“Are We Worthy?”

Matthew 22:1-14, October 11th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now, yet another Parable from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-two, verses one thru fourteen.”

Matthew 22:1-14

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.  3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.   4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’  5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.  7 The king was enraged.  He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.  8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  9 Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests.  11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

“Having heard the words of Jesus as recorded in our scripture today, let us reflect and consider whether we are properly prepared to enter the realm, the kingdom of God.”

“Are We Worthy?”

When someone is invited to a celebration, be it a wedding, a baptism or simply a celebration of importance, most of us try to be property dressed for the occasion and follow the etiquettes and/or the protocols it calls for.  Jesus’ story is a simple parallel to follow.  However, I must advice you, if we over think this scripture, we may get ourselves lost.  As we look to this wedding feast passage… we need to be looking for its parallel meaning.  The wedding feast represents our invitation to the kingdom of God.  The celebration, this gift from God, was first offered and rejected.  This is the first part of the parable – Jesus was to be rejected and then condemned by the chief priests and the Pharisees!  They ignored the invitation and they persecuted those who spoke of the celebration to come!  We know the prophets that foretold of the Messiah were ignored and persecuted as well.  Then they would have Jesus, the Chosen One, the Messiah, they would crucify him!  They would have him crucified by their Roman oppressors!  This parable is that of a ‘harsh warning’ to those who were not willing to hear the invitation.  They were the ones who were not listening to Jesus’ invitation with open minds and open hearts.  Those like that of the hardhearted chief priests and the Pharisees would simply consider Jesus a ‘rebel rouser’ and seek to silence him!

Looking back to the story in today’s lesson, all who rejected the invitation, were left outside.  Whereas those who were invited from every walk of life were excepted and welcomed into the feast, the celebration!  Yet, despite how gracious the invite was… there remained an expectation.  It was expected that they, those who came in off the streets, they were expected to conform to the house rules so to speak.  They were expected to dress for the occasion.  This was accomplished by simply putting on the provided ‘wedding robe.’  Most scholars agree this is simply a commonsense reference that quests were expected to dress appropriately when coming to a wedding.   The mantle of ministry is like the robe, it is a simple gesture to acknowledge that the chosen and the invited ones, understands what it means to be welcomed into the household of Christ.  This “in itself” is problematic when we look to the analogy of who is invited to the wedding.  The poor may not have been able to afford a robe.  Seems unlikely Jesus would have wanted to put that thought across.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that in the context of this story, the wedding host is the one who supplied the robes, at least to those who did not possess one.  This leaves us seeing the guest, the one without the wedding robe on, as unwilling to accept this custom; wearing the robe would have been the simplest of gestors to acknowledge their gratitude for being invited and welcomed in.  Thus, the guest was seen as being ‘ungrateful’ for the invitation, and disrespected the generosity of his host, therefore he was thrown out. 

Interpreting our lesson from this vantage point, believing that Jesus would make it possible for the poor, the marginalized, and the downcast to enter the celebration – we have much to discuss.  This leaves us some reasonable things to consider further and it fits that Jesus’ allegory would include the deprived, the underprivileged, as-well-as, the impoverished being invited to the wedding.  Hear again the words of Jesus’ parable.  The king told his servants to: “’Go therefore into the main streets and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’  Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests.” /Matthew 22:9&10/ Is this not what we have been hearing about Jesus all along.  The accounts in the gospels have documented these things, these events that remind us of how Jesus reached out to the marginalized.  People like the Samaritans who were not included on the original guest list.  And the Lepers, the sick, the broken and the discarded by society.  The list goes on and on!  Surely such an invitation included the beggars and the crippled that were in the nearby streets and alleys!  Is this not what we have been taught and what we have read and what many have proclaimed throughout the ages!?  

We now know that Jesus’ parable was like a prophesy, he spoke of what was to be – and indeed it did come to be.  After Jesus’ resurrection, the Living Spirit of God went out to all the disciples and those that gathered with them.  The Spirit also went to a man named Saul, and through Christ, Saul became Paul, as Christ transformed him.  Yes, Saul the young Pharisee, an enemy of those who followed Christ, became Paul, the evangelist that brought the message of salvation, through Christ, to all us gentiles!  Surely, you remember the story in the ninth chapter in the book of Acts, in our New Testament!  He was the young Pharisee that met the Resurrected Jesus on the way to Damascus where he was to arrest and persecute the followers of Christ!  Miraculously after being invited by Christ Jesus, this enemy of the followers of Jesus, Paul became a devote servant of Christ!  His ministry led to the spread of what we know as Christianity – as the movement spread to the gentiles throughout the Roman empire!    

