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Clothed in Hope and Light (Sermon March 27, 2016)

1 Corinthians 15:19–26 (NRSV) L28-HolySepulchre-medium

19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

Christ has risen!

This day of resurrection is the most profound of all days, the day that is filled with the greatest hope as well as the most confusion. Christ has risen from the grave.

There are no other words more profound. They totally baffle nature, and along with that cause many to turn because who could possibly raise from the grave? But that is the greatest thing about faith. Faith is having hope when and where everything else seems hopeless. This is why Paul wrote in the ancient days that if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. He says this because to become a disciple, a follower of Christ, or a Christian there is a sacrifice that must be made in this life. That sacrifice is call repentance. If we were to study what repentance truly is it can be boiled down to on simple word, turning. Turning from our current path of understanding and beginning to walk with Christ.

This past week I have reflected on this idea deeply. I read a book recently that challenged my understanding of pretty much everything. That might scare many of you but it was as if I looked at life from a very different perspective. I began to see with renewed eyes what death, sin, and repentance is. It all goes back to understanding human nature, which is seen in its most basic form in the lives of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve, our first parents, lived in full communion with God. There was nothing that kept them from the love of God and they lived together in creation totally unashamed. Just consider that for a moment. They lived together in creation totally unashamed. They were free to laugh, free to cry, free to eat, run, swim, swing, dance without any shame. They did not care because they lived together fully accepting and embracing life together: man and woman, all of nature, and God. Do we live like that? Do we live without shame, without the threat of shame? I can prove that we cannot say we live without shame in one simple example: how many of you clapped or danced as sang praises to God? If you did not why? I will answer, I am too embarrassed of my lack of rhythm to clap, and no one really wants to see me dance, it might cause you all to seek counseling. I do not dance because of shame. I am not free to dance because I have put limits on myself, because I am concerned with a perceived image.

How did we get to this point? How did we move from shamelessness to shamefulness? Sin!

Most of us think of sin as being a transgression of God’s laws, breaking one of the big Ten Commandments and therefore incurring the wrath of God. That is a form of sin, but each of those commandments are just indicators of something much more serious and deeper than being right in the eyes of the law. This is why the book I read this week was so challenging, it questioned what the first sin was and when it occurred. If we again go back to the story of the beginning we would see that God progressively created everything that is seen and unseen over the courses of time. Light, sky, oceans, land, plants, animals and birds, and mankind all were created and God pronounced it all to be good. Then scriptures revisit the creation of man and speak of it in more detail saying that, after God said let us created man in our own image, God formed man out of the very dust of creation. Molding man out of the clay of the earth, forming him, and then breathing life into his nostrils. After this God began to bring all the various animals to Adam so that he could give them a name, but none of those being were suitable to be a mate for Adam. So God created Eve. Unlike Adam, Eve was not formed out of the dust of the earth, but she was pulled out of Adam and formed out of his rib. And God and Adam both pronounced that it was very good.

If you continue to read the narrative of the beginning of life, we will soon meet Adam and Eve in the Garden speaking to a serpent. And this is where Eve begins to get a bad rap, and Adam seems to fade into the background. Eve is deceived by this crafty serpent and takes fruit from the tree that God commanded them not to eat from. But I have long wondered if Eve had been given a harsh judgement by mankind for her part in the fall, because God gave the command to Adam alone before Eve was pulled from his side. And Eve while speaking to the serpent did not report to the actual words of God but added words to the first commandment. “God said do not eat of the tree of knowledge or you will surly die.” Yet when Eve speaks there is an addition to the command, “Do not eat or even touch the tree or you will die.”

I bring this up because there is an indication in that statement that there was the beginnings of sin prior to the breaking of the law. There was a lack of trust between the two people that lived without shame. Adam did not trust Eve enough to speak the truth, and as a result opened the door for Eve’s failure. Adam began to turn from the light of God, and because of this a shadows emerged. Man was no longer facing God directly in the light but instead began to block the light with his own understandings. Adam, because he withheld truth and attempted to dominate Eve cast a shadow on her which lead to actions that separated humanity from full communion with God. Death enters the world. Not through Eve, but through Adam.

