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This morning I am beginning a short series of sermons on the Word of God. In the Bible the Word of God appears in three forms: 1) The Word of God Spoken, 2) The Word of God Written, and 3) The Word of God Incarnate in Jesus Christ.

Today, I am going to talk to you about the Word of God, spoken.

In Exodus 33:11 we read that God spoke to his servant Moses “face to face,” as a man speaks to his friend. God gave Mose the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone, and more than 900 laws which he ordered Moses to write down. The great Jewish scholar Martin Buber said it was no accident that God gave us Ten Commandments and ten fingers, perhaps intending that we should use our fingers to help us commit the commandments to the tablet of the heart.

Moses was the greatest of the prophets, but God spoke through other prophets, too. God spoke through prophets like Miriam, Samuel, Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was an important prophet, not just because he foretold the future, but because he spoke the Word of the God to people of God in his day. When the people of Israel were dividing their time between God and Baal, Elijah challenged them saying:

How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.

Elijah knew that it is impossible to keep one foot in God’s camp and one foot in the camp of another, hopping back and forth. That was unsettled and unsettling, and it still is! People who serve God on and off make life miserable for themselves and for everyone around them.

When any prophet speaks, God makes God’s Self heard. Thus God spoke to the prophet Isaiah saying, “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Isaiah 51) And God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah saying, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.” (Jeremiah 15)

This seems a good time to say that there have always been true prophets and false prophets. The prophet Micah warned against false prophets who “divine for money,” and cry, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace.” (Micah 3) And the prophet Zechariah warned against “…dreamers (who) tell false dreams, and give empty consolation.” (Zechariah 10) According to the Hebrew Bible, it is easy to tell a false prophet from a true prophet: The word of the true prophet always comes to pass, whereas the word of the false prophet often fails.

Of course, there are times when God’s people have had to wait many generations to see the fulfillment of a particular prophecy. For instance, seven centuries before the Birth of Jesus the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the promise of his coming and announced:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulders, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Likewise, six centuries before the crucifixion of Jesus, a disciple of Isaiah spoke of God’s Suffering Servant, saying:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief… we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 3-5)

Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of both these prophecies. In Mark 8, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then began to teach his disciples that “the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

In calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of a third prophecy. In the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel the prophet Daniel had a vision of one like a Son of Man, who received the Kingdom from the Ancient of Days, God. When Jesus called himself the Son of Man, he was laying claim to the kingdom, and the power, and the glory of God. Jesus embraced the roll of a suffering Messiah, but he knew he was more than that. Thus, in Mark 14, when Jesus was put on trial for his life, the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus answered, “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” The disciples saw the glory of the risen Christ; but the world still waits to see Jesus the King revealed in all his glory, whether that revelation take place at the end of history as we know it, or beyond it.

When we think of prophets, we think primarily of the Old Testament prophets; but there were many prophets in the New Testament, too.

John the Baptist is the best known of the New Testament prophets; but, in reality, John was the last of the great Old Testament prophets who announced the coming of the Messiah. John was separated from Jesus not by six centuries but by six feet when he raised a bony finger and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

There are many other prophets in the New Testament; and, it might surprise you to know that, in one sense, you and I are are among them. According to the 2nd chapter of Acts, visitors from many lands were in Jerusalem on the morning of that first Pentecost. Suddenly, from heaven, there came a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. And tongues of fire appeared among the disciples, and rested on each of them. And they were all filled filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. The disciples caused such a commotion, and behaved so oddly, that people said, “These men are drunk!” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and said:

These men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only 9 o’clock in the morning; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…’

Peter goes on to say that all who believe God’s Word about Jesus and submit to baptism, will be saved from sin and death, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit themselves. The meaning of Acts 2 is clear: All God’s people possess the Holy Spirit, and always will; so all of God’s people are prophets!

As individuals, we may not feel very prophetic, yet, together, we make up a prophetic community. The primary value in belonging to a prophetic community is that we can receive God’s direction. In John 16, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. And in Matthew 18 Jesus told his disciples that whatever they bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever they loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. A good example of binding and loosing in found in Acts 15. Therein the disciples hold the first Church Council at Antioch to decide whether or not the gentiles who are coming to Jesus must become Jews before they can become Christians. The disciples discussed this throughly. Then they either reached a consensus, or they took a vote, and publish their decision to all the gentile churches everywhere saying:

28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols…and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Moses gave Israel the Ten Commandments and hundreds of “commandments in ordinances,”the primary purpose of which was to separate Israel from the nations, so that the nations might know the nation belonged to God. In one fell swoop, the first church council struck down all those commandments in ordinances, so that all nations would know they can belong to God. No wonder Paul could say in Galatians 3:24 that “the law was our custodian (or “schoolmaster” KJV) until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.” Today there are about 9 million Jews on the earth—many of them still struggling with the commandments in ordinances, and there are about 2 billion Christians who never give them a thought. If the first church council had not acted so decisively, we might still be equally burdened, and our numbers might still be equally small.

You and I belong to a prophetic community. Together we can discern God’s will for our lives as individuals and as a community of faith. Of course, there are some members of the prophetic community who are more prophetic than others. In 1st Corinthians 12 St. Paul lists the gift of prophecy among the gifts of the Spirit that are distributed to various members of the church for the common good. In Ephesians 4 the apostle writes that when Christ ascended on high he gave us gifts, and his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastor-teachers to equip the rest of us for ministry.

I think I have known a number of prophets. I will give you one example that acted like a Jeremiah, David, or Isaiah. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke the Word of God in his day. Dr. King was trying to peacefully lead the United States into a new era of brotherhood and cooperation when he said things like: “”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And “We must live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.” In a letter to his fellow clergymen, King said that he had come to believe that the real stumbling block in the Negro’s stride toward freedom was not organizations like the Klu Klux Klan, but white moderates who were more concerned with order than with justice. He said that when the victory was won, the people would not remember the words of their enemies so much as the silence of their friends. Ouch!

In his final speech Dr. King proved that could also predict the future with uncanny accuracy. The speech makes a clear reference to the last day of Moses. Dr. King said:

“I have been to the mountain top…(God) allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And so I’m happy tonight for…‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’”

After that speech King returned to his motel room, was hit by an assassin’s bullet, and died in a pool of blood. You can tell a true prophet, because the word he speaks comes true.

