Bob's Sermon for Sunday, December 10, 2017

 

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“On what do you firmly stand?”

 

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

 

     (2 Thessalonians 2:13) “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

     (14) “He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (15) So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

     (16) “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, (17) encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

 

     As a teen, I considered myself a good driver. Because I began driving before I was 14, I thought I was very skillful. No situation was beyond me, I assumed. Reality hit me hard. On my first driver’s license test, the examiner scolded me for violating several traffic laws. He refused to let me continue. Harshly humbled, I went to a different office and got my license. During a short interval a few years later, this skillful driver became involved in three minor accidents and got a moving violation ticket. Three of the cases were entirely my fault; the fourth was probably avoidable. The State of Oregon notified me that one more infraction and I would be leaving the driving to somebody else.

 

     Someone must have told a newcomer to the area, a retired Burlington Railroad engineer, about my driving reputation. The old fellow took me aside and gave me some excellent driving advice. “Don’t just follow the vehicle ahead of you. Look far ahead,” he said, “and let your eyes sweep back and forth.” Until then I mostly concentrated on the vehicle in front of me. A nice policeman in Portland wrote me that expensive ticket because I blindly followed a city bus through a downtown intersection. The bus driver started through the intersection on a yellow light; mine was red all the way.  

          

     How do my early driving errors relate to this text? This is how: Many folks heedlessly follow the lead of people they esteem. Their idols include elder siblings, business people, teachers, preachers and peers—folks who have succeeded in their eyes. Actors, singers, ball players, professors, and politicians top many lists.

·         There are thousands of Elvis “wanabees.”

·         Countless folks wear names and numbers of sports idols on clothes and caps.

·         Millions revere FDR, MLK, JFK, and Ronald Reagan.

Some join groups or organizations that espouse inspiring principles.

 

     Was it the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who told of a fellow who taught that no teacher should have disciples? Several folks wrote wanting to follow him and be a disciple of the guy who said no one should have disciples. Jesus invited many people to follow him and to be his disciples. But what makes following Jesus different from idolizing anyone else? People all around us worship celebrities and spend their lives and livelihood following them. They heavily invest time, fortunes, hopes, and dreams in them. Others base their lives on creeds, aphorisms, or precepts—some truth that guides them.   

 

     On what do you stand? To what beliefs do you hold? What principles guide your life decisions? Are you looking down the track you are following to see where it will lead you and what perils might await you? Are you fixed so intently on your idol that you fail to see the wide sweep of things?

 

     Our text points to a crucial truth: we can incorrectly idolize even Jesus. We shall go back to that later. You know the present state of our world: divisions between people are wide and deep.

                        Black versus white.

                        Anglos versus Hispanics.

                        Men versus women.

                        Young versus old.

                        East versus West

                        The privileged versus the disadvantaged.

Hostility has people at flashpoints similar to those sparking Southern California wildfires.

 

     Is there life guidance that heals the hate, and bridges the chasms that divide us? The good news is that God’s church has built-in healing for all types of divisions. The bad news: too few pay attention. When God’s people love him and imitate Jesus, He enables them to bridge divides that stymie folks and cause so much anguish. Yet many Christians do not follow the early church’s excellent example. Instead they join the world in non-Christian efforts to create social justice.

 

     Of the musicians you know, are you aware of any who give singing lessons to pigs? You have heard of playing music for dairy cows. But do you know anyone who gives singing lessons to pigs? I am not intimating that anyone is a pig. But I am saying that human-led efforts to create a just society are as worthless and hopeless as teaching swine to sing. All of those riots, protests, hissy fits, and not “fair complaints” are just “swine-squealing.” They create hullabaloos, but no harmony.

 

     Here is one way God’s church has built-in justice and equality:

Hear Jesus’ parable in Luke 17:7-10: “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?

      (8) Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? (9) Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?

      (10) So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are  unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

     

     In Jesus’ day, many wealthy people had servants-slaves. It is easy get lost in the details of Jesus’ stories. Jesus did not endorse or condone slavery.  Slavery was a fact of life then. He used this parable to illustrate the way things are between us and God.

Some of us assume that God could not get along without us. We are important—indispensable—irreplaceable—we think.

 

     Jesus used this truth from employee-employer relations that everyone knows. All in the labor force understand this fact. In order to receive pay and have time off, workers must finish their tasks. Jesus’ summaries always emphasize his points. What truth did Jesus highlight in this story? If we need pats on the back, merit badges, and chromed Wendell Willkie buttons for our good works, we should heed Jesus’ summary of this story.

 

     “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

 

     The word translated “unworthy” has a fascinating background. It suggests something so worthless you want to stay as far away from it as possible. Think of drippings from a honey wagon. Or a skunk’s posterior. You want them super-distant. The word “unworthy” suggests that notion. 