Our nature from that moment on has been distrust, domination, and shame ever since. Adam turned away, causing Eve to misunderstand, the serpent spoke, and Adam remained silent. Blame was cast relationships hindered creation groans. Paul tells the Corinthians if Christ is only our hope in this life we are pitied because to turn to Christ without hope beyond this life would mean that we turn to follow Christ and lose everything. We might be well liked by others, but we are still left in the shadows.

Christ calls us to repent to turn, to turn back, or return to the light. He calls us to stop looking in the shadows but instead head directly toward the light. If we are to walk directly toward the light without turning in any other direction it is impossible to see any shadow. The shadows will always be behind us. If the shadow is always behind us we are unaware of any darkness. And if we are surrounded by the light of Christ there can be no darkness.

The difficulty is to be surrounded by the light, to be saturated in the light. If there is no hope beyond this life we are pitied because we have wasted valuable time and energy walking pathways in the shadow lands. Pitied because we are walking toward the light but darkness follows close behind. It is attached to our feet we might feel we have a good life, but it is powerless and often casting shadows on others which prevent them from embracing the light. The shadow remains because the wages of sin is death.

One man turned and saw the shadow, one man left communion with God to embrace wisdom of his own, one man attempted to prevent harm by speaking an untruth. Hope was lost. But Christ lives with us in the shadow lands, because God loves His creation so much that he will does not desire separation. Mankind might turn from God but God did not turn from man. Instead he took on humanity, he clothed himself in flesh and blood, to walk with us and to remove the shadow that leaves us in our shame. One man brought death through a turning from God, and Christ by becoming man empowers us to return.

Christ empowers us to return, but from what? Paul in this passage says that the end will come when Christ has defeated all powers, authorities, and rulers, and puts an end to death. The return or the repentance is from the desire to rule over other, or control of others. If the first hint of a shadow emerged when Adam twisted the truth to control Eve, then the very idea of controlling others is rooted in sin. Adam and Eve were not created to master and slave, but help mates, equal participants in the stewardship of God’s garden which is all of creation. Mutual encouragement, equal submission to one another. Death came through Adam not Eve, it came through a lack of trust, and a desire to control the actions of others. Sin is anything that comes between us and a right relationship with God.

I hope that this is causing us to skerm a bit. Because so often we read scripture and see that we are to rule, that men should be over their wives, that we should dominate and cause creation to submit to us humanity the rightful ruler of creation. We read these but often we forget that we are also to be light in the world and among nations. Actual light cannot be carried by us. We cannot reach out and grab ahold of light. We can however carry potential, we can reflect, and manipulate light to bring awareness and beauty to the world around us. But we have to be aware of where we are standing.

This is the hope we have in Christ. Christ is the light that can remove the darkness both today in our current lives and for all eternity. He has risen from the tomb and conquered death which is the ultimate darkness of mankind. If he can remove that, we have nothing to fear if we are in him and he in us. We have the great potential to change everything around us if we were only to return or repent of our domineering ways. But how does this actually help?

In the creation story the most striking comment about the dawn of mankind is that they were naked and unashamed. They were vulnerable, weak, and uncovered. The community provided their strength, Adam was alone and Eve was brought to provide the assistance Adam needed. And Adam was unashamed that he needed the assistance. The shadow that emerged changed that relationship not only within humanity but between humanity and their Creator. They ate of the tree because they thought that maybe God was holding back, and they wanted to assert their own dominance over creation. And once they did that they began to blame God for their short comings, even if those shortcomings were conceived in themselves. When Jesus came to live among mankind, he came to restore humanity into a right relationship again. He made it his custom to worship with others in the meeting places for worship, he withdrew to the isolated places to pray, and he served others. There is a reason he lived this sort of lifestyle. The reason is that it reflects the lifestyle we were created to engage. We were created to worship together, to commune together with God and humankind. We were created to have personal relationships with God, to embrace the interaction of God’s spirt with our own through a lifestyle of prayer. And we were created to help each other in our weaknesses.

