Sermons by Thomas E. Williams

Sermons: scroll down to these headings

  1. Trained and Empowered
  2. Do Not Be Afraid
  3. Free Will . . . My Will … God’s Will … Whose Will?
  4. Who is Nailed to the Cross
  5. “Why do you stand looking into the sky?”

 

1. “TRAINED AND EMPOWERED” 

By Thomas E. Williams 

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 11: 25-29    So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD ; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rest upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them, they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people would be prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

New Testament Reading; Acts 2:1-4     When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divide tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Today we celebrate the various graduations of our members. Usually graduation is accompanied by speeches and exhortations. There is a lot of proverbial wisdom (of the. fortune cookie type) that are. given to the graduates. You younger folk have no idea who the great humorist Will Rogers was, but he had profound ability to see the complex and state it in simple terms. Things like: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Or this, “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket.” And of course this bit of very practical advice, “Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.”

Seriously though, We feel the need to give advice at this special point in the graduates life, because we know that things are about to change for them. They have been trained but now they are about to be empowered! This is particularly true of the college grads who now have a degree. The degree says you know ‘how”. But until you have been hired to perform that job, you haven’t been empowered.

Notice that you can have knowledge, skill, even wisdom and experience. These can be something inside you. however, empowerment comes from the outside. It is the final ingredient needed to get the job done. Empowerment happens where the rubber meets the road.

Using this line of thinking, I tried to imagine what graduation day would look like in the Kingdom of God. At first I thought the moment when we accept Christ as Lord would be our graduation day. But that is just the beginning of our education. Then the thought occurred that when we got to heaven was graduation. But that is when we receive our reward. Seems more like retirement than graduation.

So when is it that we graduate? Certainly there would be crowds watching and lots of shouting. And when is it that we are empowered for our task? Our scripture readings show us two incidents when God empowered not just individuals but groups of people.The elders in our old testament reading were already leaders. Here is some background on these men. Exodus the 18th chapter says this group of 70 men were chosen as leaders of thousands and hundreds and fiftys because they were men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain.

It sounds like they had the right mind set to me. But that’s not all. The 24th chapter of Exodus says, “then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up (the mountain), and they saw the God of Israel.” This was when Moses went further alone and received the 10 commandments. These 70 were to be the first to receive instruction in God’s law.

Natural skills and formal training – but it wasn’t enough!

Here is a condensed version of the scriptures preceding our Old Testament reading for today.

Number chapter 11: 4 And the mixed multitude that was among them lusted exceedingly: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh  to eat? 5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon.

(I just want to interrupt the reading here to point out that they left Egypt with cattle, sheep and goats. And they arrived in the promised land with goats, sheep and cattle. So it wasn’t true that they had nothing to eat but manna.(But that’s another sermon for another day!) Back to my reading.

10 And Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased. 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

The Hebrew scripture passage we read today takes place after they were placed in these positions of leadership – and what are they doing? Not leading! Not being spokespersons for God!! No they were complaining! They were supposed to be lifting some of the burden of leadership from Moses’ shoulders. Instead they had added to his burden to the place that Moses asked God to kill him and give him release. These 70 had been trained in how to lead. They knew all the laws. But they had no idea of the difference between training and empowered by God for the task.

Our new testament reading finds a different group of men. We are more familiar with their backgrounds. These men of widely diverse backgrounds were hand picked by Jesus. Presumably he saw some native skill or attribute in these men that he could develop to do the task ahead. Then he spent 3 years training them. Imagine personally instructed by God incarnate! Not just trained but commanded to go into all the world spreading the good news! And what are they doing? They are still banded together but in hiding. Keeping the good news to themselves!

Two groups of good men, skilled men, trained men. But men that hadn’t yet been empowered for the job. But in an instant that changed. God touched them and they were changed. I like the way one of the modern translations states the experience. It reads, “They began to shout like prophets.” Shout like prophets! Spokes people for God. What they should have been all along. Establishing the kingdom of God. That Pentecost two thousand years ago was their graduation day!

This touch of God, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter wasn’t just for the people huddled in that upper room. It was promised to all who believe and confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord. We, in this room, are another group of people.We come week after week and hear our Sunday school teachers, the pastor and the choir proclaiming the good news. We have been trained. Now what?

