No Regrets

preached at ELC September 29 2019 | bwk

Luke 16:19-31

Regrets 3 x 5 index cards…privately write down one thing in your life that you regret. Then fold it up and place it in your pocket or purse.  We will deal with them at the end of this sermon.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”  What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  What do you want to be remembered for?  Picture what your legacy might be and live into it.  

Wayne Gretzky is quoted as saying, “you miss every shot you don’t take.”  Do you have regrets for opportunities lost—shots you didn’t take?  

My guess is that we all have words spoken we wish we could take back.  We all have times we wished we had spoken up, but didn’t.  We have things we have done—mistakes, silly, stupid mistakes—we wished we could go back and do differently.  But what about the big ones?

Ron Wayne was one of the founders of Apple, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. He helped to steer the computer company in its early days, and had a hand in designing the famous Apple logo. Wayne owned 10 percent of the company, while Jobs and Wozniak each owned 45 percent. But Wayne decided to hand back his stake, fearing that he would be liable for a portion of a $15,000 loan if the company went under.

Apple succeeded, of course, and if Wayne had held on to his stake it would now be worth more than $37 billion.

Does he have any regrets? 

Surprisingly, no. “I made my decision on the information I had at the time,” he tells James Thomson of SmartCompany. “I’ve got my health, my family and integrity — and that is the best fortune you could ask for.”

Do you believe him? Thirty-seven BILLION dollars — and NO regrets?

Jesus tells the story of a rich man who was “dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). The man dies, is buried and finds himself in Hades being tormented (vv. 22-23).  He is miserable and sees Lazarus “in the lap of luxury” Abraham’s bosom, while he is in torment.  Interesting, isn’t it that the rich man is unnamed (implying we should put ourselves in his place) and the poor man,Lazarus, is named.  Their situations are completely reversed.  Does he have any regrets?  Sometimes we regret the consequences of bad decisions we have made, yet don’t really regret the bad decision.  

A nurse specializing in care of the terminally ill has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and there’s no mention of missed business deals. No regrets about skipped bungee jumping opportunities or even about marriage — despite the many jokes that link regret to the choice of a mate. (According to one, a woman inserts an ad in the classifieds: “Husband wanted.” Next day, she receives a hundred letters. They all say the same thing: “You can have mine.”)

No, the top five regrets discovered by the nurse include:

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. People admit that they feared change in their lives, so they pretended that they were content. In fact, they wish they had laughed more and allowed themselves to be sillier.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. People feel badly that they were so caught up in their own lives that they let important friendships slip away.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This regret was expressed by every male patient. Every single one of them.

And the number one big regret, discovered by nurse Bronnie Ware and reported in The Guardian (February 1, 2012):

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This is the most common regret of all. “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams,” says Ware, “and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

Do these big regrets ring true? 

What would you regret if this were your last day on earth?

This unnamed rich man—again being unnamed he seems to picture all of us, put yourself in his place—still seemed to look at Lazarus as a servant, less than himself.  “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  And then, when that fails he says, “send him to my father’s house to warn my brothers…”  It seems to me the unnamed rich man is regretting his circumstances, not his poor decisions.  The reason Jesus tells this parable is for us to cause us to LISTEN, THINK AND CHANGE—improve our response and examine our decisions.  

Consider the following thoughts:

1. Cared for the people around us. Who is sitting outside our gates?  How can we see and respond to those in need around us?  

2. Listen to Moses and the prophets. God has given us His Word.  Do we read it?  Do we “pay attention?”  Does the Bible have any impact on our thinking and values? How we act? How we drive? How we spend our money? How generous we are (or aren’t)?  How we vote?  How we fight or disagree or speak up for those less fortunate than us?  You see, we need to not only read the Bible, we need to live it and let it change us.  

3. Find the courage to live a life true to my Savior, and live consistently to what I say I believe. One of the biggest challenges we face—I face, you face—all of us—is to give in to peer pressure.  We get wrong impressions about what it means to be a believer and follow Jesus when we let the crowd tell us what to believe and do.  If we are really following Jesus we will keep the law of love as Jesus lived and taught it.  And that means seeing and identifying with the weak, the disenfranchised, the widows, the orphans, the foreigners at our gate.   

This unnamed rich man responds to Abraham’s suggestion that they have Moses and the Prophets—whereby he means the Law and Prophets, the Old Testament of the Bible because that is what they had back then—by saying send someone back from the dead, then they will certainly believe.  Yet, Jesus prophetically predicts that even if One would come back from the dead, they won’t believe.  

