is Our Father still alive?

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 37
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50
The Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Today’s reading in Genesis 45 picks up after Joseph has finally revealed his identity to his brothers, who had come to Egypt looking for food.

Many years before this, Joseph’s brothers had grown weary of his pride and rather arrogant behavior. They had gotten tired of the favoritism shown to him by their father Jacob – and probably felt hurt. Except for Benjamin, the youngest, none of the other brothers had been born to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, which likely added to their pain of feeling left out or ignored.

Even Joseph’s famous multi-colored coat showed favoritism that must have been like a red flag to the brothers every time they saw him coming. Some translations, however, refer to that coat as “long-sleeved,” rather than multi-colored, which is entirely possible since Hebrew words to this day leave out vowels, thereby allowing for a variety of word choices when translating into English. If that’s the case, those long sleeves would have been yet another source of irritation as this implied royalty or, at the very least, a man who was not the hard-working laborer they were expected to be.

Added to these hard feelings was the assumption that Joseph came to spy on them and report back to their father. In other words, Joseph’s brothers had every reason to believe he was a “tattle-tale.” And so, what did they do? They threw him into a pit!

Eventually, travelers picked him up, carried him off, and sold him into slavery. Through this and other trials, the prideful young man undoubtedly learned humility.

To Joseph’s credit, he didn’t sit around wallowing in his misery. Wherever he was, he helped other people. And so, he rose from imprisonment to servitude in the house of Potiphar, but after Potiphar’s wife hurled false accusations against him, Joseph landed in prison again!

More years passed until word got around that he could interpret dreams. Through God’s grace and guidance, Joseph was able to let Pharaoh know to prepare for a severe famine, and wisely, the ruler of Egypt put Joseph in charge of that project of storing then distributing food.

Now, one way to look at this is that Joseph was in the right place at the right time. Some might call that coincidence, but believers in the Lord will call that God-incidence, which, in essence, is what Joseph did. After years of suffering, hardship, and rising again, Joseph realized that God had prepared him for such a time as this.

Just by recognizing and acknowledging God’s hand on him, Joseph had no cause to be prideful about his own gifts but to give credit to God for every good thing the Lord had brought from bad circumstances.

Joseph knew without a doubt that the Almighty God was with him. The strength of that faith surely got him through the worse times, and, as he matured spiritually, he could see God’s orchestration over his life. Joseph had every reason to believe, as we do, that Father God was and is alive and well and working for our well-being.

But what about his earthly father – the man who had doted over him and adored him to the expense of all others? As soon as Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers, the first thing he did was ask, “Is my father still alive?”

Do you notice anything odd about that question? Joseph is talking to his brothers, and yet he doesn’t ask, “Is OUR father still alive?” but “MY” father.

His father was alive, of course, and the two were reunited for the rest of Jacob’s life. Although they had been through extreme hardship, God brought them together again.

Do you believe it? Do we believe God is still alive and well and working for our well-being?

If so, we, too, can hope for God to find a way to bring good out of the very worse circumstances we face. But what do we do in the meantime? How do we cope?

Psalm 37, which we read, in part, today provides biblical answers:

  • Trust in the Lord. Do Good.
  • TAKE delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit your way to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will act.
  • Be still before the Lord. Wait for Him.
  • Refrain from anger. Let go of whatever makes you mad.

In the Beatitudes we read last week, Jesus quoted Psalm 37:11, which says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The humble, strong-in-faith, non-arrogant people are assured of an inheritance from OUR Father – God.

By recognizing, more and more, that God is OUR Father – rather than just mine or yours or theirs – we’re getting ready for the biggest task our Father gives us: Love.

Today’s New Testament reading from the epistles reminds us that we look like Adam and Eve – our first parents, born of the earth and dust. But, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we now bear the image of God’s Son – born not of dust but of Holy Spirit – born of ongoing love and life.

Our dependence on Christ opens up countless opportunities for us when we no longer rely on ourselves, but on the Lord Jesus Who gave everything for us that we might live – forever, of course. But also right now!

Right now, we live in Christ as though He is alive in us. God our Father is still alive. And so is God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

As soon as we realize we cannot orchestrate our own lives much less anyone else’s, we might not be so angry with others or so mad at ourselves. Think about it. If Joseph had sat in a damp, musty prison stewing for years, do you think he would have risen to the second highest position in all of Egypt? Would years of wallowing in self-pity or fear or anger or self-loathing have given him the same chance to help others and keep his father and siblings from dying of hunger?

Is his Father God still alive? Is ours?

Trusting God our Father and taking delight in Him enables us to enjoy His presence as we wait for Him to guide, inspire, and empower us to act.

Act how? With love.

