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Forgive Them (Sermon October 18, 2015)

Hebrews 5:1–10 (NRSV)

Einar Jónsson, 1874-1954 Grimsstayaholt Reyjavik, Iceland

Einar Jónsson, 1874-1954
Grimsstayaholt
Reyjavik, Iceland

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6     as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

The book of Hebrews brings up many theological concepts that are unique to this one book. It dives deeper into the concepts of angels than any other book of scripture, and it also speaks fully about the office of priest. I bring up this uniqueness because most of the New Testament is silent about priest. Even the gospels speak very little about them, but when the writers do mention the priests they hold a very important role. For instance when Jesus healed those with leprosy they were told to present themselves to the priests, and it was the high priest that was the final say in the verdict against Jesus before they presented him to governor.

Clearly the priest has an important role. But I do not think we fully understand the role of the priest in our contemporary era. It is not surprising that we have ignorance over the office of the priest because for the most part we do not have an equivalent to this role. Most would say that a pastor is an equivalent but if we were to look deeper into the actual role of the various offices we would see that there is a difference.

When we look back to the very beginning of the nation of Israel we begin to see the emergence of the office of the priest after the children of Abraham are lead out of Egypt. Prior to this time there was not an office of priest because God spoke to and through the patriarchs, and for the most part during the years of captivity we do not know how the people worshiped. This time of exodus out of captivity is key to understanding the role of the priest and the role of the people. Let’s look at this story for a moment.

Jacob or Israel had twelve sons and one of them was the favored one, this favorite son made the others jealous and they plotted against him and eventually sold him into slavery and told their father that he was killed by wild beasts. Joseph, the favored son, was sold to Ishmaelites, who then sold him to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph worked hard and the household was blessed through Joseph, but then plots were again set up against Joseph and he was thrown into prison. Even in prison Joseph was a blessing to those around him. Eventually word made it to Pharaoh that Joseph was extremely wise, and the leader of the Egyptian empire requested his services. While this was going on the rest of Joseph’s family was struggling because the land of Canaan was experiencing an extreme famine, eventually they migrated to Egypt to try to obtain food. While in Egypt God brought the family back together and they moved to Egypt and settled there. This story is one that shows us the grace of God even though the trials, at times the hardest part of our life is putting us into a position to become the greatest blessing sometime in the future. I could preach more of that but that is not for today.

After a time the Egyptians were tired of the aliens that had moved into their land and seemed they failed to remember the history that brought these people into their nation and they became very jealous of them and began to persecute them and eventually enslaved them. For over four hundred years the children of Israel were enslaved, held in bondage, unable to live the life in the freedom they were promised by God though their Fathers. This is where Moses and Aaron come in and the beginning of the priesthood of Israel. Moses was sent by God to lead the people back to freedom, but Pharaoh was not willing to release them. This lead to sever plagues in the land. Water was made undrinkable, crops were ruined, flocks died, and eventually the first born of every family who was not covered by the blood of a lamb was killed by the spirit of God. After the plagues pharaoh allowed the people to leave his land, and the nation of Israel was formed.

But it was from the bondage, the plagues, and redemption that define the office of the priest. Everything within the religious life of Israel revolves around these events, because prior to this there was not a priest. Prior to this there was no need for a priest because God spoke directly to the fathers. But Israel was brought to bondage by their jealous and greed, and sin held them in captivity. It was God that brought them out and God who bought them. Yes I said bought them, because that is what happened. The price of Israel’s freedom was the first born of every living creature. Every creature of Egypt and every creature of Israel belonged to God. That was the price of redemption. What does this have to do with the office of the priest? When the blood of the lamb was place over the doors of the people of Israel it allowed the people to live, but it did not remove the price.

