Monthly Archives: June 2015

Pentecost, Part II

Editor’s Note:  This is the second part of a sermon preached on Pentecost Sunday. 

In this second installment on Pentecost, I will talk about “Knowing Jesus”, “Knowing myself”, and “Knowing others”.  Someone pointed out that the word “JOY” can form somewhat of an acrostic…Jesus, Others and Yourself.  And that is where you get real happiness, knowing who you are and who others are.  A lot of our misery comes from the fact that we don’t know others.  We envy them needlessly but we don’t know the pains and self-doubt that they go through.

Knowing Jesus, of course, is the most important. So we will start with that.  Start with Him…from whom, and through whom, unto whom and in whom are all things.  The whole kingdom is working toward the day when He will be all and in all!  He is the one of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named, in whom we find our identity.  We find out who we are only through him.  In fact, the “man of the world” does not only not know who he is, he is a non-entity. The Bible says he is a “nobody”. Outside of Christ, nothing. On “The Day of Days” Jesus will say, “I don’t even know you.  You didn’t know yourself, you didn’t know me, and I don’t even know you.”  Isn’t that frightening?  But beginning with Christ; if Paul were to visit our church, he would be horrified.  An article in “The Banner” says that for all practical purposes we are living back in the Old Testament.  We so often envy those people, “Oh, dare to be a Daniel.” In fact, I read from Daniel for my morning devotions and thought, “What courage, to be thrown to the lions because he persisted in prayer. I don’t have that kind of courage.  Dare to be a Daniel.”  Daniel would have envied, coveted my position.  They weren’t regenerate.  They weren’t new people.  All that began at Pentecost.  But now I’m starting to talk about us again instead of Christ.  And here is where Paul would be horrified in that instead of thinking about and knowing Christ as He is, He is a has-been.  He who said, “I AM, I was and I will be.  I’m the eternal now.”  We think about him as a has-been.  While we are in that frame of reference, when it comes to ourselves, we think of ourselves as “not yet.”  “Oh, I’m not anybody.  I’m a nobody.  I’m a worm, that’s what I am. I was born to be.”  So Christ is a “has-been”, we’re “not yet” and my fellow Christians and unbelievers are “never were’s”, the way we treat them.  With regards to Jesus, if I were to ask you, “What does Christ represent to you, what is He like?”  The children may think in Christmas terms.  Most of us would think of him on the cross.  No, we may not carry crucifixes, but many of us wear crosses.  Does the fact that there isn’t that figure on the cross make it any different?  But that is what we think of in terms of Christ, is on the cross. None of that saves us.  All that hoopla, and I use that word deliberately, all that religious hoopla about Christmas, not Santa Claus, is contrary to the fact that we don’t know when he was born.  Jesus never said to remember Christmas.  “Now don’t you forget my birthday!”  He never said that.  Paul barely mentions his birth.  And he didn’t say, “Remember my death.”  He did say, “Do this in remembrance of me.”  Period.  Me, now.  Think of me now.  You see, his death, at most, cleansed our sins, forgave us our debt.  Put us back where Adam was before the fall, but that doesn’t get us into heaven.  The cross never gets us into heaven.  And then we have a commercial conception, “Oh now, that perfect life, such a full and wonderful life, that bank account is credited to me.”  No, no.  He was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification to make us holy.  It’s his life in us, now!  When He said, “It is finished”, it was his passive obedience, and now it is his active obedience that saves us.  