This conversation must lead us to discuss the ‘real question’ being raised here today.  Jesus was talking first and foremost about heaven and contrasting his answer to his parable about the guests at a wedding feast.  We must go to the core of this discussion.  We must ask ourselves, as we too have been invited to the banquet, at Christ’s invitation, an invitation to join Jesus in ministry, and join with Christ in his Father’s kingdom in heaven.  Are we worthy of this invitation?  Shall we proudly respond so that all can see?  Or shall we humbly take on the ‘mantle’, the burden of ministry, the burden of sacrifice for the sake of others, as Jesus did!?  Let us not forget, Jesus was a humble man and surely his teachings were about humility, kindness, and service to others.  There is no room for the high and mighty, nor the ego driven ‘lost souls’ who have rejected the inspired teachings of Jesus!  The notion that we are – or are not – worthy of the offer to accept the invitation, the gift of salvation – is rather naïve.  Naïve in the sense that forgiveness in of itself – is an act of grace which is a gift!  A gift only needs to be accepted!

Perhaps we need to clarify the more important question, brought on in response to this parable which Jesus told, suggesting that we cannot sneak into heaven without ‘conforming’ to an expectation of ‘how’ or ‘what’ a forgiven person is expected to act like, dress like, or be!  In our current culture in the society we live within, a ritualistic robe or something of like fashion is seldom used.  The average person could go an entire lifetime and never lay eyes on such a garment.  Yet, most of us know we need to conform to some type of appropriate outfit.  But that is not the point!  Rather, if we become a follower, a disciple of Christ, we shall need to make an effort, an honest effort to seek to live a life worthy of our call; worthy of the gift we are given through God’s Grace.  Who is going to judge our worthiness – that is the question?  Not me for sure, and neither your mother, your brother, nor any person can judge this.  Only the giver of the gift can judge whether you are worthy or not.  Yet, the gift of forgiveness is given even if you do not deserve it. 

Let us reflect on a real-life scenario.  Billy Sue and Sally John are recipients of a food basket from a local charity.  Within it they find an invitation to a celebration at the local church.  They decide to go, seeking a free meal.  While there they confess, at some point, the reason for their attendants.  Also, while there they have felt ashamed, but in their hearts, they now begin to feel hopeful that they will be allowed to stay; this is a feeling they had not felt in a long time.  They are asked to stay!  After dinner they help clear the tables and clean up.  Not surprisingly, they get involved in that church and over time they begin to be regulars in the ‘outreach’ effort to feed the hungry in the neighborhood.  Surely, the gift changed them as they humbly accepted it while feeling compelled to pass it on to another!  They got it!  They understood the meaning of today’s lesson!  Have you understood? 

Take another illustration.  Our monthly food drive to support a local food pantry.  The first of each month we have been stacking our small bags of non-perishable foods in the green cart at the back of the church.  First, let me say thank you for your generosity.  Your gift may fill an empty stomach and it may open a discouraged heart to the hope that your generosity has stirred.  Next time you sit down to a meal reflect on how you might feel if, if the meal was a gift from someone you never have and never will meet.  Possibly, the givers generosity will open your heart to do likewise.  When this occurs, you shall know this from the bottom of your heart!  If this rings true to you today, then surely: you are worth of the invitation and you shall receive the promised gift

Amen.

“Caring for that which is entrusted to us!”

Matthew 21:33-46, October 4th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Matthew, chapter, twenty-one, verses thirty-three thru forty-six.”

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.  34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.  35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.  36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.  37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’  38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.”  39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”  42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?  43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.  44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”  45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.  46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

“Having heard this fascinating parable attributed to Jesus, let us glean its intended meaning and what it infers about us, here in the Twenty-First Century.”

“Caring for that which is entrusted to us!”