We need to be empowered! Are we going to see tongues of fire resting on each other or hear the rush of a mighty wind? There are times that I’ve longed for those miraculous displays of God’s power or as Moses said, “I Would that all the LORD’s people would be prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

But the truth is we don’t need to see MORE miracles. You want miracles and mighty works? Look around you. This congregation does them so often that they seem commonplace! You feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, educate the unschooled and care for the imprisoned!

You see, the moment that you believed in your heart and confessed with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you were infilled with the Spirit of God. You have been empowered! God has injected himself into your very being! And you, plus God, can do anything.

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news. (By the way, that wasn’t a suggestion – it was a command) There are countless ways to do that. We all have our own jobs in this Kingdom of God. There are no non-participating members, no bench warmers, not even any second string!

So, how do we do this job?  Now, not all of us are required to shout like prophets. Some of us whisper words of encouragement.  Some are silent prayer warriors who lift others up to the Lord in prayer. Some are called to heal body, mind or spirit. Some are called to teach. Some to teach children and some to instruct adults. Some are called to be care givers and some to be care takers, To be builders or creators. To invite others into the kingdom.

Remember, there are no unimportant jobs! If you are called to cook or clean and do it as a service dedicated to God it is important and an acceptable sacrifice before His altar. And the good news is … Whatever job we are called to perform in the Kingdom of God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do it.

Now, maybe you are sitting there thinking, “I don’t feel empowered.” There are a couple of reasons we can feel that way. 1. Maybe we haven’t made Jesus the Lord of our life. 2. Perhaps we’re not doing the job he has empowered us to do. 3. Maybe we have secured our salvation but haven’t quite turned our will over to Him.

I can relate to that. There are some of us who just need to be in control. However, we need to get to the point where we can say, “Not my will but your’s Lord.” Otherwise we are trying to wear the crown that only he can wear. .

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God does not need us to be his advisers. He needs us to be His spokes persons, His hands and His feet. He needs us to be about the job he has for us.

If you feel powerless, take a moment now and ask God to touch you and empower you for YOUR job in His kingdom, or to clearly show you what your job is to be. Remember that when you are called upon to perform your Kingdom task. There is no need for fear – for you, as a child of God in His kingdom, are empowered for the duty.

This is your graduation day! God is with you. Amen!


“Do not be afraid!”
by Thomas E. Williams

Hebrew Bible Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8   In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth wit it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Gospel Reading: Luke 5:1-11   Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret and the crowd was pressing in on hem to hear the word of God, hew saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of boats, the belonging to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

I learned, in our Wednesday morning Men’s Bible Study that “Do not be afraid!” is the most often repeated command in the Bible. Do Not Be Afraid.

What would your reaction be if you found yourself in the physical presence of the Almighty God? Awe? Reverence? Love? Fear?

I come from a hugging family, so I’d like to think that I’d hug him like a brother. However, I think I would be like Peter and drop to my knees! In fear with the realization of my sinfulness. I’d like to think that I’m a good man. I’d like to think that I’m a good Christian. However, standing in the presence of the Christ would HE be able to see the Christ in me?

Do not be afraid!

Suddenly, you realize your unworthiness to stand before the Lord God of creation.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God was always approached with a mixture of Fear and Love. The temple priests worked on a rotating schedule when they entered the “Holy of Holies” or the most innermost section of the temple/tabernacle. This is where man went to commune with God. It was an honored position. It was also a frightening one. Much preparation was made before the priest went behind that last veil. The last thing the he did was tie a rope to his ankle. Once he was behind the curtain, other priests listen for the tinkling of the bells sewn to the hem of his garment. If the tinkling stopped for too long of a time, they would know he had been found unworthy and died. They then used the rope to pull him from behind the curtain.

Do not be afraid!

It isn’t really the holiness of God that is feared, it is our unholines. In Isaiah chapter 6 he says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” And again. In Luke chapter 5 Peter says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Peter was still reacting to God in an Old Testament way. God in the New Testament is revealed in a new way! Christ Jesus was totally approachable. People reached out in crowds to touch and be touched. He rebuked his disciples when they tried to keep the children from coming to him.

Remember the story of the paralytic man who was lowered through the ceiling by his friends? In the gospel of Mark it is recorded that HE, Jesus was at home when this happened! That means that the roof that was torn off was of Jesus’ own home. Jesus didn’t react the way I would if someone destroyed my home. No. he said to the paralytic,” Son, your sins are forgiven.”