Jesus tells this parable not so we could judge the unnamed rich guy, but that we would see ourselves in his shoes and judge ourselves.  None of us is perfect.  We will all come to the end of life feeling that we have made mistakes along the way.

Don’t make excuses for past blunders.  Accept yourself as human—we are all in the same boat! Confess your need for forgiveness.  Accept the forgiveness God gives you in Christ Jesus.  Claim the indwelling Spirit within you and practice making better choices.  Live your faith out loud.  Be aware.  Be kind.  See the invisible, unnamed people around us.  See Jesus in them.  Give to the poor through all the many charitable organizations available to us.  

Putting our actions in line with our beliefs — living a life of integrity — is a change that is made one choice at a time.

The result is a life you won’t regret.

What to do with your 3×5 index card with its regret.  Change your regret if you can still do so.  If not, take it to the cross, give it to Jesus and leave it there.  

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

ICR’S

His name is Knute.  He was a cranky old Norwegian.  He joined our caroling party one Advent. We had just finished singing Christmas carols to home bound members and nursing homes and had returned to the church for hot chocolate and snacks.  We were all joyful, but Knute (pronounced Ka Nute) was a little too happy.  Later that night I found two little empty liquor bottles in the trash in the men’s room. I asked him about that. Not long after that Knute committed himself to a rehab program. He ended up becoming a regular part of our church family.  

One of his favorite phrases was, he was having a bad case of the ICR’s—”I can’t remember.”  What did I come into this room to get?  Did I miss my appointment? What’s her name? Did I write that note?  Whatever he’d forget would lead him to say “I have a bad case of the ICR’s.”

I grew to love that man.  We talked a lot about life, the church and various elements of faith, and God’s forgiveness in Jesus.  

Forgiving ourselves is hard to do.  Sometimes we cannot let go of our past mistakes and failures.  We cannot forget and feel God won’t either. Yet did you know that God can have a case of the ICR’s?  Here are a couple of verses that tell us about God’s forgetfulness.

Isaiah 43:25 

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 103:8-12

“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He will not constantly accurse us, nor remain angry forever.  He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east if from the west.”  

Micah 7:19

“Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet

and throw them into the depths of the ocean!”

Does God have a memory problem?  No, and yes.  God never forgets us, never breaks His promises to us.  Never forgets to care.  Yet, because of Jesus our sins are forgiven. More than that, they are forgotten.  Our sins have been thrown into the sea of forgetfulness (Micha 7:19)!  Because of Jesus none of us has to fear God’s remembering what we strain to forget.  Because of Jesus each day is new, a day to hope and not give up, a day to start over again with a clean slate!

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

The 3 R’s of Religion

The 3 R’s of Religion:  Rescue, Restore, Rest – ELC  August 25, 2019/ bwk

Texts: Isaiah 58:6-14 & Luke 13:10-17

What does God expect of you? of us?

Keep the big ten—Ten Commandments?  

Answers that have been given:  Worship?  Read the Bible?  Tithe?  Pray?  Be kind?  

John Wesley’s advice was “avoid causing harm, do good and keep loving God.”

In verse 5 and the verses earlier in Isaiah 58 the children of God—believers in the Old Testament—complain that God does not pay attention.  Why do we fast and humble ourselves and you don’t notice or give us credit for being so good!

God’s response is to confront them with how they are living, and to tell them what He really looks for from us.  Read through verses 9b and 10 again.  

If you remove the yoke from among you, 

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 

10 if you offer your food to the hungry 

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 

then your light shall rise in the darkness 

and your gloom be like the noonday.

Unpack that a bit:  Free those who are bound, stop pointing the finger, judging and blaming others and speaking evil of them.  Give food to the hungry.  Take care of those who are going through tough times.  

vv. 6 & 7 are not printed in our worship folder, but hear what they say:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose: 

to loose the bonds of injustice, 

to undo the thongs of the yoke, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

and to break every yoke? 

and bring the homeless poor into your house; 

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 

when you see the naked, to cover them, 

and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

Rather than performing some religious duty, what does God look for / expect from us?  To CARE. 

You might recall Ivanka Trump’s jacket many months ago when she was at our southern border.  Do you remember what it said?  “I really don’t care.  Do you?”

Most of us will not be quite that crass or blunt.  Yet, we too, can loose our focus and be more concerned about our image, our comfort, our agenda than what God looks for from us.

