Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Faithful Thomas - John 20:19-31

New Testament Lesson                                                                  John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon                                   The Faithful Thomas              Maynard Pittendreigh

I received a great email the other day about Lee Marvin. 

This actor apparently had a great military career. 

According to this email, Lee Marvin was in the Marines during World War II, was in the battle of Iwo Jima, received the Medal of Honor, and is now buried at Arlington Cemetery.

What’s really amazing about this email is that the actor, Lee Marvin, served under a sargeant named Bob Keeshan – and if you are part of my generation, you may remember that Bob Keeshan was the man who played Captain Kangeroo.

The email goes onto talk about Mr. Rogers, another television celebrity who worked with children’s programming.  Apparently he was a Navy Seal, has over 20 confirmed kills of the enemy during the Vietnam War, and the reason he always wore those sweeters on television is because he had obsene tattoos on his arm.  He was so deeply effected by war that before going into television he became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Who would have thought?

This is a great story.  Very inspiring.

However, if  you check the record this is 50% true.

Lee Marvin did enlist in the U.S. Marines and was in combat in the Pacific during World War II.  However, he was not in the Battle for Iwo Jima.  He did receive the Purple Heart but not the Medal of Honor, but he is buried at Arlington.

As for his sargeant, Captain Kangaroo was also a Marine, but did not serve with Lee Marvin.  In fact, he never saw combat because by the time he was old enough to enlist, the war was just weeks away from coming to an end.

And Mr. Rogers?  He is NOT a former Navy Seal, but an ordained Presbyterian minister.

I get all sorts of interesting email.  Madilyn Murry O’Haire, who by the way is dead, is still trying to get Touched by an Angel off television – which by the way has been off television for years, having had a good run until it fell victim of low ratings.

Some widow in Nigeria wants to split 200 million dollars with me and all I have to do is give her access to my bank account.

The there is an email that says I can lose 20 pounds in 3 days by eating pizza and chocolate – well, we can only hope that one IS true.

You can’t be gullible.  You have to question what you see and hear.

          Which brings us to Thomas in our New Testament lesson.
          Historians and biblical scholars have not been kind to Thomas.  In fact, they have traditionally been very severe in their treatment of this member of the twelve Disciples of Christ.  Many call him “Doubting Thomas,” as if that was a spiritual weakness.

          Unlike some of the other disciples and followers of Christ, Thomas was not around on Easter morning to see the empty tomb, or to speak to a radiant angel, or to recognize the return of his teacher from the dead.

          When those who had seen the evidence told Thomas that Christ was alive again, there is not a hint of saintly wonder and acceptance of the miracle.  Instead there is the human response of the skeptic:  “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

          We can almost see Thomas shifting his eyes and folding his arms and raising his eyebrows and saying, “Peter, how gullible can you be?  Peter, you poor man, you are in denial.  Jesus is dead.  We saw it ourselves and nothing can change that!”

          Thomas flatly and openly dismissed the story as false, responding to it in much the same way that we respond to those outlandish emails we often receive.

          The news of the Resurrection was easy news to dismiss.  The first reports of the Resurrection took place in the dark cold early morning hours.  The first witnesses were women who had been emotionally and mentally strained and overwrought by what they had seen during the confusion of Thursday’s arrest and trials, and during the horror of Friday’s crucifixion. 
          With their eyes full of tears, their hearts full of sorrow, and their minds full of confusion, how could one possibly expect them to see and to think clearly?

“They must have found the body stolen and imagined the rest,” thought Thomas.  “Or perhaps they had imagined it ALL.”

“Even the later, alleged appearance to the other ten disciples could be explained away,” or so Thomas must have thought.  He must have believed it to have been nothing more than a sheer hallucination born of frayed nerves, or of the intense longing for what could have been.

And so, when approached by his friends with this fantastic, unprecedented news that their dead master is alive again.  Thomas replies with honest doubt:  “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars, I will not believe.”

Because of this overwhelming doubt, nearly everyone has been rather harsh in his or her evaluation of old Thomas.  We look at him with the disappointed look that a teacher might give to a bright student who has failed the test.  “Come on Thomas, surely you could have done better than that.  Surely you could have mustered up enough faith.”

We are not kind in our treatment of Thomas.  We look at him as a failure in faith.

And yet, whether we admit it or not, in many of us who are so faithful, there exists a bit of doubting Thomas.

