Saturday, November 21, 2015

Don't Worry - Be Faithful - Matthew 6:24-34

Matthew 6:24-7:1

24 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


     If you have seen the news lately, you may have noticed that there are a lot of things in this world to worry about.
        There is the tragic terrorist attack in Paris.

          That was followed by the hostage situation in Mali.

          Americans and our leaders seem to be gripped with fear for the future.

          Closer to home people are worried about their children and grandchildren.

          Many have real things to worry about – cancer, loss of a job, death of a loved one.

There is nothing new about worrying.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites worried endlessly as they wandered through the wilderness. 

Right after God gave them freedom from their slavery in Egypt, and as soon as they passed through the Red Sea, they began to worry.  They ran out of water, and the people turned to Moses and said, “Moses, what have you done to us?  We have no water.”

Moses led them to water, but the water was bitter and the people worried even more.  They complained to their leader, “Moses, what have you done to us?  We had lots of water in Egypt.  We should have stayed there instead of coming here just to die of thirst.”

God led them to an area with 12 springs – one for each tribe.

But a few days later the Israelites ran out of food. So they worried some more.  “Moses, what have you done to us?  We had plenty of food in Egypt. We should have stayed there instead of coming here just to die of hunger.”

So God sent bread from heaven every morning and sent quails every night. 

Now you would think that after all of that the people of Israel would have learned to relax.  All they had to do was to trust in God.  God was a proven commodity.  He had provided for the people time after time after time. 

And finally, the people are on border of the Promised Land.  They are about to enter their new homeland and take claim of it.

But when the leaders of Israel sent spies into the Promised Land to scope out the situation, the reports from these spies made the people of Israel nervous and worried.

“O Moses, what have you done to us?  We had a great life in Egypt.  But here we are about to be slaughtered by giants.  We should have stayed in Egypt.”

Worry is part of our lives.  It is a part of our history.  We seem to be wired to worry all of the time.

And we do it so very well.  We should – because we get lots of practice.

But against this, Jesus tells us over and over and over in this short passage from Matthew’s Gospel, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.”

What was Jesus thinking?

Let’s be honest, we have REAL things to worry about.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus says? 

Try telling that to someone who begs on the streets of Orlando because they have no job and no money.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus says?

Try telling that to the waitress who serves you lunch in a little while, and who works at three different restaurants and still can’t get enough hours to work a 40 hour week, and whose mortgage payment is behind.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus says?

Try telling that to a couple who is trying to qualify for their first mortgage, and who have been told they probably won’t get their home.

Meet a man coming out of the doctor’s office who has just received bad news and try telling him, “Don’t worry.”

Listen here - we have real things to worry about.

          We are worried about ISIS.

We are worried about the economy.

          We are worried about our family.

          We are worried about cancer.

          We are worried about not having enough rain, or having too much rain.
We worry about these things because we believe they are important and they are worth our anxiety.

          Of course we are worried.  Don’t tell us not to be.

          When your husband or wife is in the emergency room, the last thing you want to hear is some pastor coming up to you saying, “Don’t worry.”

          When you have a suspicious mole or a lump on your breast or a pain in your chest, you’d better worry enough to seek medical help.
          The problem is that we become so consumed by our worries. 

          We don’t sleep at night.

          The joy of life has faded.

          Our worries interfere with our sex life, our family life, our work life, our whole life.

          It is not that these things are not important – they are.  Jesus acknowledges that and says in this passage, “Your heavenly father knows you need these things” taken care of.  It is not that we worry about things we want or would like to have – Jesus acknowledges that we NEED these things.

          The problem is that we become so consumed by our worries.  We are overwhelmed by them.  Our whole lives become out of balance.  And the anxiety itself does very little good.  As Jesus said, “Who among you can add a single day to your life simply by worrying.”

          Jesus comes along and he sees our anxiety and he offers us a better way.

          This passage not only gives us encouragement, “Don’t worry,” it also gives some instructions.

          And the instruction is to stay focused on God.

          Most of us stay focused on the problem, but Jesus says, stay focused on the solution – God.

          Jesus begins this conversation about worrying by talking about God-verses-money.  Now there is nothing evil about money.  I bet you like money.  I like money.  The Session voted last week to give me a raise – and in January that has to go to the congregation for approval.  And if that goes well, this will be the first raise I’ve had since I’ve been here.   Who doesn’t like to get a raise.  Everyone would like to have more money.

There are those who like to quote the Bible by saying that “money is the root of all evil.”  That is not what the Bible says.  What the Bible teaches is that “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.”

          So I guess I’ll have to keep saying, “I don’t love money, I just like it.”