The Spoken Word of God is a creative Word of Power. That is what the author of Genesis 1 is getting at when he said that God spoke and the World was created, Word by Word. And that is what St. Paul was getting at in 1st Corinthians 1:21 when he said, “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” The King James translation of this verse makes clear that, in the act of preaching, a transfer of creative power takes place between the God who speaks and the believer who hears. The preacher like the prophet is just the channel through whom God speaks God’s powerful and creative Word.

God’s spoken word is always a creative word, and that word is infallible. It cannot fail. This is precisely what God was trying to tell Isaiah in chapter 55:10-11when he said:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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On Friday we installed a new President, President Donald Trump. Every citizen of this nations should pray for President Trump, and all the leaders of our nation. I was not at the inauguration. If I had been, I would show you a picture. The picture that leads this article, is the picture of a former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, teaching Sunday School. I took it myself, because, recently, I was in his Sunday school class. It is an interesting story, and we will get to it, as a part of this sermon…

This morning, I want to talk about building, mending, and removing walls. The Bible records that there is a time to do all three.

Let’s talk about building walls. In Nehemiah 2:17 we read that when Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem from Babylon, he said to the people:

“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” Nehemiah 2:17

The Bible teaches that there is a legitimate time for added security.

People sometimes need added security. When I was a boy, we never locked our doors at night. Now, I always do. Likewise, when my son was small, he sometimes put up a tent and slept in our back yard, and we thought nothing of it. We are in the same house, but I am not sure I would let my grandchildren do that today, at least, not without adult supervision.

Individuals need security, and so do nations. There is a time for locking our doors, and a time for fortifying our borders. President Trump wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. There is a history of walls in our world. The Great Wall of China was built to keep people out. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in. I have no doubt that the United States of America is blessed to be isolated from the east and west with something even better than walls. On our east cost we have the Atlantic Ocean, and on our west coast, we have the Pacific Ocean. These oceans are highways of trade, but they are also moats of protection. Until the age of terrorism, these two oceans isolated us from many of the world’s great conflicts. Our northern and southern borders are not as formidable. The border between the United States and Canada is the longest unfortified border in the world. I say “unfortified” rather than “unguarded,” because in the age of terror we cannot afford to let our guard down. The border between the United States and Mexico is a greater cause for anxiety. It has always been semi-permeable, sometimes more and sometimes less able to protect our nation from things like illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

People cross southern borders, going from Mexico and to Mexico because we are richer than Mexico. People will always go where the money is, and companies will always go where labor is cheap. That means we will always get some of our workers from Mexico, and we will always loose some of our jobs to Mexico. And the only real fix for that is economic parity for both countries. That is a hard fix; and I don’t pretend to know how to do it. Drugs and violence cross our borders from Mexico, because we are addicted to drugs, especially our young people. As long as we want drugs, somebody will sell them to us, because there is money in drugs. I think I do know how to fix this. First, we must have zero tolerance for drugs. We need to be hard on drug dealers, and drug users. Second, we must give all of our children the hope of making a better future for themselves. If we do not help the least of our children with a good education, we will do harm to all of our children. We need strong public education in this country. It is the hallmark of our democracy. Third, we have got to train our children and grandchildren in the dangers of drugs, and alcohol and tobacco, and all addictive substances and behaviors. We have got to teach our children sooner rather than later that we make our choices and our choices make us. We are fools to use anything or do anything, that from the first used seeks to enslave us. It is o.k. to build a wall, but it is even better to address the reasons that make us want to build it.” If we build a wall and fail to address the reasons we build it, it will sever not to keep other out, but to keep us in, and that is a tragedy.

Now let’s talk about mending walls. There are many instances of mending walls in scripture, including the text from Nehemiah 2:17. However, my inspiration is a poem by Robert Frost entitled, “Mending Wall.” It describes an annual ritual that took place between the poet and his neighbor. Once a year they would pick a day to walk either side of the stone wall that separated one farm from the other. As they walked, keeping the wall between them, they would replace the stones that the frozen ground swell and the sun combined to spill into their fields. Frost said that the whole process was like some kind of outdoor game, one on a side. At some point in the ritual, Frost tired of playing the game, and says to his neighbor:

“We do not need the wall; (You are) all pine and I am apple orchard, and my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones from under (your) pines.”

And his neighbor responds, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Frost responds by telling his neighbor that his saying is more applicable to to people raising cattle than to people raising trees. Frost then tells his reader that:

“(My neighbor) will not go behind his father’s saying, and he likes having thought of it it so much than he says it again: ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’”

I love this poem because it is practical, deep, and insightful. It is practical because it admits that good fences make good neighbors among cattleman and the like. It is deep because people need good fences, too. People become co-dependent because they allow the fences that separate us from one another to fall down in disrepair. Healthy people need good fences. Some will point out, the very act of falling in love is dependent upon the collapse of ego boundaries that separate one from another. I will answer that the act of loving demands those fences be mended. It was the Lebanese-American Christian poet Kahlil Gibran who wrote:

“Let their be spaces in your togetherness, for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in one another’s shadow. “

When two people without good fences and good boundaries marry, they are both miserable. You have got to be strong before you can bind your strength with the strength of another. Finally, this poem is insightful, because it reminds us that there are some fences that do not need to be mended at all. Frost’s neighbor could not get beyond the saying of his father, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but there are fences that do not need to be mended, and we must not allow a former generation to help us determine what they are. When I was a boy, we had a fence called separate but equal that kept blacks and whites apart. In his spiritual autobiography, “Living Faith,” Jimmy Carter struggled with that fence. He said that his father was a good man, and he accepted separate but equal as a necessary fact. He said that his mother was a nurse who served all races alike. Mrs. Lillian said there could never be equality as long as separation was the basis of it. Jimmy Carter broke with conventional wisdom, and listened to his mother rather than his father. To borrow one more phrase from Frost, Jimmy Carter took the road less traveled, and it made the difference. It proves the truth of the old hymn: “New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth, we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth.”

