent decades the business world has referred to this as the “scarcity mentality,” or “zero-sum thinking.” It is the perception that there is only so much to go around, and if one person has some, it means others have less.

This is a destructive attitude because it breeds hoarding, facilitates exploitation, and causes generalized fear and anxiety.

Are there limits? Of course there are. But there are far fewer limits than we fear. The only way to discover true limits is by challenging the notion of scarcity. Business writers offer the contrast of an “abundance mentality.” In words from the church world, we’re talking about belief.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to faith not fear, to abundance not scarcity mentality. Jesus challenges the universal human tendency to fear limits, and he does so based on the divine attribute of creativity.

The Letter to the Ephesian Churches teaches this. There is no question God chose the Jews. That choice created an apparent limit. It seemed there was no way it could change. Over time this limit was reinforced by tradition, ritual, institutions, and perpetual antagonisms.

But then comes Jesus, a faithful Jew and an inclusive prophet. It took some decades, but eventually the tradition, ritual, institutions and antagonisms were re-read and interpreted differently. The discovery was that God HAD chosen some out of necessity, because God has in actuality chosen ALL.

Why does God choose all? Because all are beloved. Why are all beloved? Because all are created.

God’s greatness has always been recognized in creation. Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” In Christ God’s greatness was further recognized in salvation. This is what Ephesians saw, and what is demonstrated in today’s hymns.

In “How Great Thou Art”, the first two verses are dedicated to creation. “When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made . . . then sings my soul, how great Thou art!” Then verse three moves us beyond meditation on creation to comment also on God’s love. “When I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, to take away my sin . . . then sings my soul, how great Thou art!” God’s love is demonstrated by the gift of Christ and evokes bewildered praise.

Finally, verse four projects this perspective into the future and throughout the cosmos with the image of Christ’s return. “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, I shall bow in humble adoration, and there proclaim, my God how great Thou art!”

This hymn like the Ephesians passage, challenges our limited thinking, our scarcity mentality. The greatness of God’s grace exceeds the limits set by sin. Non-Jews are included in the promise. The Great Creator of all is the Great Savior of all.

What do we do with passages of scripture that forecast damnation? See the postscript below.

“There is a wideness in God’s mercy,” our second hymn says, “like the wideness of the sea.” Across religious traditions, sea and sky are metaphors of infinity. God’s mercy is infinitely wide. It goes on to say that, “There is a kindness in God’s justice which is more than liberty.” What means more to the pardoned than mercy? What is more than freedom? The answer is solidarity.

God’s salvation is more than a simple rescue operation. God actually came to us in Christ and remains with us in Spirit. “There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven,” because heaven has come to earth in Christ.

The hymn concludes rightly that, “the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.” The natural mind imposes limits. It creates the scarcity mentality. It even tries to limit God—to the Jews, to the Christians, and to the Bible. But in Christ, Ephesians says, God’s election expands beyond Jews, beyond the limits of our mind. This is why the author prays for our “inner being” to comprehend that which surpasses knowledge, namely the love of Christ—the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love.

“Then sings my SOUL,” the other hymn agrees, because the mind lacks the capacity. Ephesians makes this prayer because as we grow in God’s love, we grow in our love for others, and we overcome the scarcity mentality.

The final hymn urges us: “If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word, and our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.” May we grow ever more in God’s love and fulfill Jesus’ command to love God . . . and our neighbors.

POSTSCRIPT

So what about those passages of scripture that forecast damnation for some? Does this contradict the greatness of God revealed by God’s salvation of all?

Such passages undeniably exist in both the newer and older testaments. Even so, not every passage to which one might point actually refers to eternal damnation. But some certainly do. How do we understand their presence in the Bible?

Some such passages may arise from a limited historical perspective. They were written before the revelation in Christ or before that revelation was fully understood.

Or it may be that those authors simply didn’t get it. They preferred to remain in the scarcity mentality despite the revelation in Christ. Never forget that the Bible was written by humans.

Many passages of damnation are actually rhetorical admonitions to ethical behavior. Most of Jesus’ words on the topic fall into this category. He really isn’t talking about the afterlife, but this life.

Could these passages damning some to eternal hell be true? I suppose. If God wants to create the world good and humans in the divine image and not save them all, who are we to protest?

But which God is greater? The god one who created all but could only save some? Or the one who manages to save all?

