Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

David

DAVID

We continue to look at our “Superheroes” of the Bible as we work our way towards Vacation Bible School. One of the superheroes that you suggested was David. It is difficult to lock David down into one message. So much happened in his life. As I read and prayed one event kept coming to mind so that is where we will concentrate our time this morning.
Very quickly, we will do a condensed version of David’s life. David was the son of Jesse and lived in Bethlehem. He was the youngest son in the family with several older brothers. Samuel came to anoint the new king from one of Jesse’s sons and after reviewing all the older boys, realized that none of them were the one God had chosen as the next king. “Do you have another son” Samuel asked Jesse. “Yea, but that is just little David and he’s out tending the sheep” in a ‘he’s not worth much’ kind of statement. Samuel sent for him and of course this was the one who was to be the King - the one anyone thought the least possible. David was probably 12 years old at this point.
Saul was still the reigning king and David was not to take over as king until Saul’s death. In the meantime David got a job as the court musician and would sit and play his lyre for Saul. Appears that King Saul had these fits of rage and David’s music would calm him down.
It is while David is working in King Saul’s court that David goes home for a visit and finds out his older brothers are in the army and at war with the Philistines. David’s father asked David to go to the battle field and take some food to his brothers and see how they are doing. David does but his brother’s are not to receptive to him. They accuse David of spying on them. Not a real happy family visit. But it is while he is there, that David learns of the threat of Goliath and we all know that David kills the giant and becomes a national hero.
Because of this King Saul makes David the commander of the army and David is a very successful military leader. As a result David is given King Saul’s daughter in marriage and David meets King Saul’s son - Jonathan and they become best friends.
When King Saul sees how popular David has become with the people of the kingdom, he goes into jealous rage and vows to kill David so David is forced to run away.
And this is where today’s story picks up. David is on the run afraid for his life. He first goes to a priest named Ahimelech where he gets some food and also is given the sword of Goliath which had been put in storage. However, one of King Saul’s men happened to be at the tabernacle in Nob and overheard what was going on so David knew that he needed to be on his way and continue running from the King.
He next went to hide in a town called Gath where Achish was the ruler. He was quickly recognized because David had become very famous because of his military victories. So David decides if he acts crazy everyone will be afraid of him and they won’t arrest him. Finally he scared the people of Gath so much with his crazy act, they ran him out of town.
He goes to the town of Adullam where he hid in a cave. Consider what David is thinking about in this cave. He has lost everything. He was famous and well loved and had a high position in the government and that was gone. He lost his work as a military leader. He lost his wife because his wife had been embarrassed when David had won a military battle and had danced in the streets in celebration and she thought this action was beneath a man of his stature. He had to leave his best friend Jonathan because his presence put Jonathan at risk since it was Jonathan’s father who was trying to seek and kill David.
And if we want to know what David thinks, he tells us in the words of Psalm 142. (Read) This just shows us how low David feels. Alone in a dark cave away from everything and everyone he held dear. And he really doesn’t think he has much to look forward to. In this Psalm David is saying, “Woe is me!” But do you really blame him? He didn’t ask for any of this. None of this was because of David’s misdeeds. This is all happening to him and he is understandably distressed by all that he is lost.
But look at Verse 5 - all David has left is God and he acknowledges that. “You are my place of refuge” David declares. When all is gone, there is still God.
Sometimes don’t you feel like your life is like David’s cave. Your life seems cold and dark and you are alone and you don’t see any options or any help. And you cry out to God, “Woe is me”. And there is nothing wrong with that. You shouldn’t feel bad by taking a moment and saying, “How did I get here in my life? My life was good. And here I find myself in a cave with nothing. God what gives?” That is what David did. He just laid it all out there. So don’t feel bad when you just lay it all out there to God.
But then like David, you have to go that extra step and say - “God I’m in this dark cave, I’m mad, I’m frustrated, I’m confused…… but God. I know that you are here. I don’t understand it, but I know you are here.”
Now God works in mysterious ways and the help God sends us often comes in even more mysterious ways. David’s help came from his family. We don’t really know how David’s family knew that David was hiding in this cave, but we read in the story recorded in I Samuel where we are told that David’s family shows up to help him. This is the same family that didn’t think David was worthy to be anointed the next king. This is the same family that accused David of spying on them when David came to the army camp where they were stationed. This is the family who really didn’t think much of this scrawny little pretty boy. And now they are all gathered at the cave to help him.
And who else comes to David’s aid? Those who are in anguish themselves, those who are in trouble because they are in debt and those who have been wronged or mistreated. These people who clearly needed help themselves didn’t come to get help, but to help.
We are the church. We have been called by God to be his. Not only to be loved and cared for by God, not only to worship and work for God’s kingdom, but to be the ‘family’ of God. To be family for one another. To be there for one another and to put our own needs aside when there is another in our midst who need us. We are God’s and our work for God’s kingdom is to show up at the cave when someone in our church family is there - alone and afraid and at need.
There is also another lesson - When you are running for your life and all you have left is a cave to live in and God to cry out to, one of the last things on earth that you want is a bunch of church family members coming to hang around with you. Those people that you have heard groan and complain and cry out to God themselves. But those are God’s people - just like you. They are the family God gave you.
Don’t let yourselves suffer in that cave alone. Let God help you and he will - but he normally helps you not by sending angels but by sending members of his family - your church family.
Together with his family and the troubled, debt ridden, mistreated who showed up to help, David got out of the cave, formed these people into his followers, and they were able to move on. David still continued to run from King Saul who was still on a mission to kill David, but now he had help. He had people with him who were there for him and would continue to be there for him.
David reminds us that we are here as God’s people, that together we can escape the caves of our lives, and keep going - together.
Amen!