And that leads me to removing walls. This part of the sermon was inspired by a Sunday school lesson on Ephesians 2 that I recently heard taught by Jimmy Carter himself. Thanks to Michael and Valerie Crane, Clyde Manning and Elayne and I were recently invited to be the guest of their friends, Bill and Marilyn C________ of Plains Georgia. They invited us down to stay in their home, and they arranged for us to attend Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class at the Maranatha Baptist Church. Many of you do not think Jimmy Carter was a particularly good president. I am a political independent, and I vote both ways. I liked President Carter, but I only voted for him fifty-percent of the time. That said, I think most of you will agree with me that Jimmy Carter is one of the greatest ex-President’s we have ever had. Ronald Regan won the White House in 1980, and Carter did not get a second term; but since January of 1981 Carter has achieved some truly great things as an ex-President. The head of a major world health organization was recently asked who has done more to eradicate disease than anyone else in the history of our world. Without hesitation he answered, “Jimmy Carter.” The reporter said, “But what about Madama Cure, Louis Pasture, and Jonas Salk?” And he said, “They made great contributions; but, when it comes to eradicating disease, Carter is the one who has done the most.”

Carter has done many things in the thirty-six years since he left the White House. He has worked to improve the world’s health, and bring about peace, and build up democracy. More than anything else, I am excited by his Christian witness. His witness is multifaceted. Some people will point to the hundreds of doorsJimmy Carter knocked on as a Baptist lay-witness. Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity will speak of seeing President Carter work hundreds of 12 hour days, building dozens of houses alongside people that he met only after the week long building blitz had begun. Personally, I am most impressed that he is the only ex-President that regularly teaches Sunday school. Let me tell you what it is like to visit his class.

Depending upon whether or not you are an invited guest, people arrive between 5:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. At some point, the secret service arrives to process as many as 350 guest. Then the guest are seated, a member of Maranatha Baptist, in our case, Mrs. J______ W_______, comes out to tell them what they can and cannot do. The first thing she told us was to remember we were in church. “When President Carter comes in, do not applaud,” she said. She told us that when President Carter says, ‘Good Morning,’ we were to say, “GOOD MORNING!” And when President Carter asked, “Where are you from?”, we were to answer, by state, or by country, but only one person from a state or a country was to name that state or country. She told us when we could take pictures, and when we could not. She told us that there was only one “Mr. Presedent,” and that was soon to be “President Trump.” She said that all former presidents were called “President (Carter/Bush/Clinton/Bush and now Obama).” Then President Carter came in, and the session started. After the exchange of greeting, and after we told him where we were from, President Carter introduced several special guest. Last Sunday, we were fortunate to sit behind one pew behind former senator Sam Nunn and his family. Equally exciting, Linda Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity with her late husband Millard Fuller, was there, too, on the other side of the church. Then President Carter made several comments on current events. He told us that he would be in Washington for the inauguration of Donald Trump, and he promised, that before the lesson was over, he would tell us why.

Then he started teaching the lesson. He taught like a trained Bible scholar and theologian. His words were straight and true, and he pulled no punches. He spoke about Jesus Christ in an easy, natural way. The lesson was on Ephesians 2. There-in we read about how Jesus Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. President Carter said that Jesus did that on his cross, when he died for all of us. He told us, too, that the dividing wall of hostility was a real wall that once stood in the temple in Jerusalem. That it true. In the Jerusalem temple, it was the wall that separated the court of the Gentiles from the court of Jewish women. Of course, there was another wall that separated the court of Jewish women from the court of Jewish men, and yet another wall that separated the court of Jewish Men from the court of the high priests. The temple had lots of walls, but only the wall separating Gentiles from Jews bore the warning that any Gentile who passed beyond it was responsible for his own death.

President Carter then said that Jesus had torn down that wall, and all the others that separate us from one another. He quoted Galatians 3:28 saying that in Christ there is no jew, no greek, no slave, no free, no male, no female. He went n to say that in Christ there is no black, no white, no brown, no yellow, no red, no rich, no poor, no Republicans, and no Democrats, but all are one in Christ.

President Carter then said that Jesus wants each of us to be a wall-remover. He said that we cannot remove the wall erected by a neighbor, we can only remove the walls that we have erected. He pointed out that he was a Democrat, and that he had 22 other Democrats in his family, and that they had all voted Democratic in the last election. He said, “I cannot wait for my friends who are Republicans to reach across to me, I must reach across to them.” He said that he was going to the inauguration of President Trump, and he would do all he can to support as much of his agenda as he can. He also said he was hand-carrying several letters to give to the various members of the cabinet, who may want or need, the help of the Carter Center.

The highlight of the lesson was when President Carter said that our vocation and accomplishments are not nearly so important as our character. He said that the day is coming when all of us, will lay down all our honors and titles and accomplishments of every kind and everything else. He is right. When, at last, we stand before our God the only thing left to us is who we are at the core of our being, and what we have done for others–what we have done for Christ. On that day, I do not want to be remembered primarily for building walls, nor even for mending walls, though each is a legitimate task, I want to be remembered for being a wall remover. I want to be remembered as someone who knocked down the walls that kept me from others.

Finis

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In speaking of the Trinity, the problem is not to divide the essence of the One God, or confuse the three persona or faces, which the One God has revealed to us: the face of the Father, the face of the Son, and the face of the Holy Spirit.

The term “Trinity” was first used in the 2nd century A.D. by a great scholar of the church named Tertullian; and it was not given it final form until the early 4th century. Though the Trinity of God was not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. It is there in its implicit, rudimentary form, especially in the various liturgical formulations of the early church. For instance, in Matthew 28, the Risen Christ tells his disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations and baptize them “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It is especially fitting that baptism is distinctly Trinitarian, because salvation itself is the cooperative work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Another word for Salvation is Justification. My father used to say, “When I am justified, it is ‘just-as-if-I’ed’ never sinned.” In Romans 5 we read about how the Trinity is active for our Justification. The apostle writes:

1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

In the New Testament, salvation is the work of the Trinity. Therefore, it is not surprising that that the Ancient Moravian Unity used the language of the Trinity in describing the Essentials of salvation. From God’s point of view, just three things were considered Essential.

  1. The gracious will of God the Father for our salvation.
  2. The meritorious saving Work of Jesus, including his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and rule.
  3. The gifts (or, more accurately the operation) of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convince the world and the individual believer concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment. And to reproduce the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer.

From the human point of view, there was just one Essential. “The Unity Book of Order” spoke of: “A heart relationship with the Triune God that issued in faith, love and hope.”

The Ancient Unity made a distinction between these Essentials, and Ministerials, and Non-Essentials. You have heard about the Essentials. Ministerials were defined as things like, but not limited to, the Bible and the Sacraments. Non-Essentials were then defined as things like the way the congregations served the love feasts, governed themselves, or performed any the other tasks that make our life together possible.