 

08.26.18 God’s Strength and Ours Mark 4.35-41 Sermon Summary

We have two “Hymns of Faith (Presbyterian Church)” that complement one another as we near the end of our summer series. I want to organize our thoughts around three movements: Storm, Remembrance, and Response.

Why did the disciples wake Jesus up as he slept during the storm on the lake? Perhaps they were resentful that they were dealing with it and he wasn’t. Or maybe they wanted solidarity. They did say to him, “Don’t you care?” Or maybe they were simply fearful, for they also said they were perishing.

We also have storms in our lives. Sometimes they are literal storms like experiencing turbulence on a flight or driving through rain and hail. Sometimes the storms are figurative. The hymn “It is well with My Soul” recognizes that sometimes “sorrows like sea billows roll.” Our storms may be spiritual storms, storms of emotions, or storms of disorientation.

Change often brings about storms. The hymn “Be Still my Soul” laments the “grief and pain” brought about by change, as well as “disappointment, fear, sorrow, and tears.”

During whatever kinds of storms—literal or figurative—we don’t want Jesus just sleeping! Like the disciples, we wake him up.

Why did they wake him up? I think it was less resentment, solidarity, or fear, and more that they did not remember. The testimony of Psalm 107 rehearses several instances of divine deliverance, including one in which sailors find themselves in a storm on the sea. “They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards” it says. But each time God delivers the people.

Jesus reminded them of this truth, that God is with us in the storms and will deliver us. He reminded them not in words but in action. God is our faithful friend through every kind of storm. The hymn says, “Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below; thy best, thy heavenly Friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.” The other hymn says “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

This is what the disciples forgot. They woke Jesus up because they didn’t remember God’s presence and deliverance. Jesus reminded them, as does Psalm 107, as does all Scripture, as do our two hymns, that past performance does guarantee future results. God delivered in the past; God delivers still.

But so what? When during the storm we remember God’s presence and deliverance, what are we to do in response? What are we to do, “When disappointment, grief and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, and love’s purest joys are restored”? Because deliverance itself is also disruptive.

Here we thought we were alone. We thought we were going to die. Then we remember that we are not alone. We remember that God delivers us. What now that “peace like a river attendeth our way”?

Jesus understands that deliverance is disruptive. When peace and calm are restored to the disciples on the boat Jesus says not Why WERE you afraid, but Why ARE you afraid? Yes there are storms, and yes God is present and delivers through them. NOW what are we going to do? The hymn envisions a final deliverance when, “The Lord shall descend.” “EVEN SO,” it says, “it is well with my soul.” Because deliverance is disruptive.

What to do? The first thing the disciples did was worship. They “were filled with great awe.” It’s a good start just to rest into God’s presence and deliverance during and after the storms.

Another response is thanksgiving. Psalm 107 invites the delivered to, “thank the LORD for his steadfast love.” This is why we celebrate the Eucharist every week in worship. Here today Jesus reminds us, again not so much in words but in action, that God is present and delivers us.

If you continue reading in Mark, you’ll find that after worship and thanksgiving, Jesus leads the disciples to a third response by working for the deliverance of others.

So let the storms come. Let us remember God is with us and God delivers us. Let us worship God with thanksgiving and with working towards others’ deliverance. For the time is coming when, “All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.” For indeed, “It is well with our souls.”

 

08.19.18 God’s Spirit and Ours, Luke 3:1-6, 15-18 Sermon Summary

In our Hymns of Faith (Presbyterian Church) series, today’s hymn has been the most challenging, even for a musician who loves hymns! “Come Down, O Love Divine” is a hymn about the salvation through the Holy Spirit. To understand it better, we begin with John the Baptist.

Luke tells us a lot about John through his introduction. He tells us it is the time of Pilate, the occupying Roman Proconsul governing Judea. Galilee in particular is being ruled by Herod, the “Jewish king”—Jewish in name only. It is during the corrupt high priesthood of Annas and Chaiaphas who colluded with Rome. And finally Luke tells us that John is the son of Zechariah who, with his wife Elizabeth, represents the righteous remnant in this roll call of characters.

By positioning John relative to all these others, Luke is telling us that John is “outside” these institutions. He’s outside of the government, outside of the religious orders, even outside the marginally faithful Temple ministry. In order that we not miss it, we’re told that only “in the wilderness” can the “Word of God” come to John.