For many of us are more like Thomas than we would like to believe, or admit.

We, too, have our doubts.

So let’s think about some of those doubts.

Was the resurrection real?

There are basically two ways you can respond to the possibility of the resurrection. 
It is either true, or it is false.

Why do people find it hard to believe in the Resurrection?

Many would insist they need evidence.

And yet, the resurrection of Christ has more historical evidence than any other event of the ancient world.

You have the eyewitness accounts of disciples who had already gone back to fishing and to their former ways of life.  These disciples had nothing to prove.  They were hurt and grieving, but they were ready to accept the death of Jesus.  In John’s Gospel, Peter begins to return to his previous life as a fisherman. (John 21). 

St. Paul was a devout Jewish rabbi who strongly opposed Christianity – that is until he met Christ personally and became one of the greatest theologians of the church.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he lists some of the eyewitnesses.

(1 Cor 15:3-8)
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.”
That’s a list of 513 people, and Paul, single man who is a typical first century male chauvinist, doesn’t list the women who were the very first to see the risen Lord.

You put 513 eyewitnesses in a courtroom and ask, “What did you see?”  And when they all see the same thing, your doubts begin to disappear.

In Matthew’s Gospel have the accounts of the Roman soldiers who were there to guard the tomb, and saw the resurrection.

Matthew records in chapter 28:  “As the women were on their way into the city, some of the men who had been guarding the tomb went to the leading priests and told them what had happened. A meeting of all the religious leaders was called, and they decided to bribe the soldiers. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you and everything will be all right.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.”

SO you have 513 witnesses in favor of the resurrection, and a couple of soldiers who were bribed saying the resurrection is a hoax.

Well, we tend to believe military people and law enforcement people.  Their testimony carries a lot of weight.  Maybe they outbalance the 513?

Take a look at the apostles.  Interesting group of people.  Judas betrays Christ and he commits suicide.  The rest die horrible deaths – except for John.  He dies of old age.  But the others die deaths we can only imagine.  The death of James is recorded in the Book of Acts, and is the only one recorded in the Bible.  The rest come from history and tradition.

Bartholomew is skinned alive and then put to death slowly.

Peter was crucified on an X-shaped cross.

Andrew was crucified upside down.

Thomas was killed by a spear.

It would have taken only one to have said, “It was a lie.”  But not one of them did.  Between a lie and a truth, they held onto the truth and declared their faith in the resurrection – and then they died for their faith.

And finally you have the testimony of Paul.  When Christ rose from the dead, he did not believe it.  Not for a minute.  He was involved in the persecution and killing of Christians.  However, he himself encountered the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, and he was never the same after that.

We all have doubts -- At one time or another, about one matter or another, and the way most of us deal with doubt is to suppress it.  We ignore it and refuse to admit it to ourselves and we certainly refuse to admit our doubts to others.

But we make a mistake by dealing with doubt by suppressing and ignoring it.  But PRETENDING to be faithful and PRETENDING to have no doubts will not cure the problem.  Sooner or later, the old doubts resurface.

Denial and suppression is not the way to deal with our doubts.

If we are hard on Thomas, if we look down on him, maybe it is NOT because he, like us, felt the pain of doubt.

Maybe we look down on him because he, UNLIKE so many of us, had the courage to face his doubts head on.

Thomas was indeed a man of courage.

When Jesus announced his intention to go to Jerusalem and die, the reaction of Thomas was “Let’s ALL go and die with him.”     

And it was with courage that Thomas faced his doubts.

He knew that ignoring these doubts would not make them go away.  If anything would resolve them, it would be by facing them head on.

“Unless I see the scars of the nails on his hands, and put my fingers on those scars, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

One week after Thomas expressed that doubt, Jesus appeared to him and told the disciple, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands, reach out and put your hand in my side.  Stop your doubting and believe.”

And Thomas believed.  All his doubts were resolved. And not only that, but he was able to go beyond and make a giant step of faith beyond what most of the other disciples had made.  Others had described the Risen Jesus as Rabbi, prophet, Messiah, King.  But it took Thomas, who having expressed and faced his doubts was able to say with great faith, “My Lord, and my God.”

Having faced his doubts Thomas was able to resolve the questions of faith and come out with a STRONGER faith that ever before.

It is good if we are free from doubt.  Jesus himself said, “Happy are those who believe without seeing me!”

