Pastor Roy's Sermons

February 2019

February 24 - Deception, manipulation, grace, and trust

Put yourself in Jacob’s sandals. The deceiver has been deceived yet again. First, he deceived his father into blessing him and all but cursing his brother. He was deceived by his father in-law Laban and was tricked into marrying two daughters rather than one. He deceived his father in law by his shepherding practices and when his flocks became too numerous for all to stay in the same place, he took his growing family and their flocks and left under cover of darkness. Rachel, Joseph’s mother deceives her father Laban and steals the family gods likely because she thought they could bless the family. When Laban catches up to them, Rachel remains on her camel with the gods underneath of her in the saddle with the explanation that “the way of women is upon” her. Jacob is then upset with Laban for his accusations. They part on friendly terms and then Jacob offers many gifts to his brother Esau to make peace with him, though it has been upwards of 20 years since he left. Esau has moved on and forgives his brother.
But that is not the end of this story of deception and grace. Joseph is hated by his brothers because he is the favorite son and he is immature and arrogant. The brothers jump him and throw him in a pit and then sell him to traders to be sold into slavery in Egypt. (Really nice brothers. . .) They deceive their father into thinking he was killed by wild animals. Years ago. As Jacob slowly learned to trust by his failures, so did all of his sons.
Now his sons come back from their 2nd trip to Egypt for food during the famine, and they reveal that the paranoid man in charge in Egypt is actually Joseph, their brother, his son. When he sees the caravan which accompanies them, he is convinced and returns to Egypt to embrace his long thought dead son.
So put yourself in the sandals of the deceived deceiver. What are the chances that his son is 1-alive and 2-now second in command in Egypt? Hard to believe! Yet, he believed that the blessing he had worked so hard to find was coming to him without manipulation or control—as a gift. Jacob’s trust had grown slowly—his trust in God, his trust in his brother Esau, and in his sons. He learned the hard way that the more he tried to force, manipulate, and control, the more miserable he was. So over the course of his life, he learned that God’s promises were sure and he came to know that being blessed was not what he did but who he was.
And so our faith also comes to us slowly as we try to force our way into God’s grace. We like Jacob struggle to believe the God promises we are told in our dreams, in our Scriptures, in our relationships. Fortunately God is gracious and the promises are a gift no matter how slow we are to receive them.
Isn’t that what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians? Spirit follows bodily, earthly experience, even as Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection follow the life and death of Adam, the man of dust. We cannot pull off our own imperishable life beyond death. We cannot understand and manage all of our relationships. Our faith stories are filled with mistrust and unknowing, but we do learn to trust. As Paul says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. And so, we wait with open hands, trusting that God gives good things to those who wait, hope, and slowly learn to trust.
Jacob demonstrates that our faith is not up to us, it’s up to God. Faith is foolproof. Yes, trusting is a healthy response, but not even trusting earns us the imperishable resurrection. Whether we trust or doubt, whether we hope or fear, God bestows the imperishable to those who finally leave behind the perishable. Our bodies inevitably wear out and everyone is forced to let go of their stubborn power and release it back to God. Even when it is not a conscious act, the release back to God is sure.
And so, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and give to those who will never pay us back--not as a test of our goodness, but because acting with love sets us free before we die. The children of God know and practice the love of God—who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. We can be merciful because God is merciful. When Jesus says, the measure with which we give will come back to us, he is stating the facts. Those who are tight will live in a tight world. Those who are generous will experience generosity at every turn. We are not earning salvation, we are living the good life—participating in the abundant mercies of God.
This is the love of Christ. This is faith in Christ. This is what Jesus Christ demonstrated on the cross. Love sets us free to trust. Even when hanging on a cross.
May your journey be filled with opportunities to trust deeply in the mercies of God. The greater our challenges and brokenness, the greater our opportunity to release it all in trust to God. The greater our chance to know grace and love. Thanks be to God.