We ourselves cannot carry the light, but can only have the potential to reflect light. But even if I stand before you with a great mirror reflecting light from God some could be trapped in the shadows. This is why we need each other to help. Each of us, reflecting light around each other will eventually surround and bath one another in the light. But even then we all might be bathed in light but what about those that are not in our circle? We can often cast a shadow over them leaving them in the darkness. Which is where prayer is important. As we seek the spirit’s directions and follow the path the spirit leads it will allow us to fine tune our mirrors so that light will fall on someone else and then another. And as we see the light spreading we can then surround them as well encouraging them to come into the light and rest.  Each of us turning, listening, and encouraging each other in our weaknesses to reflect the light to others in our own ways. But also being aware of our place and the shadow we cast.

Our hope is not in a dark tomb filled with death but our hope is in a risen Lord clothed in light. Our hope is not in powers and dominion but is in submission to one another willing to help one another so our weaknesses are not our shame but mirrors reflecting the light and hope found in Christ. Let us this Easter this day of celebration of hope and life, reflect on what is being restored through the risen Lord. The hope that we do not need to be ashamed but instead empowered to embrace life with Christ. Eternal God and Eternal Man, our hope, our light, and our salvation, in whom is no darkness or death, but Life.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Is He Your King? (Sermon March 20, 2016)

Philippians 2:5–11 (NRSV) fist-palm-group

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,     so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

This day is a wonderful day. A day that for centuries we as followers of Christ celebrate the announcement of Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. The day that the ancients removed their cloaks and waved palm branches singing praises of the son of David entering the city of peace, to restore the kingdom once again. It is a day that was filled with hope, hope beyond the imagination of mankind. But it was also a day filled with fear

Yes it is a day of hope and of fear. That is the resounding discord in our faith, with our hope there is also fear because we do not always know what might happen in the future. Every person of Israel looked toward the great day of their king’s entry with great desire. They studied the signs they knew the prophecies by heart, and they searched diligently for the one that would restore the throne of David ushering in a new age. But right along with that was the ever present reality that they lived every day.

It was a day of fear because they were a people living in excile in their own country. They were an occupied nation ruled by a people that did not have the same values or goals. If the king would actually arrive many would find themselves in the awkard situation of having to make a choice. Would I sacrifice my current comfort for something unknown?

We reguard this question with the luxury of two thousand years of history, we know fully well what happened in those ancient days. We know that Christ came to live among mankind, the grew up within a community of friends and family, he became a teacher that taught us a holy lifestyle, and would give himself as a sacrifiece to redeem and reconcile humanity from the clutches of sin and restore communion with God. We look at this through the pages of history, but what if we had to live that very day?

The people of that day longed for their king and the restored kingdom devoted to their God. But what would happen if this actually happened? What would happen to the lives of the families? What happen to Jesus’ own family that worked as contractors building and repairing the dwellings of those that lived in the area? What would happen to the shepherds whose lives revolved around selling their product to the people living in the land? What would happen if the king came and those that occupied the nation did see that as being a positive prospect to the Empire?

Everyone that lived that day had a very serious question to concider. Would they sacrifice all that they had to side with a king, when their families lives required that they sell their goods to the very same people they hoped drive from their lands? Every individual was required to answer this question for themselves that day, and everyone from that day on has had to answer a very similar question, even to this day. Will we live for the king?

Paul struggled with this question in his own life, and many others as well. Even people that lived outside the Jewish community faced that same question. The only difference is that they people Paul engages has more information than the people in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry. They knew that there was life beyond the fear, they heard or saw the glorification of Jesus. The problem with this greater knowledge is that more questions emerge.

The greatest question is why? If Jesus was truly the king and through His Glorification by the resurrection, why not do things differently? Because of this newer question a new crisis of faith emerges, one that mimics the previous and brings to question if God is even at work?