This means that John’s message is also beyond these institutions. His is a message of forgiveness of sins, but not through sacrifice. Rather John preaches a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Still, John’s message is not the full message. Repentance is not the means of salvation. Some today get that wrong. Some in John’s day got it wrong also. Luke tells us that some of the people, hearing John’s message, began to wonder whether he was the Messiah.

John responded to those queries by saying that one more powerful than he is coming, one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie. “I baptize you with water,” John compares, “but he will baptize you with Spirit and fire.”

Then he offers another image, that of a thresher who, with fork in hand, separates the wheat from the chaff—the wheat to gather, the chaff to burn away.

This, Luke is telling us, is salvation. It is not found in sacrifice, nor in repentance, but in transformation by the Spirit. This is, according to Luke, the “good news” of salvation which John continued to preach. This is good news for us also who make sacrifices to save ourselves, who think living righteously will save us, who believe our sins are forgiven, but who are still restless nonetheless. To us also, transformation by the Spirit is the “good news” of salvation.

“Come Down, O Love Divine” is a hymn about the salvation through the Holy Spirit. Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote the music specifically for these lyrics, and even the music tells us about salvation. Note that there is no time signature. The time signature measures out the beats of a song, regulating the rhythm so it is familiar and pleasant to the ear. The music is telling us that salvation in the Spirit happens in God’s time, not ours. We can’t rush it, we can’t slow it down, and we can’t stop it.

Next notice that the melody seems to wander. It is unpredictable and meandering. Those of us who have been on the Spiritual journey for some time know that the path of salvation takes unpredictable turns. In the third stanza of the hymn, a note outside of the key signature appears. The key signature is the arrangement of notes that sound good together. A C-natural note surprises us because everywhere else it appears as a C-sharp. Again, the music reminds us that the Spiritual journey of salvation includes surprises.

And finally, once we reach the end, looking back—or listening back—we discover we can in fact discern some regularity. Despite the absence of time signature, the wandering melody, the surprise appearance of the C-natural, at the end a pattern emerges. When we are saved by the Spirit, some things will only make sense at the end.

And that’s just the music! Now we consider the verses.

Verse one reads: Come down, O Love Divine; seek out this soul of mine, and visit it with your own ardor glowing. O Comforter, draw near; within my heart appear, and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.

Those who are saved by the Spirit discover a fundamental Christian truth: We cannot make saving changes in our lives by ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. Saving changes come with the Spirit. All we can do is what verse one models for us: Ask for the Spirit to come and to kindle the fire within us, and then wait until she does.

A helpful image might be a forest fire started by lightning strike. We cannot make it happen, but we know when it does.

Slide1

Verse two reads: O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in its heat consuming. And let your glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

The fire of verse one is now focused, burning away earthy passions. It’s like incense which burns away to ash but renders a sweet aroma in its place. Just so, the Spirit burns away that in our lives which is unpleasing to God, purging us to God’s greater delight. Remember John’s image of the thresher.

I enjoy watching a fireplace fire burn. It starts with my configuration of the wood, but then it evolves. The wood is transformed very gradually till it arrives at its end. Our opening hymn describes this process as occurring “until the earthly part of me glows with God’s fire divine.” (“Breathe on Me, Breath of God”) Just so, this evolutionary transformation will occur throughout our lives until we reach our end.

And a by-product of our transformation, according to the hymn, is that the light of this fire illumines our path. As our lives change under the influence of the Spirit, they take direction. God leads us by this light step by step.

A helpful image might be a person walking through a cave with torch. As the torch burns down, it leads us out of the darkness.

Slide2

Verse three reads:  And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far outpass the power of human telling. For none can guess God’s grace, till Love creates a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

As the Spirit saves us, step by step, we discover a longing for God, a longing for God’s kingdom, or for “heaven” if you like. Our desire for justice, peace, and reconciliation grows. And we come to accept that these things are beyond human explanation, “outpassing the power of human telling.” Human definitions and means to justice, peace, and reconciliation are inadequate for those being saved by the Spirit.

In a word, salvation wrought by the Spirit occurs through love, where “Love has created a place.” It is there where the Spirit works, and it is there we find our salvation.

This week I came home to the aroma of baking bread. Immediately I discovered I was hungry for bread! Jesus promised that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” This image of the Spirit’s awakening within us a hunger for righteousness is part of the fruit of salvation in our lives. As the Spirit increases our love for God, our love for neighbor increases also. And this hunger will be filled.