God who from the beginning has sought fellowship with mankind was separated by man’s sin. God in his perfection was fatal to sin. And thus man had to be kept at a fearful distance. God the incarnate, Jesus Christ, had taken on the flesh of a sin-free man so that he could once again enjoy that perfect fellowship he desired.

Do not be afraid! May be the most often issued command however I’m sure that the next most often command is “Go!” For no one comes into the presence of God and is not issued his marching orders.

From the beginning God has partnered with man to do His will. Adam and Eve were told, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” Noah was told to build an ark and fill it with creatures to be saved. Abram was told “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to land I will show you.” God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there.” In Egypt, Joseph revealed to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Isaiah was told to deliver God’s words to His people. God spoke to Joseph husband of Mary, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Peter, James, John & Andrew were called by Jesus to become fishers of men.

We have been saved by grace from our sins.

Our home eternal has been provided! But we’re not just saved from sin, we are also saved for service. Everyone!

There are people who love to quote all the promises that God has made in ages past. Promises of wealth, and health. One of the difficulties with this “religion of prosperity” is that these were promises made to specific people for specific purposes. And always the abundance was to be passed on as a blessing to others.

If God has blessed you with abundance in money, time, ability, etc. it is because he expects you to use it.

This is a very active church.

We participate in many outreach and community service programs like: 2 worship services each week. Sunday School for all ages. UP Kids Wednesday after school program. Vacation Bible School in the park – open to everyone United Methodist Women and all of their various programs, Camperships, Camping and Conservation Club, Computer Training, Job Search and Resume help, Weight Loss, Spanish Language GED Classes, Men’s bible study, Food Pantry, UMCOR, Emergency Food & Gas assistance, Mitten Tree, Family and Children’s Urban Ministry, Dog Show, Safe Harvest, Concert Series, Easter and Christmas programs, Work with Bidwell, And Redbird Mission, Volunteers In Missions, We’ve partnered with: United Way, Women at the Well, Voices to be heard support group, Gamblers anonymous, Other Union Park Churches, and Other United Methodist Churches.

These only begin to show the activities of this congregation and there are even more things in the planning stages. You are amazing! Give yourselves a hand!

Now … Give God a hand! He needs workers! The harvest is ready but the workers are few. If you are not actively engaged in service to God and the church, I encourage you to do so. We need prayer warriors, inviters, hand-shakers, mentors, carpenters, electricians,  liturgists, ushers, greeters, UP Kids workers, cooks, cleaners, readers, listeners, marketers, artists, painters, planners, drivers,  planters, weeders, mowers, flower arrangers, communion helpers, carpet cleaners, window washers, baby sitters, shut in visitors, singers, musicians, audio visual helpers, envelope stuffers, general office workers and the list goes on and on!

Do not be afraid!

Are you too old, too young, too sick, too healthy, too busy, too tired, too much time, too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too hairy, too bald, too sinful, too holy? Stand before God and give Him your best excuse! What would He say?

God has used righteous men and women, He’s used courageous men and women. He’s also used murderers, liars, cowards, prostitutes, thieves and more. There is no limit to what God can do in partnership with a willing heart! God can use your inabilities as well as your abilities.

When you are asked to be of service, please say yes. If no one asks you, volunteer.

Here ends the lesson. Amen


 

Free Will . . . My Will … God’s Will … Whose Will?

by Tom Williams

Reading Genesis 1:26-30 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.

Genesis 2:15-17  Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Years ago I heard a parent relating a story about their young son who was very active. On this particular day the parent was extremely busy and becoming frazzled when the youngster continued to stand on a kitchen chair. She was afraid that he would tip the chair over or fall off of it.

“Sit down” orders had been issued several times and ignored.

Mom finally picked him up and “sat” him in the chair.

After a minute or so had passed the child looked defiantly at his mother and said, “I’m still standing up on the inside!”

I’m sure that we’ve all been both the victim and perpetrator of this type of defiance.It is an integral part of our nature as human beings. It is the exercise of our free will. The scope and limitations of free will has been theologically discussed for a long-long time by greater minds than mine so I will not get too involved in the debate on the nature of free will. My quest is to understand the reason for free will. Why did God create a creature capable of defying Him?

Let’s look back to the beginning. Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us create human kind in our own image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, And over the birds of the air, and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” That’s a pretty simple explanation of why God created human kind. He had a job for us to do.

