Posts tagged Spirit

The Power to Overcome – 6/24/12

Jesus calms a storm

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

1 Samuel 17.1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49:  The shepherd, David, uses the tools of his trade and the power of the Lord to defeat the giant warrior, Goliath.  “The Lord does not save by sword and spear” (verse 47).

Psalm 9.11-20:  The psalm celebrates God’s defense of those who are afflicted by catching the offenders in the traps they have made.

2 Corinthians 6.1-13:  Tension abounds.  Paul argues that his suffering for the sake of the gospel provides all the credentials he needs for the Corinthians to listen to him.  The ball is in their court now.

Mark 4.35-41:  Jesus treats a storm the same way he treats demons.  He rebukes it, and tells it to shut up.  Then Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear — not just of the storm, but of what Jesus did to end it.

David and Goliath: The Law of Tooth and Claw
The Israelis and Arabs realized that, if they continued fighting, they would someday end up destroying the whole world. So they decided to settle their dispute with an ancient practice: a duel of two, like David and Goliath. This “duel” would be a dog fight. The negotiators agreed each side would take five years to develop the best fighting dog they could. The dog that won the fight would earn its people the right to rule the disputed areas. The losing side would have to lay down its arms for good.

The Arabs found the biggest, meanest Dobermans and Rottweilers in the world. They bred them together and then crossed their offspring with the meanest Siberian wolves. They selected only the biggest, strongest puppy of each litter, fed it the best food and killed all the other puppies. They used steroids and trainers in their quest for the perfect killing machine. After the five years were up, they had a dog that needed steel prison bars on its cage. Only expert trainers could handle this incredibly nasty and ferocious beast.

When the day of the big dog-fight finally arrived, the Israelis showed up with a very strange-looking animal, a Dachshund that was ten feet long! Everyone at the dogfight arena felt sorry for the Israelis. No one there seriously thought this weird, odd-looking animal stood any chance against the growling beast over in the Arab camp. All the bookies took one look and predicted that the Arab dog would win in less than a minute.

As the cages were opened, the Dachshund slowly waddled toward the center of the ring. The Arab dog leaped from its cage and charged the giant wiener-dog. As he got to within an inch of the Israeli dog, the Dachshund opened its jaws and swallowed the Arab beast whole in one bite. There was nothing left but a small puff of fur from the Arab killer dog’s tail floating to the ground.

The stunned crowd of international observers, bookies and media personnel let out a collective gasp of disbelief and surprise.

The Arabs approached the Israelis, muttering and shaking their heads in disbelief. “We do not understand,” said their leader, “Our top scientists and breeders worked for five long years with the meanest, biggest Dobermans, Rottweilers and Siberian wolves and they developed an incredible killing machine of a dog!”

The Israelis replied. “Well, for five years, we have had a team of Jewish plastic surgeons from Boca Raton working to make an alligator look like a Dachshund.”

This story, along with the story of David and Goliath, the story of Jesus calming the raging storm, and the Apostle Paul justifying his ministry in the apparent face of criticism by some Corinthians due to his background and things that had happened to him on account of his ministry, speaks of two different ways of addressing a challenge. On the one hand are those who believe that a challenge is best avoided, especially if it is judged that there is no way to win; and on the other hand are those who believe that one must answer force with force; but in the case of these stories, the “force” used by those who employ the power of God looks differently from that used by their opponents. The wily Jews modify an animal that no dog, however ferocious and powerful, could likely overcome. Little David with his stones faces gigantic, armored Goliath. The very human Jesus faces the full force of the storm and of the disciples disbelief and fears. And Paul challenges the many who think him less a representative of the living God and Christ the Savior than many others with better credentials.

One of the major points of these stories is something that Paul, in discussing God’s using the cross – an instrument of Roman oppression and reign of terror – as a means of salvation for all humanity, refers to as the “foolishness of God” that is “wiser than human wisdom” and the “weakness of God” that is “stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1.25). Those who rely on human perceptions and power, we are told, will forever be at the mercy of their own limitations; but those who trust God both for the divine vision of how God desires things to be and for the wherewithal to bring that vision into reality will always succeed, even in the face of what some may believe to be overwhelming odds.

David, Jesus and Paul had figured out that their taking responsibility for doing their divinely ordained part in bringing God’s purposes to fruition was essential to the accomplishment of the task at hand. Had they reneged, the Philistines would have won, Jesus never would have been born, nor would Paul, and history would have taken a completely different course. None of us would even be here, let alone be Christian or worshiping in this place at this time, had these men not done what God was calling them to do.

What will people a hundred or a thousand years in the future be doing on account of how we respond – or don’t respond – to God’s call to us to be a light pointing the way to Christ in our community, to be salt that preserves what is good and enhances the goodness that life brings by adding its own goodness to what exists?

It is a good thing that we are taking care of neglected maintenance on and around the church, that people are making the church and grounds attractive, that we are doing what we can to fund the church’s ministries. At the same time, we need continually to ask ourselves: what challenges are we fearful of facing, because our minds are earthbound, and, like the disciples, we believe someone else must step in to rebuke the wind and waves, to slay the goliaths, to spread God’s word, because we are inadequate to do so? God has called us to be faithful Davids and Pauls and disciples of Jesus the Christ, to step out in faith to address those challenges without fear, trusting that God will provide the wherewithal to overcome them.