God, according to our reading from Isaiah expects us to rescue those who are disadvantaged and in harms way.  Give food to those who need it.  Give help to those in need.  Give freedom to those are under bondage because of injustice.  It is hard to escape the social justice message of both the Old and New Testaments.  We can wonder and wrestle with the violence of the Old Testament in numerous places, but you cannot dismiss what God says about caring for strangers, pilgrims, foreigners, refugees, etc.  

Our Gospel reading this morning is a great example of that. 

Consider the woman who has come to the synagogue to worship.  She didn’t draw attention to herself.  She didn’t beg Jesus to heal her.  Yet as Jesus teachs in the synagogue on the Sabbath He looks and sees her.  What was her problem?  She was stooped over!  Presumably at a ninety degree angle or close to it.  He saw her.  He called her to His side.  He put His hands on her and set her free.  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

She immediately straightens up, no groaning, creaking, complaining, and begins to praise God!

How long was she stooped over?  Eighteen years!

What would that have been like?  What would she see from that bent over position?  The floor, the ground, eye contact would be nearly impossible.  What work could she do? Communication with others very difficult.  Life would be very hard indeed.  

And she had this condition for eighteen years!  

Then Jesus sees her, calls her to His side, and frees her from bondage.  That’s what the Gospel is all about!  Sometimes we are temporarily healed on this side of heaven. However, physical healing often times does not happen on this side of heaven.  Spiritual healing begins as soon as a person places their faith and trust in Jesus.  This woman is healed immediately!

The call of the Church, the 3 R’s of religion are to experience the freedom God gives us in Christ Jesus through His life, death and resurrection—to know and experience the freedom won through the cross and empty tomb.  But it does not stop there.  

God calls us to care for others, to actively be involved in working for their well being and freedom, rescuing and restoring them to the fullness of life God desires for all of us.  We are the body of Christ.  We are Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  God works through us.  Just like next Sunday is “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday.  Only God longs for us to do that 365 days of the year, every year, all life long.  

And that can wear us out!  Notice in our Isaiah reading God also talks about the Sabbath.  What is the Sabbath for?  Rest!  But the Sabbath is not just rest from physical labor, but rest from our agenda’s our rat race to do our thing.  The Sabbath is for the sake of listening to God and retuning our hearts and souls, refocusing our vision and perspective.  Learning how to see ourselves and others from God’s point of view.  

Sometimes we need to give our pride and prejudices a rest—let go of our stubborn agendas and crooked thinking.  That does not happen automatically!  None of us can say we are “the least prejudiced person in the world.”  None of us can say we are more open and welcoming—more spiritually alive than anyone else.  We all, must of necessity, always examine ourselves, turning back to God in repentance and learning how to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the Law of Love that Christ has called us to.  

Consider our Gospel reading again from Luke 13.  

Jesus confronts the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy.  They are more concerned about having things done “decently and in order” — Don’t heal on the Sabbath.  There are six other days of the week.  Come then and be healed.  They didn’t scold Jesus.  They scolded the woman who had been healed.  

Jesus turns the table on them.  They are hypocritical.  They will untie their beasts of burden and lead them to water even on Sabbath days.  If they can do that for an animal, is there any reason to unloose this poor woman from her satanic affliction?  Note, we don’t know what caused her disease, but Jesus says she has been bound by Satan for eighteen long years!  The Greek word for untie is the word Jesus uses in His confrontation of the hypocritical Pharisees, and for unloosing the woman from her 18 year old affliction!

Jesus shames the Pharisees for their mixed up, legalistic thinking.  Imagine being there. You could hear the joy breaking out in the crowd.  The leading Pharisee had made a good sound point.  There are proper ways to get things done.  The Pharisee’s demand seemed logical and fair.  After all there are six days in the week other than the Sabbath.  Come then and get healed!  Why mess with the sanctity of the Sabbath! Keep the law.  The crowd was probably convinced of the Pharisaical line of reasoning.  Then Jesus spoke and applied the law of love in front of them, and shattered the hypocrisy that we all get caught up in.

If we are really resting spiritually and learning how to listen to God’s heart through worship and reading of Scripture, we will connect past what seems right and learn how to keep God’s fast, doing what God really requires from us!  Care for the people for whom Jesus came, died and rose again.  That includes us, yes.  Once we have tasted that freedom we share it with all others too.    

Let us be bold and learn to do as Jesus would have us do.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Find Meaning in Life

Luke 12:13-21 (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14 & 2:18-23)

Perspective!  Looking ahead!  Seeing down the road.  As a young driver I was taught to look further down the road than just in front of the car.  One of my jobs as a farm hand was to do field work such as cultivating, etc.  That, too, required looking further down the field so as to keep as straight a path as possible.  

