Past Sermons

RSS Feed

Abide in Christ Sermon Series



Click the image or this link to find the sermon.

CHANGED: The Woman at the Well

March 12, 2023

We are a thirsty people. Did you know that in 2004, the global consumption of bottled water was 41 billion gallons? That’s an increase of 57% from 1999. In the US over 15 billion gallons were consumed last year. We’ve gotten thirstier. And that’s just bottled water; add in all the other bottled and nonbottled drinks looking at you gator and powerade, and we should be swimming in a variety of liquids all the time. Yet, we still find it easy to consume all those drinks. We are thirsty.

There is of course medical research that tells us consumption of water is a good thing, thirsty or not. It is one of the pathways to health. We are supposed to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day Of course, it is more fundamental than that. Water is essential to life itself. We are basically mostly water and pounds of chemicals. Water is one of the most critical needs of human existence. It ranks right up there with air.

We all thirst for something. We long to feel loved. We long to experience happiness & joy. We desperately search for meaning and significance. 

SPRITE in one of its latest marketing campaigns has enticed us with its slogan, “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything. OBEY YOUR THIRST!”.

Many people do obey their thirst. They drink up what everyone around them calls love, they pursue what their neighbors call happiness, and they try to find meaning and significance in ways that make us thirstier. So, Jesus teaches us about true thirst, and how we are called to drink to truly quench our thirst, This is a spiritual call to drink from the water of life to know redemption and forgiveness and acceptance. 

The water of life that fills us and sends us out  into the world to be thirst quenchers. In whatever way we are thirsty. That’s the point. Thirsting for the living waters that Jesus spoke about to the woman at the well. And not simply a one-time thirst quencher, but a recognition of the deepest thirsts that we have and how we seem to always be thirsty, no matter how often we drink.

We all have our thirsty days. Even Jesus had them. But the difference is, for Jesus, a thirsty day was an opportunity rather than an obstacle. It was a chance to give out of abundance, rather than a panic to fill an emptiness. The woman at the well is one of the many nameless women in the Bible, without whom we would be even more lost than we are. And during a month when we celebrate the achievements of all kinds of women her need is our need, her thirst is our thirst; her fears, our fears. Jesus comes across all the barriers that we have set up to keep him out. This encounter begins with social boundary-crossing, typical of Jesus in all of the gospels, when he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. 

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 

The well itself was very deep, and because it was spring-fed, its water was the best water around, “living,” water as opposed to standing cistern water. It was considered a holy place. Now there are already two scandals here right off the bat. The first scandal of this story is that Jesus would even talk to this woman. Rabbis were not supposed to talk to women especially alone like this and certainly not one who is unclean. Why is she unclean? 

It was the middle of the day — when the sun is the hottest — and a woman approached the well to draw water. It’s odd that the woman would draw water at this time of day. Usually, it was done at dawn or sunset. Where were her friends? Where were the other women from the town?Could it be that the woman had been pushed to the edges of her society?

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 

In Jesus’ day, Jews would try to avoid going through Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along to say the least. They had common religious ancestry, but over the centuries they had divided and come to have different religious beliefs. 

Samaritans, for instance, only held the first five books of what we call the Old Testament to be scripture. So the Messiah they were looking for was different then the Jews. A Moses teacher type, not a David a king and overthrower.

And they believed that Mount Sinai where Moses received the commandments, not Jerusalem, was the holy place of worship. But Jews and Samaritans didn’t just have different views on religious beliefs. Relations between the two groups were tense and unfriendly, with Jews typically viewing Samaritans as lower and unclean. Because Samaria used to be part of Israel until invaders from the north came in and conquered Samaria. From that point on the Jews who remained intermarried with the invaders of five races who came. That is why the Jews considered them damaged goods

So, the second scandal is that she is a Samaritan too. Jewish men would say a prayer every day that said I thank God that I am not a Samaritan, a woman or a Gentile. Here Jesus is coming in the flesh so that he could find us in our needs, in our thirsts. 

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 

Notice she first, she addressed Jesus as “a Jew,” a mild contempt in verse nine. Now in verse eleven she addressed him as “Sir,” polite, but still skeptical. But we are skeptical too. “You don’t have a bucket,” we say. You don’t have what I need. You’ve got words and ideas; thanks, but what I really need is some water. What I really need is stuff I can get with my own bucket. So, thanks but no thanks. And so we drop our own bucket in the well and we drink. And we drop it again. Drop and drink again and again. And still, we are thirsty. It isn’t enough. It is never enough. Is it? We thirst. We search. We settle for a while, but it is never enough.

If you are dying of thirst after a long hot day  outside or a run, or a hard workout what do you want? Do you reach for a soda like a coke or pepsi? Probably not. Why? because usually the more we drink of it, the thirstier we are for it. It quenched my thirst, yes, but it also created in me a need for it. It satisfied my thirst, but I actually thirsted even more for it. You know why? 

Soda actually dehydrates you especially if it has caffeine. We know it is not good for us and yet we still continue to drink them and super-size them and refill them until we have taken in more calories than the food we just ate. And don’t think you are off the hook because you drink diet soda. It has enough chemicals you can’t spell that are infinitely worse for you than sugar especially for your digestive system. Remember the days of saccharin and sweet n low?