And for every time in the Bible that it says, “Jesus saves”, and I’m not quite sure that it says that anywhere exactly like that, 10x it says that “Jesus is Lord.”  We have all kinds of gospel hymns, and they are all right.  But the emphasis of Paul is , “He is Lord!” If you find this as unsettling as I did, I better just belabor the point.  How do we remember such dedicated people that have since died?  Do we say, “Oh, you should have been there when they died”?  But that is how we remember Jesus at communion.  We just contort that thing. The eulogist at a person’s funeral talks about their life, how they taught Sunday school or their generosity or what-have-you.  That’s the way we remember one another and Jesus says, “Remember me.”  How did we ever get on this detour of thinking of “The Lord’s Supper” as a repetition of Good Friday, with all the songs and sermons about the cross?  A little tiny segment of history, of the past.  “No longer do I remember Christ after the flesh….”  And that was very fleshly, of course.  You know what we should sing at communion, not just at Easter?  “I Serve a Risen Savior, He’s in the world today.” “You ask me how I know He lives,..” not died!.  “He lives within my heart.” That’s the song we should be singing around the communion table, because He is there.   That is why communion is a meal.  Otherwise any other sort of symbol would have been better.  The  picture of meal is a joyous thing, a life giving thing; we eat to live, don’t we?  Not to die.  It’s not poison.  We’re not cannibals that are ingesting a dead body.  That’s why the prohibition in Judaism, the kosher rule they still follow like the early church about dead blood.  It’s living.  

Well, if He is not what we usually think of Him, then what is He like?  In what terms should I think of Him?  Where is He anyway?  There again, our loved ones, let’s start with them, could be a lot closer than we think.  Our spirits are body bound, but our relatives that have died in Christ are not encumbered with that bulk anymore, and they can be places that we can be only in spirit.  How much the more is Jesus here?   In us.  You say, “That is sort-of a shocker.”  Well, it shouldn’t be.  “Are you not the temple of the Holy Spirit?” says Paul.   Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  “I am the bread of life” that goes into you.  He just ransacks all kinds of similes and metaphors.  “I am the head, you are the body.”   Can it be any closer than that?  “I am the bridegroom, you are my wife.”  One flesh.  That means this, that the real you…now, we’re talking about ourselves, who am I…the real you, essence, ego, personality…is Christ.

Let me illustrate this.  In our high school hallways are pictures of all the graduating classes.  I have had people ask me, “Who is that?”  And do I say, “Oh, that is nobody.  That is just a piece of paper.”  What a simple answer that is.  No, I identify that person by name.  And it isn’t much of that person, it is just their head.  So then, by chance, let’s say that person now drives up in their car, and I say, “There is so-and-so.”  But is that really she or he?  I may recognize someone from the clothes they wear.  Do I have to say, “Take off that jacket so I can see you”?  Do we have to run around naked to be ourselves?  The real you is even deeper than that.  Where are the people that have since died in Christ?  Are they over there in the cemetery?  No, we say, like their Lord, they have risen.  That body that married and produced children, that is not you!  That is a generic sort of a thing.  We went to Epcot Center, and while I’m not necessarily endorsing it, the narrator in the reproduction of the dinosaurs said that our bodies were as old as the universe.  And I found that mighty reassuring.  When I go to the ticket office I’m often greeted by, “Well, you’re a senior citizen,” like I don’t have many more chances to come.  I get in cheaper.  But it is nice for me when I get congratulations with regards to my age instead of commiseration, to know that you are just as old as I am, with regards to that body now.  We make so much of that body, that is the only thing “golden” about us, but it is as old as the universe.  God didn’t make it specially.  That was made way back when Adam was made.  And the same is true of that soul of yours.  God isn’t busy making souls and sticking them in bodies.  That’s the horror of abortion.  The soul, that musical bent in a little fetus, its’ temperament, personality….it’s all in that.  But it is generic.  If you know anything at all about DNA you know it is just a matter of genes.  All that is a projection of you, your body and soul.  Like your clothes or your car.  One may drive a certain car to express their personality.  But the real you is Christ, if you are born twice.  You have a new name, a new identity, a new ancestry…not Adam.  Your body came from Adam, but not your spirit, that immortal spirit.  And not only is your body as old as the universe, your spirit is as old as eternal, as God.  Now that sounds like heresy, doesn’t it?  I’m as old as God.  But that is the glory of salvation, that you have eternal life.  And that isn’t endless existence.  Eternal life is eternal life.  My life, hidden with Christ in God.

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Pentecost, Part I

Editor’s Note:  This was preached on Pentecost Sunday.  I share it with you now, a little late, but always timely.  Due to length, it is divided into two parts.