Now some people are chagrin to hear that the Ancient Unity classed the Sacraments, and the Bible as Ministerials, not Essentials. Yet this makes Perfect sense. The Essential is our relationship with God. The Ministerials are those things that lead us into that relationship. They are a means, but never an end in themselves. Baptism is over in a moment, but it we participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6), and guarantees our. inheritance until we receive possession of it (Ephesians 1:14) The Holy Communion is frequently repeated, but it is not an end in itself. It, too, is the means by which we draw near to Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the bread was his body, broken for us, and he called the cup, the cup of the new covenant in his blood, which is shed for us, and for many, for the forgiveness of sin. He said that when we eat his flesh and drink his blood we abide in him, and he is us. (John 6:56)

The Bible is also the means by which we draw near to Jesus Christ. To quote one of our hymnists:

It is the golden casket*
Where gems of truth are stored;
It is the heaven-drawn picture
Of Christ, the living Word.

*When the hymn was written it was understood that a casket is a small chest for holding jewels. Only in more recent days, and only in America, has a coffin been called a casket.

The goal of the Bible is not to draw us to itself, but to draw us into itself and beyond itself. It seeks to move us from the “heaven-drawn picture” to “Christ, the Living Word.”

This doctrine is not exclusive to the Moravian Church. For instance, St. Augustine said that, if a person is resting in faith, hope and love, and keeps a firm hold upon these, he or she does not need the scriptures, except for the purpose of instructing others.

In the history of the church, many have lived without the scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of the three graces: faith, hope, and love. For more than a thousand years the vast majority of Christians were denied the comfort of the scriptures. The early church used the language of the people, but by the 4th century, the service of the church was in Latin, a language spoken only by clergy and the upper classes. It was not until the 15th Century that John Hus started to preach in the language of the people. And it was not until the 16th century that the Ancient Moravian Unity completed the very first translation of the Bible in the common language of the people.

Even in the modern era, some Christians have been denied the comfort of the scriptures. Let me give you an example. In the Marines, I had a battalion Commander from Mississippi who was a devout Catholic. While we were deployed in the Caribbean, his brother, an Air Force fighter pilot was released from North Vietnam where he had been a Prisoner Of War. He, too, was a devout Catholic, yet, like most POW’s he was denied the right to read the Bible, yet he never wavered in his relationship to God. Many Christian POW’s, like those who have been imprisoned for their faith, have testified to the truth of Romans 8:38-39:

38 For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now let us look more closely at what the Ancient Unity called the Essentials of Salvation.

1. The first essential is the gracious will of God the father for our salvation.

I have frequently listened as some well meaning preacher described how Jesus, the Son of God, sacrificed himself on the cross in order to pacify an angry and wrathful God who wished noting more than to plunge all humanity into the depths of hell. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament it is God who is the architect of our salvation from first to last. It is God the Father who loved us so much that he sent the son into the world. It is God the Father who willed that Jesus Christ be lifted up on the cross to die for our sins. And it is God the Father who lifted Jesus to the right hand of the majesty on high. Christ is the head of his body the church, and where the head goes, the body will follow. When Jesus cried out from the cross saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabathani?”, which is to say, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.” His pathos was absolutely shared by the Father. A painting in the national gallery shows Christ on his cross surrounded by clouds and darkness. If one looks closer, one sees that the figure of God the Father is hidden in the clouds and darkness, and it is the Father’s hands that support the outstretched arms of Christ, and the Father’s tears, that drip hot upon the face of the Son. This picture perfectly captures the message of the New Testament regarding the relationship between the Father and the Son.

2. The second essential is the meritorious saving work of Jesus Christ.

The saving work of Christ consist of two grand movements: Down and then Up. First, the movement is down. Perfect God becomes Perfect man. In the incarnation and death of Jesus, the Eternal Son robes himself in human flesh, and walks among us, and sacrifices himself for our sins. Then the movement is up. Perfect Man become Perfect God. In the Resurrection, and Ascension, Jesus lifts our humanity into heaven to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Emil Brunner calls this two-fold movement the Parabola of redemption. Brunner says that at its lowest point, the cross, exaltation has already begun. As Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted-up, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32) Certainly, the cross of Christ is God at his most heroic. Not long ago I attended the movie, “Batman vs. Superman.” I did so because I heard it was powerful theology, and I wanted to see it for myself. There is one point where this is powerful theology is supremely revealed. Superman, who is almost indestructible, and almost a god, like the mythical Gods of Greece and Rome, has Batman in choke hold. He says, “I can kill you anytime I choose.” Batman, who is fully human, with no super powers, responds, “You are no hero, only men are heroes.” That is a great line, and it is perfectly true. Only men can be heroes, because only men can sacrifice themselves for another. Of course, there is one exception, in Jesus Christ God became a man so that he could be a hero for all of us, and teach us how to be heroes, too. Nowhere is God more heroic and appealing than in the cross of the Eternal. As the apostle writes. I once told a dying man that the only God I can believe in is the God of the Cross. Though a declared agnostic, he responded, “Yes, he is the only God I can believe in, too.” Of course the cross of Christ is not the bad end of a good man, it is a road traveled once, for all, by our now Risen and Victorious Lord and Savior.

3. The third essential is gifts (or operation) of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit convinces us of sin and righteousness and judgment. Though we cannot, by our own reason and strength, come to Jesus Christ, or believe in him, the Spirit calls us and enlightens us by his gifts. Then, when we have become disciples of Jesus, the Spirit seals us, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, even more hope—the kind we need now, in this life, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

These three Essentials represent what God has to do to accomplish our salvation. Our part is a mirror of it. We must enter into a heart relationship with the triune God that issues in faith, love and hope.

The Moravians put faith first because this is where it starts. St. Paul said: “If you confess with your lips, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is not a purely emotional movement. In the Bible the heart is the center of the mind, emotions, and will. It is a decision to submit to God. Billy Graham says we cannot have Jesus as Savior, unless we also accept him as Lord. He has a plan for humanity, and his followers must be a part of it.

The Moravians put love next, because this is where we live. Once we come to Christ in faith, God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit God gives to us. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, for Christ desires to live in us and through us. Nothing could be finer; and nothing could be more of a challenge.

The Moravian put hope last, because our hope of sharing the glory of God is reserved for next life. In this life, Christ calls us to take up a cross, and follow him. Some say, “The cross that Christ gives is like wings to a bird.” My dad said his faith cost him nothing. Other say that the cross is not a cross unless we must, from time to time, cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I have known both realities, and I can promise you nothing different. I can promise that once you have lived in a world that filled is with One God, who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you will never again be satisfied to live in a world that is filled with gods of your own making, and you will certainly never be satisfied to live anymore in a world that without God and without hope.