But when you are truly thirsty, and in true need of something to quench your thirst, I would guess that you never or rarely reach for a soda. It is cold, thirst-quenching water that we reach for. Or even the water from a garden hose splashed across our face. But still how many times do I think an ice-cold coke would be refreshing instead?

Why am I so reluctant to give up the soda in my life? Why am I so reluctant to make a change that can only be for my benefit? For my health? For good things for me? For a better life? We continue to go back and forth, trying to drink the water we know we need, craving instead the coke whose taste we love.

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 

The reference to living water is a play on words in Greek,  the phrase refers to water that is flowing rather than still “fresh rather than stagnant” while also actually meaning “living,” linking it to the gift of eternal life gushing up in the believer who receives Jesus’ gift. The word used initially for well and then for the spring gushing up to eternal life appears several times in Revelation. The Lamb will guide them to “springs of the water of life (7:17), and the Alpha and Omega, echoing the words of Jesus here, says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6) 

But more than anywhere else in the Bible what Jesus says evokes and connects with what is found later in John 7:37-39 when Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Like Nicodemus’ misunderstanding last week when he is unable to look beyond the earthly (physical birth) to the spiritual (birth from above) the woman at the well first understands Jesus to be referring to water from the well and asks how he will give her this without a bucket, furthering the irony by comparing him to their great ancestor Jacob, who gave them the well. But then she gets it. Sort of.

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Now she uses the Greek word sir here that means Lord like we know it She didn’t know what he offered. Not really. She didn’t understand what he brought. All she knew was that there was something here that she wanted. Some whisper of hope in the hot sun. But unlike Nicodemus, who doesn’t seem to move beyond his confusion, the woman does move. She asks for this water, realizing that it is not ordinary water but not yet understanding in what way. As soon as the woman asks for the living water, the conversation turns to her life, and Jesus will now tell her everything she has ever done, as she later puts it. Then, having been seen by Jesus, she sees him differently, and the conversation takes another turn. But that is a story for another day.

Jesus never seems to need a lot of response from us but just a willingness to want to hope there is something more. Something better and deeper with him. A willingness to see him as the source of that which will quench our thirsts. That’s all it takes, it seems. We don’t have to understand completely. We don’t have to recite a complex creed or make a well-defined statement of faith. We just have to want it.

But if, as one writer wrote, Jesus says if we drink of the water he offers us, we will never be thirsty. So, why are we still thirsty?” Why do we still live in emptiness? Is it because we don’t ask? We think our own buckets are sufficient. Maybe we are always convinced we have a better way of looking at things. But Jesus tells us, if we know who he is, if we get it, if we understand who we are talking to here, and choose life, choose living water to quench our thirsty souls.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe this far.
And grace will lead me home. 

The Woman at the Well knew the first part of these words well. She had lived them. And now grace had come to lead her home too. Why do we not embrace the life that he offers? It can’t be that simple, can it? Just ask? Just want it, and he will give it? Maybe we should just give it a try. Maybe we can pray like this 

Gracious God, give us give me this water,
so that I may never be thirsty. Amen.

In the hymnal…Fill my cup Lord.
I fill it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting in my soul.
Bread of heaven feed me till I want no more. 
Fill my cup… fill it up and make me whole.

Right? Give me this water always, Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

CHANGED: Nicodemus

March 5, 2023

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night He came at night. Throughout the Gospel of John, we find an emphasis on the contrast between light and dark. In the opening John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light” (1:5) For John these verses and images of light and darkness serve as metaphors for kingdom reality.

For John that light represents belief, while darkness represents unbelief. It’s pretty clear that Nicodemus comes to Jesus in a state of confusion and spiritual blindness, unable to understand what Jesus is trying to teach him as we hear more of the story. Nicodemus is completely in the dark literally and figuratively when it comes to grasping how God actually works.

It’s also clear that Nicodemus has been keeping an eye on Jesus. He has seen him teaching in the synagogues, and he recognizes that Jesus teaches with an authority he himself and other Pharisees would never dare to claim. Nicodemus has also seen the many miracles that Jesus has performed, some of them right in the temple itself. 

Some theologians think that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night in order to hold his conversation in secret. They see Nicodemus as unwilling to admit publicly that he is in contact with Jesus. Others claim that he may have only been trying to speak with Jesus when he had a better chance for quality time talking with him, after the crowds have left for the day. Whatever motivation caused Nicodemus to wait until darkness, his appearance at night is unusual enough that later, when Nicodemus re-enters the story, he is referred to as “the one who came to Jesus at night.”

and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; When Nicodemus arrives, he doesn’t waste time with chit chat. He cuts right to what’s been bothering him. He calls Jesus “Rabbi,” and using this title tells us that Nicodemus thinks of himself and Jesus as equals when it comes to teaching and learning. There is no sarcasm in his using this title of respect.

for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” This doesn’t sound like a question, really, but it is. Nicodemus is asking Jesus to confirm what Nicodemus suspects, but can’t quite believe. He doesn’t come right out and ask, “Are you the Messiah, or should we wait for someone else?” Nicodemus comes with his own set of convictions about what is real and true. Like we all do.

