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David finds three different sanctuaries that change his life.
A friend is one “...who isn't looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or to attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what is deepest within us. A friend.” ~Eugene Peterson describing a friend like Jonathan
The problems with understanding the friendship between Jonathan and David:
God was at the center of the Valley of Elah, just as He is at the center of every corner of the world - including your corner.
Reasons for this sermon series on King David:
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded. This is a transcript of the message.
Our text today begins by telling us that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where important things happen, where wonderful and holy things happen, and where people went in search of their drams. All of us start out life on the way to Jerusalem in pursuit of the life of our dreams. But along the way, things occur that interrupt the dream. Sometimes the interruption is about the loss of a job, or the loss of your health, or the loss of a loved one. And sometimes it is through the interruption that we meet Jesus Christ.
While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He encountered ten people with leprosy. It was the most dreaded disease of the first century. One of the functions of the village priest in that day was to watch for an outbreak of leprosy. Typically, it would begin by eating away a person’s toes and fingertips and would continue its destructive path until it reached the vital organs. The disease was deadly and so highly contagious that it could wipe out an entire village. So if the priest saw someone suddenly wearing gloves, he would insist on inspecting the person’s fingers. If he found any sign of leprosy, the priest would expel the person from the village. I’m so glad that we have now found other things for the clergy to do.
We don’t know a thing about those ten lepers who encountered Jesus along the way. We don’t know if they had academic degrees. We don’t know who among them used to be wealthy or who came from a wonderful family. We don’t even know their names. It is as if the disease has completely taken over their identities. They are forever known simply as the ten lepers.
We do know they were men and at least one of them was Samaritan. That is striking since the Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other and had long nurtured old arguments about their ethnic differences. But here they are mixed together. That’s because when you have been interrupted on your way to your dreams and you are in crisis, you don’t care much about the old arguments that once distinguished your group from the others. Now you belong to a new group, and that group is called the outsiders.
We have members of our congregation who go to work every morning and have for years, and we have members who come to the pastor’s office looking for help with the rent. We have people in our church who are part of large extended families in Richmond, and we have people who are pretty much alone in the city. Some of us are very involved in the center rings of the church’s leadership, and there are others who just sit in a piece of the pew on Sunday and anonymously worship. But as your pastor, I discovered a long time ago that sooner or later, we all feel like an outsider. Ironically, it is what we all have in common. Even if we have an esteemed or visible place in the community, we all keep the gloves on to avoid careful inspection of our life.
Maybe there has been something eating at you for a while. It could be a private hurt, a disappointment, or a fear that you cannot shake. It could be a daily battle with depression. The others here don’t even know how hard it is for you to get to church on Sundays. Of, maybe you struggle with a current form of leprosy called cancer, and you have found that if you talk about it, people get awkward and keep their distance --- as if you were contagious. Maybe you struggle with your doubts about Christianity. When you look around on Sunday morning, everyone else appears to be doing just fine. They stand to sing the hymns and listen to the sermons so easily, but you struggle to believe. If you feel like an outsider for any of these or any other reason, you may be tempted to drift away from church.
Graham Greene’s novel, A Burnt-Out Case, tells the story of a very successful architect named Querry who built cathedrals even though he didn't believe in God. That seemed absurd to him so he built a city hall, but found that he believed in politics even less than religion. In spite of all his success, Querry felt like he didn't belong in a world of believers. Inside, he believed nothing. So he went to what he considered the last place on earth --- a leper colony in the Congo. Upon his arrival, he announced his leprosy of the soul. After Querry had been there a while, one night he went in search of a leper who was lost in the jungle. By the time he finds him, it is too dark in the cold night to make their way back to the colony. To stay warm, Querry embraces the leper who holds him with fingerless hands. And in that embrace, the embrace of a community of outsiders, Querry finds the answer to his search. He then builds the colony a simple four-walled chapel, and he considers it his life’s masterpiece because it was the first time he built something he believed in.
The ten lepers in our text are a small community who believe only that they should cry to Jesus for pity or mercy. They don’t even ask for healing. They’re too far gone for that. Like them, we have so much fear that we don’t even know what salvation looks like anymore. So we just ask for mercy. It is the last lament of those who know that only God can save us and it is the only way anyone in the church community ever knows how to approach Jesus Christ. This is why we confess our sins. It’s the confession that makes you an insider in the community of faith.
The Gospel writer Luke makes a point of telling us that Jesus saw the lepers. Everyone else had learned to divert their eyes at such an obvious display of failure and brokenness. That is not just because they couldn't stand the sight of the lepers, but also because they didn't want to be reminded that it could happen to them or that in some way the disease of their own soul had already begun. That’s why people kept the lepers at a distance. But not Jesus. Jesus sees the truth about you --- not to judge you, but to heal you. Jesus sees you, and He is the only One who needs to see you.
Seeing the lepers, Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. The only reason a leper would do that is to be declared healed by the priests and restored to the community. But Jesus hasn't healed them yet. Instead, He tells them to start walking toward the declaration that they are restored. It is as if He is saying, “Don’t keep acting like a victim. Don’t allow this problem to define your life. Don’t settle into this. Start walking like a man or a woman who has encountered a Savior.” And then the text says, “And as they went, they were cleansed.”