But money in and of itself is not a bad thing.

The problem with money is that we look toward money as a solution to all of our problems, and the master and ruler of our life.

When Jesus used the term “master” in this passage, he doesn’t just use it in terms of “the master who must be obeyed,” but also, “the master who has a responsibility to take care of the servant.”

Who is your master?  Who takes care of you?  Jesus says, “you can’t have two masters.”

The problem with money is that we think it will take care of us, but it doesn’t.  We think of money as being the solution to our problems, but it’s not able to solve all life’s problems.  And deep inside we know that.  Money can disappear so easily.  Some of us have learned that all too well in the past two or three years.

And when you get right down to it, what good is money?

Motivational speaker, Zig Zigler, has some great thoughts about money and what it can do for us, and what it can’t do for us.

He says:

Money can buy you a house, but it can't buy you a home.

Money can buy you insurance, but it can't buy you security.

Money can buy you entertainment, but it can't buy you happiness.

Money can buy you medicine, but it can't buy you good health.

Money can buy you a bed, but it can't buy you a good night’s sleep.

Money can buy you companionship, but it can't buy you friendship.

Money can buy you sex, but it can't buy you love.

          We worry so much.  We need a home, and we look toward money to provide us with a home, but it can’t do that.  All it can do is buy a building which can be destroyed in the next hurricane, or foreclosed in a bad economy.

          We worry about security, love, friendship – but Zig Zigler is right.  These are not the things money provides.  God provides the things that we are really seeking

Jesus tells us in this passage, “Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' … your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

          We need to stay focused on our master.  God.  He is the solution to life’s problems.

          So if you are looking for freedom from worry, stay focused on God.

          The best way to free ourselves from worry is to stay focused on God.  Don’t stay focused on the problems.  Yes, these are real problems, but those problems are not the ruler of your life.  God is the ruler of your life – keep your focus on him. 
The Israelites who marched through the story were living out one of the greatest stories of the Old Testament.  They were slaves, and God freed them.  And yet they got bogged down in the day to day struggles.  They worried about food, and water, and all sorts of things.  Now those are important  -  but instead of being focused on the solution, they just focused on the problem. 

Keep our focus on God.  Trust God.  Know that God loves you.  Know that God knows you need food, water, and all these other things.  Don’t worry, just stay faithful to God.

A few moments ago, we sang a very traditional hymn for the week of Thanksgiving – “Now thank we all our God.”

This hymn was written by Rinkart, a Lutheran minister, and he based the words to this great hymn on a verse in the Bible, 1 Thessalonians 6:18, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

Rinkart lived in Germany way back in the 17th Century.  His life time was filled with war and violence.  Religions did not act very loving to one another, but were often in violent disagreement. Rinkart lived in a city that was blessed by a strong wall and defense, and as a result, there was a tremendous refugee problem. 

There does not seem to be much difference between the 1600s and 2015.

During the horrible plague of 1637, Rinkart had forty to fifty funerals a day. And one of those funerals was that of his own wife.

It was during that time that he sat down and wrote that hymn that we sang a few minutes ago.

Remember the words?
                "Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices. 
                Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices. 
                Who from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on the way.
                With countless gifts of love and still is ours today."

In the midst of war, refugees, sickness and death, he wrote NOW thank we all our God. 

The problems of life are many – but stay focused.  Don’t let worry overwhelm the joys of life.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Are You Forgiven? Hebrews 10:11-25

 Hebrews 10:11-25.
11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ[a] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds,”
17 he also adds,
“I will remember[b] their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, my friends,[c] since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

How do you know you are forgiven?

Good question.

Years ago I was hooking up a VCR to my television.  VCR – that stands for Video Cassette Recorder for those of you too young to know what they were.  When I bought our first one I thought they would be around forever! 

Anyway, I was hooking up the wires and my then-five year old son was watching me with great anxiety.  “Be careful,” he said.  “Don’t get shocked.”

I told him not to worry, that I knew exactly what I was doing.

And looking at my son, I did something evil.

I pretended to be shocked.  ZZZZZttttttt!  I fell on the floor.  I jerked around.  I let my tongue hang out.

My son took this seriously and I very quickly told him it was a joke, that I was alright.

Man did he get mad at me.  And I guess I don’t blame him.  He started kicking me – hard!

After that I never again played a practical joke on my son.

My son, on the other hand, played all sorts of mean practical jokes on me!  And he always told me afterward, “that’s getting you back for that VCR stunt.”

One day he pulled some practical joke on me that was so over the top that I declared we were even for the VCR stunt. 

I even made him sign a document that declared, “This is to certify that I am now even with my Dad for the dreaded VCR stunt and that I fully forgive him!”