He has tried to fit his experience of Jesus into his own idea of how the world works, and how God works in it. He has put two and two together but it is not four anymore, and the only answer he can find is that Jesus must come from God. But it doesn’t fit with his assumptions, his tradition, his belief system.

Maybe Nicodemus had tried to keep his faith separate from the rest of his life. He followed the rules, he knew the Torah inside and out, but by compartmentalizing his faith, he had never let it change the way he lived his life. Maybe we are more like Nicodemus than we want to admit. How often do we get stuck in our own assumptions about God? How often does our own limited understanding prevent us from seeing God’s reality? Have you ever felt frustrated, like you just couldn’t figure out what God was trying to tell you? That’s where our friend Nicodemus found himself. Looking for a Messiah and amazing grace even if he didn’t know it.

Jesus answers a question Nicodemus doesn’t ask, but it’s the real question that needs answering: “How can I believe you are from God, when nothing you do matches what I think the Messiah is supposed to do and be?”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Now the Greek word translated “from above” can also mean “born anew” or “born again”. The confusion arises because Jesus may have meant one thing, while Nicodemus heard another. More likely though, Jesus meant all three things, but Nicodemus limited himself to hearing only “born again,” and he took it quite literally. He didn’t have ears to hear all three yet.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Maybe Nicodemus is being deliberately dense. Maybe he was a bit insulted. Maybe he expected more. Maybe he understands Jesus as saying that all of the learning and studying of Torah that Nicodemus had done up to this point his entire life was – pointless. What he really needed to do was be born from above, born again, born anew.

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So, Jesus spells it out for him. You’re doing okay on the flesh part – you just need to get going on the spirit part.”

This past Monday and Tuesday I was gathered with 60 clergy from across the TNWKY Conference to consider our future and Leading in a New Way. One of the things it reminded me of is why we are United Methodist and who we are as United Methodist. And that as United Methodists we have a particular method that differs from any other denominational or non-denominational churches. John Wesley our founder, Whose death we remembered this past week, had an approach to seeking God’s will that others have called the Quadrilateral

In case you’re a bit rusty on your Wesleyan Theology or don’t know about this here it is. Wesley explained that there are four ways we can listen and identify God’s will for us and find truth.  

First and foremost, we seek to know God’s will through God’s Word. Scripture. It is the foundation upon which everything is based. Nicodemus had this one down. He had memorized the entire first five books of the Bible the Pentateuch as a very young boy. By the time he was a teenager, Nicodemus had also memorized all the Psalms and the writings of the prophets. That was his training. If knowing God’s Word had been enough to please God,  Nicodemus would have been golden.

Wesley’s second focus was Tradition. By this, he did not mean habits that had lost their meaning that we just do because we have always done them, but the accumulated wisdom of previous generations, the understandings and practices that had stood the test of time. Here again, Nicodemus was steeped in tradition. He knew his rituals, and he knew what they meant. But Word and Tradition alone are not enough, according to Wesley, if we are to truly know God’s desire for us.

The third part of the Quadrilateral is Reason. Human beings are thinking creatures designed by God to be so, and we must apply our reason to the process of discerning God’s will for us. The robes and stoles we wear as United Methodist Clergy symbolize this part. Nicodemus was a scholar and a great thinker of his day. So far, he’s three for three.

But then we come to Wesley’s fourth quadrant: Experience. For John Wesley, the assurance of his own salvation had only come after years as an Anglican priest and through his own failures and faith of others around him. He was lost and one night amazing grace finally found him too. As the beginning of Romans was being read at a prayer meeting his heart was strangely warmed, and he suddenly knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he belonged to God.

This is where our friend Nicodemus gets stuck. Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel,  and yet you do not understand these things? Then Nicodemus disappears from the story until the end of chapter seven where he plays a big part in Jesus’ story in the last days of his life.

I mentioned last Sunday that the season of Lent developed as a time to prepare converts for baptism on Easter in the early church. I even spoke about the first question of our Baptismal covenant together as we considered the temptation Jesus experienced in the wilderness. Do you remember that question?

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Renounce, reject, repent  …  and this brings us to another question of the Baptismal Covenant:

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?  Nicodemus had to decide if he was willing to confess Jesus as his Savior and Lord, putting his whole trust in Christ’s grace. Nicodemus had to be born from above, born anew in the spirit. Jesus says, you have to be born of water and spirit. The wind blows where it will … that’s the way it is with people who have been born of the spirit Jesus says: you can’t see the spirit, but you can see its effect in their lives. You have never seen the wind…the wind this week…

An interesting thing happens at this point. Jesus turns to us, and says,  “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

And then we hear the most famous of verses about God’s amazing grace For God loved the world in this way: that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

The question we have to ask ourselves is how is our story like Nicodemus story? What keeps us in the dark? perhaps we have assumptions preventing us from renouncing, rejecting, repenting of our own way, in order to confess and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord and truly be born anew of the Spirit and trusting in his grace alone?

And what about Nicodemus? Did he finally see the light? Did he eventually experience a spiritual birth? I think so. Maybe in the same way John Newton “was blind, but now I see.” Was it at the foot of the cross, with Joseph of Arimathea, taking down Jesus’ broken body and preparing it for burial? Sometimes, the process of claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior is not a single step but takes a while like it did for John Wesley. 