Slide3

This hymn has offered me a special gift as a pastor and a preacher. To be reminded that the Spirit saves, not the pastor and not the preaching, has given me a prayer. With a slight change of words, I share it with you: “Come down, O Love Divine; seek out these souls of mine, and visit them with your ardor glowing. Amen.”

08.12.18 God’s Gift and Ours Luke 12.16-24 Sermon Summary

Some people spend their whole life waiting or working. They say to themselves, “When I’ve done ______,” or “When I have this much in retirement,” “THEN I’ll volunteer, or give, or spend time with my kids.” Such people are waiting or working to say, along with the rich man in Jesus’ parable, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”

The hitch is, at any time our lives can change. There are variables beyond our control and influence. In the narrative of the parable God says, “This very night your life is demanded of you!”

The man is called a fool by God, not because he WANTED to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. He’s a fool because he assumed he had more time. Note that he was ALREADY a rich man. He could have, at any time, relaxed, eaten, drunk, and been merry. But he didn’t. In classic narrative style, Jesus’ parable has the rich man receive a bumper crop merely to exaggerate the situation so we don’t miss it.

So the first meaning of the parable is this: Don’t wait to enjoy life. For me, for I am constantly working on this. The biggest motivator presented herself about 14 years ago: Parenthood. I have known many parents who live with regret, much of which could have been avoided. I don’t want to die a rich man—no matter how you define “riches”—with no relationship with my kids.

As the parable unfolds, Jesus cautions us to be “rich towards God.” Cleary part of what he means is to live in the present. Enjoy life now. Relax, eat, drink, and be merry now.

The second meaning, much more popular, is revealed with the question, “All for which you have prepared: Whose will they be?” The answer obviously is, No longer the rich man’s! He’s lost control of his riches.

So a second aspect of being a fool is trying to control things that we can’t. And a related matter: When circumstances outside our control change things, a fool isn’t able to let go. To be able to let go takes practice, and so a second meaning of this parable is to live generously, practicing letting go throughout one’s life so one can let go when life requires it.

This past weekend I officiated a “destination wedding.” Guests flew in from all around the country to attend. The ceremony was to be held on a hillside next to a resort lodge. The only problem was, moments into the ceremony it began to rain. We made the decision to suspend the wedding, reconvene in the lodge lobby, and conclude the ceremony there. All of us had to let go of our visions and live in the present.

There are two practices that prepare us to let go and live in the present. They are trusting God (which is why Jesus directs us to the ravens), and being generous in the present, for if we have a habit of letting go in the present, we will be able to let go whenever circumstances require it.

The hymn “Take my Life” instructs us on how to live in the present and be prepared to let go when required. It was written by Frances Havergal in the 19th Century. She was the daughter of minister, and has over 60 hymns still published in hymnals today.

There are several arrangements of the verses Frances wrote. The first half of one is combined with the second half of another, for example. Nevertheless, the thrust of the lyrics encourage us to trust God, live in the present, and be generous.

The theme of “Take my Life” is the life consecrated to the Lord. The first verse recognizes that it starts with “moments and days.” This is because small units become larger units. If we give God our moments, then days, eventually we will have given God our entire lives.

The following verses offer various body parts as metonyms. Our “hands” represent our work and service. Our “feet” represent our impulse for ministry. Our “voice” is an instrument of worship. Our “lips” indicate our offering words of encouragement.

We are consecrated, according to the hymn, by trusting God, living in the present, and being generous, moment by moment, piece by piece.

Is it at once easy—just moment by moment, day by day, one small part of our lives after another. But it is also very hard. Only three times in the hymn do we DO something on our own. (For grammar geeks, the times a first person active verb appears. The first is, “not a mite would I withhold.” The second is, “I pour my love at your feet.” And finally, “I will be ever, only, all for thee.”

Even this third example is contingent. It is in the future. It depends on God’s “taking.” The whole hymn is built on God’s “taking.” The reason this is important is because it is so hard for us to give up. It’s much easier to hold on, to assume and wait for more time, to be the fool. But Jesus calls us to trust God, to live in the present, and to be generous.

Recognizing how hard this is for us, “Take my Life” asks God to do it for us. And in this is grace: That God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Grace is the message of Christianity, from baptism to the Table: God gives us life; God gives us new life.

It was grace that came to the rich man that night. It freed him from his foolish assumptions. And this grace will come to us as well. God will say to us all, “This very night your life is demanded of you.” But in fact grace comes to us in all our moments, in all our days. May we have the faith to let go as God takes our lives.