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February 17 The tough road into Trust

Blessed are they who trust deeply not in themselves but in God. They have roots. They are grounded. They are less blown about by instinct and fear, nor the temptation to take shortcuts to blessing and joy which lead to disappointment.
I think we all want to trust God. . .but it’s easier to read it on a coin than to practice it. Why is it we must keep deciding to trust? Why can’t we just choose once and then go on trusting because our mind is made up?
It’s as if our default setting is to worry. Perhaps that is a good definition of what we call sin or original sin. Worry, mistrust, the need to take care of ourselves and get things right—or else—all rather than trusting in God’s care which. . .really always has the final say anyway, right?
So the blessed life is not a life of worrying about getting it right. And yet, we worry. Faith is about trust, not about worrying ourselves into the Kingdom.
We worry about so many things, but fortunately, our salvation in this life and that to come is not about us getting it right but in finally getting that we aren’t ever going to get it right. That we will live every day struggling to trust and receive the love of Christ. . .
And God loves us unconditionally. Whether our faith is at a high ebb or low. So we needn’t worry. We are blessed whether we know it or not. But our readings today remind us that we are more aware of our blessedness when we understand that we broken people, by nature worriers, and that God still loves us.
In fact, it is true to say that the better and more worthy we feel, the further we are from knowing the joy of the God. For those who believe they are in charge of their own lives are truly mistaken and, therefore, lost. If I think I can pull off whatever goals I have for this life, myself, I am lost. Truly lost.
So faith is not about figuring out how to trust, how to have strong faith. It’s about giving up figuring out how to trust. It’s about leaving the trust in God’s hands.
Faith is not faithfulness, it is consecration and surrender in our day to day struggle. Faith is giving ourselves over to God’s purposes each time we realize we can’t really do anything ourselves. The cross of Christ is our highest example, our salvation, because in allowing himself to be crucified, Jesus becomes for us the greatest example of injustice, of despair, of poverty, hunger and thirst, grief, and having a shattered reputation. . .and he allows it. . .for love of all those who also experience these things. Jesus Christ is perfect in suffering and is welcomed by God.
The truth of the beatitudes I just read are fulfilled in his crucifixion and death. These blessings are points of despair. Who wants to be poor? Yet who learns to trust better than the poor. Who wants to be hungry? Yet, blessed are those who have no choice but to look to God to be fed. Who wants to be overwhelmed with grief? Yet, blessed are you who despair because you have lost loved ones? Who wants to be hated, exclude, reviled, and defamed? Blessed are you who find your reputation in God because yours has been destroyed. Rejoice, leap for joy, for only then will you ever be forced to abandon your addiction to providing for yourself/to take care of yourself/to be sufficient. Only then, will you find God and learn to trust God.
Jesus lists opposing woes, because those who never doubt themselves, those who are always able to take care of themselves, those who never abandon hope and give up on saving themselves--they will never give themselves over to trusting God because they don’t have to. Jesus suggests that those who cling to their own ability will miss out on the blessing and joy of faith.
Indeed, there is nothing good about being poor, or hungry, overwhelmed with grief, or excluded and despised, but until we run into significant trouble in our lives and actually need help that no one but God can provide, we are spiritually hopeless because we haven’t been forced to trust in anything but ourselves.
The good news is that everyone has ample trouble in their lives to discover the freedom of faith and the grace of God.
So we tend to think faith is easier for strong, wise, and good people. Jesus suggests that it is only with suffering that we learn to trust and love God. It is born not of our own goodness, but out of the desperation of our humiliation and trouble.
For it is there we learn that there is no hope except in the mercy of God who always welcomes those who seek help. Thanks be to God and may we be aware of our need so that we can allow ourselves to fall into the mercy of God

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Feb. 10--Consecration and Surrender

