Reflections on 1 Samuel 8:4-20

There is no actual manuscript from today’s sermon, but here are some general thoughts and reflections from today’s passage of 1 Samuel 8:4-20. Continue reading

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Sunday Sermon: Not That Heavy

It was a short walk, maybe about 10 steps, from my bedroom to the kitchen where my mom would sit at the table. Often I would make those few steps to go to her with a question on how to do something.

How do I solve this problem? How do I answer this question? How do I get out of this bit of trouble?

We all go to our parents, especially our mothers, for assistance, because we trust them and know that they will help us. So, we go with our questions looking for help and trusting that our mothers will try to lead us in the right direction.

So it is with questions in mind as we gather today. I think all of us gather for worship each Sunday with a very basic question on our hearts. That question is this: How do we live this life that Jesus desires? In other words, how are we to follow what Christ desires for us today in a world filled with all of its challenges, obligations, and influences? Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: I am Thirsty

As we move ever so closer to Good Friday we are positioned to look at, truly, the final words that Jesus said from the cross. For what now dominates our attention are the most immediate words that were on Jesus’ lips in the moment before his death. Two of those words will come from John with an emotional word, which we will look at next week, coming from Luke.

None of these truly final words seem as simplistic as the one that is before us today. Three words that, on face value, do not seem to have much significance. The normalcy of these words might keep us from seeing the depth of its meaning for us. This is a typical writing tactic that John uses in his gospel. What might seem to us like a toss away passage or a word with little to draw upon is often rich with significance that teaches us about the life of Christ and what this life means for us today.

This word from John 19:28-29 is one of those seemingly quaint little passages that provide so much more than what we may initially believe. As we hear this word read, this morning, try to sense what is going on in this moment. Jesus has been on the cross, as we said last week, for about six hours. He is nearing his death. His body is weak. He is in pain. He is exhausted. Picture what this might look and feel like as we come to these words, especially the ones from John 19:28.  Continue reading

Living With a Promise

This morning, I must admit something to you all. As I looked back over the themes of the sermons from the last few weeks, I admit that what we have talked about in this series has been very challenging.

I know that it has been challenging for me and I am sure it has also been challenging for each of you. They have been challenging in that each of these sermons have asked us, in a way, to look at where we are, where we are going, and what Christ desires of us today and tomorrow.

Perhaps it is not ideal to preach a series of challenging sermons as the boxes are mounting at the house. It would easy to blame the lectionary for its selection of Easter season passages for this year, but that would not be fair to anyone. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of fluff. In my journalism days, I cringed at assignments that seemed to be space fillers, such as covering a local fair, before moving on to something else. I believe the Good News of Jesus Christ desires us all to be challenged to grow daily in our faith and what it means to be the church today. Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon: The Direction of Our Witness

As we read our passage, today, it is possible we might have heard a familiar tune in our head. The tune of the theme of our favorite courtroom or legal drama.

We might have heard the familiar chord from Law and Order or even the theme from The People’s Court. At least, that is what I heard. That is because what we have, this morning, is a classic courtroom drama. It is a case of loyalty and what it means to follow God. As we seek to understand what is going on in this trial, perhaps we need is Doug Llewelyn, the former host of The People’s Court, to tell us the litigants for this case are ready to enter the courtroom.

Entering first are the plaintiffs. They are the high priest and members of the Sanhedrin. The plaintiffs allege that the Apostles were in violation of Temple law. The Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body of religious and political leaders, claimed the Apostles were leading people away from a true faith in God by preaching in Jesus’ name. The group previously told the Apostles to stop doing so.

The Apostles, led by Peter, are the defendants. Even though they were told to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, they continued to do so. This was in violation of the Sanhedrin’s order. Prior to this trial, they were led in by the Temple guards who arrested them after preaching in the Temple. The Apostles’ hoped to express why they violated the order not to preach in Jesus’ name. As well, they want to claim how they have never done anything worthy of being arrested.