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke 6, Jesus tells us: “Listen! Listen to Me! Love your enemies. Treat haters with kindness, with goodness. Bless anyone and everyone who curses you. Pray for anyone and everyone who treats you badly.”

Say, what? Say: Yes!

Can we give anyone and everyone the kindness, courtesy, exhortation, and even the chastisement needed? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and the forgiveness we want other people to give us? And, to avoid grudges or resentments, can we do this without expecting anything at all in return?

God Himself gives us what we need to pour onto others the love and mercy He pours onto us. He blesses us through the majesty of creation, the sacrifice of His Son, the communion we have with one another, and the Bible. God generously gives us His love, forgiveness, and the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit.

Our Father God is still alive!

As we believe and receive Him, our Father God is alive in us! Let’s talk to Him now:

Our Father in heaven and on earth, may Your love permeate our lives. Help us to trust You, delight in You, and wait for Your word to guide and empower us. Help us, Lord, to love as You love in Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Mary Sayler, ©2019

Readings from The Revised Common Lectionary used by many church denominations

For God – or against?

With no pastor now, several of us from our Lake Como Community of Hope have been taking turns leading worship, reading scripture, and presenting the sermon — or in my case, a “Bible Talk” — based on the scriptures from The Revised Common Lectionary  for the Sunday assigned.

After reading and re-reading the biblical passages from several translations, I look for a theme that ties the readings from the Torah (aka “Old Testament”) with the Epistle (Letter) and the Gospel readings from the New Testament.

Sometimes a theme or topic is immediately apparent, sometimes not. This week, for example, the readings for September 30, 2018 kept bringing to mind a vital question: “Are we for God or against?”

Although I’ve been known to “tweak” (and even completely rewrite!) a Bible Talk before the Sunday it’s actually presented, I felt urged to go ahead and share this one with you. Before reading, however, you might want to check out the scriptures recommended for September 30, 2018: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50.

“For God – or against?”

In the day’s reading from Esther, we see prejudice and anti-Semitism at work. Haman didn’t just hate Mordecai though. He conspired to put him to death simply because Mordecai was an honest man – a Jewish man – who worshiped God. Haman’s jealousy and intolerance of one person made him hate-filled enough to maneuver the King into ordering the extermination of the entire Jewish populace!

That’s not exactly the justice meant to be found in the biblical law of an eye for an eye! It’s more like taking a whole city for one eye. It’s more like taking revenge instead of giving justice or mercy.

What Haman didn’t realize is that Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and also a Jew. More important, Haman didn’t realize that being against the people of God sets a person squarely against God Himself.

Anti-Semitism does that. Bigotry does that. It polarizes Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, and Jews and Christians against one another. This also happens when one political party or one sex or one race turns against the other, even though both come from the same creator and worship the same God.

Regardless of why such things get to that point, we have to decide – as individuals and as a church Body of Christ: Are we FOR God or against? Are we strongly FOR or against ANY child in the Family of God – even if that child is our self – or someone totally unlike ourselves?

In the other Old Testament passage, we read Psalm 124, which, like many (but not all) of the Psalms, is attributed to King David. Political enemies had come up against David, but the king knew God was with him and with the people of God. By strongly standing FOR God, David had faith that God was FOR him. He showed this by humbly giving credit to God instead of taking credit for the victories and glory that followed.

David was FOR God. And, God was FOR David and the people of God.

Is that true for us too? If we are FOR God does that mean God is FOR us? Or do we think like an immature child might and fear that God is against us?

Here’s the truth according to God’s word: God is love. And, Love is FOR US. God is for us.

Even so, the Bible clearly shows, from Genesis to Revelation, that bad things can and do happen to God’s people. For example, in the New Testament message from the epistle of James, the writer of this letter acknowledges that some Christians suffer and others get sick. Does James complain or blame this on God? No! Amazingly, he tells US to DO SOMETHING about it!

Really? Like what? Well, as James goes on to say, if anyone among us is suffering in some way, we should pray for that person. We should take it upon ourselves to do that. But – if anyone among us is sick, THAT person should do something! The person who is ill should call the elders of the church and ask for prayer! Then, James instructs the elders of the church to anoint that sick person with oil in the Name of the Lord.

But there’s more to it! People don’t just get sick physically. They also get sick mentally and spiritually. So, if that’s the case, James reminds us to confess our sins, admit our wrongdoings, and own up to anything we’re ashamed of or wish we had not done. This act of confession alerts the group to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.

Once we’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate again! Isn’t that a wonderful plan?! Then, when we’re right with God again, we’re once again righteous. And, as James says, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Such potent prayers make a big difference in the life of the forgiven, in the life of the person who prays, and in the life of the whole church.