When Israel emerged out of bondage and journeyed to the land of promise, God demanded the first born of every creature including their children. This was a steep price to pay but God in His grace provided a way, to offset the demand of the first born he set aside one tribe out of the twelve to be his. All the other tribes would have redemption though this one a constant reminder of the steep price they had to pay for their redemption. The law required that every first born male child be brought to God and for the family to be able to take that child home they would have to bring a sacrifice to purchase the child back from God, but the exchange was that another child would take the place of the one redeemed. That child would come from one tribe the tribe of Levi, the tribe from which Moses and Aaron came. This tribe was God’s tribe, the tribe set aside to remind the nation of the great price required to live free.

One tribe, took on the wages of sin of a nation. And though this one tribe since they bore the sins of the nation they became the only ones that could offer to the people the grace of God. From that moment on God spoke predominately to the people through this one tribe and the people spoke to God through them. It was an entire cultural identity revolving around this recognition that our sinfulness carries a great price. For my children to live free, to inherit the blessing of God someone else must take their place. The tribe of Levi was taken care of but they were the one tribe that remained slaves even in the land of promise. They did not have an inheritance, they were bound, their only hope was in the people of Israel staying true to God and when the people turned from God they would see this one tribe suffer because of it.

Have we ever looked at the tribe of Levi, and the office of the priesthood in this light? This one tribe represented the entire nation. The good and the bad was seen through this one tribe. This one tribe represented the entire nation before God and God to the entire nation. But only one of this tribe could actually make direct appeals to God and that was the High Priest. This one high priest would wear the special garments representing all of Israel into the most holy area of the temple. This one priest carried it all. Imagine if you will that position. Imagine if you would have to stand before the judge speaking on behalf of everyone in our nation, having to provide an answer for every grievance that occurred, and knowing that those grievances could negate the very covenant that God made. How would you approach? How would you enter this most holy place? How would you stand before God knowing that the sins of your neighbor could cost not only them but you your life?

There is a reason that this most holy place is called the mercy seat, because that is the only thing that we could possibly ask for standing there before pure holiness. None of us can stand in confidence representing an entire nation. Because we are fully aware of our own short comings. There is not a single person holy enough to stand because all of us has sinned. But we do not stand in that place, because Jesus stands there for us.

I will briefly speak on Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of the most high God during the days of Abraham. I mention this only because he was outside the promise, he was not part of Abraham’s company, so by definition he was a gentile. And yet he was a representative of God. Jesus is said to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek and not of Aaron. Aaron was Israel’s priest, Melchizedek was not. Melchizedek is an image of the redemption of all people through Christ. The writer of Hebrews includes this because Jesus was not a priest according to Jewish Law. He was not a Levite, but of the tribe of Judah, and yet he became the voice of the people and the voice of God.

Jesus stands as our priest. There is no other priest required. Jesus came and lived among humankind, offering prayers, worship, and service to others. He stood before the accusers and took on the wages of sin. He hung on a cross and cried out to God the Father, “Forgive them, for the do not know what they are doing.” That statement still rings in the halls of the heavenly temple. Forgive them.

Jesus stood in our place. He took on our punishment. He became our advocate. And what He said is forgive them. The price to redeem those in bondage is life. It was the lives of the one tribe for the lives of the other eleven. It was potentially the life of the one priest for the life of the others. But there is still only one statement that can be made, “Forgive them!”

Can you say those words? Can you say those words knowing that those around you could care less? Can you say those words even when you feel those that have sin against you have no desire or even knowledge that an offense has occurred? Forgive them! Those are the words that a priest must say. And that is why I say that there is not an office in the contemporary era that really represents the office of the priest. Because it is impossible to say those words without the strength of Christ. Forgive them!

Forgive them, those are the words that Jesus spoke and the words that he is calling each of us to speak. The writer of Hebrews says that through Jesus’ priestly office he has become the source of eternal salvation for those that obey him. Forgive them, is the command that Jesus gave to Peter when peter asked about the sins of a brother. Forgive them. This is forgiveness is the beginning of our journey with Christ and through this forgiveness we have hope, and we become the hope for the nations. As we enter this time of holy expectancy and communion with God in sacred silence, I ask again, “Can you say those words: Forgive them?”