This image of a courtroom drama is familiar to us. Not because it seems like a trial seen on television. It is familiar because it is a trial of choice. One side believes it is being true to what it means to follow the Lord. The other side claims that it is doing the same. One option believes that authority is rested in the eye of the human, or what is close to us. The other believes that true authority is vested in the power and love of God.

We are participants in this trial as well, which makes it even more familiar. Unlike our passage from Acts 5:27-32, our trial is not played out in a courtroom or on television. It’s played out in our daily lives and how we respond to the good news that Jesus is alive.

Everyday we are faced with questions that forces us to consider how we are following Christ’s example. Daily living asks us the same question that the Apostles’ had to answer. Who are we obedient to?

It is a simple, but powerful question. The question asks us to think about what guides and motivates us. It also is one that forces several other questions to be asked. For instance, what does it mean that Jesus is our Lord? Is Jesus the Lord of our life? Who influences?
Each of these are powerful questions and ones that cannot be easily answered. It requires us, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to examine ourselves to see how we have responded to the questions in the past and present. Seeing how Peter and the Apostles answer the challenge by the Sanhedrin and high priest gives us guidance in how we can answer these questions.

As we alluded to earlier, this is not the first time the Apostles have been brought before the Sanhedrin. In chapter 4, they were questioned and told not to preach in Jesus’ name. They said, “We cannot stop telling about the things we have heard.” Peter and the Apostles say they must continue in their mission to be witnesses of what God has done through Jesus Christ.

They make the same argument here. When questioned, the Apostles, led by Peter, shed more light on the reasoning for their answer. When the court officials make their charge of frustration at the Apostle’s teaching, they say they must obey God rather than human authority.

Peter follows this with an element of preaching that focuses on the good news of Jesus Christ. The Apostles say that they are joining with the Holy Spirit in witnessing to the reality of the resurrection. When Jesus was raised from the dead, they proclaim the truth that he was given a place of honor. As a result of the resurrection, Jesus is both Prince and Savior for all of creation. He is both Lord and Savior. For this reason, Peter states, followers of Christ are to be obedient to God before anyone or anything.

In defending their case, Peter and the Apostles preach the good news of the resurrection and what it means that Christ is alive. They are not worshiping a false god or seeking the people to be led astray from their faith, as the high priest and Sanhedrin believed. Instead, they are proclaiming how the Lord has been present in all things. All of salvation history looked to the moment when Jesus would die and be raised to life. Peter and the Apostles are attesting to the truth of God’s desire to bring repentance and forgiveness to all.

Second, they are making the claim that the resurrection implies something very significant for faith. That is that when God raisef Jesus from the dead, he was placed in his rightful seat as both Lord and Savior. At the heart of this dispute is truly the question of Jesus’ lordship. The high priest and Sanhedrin did not want to believe that Jesus, the man whom they along with the Roman officials helped to crucify, was their Lord. Yet, the resurrection shows who Jesus is and has always been: The Lord of all.

Jesus’ lordship is central to the issue of obedience and authority. It is because Jesus is both Lord and Savior that he has authority and demands our obedience. Jesus’ lordship is about dominion and where Jesus has rule. As Lord, Jesus has dominion over all. The resurrection affirms that Jesus, as the Son of God, is the lord of all who desires to be Lord in our lives.

It is this truth that the Apostles, led by the Holy Spirit, give witness to this truth. Through their words and actions, the Apostles were living into the mission of making disciples by proclaiming that Jesus was the one who offers repentance and forgiveness and who desires to be lord. Their desire was for all people to know that Jesus was the way to a deep relationship with the Father built on the repentance of our sin and forgiveness of our guilt.

Jesus desires to be our Lord. For Jesus to be our Lord, it means that we become less and Jesus becomes more in our lives. It means to allow Jesus’ words, actions, and life to become real in our lives and lived out in how we share ourselves with others. If Jesus is our Lord, it means that he has dominion and rule over our complete lives and we seek to follow in the Lord’s ways.