It is a question that plagues us to this very day. If there is truly a benevolent God why does he allow things to continue as they are? Why does this deity remain quiet as the world seems to spin off into darkness and chaos?

Paul says this of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” This idea of exploitation or something that could be used for a personal advantage is what seperates the kingdoms of man from that of God. In our wisdom we would see the benefit of God simply moving in and removing all opposition and setting up a kingdom for himself. But what would the benefit of this be? He did that with the nation of Israel before, just read through the book of the Exodus and you will see how God did such a thing. You will also see the results of that action. God stepped in, He provided for every need of the people, they saw his very presence through a pillar of fire or a protective cloud. They ate food delivered directly from heaven that only required that they step outside and collect their daily portion. Yet they complained, they even went to such a degree that they turned their back on this very God that directly provided for their every need.

Jesus was in the form of God, yet he did not regard that as something to be exploited. He had every right to just take whatever he wanted He had the means and the power to do that yet he withheld. He withheld because the awesome use of force may give security but it does not build relationships. The infant nation of Israel wondered forty years with God, very few developed intimacy with the one that provided for their needs. Many feared their God, they demanded that Moses or Aaron speak on their behalf. As a result the only ones that saw the reality of God were the ones that humbly approached.

Paul continues to explain, “[But] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” Very few understood the nature of God in the early era of Israel, in reality only Moses experienced this in the fullest degree. Moses lived as a prince in the palace of Egypt, and became like a slave with the people of his birth. After he killed one of the guards he ran to exile only to become the servant of God to bring the people out of enslavement. It was only when Moses was obedient to God, becoming the instrument of God’s redemption that Moses began to embrace the relationship with God. Obedience and submission, sacrifice and faith. God directed Moses to do some strange things holding his arms up in the air for hours so that the waters would remain parted and the people could walk on dry ground, or using the shepherd’s staff to bring water from a rock or to purify putrid waters into something that could be consumed. But in this obedience the people were willing to listen and follow. Jesus emptied himself and became a slave to the people, taking on our very form and the trapping that this would cause and he gradulally called his followers one by one.

He being equal with God and fully capable of removing all that opposed him, decided to take a different approach. He chose the path of relationship.

Paul encourages us to be of the same mind, or embrace the reality of who you truly are in Christ. We are to live the same way becoming servants to the world even though in reality if we are in Christ we are God’s children princes and princesses of the king.

Have we every really considered the fullness of this? We are brothers and sisters of the king, anything we ask in his name can happen, yet even this is something that should not be exploited or be used to our personal advantage. There is a reason we were taught to pray, “Not my will but yours.” If we seek our own will instead of seeking to be obedient to God we miss the abundance and blessing true relationships can bring and the world does not see God through us.

Paul tells us that we are already in Christ, but even that reality should not be something we exploit to rule over other. We should instead have the same mind as Christ. To live obedient even to the point of death. We return back to the fear casting a shadow over this day that we celebrate the triumph of our king. What would happen if we were to yield fully to Christ? What would happen if we became servants of each other and the world instead of using our position in Christ for our own purposes? Would we be willing to sacrifice the comfort of our lifestyles and that of our family for the sake of the kingdom?

Yesterday as I spent the day with my family eating and celebrating this season I began considering this even more. Whenever I go home there is a comfort that flood my soul when I begin to see the grass covered rolling hills and the rich fields of wheat. Every time I go home there is part of me that just wants to stay to return to that life. I want to climb into a tractor, feed the cattle, laugh with my family as we play games and enjoy life together. Yet there is another part of me that would never find rest if I remained. I am in Christ and that reality cannot be exploited. In Christ I have a calling something deep with my soul, even though I want to stay home I must respond.

I observe this in my own life, but I am by no means perfect. I cannot stay in the life I had before. I often wonder if anything I have to say or do really matters, yet I am not my own. I am a servant of the king. When we respond to live life in His kingdom we cannot think or act as we did before. All we are and have are redirected to his glory as we become new in him. All we have and all we are should not be used for ourselves but should be used to expand his kingdom as we join in His life and lifestyle. So only one question remains as we enter into this time of open worship and communion as friends. One question to consider this Palm Sunday, are you willing to give all you have to your king?