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This series on the Fruit of the Spirit is rapidly drawing near the end. Today I want to talk to you about Gentleness. Since I don’t have a great deal to share on that particular subject, it seemed like a good time for a review, and to add a little to what we have already said about the Fruit of the Spirit. Here are a few things I would like for you to be able to take away from this series:

We learned that St. Paul speaks of “the works of the flesh” in the plural, but he speaks of “the fruit of the Spirit” in the singular. He spoke in the singular even though the New Testament Greek language in which Paul wrote permits the use of the plural karpoi instead of the singular karpos.

We learned that the basic ingredient of the fruit of the Spirit is love. Paul puts it first in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. If you examine the definition of love from 1st Corinthians 13, and the list of the fruit of the Spirit, you will find a remarkable degree of correlation.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1st Corinthians 13:4-7

No matter how you compare them, either definition seems to encompass the other.

We learned that “joy” and “peace” are two sides of the same coin. Joy is the sense that we have gained something. Peace is the sense that we have retained something we have gained even in the midst of hardship and trial. Joy is peace with its hat in the air, and peace is joy with its arms folded in serenity.

We learned that “makrothumia,” which the King James Version calls “long suffering,” and the RSV translates “patience” is the ability to suffer long, and deeply, and well. Jesus did not suffer so very long, but Jesus suffered both deeply and well. Jesus suffered deeply not just because of the physical pain he suffered on the cross, though his physical pain was substantial and real, but because he felt cut off from God. No portion of scripture moves me quite so deeply as his cry from the cross, recorded in Mark 15:34, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabathani?” which is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus suffered deeply but Jesus suffered well, showing great bravery before those who crucified him, and before those who taunted him. Jesus suffered well despite the fact that his suffering was innocent suffering. Twice in the 23rd chapter of Luke’s gospel, Pilate said that Jesus had done nothing deserving death. A little later in the same chapter, one of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus said to the other, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Of course, the fact that Jesus suffered for us, and died for our sins, does not mean we do not have to suffer. In 1st Peter 4:1 we are told to expect suffering. The apostle writes, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought.” Sometimes we, too, suffer in innocence. I think of Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease at the age of 21 and given two years to live. I cannot imagine a worse death than Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Hawking has lived with it for more than 50 years. He turned 75 in January. There are many other examples of innocent suffering. Perhaps you are one yourself. Of course, most people bring suffering on ourselves. “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” “We reap what we sow.” If we abuse ourselves, body, mind and spirit, our bodies, minds, and spirits expect us to pay the tab. The ability to suffer long is the ability to suffer as if we are suffering with Christ. Suffering with Christ is easier than suffering without him, because we look forward to a day when all suffering will cease. In Romans 8 the apostle writes:

When we cry Abba Father, it is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and if Children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.

Of course, patience is more than patience in suffering. It is also patience with others even when they cause us pain. 1st Corinthians 13 St. Paul writes that “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures, all things.” We bear with the people we truly love, even when they seem unbearable. We believe the best of the people we love even when they cannot believe it for themselves. We hope and pray the best for the people we love even when we see no signs that they are moving toward it. We endure the people we love, even when they are at their worst. Robert Frost understood this when he said that home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. The author of a popular greeting card understood it when she wrote, “A Friend is one who walks in after the whole world has walked out.”

On Palm Sunday we learned that “meekness” is the ability to exert just the right amount of emotion, resistance, influence or power. The person who is meek is always angry when he ought to be angry, and never angry when he ought not to be angry. Likewise, the meek person is the person who exerts just enough influence or force to get the job done, and never overdoes it. A meek person never uses a sledge hammer when a tack hammer will do. Likewise, a meek person never uses a tack hammer when a sledge hammer is needed. Jesus says, “The meek will inherit the earth.” He encourages his disciples to meekness saying, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

In talking about meekness, we noted that several words in the fruit of the spirit are very similar. In the lists of the fruit of the Spirit, the word that the KJV translates as “meekness,” the RSV translates as “gentleness.” Likewise, the word the RSV translates as “kindness” the KJV translates as “gentleness.” To decide between gentleness, and meekness, and kindness is like trying to split a single hair into three different strands. It is hard to imagine a meek person who is not also gentle and kind. It is hard to imagine a person who is gentle who is not also kind and meek.I sometimes get the feeling that when St. Paul spoke about the fruit of the Spirit he just started piling up moral superlatives, because he knew that the Holy Spirit is capable of giving all these appealing attributes to all of us.

Let me give you a few examples that encompass gentleness, several different words in the original languages being translated by the English word, “gentle,” or “gentleness.”

In Proverbs 15:4 we read, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life.” Having a gentle tongue does not mean speaking softly. It means speaking softly, perhaps in private when correcting a teenager, so as not to embarrass him in front of his pears. It means yelling, “Stop right now!” at the top of our lungs if a small child is about to run into the street. A gentle tongue is a a tree of life because we can eat the fruit of it, pitch a tent under it, or build a house from it, and warm ourselves by it.

In 1st Thessalonians 2:7 St. Paul addresses the church in Thessalonica saying, “…we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.” If we look at this verse in context we see Paul was gentle because he avoided two extremes of behavior. On the one hand, he did not use flattery to produce the kind of behavior he wanted in the people who belonged to the church. Flattery is a lie, and a lie never woks God’s truth. On the other hand, he did not bully them into doing what he wanted them to do by declaring, “I am an apostle of Christ, and that makes me special. I outrank you and you must do as I say.” I once had a friend who was a pentecostal pastor. He often worshiped here incognito. He used to say to me, “Worth, you have it made. The people here are kind and gracious. Everybody at my church thinks he or she is a ram-rod prophet who has God’s direction for me, and for everybody else.” He served a big, successful church; but I did not envy him.

Or what about this. In 2nd Timothy 2:25 the apostle urges a young pastor to, “correct his opponents with gentleness.” “If you do this,” he continues, “God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth.” There is a Proverb that is very much akin to this verse. In Proverbs 15:1 we read, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Zig Ziglar used to say that in business, or in life, “It takes two to have an argument.” It is impossible to have a real discussion if that discussion begins in an argument.