God placed man in the middle of a perfect natural world. He was given free reign over it all. With one… one! …tiny stipulation … “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”

Without free will, there would have been no need of that limitation. Without free will, there could have been no ability to eat of the fruit or even the temptation to do so. So, again, why did God create a creature capable of defying Him? What was the purpose of free will? Certainly it wasn’t given to us to get us into trouble! Then, why?

I’m sure that as we all were growing up we had a stuffed toy or doll that we really loved. Mine was a teddy bear with the original name of Teddy. This bear was a gift from my sister on the day I was born. Originally he was a soft, plush black and white panda bear with glossy black plastic eyes. I say “originally” because he doesn’t look like that any more. Yes, I still have him!

Over the years I literally loved him to pieces. His eyes have been replaced by plain buttons. His plush ‘fur’ has worn off to the point that he appears to be made of canvas. The white has turned to the color of old asphalt and his chest has a star drawn on it (He was my deputy sheriff). His head has been reattached by my less than skillful youthful hands in a stitch pattern that would make Dr. Frankenstein shudder. And his right arm has once again fallen off.

Teddy was my nearly constant companion until about the middle of elementary school He listened to my jokes, stories of woe and shared my tears. He was a comfort when I broke my arms (so many times that I don’t know how many times they’ve been broken– once while it was still in a cast.– how would you have liked to been MY mother?).

He joined me as I scaled high mountains and fought my way through the darkest jungles. He was my copilot in my airplanes and space ships. We fought side by side against amazing armies of Indians, Germans, cattle-rustlers, and legions of bad-guys of all kinds. We were occasionally wounded but didn’t keep us from being victorious over our foes!

I loved this bear! He was as real as my family with his own personality and most importantly Teddy loved me back!

Well, that’s what my childish mind told me. I understand now that I was projecting personality and love on to him. In reality he is just a cleverly cut and sewn piece of cloth stuffed with sawdust and cotton batting. A toy! Not capable of returning my feelings of friendship and love.

Listen! Are you listening? This the sermon in reader’s digest form:  God did not create us to be his toys! We were not created to be His playthings or His pets! We are His children! Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Remember that verse in Genesis? We are created in his image and likeness! But what is the image and likeness of God in-which we were created? Obviously we are not made in the physical image of God because He is a spirit. Indeed, it occurs to me that it might be rightly said that, in the person of Jesus, God created Himself in the image of man. So, if we are not the physical image of God, how are we in His image?

I believe that the main way we are like God is in our free will. Our ability to choose. This is a great and terrifying gift. With the gift of free will we can choose order or chaos, love or hate, obedience of defiance.

I believe that the reason we were given this gift is so that we can truly love God To be in fellowship with Him. To be in partnership with Him. “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says in Matthew 11:29. That says to me that we are working side by side. And pulling in the same direction. Our will and God’s will in step.

Love? How? How do we show our true love to God? Jesus gave examples:

LOVE: John15:9-15 Even as the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you. No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I heard from my Father, I have made known unto you.

LOVE:  John 21:15-19 So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again a second time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Tend my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

LOVE: John 14:15 If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.

Here, I believe is the one thing God really wants from us: to say “not my will but thine”. Herein lies the true reason for the gift of free will: to give it back to God. I mean really! What else do we have that we can give to God? What do we “own” that doesn’t already really belong to God? Nothing!

Some will say that (Senator Foghorn voice) our tithe is our gift to God. Wrong! We own nothing.  Everything belongs to God and comes from God.  It is only on loan to us. John 1:3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.

I say that the 90% that God allows us to manage His gift to us.

Some might say that the time we spend in prayer, ministry, service and worship is our gift to God. I think that since I can not CREATE time, it isn’t mine to give either. TIME: Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Before he created the first day, there was no time. And for that matter, no one to keep track of it.

“My gift is the use of my talents in God’s service,” some would say.  Oh wait, … those are God-given talents. TALENTS/GIFTS: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.

No, in truth the only REAL gift we have that can be given to God is our will. And here is the real irony, only by bringing our will into alignment with God’s will can we be truly free! You see, we are already “slaves” to sin. John 8:34 “Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 Jesus recognized this truth when he was challenged to decide the fate of the woman caught in adultery. “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” John 8:7 His tormentors knew that truth also. Nobody threw a rock!