Here we are at the first Sunday in October, in the year 2020.  Lost in the chaos of this point in time, is the celebrated coming together of the family of God in “World-Wide Communion Sunday!”  Why have Christians worked so hard to rally around a common understanding of the life and death of Jesus Christ?  Even in our diverse understandings of the ‘Word of God’ as written in the Holy Bible, we still all recognize that that last meal Jesus celebrated was meant to be a ‘coming together’ of all believers to unit in the ‘Living Body of Christ’.  This ‘coming together’ comes far after the powers of evil within humankind had executed the Living Man Jesus.  It is the Living Spirit of Christ which has infected all of humankind; all those who are willing to accept ‘on faith’ that God has a better plan for us all.  Better then pitting ourselves one against another, simply because of our human instincts which have gone astray!  The words of Jesus; they permeate far beyond our divisive division known by many names.  Such as: The Red States verse the Blue States; The Gray Confederacy verses the Blue Union; Democracy verses Dictatorship; Socialism verses Communal Living.  North American verses South American; Native American verse European.  Immigrant verses Settler.  Cattle Rancher verse Sheep Herder.  White verses Black.  The Rich, the Haves, verses, the Poor, the Have Nots.  Gay verses Straight, and on and on the lines of division are drawn!  No!  No, that is not what Christ wanted for us! 

When Jesus fed the five thousand that day on the hillside, he included the women and children also, not just the five thousand men!  He did not tell the disciples to feed the men first.  No, he simply instructed them to break the donated food into baskets and give it to the crowd.  They shared the blessed food, it seemed to multiple in the doing and there was more left over then before, even after the gathering had had their fill!  Jesus brought people together.  He broke down the barriers which we humans repeatedly keep trying to build up!  Jesus united rich and poor, smashed the barriers of race and culture, over, and over again.  All we need do – is open our hearts when we read the scriptures.  That is what Jesus did when he was but twelve years old while in Jerusalem with his parents, Mary, and Joseph.  The religious leaders in the temple that day were mesmerized by his understanding of the scriptures.  Remember how he met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – after his resurrection?  Jesus opened the scriptures to them in a way they had never known!  The living Christ, the Spirit of Christ, was set free after the man Jesus gave up his human life – for our personal freedom from our sinful human nature!  Free will is a gift, which makes faithfulness such a challenge.     

What makes today’s reading so hard for so many to understand is that it is the story of human nature’s free will run riot with corruption and hardheartedness!  Some theologians would leave the interpretation of this writing to you the people, believing we each may see it differently, based on our realities, and our experiences with life.  This may work or it may not work for you.  So, with this as our basis let us make some assumptions upon which we may agree upon.  First off, as we look at this parable which Jesus gives us, it is reasonable to suggest the writing refers to the setting in which Jesus, as the Son of God, finds the world.  Jesus being the cornerstone, and of course, the Landlord, being the Heavenly Father; leaving the chief priests and the Pharisees, perhaps even the institutions as well – as the tenants.  (The care takers of the crops left in their care by the Landlord.)  With this as a premise, the parable is telling us the story of the Bible of ‘How’ God has sent the prophets and finally Jesus to bring us together into the family of God.  The bringing together, of course, is the salvation process by which we our nurtured as our faith grows and grows.  Yet, Jesus is clearly saying to the chief priests and the Pharisees, that they are the ones who rejected Jesus, as those before them rejected the ‘Word of God’ brought to the people by the prophets which God had sent to them.  Thereby, denying the people the spiritual nourishment they needed to be part of the harvest which belongs to the family of God.  As a family of course, we are meant to contribute to the needs of the entire family.  Thus, the reference to the ‘fruits’ of the vineyard, in our allegorical story today, the fruits of the ministry which the chief priests and the Pharisees were ‘called’ by God to nurture and care for! Consequently, the fruit, the harvest was meant to be the people of God!  Yet instead these hardhearted religious leaders persecuted those which were sent and ultimately executed the Son of God.  This is one scenario we can work with to grasp the plausible message Jesus was giving that day, so long ago.