Daniel

Daniel

This morning you heard a passage from the book of Revelation. We are fascinated with the book of Revelation because of bizarre accounts such as this one. We have a dragon whose body parts are made up of parts of other animals. This dragon has great power and great words and because of its size and ‘proud’ words people decide that the dragon is worthy of worship and loyalty. And what else we learn about this dragon is that it has it out for God’s people and wants to destroy them so it takes the people into captivity hoping this will be the end for them - but we read that God will be with is people and God’s people are called to ‘patient endurance and faithfulness’ during this season of the dragon.
Now this is not a story of a real dragon who has body parts of other animals, but is a picture of an evil empire that is made up many nations who war against God’s people. This evil empire will capture God’s people and keep them captive. But through this devastation, God will be with them and God will free them - and all they need do is trust in God and remain faithful.
This is what happened in the life of Daniel.
God’s people in Judah had sinned greatly against God so God allowed the evil nation of Babylon to come and capture God’s people and take them into captivity to Babylon. Once the Babylonians had God’s people in Babylon, they selected several young boys who were the best and the brightest and put them into a training program to become government officials.
Daniel was one of those chosen for this great honor along with his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego whom you have heard of because they were the ones thrown into the furnace of fire and survived.
So the four young men go into the kings training program where they are to learn the language, the history and the culture of the nation of Babylon. Included in this training program was the privilege of eating at the Kings table. Now this was a real honor and very few people were ever afforded that opportunity and the young men were expected to be grateful for this entitlement.
But Daniel had a very strong faith and followed all of the strict Jewish dietary laws and the foods at the King’s table were not foods allowed by Jewish law. Daniel went to the food steward and told him that he was not going to eat the King’s food because it was against his beliefs. Now the King’s steward was very perplexed by this. Why would anyone jeopardize the honor of eating at the King’s table. Surely Daniel could make an exception.
But Daniel held fast. The Steward continued to argue with Daniel and suggested that if Daniel didn’t eat the King’s food, they he would start to look unhealthy and then further displease the King. So Daniel makes a deal with the Steward - let’s have a contest. Let everyone else eat the King’s food and I’ll follow God’s diet and we will see who is the healthiest.
The steward agreed to this. The contest was to last for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days - who do you think was the healthiest? Of course, Daniel, who had been willing to jeopardize his future in the King’s service to be faithful to the ways of God!
The King actually admired Daniel for his steadfast faith and Daniel went to the head of the class.
Not only was Daniel one of the best of the brightest of Israel’s youth, but Daniel had also been given the gift of being able to interpret dreams. The King, Nebuchadnezzar, was plagued with bizarre dreams - not unlike our reading from Revelation - and he was not able to carry out his duties because of worrying about these dreams. Daniel was brought to him and Daniel was able to tell the King what the dream meant. So Daniel gets another promotion.
This happened more than once and each time Daniel told the king the meaning of the dream and each time Daniel received more accolades and another promotion.