So, what is your response?  Are you ready to make him Lord of your entire life? Are you ready to step out of the darkness of your own limitations, and into the light of God’s love and saving and amazing grace for you? For God loved you in this way: he gave his only Son, that if you believe in him, you will not perish but you will have eternal life.

This is the amazing grace found by Nicodemus, Newton, Wesley, and us. 

CHANGED: Jesus in the Wilderness

February 26, 2023

Jesus was tempted...This has always been the traditional start of the 40 days of Lent.

I think sometimes it is hard for us to imagine Jesus as being human and tempted. Sometimes you and I spiritualize him to such an extent, that we forget he was a man, a historical person who walked this earth who did the kinds of things human beings do. Jesus Christ was true man, and true God.

 As a man he felt, he encountered all the emotions, all the senses, all the circumstances that we feel in life. He ate, he drank, he slept, he got dirty, he needed a bath, he prayed, he cried, he gave thanks, he worshiped. Jesus did and experienced all the things you and I experience in this life.

And as Luke tells us this morning, he even experienced temptation. 1 Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. 

Jesus was tempted as you and I are tempted. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, 2 There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving.

The interesting part is that He was tempted not so much with doing something evil, but with taking the easy way out in three different ways and renouncing what he came to do.

The first temptation was to change stones into bread. 3 The devil said to him, "Since you are God's Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread." 4 Jesus replied, "It's written, People won't live only by bread."

This temptation really seemed like a good idea, give the people what they think they need, food. Become the bread, Messiah, feed the hungry people of the world, satisfy their need for the basic thing of life food, then you will have no problem getting the people to follow.

Jesus was tempted with giving the people what they wanted instead of what they needed. Sure, the people wanted food, but Jesus knew they needed more than food, they needed his spiritual food, they needed to listen to his teaching not because he bribed them with food, because he offered them life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life

The second temptation was even more dramatic. 5 Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 The devil said, "I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It's been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. 

The devil would give Jesus the authority over all the earthly kingdoms.  Jesus would be our president, run every country. With Jesus in control of the world’s political, military, and economic power, everything would be fixed. There is just one condition though, that he bow down, which was a ritual and symbolic act, to the devil. 7 Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.

Jesus could take the easy way out, acknowledge the devil’s control of the earth, and then he could change the course of history. Did you notice something here? Two things I noticed. The first is that Jesus never challenges the devil’s claim to authority or the devil’s ability to offer it to Jesus. The second is that the title devil “diabolos” means “Adversary,” one who “pushes back” we might say.

The devil’s claim here is that the kingdoms of the world would offer substantial pushback to the way of Jesus, assuming he followed the way God was intending. But should he instead submit to the devil, Jesus would find the kingdoms of the world a “pushover.” But Jesus knew he would change the course of history in a far more dramatic way. He would die on a cross and then his father would raise him from the dead defeating evil’s control of this earth and work through his church, us. Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out, to renounce the cross, and to do the changes of this world himself instead of working through his people. Sometimes this temptation is very difficult for us to renounce. Sometimes it is easier to do thing ourselves.  

" 8 Jesus answered, "It's written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him."

As a parent, when we were teaching Hannah to do something, it was frustrating watching her try, maybe fail, but then try again to do something that I could have done in just a matter of moments. But if I would have done it for her, she would not have learned anything.  If Jesus would have worshiped the devil and then been given the authority of the whole world, we would not have learned anything about establishing peace and justice on this earth because Jesus would have done it all for us.

The third temptation was the most dramatic. 9 The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, "Since you are God's Son, throw yourself down from here; 10 for it's written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you 11 and they will take you up in their hands so that you won't hit your foot on a stone." 

The devil had an easier way for Jesus to serve as the Son of God: the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and stands him at the top of the temple, overlooking the fiery altar-called a brazier below and says "Dive off the temple tower and let God perform a dramatic rescue.” The devil tries to use Scripture to convince Jesus to jump onto the altar. Surely God would never allow such an attempt at self-sacrifice to succeed, but would protect the Chosen One. This would show that God could be manipulated to do what we want and need. God is at our service. Such a message would be appealing to the masses, because we like to hear that God will keep us successful and happy. Take the easy way out and have God serve you, Jesus instead of you serving God. Yes, Jesus bargain with God, make deals with him, you be the boss, Jesus. 

This temptation hit Jesus right in the face. The devil tried to build up Jesus’ ego. He tried to show him that he can be powerful, he can even control God. 

12 Jesus answered, "It's been said, Don't test the Lord your God."

The refusal to jump gives us a couple of lessons. From one angle, it reveals the idea that we have sometimes that God would intervene to make the hero come out unscarred no matter how messed up things got, as if suffering and death could never end the hero’s path. Peter’s view. Maybe Judas. From another angle, the devil’s offer presents a weird parody of what Jesus actually would do, offering himself freely for the life of the world, though not on Jerusalem’s altar, but on a Roman crucifix outside city limits. 

No, says Jesus. There is no escape from suffering and death on the path of God’s kingdom that I, and my disciples, must take. We take this path into suffering, we follow it into death if need be. And we trust God’s deliverance after that, not seeking to escape or short-circuit the suffering, but to give us confidence to endure even at its worst.