But IF we have those doubts, and many of us do, it is good that we face them and search for an answer, rather than ignore those doubts and hope they simply disappear. 

For only then will our faith grow and be nurtured to be a stronger, more realistic faith.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Awe and Wonder of the Resurrection - Easter Sunday Sermon - Luke 24:1-12

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " Then they remembered his words.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Several years ago I was in Haiti doing some work with the church and I met a man who told me about his uncle.

Interesting man this uncle.

According to my Haitian friend, this uncle was a zombie.

“Oh really,” I asked.  “So your uncle died.  He was buried, and one day he popped out of the grave and started walking around.”

“No,” my friend reassured me – there was no walking out of the grave.  Apparently his uncle died.  And before the family could bury him, he came back to life.  He couldn’t talk – all he could do was mumble.  His whole right side was all messed up and he couldn’t use his right arm, and his right leg didn’t work right and he walked with a shuffle.

I asked my friend if perhaps his uncle might have had a stroke.  Sounded like a stroke to me.

My Haitian friend was not very educated and did not know what a stroke was – but he knew what a zombie was and his uncle was a zombie.  And he was afraid of his uncle.

I mean after all, who wouldn’t be afraid of a zombie?

When you die, you are supposed to stay dead.

And zombies are scary!

Today there are zombie movies at the theater.  Last year we were treated with the movie – Abraham Lincolm verses the Zombies.  This year we have had Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies – oh, what would Jane Austin think?

When I was a kid it was Frankenstien’s monster.  And I’m not talking about a fake, pretend Frankenstein, I’m talking the real deal – the one with Boris Karlov.  Every Saturday morning one of the THREE television stations broadcast something called Shock Theater, which always showed these monster movies.  And Frankenstein was the best!  Scared me to death.  This mad scientist put together parts from dead people and brought this dead monster to life and yelled, “its alive, its alive” and late at night….

That monster came to see me….

I saw him and his shadow coming into my room late at night and I yelled out for my family to run and hide – and my Mom wouldn’t let me watch monster movies for a long time after that.

I share these stories because it is instinct for us to be afraid of something that is dead coming back to life.

I knew it watching Boris Karlov walk down the hallway.

My Haitian friend knew it when he misunderstood his uncle’s stroke as having died and then coming back to life as a zombie.

The women who found the empty tomb had that same feeling on the first Easter morning.  They were, in the words of Luke, TERRIFIED!

            Terror, fear, confusion – those are good solid reactions to the Resurrection of Christ, “resurrection” meaning he came to life after being dead.

And buried.

Dead and buried, then suddenly up and walking around.

That is a scary thing.

And in Luke, the women are terrified.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Roman Guards are witnesses to the resurrection event and in the words of Matthew, “For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

How else are you going to respond to a dead man walking out of a grave?

Mark’s Gospel ends with the women learning of the Resurrection and that Gospel ends with “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid

Fast forward 2000 years and here we are, Easter Sunday.

Probably no one here is sitting in terror!  There is no fear and trembling!

Your greatest fear today is that I might preach a sermon that is way too long and you might be late for lunch.

So how do we celebrate the resurrection today?

There are Easter Egg Hunts and photo ops for the children – lots of fun.  No fear.  I’m not sure what Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny has to do with Easter, but they are fun, especially with the children.

We have lost the fear of the resurrection – and I think that is a good thing.  Jesus was not the Frankenstein Monster coming out of the grave.  Jesus is not a zombie.  Jesus is our savior, and he comes out of the tomb, risen from the dead, and the angels were right when they said, fear not.

The problem is – when we lost our fear of the resurrection, we lost something else – our sense of wonder.  Our sense of awe.  Our sense of being amazed.

We have become used to the resurrection – perhaps even bored by it.

The Resurrection was an emotionally powerful moment in history.  At first it was fear – and then it matured into awe and wonder.

But our reaction to it was never meant to mellow into complacency – or boredom.

This was the one day that made all the difference in the world.

Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have become a nearly – or perhaps even a completely – forgotten footnote in history.

But with the resurrection, this became a day that made all the difference in the world.

It was the resurrection that moved the early Christians to go into all the world and make disciples for Jesus.

It was the resurrection that motivated early Christians, especially during the Middle Ages, to create hospitals throughout the world.