So, what is this meant to mean for all of us?  As we come back into our setting here in our time, in the Twenty-First Century, after the time of Christ, we must look to this story and reassess where we are in the dialog!  Humankind is still having its problems with the dark side of human nature.  Hear me, I am not referring to the color of our skin.  Skin color is not the issue!  Selfish, self-centeredness and grandiosity are the problem.  Corruption can be summed up in a couple words: power and greed.  Bigotry is humankind’s fear that ‘the other guy or gal’ will deprive us of our fair share of ‘whatever it is’ we seem to want today or in the future!  The big issues we all seem to pick sides over… is all about our personal understanding of what God has tried so hard to communicate to us as we continually debate and argue over the message.  Things like when does life start and when ought death occur.  Our fears and our anger and disagreements all stem from the same tree: the tree of life.  Pastor Edward F. Markquart, from Grace Lutheran Church, in Seattle, Washington wrote this about today’s scripture reading.  “The tree looks healthy, but it is not.  A religious life looks healthy, but it is not.  A Christian can use all the right buzz words, read the Bible, attend church and do all the churchy things but lives a lie and does not demonstrate the love of Christ in daily actions.”  We could easily insert each of the other religions of the world, in place of the word Christian.  Nevertheless, me and you, we look for the answers to life and death through our Christian understanding.  So also do those who faithfully follow the teachings from their religious upbringing, though they differ from Christian theology.  Thus, they follow their understanding of the Power of the Universe, the God of their understanding. 

So, what has happened to that ‘ecumenical’ movement? This word, an adjective, means, ‘representing the whole of a body of churches

promoting or tending toward worldwide unity or cooperation,’ according to my ‘on-line’ dictionary.  My first mentor, a Pastor I called ‘Uncle David’, told me his understanding of the word.  He told me how important it was for churches to cross the street and talk with each other and find common roads for ministry.  He told me how they would meet as pastors from different churches, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians and a few others.  He died a few years after I entered seminary so some of the details I have lost along the highway of life.  I do remember one story he told me.  The Monsignor at the big Catholic church died suddenly.  David went to pay his respects.  Seems there were people waiting in the streets to go in.  A Priest saw David and waved him in, pointing to the crowd, he said, there are so many, and we are short priests who can serve Communion to this crowd.  Will you help us?”  He said sure.  As David, the pastor at a protestant church, stood there serving communion at this large Roman Catholic church, there were members from numerous other churches who also came to pay their respects to the Old Monsignor.  That is Ecumenicism!  People of different faiths gathering under one common causeWe need more of that!  Let us pray there are numerous churches throughout the world remembering this is World-Wide Communion Sunday.  Let us also pray they remember its meaning.  Amen.

“Doing the Will of God”

Matthew 21: 23-32, September 27th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now this ancient lesson as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew, chapter twenty-one, verses twenty-three thru verse thirty-two.”

Matthew 21:23-32

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”  24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”  And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”  27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.”  And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 

28 “What do you think?  A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.  30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”  They said, “The first.”  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

“Having listened to this intriguing exchange between Jesus and the Chief Priests and Elders, how shall we interpret its intended meaning for us in our present?”

“Doing the Will of God”

Jesus was always being questioned about where he got the authority to do the things he did; things like heal the sick, make the cripples walk, cause the blind to see, and bring the dead back to life.  Therefore, it is not surprising to ‘yet again’ hear the Chief Priests and the Elders cross examine him in our scripture reading this morning.  Not surprisingly, Jesus once again turns the conversation back to them as he asks these leaders a well-crafted question.  Jesus’ ability to handle these closed hearted religious leaders, of his time, is well documented.  After they conceded they could not, or would not answer the question, Jesus poses an allegorical story for them to consider.  A story of two sons.  It is a story we can easily understand and easily come up with the obvious answer, just as the Chief Priests and Elders did.  The story speaks for itself.

By what authority do we make the choices we make, and who do we serve when we do or not do the things which need doing?  Do we serve out of pride for what others will think of us?  Many would call that an overblown ego.  Do we publicly do seemingly good deeds while praying others will see how good we are?  If we identify with this thought perhaps it is time to turn our efforts toward the needs of other, rather than feeding our own need for approval or appreciation!  Was it not Jesus who healed others while asking that he himself – not to be exalted!?  Did Jesus not humble himself, living in poverty, while actively giving of himself, asking only for others to believe in him?

Let us just make our discussion a bit more relevant to our setting today.  We have two potential volunteers who are asked to serve on a cleanup committee after services each week.  One agrees to help with the cleanup effort and the other says they cannot commit to the task.  Yet, it is noted by several observers that the one who committed to the cleanup task ‘never shows up’ or ‘follows up’ in any manner.  Whereas the other is often seen working to get the needed cleanup done.  Clearly, the one that is seen doing the task, the work, is the better volunteer in this scenario.  Which one will make a better power of example for others to follow?  Which of the two is more dedicated to exhibiting the teachings of Jesus?  The opportunities for us to be better volunteers or doers of the ‘will of God’ are often more complex then our simple example.  Surely, Jesus wanted his disciples to be doers of his words and to teach others to do the same.  