Let me give you just one more example. In 1st Pet. 3:15 the apostle writes:

…in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord… (And)… Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence…

Billy Graham used to counsel his staff to be gentle with those still seeking faith in Christ, and not argumentative. “You can win every argument,” said Billy, “and loose everyone you have argued with.” In his book, “Service Evangelism,” Richard Stoll Armstrong, says that listening is the service we supply another in order to win the right to speak of our own faith. Keister Stendhal, at one time professor of New Testament at Harvard Divinity School, often said that we are not ready for Christian witness until we are ready to be converted to the truth of another, not meaning converted from Christ, but able to appreciate something of where the person we are talking has already achieved. That is what it means to be gentle and reverent.

I mentioned on Easter Sunday that I have just finished a book by former President Jimmy Carter entitled, “Living Faith.” President Carter talked about going out, for a week, two by two, to share his faith, door to door, with a young Cuban refuge named Eloy Cruz. President Carter was amazed at how people would open their lives so readily to this remarkable young man. He writes:

As we prepared to say good-bye at the end of the week, I asked him about what made him so gentle but effective as a Christian witness, and he was disconcerted. He answered, “Well, El Senior, our Savior cannot do much with a man who is hard.

The problem with most Americans, especially men, and, perhaps, especially this man, we have been trained from birth to be independent and hard. We need a tough mind, good bones, and hard muscles, but we do not need an exoskeleton that insulates us from the hurts of others. Perhaps the best way for us to learn gentleness is to practice real meekness and real kindness at every opportunity. Gentleness will come, because trying to divide between gentleness, and meekness, and kindness is like trying to split a hair into three strands. St. Pauls says, “The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.” And Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart.” Matthew 11:29

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This morning I want to talk to you about a wonderful word of life and I am going to introduce it in song which is based on a text of scripture:

By a man came death,
By a man has come also,
THE RESURRECTION!

Now some people will say, “Wait a minute Worth, this is not Easter, it is Advent, you need to talk about something more Advent-tee and Christmas-ee.”

Well, this is Advent, but it is also the 2nd Sunday in Advent, and that means resurrection is doubly relevant. It is relevant because it is the risen and ascended Christ whose return we await. And it is relevant because, when Christ comes, the Resurrection is coming with him for everybody.

Now, unfortunately, we have already got several words and phrases at work that some regard as a secret vocabulary. Let me see if I can sort some of them out for you.

First, consider the word “advent” with a lowercase “a.” Simply put, “advent” with a lowercase “a” means appearance or arrival. The first time that Jesus appeared in human history, he appeared in humility and hiddenness, his true identity as the Son of God known only to a select few witnesses, and to faith.

Second, consider the word “Advent” with an uppercase “A.” “Advent” with an uppercase “A” is a season of the church year that leads up to Christmas. It is a season of expectation. There are four Sundays in Advent, and on three of them we remember that the ancient Jews eagerly awaited the first advent of their Messiah, which, in Greek is “Christ,” and, in English, “King.” Christians beleive that the prophet Isaiah summed up these ancient hopes when he said:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore

Isaiah 9:6-7 RSV

On the other Sunday of advent, the second, today, Christians celebrate our expectation of the King’s return. Some people get lost in the language the New Testament uses about the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ. It is difficult to understand. However, when we distill all the language down to the bare essentials we are left with a very simple truth: If Jesus is who we believe him to be, then the Christ who appeared for the first time in human history in humility and hiddenness, his true identity as the Son of God known only to a select few witnesses, and to faith, like yours and mine, must of necessity appear a second time, in power and in glory, his true identity known to faith and unbelief alike. The Pharisees taught that there would be a general resurrection at the end of the world, and the righteous would be raised to eternal life, and the unrighteous to judgement. In Philippians 2, this General resurrection is the back drop of Paul’s statement that, after Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross:

God…highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ is good news for believers, living or dead, because when Christ appears in glory we will share it, and our true identity will be revealed for all to see. Thus in 1st John 3:2 we read:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 RSV) return of

And in 1st Corinthians 15 St. Paul writes:

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.

Now at this juncture, I think we have dealt with the first advent of Jesus in humility and hiddenness, and with the 2nd Advent of Jesus in power and in glory, and how the risen Christ bill bring resurrection with him when he returns. However, I am quite sure I need to say more about resurrection itself. I would add two observations:

First, it needs to be said that resurrection is more than resuscitation.

In the New Testament Jesus raise some people from the dead, but it was not the same kind of resurrection that Jesus himself experienced when God raised him from death and gave him a place at the right hand of God’s majesty. For instance, in Luke’s gospel Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain from death, and in John’s gospel, Jesus raised Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha from death. Yet both men came back to life in the same frail, body they had when they got sick and died. Their bodies were not yet suited for eternal life. That is more resuscitation than resurrection.

In contrast, the New Testament teaches that the body of Jesus was not just resuscitated, but wonderfully transformed. His resurrection body was still recognizably his body. It bore the marks of his suffering. His disciples could still see and feel the print of the nails, and the hole in his side. Yet, at the same time his body was marvelously different, and more than it was before. In Matthew 28, we read that when the disciples saw Jesus on the mountain top in Galilee, some doubted it was him. I am quite sure they doubted because it was hard for them to believe that the radiant figure who stood before them was the same man they had seen cruelly tortured and crucified. Likewise, in John chapter 20, the disciples of Jesus were in a room and all the doors and windows were locked, but Jesus suddenly appeared to them. Does that mean his body could pass through solid objects, and move through space unhindered? Only God knows. And in Acts chapter 1, the risen Jesus ascended into heaven on a cloud. This is most certainly an accommodation. The actual movement of Jesus from this world into the next involved mysteries about which the people of his day were totally ignorant. Of course, we are equally ignorant. We no longer live in a three storied universe, with hell “down there,” and earth here “on a level,” and heaven “up there;” but we still recognized only four dimensions, including height, and breadth, and depth, and time. String theory declares that there may be many at least six or seven more of which we are totally ignorant. Could Jesus move among them? Only God knows!

What we know is that resurrection is much more than resuscitation. We may laugh at resuscitation, we wonder at resurrection.

Second, we must say a word about how the idea of resurrection is related to the idea of the immortality of the soul.

The doctrine of immortality, in several forms, can be traced to the Greeks. According to “The Phaedo,” just before his death by poison, Socrates told his disciples he thought that men had a very reasonable chance of living forever. He said that if all things were unchanging, as they thought, then the soul was unchanging, and since the soul was the life force that always brought life, it could not be destroyed. The soul was immortal. Socrates went on to describe an afterlife that was a lot like our heaven. He even told his disciples that he looked forward to meeting the great teachers that died before he was born.