May we not be pre-Pentecost disciples who fearfully cling to the tossing boat but, through the Spirit of Christ given at Pentecost, command the wind and the waves to cease and accomplish God’s purpose in our midst.

What a Difference! – 4/8/2012

Sermon for Sunday, April 8, 2012 – Easter
Riverside United Methodist Church
Pastor Douglas Asbury

Acts 10.34-43:  Peter proclaims to Cornelius the resurrection of Jesus and that God has appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead.

Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24:  God’s love is victorious! A fitting response to the first reading.

I Corinthians 15.1-11:  Paul declares the things of first importance: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Mark 16.1-8:  Mark’s account of women who went to embalm the body of Jesus, an empty tomb, a young man in dazzling garments, the announcement of the raising of Jesus, and a commissioning to tell the others. They tell no one (at the time) because of their fear.

Middle East Resurrection
George went on a vacation to the Middle East with most of his family, including his mother-in-law. During their vacation and while they were visiting Jerusalem, George’s mother-in-law died.
With death certificate in hand, George went to the American Consulate to make arrangements to send the body back to the States for proper burial.
The Consul, after hearing of the death of the mother-in-law, told George that sending a body back to the States for burial is very, very expensive. It could cost as much as $5,000, he told George. He advised that in most cases such as this, the persons responsible for the remains of their loved ones decide to bury the body in Israel, which would cost only $150.
George thought for some time and answered, “I don’t care how much it will cost to send the body back; that’s what I want to do.”
The Consul said, “You must have loved your mother-in-law very much, considering the difference in price.”
“No, it’s not that,” says George. “You see, I know of a case many years ago of a person buried here in Jerusalem. On the third day he arose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.”

Though even the resurrection is something about which we can joke today, as we heard in the Gospel lesson today, the women who found the empty tomb on the first day of the resurrection were in no joking mood. They were so overwhelmed by the experience of finding the tomb in which Jesus’ body had been laid on Friday empty and their encounter with the man in white, that Mark tells us they initially told no one what they had seen or heard. Obviously, at some later time they did tell Jesus’ other disciples; but their initial reaction to the event was fear rather than joy.

And in fact, it wasn’t only the women who went to the tomb that day who had a problem accepting the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection. In each of the Gospel accounts of the first Easter, it is recorded that someone had a problematic response to it. In Matthew’s account, an earthquake occurs, and an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone from the grave, and must tell the women not to be afraid, suggesting that these unnatural occurrences had been met with a fearful response. Unlike in Mark, in Matthew the women go “with fear and great joy” to tell the other disciples, and on the way they encounter Jesus himself, who must repeat the angel’s early admonition not to be afraid. Even when Jesus appears to the disciples gathered in Galilee at his direction, Matthew writes that “some doubted.” In Luke’s account, the story the women tell is said to be received by the other disciples as an “idle tale.” Peter doesn’t believe the women’s story until he goes to the tomb to see for himself that it is empty. And two disciples encounter Jesus while walking from Jerusalem back to their home in Emmaus, but they are so disbelieving, they don’t even recognize him until he joins them for a meal in their home and acts as host by breaking the bread. And in John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene also fails to recognize Jesus when she encounters him outside the tomb, thinking him to be the gardener until he calls her by name.

But all these early reactions of disbelief to Jesus’ resurrection are nothing compared to the disbelief of people since that day in the power of God revealed by the Resurrection. You see, the importance of the Resurrection is not solely in the fact that God has power over death, so that dead people can be brought back to life – even though that was the only thing that worried George in our opening story. The important thing about the Resurrection is tied up with what was important about the birth of Jesus – son of humanity and son of God. Its importance was tied up with his life and ministry – the healing, teaching, gathering disciples and sending them out to continue his ministry of love and to allow him to live his life through them. It was tied up with his establishment of the sacraments of the Eucharist during his final Passover meal with the disciples, linking the bread with his body that was to be broken on the cross the following day, and the wine with his blood that was to be shed in his death; and of baptism as he gave them the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, as we United Methodists say, “for the transformation of the world.” It was tied up with his witness to the power of God through his appearances to and teaching of the disciples in the forty days following the resurrection, and with his ascension to heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on Pentecost and on every disciple since then, so that the Church could continue not only to be taught the way of Christ but also empowered to follow it. Of not least importance, and arguably, of greatest importance, has been the forgiveness of sins, to which we are good at giving lip service but which we ourselves reveal we have as much difficulty believing as those first disciples had believing that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb any longer, and that he was alive and continues to live not only in heaven with God but on earth with and through all who are faithful to him or who desire to be so.

It is our own disbelief on this Easter day and on the other days of our lives that keep Christ entombed and thwart his returning in power to draw all people to himself, transforming the world into the paradise it was created to be. Because we and too many others fail to accept not just the Resurrection but the forgiveness of sins, and because we fail to live in the power of God revealed in Jesus’ resurrection and fail to extend the forgiveness of sin that has been offered to us to others who need it no less than we, our world continues in darkness and fear.