One theologian, named Matthew L. Skinner, sums this up in a challenging thought.  “It is easy to make pledges when an issue erupts.  It can be easy to write a check or to resolve to put our faith into action into particular ways.  Following through by working for long-term change is more difficult.”  Skinner’s words do not diminish the gifts we do make of our time, talent and treasures, yet he is saying sometimes the will of God is for us to stay involved in the issue at hand… at least until it is resolved or completed.  Our commitment to follow through is the challenge.  Let us take a current example.  We have committed to help feed the hungry in Palm Bay, by having a monthly food drive to support an active and local food pantry which is run and operated by one of our neighboring churches on Port Malabar Road.  This is a wonderful, meaningful, and needed ministry.  Nevertheless, as the months pass by the question becomes: will we continue to care for the hungry when our focus gets drawn toward another worthy project?  Let us say something such as: our Thanksgiving plans with family and friends.  And then of course Christmas with all those extras which we get involved in.  There is a harsh reality.  The hungry need to be fed every day and our commitment to help feed them needs to continueWe need to honor our commitment.

Janet H. Hunt wrote “I expect most of us can think of times when we have been like both of the sons in Jesus’ parable today.  Where have you seen this play out in your experience?”  Surely, there are times when we volunteer and something important unexpectedly comes up and we cannot follow through with our commitment.  That is understandable.  Yet, when we make no effort to follow-up or let others know of our changing availability… well, that is something else entirely.  On the other hand, if we are the one who will not commit to a task, yet we go ahead and get involved in the doing this is truly good.  However, we may want to reflect as to why we are unwilling to make the commitment to help-out when needed; surely, that would be even better.  Whichever of the two sons we identify with, consider how we might improve our efforts.  Jesus’ analogies are just that, they are meant to parallel the deeper message.  The heart of his teaching is to uncover our own hearts, as we move with integrity into the all too real-world situations that come up every day.

Here is a clearly rhetorical question on this point.  Which is more important: what we say, or is it what we do?  Even the pious know the right answer.  However, knowing does not translate into doing! 

Standing up in front of a crowd proclaiming we support ‘Black Lives Matter’, is a good start, yet not speaking against racial profiling when we see it happening, and not condemning the powerful perpetrators of injustice, then we are not doing what we say needs to be done.  Perhaps we simply do not understand, to truly stand with the teachings of Jesus, we must live into those teachings!  Consider this accounting.  For twenty-six plus years I have struggled to live up to the sermons I have prayerfully compiled.  In my youthful modesty, while serving as a licensed pastor in North Miami, I responded to a complement of one of my freshly preached sermons with these humble words: “I don’t know if I can live up to what I have just said!”  When we reach the gates of heaven, let us all pray we can ‘all’ be as honest and sincere as that ‘young and inexperienced’ pastor that day!

Theologian and avid writer, David Ewart speaks of our doing rather than our saying.  “It is we who are sitting in church who SAY (and sing and pray) many things.  But this text puts the focus on what we actually DO.  Just exactly what is it that we do after we leave church on Sunday?  Ouch.”  A very critical critique of us church goers to be sure.  Surely, we would respond that this assessment of churches, is totally wrong!  Wouldn’t we?  Now that we got that out of our system let us consider why this might be said.  What our writer has done is ‘challenge us’ and all church goers to a higher standard.  If the service is all about… say, loving our neighbors, then we need to truly implement that posture as we go about our daily life.  Perhaps the older woman next door, who lives alone, could use a friendly hello or some help with a task that she no longer can handle.  Or the young family in our neighborhood could use an assist, after some hardships have come their way.  Maybe, you can call that church member or friend that just found out the cancer has come back.  He or she may need a thoughtful prayer or someone to talk with.