Take out the Trash (Sermon March 13, 2016)

Philippians 3:4b–14 (NRSV) 2010_07_Anthony_Calvert_World_rubbish_map-940x530

4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Pressing toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Why do we meet together for Worship? Why is there an assembly we call the Church? Am I the only one that wrestles with these things? These are questions that many have been asking over the years. Every generation that passes wrestles with them in their own ways. Every generation sees what has gone on in the past and hopes to improve. Each generation is turned away from Christ in some way and within each generation there is some sort of internal revival that takes place. At times these revivals seem to be large gathering a great deal of attention at other times they quietly move within with very little recognition. But within each generation from the dawn of time God has drawn people to himself in some manner. I have mentioned these cycle often while I have been a minister among you, because I hope that we are able to recognize that God is working even though it seems as if the world outside is veering off the path. I want us to consider something every generation has thought that the generation that follows is worse than their own.

Paul is speaking to the people of Philippi, a church that has gotten very involved with the ministry but as they have grown, they have begun to lose focus of what is truly important. For most new believers there is a time where we eagerly learn as much as possible about our new faith. We receive a taste of the gospel and we dive head first into it. This is part of our nature, we are a creature that is driven by passion and when something excites us we grasp hold and let it take us where it may. So imagine these new followers of Christ, eager to learn all they can, hungry for truth and filled with the desire to spread the kingdom throughout their land. They go to the only places that they know to hear scripture, they go to the Jewish scribes among them that have also recognized Jesus as their messiah.

They go to these people because they have the words of truth, the scriptures that Jesus and the Apostles used in their ministry. They learn all about the people of Israel, they learn about the prophet and the law, they learn as much as they can. They are growing in knowledge but something is amiss or Paul would not be writing them a letter. They are losing focus on the grace given by Christ and becoming more focused on the legalistic aspects of religion.

For most of us we do not see this as being a bad thing, many would actually say it is quite good that they have grown in knowledge and have turned from lifestyles of the past and entered into one that is more righteous. In Ephesians Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, shoes of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. These people of Philippi are doing exactly what Paul encouraged the people of Ephesus to do. The issue is with the Sword they are swinging around, the word or collection of sayings of God.

There is a difference between the word that Paul uses to describe scripture and the word John uses to describe Christ, even though both are translated into English as word. One is a collection of sayings and the other is the source of wisdom. The difference may be lost in translation. I say that, tongue in cheek, because the difference is that word used to describe scripture is a collection, it is the sayings of Christ along with other prophets, that mankind was encouraged to gather under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Scripture is holy because it was compiled under the guidance of God, but it is a collection written through the faculties of man so that humanity can read it. But what happens if scripture is not read under the same guidance as it was written? We begin to have interpretations of sayings inspired by mankind that may or may not fully reflect the wisdom of the Source.

Scripture can be dangerous, it must be handled carefully. It is sharp just like any blade, if not used with care unintended consequences might occur. I am aware of what damage a blade can do. I remember very clearly one day when I was in the second grade after I received my very own pocket knife. I was so excited that my dad thought I was mature and responsible enough to have my very own blade. I carried it with pride and would look for opportunities to use it. Well this one morning as I was getting ready to go to school I encountered something that needed cutting, I pulled out my pocket knife and got to work. The blade was not working, so I added greater force only to find out that the blade was not working because I was using the wrong side. As you might expect when someone adds force to the wrong side of a pocket knife the blade folds back. To make a long story shorter, I cut my figure deeply the scar still remains and my dad took my first pocket knife from me because I was irresponsible.

Scripture can be like a blade in the hands of a second grade child, we might understand practical uses but we may not always know how to wield them properly. Paul knows that the people of Philippi have learned a great deal of scripture they are beginning to connect the sayings of Moses and the prophets with the teaching that have been passed down from Christ and they are growing. But at times they are missing something they are looking at the law and suddenly they are using these passages to prove to one another their righteousness.