After that, he never again pulled any practical jokes on me – we were even. 

It would be nice if we had that kind of document from God.  Some paper we could put into the desk drawer and pull out on occasion:  “This is to certify that John Doe is hereby forgiven on this date.  Signed – the Almighty.”

What we have instead of a signed document are simply promises.

God makes a number of promises to us. One is that he will forgive us.

I John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just, and will forgive us of all our sins, and cleanse us from unrighteousness.”

This is a promise that shows up in our New Testament lesson from the Hebrews.

The author of the Book of the Hebrews describes how priests at the Temple would daily offer sacrifices for the people’s forgiveness.  These daily sacrifices were the same, day after day after day – but the author says they were not effective, and he said that these “can never take away sins.”

But the writer goes onto say this:  “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God … (and) by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” 

Our New Testament lesson goes onto say “God will remember their sins and misdees no more.  Where there is forgiveness, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

          We take our car in to be repaired, and it comes out and nothing has been done. What about the promise to fix our car?

You make arrangements for someone to help you in your Boy Scout Troop, but they don't show up.  What about that promise to help out?

          You vote for someone who has promised not to raise taxes, but they do.  If you can’t trust a politician to keep a promise, who can you trust?

And now you come to God and you want to know, how can I be sure I am forgiven?

And all God gives is --- a promise. 

          Now why, after all of our experiences, should we believe God?

Jesus said, "I come that they might have life, and have it abundantly."  But how do we know. How can we believe? Is this just campaign rhetoric?

          Jesus said, "In my father's house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."  But how can we believe this?

          In Romans, 4:21, the Scripture says, "God has the power to do what he promised." But how do we know?

          In I John 2:25 we are told, "And this is what he promised us – even eternal life." But where is the evidence?

How can we believe that God is telling us the truth, or that he is able to carry out these promises?

          It all boils down to this one thing: and that is that the only thing that backs up the promise is the trustworthiness of the promise maker.

          Back in my college, Erskine College, there was an annual event called Christian Emphasis Week. Which may strike some as a strange thing to have in a Christian College, after all, shouldn't Christianity be emphasized every week?

But once a year, we gave it a special emphasis.

During that week, the campus would invite a leading preacher from somewhere across this nation to come to the little college town and preach.  The first sermon was manditory. Every student had to go.

          The second sermon, held that evening, was usually attended by only the faithful students of the Christian fellowship group, and a few little old ladies from the Presbyterian and Baptist churches.

          Well, one year, the speaker was a well known minister from Chicago. The preacher took his place behind the pulpit. 

The students yawned.
          He opened the Bible.
The students shuffled their books,
wrote letters to friends,
and looked at their watches.
The preacher read from a passage of the Bible.
The students tuned him out.

The preacher took the Bible and slammed it shut and threw the Bible out, off stage where it went out the side door.
There was a silence in the chapel,
but every eye was focused on the preacher, and finally the preacher said,
"There goes your God."
After that particular service, the chapel filled up that night with people who normally did not attend voluntary worship services.  Everyone wanted to hear what this fellow had to say.
One of the groups of people who attended was the Wylie Home crowd. Now Wylie Home was an old dormatory, small dormorotry, that was a sort of Animal House of the little school. They were a wild bunch, and in fact the Wylie Home dorm had been closed down the year before, but its former residents still wore Wylie Home shirts and formed a sort of wild gang. Or as wild as one might have on a small Christian campus.
One of them stood up during the question answer period after the sermon. "You know, I heard you talk about forgiveness in your sermon, but I got a question about all that stuff. What I want to know is this -- 'How do you really know that you are forgiven."

          The preacher looked at him and said,

"Because I tell you, 'In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven."

          "Yeah right, but what I want to know is How do you really know that you are forgiven."

          The preacher looked at him and said,

"Because I tell you, 'In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven."

          "Right, but How do you really know that you are forgiven."

          The preacher looked at him and said,

"Because I tell you, 'In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven."

          Then some how, it dawned on this wild student, and he realized that he knew he was forgiven.

          In the covenant relationship, the promise is given, and sometimes the only thing that backs up the covenant, the commitment, the promise, is trustworthiness of the promise maker.

          So the question is not “Do you FEEL forgiven?”

          The question is, “Do you TRUST God?”

          And I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, you CAN trust God.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Might of the Mite - Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12:38-44  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Sermon                                “The Might of a Mite”                Maynard Pittendreigh

Once upon a time there was once a man who had a disabled leg, but he was determined to walk.

And so everyday he got up, he went out and he walked.