You have a role in the healing of whatever is broken in your life, whether it is a broken heart, broken health, or a broken spirit. That role is to get up and get moving again. Return to work and go back to the community. Return to life, believing that Jesus’ healing will come along the way. Go back to the grocery store, go back to paying your bills, and go back to wiping runny little noses. Go back to the library and study for one more exam. Pick up the phone at the office, and try to make one more deal. Go back to see one more doctor.
Sometimes the salvation of Christ in our lives occurs in a blinding moment of glory. Sometimes. But most of the time, God’s intervening grace comes along the way, quietly, as we just keep moving and wondering how this is going to work out. This is what faith looks like. In the end, faith is not a matter of how much theology you know. It has little to do with your feelings or mystical experiences. In the end, faith is a choice to get moving again.
When one of the lepers, a Samaritan, saw that he was healed he, “...came back, praising God in a loud voice.” Then he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. This isn't a bad definition of worship --- turning back to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus with gratitude.
It is significant that all ten of the lepers were healed, but only the Samaritan, the outsider, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Gratitude is the only way to be a true insider in the community of faith. Ingratitude doesn’t prevent us from receiving Jesus’ mercy. Ingratitude prevents us from receiving Jesus. The point of this story is not to get healed. The point is to get back to the Savior who is with us along the way. All of those lepers eventually got sick again and died, possibly even from leprosy. Eventually we all lose our jobs, our health, and life itself. We lose everything except the love of God and that alone carries us all the way home. So the grateful among us are not necessarily those who have had their dreams restored. The grateful ones are those who have turned around to see that a Savior is on the journey with them. Seeing that, they can handle anything that comes along the road of life.
Then Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Notice that Jesus didn't say, “Get up, and go to seminary”, “Get up, and follow me to Jerusalem”, or “Get up, and do something heroic while life lasts.” He just said, “Get up, and go on your way.” He was telling you to return to whatever way of life you have been given. Return to the ordinary. But anyone who lives in the ordinary with gratitude, lives an extraordinary life.
G.K. Chesterton has written that, “Wonders will never be lacking in this world. What is lacking is wonderment.” We worship to train our souls to behold the extraordinary work of Christ with wonderment. In the life of faith, wonderment is a synonym for gratitude.
The grateful find small miracles that are embedded in every day. They have little interest in complaints, and no time for regret. The grateful have hearts so full of wonderment of God’s love that there is no room left for fear. They give easily to others with great delight because when you’re grateful, you are no longer fretting over whether or not you’re going to have enough. They ask only for more glimpses of the Savior who is with us along the way. And the grateful keep moving.
Now, may it be so. Amen.
If you are serious about the Christian life, eventually You get to a point where you just want to be a giver.
Pastor Jim Spon | Matthew 8:18-22
Audio Download Link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/FBC_Podcasts/2014-08-31+sermon+only.mp3
Pastor Jim Spon | Haggai 1:3-6
Audio Download Link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/FBC_Podcasts/2014-08-24+sermon+only.mp3
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded. This is a transcript of the message.
We all want to know the point to our lives. That’s why in our bravest moments, we ask questions like:
For the last six weeks we have followed the journeys of Abraham, who would tell us that the point to our lives is: You were blessed to be a blessing!
Abraham assumed that he and his childless wife Sarah were blessed when God told him that they would have a son. He was 75 years old when God made that promise. He was 100 years old when the child named Isaac was finally born. Now that the boy had begun to grow up, God told Abraham to go to the mountain of Moriah and offer Isaac as a living sacrifice. Without even an argument, Abraham sets out with his only blessing to do just what God told him.
When I am preaching, it is my passion to proclaim how the Biblical text is God’s Word to our congregation. I want to help you find yourself in the text. I want you to see that this isn't an ancient story, but it is God’s story of our lives as well. So today’s text has created a difficult challenge for me. What exactly is God trying to tell us with this text?
I've had an interesting and challenging time preparing for this sermon. I was overwhelmed by how different our world is from the ancient one. I dared to wonder, “How can we be worshipping the same God as Abraham?” Abraham is held out as a model of faith in both the Old and New Testament, but we would throw a father in jail for attempting to do what Abraham did. Child sacrifice may have been a part of the ancient world, but today we incarcerate religious parents who even refuse to give medical attention to a child. I started thinking, “Uh, oh, maybe I can find a new text for this Sunday.”
Next, I decided I would spiritually sanitize away the scandal of the story. I reasoned, “God isn't going to let Abraham kill his son. This is only a test.” But I found little comfort in that. This text is too great. We would all fail it. We all should. When the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham simply says, “The Lord will provide.” Is this God’s Word to us from the text? Maybe. It’s certainly true that the Lord provides, and it sure sounds spiritual. But what do we do with this advice? The next time you fill out a credit card application and you get to the income box, try squeezing in the words: “The Lord will provide.” They will love that down at the bank. Besides, Abraham wasn't taking Isaac up the mountain to give him a spiritual devotional. He was really going to kill that kid. So I abandoned trying to sanitize the text.