It was the resurrection that motivated the church to build universities and schools and to overcome illiteracy.  In the early years of American history, when a Presbyterian Church was established on the frontier, the congregation built the school house first, then the sanctuary, and the pastor was expected to be the elementary school teacher as well as the preacher.

It was the resurrection that even today motivates the creation of written languages for those small tribes of people where illiteracy still continues.

It was the resurrection that challenged the church to question their acceptance of slavery and to support abolition in this nation over a century ago, and that in more recent decades moved many clergy and other Christians to always be at the front of civil rights marches. 

It is the resurrection that continues to challenge us today as we have to let go of prejudices and long held believes as we are moved to accept all people of various life styles and orientations.

It is the resurrection that moves even the most cold hearted soul to become generous and gracious.

Resurrection Day is the day that has made all of the difference in the world.

If you can be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit of God you can realize that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not something we should get used to.  We should always have a sense of awe and wonder about it. 

I mean – a dead man coming back to life?  That is not something that happens every day.

And while it is fine for us not to be frightened of it, as were those first witnesses, we should never be complacent.

We should be so filed with the fire of the Holy Spirit that we should be moved to go out and continue to make a difference in the world.

There is still poverty in the world.  There is still racism.  There is still oppression of people.  There is still injustice.  There are people who are lonely and afraid. 

There are people who need the salvation and redemption of Christ.

Has the resurrection made a difference in your life?  And has your knowledge of the resurrection moved you to make a difference in the lives of others around you?

If the answer to those two questions is “no” then that is something to be afraid of!

My friends, believe in the Resurrection. 

Be awed by it.

Be filled with the wonder of it all.

And by the power of the resurrection and of the Holy Spirit, go out into the world and make a difference.

Copyright 2016. 
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, March 17, 2016

God's Way or Our Way - Luke 19:28-40 - Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,
“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Do you remember the words, "hold the pickle, hold the lettuce?"

What’s the next line?

“Special orders don’t upset us – all we ask is that you let us have it your way.”

About 25 years ago Burger King came out with their "Have it Your Way" campaign where if you wanted fast food you didn't have to get it anyway they made it, you could have a hamburger made especially for you.

And we liked that.

We wanted that hamburger made especially for us, our way. That's the kind of people we are, we love customization. We like things being tailor made, fit just for us.

The problem is that we don't stop with material customization, we also want it in our spiritual lives.

We like our church customized to fit our needs.

We like our worship service customized just to our exact taste.

Unfortunately, we also want a God who is customized to conform to our preferences. We want a God who does it our way and that's a problem.   Because God has a habit of doing things his way.

Two different secular publications have written recently about today's view of God and the church.

The first comes from Los Angeles Magazine, it is an article called God For Sale. The author says, "It is no surprise that when today's affluent young professionals return to church they want to do it only on their own terms. But what is amazing is how far the churches are going to oblige them."

And a recent article in Newsweek described today's Christians with these words: "They've developed a pick and choose Christianity in which individuals take what they want and pass over what does not fit their spiritual goals, and what many have left behind is a sense of their own sin."

You see we want spirituality.

We want God.

We just want him on our own terms.

We want a God that does it our way.

But that's not just true of us, that's been true of every age. Even on the first Palm Sunday, 2000 years ago, they had that same problem.

In our New Testament lesson for today, we read Luke’s description of the Triumphal Entry, which although Luke does not mention anything in his Gospel about the use of palm branches being spread out on the ground and waved in the air – that comes from John’s Gospel – it is traditional for us to call this day Palm Sunday.

It happened during the time of Passover, actually right before Passover. Passover was the greatest celebration of the Jewish people.

Jews would often make it their goal in life to go to Jerusalem at least once for the Passover. So on this Palm Sunday just a few days before Passover began, the pilgrims were already flooding into Jerusalem. They made their way along the dusty roads to Jerusalem, the capital city, the place where God himself dwelt in his temple.   It was also a time of expectation – when the people would get excited about the possibility that someday – someday – maybe today -- the Messiah would come. 

The Messiah!  The one sent by God to free the people.

The Messiah!  The one who would overthrow Rome and give freedom to the Jews.

The Messiah!  So expectant were the people that families would gather to celebrate Passover meals in homes and they would leave a place at the table for the Messiah.