“What you do is more important than what you say.”  The original author of this profound saying is unknown to me.  My complements to that person.  Surely, it speaks loudly to our need to live with integrity.  What we say ought to emulate what we in fact do.  If we do virtuous Godly things, righteous things, and selfless things, clearly, we are doing as Jesus did.  If we follow in the teachings of Jesus, and the examples Jesus set forth then we are following the will of God!  It is a wonderful thing to have a hundred people gathering on-line and in person to worship God every Sunday.  Yet, it is far more important that we each live into the fullness, living into the action needed to carry forth the ‘will’ of God!  It is one thing to speak of kindness – it is another to stop in the middle of a busy, busy day, and reach out to someone in need – without seeking something in return.  It is the giving that counts!

Mercy and forgiveness make great sermon material; yet, living into a merciful ministry while forgiving those that confound our efforts – is a living message of compassion and hope!  Reaching out to aid the needs of another from the abundance of our lives is worthy; yet, doing this when the abundance has dried up and our prospects are slim – that takes faith and courage.  Sometimes, oftentimes actually, we must dig deep into our commitment of faithfulness to move ourselves to take that necessary step to help-out.  Sometimes it is that hand of friendship or fellowship which is needed; another time it may take rolling up one’s sleeves and sweating a bit to get the job done.  Jesus did both and much, much more.  Let us do likewise!

Jesus not only welcomed the outcast and the marginalized – Jesus celebrated their lives!  He turned the tables on the hypocrites, those who cheated God’s people – shedding light upon their corruption.  Salvation comes to the righteous – not the hard of heart.  It has been said it is far better to see one ‘living sermon’, ‘one sincere good deed’, then to hear ten insincere ‘proclamations’ within a lifeless message.  Indeed, it is far better to walk the walk of faithfulness – then simply talk the talk! 

Amen.

“Joyfully, Progress in Faith!”

Philippians 1:20-30, September 20th, 2020

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Our reading today comes from one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, penned while he was in prison, Philippians chapter one, verse twenty thru thirty.”

Philippians 1:20-30

20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.   22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.  23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.  25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.  For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.  29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

“Having hear this ancient writing let us now consider what we can learn from Paul’s words in our present time.”

“Joyfully, Progress in Faith!”

Throughout history, faithful, God fearing people, people like you and me, have been arrested for standing up for what they believe.  Usually, the cause is a social justice issue, whereas another is being discriminated against, marginalized in some way, and in many cases – persecuted in various wrongful ways.  The same is still happening in our society in current time.  The Apostle Paul was in prison while he did some of his most priceless works of faith; one of which we just read.  Speaking out and peacefully protesting is protected in our form of government.  Anarchy and violence against others, is not.  You and I know that this is a very difficult time in our society.  Some days are more difficult than others.  We all know this.  To complicate all of this we are still in the midst this world-wide pandemic.  The loses in human life is staggering.  And if this is not enough, we are in the peak of the hurricane season.  In California and Oregon fire season has only just begun and already the fires are raging, and many lives have been lost, with extensive destruction.  Life can be a struggle at times… that is for sure!

The Apostle Paul, he was arrested several times.  The writings in the Acts of the Apostles, in the New Testament, tells us of when where and how etc. and makes an interesting Bible study project to explore.  Perhaps we may want to do that soon, but not this morning.  The point is, he was arrested and flogged for doing the work of Christ many times.  History and legend tell us… he was eventually executed, when there was a change in the Roman leadership; a new emperor ordered his death and many others as well.  Can you just imagine what his resume would look like if he were to apply for a ministerial position in our society today!?  Truthfully, I have heard tell it has been written in modern times by a Conference ministry.  He was trying to put across to a pastoral search committee that perhaps they were being a bit too critical of the candidates they had turned away!  The truth is that following in the footsteps of those like Jesus and Paul can be rather difficult at times.  In countries within modern society, pastors and practicing Christians have been jailed and executed for their faith.  There are those that think we progressive theologians are heretics for our willingness to speak up for the marginalized and those that discriminated against at various levels.  God bless the Apostles and the Disciples of Christ who dare to speak the truth as it has been revealed to them!

Let us now reconsider the implications of what Paul says as he writes his letter to the church in Philippi.  “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.” /Philippians 1:20/ His enthusiasm is remarkable.  Remember now, he is writing from prison because of his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament!  He speaks of his eagerness and that of hope.  Amazing really.  It is no wonder they say that folks like him must be filled with the very Spirit of Christ!  His words clarify he understood, clearly understood he may be put to death for his beliefs!  Yet, he seems not afraid whatsoever, to die and join Christ in the Heavens above as he clearly says!  “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” /Philippians 1:23 & 24/ It seems, Paul is at a state in his faith, at this point, this juncture of his journey, he is clear that his ‘calling’ is to do still more here on earth before he can join the saints in heaven.  His words set an example for faithful followers to emulate.