Now the idea of immortality of the soul sounds very efficient and simple to communicate. It is certainly a lot neater than the thought of God putting dead bodies back together again as he did in Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of bones coming back to life. And it is certainly more economical of action than God gathering the ashes of those we have scattered on the mountains and into the sea. And there are some passages in the New Testament that hint the Greek doctrine is not entirely incorrect, such as when Jesus spoke to the repentant and dying thief saying, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Why then do the vast majority of Christian churches cling to the ancient doctrine of the Pharisees, and insist on the doctrine of resurrection? There are two reasons.

First the doctrine of the resurrection is more personal than the Greek doctrine of immortality of the soul. Socrates and his followers are exceptions. Many Greeks believed in immortality of the soul, but they taught that the soul was just a little spark which we receive from the flame at the heart of the universe which is God. They said that, when we die, the little spark goes back to the Eternal flame, and the identity of the little spark is lost. By contrast, when we study the doctrine of the resurrection from first to last, we see that resurrection insists that the person who God restores to life is the same person who died. I will still be me. You will still be you. This is a comforting thought, but also a sobering one. It means that what we do now will follow us for all eternity. It was Soren Kierkegaard who said, “If we fail to suffer in this life, if we shirk suffering, it will be eternally without remedy.” We might add, if we fail to serve like Jesus, and love like Jesus in this life, we will certainly regret it in the next, forever and ever, amen!

Second the doctrine of the resurrection is more up to date, and more compatible with modern science than the doctrine of immorality of the soul.

Some years ago, a member of this church came into my office and handed me a copy of U.S. News & World Report. The article said that modern science has proven that there is not such thing as the soul. When we are dead, we are really dead, gone, no more. She said, “What does this mean?” I said, “Well, for one thing, it means that modern science has finally caught up with the Bible!”

The primary teaching of the Bible is that we all one piece, body, mind and spirit; and, when the body is dead, so is the rest of us. However, the Bible also teaches that death is not the end of the human story. Death was not the end of the Jesus story. And because he lives, death will not be the end of your story or mine. Death is just a pause, whether long or short, it does not matter because we will not know, and God is on the other side of the pause, and it is God remembers us, and calls us back to life, and raises us to a whole new order of being.

Do you believe this? When asked the same question, a Jewish rabbi answered, “I think it is easier for God to raise the dead, than it is for God to forget me.” How much more do we believe that Jesus Christ is the first born from the dead, the first fruits of the harvest, and God’s guarantee that God has not abandon us to death and corruption, but has prepared for us, a future and a hope beyond our wildest imagination. As the apostle writes:

The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with him that we might be glorified with him.

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34 My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. 35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. John 4:34-35 KJV

Over the past two weeks we have talked about “Serving Like Jesus,” and “Loving Like Jesus.” This morning we are going to talk about “Living Like Jesus.” When I say that we are to serve, love, and live like Jesus, I am not suggesting that we can be all he was and is.

In an ultimate sense, we can never be like Jesus.. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and the ultimate revelation of God’s love for humankind. No name in the annals of time and eternity ever has been, or ever will be, more worthy of proclamation, honor, devotion, and praise.

In an ultimate sense, we can never be like Jesus. Yet, there is a penultimate sense in which we can be like Jesus. Let me make what I hope is a helpful and appropriate analogy.

An adult Blue Whale is the largest animal in the world today, and perhaps the largest that ever existed on this planet, one third larger than the largest dinosaur. That upset my grandson! A mature adult Blue Whale can weigh 420,000 pounds. By contrast the Blue Whale calf weighs just 5,000 pounds. A Blue Whale Calf is like an adult Blue Whale, but it falls far short of its parents in power and grandeur. Likewise, Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God, the Eternal Word made flesh. Like him, we are “the children of God,” though we fall far short of Jesus in power and grandeur.

Now some will doubt that we are “the children of God.” We need not! In 1st John 3:1 we read, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” And in 1st John 3:2 we read, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him.” Or, as St. Paul says in Romans 8:29, those whom God foreknew God “…predestined to be conformed to the image of His son.”

Our conformation to Christ, our transformation, is a two stage process. Both steps in the process are concerned with righteousness, by which we mean the ability to fulfill the demands of our relationships with God, with ourselves, and with one another.

In the first stage, God declares us righteous. Before we come to Christ, we are dressed in sin and shame. Isaiah says that all our righteousness is as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) When God looks at us, we do not look so good. Then by faith we come to Christ, and God looks at us and sees not our filthy rags, but the pure, clean righteousness of Jesus Christ. This is what the old African-American spiritual means when it declares, “All God’s children got a robe.” This is what Count Zinzendorf, the patron of the renewed Moravian Church, was getting at when he wrote:

The Savior’s blood and righteousness,
My beauty is my glorious dress
Thus well arrayed I need not fear;
When in His presence I appear.

First God declares us righteous, then God makes us righteous. God adopts us into his family, and imparts to us the righteousness and character Jesus Christ. Some will ask, “How is this possible?” It is possible because of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is also known as: the Spirit of God, the Counselor, the Comforter, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Adoption, and the Spirit of Sonship. This list is not complete. The important thing is that the Holy Spirit transforms us by his power. According to Acts 1:8, just before Jesus ascended to the Father, he told his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit had come upon them.

Now what form does that power take? Well, There are three things you should know about power.

First, power accomplishes work. The Greek word the book of Acts uses for “power” is “dunamis.” It is the same word from which we get our English word for “dynamite.” Horsepower drives a car at 100 miles an hour. Water power provides electricity, and electricity powers the world. James S. Stewart spoke of the Spirit’s awesome power in us saying we must remember that, “…the same power that took Jesus out of the grave is available to us today, not just in the moment of death, but in the midst of life.”

Second, there is plenty of power to go around. Pulitzer Prize winning author James McGregor Burns says that power is an expansive force, the more you give away, the more you have. People who have achieved true greatness understand this, people who set out to be great according to their own standards never do.