It was into that mix of expectation and enthusiasm and emotion that we see Jesus getting a donkey and riding it from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem (which by the way was in fulfillment of a prophecy from our Old Testament lesson from Zechariah: “Behold Jerusalem, your King comes to you riding on a donkey." So here is Jesus, fulfilling this messianic prophecy as he rides into Jerusalem amidst the fanfare of the pilgrims all around him. And the pilgrims, they see this and they think, "could this be the Messiah?" And their hopes get the better of them and they begin to wave their palm branches, and they sing songs, and they shout their praises to Jesus as he enters into Jerusalem.

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

Their expectation for Jesus was that he was coming as a conquering general-king to free them from oppression.

But it is only a few pages later in the Gospel of Luke that the people change their tune.

Within less than a week, Jesus who enters Jerusalem with all the fanfare and praise, is betrayed by Judas.  Jesus is arrested.  At one point, he is taken to one of the Roman authorities, a man named Pilate.  And Luke’s Gospel tells us this is what took place (Luke 23):

13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”[d]
18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

But perhaps we should not be amazed by that at all.

The people who greeted Jesus were disappointed in him. 

He was not the warrior they expected, but the Prince of Peace.

He did not come to take away their suffering, but he came to tell us that we must also take up our cross and suffer for Christ.

I suspect that we are often disappointed when we discover the true Christ.

We look for a God who will make life easy and comfortable, but Jesus calls us to serve a God who is often difficult.  He tells us to take up our own cross if we are to follow him.  He tells us to love those who are difficult to love.  He demands that we forgive when we would rather strike back.

We look for a Lord who will take away the pain of living, but Jesus warns us, “don’t think I bring peace, but a sword.” 

We look for a deity who will answer our prayers like some cosmic bell hop.  But even Christ would pray to God, “take this cup of suffering away from me,” but then he yielded to whatever might be God’s will. 

On the first Palm Sunday, people saw Jesus ride in on a donkey rather than a horse -- a horse is a symbol of power and war. A donkey was a symbol of peace. But they didn't really get that.

They were so consumed with what they wanted the messiah to look like, what they wanted God to do for them, that it didn't matter who Jesus really was.

You know, it doesn’t take much to sing happy little songs that make us feel good.  We go home and think we have worshiped Christ – but it is so shallow.

On the other hand, it takes a lot to continue to worship a Lord who will not do it our way – but His divine way.  It takes a lot to worship a Lord who suffers on a cross, and expects us to suffer for His sake. 

It is easy to worship a Lord and pray that He will give you a new Humvee, or SUV, or flat screen TV – but can you still worship that Lord when He says “no” to those things, and then calls you to serve food to homeless folks?  Or to help work with children in one of our summer programs?  Or to volunteer to work with the youth?  Or to love your enemy?  Or to set aside your pride for humility?

For too long, Christians have treated Christ like a fast food restaurant – just give us faith our way.  Our way.

What we need to do is to follow Christ HIS way.

It’s only when we follow Christ HIS way rather than insisting on God doing things our way, that we can at last praise God with a sincere, “Hallelujah.”

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
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, March 08, 2016

Coveting #10 in series on the Ten Commandments

Old Testament Lesson                                                                Exodus 20:1-17

 Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lordyour God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lordblessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.[c]
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

New Testament Lesson                                                                Luke 12:13-23

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

And here we are, after ten weeks we now come to this, the last of the Ten Commandments. 

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

OK, what’s the big deal here?

          I mean, really.  Is coveting THAT bad?  Is it so important that we not covet that it really deserves a place in God’s top ten list?

          I can think of worse things than this. 

          I mean, this is one thing we have ALL done.

          When it comes to adultery, you may never have had an affair and broken your marriage vows.  A lot of people do, but not everyone.  Few of you have ever really stolen anything.  I’m thinking optimistically and hoping that there are only a couple of murderers here this morning.

          But when it comes to coveting, well, we’re not only guilty of it, we’re good at it.

          You go to a neighbor’s house for dinner and you look around and think, “Gee, I wish I had a house like this.”

          Your best friend tells you about his vacation plans, and you think, “Man!  I would love to have a vacation like that.”

          You can call it coveting, jealousy, longing for, yearning for, craving, envy, whatever. 

          This is a sin we have mastered to the point that we are pretty casual about our guilt.

          What’s so bad about coveting our neighbor’s house, or your neighbor’s spouse, or your neighbor’s ox or donkey – or in our 21st century society, your neighbor’s car.

          It’s not like we are coveting that car, and actually stealing it.