This temptation wasn’t really something so evil, not like stealing or killing or things like that. But the subtleness of this temptation is even more dangerous. For this temptation is asking us to accept our will, our position before God instead of his. It asks us to be a bargainer with God. Well, God will do this if you will do that. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? But it is. For this temptation places us in control of our salvation, it places God at our mercy, instead of the other way around. God is the one who is in control, God is in charge of our salvation, God gives eternal life to us as a free gift, not as payment for good deeds.

Yes, Jesus was tempted, tempted not by doing something so awful, but by taking the easy way out. By taking the easy road instead of the difficult road of service, sacrifice and death. But these temptations didn’t stop here in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted by the devil to take the easy way right up to the moment of his death. This is what he prayed about when he was tempted in the Garden. And he had to continue to renounce the whole time. 

In the once controversial book  "The Last Temptation of Christ" the author portrays Jesus as tempted even as he hung on the cross.  Jesus imagines what life would have been like had he chosen another way. 

In his coma-like dream, Jesus gets married, has many children, enjoys the company of friends and works as a kindly carpenter until he is a white bearded old man. The dream concludes as Jesus is confronted by his disciples. 

Long ago they had given up the fight and their destiny shriveled. An angry Judas bellowed the truth about the uncrucified Jesus: "Traitor! Deserter! Your place was on the cross That’s where the God of Israel put you to fight. But you got cold feet; and the moment death lifted its head, you couldn’t get away fast enough." His life had been wasted, for he fell to temptation and avoided the cross. He chose an easier way and it proved to be the way of failure.

But we know Jesus didn’t take the easy way, he took the way of the cross, so the closing pages of Kazantzakis’ book finds Jesus awaken from his nightmare to find himself on the cross. The closing words of the "The Last Temptation" lifts high the central feature of our faith: Temptation had captured Jesus for a split second and led him astray. It was all a lie. Illusions sent by the Devil. His disciples were alive and thriving. They had gone over sea and land and were proclaiming the Good News. Everything had turned out as it should glory be to God!! He uttered a triumphant cry: "It is finished" And it was as though he had said "Everything has begun.!"

Do we try to take the easy way out, the way that doesn’t seem so bad, but is much easier? How about it, have you ever hoped or dreamed to win a large sum of money, instead of working for it? Have you ever tried to make a bargain with God demanding that God does things for you?

 I think all of us have fallen in this trap of taking the easy way out. That was John Newton’s trap. The profit and easy money selling slaves. Sure, our sinful nature tells us that the easy way is the best way. We like shortcuts. It was in 1748 when Newton as a sea captain was caught in a storm so violent off the coast of Ireland that he called out to God for mercy. It was this moment that marked Newton’ turn toward Christ which he called “the hour I first believed”. 

Through every form of temptation, Jesus renounces any loyalty to the devil, and embraces and pursues total loyalty to God. These forty days without food, but with the Spirit, had taught Jesus firmly who he was and whose he was. 

The road that Jesus calls us to follow is not easy, but difficult. A road where we are to renounce following ourselves and follow him. To pursue him and not other things. A road that asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our time and our energy for him. Jesus asks us to travel the hard, narrow road, because at the end of that road is our final reward, our eternity with him. So, as you are being tempted to take the easy way, what will you do? Will you take the easy way, the way of little effort, or will you follow the example of Jesus and pursue the way traveled by him, the way of sacrifice, the way of service, the way of the cross??

These 40 days of Lent are an invitation the church has taken for centuries to spend dedicated time with God by every means available to us so that we come to realize that real life for us is found first in God and what God through the Spirit continues to open up for us.

Our membership vows say do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness? Do you? Imagine becoming who Christ wants you to be. The past is what you remember; pursue a new present. John Newton was once lost but was found. And what did he find? The sweet sound of the amazing grace that was gifted to us through Jesus’ willingness to not allow temptation to stop him before he had even started.

Even when we are distracted in our lives, it is that sweet sound that changes us opens our blind eyes to what God is doing for us and in us. Grace that opens our hearts and we are no longer lost to the shadows of the desert and wilderness. We find home. And the saving voice of God singing in our own lives every day. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Do you hear the sound? What does your journey with Jesus look like? 

Is it the song of re-imagine. A redo or rebuild. A restart. Renew. How will you listen over the next 40 days? 

AWAKE: God is Speaking

February 19, 023

This Sunday marks a time of transition as we begin to move to a new part of the church year. This is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, with its emphasis on the revealing of Jesus, the manifestation of Jesus, showing us who this child was that was born in the manger on Christmas. And today we see Jesus revealed like never before. We see what Jesus had
been proclaiming about himself, we see for the first time his divine nature. We see Jesus revealed as the son of God.

But in order to understand today’s scripture in Mark 9 we have to look at the chapter before today’s where Jesus asked the disciples 8:27: “Who do people say that I am?” People had been asking the question who is Jesus? They responded with all the typical answers: 28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” If it hadn’t been “hot gossip” at the time, they wouldn’t have said that.