Who is Lord? (Sermon, October 19, 2014)

Matthew 22:15–22 (NRSV)

The Question about Paying Taxes

(Mk 12:13–17; Lk 20:20–26)

castle-1815 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens in religious groups, something that happens with nearly every type of religious group no matter what the religion is. They make images of a god that meets their personal or corporate desires. In the pagan cultures there were gods of war, goddesses of love, gods of death, and gods of the harvest each of these gods represented facets of our human desires for hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. Around each of these gods cults developed with religious rites and activities that one could participate in to gain favor with whatever deity they needed help from. You may say but that is pagan, in our Judeo-Christian culture we do not have a pantheon of gods like that, we worship one God. There is a problem with that statement because often we focus on an aspect of God more heavily than other aspect and even in our monotheistic faith we have set up images of God that often resemble personal ideologies.

I bring this up because faith and culture seems to be highlighted in the media constantly. For many of us we find this to be a great comfort, for others we find it discouraging. Our response has a lot to do with the image of God that we have idolized. But guess what this is not new in the history of religion. Similar situations like the ones we find ourselves in today have cycled throughout history. It was a cycle such as this that brought about the emergence of the Religious Society of Friends from which our church is rooted, it was a cycle like this that brought about the reformation of the church in the days of Calvin and Luther, it was a cycle such as this that separated the east from the west, it was a cycle like this that the first century Jewish culture in which Jesus lived and ministered to found themselves. These cycles are uncomfortable, they make us question everything about our society and the future of the world as we know it, but it is during these cycles that God brings about a new era and revival.

God is about to do and is doing great things around us. The kingdom of God is about to expand in a way that will lead us into a new era of the Church. But as time cycles on those of us caught in the whirlwind of history are left wondering what He is about to do. We look at the world around us questioning if this is the end or a new beginning. The answer can be found in the image of God that you have based your faith.

The first century, in which Jesus lived, was a social and political hot spot, war was always electrifying the very air that the people breathed, thunder bolts striking at any random moment as the energy ignited. There were groups of people drawn together by common goals and ideas, each of these groups would argue and fight over which was right and if for a moment you did not toe the line you would become a threat and an enemy to the common good as seen in their eyes. In today’s passage we meet two of those groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, but they are not the only two groups by any stretch of the imagination.

It is important to note these two groups because they are not often seen in the same circles. The Herodians were a faction of people within Israel that supported the royalty of the Herod family. This is important because we often see rule of Herod as being a puppet of Rome, so we often think of the Herodians as being those that supported the rule of Rome. But that is not exactly the full truth. This royal family can trace back to the rebellion of the Maccabees which brought the nation of Israel to independence for the first time since their exile in Babylon. Herod the Great gained this kingdom and title by marrying the last heir of the Hasmonean Dynasty. So although he was a king under the rule of Rome, those that supported his rule and the rule of his heirs were not exactly happy with their overlords, but sought an earthly kingdom of Israel.

The Pharisees are a group we are more aware of, but often our view of them is skewed. The Pharisees wanted to bring about a spiritual and pure nation devoted to the books of the Law and teachings of the prophets. They were missionaries that actually converted gentiles into the Jewish faith. The Herod family was one of those gentile families that converted. The Pharisees set up schools, built synagogues, and took the faith out of the temple and into the communities where people spent their daily lives. But they were strict in their teachings. If you were a member of their synagogues you had to follow strict rules or face consequences.

The Pharisees promoted a theocracy and the Herodians promoted a monarchy. The Pharisees promoted a kingdom based on their teachings, while the Herodians promoted a kingdom based on cultural heritage. Both opposed outside influences from the polytheistic empire that ruled over them.