Children’s lesson: What do people say you are really good at? What if someone who wasn’t as good at it as you told you how to do it? What would you think? But what if what they told you, then, really helped you? What would you think about them? Some of the men who followed Jesus were really good at fishing. . .
Imagine with Isaiah being caught up into the fierce presence of God. How do you react when you, however it happens to you, come face to face with God? Isaiah, like Jeremiah last week, doesn’t make excuses for his sin and unclean lips. He simply confesses his feeling of unworthiness and incompleteness. He is deeply humbled and now he is listening. And right away he receives a message.
As with Jeremiah’s call which we read last week, Isaiah is to assume the worst-- that the people will not listen until almost everyone is driven from the land in desolation. The nothing which remains will be the seed of newness, resurrection, the gift of God bringing new life. The seed is hopelessness and despair. It’s as if God cannot work with an Israel which is good enough.
God’s call to Isaiah is not about him and Israel getting it right. It’s about him and Israel giving up on their own abilities and success. It’s about them surrendering to God first. All the stuff he wants—he’s got to let it all go. That is how consecration works. It’s not about bringing our “A” game, our best effort, its about giving up that our best effort will ever be good enough or accomplish anything at all.
Last week Jeremiah was called to be willing to open his mouth and trust that God will fill it with the right words. God was calling Jeremiah to be surrendered and consecrated to God. So is Isaiah. That is the burning of his lips with the coals from the fire of the altar of God. It’s the opposite of what we expect. And that is how life is.
Hope is from God and God alone. To the extent that we try to save ourselves and everyone around us, we are doomed. Hope does not come from me and you. I cannot help you. I cannot help myself. I can only give myself over to God. The sooner I recognize and embrace that, the sooner I will change from being a fake, a pretender, even manipulatively violent, the sooner we can let ourselves go. . .into God’s grace—so that we can trust, and rest, and hope, so that we can live with compassion toward ourselves and our neighbors.
God’s coming in peace cannot be stopped and it cannot be started. All we can do is receive. Be filled with hope and joy. This is true for every aspiration, every hope that is within us. We can’t make ourselves be good neighbors, or good friends, or good parents, or good spouses. We can only surrender ourselves to God and then to the people we love and serve.
On to Luke. Jesus comes teaching from a boat. Simon must have thought to himself, “At least the boats are good for something since we failed last night.” Until Jesus suggests they go out again, “Sure, whatever you say, Master, we’ll put further out and drop our nets even though last night was a big zero. The fish are elsewhere. But, hey, you’re the boss. Whatever you say, we will do, even though we really do know what we are doing.”
Turns out the fish were closer than Simon realized. With Jesus there is unexpected abundance. Plus the invitation, “Now you will fish for people.” And they followed him.
The disciples were not called to produce their own abundance, but to give themselves over to the abundance of God. Jesus invites the disciples to consecrate themselves to the work of loving people, serving people, leading people back to God. And there will be unexpected abundance. But it will be God’s abundance not theirs.
Today, God is calling us to consecrate ourselves, to surrender to God’s mercy in exchange for our own strength. Jesus calls the disciples not to have all the answers or make good things happen, but to simply follow. To be open and willing to go where the Spirit leads. And chances are good, like the promise of a desolate land to Isaiah, that we will rise up in the strength of God only after we have fallen down in our own strength. The power of the church is in her ability to trust. Not in her ability to get things done. May we be such a church, such a people. Consecrated, surrendered to the mercy and love of God—in every way. Not strong, but lifting up our weakness in humility to God and one another.
And there will be unexpected abundance, in unexpected places and unexpected ways.
Thanks be to God.

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February 3 - Love the foundation of faith and hope

In today’s introduction to the life of Jeremiah, he is reminded that it is God who saves the day. Each day. Each time. Without fail. Without exception. Not Jeremiah, not me, not you. But God. Over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. God’s work. Jeremiah’s voice, freely spoken, the divine message flows through him. In humility he learns to receive the message and pass it on. He learns to love his people by passing on God’s love, God’s peace—the good life of God which has the power to transform every aspect, every nook and cranny of Israel’s religious, political, economic, social world. Jeremiah’s message humbly passed along from his investment in listening to God to the people has the power to change, to lift up, to bring a new quality of life.
But Jeremiah must remember that it is God’s message of wisdom and mercy, not his. All he has to do is be willing. Open. Truly open to hearing something new from God. Not just repeating what he has always felt or believed, but listening, carefully listening for the life changing message of God. This is not a message that keeps him or Israel, or us comfortable, but which wakes up the life of God in its full richness, within us and around us. That is no small thing.
In I Corinthians 13, Paul thinks about prophesy and this life of God we call faith. He says, “We know in part, we prophesy in part, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully. Now abide faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.” Faith and hope and love are all related. But what is faith without love? And what is hope without love?
Perhaps another way of putting it is that love is the foundation for hope and faith. Or, the most essential of these is love. Hope and faith are all about God’s love and the planting and building of love within us. Love is a powerful force—constantly underestimated. But faithful love is anything but passive. It is quite active. And faithful love is like the coming of Spring, it cannot be stopped even as it cannot be forced until it’s time has come.
Jeremiah doesn’t speak much of his love for his audience. But he does speak of the love of God, the passion of God for all the nations and for his people Israel. Nothing but love could motivate the prophets of the Old Testament. If you read and meditate on their words, you will be moved by this love which is satisfied only by a willing heart.
Is this perhaps why Jesus responds so unexpectedly to his townsfolk? He knows them, so he can cut straight to the point. Perhaps they react violently because they are not willing to go in a new-open to God-direction. They are not open or willing to seek God’s future. They are stuck fast in their own past and miss out on the chance to learn with Jesus.
Love makes us humble and willing to listen. Violence and explosive anger are signs of closedness to God’s message of peace, humility, and courage. Jeremiah learns to listen and speak without fear because he is moved by love. Jesus and Paul did the same. May we also listen carefully for the words and

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