Third, there are two kinds of power. Harvard Professor and former Asst. Secretary of Defense Joseph S. Nye, Jr. says that power can be divided between hard power and soft power. Hard Power is the President of the United States ordering a strike against a terrorists’ camp, inspiring fear in the hearts of the terrorists and respect among the nations. Soft Power is Pope Francis kissing the cheek of an autistic child, inspiring love and devotion in the hearts of people, and hope among the nations. Nye says that any president, political, business, or religious leader would like to have more Soft Power, but few even understand it. Colin Powell did. When asked to define the difference between the two, Powell said that the US used Hard Power to win World War II, and Soft Power when we enacted the Marshall Plan at the end of world War II, helping to rebuild the nations of Europe, even those that opposed us, Germany and Italy. He said we did the same thing in Japan. Jesus exercised Soft Power when he said that he (the Son of Man) came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. The cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest concentration of Soft Power in the history of the planet. In Luke 7, Jesus tells us why that is so. Jesus says, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” The power of love unleashed by the cross is immeasurable. Think of all that you do, simply because of what Jesus Christ has done for you. As the Apostle says in Romans 5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5)

We can serve like Jesus, and we can love like Jesus, and we can live like Jesus, and in dramatic fashion, too. It is hard to believe but Jesus says that we can even do more than he himself was able to do in the days of his flesh, not just collectively, which is certainly true, but individually. In John 14:12-14 Jesus says:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14 if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

Some will object that it is impossible that our works should exceed the works of Jesus. I have always tended to agree, skipping by this first without much thought. Yet, Jesus said we could do more, so let’s think about it for a moment. Take the matter of feeding the hungry. All four gospels tell us that Jesus fed 5,000. Matthew and Mark add that on another occasion he fed 4,000 more. These figures account for men, women and children would add to the total. No doubt, he also fed several thousand other individuals over the course of his ministry. Let’s say that in his brief ministry he fed something like 30,000 hungry people. Now consider this. I have a friend that has been supporting World Vision International since 1975. He started giving $15 a month, and then gradually raised that to $50 a month. If you multiply the smaller figure by the 480 months that have elapsed since 1975, he has given at least $7200.00, and in reality much more. Today, it is possible to feed a child three meals for as little as 19 cents. That is fifteen meals for a dollar. Multiply $7200 by 15 meals and my friend has bought more than 108,000 meals. They may not have been great meals, but they were life giving meals. My friend said he hardly noticed that he did this, and that bothers him. He thinks he could have done more, much more. Jesus was right, we can do more, perhaps, because we have longer to do it in.. Of course, if we do what we do in Jesus name, the effect can be even more far reaching, for Jesus can multiply the resources we put into his hands as he once multiplied the loaves and fishes. Twice in three verses he says, “If you ask anything in my name, that is, in accordance with my character and will, I will do it.” That is quite a promise.

So, is some small way, we can, “Live like Jesus.” How then did Jesus live? I would mention three things:

1. Jesus had focus. He set his priorities, and he stuck to them.

Jesus spoke to his disciples saying, “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me.” That is from the King James Version. It may not be the most accurate translation of this verse, but I like it! Meat is the main course; everything else is a side dish, or, maybe, a desert. If the main course of a meal is bad, nothing can save that meal. If the main course is good, then nothing can take the pleasure of it away.

If we are to live like Jesus, God, and God’s will must be the main course in our lives, and this provides God with hands and feet in the world, and us with happiness. Indeed, in Matthew 6:33 Jesus said that if we will seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness—“God’s will” and “doing it,” all else that we needed will be added to us. I think this includes, “happiness.” Let me illustrate.

Some years ago I met with a woman who had made shipwreck of her life. Though she had no clinical reason, she was depressed and depressing. She drove everyone away from her, family and friends alike. She wanted my counsel, but she had already made up her mind about her problem. She said, “I am in the fix I am in because I have given too much of myself to others; but I am going to stop that. From now on I am going to look out for myself, first.”

By contrast I asked my 93 year old father what he had sacrificed for the sake of his service to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “Nothing, nothing at all. Rather, I have gained everything.”

I think Jesus would have agreed with my father. In Mark 8:35 Jesus said:

35 For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.

I know that, in this text, Jesus was speaking of eternal salvation, but our eternity begins with him. In John 11:26 he says, “he who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Therefore, we are not surprised that when B.F. Skinner, the Father of Behaviorism, was asked the secret of happiness, he answered in the words of Jesus. “He who gains his life will lose it, whoever loses his life will gain it.”

2. Jesus was like a fine wine, he had a good finish.

Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

In Mark 8, we read that during the last week of his life, Jesus set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem. In Luke 13:32-33 we read that as Jesus drew near to Jerusalem he sent word ahead by one of his disciples, saying:

“Go and tell that fox, Herod, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course…for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”

In Luke 12:50 Jesus said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am constrained until it is finished.” Jesus knew he was headed for a cross, but he did not dodge his destination. The final word Jesus spoke from the cross was, “It is finished!” I love the passion hymn which declares:

“‘It is finished’ shall we raise,
Songs of Sorrow, or of praise,
Mourn to see the Savior die,
Or proclaim his victory?”

Lamb of God thy death hath given
Pardon, peace, and hope of heaven.
“‘It is finished,’ let us raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

St. Paul new the importance of a good finish. As he drew near to the end of his own life, he wrote:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have loved his appearing.”

Recently, When I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I thought I might be finished. In the hospital, I saw it differently, I started to worry that I may not be able to finish my commitments here, and elsewhere. The day I got out of the hospital it was raining. I was under my doctor’s orders to walk everyday, so I went to the YMCA. When I entered the lobby, there was a dish of epigrams on the front desk. Now a dish of M&M’s is tasty, and a dish of olives is heart healthy, but nothing satisfies my soul like a dish of epigrams. I reached deep in the dish and selected one. It may as well have had my name written on it. It read, “You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat from your face.”

That message hit me like a ton of bricks! Maybe the choice is mine? My destiny is in my hands? Do I want to be finished; or, do I want to finish my course? I can throw in the towel, or use it to wipe my face.

This sermon is not just about me. The same is true for you. Most of you have faced difficulties in life. After each, you had a choice, throw in the towel, or use it to wipe your face. Likewise, some are saying that the church is finished, not just this church, but THE church. I don’t believe it for a minute. Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. The Church may take new forms, but it will not be finished until it has finished the work God has set for it to do.

3. There is a final way to live like Jesus. Do something.

In the text before us Jesus told his disciples not to sit around saying, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?” He said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” The question is not what are we going to do to live like Jesus next year, or next month, or next week, the question is what are we going to do to serve, love, and live like Jesus, today.

Finis

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