These two groups usually at odds with each other found common ground in their opposition of Jesus, because Jesus did not meet either groups’ ideologies. So they decided to put Him to the test. Notice how they approach, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” They acknowledge that there is truth in what Jesus has to say, yet they reject his teaching. This speak to the image of God that each of the groups hold. They say that He speaks truth because Jesus taught straight out of scripture, but he did not put the same twist on the words that they did. They did not know how to handle his indifference to their idolized images of God. Because He refused to judge people in the same way the Pharisees did He was seen as an enemy of God, and because he did not show partiality to position as the Herodians did again he was seen as an enemy of God. Each group had an image of what God regarded as important and what the anointed messiah would be. The problem with Jesus is that he did not fit in their image.

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  Remember this is a question from the first century not today. Although we can see parallels due to the cyclical nature of history. Is it lawful to pay taxes to a government that you oppose? The conversation continues, “’Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax. ‘And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’”

I want each of us to really contemplate this discourse, let it soak down into marrow of your being. This exchange speaks deeply to our image of God and His relationship with mankind. It leads us to question where we draw the line between what is holy and what is common. It speaks to our understanding of sacred and secular, spiritual and material. It asks, “Who is the lord of our lives.”

This was not an answer that they expected. Both groups wanted Jesus to take a political stance supporting an independent Israel, but Jesus stepped around the question and made them face the reality that their image of God was nothing more than an idol. Jesus looked them in the eyes and told them that their view of God was in error, that they were chasing after the things of man and totally missing what was important in the eyes of God.

So often we equate success and wealth with God’s favor, but it is what we do with what God has given us that matters. These two groups opposed the government that ruled over them, and justified their rebellion in their religious fervor, but what they were actually supporting was not Godliness but greed. That is why Jesus asked to see the coin, and that is why Jesus asked whose image was on the coin. They wanted to keep their worldly wealth to themselves maybe throwing some out into some charitable cause but ultimately they were living in rebellious greed. They wanted the benefits of living in a system that provided their wealth but rebelled against the demands that system required. We could sit on this for some time debating, but we need to move on.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” What is the emperor’s and what is God’s? Our image of God, the image that so often times is skewed to justify our own actions, will dictate our answer to this question. But there is an inference In Jesus’ statement that is shocking, “You own nothing!” There can be only one ruler over mankind, man or God, and all that we are and all that we have belongs to one those rulers.

I know we do not like to hear that, especially in America. To speak those words makes me sound like a communist, but it is the truth. How can I say such a thing? I say this because where does all the fruit of our labors go in the end, we ourselves do not take anything with us when we go beyond the veil. All we have will be left to others.

We own nothing but are stewards. A steward in ancient cultures did not own the property they managed but was given the authority to make investments for their lord. So when Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He is asking, “Who is lord?” Are we ruled by the ways of man or are we ruled by God? Do we invest the wealth that has been entrusted to us in the things of man or do we invest in the things of God? Are we building empires of man or expanding the kingdom of God?

How are we answering those questions? Be careful because it may reveal something about our image of God. I hope that it has made us a bit uncomfortable. I hope that these words have caused us to consider, even for a moment, that we might be wrong. I hope that in that discomfort we will be driven to seek an answer.

These were the questions that those of first century faced, and they are questions that we face today. This is the very reason why Jesus came at that moment, because it is in moments like these that the answers shape the future for the next generations. Jesus came to reveal God to us. He came to show us what is important to God and how to live a holy rhythm with Him. He not only show us by the example He has given but provides for us the way to live that life, through Himself. And He is calling each of us to join Him in that life of worship, prayer, and service. Through that holy rhythm we discern how to invest in the kingdom though investing in the lives of the people He has called us to minister to. If we choose to neglect that rhythm we are then ruled by the empires of man.

We own nothing, but are stewards. Are we stewards of man’s empire or of the Kingdom of God? As we enter into a time of Holy Expectancy let us consider this, struggle with the discomfort that it gives us, and consider who our Lord really is. And as we answer that question, ask your lord for wisdom as you invest in the kingdom you choose to live.

