Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jesus Shaped Heart

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33
September 8, 2013
© 2013

As a pilgrim settled down to sleep, a villager appeared saying, “I had a dream that you have a diamond of great value, and if I asked for it, you would give it to me.” The pilgrim reached into his bag and pulled out a stone. “You may have it,” he said and settled down again to sleep. The villager looked in amazement at the largest diamond he had ever seen. He took it, and walked away. He tossed and turned all night unable to sleep, and the next day he returned to the pilgrim handed back the diamond and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give away this diamond so easily.” Robert B. Kruschwitz, General Editor of Christian Reflection, Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University

In Psalm 73:25 the Psalmist wrote, “There is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.” Do you desire God more than anything on earth?

In Psalm 84:10 the Psalmist wrote, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Have you had one day with God that was better than your best 1,000 days combined?

Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.
This summer we have already seen how in Luke, more than any other Gospel, we listen to words of Jesus that make us flinch. Luke 14:25-33 may be as unnerving to hear as any.
Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
We are intended to cringe at what Jesus said to the crowd. Again Luke called them a “crowd,” indicating they were not totally sympathetic. Knowing that the cross lay ahead of him and the demands of the mission on which he would send them after his resurrection, Jesus was purposely thinning the ranks. He was not concerned about avoiding failure but about seriousness of intent.

“Hate” is a purposely strong word that we dare not dismiss or dilute as a mere literary hyperbole. Yet, we also need to understand that Jesus was not speaking about emotions but about making choices. We might hear Jesus say to us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must choose me over possessions, family and even life itself.” Jesus was not suggesting getting priorities in order with him first. He insisted on an either-or choice.

Jesus’ stipulation was comprehensive, not just external possessions and relationships but personally intrusive. To choose Jesus over life is to give up our prerogatives and accept how he shapes us. Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.

We catch the magnitude of this call in the image of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah 18:1-11.
In verse 6 God asserted the right as the potter to shape Israel as the clay. But the clay is not passive. Verse 11 warns that God was shaping evil against Judah if they do not repent. Jeremiah 2 accused Israel of trading God for things of no value, of forsaking the fountain of living water for cracked cisterns that hold no water. (v. 13)

The image of God as potter and people as clay occurs several times in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Apocrypha and the New Testament. Paul built on Jeremiah 18 in Romans 9:21 to say that the potter has the right to make some objects for special use and some for ordinary use. In 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 he wrote that we have the treasure of the knowledge of the glory of God in clay jars. The ordinary is still magnificent.

One of the Desert Fathers, Abba Poeman (ca. 400 CE) used a slightly different image of how God shapes us. “The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but the [one] who hears the word of God often, opens [the] heart to the fear of God.” The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, tr. Benedicta Ward, SLG, Kalamazoo, MI, Cistercian Publications, 1975, pp. 192-193 I think of this as how reading and hearing Scripture shapes our hearts to match the heart of Jesus. Jesus calls us to be his disciples who let go of everything else so he can shape our hearts to match his heart.

Abba Anthony (ca. 300 CE) is commonly considered the founder of the Desert Fathers. He observed how Christian faith and discipleship deteriorated rapidly as Constantine made a distorted version of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. So he sought to discover a new form of faithfulness by which little societies within society became like leaven in a lump of dough, creating pockets of freedom where people could imagine alternatives to the violence and grinding poverty of the world around them. Monasticism Old and New, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Grand Rapids, MI, Brazos Press a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2008 Sixteen hundred years later, we are faced with the same question. How is God shaping us, the people of 1st Christian Church, Odessa, TX? How is God shaping us for the next leg of our journey with Jesus with a new pastor? How is God shaping us to call spiritually hungry people in our rapidly changing, secular society to become Jesus’ disciples?

We must start with the personal. Can you describe how God is shaping you to be a disciple of Jesus who has let go of everything else so he can shape your heart to match his? On Wednesday evening we’ll begin our Leadership Conversations prompted by Paul Nixon’s book I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church Cleveland, OH, Pilgrim Press, 2006. He starts with the bold assertion that everything for the congregation depends on the prerequisite of both leaders and people having had a living encounter with the living Jesus. Without that everything else is futile: wringing out socks over the rail of the Titanic (my image, not his).

The interim journey between pastors is an ideal time to ask what business we are in. The Search and Call Committee needs to know what kind of pastor to look for. Do you want a sales manager to increase the congregation’s market share of church goers of Odessa? Or are you willing to let go of everything to invite spiritually hungry people to become disciples of Jesus whose hearts are being shaped to match his?

When Jesus told the parables of counting the cost of building a tower and going to war, he wasn’t talking about the construction industry or military strategy. He wasn’t saying, “Count the cost of becoming my disciple to be sure you’ve got what it takes so you don’t fail.” He was asking whether we are serious about following him. In Luke 18:29-30, Jesus assures us that if we are, “No one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

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