 29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” The disciples had probably anticipated the question, but they are still unsure how to answer. Everyone, that is, except Peter. Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” What a wonderful insight. Peter knew just who Jesus was and what his ministry was all about—or did he? In the previous chapter, we see human responses. Now in our scripture for today we see a divine response. God is speaking and gets everyone’s attention. 

Today the first glimpse of His final glory comes in what we call the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration refers to the “remarkable transformation that once took place in the appearance of Jesus.” which means to transform into something more beautiful or elevated… 

2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain (probably Mount Tabor (almost 2000 ft above sea level little bit higher than Beersheba Springs/Monteagle Mountain) where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, 3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 

This was almost certainly a glimpse of Jesus as he had been before he became a man. The white garments suggested a pure heavenly being. And I have always tried to figure out in my mind what this scene looked like. Remember any big snow we had over the last couple of years? Of course you do. Did you look out your window or did you walk outside and were overwhelmed by the sun’s rays reflecting off the new snow? It can seem like the whole of creation is reflecting the glory and beauty of God. Maybe that is what it was like when Peter and the others looked at Jesus. The glory of God was so strong in him that it even reflected in their very being, like the snow glistening in the sun. Then

4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Now this was not a typical, normal, everyday experience—even for Jesus. Something special was happening. The disciples understood this. The appearance of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament) The transfiguration was a revelation of the presence, power, and glory of God. It was an epiphany experience — an eye-opening appearance of God. 

And how did Peter and his partners respond to this magnificent sight?

5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.

Peter had forgotten his smart phone at home, so he tried to mark the moment by building tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to stay like those erected at the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a joyous festival of God’s presence. Peter’s first impulse was to stay put on that mountain top.  Their first impulse was to stay in this glory, to stay put, to bask in the glory of God. 

Have you ever been some place like a mountaintop where you wanted to stay? Maybe it was a physical place or perhaps a time in your life that you consider the highlight. Beersheba for me. That mountain top experience was glorious. I always want to stay. The mountain top experience for the disciples was glorious. Peter’s reaction is interesting. It’s easy to be hard on Peter here, but let’s not blame him. Peter was trying to be helpful, trying to preserve the perfect moment when Jesus was shining in radiance on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah.

He has witnessed a revelation of God’s glory. What’s the first thing he wants to do? He wants to build something. He wants to erect a new sanctuary. He wants to build a new education building and fellowship hall. He wants to create a new institution. Peter wants to build a great church.

Peter’s not alone. There are lots of books related to evangelism and church growth. And many are the same. Each contained strategies, ideas, and techniques designed to help the church grow.  It is easy to believe that the primary purpose of the people of God is to build a great church. Jesus, however, is not concerned with whether his people build a great church.  Instead he wants us to be a people who “reveal a great God.” There is a tremendous interest in our society in relationships in a spiritual context. Polls say over 90% of all Americans say that they believe in the existence of God — that’s the highest percentage ever. But the fastest growing statistic in church life today is the number of churches that are in decline or closingAnd the Nones

We are in a time when people are looking for answers to spiritual questions — but many are not looking to find those answers in the current church. People in our society no longer equate church with God. Instead they equate church with church because all we are doing many times is “church.” They don’t see the church revealing a relationship with a Great God as much as revealing religious rituals and traditions which can all be meaningful like communion and baptism but still foreign to those outside our doors. Their experiences and brokenness many times reveal being hurt by the church or other Christians.

The people in our society aren’t interested in a “great church”; they are hungry for a great God! They crave a community of people imparting the life of a great God to one another whether in small settings or large ones.

Do you see the difference? Can you see a difference between what happened in the person of Jesus at the transfiguration and the way Peter responded to that event? The very face of Jesus brought to light the power and presence. He became a compelling portrayal of God’s glory. On the day of his transfiguration Jesus revealed a great God. 

Peter responded by pushing around a few rocks and trying to construct a new sanctuary. He wanted to build a great church. Mark even says Peter — rock solid to the core — didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. And sometimes I think we as the church don’t really know what do in this new era. We seem to move from one church growth technique to another, from one strategy to another — all in an attempt to build a great church.

 Peter’s attempt to enshrine his mountaintop experience wasn’t what Jesus had in mind: as one writer puts it “Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment  but by following on in confidence that God is leading and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced”.

Church is changing…especially after COVID. Do you know what the greatest church growth tool is today? The greatest church growth tool today is a community of people “fleshing” out God in their relationships with one another and their ministry in the world. Helping each other belong. One of my friends posted and I reposted this…

Church is not just an event it is a community 

It is communities of people inside and outside the church’s doors believing and acting out core Biblical values like grace, forgiveness, acceptance, and celebration, joy — with and for one another and in so doing revealing to the world a great God. The very spiritually hungry of our world are looking for a community of faith that is becoming transformed by the grace of God in new and non-traditional ways. They are not looking for a great church alone — they are looking for people who are revealing a great God wherever they find themselves in a pew or on a couch. A place to belong. To believe. To become.

So how do we reveal a great God to a spiritually hungry world? We have to listen when God is speaking.  Look back at verse 7. We see Peter — offering his blueprints for the building a great church. And as he does 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 

It is interesting that God did not say to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah. He just simply said “Listen to Jesus." and I find it significant that after God had spoken, Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus alone remained as we later read in verse 8. 