Following in Jesus’ ways and words is the key idea of obedience. It is our response to his authority and lordship. But, how can we know if we are making a response to Jesus’ resurrection that affirms that the Lord is truly our Lord? It requires us to look into our heart.

Our heart, our inner self, tells us who we truly are. It shares who we are, who we seek to be, and who we want to be. It also tells us, and others, who is truly the Lord of our lives. The affections of our heart are defined by who we give authority to in our lives. Who we place our trust in is whom we truly follow and make Lord.

Every day we are faced with the courtroom battle that is faced in the lines of Acts 5:27-32. Every day we face a choice of whether we will believe that the resurrection is true and has importance in our lives. Every day we are asked to consider whether we make humanity our Lord or whether Christ is our Lord.

There are many things in our world that seeks to be our Lord and claim authority in our lives. Money seeks to control us. Our political ideologies seek to define us and others. Our jobs seek to take all of our time and energy. Our agendas seek to limit God’s will.

Yet, only one Lord can provide true hope. Only one Lord can provide true guidance. Only one Lord can have true authority that shows us the way to the Father. That is our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection calls each of us to respond by being obedient to Jesus’ words, presence, and life and witness to that good news in our lives and lives of our congregations.

Every day the question is asked of us to discern who we are obedient to and who is the Lord of our lives. These questions can help us, through the presence of the Holy Spirit working in us, to uncover our Lord. Who do we want to please? Who do we want to give honor to? Who do we want to hear say to us, “good job, good and faithful servant?”

Who are we obedient to? The resurrection has placed Jesus in his rightful place as Lord and has given him the authority to speak into our lives. The Apostles recognized Jesus’ lordship and sought to share this truth with everyone, even if it meant standing against the high priest and Sanhedrin.

But, what about us? Who will have dominion over our hearts? Who will be our Lord? How will we respond to the resurrection on this Second Sunday of Easter?

Sunday Sermon: What Side Are You On?

What side are you on?

That question can be used in many different conversations. It can be used to ask who someone will support in the upcoming election. It can be used when are friends are fighting and they ask us to be the referee. It can also be used to determine who we will be cheering for in the upcoming football game between Kentucky and Louisville.

So, what side are you on?

Most likely, we have asked this question and it has been asked of us. When asked, this question puts us on edge and instantly creates tension in a conversation. That is the question’s purpose. When we ask someone what side they are on we create a division between two or more sides, regardless if it is sides of an opinion or disagreement. The question intends to create a rhetorical line between the questioner and responder. The questioner’s hope is that the respondent will join “their side.” The responder is left with a choice. They can join this side or choose another. Either choice the respondent makes could affect that relationship.

We are familiar with this type of question, especially in our culture that is often defined by divisions. Our culture, unintentionally and intentionally, desires that all of our conversations and engagements of issues to be set in the posture of “us versus them.” It is an argumentative ploy that suggests that there is the “right” side and “wrong” side to every conversation and that there are always “winners” and “losers” in every discussion. It doesn’t matter if it is politics, the workplace, or even the mission of the church, we live in a time where any discussion can be placed within the constraints of “my side” and “their side.”

Divisive questions can often set us in a trap. The trap is this: By taking a side we could end up alienating ourselves from another person or group. Take the wrong side or support the wrong group and you could face several consequences. You could alienate yourself from friends or other groups of support. As well, you could jeopardize your own values and morals. When we are pressed with questions like this, we must be wise and mindful that of the potential trap and address it with grace.

Our passage this morning is similar to these conversations and trapping situations. In Mark 12:13-17, a group of Pharisees and Herodians wanted to trap Jesus. They wanted to arrest him, stop his teaching, and reduce the number of his followers. Their plan was to have Jesus take a side on a fiercely debated political issue that had religious significance to the Jews. When Jesus took a side, their plan was that the “losing” side would arrest Jesus for causing a rebellion. What we see is that Jesus rises above the trap and by doing so gives us guidance on how we can rise above attempts to create divisions within our circle of friends, society, and the church.