As we receive communion on this Easter day, I invite you to receive along with the elements of bread and cup a new awareness of the reality of the power of God over death as revealed in Jesus’ resurrection and in the promise of our own, and of the forgiveness of sins, so that we can be freed from the shame and guilt that keep us from living our lives in the ways that fully glorify God as we were created to do. What a difference we could make!

Faith and Change – 2/26/2012

Sermon for Sunday, 26 Feb 2012

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

Genesis 9.8-17: God makes a covenant with the earth, signified by the rainbow, not to destroy the earth by flood again.

Psalm 25.1-10: Israel seeks God’s deliverance from enemies. Unlike the people destroyed in the flood, Israel claims it has sought to follow God’s way and wishes to learn it still better.

1 Peter 3.18-22: Peter links the death and resurrection of Jesus with the story of Noah’s flood and the sacrament of baptism.

Mark 1.9-15: Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert for a period of testing surrounded by wild animals, Satan, and ministering angels — all to prepare him to spend his life declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.

Searching for Different Things

After a fruitless search, a teenager told his mother that his iPod Nano was lost.
So his mother went upstairs, and in a few minutes she returned with the iPod in hand.
“Mom!” exclaimed the teen, “How did you manage to find it?”
“Son, we weren’t looking for the same thing. You were looking for a little machine with a lot of music on it. I was looking for $129.”

This little story illustrates not only the difference between two people with different interests, but it also talks about two people who place their faith differently.

The son put his faith in his parents, that they would have the means to buy him another iPod Nano, so that he could just download his favorite music onto that – at an additional expense, of course – and he wouldn’t have to be without his favorite music or the status symbol that such a thing is among kids his age. The mother put her faith in the fact that the iPod was a physical object that was in a specific location and that it was locatable.

The son’s faith was moving the situation towards the change that required an additional expenditure from the parents and nothing from him other than the effort involved with choosing what music to download and doing it. The mother’s faith moved the situation towards her acting in such a way as to find that which was findable and restoring it to her son at no cost to her other than her time and effort, even saving him the time and effort it would have taken him to shop for one and to choose and download the music to fill it again.

When Noah heard from God that a catastrophe was coming and that he was required to do something about it that would involve a great deal of work, but that would have great significance for him and his family, he believed God and committed himself to doing the necessary work that would bring the desired result. Because the outcome was as God had foretold, Noah also had no difficulty relying on God’s promise signified by the rainbow that destruction by a world-inundating flood would never again occur. So, he committed himself to planting a vineyard and making his home again in the restored world.

After hearing the affirming words, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased,” immediately following his baptism by John, Jesus had confidence that God was with him as he followed the leading of God’s Spirit to spend 40 days in the wilderness, during which time he was cared for by wild animals and angels in addition to being tested by Satan, the same one who had tested Job many years before, to see if he would remain faithful to God regardless of what happened to him in his earthly situation. Both Job and Jesus passed the test and remained faithful to God, receiving a divine reward that went beyond anything of which the human mind could conceive.

Such faith is what we ourselves are called to have. In this time of Lent we are called to reassess where our faith lies. Does it lie in the economic and political and social realities surrounding us? Does it lie in our own command of our resources and our ability to defend them against those who might wish or seek to take them away or to harm us? Or does it lie in the goodness of God and God’s purpose in the fulfillment of which we are called to take part?

Where we place our faith provides the foundation for how we live our lives. In the Gospel story today we hear of Jesus raising Simon Peter’s mother up from her sickbed and healing her, so that she was able to provide hospitality for him and the disciples who were with him. He went on to proclaim the message in the synagogues in the area that people should change their ways – “repent” is the way the Greek word “metanoia” is translated in our scriptures, meaning to “turn around, change direction” in one’s life. At the same time, he was casting demons out of people who were possessed by them, and he did other kinds of healings as well – in a sense, turning people’s lives around from serving a force that worked against God’s purpose for them to the wholeness that was God’s plan for their lives and that would enable them to fulfill God’s unique and unduplicatable purpose for their specific lives.

Most of the people who received these healings failed to catch on to the fact that the healing was meant as the first step in a complete metanoia – turning around – of their lives; and they simply went back to living as they had been living before having fallen ill or having become possessed by the demonic spirit. But some who were healed became Jesus’ disciples, and followed him, learning more from him, and truly experiencing a change of life that ran deeper within them than the outward change that had occurred; it caused them to orient themselves to faithfulness to him and his purposes, so that, when he left them in the flesh, they continued in his Spirit to do, as he had said, not only the works he had done, but even greater works besides.

As we receive Holy Communion today and in the coming Sundays of Lent, let us consider where we place our faith. In Communion the Lord Jesus Christ gives himself to us, so that we might be empowered through our receiving his life within to do what he would have us do. Therefore, where we see that our faith is placed in other than Jesus and the God who raised him from death, let us ask God to work a metanoia in our hearts and minds, so that, placing our faith fully in Christ and in the power he gives us, we might become more faithful disciples, with a clearer idea of what work he has for us to do, and a stronger will to do it.

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