One day he was out in the countryside and on this particularly day he went for a far longer walk than usual.  He soon realized he had become quite tired.  Exhausted even!

Fortunately, one of his friends came riding along on a race horse and the friend volunteered to let him borrow the horse while he would walk home. 

“Just be careful, though, this is kind of a peculiar racehorse. He’s been trained a bit differently than normal. When you want him to go, you don’t say, ‘Gitty Up!’ you say, ‘Praise the Lord!’ He won’t move if you say, ‘Gitty Up!’ And once you get him going, if you want to speed up, just repeat, ‘Praise the Lord!’ And then, when you want him to stop, you don’t say ‘Whoa!’ You say, ‘Amen.’ If you remember that you won’t have any problem at all.”

Grateful for his friend’s generosity the man mounted the racehorse, got comfortable in the saddle and said, “Praise the Lord” and the racehorse moved right out.

Now that he was riding the man found that he was enjoying himself so he decided to take the scenic route home and speed the racehorse up a bit as he was going so he said again, “Praise the Lord!”

As he came around a curve in a bend he saw a cliff. 

Quickly the man attempted to stop the racehorse, “Whoa!, Whoa!, Whoa!,” but the racehorse didn’t stop.

He was getting closer and closer to the dangerous edge, but he just couldn’t think of the right word.

And then, just as the horse was about to go over the edge, the man remembered the word.

AMEN, he shouted!

And the horse stopped. 

Right on the edge.

The man was able to look down the edge, and thankful that the horse had stopped, breathed a prayer to God and said, “Praise the Lord.”

And that was the last anyone ever saw of the man or the horse!

If there is anything to learn from that story it is that commitment matters! 

That horse was committed to following orders of the rider – even if it meant death. 

Pity the poor man who had failed to be committed to the instructions of which command to use when.

Commitment matters.

The New Testament lesson from Mark is a great example of commitment.

This widow makes an offering of two small coins, called MITES.  We are not talking about dust mites or little bugs – but little coins that are worth about a penny or less. 

She makes an offering at the Temple.

Now the way this was done was in the front of the entrance and lots of people would gather and watch – and listen.  This was before paper money so all people had were coins, and they would go into a large metal trumpet line container.  The more you gave the more noise it made. 

The Sadducees would love to sit around these offering devices and judge people by what they gave.  We hear a lot about Sadducees in the Bible, but there were not very many of them in the days of Jesus.  History tells us that at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were only about 300 in all of Israel.  However, as small as they were in number, they controlled about 70% of the wealth.

Imagine that – a small percent of the people controlling most of the wealth. 

In their Theology Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife or the resurrection, so in their mind everything of importance was in the “here and now.”  They lived only for the present.  And ‘living in the now,’ for the Sadducees, translates to an obsession with earthly wealth. In the words of the theological titan, Paul Tillich, it is their “Ultimate Concern.”

So these self-important, wealthy minority who had so much power, sat at the offering plates and watched the show. 

One person might come along and drop in 100 coins, one after another, making a big show of it.  Another would give 200 coins – everyone finding great self-centered satisfaction in what they gave. 

Now here is the thing about money – it represents power.  A Sadducee giving a lot of money would claim a lot of power in the church. 

And here comes this widow with two tiny, nearly worthless coins.  She has no power. 

But she has something more mighty than power.

She has commitment.

She gives not so that she might have power, but she gives because she is committed to her faith.

At this point, Jesus calls his Disciples over and tells them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.”

Obviously Jesus is not talking about the bottom line financially, but the bottom line spiritually. 

The rich Sadducees might give a thousand coins and not feel the impact in their wallet because they have tens or hundreds of thousands of coins.  That widow gave two small coins and she felt it – it was a challenge for her to give that amount.  Proportionately, her gift was larger than the gifts of the Sadducees. 

She did this out of a commitment.

And commitment is what Jesus is calling us to have.

That widow has shown commitment.

Have you shown commitment?

Last night I did the wedding of Jimmy and Katie Steele.  Unless you are new to the church or a visitor, you know Jimmy and Katie.  Jimmy is our Director of Youth and Family Ministries.  They made a commitment to each other in their wedding to be with each other in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, for richer or poorer.


In the first service today we had a baptism service.  In baptism parents, family, friends and even the whole church make commitments to the child to nurture that person in the faith. 


How does one measure commitment? 

Jesus never values our commitment is not based on the dollar sign, but the value in our hearts.

What is your commitment level?  Is it a small token, or is it a real, tangible, and reflective of your true heart?

When the widow dropped in her two tiny coins, the world judged her by the smallness of her offering, but Jesus valued – not judged – but valued her by the depth of her commitment.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.