Bible, sermon

Godly Worship, Godly Fasting

Why do humans who say they love God repeatedly misunderstand what it means to worship God and to live a life that honors him? Before the exile, Amos warned about misdirected worship. After the exile, Zechariah noted the same problems remained. Even today, we still find so many who bear the name of Christ acting in the same way. Since these two sermons have a similar theme, I am sharing them together.

Amos (5:18-24) warned about the disruptive nature of the coming Day of the Lord. Today, we are living through one of those disruptive times with the COVID pandemic and racial protests. If we worshiped God the way he wants us too, we would be the salt and light that Jesus called us to be within the midst of this disruptive time. But unfortunately, we often do not understand what true worship means. God, through Amos, told the Israelites their worship didn’t pass three important “tests”: the smell test (God wouldn’t smell their sacrifices), the vision test (God couldn’t see their offerings), and the hearing test (God hated their music). Instead, as Martin Luther King Jr. so often emphasized, the worship God desires is for justice to roll on incessantly like the never-ending lapping of waves on the seashore and for righteousness to flow out from us like an unending river.

A little over 200 years later, as the second temple neared completion, some Israelites came to Zechariah inquiring whether they should continue the fast of remembrance for the destruction of Solomon’s temple. God, through Zechariah (7:4-10), asked if the fast was ever about him at all, or if it was about the loss of their own privileged position within the culture, the destruction of their political capital and collective power, and the embarrassment they felt at “pagans” getting the better of “God’s people.” Zechariah emphasized that true Godly fasting isn’t about simply denying personal desires or denying yourself to honor God. Fasting should be a denial of yourself for the sake of giving yourself for the other, whether that other is your neighbor or your enemy. Zechariah called the people to a fast from deeds of injustice, from acts of selfishness, from structures of oppression, and from plots of evil.

So both Amos and Zechariah emphasized true worship of God is found in active care and compassion for our fellow human beings. To love God we must love humans. The Good News of Jesus as the Christ is not an individualistic call to personal salvation, some type of a “get into heaven free” card for the end of life unrelated to daily living. Christian witness is not about proving the “rightness” of your beliefs through demeaning, confrontational or plain hateful social media posts. Advancing the Kingdom of God doesn’t depend on power politics that aggressively advance your agenda and demonize your opponents. If Jesus is the Christ, he is seated at the right hand of God ruling over all of creation. His followers are called to live and die as he did. Kingdom citizenship requires daily denial of ourselves in order that we might live for others. We are called to struggle against the injustices we encounter–not real or perceived offenses against ourselves or our personal rights (see Paul’s life!)–but injustice against others. We are called to defend the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the poor–in a word, to seek justice for our neighbor, especially our marginalized neighbor. We don’t worship in anticipation of the future. We worship through living in the present, so God’s will might be done on earth as it already is in heaven.

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The Worship God Despises; the Worship God Desires (Amos 5:18-24)

The Worship God Despises; the Worship God Desires (link to sermon)

A Call to Godly Fasting (Zech 7:8-10)

A Call to Godly Fasting (link to sermon)
Bible, Jesus, sermon

The Way of Adam/ The Way of Christ

1 Cor 8:1-13. Meat offered to idols doesn’t seem to be a topic relevant to modern Westerners. Yet the body of Christ in a post-COVID world faces the same issues confronted by the first century Corinthian church. Their “strong” said they could eat meat, even in temples, because they knew there is only one God and the idols are nothing. They didn’t want their rights impeded by the “weak,” who believed in gods or demons behind the idols and so wouldn’t eat the meat.

While Paul philosophically agreed with the strong, he rejected their way of Adam, trusting in “knowledge” motivated by self-interest; a way that leads to death and destruction. Paul called the Corinthians to follow the way of Christ, putting the needs of others ahead of your own for the sake of love; a way that leads to community and life. While we can question governmental policies aimed at flattening the curve of COVID, we should never let our “rights” destroy the fellowship of the church or our witness of Christ’s love and rule. Paul would say, if going out in public without a mask causes death to the vulnerable and destruction to Christian unity and witness, I will never go without a mask again.

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The Way of Adam/The Way of Christ

Article referenced in sermon: Church Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You

Bible, sermon

Rebuilding the Temple

Ezra 3:10-13.  As certain social distancing restrictions begin to lift, how to we faithfully relaunch physical worship services and ministry? By comparing the returning exiles’ rebuilding of the temple with our relaunching the church, we can see that we should seek God’s help to understand the times and know what to do; that we may occasionally make mistakes; that we may need to take incremental steps; and that our future may not be exactly the same as our past. Through it all, however, the glory of the future will outshine the glory of the past.

An example of semantron mentioned in the sermon:

Bible, Jesus, sermon

The Touch of Life

Mark 1:40-42.  Masks, gloves, social distancing. These are necessary precautions today with COVID-19, but at the same time, Christians cannot let these precautions interfere with our calling to be the body of Christ ministering in the world. We are to be the touch of life to our world the way Jesus himself was. The sermon looks at the story of a leper and some other stories about “touch” in the gospels.  Jesus was ready to touch the lives of others, even if it meant he might be misunderstood or become unclean, so that he could be a blessing and change lives.  We cannot ostracize groups or stigmatize individuals because of fear of COVID-19.  No.  We are called to be the hands of Jesus, touching others and giving life.

Bible, sermon

Darkness or Light in the Day of the Lord

Isaiah 2:12-22 — COVID-19 affects us all. We are all on edge and our lives disrupted. The Old Testament would call this the Day of the Lord.  A day when all of us are brought low. A day when all of us should be brought to repentance and prayer. When the Day of the Lord comes, however, it does nothing more dangerous than to reveal our heart through our actions and the choices we make. Ultimately, we can either respond to the day of the Lord as yet another excuse to blame others or we can see it as an opportunity to serve others. We must chose whether to be darkness or light.

Jesus, sermon

First Fruits of the New Creation

In 1 Corinthians 15:20-27, Paul sees the resurrection of Christ as God’s promise and sign guaranteeing the resurrection at the end of the age. Jesus is the firstfruits of the coming harvest. The new creation began with an empty tomb. Even with the threat of COVID and social distancing, Jesus is Lord and God is putting all enemies–even the coronavirus–under his feet.

Jesus, sermon

Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

As Jesus entered Jesusalem the Sunday before Passover, the people are said to shout part of Psalm 118, “Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!”  While the people understood this to mean Jesus was coming as a conquering king, the psalm as a whole is more focused on the role of faith as trust in God through suffering, which Jesus lived out in that week leading up to his death.  The psalm also helps us think through our own response to the COVID-19 pandemic.