One of our challenges in life is to look far enough down the road that we can see where we are heading and what obstacles we might encounter.  Looking down the road also helps us to consider consequences for our actions.  

The rich man in our second story this morning is called a “fool” because he failed to look far enough down the road.  He saw his physical well being, but completely forgot about his spiritual well being.  He forgot his soul.  He forgot his mortality.  

He was planning ahead in one sense.  His retirement and financial well being were well taken care of.  He had it “made in the shade.”  

The first unnamed person in our Gospel account was also narrow sighted.  He wanted Jesus to tell his brother to be fair—share the family inheritance.  That sounds like a “fair” request.  The family inheritance should be shared, right?  Jesus, however, was more concerned about the shadowy issue of greed and discontentment.  “Guard against greed—for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

The word “vanity” from our Ecclesiastes reading can literally be translated as “mist, or vapor” or “mere breath.”  Think of standing out in the cold on a winter day and watching your breath as you exhale.  How long does it last?  That is longer than our lives in comparison to eternity.  

We spend so much of our time focused on things that do not last.  We invest our entire lives on things that disappear like a vapor.  The preacher in Ecclesiastes calls it vanity.  It is useless, vain, wasted effort to give our lives to what does not last.  

Yet, money and taking care of our wellbeing is important, isn’t it?  All of us are concerned about how far the money will go, how will we afford medical costs, health care, all the “what if’s” in life.  Jesus is telling us to be balanced.  Take care of things physically, yes!  But don’t neglect your soul—don’t forget about God’s kingdom and spiritual values!

A part of this unnamed man’s (Nemo—no man, every man, all of us…) problem is he is self focused.  He only sees himself and only talks to himself. 

His farm, his labor, his crops have all done well.  Where’s the gratitude?  He obviously considered himself a self-made man, and felt no need for thanksgiving or gratitude to God.  No one is completely self-made or independent.  We all need God.  We all need each other.  Not to see that or acknowledge it is foolishness.  

This man also had no thought of sharing with those less fortunate.  What was Scruge’s phrase for the hapless, helpless poor in Dicken’s Christmas Carol?  “Decrease the surplus population!”  God gives us plenty so that we can share our bounty with others.  That is a very common theme in Scripture.   

This man is mindless of how mortal and temporary he is.  He is not conscious about the eternal value of his soul.  There is more to life than “eat, drink and be merry.” You cannot take it with you.  There are no U-Hauls or storage units in heaven. 

The preacher in Ecclesiastes echoes our concern for this hapless fellow who is shallow and narrow minded. 

We work so hard to acquire so much, and to what end? Who will profit from it?  Will they take care of my “stuff?”  Will they waste it?  

Who knows whether they will be side or foolish?  Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun.  This also is vanity.”  (Ecclesiastes 2:19)

The problem with consumerism is that we are the ones that end up being consumed.  Do we possess our possessions, or do they possess us?  

Materialism, the pursuit of happiness?  God never promised us the American dream—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  God does help us discover purpose in meaning in life by how we live and by how we care for and invest in others—how we give ourselves away.  

Money and wealth are no guarantee of happiness. Money and possessions become fodder for fights and arguments about who gets what when inheritance comes around.

Money cannot buy peace.  Money cannot guarantee health.  Money cannot buy love.  Money cannot buy forgiveness or help in our relationship with God.  Only Jesus, and faith in Him can do that!  Money is a resource we use to provide for ourselves and our families.  Money is a tool we use to care for and bless the world in which we live.  

“Take care!”  Jesus says, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

People who live for themselves are lonely and unfulfilled. God made us so that we are the happiest when we love and care past ourselves.  True joy comes from finding fulfillment and purpose in tangible acts of love and care for others. 

A seasoned pastor once said, “I have heard many different regrets expressed by people nearing the end of life, but there is one regret I have never heard expressed.  I have never heard anyone say, ‘I wish I hadn’t given so much away.  I wish I had kept more for myself!’”  Death has a way of clarifying what really matters.

We do not belong to ourselves.  We belong to God.  All we have is a gift from God and is on loan to us. There is peace and joy in recognizing this truth.  At the end of this chapter Jesus says, “Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A MORE MATURE FAITH

Much of the time we are too concerned about how others view us; what their opinion is of us, how we measure up/or do not measure up. We end up seeing the world through a rather narrow-minded focus that is fixated on ourselves.  Yet, God calls us to something bigger and better.