The Kingdom of the Vengeance of Man or the Kingdom of the Forgiveness of God? (Sermon September 14, 2014)

Matthew 18:21–35 (NRSV)

Forgiveness

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Riot police in Ukraine fell to their knees to ask for forgiveness for their colleagues who shot and beat antigovernment protesters in the recent Kiev massacre. PUBLISHED: 06:12 EST, 25 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:10 EST, 25 February 2014 Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2567420/Begging-forgiveness-riot-police-blamed-dozens-deaths-Kiev-Brutal-security-forces-knees-greeted-shouts-shame.html#ixzz3DG9t9yAA Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Of all the disciplines of Christianity forgiveness is probably one of the hardest and most necessary ones. It is forgiveness that sets the followers of Jesus apart from the other faiths. Not so much that the other faiths do not have forgiveness included in their tenets but because the conditions for forgiveness are radically different.

Most people believe that forgiveness has conditions, meaning that if someone is remorseful then you should forgive. This is not how Christ taught his followers to forgive. They forgive first and then would seek repentance for the wrong doing after forgiveness has already happened. Last week we discussed how if someone in your community were to sin against you, or to hinder or cause harm to your relationship that it is your responsibility to go to them to attempt to restore the relationship. If they do not respond to you then you were to take others with you to again try to restore the relationship. And if they still do not respond to take the community or church with you, if they still do not respond then we are then to treat them as gentiles and begin the ministry of building a relationship all over. We cannot do this without forgiveness being at the very core of our faith.

To forgive is to let go, to leave behind, and to depart from. If we are forgiving sin or actions that have caused harm to our relationships we are letting go of the hurt not allowing it to control the future of our relationship. That I think is the key. Not letting the hurt control the future of the relationship. When we let the harm someone has done to us, either intentionally or un-intentionally, control the future of our relationship we are letting sin, or anything that hinders our relationships with others or with God, control our lives.

Have you ever really thought about that? When we lack forgiveness we are letting sin control our lives. Jesus came to free us from the grips of sin, he suffered on the cross to release the bondage of sin from our lives. He lived to teach and show us a lifestyle where forgiveness and grace dominated and vengeance faded to the background. But it is extremely difficult to live a lifestyle of forgiveness and grace because we live around people that are just plain irritating.

This is where the great theologian Peter comes to help us out. Peter asks, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Before we move on I want us all to recognize that Peter is actually being very gracious when he says this. The rabbinical teachings of the day said that it was only necessary to forgive someone three times, so Peter knowing that Jesus was teaching grace, repentance and forgiveness of sins was actually going above and beyond the teachings of the religious leaders. Seven is a good number, it is filled with powerful symbolism, and grace. The number six is the number that represents mankind, yet the number seven represents the completeness of man in communion with God during the Sabbath, where all has been created and God rested in the pleasure of his creation and we rest in his glory as well. So by suggesting the sevenfold forgiveness he is actually using the creative and imaginative portions of his brain to interact with God. It is actually a great suggestion and if we would actually forgive a mere seven times our world and our relationships with each other would be much stronger.  But Jesus answers him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

This is where the language and translations get pretty interesting, because other translations will translate this passage as seventy times seven. For most of us because we live in an era where we have things like mathematic and algebra we immediately begin to calculate this in our minds and we come up with a number 490. This is a pretty big number, and even if our minds do the math we get the general idea of what is being said, that we need to forgive a lot. But ancient cultures did not do math in the same ways that we do. If you think common core is confusing the mathematics of the ancient pre-Arabic number systems is even more confusing. Because of this very few people knew much about numbers so when they use large numbers it is generally in the figurative sense, so in this case it simply means un-calculable. So how many of us are actually going to keep a chart to track our forgiving of sin to the 490th time?