8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. Where did they go? Where did who go? As one Bible Commentator put it: The Law and the Prophets have served their turn and passed away. He, who is the fulfillment of both, alone remains. They confirmed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. The main thing we need to do in order to reveal a great God to a spiritually hungry world is to “listen” to Jesus. Now this means more than simply using our physical sense of hearing in relation to the words of Jesus. We do that all the time.  We hear the Sunday School lessons, the Bible studies, and the Sunday morning sermon. 

 The Greek word used in this verse, however, is not talking about hearing — it is talking about heeding.  When the voice of God speaking from heaven says, “Listen to Him!” the clear implication is that the disciples of Christ are to obey the teaching of Jesus.

And to reveal a great God we need to be people who are being transformed by the word of God. “This is my beloved Son,” the voice from heaven declared. “Listen to Him!” We also can reveal the greatness of God by the ministry we offer. After the experience on the mountain, what did Jesus do? He went down the mountain and set his face for Jerusalem and the cross.  Jesus knew that it is good to have those mountain top experiences, but the real work is in the valleys, in the depth of the human condition of sin and brokenness.

No sooner did Jesus return from the mountain — return from the moment of his transfiguration — then he was in the middle of a ministry situation. A demon-possessed boy was brought to him.  The text says that Jesus healed the young boy. Following this miracle, in Luke the text  says something very interesting. It says that the people “were all amazed at the greatness of God.”

Jesus went to the mountain to be transfigured, but came down the mountain to be a savior. That was his defining dazzling white moment. He speaks to us to have a relationship with him, but then to come down into the human condition to minister to those around us with love and compassion. How do we reveal the greatness of God in our world? By giving ourselves away in ministry, expecting nothing in return. 

We are not called to build up a great church. We are called to be a great church. We are called to reveal a great God to our needy world. We are called to show the world God’s love, God forgiveness, and God’s grace. We do this by allowing God to transform our lives  as we minister in Jesus name and seek to connect to God’s people wherever they are. And to awake and hear that God is speaking.  And as we end the season of Epiphany hopefully now awake, we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday and we remember our mortality.

And we begin our Lenten pilgrimage with the assurance that we are indeed following the Son of God, no impostor, no pretender, but the Son of God who was revealed through this mountain top experience. And it is good to remember it is not God revealed in the law of Moses we walk with to the cross or Calvary, but the God of mercy who accepts us as we are with all of our shortcomings, and our sinfulness. 

This was his defining moment. And ours. Neale Walsch says God is speaking to all of us, all the time The question is not, to whom does God talk? The question is who listens? Are we awake enough to listen? 


February 12, 2023

This “wake up call” from Romans 13:11-14 which has also been our key verse for this sermon series comes in the midst of Paul’s teaching about mutual love and acceptance in the fellowship of faith. After all he has told us about serving the Lord, using our gifts, showing genuine love, paying our debts, submitting to authorities and loving our enemies, Paul now writes these words to remind his hearers of their common hope in the clear and revealing light of God’s salvation. I see four different pieces of advice given by the Apostle,

The first is to KEEP PERSPECTIVE

11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Paul tells us that we must understand the present time. We need to know what is going on. Have you ever been awakened from a sound sleep? Perhaps you took a nap in the afternoon and you were awakened suddenly. At first you are dazed. You don’t know what day it is or what time it is. You weren’t sure whether it is morning, afternoon, or evening. Depending on how hard you were sleeping, it might take several minutes for you to regain perspective and to gain your bearings.

In a sense this is what Paul tells us we have to do. We must wake from our slumber and realize where we are. We are to recognize the present time. We need to understand that we live in a world that is often hostile to the things of God. 

We also need to recognize that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. I’m not sure whether Paul is telling us to realize that the second coming of Christ is nearer than it ever has been or whether he is simply trying to say, “life is short” and we had better stop wasting our time. Perhaps both would work well for us. 

Notice something. Paul is not talking to non-believers, he is talking to the saints! Paul recognizes that many believers are living in a spiritual stupor. They are just going along without any real direction or purpose.  It is almost like some believers are in a coma.  Paul’s cry is for us to “Wake Up!”

Tim McGraw had an album and title cut was” Live Like You Were Dying”. The song is about a man who was in his early forties who gets news that he has a terminal illness. The rest of the song recounts that the man lived with a new sense of urgency. He went skydiving, mountain climbing and bull riding. He gave attention to the people he loved and basically changed all the things he used to think were important. The phrase repeated again and again is this one: “someday I hope you get the chance to living like you were dying.”

This is the same thing Paul is telling us. We should be living with a new urgency. We must remember that we are terminal and that Life has an IF in the middle of it. We understand that we could die or Jesus could return at any time.  Paul suggests that those who understand this fact will change the way they live.  He uses the metaphor of changing clothes.  He says we need to change from the deeds of darkness to the armor of light.

Let me ask this question: If you knew that you had only a week to live would you live differently for Jesus Christ? If you knew that Christ would return to earth before this year was out would you have a different set of priorities for life? Would you, Give more attention to spending time with God?