How we see and describe the world says more about us than it does about the world.  As we age and mature we hopefully expand our horizons. We go past ourselves and see the world from a broader vantage point—seeing the world more as an observer than focusing on ourselves as the center. Through this process we hope to move toward being more liberal and merciful in our thinking and in our relationships.  

Growing up inculcated with thinking that one could never be too conservative, God has been breaking through that mindset with the Good News of Jesus.  The old thinking is protective, self-centered and self-focused.  It was governed by an old school piety that was concerned about rules, laws and a performance-based faith.  The Good News of Jesus is lived through the lens of the Golden Rule—how we view others; how we treat others—“do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).  

Rather than focusing on our self-centered behavior and performance, biblical truth focuses on others and how we care for and treat all people in this world.  We do not live in a vacuum.  It is not all about us.  It is how we live and relate to each other within the larger context of society and the world.  The Apostle Paul teaches:

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Philippians 2:3-4

There is freedom in the Good News of Jesus, in knowing that God has made us okay in Christ!  And because of that we do not have to worry about how others perceive us. We are all okay because of Jesus, and because of that we have the freedom, motivation and strength to care past ourselves.  To do as the Apostle Paul says, “to take an interest in—have a care for—others too.”

God give us joy and freedom as we live out our faith within the larger context of this great world that God has placed all of us in together.  

Peace and joy to you!

Pastor Bruce Kolasch

The Cross Changes Everything!

Acts 11:1-8 & John 13:31-35 & Psalm 148

Letting go of the former things so as to be ready to receive the new things God is doing.  In order to do that we need to be humble and teachable.  We need to pay attention.  We need to listen.  We need to observe.  Listen.  Pay attention.  Observe.

There are all words that come to mind as I think about our bible readings this morning. Peter had to “pay attention” to something that was dramatically different.  Something had happened.  Something changed.  He had a vision of a large sheet being lowered from heaven with all kinds of animals and wildlife, including birds and reptiles.  Then he heard a voice that said, “kill an eat!”  This is repeated three times for emphasis.  Peter protests, saying he has never eaten anything unclean—he has always observed his strict Jewish dietary training.  Then he hears a voice — God’s voice — “What God has made clean do not call unclean, common, profane!”

Something has changed.  The Old Testament basic rules of life for Jewish faith has changed. What at one time had been basic and fundamental in Jewish customs and belief has shifted.  What happened?  What changed?  

One word.  The cross.  Jesus’ purpose for life.  His life, death and resurrection as defined by the meaning, victory and purpose of the cross.  

The message of the Gospels, the major, unifying theme of the entire New Testament, everything  points to the cross of Christ and its significance for us as believers.

1 Corinthians 1:23-24  “…we proclaim Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God…”

1 Corinthians 2:2  “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

Remember Jesus’ final words spoken from the cross before He gave up His spirit (died)?  “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The cross changes everything.  All the Old Testament points to the long promised One—the Coming One—the Messiah—Jesus, His life, death and resurrection.  All the New Testament points to the reality that Jesus came, and now nothing is the same as it was before.

Our Gospel reading from John 13 quotes Jesus as saying He is with the disciples only a little longer, that He is going somewhere they cannot go.  Where is He going?  To the cross.  To that place that bridges heaven and earth to bring the two back together again.  And then He gives us a “new” commandment.  New in kind, different from before.  Love one another.  

Consider these words from Ephesians 2:13 to the end of the chapter.  “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He is our peace, in His flesh He has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it…”

In our world today we struggle with major political and philosophical differences.  But this divide is not new.  It is accentuated today, but we have struggled with major differences and hostilities down through the ages—from the beginning of time.  

However, for those of us who pay attention, for those of us who are listening, we can see a way through this mess…for ourselves and those whom we can influence.  It is the difference of the cross!

Our Christian faith helps us to see and act differently.  We can see people through the cross—to be “cross eyed” if you will.  To love one another the way Jesus loves us; warts, faults and mistakes and inadequacies.  To love unconditionally.  That is a hard call, but a freeing and liberating call.  

Consider Psalm 148.  It is part of the last five psalms in the book of psalms.  If you look at Psalms 146 through 150 they have something distinctive in common.  They all start with the phrase, “praise the Lord.”  That is a direct translation of the Hebrew word, “hallelujah.”  They are like a chorus of praise to God, an hallelujah chorus.  Note Psalm 148 begins with the injunction to praise, starting with the dwelling place of angels—heaven.  Heaven is not outer space.  It is more like an undefined, non-spatial fourth dimension.  Then the psalmist goes to celestial space—the sun, moon and stars, inter planetary space.  Next is the earth, this planet we live on and all its physicality.  Mountains, hills, seas, rivers, animals, wildlife, etc.