Nobody jumped out of bed this morning, saying “It’s Pentecost!” You should have. It’s far more important than Christmas.  You know how we get out of bed, “It’s my birthday!” or “It’s Christmas!”  That is how we should have begun this day.  Well, a lot of time is wasted or misspent in the house of God for a couple of reasons and the first is that we don’t know who we truly are.  Can you imagine a player running out on the court not knowing what side he is on?  “Am I a Warrior or a Cavalier?”  That’s how we come to church.  In fact our songs get us all confused, saying we are one thing one time and one thing another time.  Our forms do this, our sermons do too.  Very contradictory.  I hope to address this subject now; knowing myself, knowing who I am.

The second reason why we misspend time in church every Sunday is that we don’t know what we are doing.  Suppose a player ran out on the court and he knew he was a Cavalier but he didn’t know what position he plays.  “What am I now? A forward? A guard? Or am I supposed to sit on the bench?”  We try to worship, evangelize and study, all at the same time.  It’s an inherent contradiction.  And that’s especially said of Pentecost of which we hardly know the meaning.  Every Christian church should be packed today.  What would you think about a church that on Christmas, December 25, the preacher preaches on whatever.  “The Flood,” let’s say.  Crazy church.  There are plenty of them that are not even referring to Pentecost on Pentecost Sunday.  So, to carry out the illustration of basketball, the Bible consistently says that we are in the last quarter.  And you know that the last quarter is the most exciting, the most important, really, of the whole contest.  Peter said at the first Pentecost, “These are the latter days.”  So Christmas and the great drama of salvation is the beginning of the game, the first quarter.  Good Friday marked the end of the first half.  And then there was an intermission, nothing happened there.  Easter marked the second half and Pentecost the last quarter.

Now anybody knows that while playing a basketball game each basket is important; the first basket scored is just as important as one scored at the end.  But that last quarter is crucial.  That is when the strategy is significant, the time-outs, intentional fouls and the substitutions. That is what we are in now, and what happens is that not only do spectators fail to show…can you imagine at the end of a championship game they start walking out at the end?  But we do.  We are all there for the beginning, for Christmas, and we walk out on the last quarter.  What would one thing of a player walking out in the last quarter?  Well, there is more that I could say.  Let me just say this much, I trust the mood is established by now.  Christmas and thereafter was God with us.  Now it is God in us.  So now we can greet each other by saying, “He is here.”  Or say to that person, “Christ is in you.”

In introduction to our scripture passage in II Corinthians, I can not resist the observation that if Paul did not receive so much flack or trouble from certain members, not the church at large which was a good church, but certain people in it, that he would never have written this letter nor would we have some of these remarkable statements.  So in II Cor. 5:16,17 he says, “So from now on we regard no one [not just Paul but all of us] from a worldly point of view, though we once regarded Christ in this way [that’s the way the world reckons, you see, that he was a failure and all the rest], we do so no longer.  Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation.”  That is why Pentecost came on a Sunday, the start of the first day of the week, like when God said, “Let there be light,” that was Day #1.  Fire came down on Pentecost, and a new creation was started. “…he is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new come.”

If there is one subject that human beings do not know, what would be your guess as to what it is?  The subject that a person knows the least is himself. Even our physical selves.  I had relatives die a generation ago who would have lived much longer if we had known our bodies better, the way we do now.  But psychology is just in its’ infancy.  The knowledge of the ego and of the soul.  The ignorance of psychologists by their own admission is contradictory and very limited.  Socrates, 500 years B.C. said, “Know thyself.”  And Christians and the church, the ones who should be giving leadership, is delinquent on this score.  Happily, the future is promising.  Those who know tell us that the coming generation is going to be the age of the humanities.  It will make the Renaissance look very physical, sensual.   Paul says, “I don’t know any one after the flesh.”  And that was kind of a fleshly thing, the Renaissance.  But this is going to be the computer age, but why?  To release us, so we can get away from fleshly things, numbers.  So the operators and programmers have more time to find out finally who we are.  And happily the church is getting in on that too.  The second reformation is to find out “Who am I?”  And the result of not knowing ourselves is the reason.  The reason or result is that we do not know Christ better, in whose image we are made, of whom we are carbon copies.  Carbon copies, nothing, we are part of him.