It begins when “the leaders” send a group of Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus. For Mark, “the leaders” represented the religious leaders of the time. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes had something to gain by having Jesus arrested. Jesus’ presence and teaching challenged their authority and power. This is among the reasons why the leaders constantly questioned Jesus’ teaching and authority. This particular attempt is the second in a series of four moments of direct questioning. Each of these questionings occurred during the Holy Week, which is the week leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

On this occasion, a select group of Pharisees and Herodians would try to trap Jesus on a question of law that also had significant political implications. The question was about whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. The specific tax in question involved the Roman census, which was enacted by the first Roman governor of Judea in approximately 6 AD. Since Jerusalem was under Roman rule everyone in Judea was required to pay the tax. This included the Jews.

This was a controversial tax and everyone had an opinion on whether it should be paid, which includes those in the middle of this story. The Pharisees believed in a strict observance to the law, which was found in Scripture (in the Old Testament). Since the coin used to pay the tax had Caesar’s image engrained in the coin they would have been opposed to paying the tax. They would have considered the coin an idol and against the commands of Exodus 20:4. While little is known about the Herodians other than they were supporters of Herod, we can assume they were supporters of the Roman authority. They would have said that paying the tax was legal and appropriate. While Mark does not directly discuss them, there is another group that has an interest in how Jesus would respond. They were the Zealots, which were a group of Jewish rebels who desired a revolution against the Roman rule in Jerusalem. Most of the Zealots came from Galilee, which was Jesus’ earthly home area and where many of his followers lived. At least one of his disciples, Simon, was associated with this group and many of his followers were likely familiar with or committed to its principles.

Each side or group had an interest in how Jesus would respond to the question, “[I]s it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” You can feel the tension as the Pharisee and Herodian ask it. You can sense the Zealots looking on to see if Jesus was with them and would take on the cause of the revolution. Notice what each of these groups had in common. All sides were more interested in their agenda or opinion than they were about truly following whatever Jesus had to say.

This situation is too familiar to us. We have perfected the trap that the Pharisees, Herodians and even the Zealots have attempt to lay down for Jesus to enter into. We try to trap Jesus by saying he is on our side. Also, we question how Jesus would respond to a given situation with the hope he would accept our view against the view of others. Why do we do this? It is because we desire to see ourselves as the judge and ultimate decider in all matters. Paul warns against this in Romans 2:1. When warning against judging he says, “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse!” When we hear Jesus’ response, we have to see ourselves as the person trying to trap Jesus, because often this is how we approach our relationship with Christ.

Jesus immediately sees that these groups were trying to trap him. He calls them on it and challenges their hypocrisy, which means saying one thing and then doing something else. It was blatant in this story. The Pharisee carried with him a coin that had Caesar’s image on it. This was the same coin a Pharisee would have considered to be against the law. Where are we like the Pharisee in this story? Where are we hypocritical in our relationship with Christ? Where are we not practicing what we say we do? As well, where are we asking Christ to weigh in on something with no desire to live by Christ’s teaching and desires? A life defined by hypocrisy challenges our integrity and prevents us from truly experiencing a deep relationship with Christ.

Jesus stays above the attempt to trap him and cause a division. He does so by not directly answering their question, and, thus, shows us a deeper way. Jesus says, “[G]ive to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” He says Caesar has every right to impose a tax, but he doesn’t address whether a Jewish person should pay it. According to Lamar Williamson, Jr., this frees him from the potential trap. How a person responds to paying the tax is left to their own theological engagement and relationship with Christ that is influenced by the second half of the answer. In saying we are to give to God what is God, Jesus says we are to give everything we are to God. We are to place our allegiance with God above any desire or allegiance we might have.

Why does Jesus say this? He says it because we have been marked with an image greater than Caesar’s image on a coin. We are made in the image of God, which is part of who we are. Because we carry this image with us, we are called to give our entire lives over to God. We are God’s and are called to live a life in response to that relationship. This relationship and marking is more important than any of our allegiances, any side that we could develop, or any agenda we could advance. Everything in on our life is secondary to this relationship. Our entire lives are to be lived in response to God’s great love, which is expressed through faith in Christ.