When we’re FOR God’s will as revealed in the Bible, God WILL work to bring good for us, no matter how things look at the time. The catch comes in knowing God’s will, knowing what God is like, and knowing God can always be trusted to do the good and right and loving thing – even if circumstances don’t seem to make that super clear at the moment.

Unfortunately, what we think we know about God might be our faulty first impressions or the rumors we heard early in life or the flawed teachings we received from people, who taught whatever sounded good to them, rather than checking to see if it were biblically and spiritually true.

For example, when you were a child, authority figures might have told you God is watching you or out to get you – not because they were mean, but because they believed “good behavior” would get you into heaven. So, that group or particular person might have presented God as the bogey man in order to make you behave and keep you in line!

In real life and in the spiritual realm, such a deity would be nitpicking and judgmental – not at all the loving, merciful, forgiving God the Bible introduces us to consistently, from beginning to end.

Remember, God is FOR us. And, as today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark lets us know, God EMPOWERS us to overcome evil. How? By believing in God’s goodness, rather than our own, and receiving the strength we’re given in the Name of Jesus, we can cast out demons and be at peace with one another. We can be at peace with God and ourselves because we KNOW: God is FOR us!

As we really, really believe the words of Jesus and embrace His Name, our job is to do whatever we can to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. This might mean giving up something that gets between us and God. Or it might mean taking a risk and praying for someone’s healing or asking someone to pray for you. The Lord likes this, for, as Jesus said: “Anyone who does a deed of power in My Name will not be quick to speak ill of Me.”

God LIKES to send His power through us in Jesus’ Name to minister prayers, forgiveness, love, and healing to other people – and to receive the same ourselves. Such opportunities build up our faith, strengthen the Body of Christ, and draw other people to Jesus.

Just think of it! What would our world be like if everyone we know began to believe that the Almighty GOD IS FOR US. What would our world be like – and how powerful and effective would our ministries be – if all of us, clearly and deliberately, made up our minds FOR GOOD, that, yes! WE are FOR God – and God is FOR US.

 

Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Totally Good Self and all Your good gifts to us. Lord, if there is anything – old or new – that’s standing between us, please bring it to light and help us to confess this and receive Your healing.

And, Lord, if we’ve been wavering between the certainty of Your word and Your promises or the doubt of wondering if You always mean what You say, please fill us with Your spirit, draw us to Your word, and set our minds at ease in the truth of You. Help us to give every part of our selves to You in Jesus’ blessed Name. Amen.

 

 

10 tips for sermons that keep everyone awake

Sermons aren’t meant to be lullabies or long songs that drone on and on, lulling people to sleep! The idea of a weekly message is not to offer advice or tell people what to do but to show the relevance of God’s Word as you work and pray for a Christian faith community of Christ-like love.

If you’re the priest or pastor of a liturgical church or one that offers Eucharist or communion every week, you probably have only five or ten minutes at most to deliver your homily or message. If, however, your church service allows more time, you might consider adding another hymn or Bible reading and confine your talk to fifteen minutes or less (yes, preferably, less!). Some churches offer online church sermons so, in theory, sermons can be as long as they need to be, can be digested at a later date, and can be viewed from anywhere.

Regardless of the worship format used, these tips will help you get to the point, be concise, and encourage Christlike lives and actions.

1.Pray! Ask God to give you insight.

2.Study the appropriate readings from the 3-year scripture-reading cycle (Year A, B, or C) used by many churches to encourage Christians from all over the world to read, study, and pray the same scriptures at the same time. Notice which Bible verse or passage speaks to you the clearest.

3. Focus on the single theme or primary topic in your chosen verse(s).

4. Read commentaries and the footnotes in a variety of study Bibles to see what God has given others to bring light to that portion of scripture.

5. List every point you can think of that’s related to your theme or topic.

6. Arrange key points in order of importance to your congregation or particular audience and its needs.

7. Get everyone’s attention with an unusual fact, a question they might have, or a startling statement. For instance, if I say: “This morning I swept the dead bodies off my deck,” you might wonder about that true statement! The “bodies” were the belly-up frogs and snakes the young hawks dropped out of the nest above us, but who knows? Maybe that would lead to a sermon on how we might not like to look at death, but we can rejoice in God’s Word of eternal life in Christ.

8. Keep it simple. Stay on track. The longer the message lasts, the more restless people will become and more likely the sermon will be to wander.

9. Apply God’s Word to everyday situations and concerns. Use Bible people, Bible stories, or contemporary examples to build faith, encourage relevant action, and aim toward a Christian lifestyle.

10. Emphasize your three main points. Use numbers, First…, Second…, Third.… Or repeat a catchy sentence as a refrain to help people remember God’s message to you and them long after they’ve gone home.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018