 

     All we human beings are servants of God. No individual should feel superior to or more deserving than anyone else. Not only are we servant-slaves, we are unworthy ones. The term slave should not make God’s people uncomfortable. Paul, Peter, James, and Jude referred to themselves as servant-slaves of the Lord in their epistles.   

 

     Regardless of the extent of our efforts and toil, we are all unworthy servant-slaves. Some of us have saved toys from our youth. Do you know folks who have saved mud pies they made when they were kids? 

 

      Consider two facts about our nature.

·         First God used dust to create Adam:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”[1]

·         Second, to dust He added water—lots of it.  

“Water is of major importance to all living things . . . Up to 60% of the human adult body is water.”[2]

 

     You have it from God and from science: Add water to dust, you get the same result. Each one of us proud, strutting, swaggering, objects is a mere mud pie. Big, small, robed in purple, or loin-clothed, dyed one color or another, our faces shaped in billions of forms; we are in essence a great assortment of mud pies. 

 

     That truth forces this question:  If all of us are mud pies, why would we idolize any other mud pie? Who would dust a floor, sweep it into a pile, and then fall down and worship that gathering of dust? The fanciest painted, most glittering, noisy mud pie will be only dust in a short time. Why would we revere it, deify it, or try to “stand” on it? One hundred years ago, 1000 years ago, and 5,000 years ago, people idolized prominent “mud pies” of their day. Where are the former mud pie gods now? They are dust—the state to which God told Adam he would soon return.

 

     That is why we human beings should not idolize or worship one another. But neither should we look down on others.

God’s people understand this truth: in Christ, there are no class distinctions: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[3]

In the early church, all classes and categories of society assembled as one: all were brothers and sisters. “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God.” All were servant-slaves of God in Christ.  No more; no less, “neither slaves nor free, neither male, nor female.”

 

     The Book of Acts tells us of the wide variety of folks that served God in the Spirit: “In the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers; Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had been brought up with Governor Herod), and Saul.”[4] Rich-poor, races, and skin colors of all types worshiped together—all as unworthy servants. What made them one? In God’s Spirit, they all served God through Christ and his Word.

 

     Oneness resulted from these truths:

·         they firmly stood on their belief in Christ;

·         and they strongly held to Christ’s teaching.

What was the teaching to which they held? In Christ, God came to earth and lived in the “mud form” all we humans share. That fact distinguishes Jesus and makes him different from all other teachers.

 

     In its opening statement, John’s Gospel clearly stated, chapter one, verse one: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Verse 14 continues: The Word (Christ) became flesh (the same mud pie flesh as we are) and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ showed us how to live in our mud pie existence. When his enemies (envious, angry mud pies) killed him, he came back from the dead. Three days later, many credible people witnessed that he was alive. By God’s Spirit, Christ repeatedly proved that he was alive in a new changed body.

 

     He promises us that if we will believe in him, stop worshiping things of the world, and live for him, he will bring us back from the dust with new kinds of bodies.“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”[5] Unless we put God first, everything we cherish and try to hold will turn to dust—everything! 

 

     The Book of Philippians both promises and warns us how to live, how to stand, and what to hold dear:“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (19) Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things (mud, that is). (20) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, (21) who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” [6]

 

     The Greek words Paul used to describe our changed bodies in the resurrection, inform us that our bodies will be reconstituted and restructured to be like Jesus’ resurrection body. There will be no more disease, no more crying, or death, or good-byes. Paul further explained all this change to the church in Corinth:“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— (52) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (53) For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (54) When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.[7]

       

     Would you rather believe what some talking-head mud pie tells you about the future or what God’s word plainly, credibly says?

 

·         On what are you standing?

·         To what are you holding?

 

     The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15 clearly tell what God requires of us: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. (2) By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (3) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (5) and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. (6) After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at  the  same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, (8) and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

     (9) For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

     (10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” [8]

 

     If we are not standing on this truth and holding on to it, we had just as well spend our lives making mud pies.

 

     May the Lord strengthen your faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ so that you will boldly follow the promptings of His Spirit.

 

 


[1] Genesis 2: 7 NIV

[2]      According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. Dec 2, 2016

Water properties: The water in you (Water Science School)

https://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html

[3] Galatians 3:26-29 NIV

[4] Acts 13:1 TEV

[5] 1 John 2:15-17   NIV

[6] Philippians 3:20,21 NIV

[7] 1Corinthians 15:51-54 NIV

[8] 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 NIV

 

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

Post Script: Some may ask, “Bob, I thought God made us in his image and that he gave us immortal souls? How can we be mere “mud pies”?

 

The Lord willing, in next week’s sermon, we shall provide a biblical answer to this seeming contradiction.

 


 

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