          And it’s not like we are coveting the neighbor’s spouse and then having an affair. 

          We’re just looking.  And wishing.  And admiring.  That’s it.

          So what is the big deal?
          What’s the big deal?

          For one thing, to covet means you are disappointed in God.

          Now every one of us has coveted something, been envious, jealous – whatever you want to call it.

          But most of us would absolutely deny being disappointed in God – but don’t you see, that’s what coveting is.

          Have you ever opened a gift, looked at it, and thought, “That’s the best my wife, my husband, my son, my daughter my best friend in the whole wide world could come up with?”

          Then you have to look at them and say, “Thanks, I love it.”

          My son believes that when you open a gift and your first comment is to announce to the giver what the gift is, then that is a sign the recipient of the gift doesn’t like the gift.

          I think he is right.

          You open a gift, look at it and say, “Ah, a tie.”

          The person who gave you the tie knows it is a tie.  But you have to look at it and say, “Ah a tie,” because you need to stall for time to think of a way to tell a lie, “I love this tie.  I really needed this tie.  This is exactly what I was hoping for.”

          You open up your life and you say, “Ah, my life.”

          You don’t like it.  You like your neighbor’s life better. 

          What was God thinking?  He gave me this life?  Why couldn’t He have given me a different life?  A better life? 

          Disappointed with God.

          How insulting that must be to God.

          He has given you the life you have, and you would rather exchange it for someone else’s life.

You know, if you live at the relative poverty level in this country then you are among top 20% of the richest people on this planet.  We have so much more than most people in this world, but we want more.

          We want our neighbor’s good looks.
We want someone’s youth.
We want someone’s job. 
We want someone’s retirement fund.
We want the golf clubs, the swimming pool, the boat, the this or that belonging to someone else.
Because we are disappointed in God.

          And what a terrible thing it is to be disappointed in God.

          Because the person who lives a life disappointed in God lacks the joy that God desires for us to have.

          First, we are not joyful in what God has given us.  And second, we are not joyful for our neighbor, and happy that God has given our neighbor he or she has.

          You know, I started this sermon by asking what is the big deal about coveting.  Why is it so bad that it is in the Ten Commandments?  What harm does it do?

          Does it harm your neighbor?
          No, not really.

          Does it harm society? 
          Don’t think so.
   Murder destroys lives.  Stealing destroys people's security.  Adultery destroys families.

   Coveting also destroys, but it does it silently and covertly.  It destroys our sense of values.  It misleads us from what is really important.  Coveting makes us think that the "one thing" that gives life meaning is the big house.  Or the most expensive car.  Or the new golf clubs.  Or the winning ticket to the Florida Lottery.

   But life's meaning is not found in any of these.  Nor is life's meaning enhanced by any of these.  For Jesus was right when he said that a man's life is worth more than the possessions he owns.

   What is it that we are looking for in our life?  It has been said that at the end of our life, when we find ourselves in a hospital bed, watching the worried looks on the faces of the doctors, or the frightened faces of our husband or wife, what will give all of our days and years meaning will not be the boat that we leave behind.  Instead, it will be the moments when we helped our neighbor when they were in need.

   What will give our life meaning will not be the car we can no longer drive.  It will be the love we showed to our family.

   What will give our life meaning will not be the nice cash bonus our boss gave us one year.  It will be the way we gave in support of the charities that needed our help.
When you covet what is not yours, you take away from yourself the opportunity to be as happy as God wants you to be.

There as a study conducted a few years ago about the American Dream.  What is the American Dream, and how do you accomplish it?  The study found that if a person made under $25,000 per year, that person felt that it would take $54,000 a year to fulfill the American dream. Those who make $100,000 plus crave an average of $192,000. In other words, the American Dream usually lies nearly twice the distance away.  No matter what you are given by God, you always want more, and you want what your neighbor has.  You can never be happy and content with where you are.  (Amy Bernstein, U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 1992, p. 11.)

As long as you covet what belongs to your neighbor, you hurt yourself by robbing from yourself the opportunity to be content and happy with what you have in the here and now.

   What is important?  Jesus said it well in this morning's lesson.  He told the people that a man's life is worth more than the possessions he owns.  Then He went on to explain that we should seek first the Kingdom of God, then all the other things we need to live will be given to us as well.  After all, what could be more important than the Kingdom of God?

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
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.