So? Does this mean to quit being a slave to sin I have to become a slave to God? The apostle Paul answers that question in his letter to Titus (Titus1:1) by calling himself, “Paul, a servant of God” The author of the book of James echoes that by calling himself “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:1 Peter does the same in 2nd Peter 1:1 “Simeon Peter a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” The writer of Jude “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James” Jude 1:1.

These writers knew the difference between being a slave and being a servant.  You know what that difference is? You guessed it! Free will!

I ask you to take a moment and look at your own life. Answer for yourself, “Am I a slave or a servant?” that is really the only two choices available! What will you do with your free will?

If you aren’t happy with your answer, take the step to change it. Pray “not my will but thine.” Actively seek the will of God. (here’s a hint … the answer is in the Book)

If you need help and support, I and others of the congregation and staff of this church are available.

In closing, As I pray this familiar prayer, pay close attention to what it means to have His will done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen


 

Who is it Nailed to that Cross?”

Mathew 27:46-57 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.  And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.  The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;  And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God

“Who is Nailed to the Cross”    By Tom Williams

It is really hot under this metal helmet and this place smells of death. That’s why I hate this part of the job! But I’m a centurion, and standing guard at executions is part of the duty.Listen! Can you hear the sound of the hammer driving those huge iron spikes Clack! Clack! Thomp! Did you notice how the sound changed when it finally went through the hands and into the wood?

I’ll never get used to that!

Hmm … Only three crosses today! … business is a little slow. But there’s still a lot of screams. Not just from the crucified but also from the crowd. Mothers, fathers, wives, children. Even thieves and murders have loved ones; Tears are flowing like blood … and blood is flowing like tears.

Everything … everybody is in motion. The crowd is milling around trying to get closer to the crosses … trying to get away from the crosses. It’s a human swarm of the curious trying to see who is on the center cross. It’s hard to look … It’s hard to look away!

Who IS that on that cross? “The king of the Jews”  That’s what the sign over his head reads. Oh yeah! Our Caesar and his governors would love to believe that! What a show of power to nail the Jews king to the cross. Rome has had nothing but trouble since we conquered this little hunk of “paradise”  Hang their king on a cross … yeah, that should break their rebellious spirit! Bunch of trouble makers. If it weren’t for them, I could be back in Rome with my family.

This guy had a family too. I’ve kinda gotten to know some of His story. He was a carpenter like His father. A guy named Joseph. I don’t know much about him. But His mother is named Mary. Some say she followed Him everywhere.  That’s her at the foot of the cross with one of His disciples.

His disciples didn’t call Him a carpenter. They called Him Rabbi … teacher.  He was called teacher many times by many people (even some of the religious leaders!).

I remember hearing Him teaching on the mountain. He taught the law and the prophets with an authority! I heard Him again by the seaside. (He was attracting such large crowds that some of us centurions were detailed to keep an eye on Him.)  You couldn’t help but listen. He made things so easy to understand. All His talk of sheep and shepherds and sewing seed and masters and slaves … even a soldier like me could understand that he was speaking of our relationship to each other and to God. What a teacher!

Some say He was more than a teacher. That He was a prophet. You know, He did speak a lot about future events. About the coming “Kingdom of God” and how to prepare for it. About a place prepared for His followers in the afterlife and what it was going to be like.

Mostly though He spoke a lot about today … about His betrayal, His trial, His beating and His death. Yes, I guess He was a prophet too.

But why would a teacher and a prophet be nailed to a cross? If He had just stuck with teaching and prophesying, He’d have been all right … I think. But He was an outlaw and a trouble maker. He made a real mess awhile ago in the temple courtyard, turning over tables and chasing money-changers and merchants away. Calling them thieves in His Father’s house.

He broke many of the Rabbinical Laws (although He said that those were just human precepts — not the Law of God). His disciples worked on the Sabbath! As did He Himself. A big Jewish no – no! He was even known to have healed people on the Lord’s Day!

Oh yes, He was a healer. He would lay hands on people and cure them! Even touched lepers! That gives me the creeps to think about. Made the blind to see and the lame to walk. He even healed non-Jews! Can you believe that? Isn’t it considered consorting with the enemy when you heal a Roman Centurion’s slave? (They are friends of mine, the centurion and his wife, and that slave is almost like one of the family.) And this guy healed him without even going to the house. Now that’s some powerful healing!