But what is interesting is that even though it simply means that we should be looking at it as forgiving without ceasing, Jesus is also speaking very symbolically. If we would look at Genesis chapter 4 we would get a clearer understanding of what Jesus is saying. This chapter of Genesis gives us one of the clearest pictures of a people devoted to God and people devoted to themselves because this chapter begins with the story of Cain and his brother Abel. Most of us know that Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to God, Cain offered a gift from the fields and Abel offered a gift from the herds. Some look at this story and see that God accepted the gift of the animal because of the blood, but I think the attitude of the giver had more to do with the acceptance of God than the actual gift, the language used states that Cain brought some of the harvest, where Abel brought the best of the herds. Suggesting that the reason for the rejection is that Cain’s gift was not the best or first of the crop but was what was left after he took his personal portion. But because of the rejection from God Cain became jealous of his brother Abel and killed him. As a result God cursed Cain and then guarded him saying that anyone that would kill Cain out of vengeance would be met with sevenfold vengeance, I want us to remember that number seven. Cain went on to become a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather to the sixth generation. This man of the sixth generation was a man by the name of Lamech. It was Cain’s line that began civilization, Cain built the first city, and Lamech’s family was the one that first began participating in the cultural arts like poetry and metal working. We look at Cain with disdain but I want us to remember that Cain’s descendants are in the genealogy of Jesus as well those from the line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s third child). And Lamech is included in that list of names. With that being said it does not mean that this family and this budding culture that came from Cain’s descendants were good people. Lamech wrote a poem to his wives stating that if Cain was avenged sevenfold than he would be avenged seventy times seven times. From this story we get the separation of the people of God and the people of man. The sons of God were the ones that followed the traditions of Abel, where the sons of man were the ones that followed the paths of Lamech. The path of vengeance and selfishness. Seeking only personal gain instead of building a society based on the completeness of creation in communion with God. Which leads us to the story of Noah, where the sons of God were marrying the daughters of man and thus the world was growing increasingly more selfish and focused on a lifestyle of vengeance and less on grace and communion.

These stories of the ancients were very real to the Hebrew people during the time of Jesus. They grew up listening to these stories and learning from the sins of the past and how the lifestyles of those ancient people would lead to the trouble. Even within the discourse between Peter and Jesus we see a parallel between the conversations between the ancients; Cain would be avenged sevenfold and Peter seeks to forgive sevenfold, Lamech will avenge seventy times seven times and Jesus teaches that we should forgive seventy times seven times. The kingdoms of man live in a culture of cyclical and infinite vengeance and the kingdom of God is a culture built on cyclical and infinite grace.

To me that is profound and powerful. We live in a culture that where vengeance is often the dominant theme. We hear sermons preached from pulpits across the land that tell us to repent or chance the fires of hell, but what are they really teaching, often it has very little to do with the love and grace of the kingdom of God, but instead is focusing on the vengeance of man. We hear on the news of extremist groups perpetuating a culture of death and vengeance and what is the response of many from a nation that claims to be built on the Christian faith and Christian values? Sadly it is not a message of grace, but is often marinated with the same ingredients of vengeance. This is not the Kingdom of God, this is the kingdoms of man working against each other, this is the sons of God becoming intimate with the daughters of man and letting the easy road of selfishness, vengeance and sin dominate the life. Instead of taking the hard road of building up the community on grace.

The kingdom of God is not one that is easy to enter. It is a lifestyle that takes discipline. It is a life that requires a community and a church that meets together to provide encouragement. Where the weak are encouraged and strengthened by those that are stronger. To live the lifestyle of Christ we need the constant communion with God in prayer where the very spirit of God will fill, teach and direct our lives showing us where we have hindered the development of the relationships with mankind and with God and providing the grace and strength to reconcile with each. It also requires that we respond to the Spirit of God and move out into the community around us serve those sons and daughters of Man so that maybe through the example of our lives lived among them they may begin to listen to that voice of God that is ever urging them to repent and turn to God.

As we prepare to enter into this time of open worship, I want us to consider these lifestyles the sevenfold and seventy times sevenfold lifestyles, one built on vengeance and one built on mercy, one built on selfishness the other of grace. I ask which culture are we building in the community around us. Are we living in the Kingdom of man or are we living in the Kingdom of God?

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