Would you invest more heavily in Kingdom activities? Would you make it a point to talk to family and friends about God? Would you mend fences, and seek and extend forgiveness? Would you take more time to tell the people close to you that you love them? May I ask, “What makes you so confident that you have more time than this?” Any at moment in my week I have received the call of the loss of someone 18 months  old to  90 years plus or anywhere inbetween. 

Second, we have to GET DRESSED

Paul said, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  If you are like me, you are not really “up and going” in the morning until you are showered, dressed, and ready to go. If I am still in my pajamas I’m not ready, I’m just loafing. Too many believers are still in their pajamas. They have declared their faith, they are sure of their salvation, they are headed for Heaven, but they aren’t dressed and ready to go.  

When we understand that we are living on borrowed time either because of the imminent (or any time now) return of Christ or because we realize that we are not guaranteed a single day, we won’t waste another moment.  It is time to put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. It is time to “get in the game”.

Amidst the bitter divisions eroding our churches today, both local and global, Paul’s words bring needed perspective. He gives us a way to name the present situation: it is still dark, still night. We still indulge in quarreling and jealousy. Paul intends to give us “night vision” to see and name this division as “darkness” so that instead of fighting with each other we can truly can unite against a common enemy

In parallel passages in Ephesians 6 and Romans 8 Paul names the enemy as “not flesh and blood,” but “principalities, powers, the world rules of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

As Christians, we are never to consider other people as our enemies, no matter how bitter the divisions in the church or world may be, nor how painful our experiences. Rather, we are to fight against the destructive powers that enslave and divide people. That might be a history of mistrust and injustice, addictions, thirst for revenge, prejudice and fear, greed, and so forth. Paul calls these “the works of darkness,” It is often the petty display of these powers that erode our fellowship and our witness. That is why is so important to …


Next Paul tells us that we should start living like we are children of the King. When we wake up, we get dressed. Paul tells us what to wear: let us put on the armor of light If we truly have a taste of Heaven and understand that life if temporary, then we should change the way we live. First, we should live as in the daylight.  In other words, we should live our lives like others are watching us. Or maybe we should say, we should be living like we were in church all the time. Most people talk or act differently when are in God’s house so to speak.  But do you really think that God only sees us when we are in church? Most churches have church t-shirts just like this one that was gifted to me which is awesome. But I wonder if we understand (I hope) that when we are wearing these t-shirts what is done (whether good or bad) will reflect on the church and ultimately on the God we serve. If Paul was speaking to us he might say, “Live your life like you were wearing your church t-shirt all the time.”

Second, we should get rid of cancerous behaviors. I’m not talking about smoking cigarettes, poor diets and the lack of exercise. I’m talking about the things that act like a cancer in our soul. These are things that erode our testimony and our fellowship with God.  Paul gives us a representative list 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 

The first four sins are indicators of a wild lifestyle. These things are all characterized by unbridled indulgence. These are things usually done in the darkness or in secret. It seems even the people who embrace this kind of behavior seem to know that it is wrong and at best inappropriate. But notice especially the last two things: dissension and jealousy.  These last two things are more surprising. Paul tells us to stop fighting and being filled with jealousy.  Why are these two things included?  It’s because they are indicators of a focus on petty things. These are unproductive endeavors. They distract us from the important matters of life. Our job is to get focused on what is truly important. We only have so much time and we ought not to waste it in evil. Instead we are to clothe ourselves in Christ. That sounds good but the question is, “What does it mean?”

1. It means to get to immerse ourselves in Christ.  It means working hard to get to know Him through Bible Study, prayer, listening etc.

2. It means to try to live like Jesus would.  The believer should always be asking: Is this something Jesus would do?  Would Jesus get involved in the pursuits I am involved in?

3. It means trying to develop the character traits of Jesus.  Ray Pritchard makes a list,

Put on his holiness.
Put on his humility.
Put on his compassion.
Put on his wisdom.
Put on his forgiveness.
Put on his righteousness.
Put on his patience.
Put on his love.

One writer said Clothe yourself with Jesus early in the morning  and you will be well-dressed all day long. (Pritchard) which leads us to…


Paul concludes saying, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

 I see two dimensions to this command. First, Paul may be saying, “Don’t waste your time on these things by even thinking about them.”, let’s just live the right way.

Second, Paul may be warning us of the fact that thinking often leads to acting. When we imagine things long enough, we wear down our resistance and find ourselves doing that which we thought we would never do.  In this case Paul is telling us to keep a strong watch over our minds. We must decide right now that we are going to say “No” to sin.  You can’t negotiate with temptation!

As believers we have an obligation to ourselves and to the Lord to guard our thinking. We need to remove ourselves from things that will get us thinking in the wrong way. We need to be careful where we go on the Internet, what we watch on TV, what movies we attend, what people we hang around with and what games we play.  

Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE really captures this whole passage well,

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

So awake sleeper. Are you still in your pajamas or are you dressed and ready for action? Are you still living like you are in the darkness or are you willing to live in the light? Our job is to remember that we are to live like those who are dying. . . . and help those around us live as well. In the hope that those who are dying might also entrust themselves to the Savior, so they might live even though they die. We must wake up. We cannot afford to be indifferent. This is our challenge. This is our privilege. This is our calling as children of God.