And He healed people’s lives not just their bodies. He called demons and evil spirits from people so that they could return to a normal life. Even that guy wrapped in chains that lived among the tombs.

Oh yeah … speaking of the tombs.  Now this is hard to believe … they say He raised the dead … on more than one occasion!

One guy, Lazarus, had even been buried for several days! Now I’d call that not just a doctor … I’d call Him a GREAT physician.

It’s when He healed their souls that really got Him in trouble. He forgave people of their SINS! Did you hear the conversation he had with those other two on the crosses? He promised the one that he’d be in paradise. And he even asked his father to forgive US. Saying that we didn’t know what we were doing. But I’m beginning to suspect!

(Now I heard it explained something like this: If I step on your toes, YOU can forgive me. No one else can forgive me because it wasn’t THEIR toes! So … if I sin, that’s a sin against God and nobody but God can forgive me). Yet, He did! It was like He was claiming to BE God!  That really angered the religious establishment most of all!

He claimed to have power greater than theirs.  He did a lot of miracles that demonstrated his divine power. Walking on water, calming storms, turning water to wine and feeding 5,000 people on some little boy’s lunch!

That’s the real reason He’s hanging on that cross.    Or maybe it isn’t the REASON. Maybe that’s just the EXCUSE. I’m sure you may remember John.  Yeah the guy in the hair coat that Herod had beheaded. I think they called him the baptizer or something.

Anyway, this guy on the cross went to see John at the Jordan River and to be baptized. John sees Him coming and yells out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

If you ask me, that’s who is hanging on the cross. The sacrificial lamb. The lamb without spot or blemish. That’s what the Jews have to sacrifice every year to be forgiven for their sins.

Well this is the perfect man who knew no sin and yet has taken everyone’s sin … your sin … even my sin (even though I’m not even a Jew) … all of the world’s sin … and nailed them to the cross in his own body.

Listen!

He’s saying something … I’ve picked up a little of their Aramaic language while I’ve been stationed here. … It’ as if  He’s feeling abandoned as if the sins of the whole world and for all times were weighing on him. Now he’s committing His life into His Father’s hands and giving up His life.

Did you get that? Giving up His life. Showing us that we couldn’t TAKE it. But He is willingly giving it in our place.

Look! The sky is darkening and the earth quakes at his passing.

Truly this man was God’s Son!

“Why do you stand looking into the sky?”

Luke 24:44-53 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.

MESSAGE        “Why do you stand looking into the sky?” by Tom Williams

In our reading from Luke we read:  Now He (Christ) said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, While I was still with you.  The crucifixion and resurrection have happened. Here Christ is talking to His faithful followers and says to them, Do you remember? This is not something new that He’s telling them! They have heard it all before. He has told them this as many ways as He could think of.  He has told it in the form of parables and stories.  He’s  told it bluntly.

But did they listen? Did they understand? Would we have understood if we had been there?

Christ continues: “that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Again He says: Everything that He has done, everything that He has said And everything that has happened to Him were told to prophets and Poets long ago! It is why He told them that “He come not to abolish the law – but to fulfill it.”

These words have been read to them for thousands of years. (and to us for thousands more!) We should not be surprised.  Here, Let Him explain: “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, ”

Christ explained: This HAS been done. Christ’s part of the plan is finished – – – For now He continued: “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Jerusalem is but the starting point.   Our Father is God of all; not just of the Jewish nation.

Do you remember what was said to father Abram when he was called from the land of Ur?  Hear this passage from Genesis:  “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you.  And the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. This is the Father’s promise.

Jesus continued: “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you;” We have experienced all these things in our lives.  Now, we must fulfill the promise given to Abraham, that “all the families of the earth be blessed.” Previously  He sent the twelve out in pairs and told them to not take money, food, or even a change of clothes. They told the good news and did many miracles in His name. That was just a foretaste of the journey ahead.

Continuing our reading: “but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He told them that even when they see Him no more, He will be with them.  Once He departed, they were to return to Jerusalem and His Father will send His Spirit upon them and cover them and fill them with His power, so that we can fulfill His promise to the nations.

“And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.”

I was struck by the ending of the narrative in Acts where it says, “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

“Why do you stand looking into the sky?  Why indeed! The Ascension of Christ has always made me think of Superman flying away into the clouds. Yeah, I read too many comic books as a kid. But the image in my mind was of Him rising slowly in His own power.  Look at the many classical paintings of the Ascension and it will only reinforce that image; His hands raised, lifting on a shaft of light into the sky!