Jesus makes it clear we are God’s and it should call us to move away from attempts to create division and set up sides in our societies. Our deepest desire should be to seek the Kingdom of God. When faced with the temptation to place obedience to Christ as a matter of “us versus them” or the desire to say Christ is on our side, we must be willing to pause and ask ourselves where our allegiance is truly at. Is it with Christ or is it with me? If it is with ourselves, then we will find things broken and shattered. When we place our desire to truly and deeply follow Christ, and to allow all things to be dictated by that relationship, we will see boundaries break down, doors open, and opportunities for deep ministry created. We may not always get what we want, but it is not about us. It is about being aligned with Christ and having Christ be our first allegiance.

Our allegiance can be found by looking in the depths of our soul. Who are you living for? Who are you attempting to honor? Who are you wanting to praise? Who are you yearning for? How you answer these questions shows if you are living as someone who recognizes that you are God’s or someone who desires to live for our own wants, desires, or agendas.

Considering this, maybe we should hear again the question I opened the sermon time with. This time, we can say it differently. Instead of asking about what side we are on, perhaps I should ask each of us this: Where is your allegiance? Is it with yourself or is it with Christ?

Mega Millions: A Tax on the Poor and a Scam of Riches

One of my favorite songs in high school was the Barenaked Ladies’ classic “If I had a Million Dollars.” In the song, the band dreams of things that they would do if they had a million dollars and how they would give it the woman they loved.

With tonight’s anticipated Mega Millions drawing and anticipated $600 million-plus payout, it has everyone doing their own version of the song and dreaming of what they would do with that money. For the record, my wife and I jokingly had our little “$600 million dream” session last night. We decided we would pay off seminary debt, pay off the debts of our family members, put money away for our future children, give money to our favorite charities, establish scholarships at all of our alma maters, and follow through on Michael Scott’s desire to find a class of students and give them a free education.

We all have dreamed big with this payout, but tonight’s drawing raises an important question for us to consider. Should we support lotteries and should we play them? Ignoring the claims that lotteries promote education, it is my belief that lotteries are nothing more than a state-sponsored scam aimed at the poor with the hopes of a better life and fortunes.

It is often the poorest in our communities who will spend hundreds on lottery tickets banking on the hope that one of their numbers provide fortune and fame. The investment is unwise. As CNN pointed out yesterday, you have a better chance of getting killed by a vending machine than you do winning the lottery. Yet, the thrill of striking it rich brings us back to our neighborhood store with our money in one hand and lucky numbers in another.

Had that same money been invested, as some like Dave Ramsey points out, it would have turned and made a profit that has better odds than hitting the “powerball.”

Even though Scripture never comes out specifically against gambling, we can infer that gambling goes against God’s desires. If we assume that is the poor who play the lottery the most and that it takes away money that could be used elsewhere, then gambling and lotteries take advantage of the poor. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God calls us to care for the poor and seek their provision and care. One of the basic calls in Jesus’ ministry was to care for the poor who had, so often, been neglected by the ruling elites of his time.

Lotteries also shows us who are god truly is. It’s almost ironic that as we prepare for Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s arrival to Jerusalem as king, that we have this massive lottery. Chasing after lottery payouts shows us that our money, and future riches, is really are god. When we lay down our money at the lottery stand, we do so as an act of greed and lust of money. Something as simple as wanting to provide a better life for our family can deter us from our obedience and desire to live for God.

Turning to lotteries for financial success will only breed financial and personal ruin and will deter you from your faith in Jesus Christ. We can and must seek better for ourselves and our neighbor.

My hope is that the day will come when lotteries are phased out. Though this is my hope, I recognize that as long as lotteries pay big money and people are dictated by their love of god (money) they will be here for a long time to come. As leaders in the church, we must be willing to address lotteries and teach people a better way to financial health and personal obedience in Christ.