Next, I tried to take the focus off Abraham and place it on God. But then I was forced to ask, “What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his only son?” The answer, of course, is the same God the Father who would sacrifice His only Son. I read of a preacher who said, “I have five sons and I would not offer up any one of them for any one of you! But God had only one Son and He offered Him freely for the sins of a world that did not even heed His action nor desire His grace.” I have always found that statement memorable. This is why I look at Abraham’s action and see it as a truly high point of faith! But that leaves me with an overwhelming embarrassment because it is easier for me to feel the despair of old Abraham than it has ever been to realize the heartbreak of God the Father at the cross, where His Son was sacrificed for my sins. “That’s it,” I thought. “That’s the angle I’ll go with on Sunday. That at least will make sense.” But this text wasn't done with me. In my bones I knew I hadn’t yet found God’s Word for our congregation. God wants us to do more than feel His pain.
I was “sweating it” now. Most preachers organize their week remembering that “Sunday’s coming”. But I have to have a detailed outline ready to go by Monday morning when a group of us meet to plan for the worship service. So, I knew I needed to “get going”. I sat down again before this passage and asked, “How do I rescue this text for a contemporary congregation?” That’s when it hit me. I realized the silliness of all my previous thinking. I can’t rescue or make sense of God’s Word, nor have I ever been called to try. God’s Word is God’s. So I just surrendered to the text. After that, I could almost hear Abraham tell me: “As my story reveals, I've made a lot of mistakes along my journey. And the worst of them were because I was trying to make sense of God and what He was doing or not doing. Now, I just trust Him.” There it is. That, I believe, is God’s Word for us today. “Now, I just trust Him.”
We all trust and hope in something. If you are a student, you trust in your hard work and hope it will eventually get you a degree. If you in in business, you trust in your skills and hope they will produce a profit or a promotion in the marketplace. If you are a parent or grandparent, you trust in your love and hope it will take root in your children or grandchildren. If you are a preacher, you trust and hope that you can make sense of ancient Biblical texts.
Whatever it is that you are counting on, that is your Isaac. It is your blessing from God, given to make you a blessing to others. When the chips are down, we cling to this blessing whatever it is: education, health, skills, family, love, or a capacity for hard work. We all have something, some Isaac, and when the going gets tough, that is our blessed hope for how we will make a difference in life. But what will you do on the day God asks for that blessing back? If you can’t let go of it, then God is not your god. Then the blessing is your god.
Let’s take it a step further. What if the blessing to which you cling is a promise made by God’s Word? Perhaps you are drawn to the promise of a future filled with hope, the promise of a good work in your life, or the promise of a coming Kingdom where justice and peace replace poverty and violence. If we can’t cling to our abilities, our skills, and our loved ones, can we at least cling to God’s promises? Sometimes, no. Not even God’s promises can become our god.
Throughout this sermon series, I have consistently mentioned how good Abraham was at building altars. It was his constant means of sacrificing his failures and his understanding of God. But when he strapped his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham was giving God’s own promise back to God. Abraham had already sacrificed his past when he and Sarah left home to begin the journey with God, and now he as told to sacrifice his future. After that, there would be only God.
The issue isn't the reliability of God’s promises, which are always fulfilled in God’s strange timing. The issue is the sufficiency of God alone. Do you see the harshness of this text? I’m not trying to sanitize a thing about it. These are probably the hardest words I will ever have to speak to you as your pastor.
Sooner or later we all stand right beside Abraham with our most cherished blessing on the altar. It is then that we have to respond to the hardest question the soul will ever face: Do you still want God, if there are no blessings attached? Do you still want God if it is now God plus nothing? It is only then that you truly know if you have been worshipping God or worshipping the blessings.
When the Apostle Paul was writing about Abraham in his Epistle to the Romans, he claimed that Abraham had learned to hope against hope. That’s a wonderful phrase: hoping against hope. It means we have one great hope that stands against all other hopes. We have one God and so many blessings. You can count on your blessings most of the time, but you better not make them the one great hope.
When one spouse lays another in the grave, when you drive home on the day you have lost your job, when the marriage has failed in spite of all of your best efforts, when the thing you were praying not to happen has happened, it is then that you have to hope against hope. You hope against all your blessings that are now lost. You hope against your ability to understand. You hope against even your understanding of God and His promises. Then, all that is left is to hope in God alone. Sometimes that is all there is. And the proclamation of Abraham to us is that is all there needs to be.
Well, as you know, God didn't let Abraham actually kill Isaac. But it was close. As the knife was about to come down, an angel called from heaven to tell him not to touch the boy. Now, God knows you trust. Then the old man saw a ram and sacrificed it instead. So the Lord did indeed provide but not until Abraham gave up Isaac.
Abraham lived to be 175 years old. I believe that every day he enjoyed his son more than he did before this dramatic day on Mount Moriah. He could enjoy him because he wasn't afraid of losing him. And that’s because he had already given Isaac back to God. You can only enjoy a blessing if you don’t have to keep it.
Pastor Jim Spon | Genesis 17:1-5, 15-22
Audio Download Link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/FBC_Podcasts/2014-08-10+sermon+only.mp3
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