However, as I re-read all the accounts of this event in the New Testament and even the predictions of it in the Old, something occurred to me that I had not noticed before Notice again the words used: Luke “He was carried away”; Acts “He was lifted up”, Mark “He was taken up”

Do you see what I saw? Jesus did not ‘fly away’.  He was carried, lifted, taken. Jesus was passive.  It was the Father bringing Him home.

Now – Why? Why was he taken back into Heaven? The scriptures say that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, a place of power. He resumed His rightful place.  His sojourn to earth was over. The Ascension changed everything.I believe He had to leave so that His followers would finally become His messengers. Here is a personal illustration of what I mean.

Several years ago, a group of us were sitting around a table after a pancake breakfast at the clubhouse.  We got to talking about how nice it would be to have a Sunday worship service here at the campgrounds.

(Now I have learned over the years that the way the Spirit of God most often works with me is: An idea pops into my mind and I say, “somebody ought to …” and right there I get a spiritual poke in the ribs that says, “yeah YOU ought to …”)

I got a little nudge that day – but I ignored it. Sitting at that table were ordained ministers, lay ministers, and lay speakers. None of us jumped up and said, “Let’s do it!”

I can only speak for myself here. I did not follow through with it because I was being very well fed, spiritually at my home church. I didn’t want to metaphorically “push myself away from the table and go to work”. I have a feeling that for the disciples, Christ Ascension was kind of the “Lunch break is over – time to get to work” moment.

Without the Ascension the promised Comforter would not have come. There is work to be done! “Why do you stand looking into the sky?” We look forward to the return to Christ in all His glory! We look forward to receiving our reward. We look forward to Heaven!

But are we still standing – looking into the sky? There is work to do before He returns.  “The fields are white with harvest but the workers are few” Here are the eleven remaining disciples.  Most have been along since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. They’ve heard his teachings. They’ve seen His miracles. Some saw the Transfiguration. They witnessed his “Trial” They saw the crucifixion. Some went into the tomb. Some walked with Him after the resurrection. All saw him as He dined with them after the resurrection. Now they’ve seen him Ascend into the heavens.

You would think that they’d be READY. Yet Jesus says, “you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” He has one more gift for them.  A gift to empower them for SERVICE.  To fulfill the promise given to Abraham. “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 

We, as children of God, have inherited both the blessing and the command. “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” Some will say, “I can’t go into all the world!” You CAN go into the part of the world where you already are. Some will say, “Proclaim the good news? “But I’m not a preacher or an evangelist!” “I can’t quote Bible verses!” Here is good news for us! We don’t have to be a preacher, an evangelist or even be able to quote lots of Bible verses.

What we CAN do is to tell people our own story.  That is the Good News!  Who Jesus is to us.  What His gift of salvation has done in our lives. It is good to be able to quote Bible verses – and I encourage you to learn the ones that make an impact on your life – but it is more important that people know God is STILL active today in the lives of His followers.

Frankly, most people are more interested in “What does that do for me?”  Than in events that happened 2000 years ago.

My own witness truly begins in my mid twentys.  I had been “churched” most of my life.  I attended many denominations’ services.  From Jehovah’s Witnesses, Nazarine, Church of Christ, Baptist, Lutheran, and on and on.  I was the kid who didn’t have a church home and so, when my friends were trying to earn a star in Sunday School by bringing someone, I was one they would invite.

I had heard so many conflicting DOCTRINES by my mid twenties, I wasn’t sure I believed in anything!

I was freshly home from the Army when a friend invited me to go to Sunday school with him … it was an old and familiar pattern and I went.The Sunday school teacher shook my hand and asked if I was a Christian. I stood there staring at him because I didn’t know how to answer the question.  I was American so of course I was Christian.  Didn’t the two go together?

Then he asked if I believed Jesus died “For Me!”? In all the Sunday school class and all the sermons I’d heard.  No one told me that Christ died for me!  I’d heard he died for the world.  That he’d died to save the sinners.  But it had never been made personal to me until that day.

Do YOU know that Christ died for you?  Does your family know that he died for them?  Do your friends?  Your neighbor?  The people at work?

Maybe no one has ever ask them. Remember, our witness is OUR witness. We need to introduce people to our friend, Jesus the Christ.

Why do you stand looking into the sky? There is work to be done!