We here in the Twenty-First Century, we are called to ministry at a difficult time in history.  Last year at this time, we saw our challenges differently than we do now.  Then, we, all of us throughout the world, but especially here in the United States, saw life as… let us say we saw life with a ‘different pair of glasses’ then we do now.  Gee, that would make a great book title.  Seriously though, we did see life out a different perspective than we do today.  As odd or as hard as this may seem from here, major changes throughout the world have been occurring throughout time.  How could we have missed that?  Perhaps, you and me, we have spent too much time preoccupied with our own issues, causing us too often – to have missed the issues or events that are truly important to acknowledge!  History tells us that things like plagues and disease have been part of the world order for a long, long time!  Slavery, discrimination, classism, and sexism have been recorded in history throughout time, as well!  Struggles with abuse of power and disagreements in how we are to live within social systems; systems which are efficient yet good for everyone!  These issues are not new.  New names, new faces and new issues, certainly.  Yet, not new at all!

What was the overall message the Apostle, Paul, trying to get across?  Or how can we gleen anything from his words today?  By all appearances he was sharing his journey of faith, whether he intended to or not!  He was basically saying, “At this stage of my faith, I am sure that there is a heaven and Christ is there and one day I will be there also.”  Fact is Paul was saying it would be easier to be there at that time, then in his current situation.  There are many ways to interpret that statement.  Perhaps what he meant was that he was getting tired of the floggings and the prison life, and maybe it was time to take his deserved and justified rest.  If he were here – we would certainly question him about this.  Not that any one of us would blame him if we wanted a break from such harsh treatment.  What we can take from this, is the clarity from one of the leaders of the Christian movement, we can clarify that carrying the cross, the burden of Christ, can be hard, real hard!  Paul, you, and me, and all who have come before us and those who shall follow, need to know that even the Saints before us knew the human burden of following in the pathways of Christ.  Yet, yet, Paul is also telling us… his faith is so strong that he knows there is a place for him at the table with Christ in heaven… but he still eagerly wants to serve the ministry, the people of God here on earth, because it is needed!

Paul goes on to tell us how committed he is to the mission which he fervently and eagerly pursues!  “Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith.” /Philippines 1:25/ What he is convinced of is that Christ, the Very Spirit of God is compelling him to continue this Earthly ministry as it is paramount to the ministry to which he has been called!  All this conversation from Paul is to convince us and to compel us to take his message to heart!  He is urging those that he ministers to, which includes us as we are now hearing his words: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” /Philippians 1:27a/ Paul was admonishing, warning all who hear his words to live a life worthy of the grace and the mercy of Christ Jesus!  If we are to be counted as the faithful people in Jesus’ name, let us be sure we are living in the example set forth by Jesus himself!  Let us not get confused or distracted, by the rhetoric of others who oppose the message of the gospel accounts of the life and the ministry of Jesus!  Paul is saying that whether he himself visits us or not – is of no consequences!  Yet, we need to be of one spirit, one people in our commitment and devotion to the Son of God!  Paul says to us “Whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel!” /Philippians 1:27b/

History, history is written with or without the consent of we the people.  We cannot control how or what shall be written down.  What we can influence is how our Creator God will judge our efforts to live – as a faithful people; people who have done their best to live in a worthy manner.  I wear a mast when in a building where other people are, I do so to protect them and myself, as-well-as, my family and loved ones.  I wash my hands with soap and use hand sanitizer.  I respect the power of mother nature.  I also respect the advice of professional health care workers and the advice of health organizations.  I do my best to influence others to respect the needs and rights of others.  I pray we all do.  I do not want to see anyone arrested, especially the innocent.  Yet, I respect those who stand up for their rights and the rights of others.  Jesus clearly did!  There are a lot of things happening in the world today and in our own society that are very concerning.  I pray that you and I, I pray we will have the courage to speak up when necessary and to support others who are willing to do the same.  When we reach the gates of heaven, let us pray that it will be said we dared to live as a faithful people!

Amen.