Paul tells them, if anyone one can boast in this way it is me. Paul is a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he lists off the reasons why. His resume is perfect, by any standard we would say yes this man is more pious than any of us. But Paul then says that all of that is a pile of dung. He says, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Profit or gains are an interesting concept. Even though we live in a cultural system that is driven by profits we misunderstand the true nature of it. The true meaning of profit is mutual benefit. If I am selling a good or service to someone and they pay for that service the amount they pay should cover the cost and there should be a mutual benefit of on both sides. On the seller’s side it can be measured in the amount of income left after we remove the cost of production. The benefit on the other side of the transaction is more difficult to quantify because how do you measure pleasure. I mention this because these are the terms that Paul is talking about.

If you could measure righteousness like profit he would be wealthy, but with the great accumulation of wealth that he has through his own righteousness he is at a loss because of Christ. He had all this righteousness but it was worthless because it was lacking mutual benefit.

Self-righteousness is often like that. It focuses primarily on one side or the other and is ultimately unsustainable because eventually the side that gains no benefit stops participating. This was the righteousness of the law. This is the very activity that Jesus spoke out against. The most righteous people of the first century were the Pharisees, they had righteousness down to precision science. They knew exactly how far one could travel without actually exerting oneself to the degree of work, they knew the precise value of all their possessions so that they could accurately report their tithe. They knew the law and were very willing to let you know if you did not measure up. The problem with this self-righteousness is that there is very little room for anyone or anything else. Where do you draw the line? What happens if the only place you can afford to live is one step to far from the synagogue? What happens when the assistance needed exceeds the tithe? There is no gray areas in a self-righteous mindset, so what happens if an aspect of your life falls in that area where black and white meet? You end up getting cut by the blade, no longer acceptable.

Paul lived in that type of life, he excelled in that lifestyle, yet he said it is loss. All he gained was a pile of rubbish, trash or quite literally a smelly dung heap. Why? Because there is no room for mistakes. You are either in or out, right or wrong, and eventually if we were to keep it up the largest majority would find themselves on the wrong side of the line, cut off. This is not what Jesus the source of wisdom of which scripture speaks intends. The commandments are there to teach us and encourage us. They are there to show us the way to a more abundant life. They were given as weapons but pruning shears.

Paul says his self-righteousness and ours is nothing. But there is something of value to be had. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” I have spoken of the day that I personally felt the calling from God to become a minister, but I have not shared with many where that began. I received the calling from God while listening to a sermon on the radio while I was sitting in my vehicle eating lunch. After I ate lunch and that sermon was over I entered into my personal time of bible study, which was a discipline I got into while I was in Ukraine. They taught us a bible study method and I was eager to put it to use when I got back to life at home. I began studying Ephesians together with all the others in my group in Ukraine and the first book of scripture I studied when I got home was Philippians. This verse is one that pushed me over the edge. Jesus called me through the words he spoke to Peter, Paul encouraged me with this. “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  It is a beautiful passage, because it is void of self-righteousness. It is focused only on Christ. Self-righteousness is rubbish, decomposing, and rotting death, where Jesus is life. There is no hope in trash, and there is nothing but hope in Christ. If all he lived for and experienced ends in life why do we seek anything else?

 We look at our community, we look at those leaving the church, and those not in church and what do we see? Do we see opportunities to spread life or are we caught up in patting ourselves on our backs for being more righteous than them? Jesus looked out at the people of his day and was moved to tears because they were lost. I began today with a question why do we meet for worship and why is there an assembly called the Church? We come together to be encouraged to keep our eyes on Christ and not on our own understandings. We come together to seek the spirit of God so that we can understand how to use these words of scripture in ways that will bring life and not death. We come because so often we get distracted and begin to focus on the trash instead of on life. Christ came to give us life, and he gives it to us so that we can encourage others to walk toward him as well. As we enter this time of open worship and communion as Friends let us allow Christ to take out the trash so that we can begin to live for life.

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