Then the psalmist moves on to humans—the entire human race.  The psalmist’s point? That all living and non living things, all creation ought to praise the Lord.  To join together in one great big hallelujah chorus.  Because God has raised up a “horn of salvation” for His people.  Jesus!  Who lived, died and rose again for us to give us life and hope and peace and purpose!  

Our readings this morning are a call to join together in worship.  We draw close to God in worship.  We draw close to each other in worship.  In Christ the differences between us — all the differences — become inconsequential.  Worship changes everything.  The cross enables us to draw close to God past all our differences and to see the wonder and glory of God and His love for us and all humanity, all creation.  

If there is one message I can share with you and with graduates that are going out into the world it is this, the message to pay attention to God in Christ and through Christ, that we all join together in that universal hallelujah chorus of praise to the God of all creation who has given us life in Christ Jesus.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Christlike Love

1 John 4:19-21 & John 15:12-17

Sadhu Sundar Singh, a Christian missionary from India born in 1889 wrote:

Once, as I traveled through the Himalayas, there was a great forest fire. Everyone was frantically trying to fight the fire, but I noticed a group of men standing and looking up into a tree that was about to go up in flames. When I asked them what they were looking at, they pointed up at a nest full of young birds. Above it, the mother bird was circling wildly in the air and calling out warnings to her young ones. There was nothing she or we could do, and soon the flames started climbing up the branches.

As the nest caught fire, we were all amazed to see how the mother bird reacted. Instead of flying away from the flames, she flew down and settled on the nest, covering her little ones with her wings. The next moment, she and her nestlings were burned to ashes. None of us could believe our eyes. I turned to those standing by and said: “We have witnessed a truly marvelous thing. God created that bird with such love and devotion, that she gave her life trying to protect her young. If her small heart was so full of love, how unfathomable must be the love of her Creator. That is the love that brought him down from heaven to become man. That is the love that made him suffer a painful death for our sake.”

Love is not an option in the Christian life.  It is the summary of what the Bible teaches.  It is the essence of what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus.  It is the litmus test of faith—what it means to believe.  The Greek word used for love in both our readings this morning is agape.  It used 22 times in 1 John 5.  It signifies the self-sacrificing love of God in Christ.  It is the humble, self-giving, self-sacrificing love God calls us to.

Those of us who have experienced grace and forgiveness in Christ have the best foundation and motivation to share the forgiveness we have received and give grace to all others unconditionally.  

None of us loves perfectly.  We all struggle with our own insecurities and blind spots.  Yet, the more we allow God’s love to fill and influence us, the more loving and Christlike we become.  The freedom of the Gospel that we have sung about and will sing about again in a few minutes is freedom not just from sin and its punishment, but the freedom to love others the way God-in-Jesus has loved us.  

One of the things I learn from Kasey and from Kasey’s moms is the larger picture of God-in-Christ loving all people unconditionally!  Thank you Kasey! 

Four times in our readings from the 1 letter of John and the Gospel of John we have the word “command” or “commandment” which comes from the Greek word εντολη.  The writer for the Gospel of John is quoting Jesus.  Note that the section in our bulletin begins and ends with the command to “love one another.”  

Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us.  He even goes on to define that love.  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  He then goes on to say we are His friends.  We are not servants, but friends.  

Jesus also says He has chosen us and appointed us—He has called us out by name to change the world by how we live and how we love.  The fruit that Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading is the outflow of loving each other the way He loves us.  His comment about the Father giving whatever we ask in His name is directly connected with the outflow of love in our lives.  

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus says this knowing that in just a few days He will lay down His life for us.  Knowing that in three days after His crucifixion He would take up His life again—that He would be raised up.  Jesus’ life, death and resurrection changes us and empowers us to live our lives in that type of selfless, self-emptying love.

This past week, as we suffered yet another school shooting, we have also read and heard the story of three young men who acted in a selfless, loving way by taking down the shooter.  

Kendrick Castillo saw the shooter pull out a gun and dove for the him.  His friends Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones joined him and took down the shooter, wrestling the gun from him.  Kendrick died as a result of being shot.  Brendan said it all happened so fast they had no time to think.  The just acted.  Kendrick died a hero.  

Jesus calls us to follow Him, to move on the planet, to make a difference by how we relate to others, by how we live.  God give us courage to love His way.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Pastor Bruce