So unlike Samson last week who trivialized his gifts, Daniel used his gifts where and when God led him.
Time passes and all is going well for Daniel as he worked in the Babylonian government for the King. Nebuchadnezzar passed away and King Belshazzar began to reign. Now, Belshazzar liked to host parties and he would have huge parties for a thousand people where there would be much wine, women and song! At one of these parties, after everyone had plenty to drink, Belshazzar began to see this giant hand, floating all by itself, writing words on the wall and he was so terrified he passed out.
When he came to he called in all his advisors and none of them could figure out what this was all about - and then they remembered Daniel. If he could interpret dreams then perhaps he could figure this out as well. And of course Daniel was able to tell the king what this was all about - a warning from God that Belshazzar had angered God and God was going to end his kingdom…. which of course happened that very night.
And now there was a new King - King Darius. Darius was easily influenced by the people around him and the people around him convinced him he was a god and as a god he should have a huge statue of himself built - big enough that everyone in the whole country could see it. And Darius did it.
Now, the king’s advisors said, you need to make a law that everyone who comes near the statue must bow down and pray to it. Not only that, but it is now illegal to pray to any god other than Darius. Daniel hears about this and immediately goes to his room and publicly before his open window, bows down and prays to God. Daniel thanks God for being faithful to him and asks God to give him strength to not abandon God during this dangerous time for Daniel. Because Daniel was not going to bow down to the Darius statue and Daniel was not going to pray to Darius and Daniel was not going to stop praying to God - no matter what the penalty may be.
Daniel is then drug before the king and accused of not praying to the statue and praying to his own God. And Daniel is unapologetic and therefore thrown into a den of lions. Well, we all know how the turned out. The next day the King himself went to check on the lions, and Daniel was still there. Sitting among the lions, with not a scratch on him.
“How is this?” the King exclaimed. And Daniel told the King about the wonders of his God and how his God had protected him because Daniel had been faithful. Darius, then, became a believer in the one and only God and declared that all of Babylon must fear and reverence the one and only God - the God of Daniel. And the King gave this great testimony: (Read Daniel 6:26-27)
As I worked on this story of Daniel, I couldn’t help but notice that the message of Daniel was much the same message as we heard last week from Samson - while Samson was a negative example and Daniel a positive example and both remind us of the same bible passage we started with last week and won’t hurt us to read again. (Read Romans 12:1-2).
While Samson succumbed to the culture around him, Daniel shows us that it is possible to not give in to the pressures of fitting in. Daniel is a perfect example of someone who took his ordinary life and placed it before God as an offering. Daniel stood fast to God regardless of what he was threatened with. Daniel stayed steadfast to God regardless of all the people around him who were doing the exact opposite - who were participating in whatever was popular at the moment no matter if it was Godly or not.
And what is also important to us is that every step of the way, Daniel prayed. Daniel prayed. Every time he was confronted with a problem, Daniel prayed. Every time Daniel was confronted with a decision, Daniel prayed.
The message for us - the way to avoid the temptations of the culture around us; the way to stay faithful to God despite the problems and decisions - is prayer.
The Apostle Paul tells us - “Pray without ceasing” and Daniel is the example for us of how a life of prayer can make a huge impact on our life.

Amen.

The Trinity

Trinity

I don’t often read things for the sermon but I want to start of today reading this quote from CS Lewis. For those of you who may not be familiar with CS Lewis, Lewis was a confirmed atheist when he taught at Oxford in the mid 1900s. He became close friends with JR Tolkien - the writer of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy who was an avid believer in Christ. It was through conversations with Tolkien that Lewis became to believe, although CS Lewis wrote he came to Christianity “kicking and screaming and looking for a way to escape” but Lewis became a well respected theologian and writer about Christ. Most people are familiar with Lewis who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia series which is an analogy of Christianity. . Anyway in talking about the trinity, CS Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

"What I mean is this." he writes, "An ordinary simple Christian
kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with
God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him
to pray is also God: God so to speak, inside him. But he also knows
that all real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was
God - that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray,
praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to
which he is praying - the goal he is trying to reach. God is also
the thing inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power.
God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to
that goal. The whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is
actually going on in that ordinary act of prayer.”

So we can get a picture of just how confusing a concept is our belief in the Trinity - in a Trinitarian God - a God who is one, yet a God who is three. It just doesn’t make sense - yet an essential part of what we believe.

Today is a Sunday called Trinity Sunday. Last week we talked about celebrating special days in the church. And we mentioned the 4 most important days which were: Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Each of these days, calls us to remember an event - something that happened. Trinity Sunday is one of the few Sundays that wants us to stop and think about a doctrine of the church - a specific belief that we have about God. It is strategically placed after the others because in a way Trinity Sunday sort of sums up what has happened on the other days - At Christmas we have the coming of God to earth in human form, on Easter and Ascension we celebrate the rising of Jesus and on Pentecost is the coming of the Holy Spirit. So in those other days, we recognize the elements of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So now that we have heard about all three parts of the Trinity, we celebrate their special day - or more clearly, we struggle to figure out this special nature of God.

The trinity is that belief that God is one - “The Lord Your God is One God” - yet God is three - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one and God is three. How can that be??
So people have tried various different ways to try and explain it:
Here we have the shamrock (image on screen) because this was the stumbling block St Patrick was having with the Irish in bringing them to faith - they couldn’t deal with the concept of Trinity. So he used the Shamrock - one Shamrock - yet three lobes - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The very early church fathers in the third Century tried the idea of masks (use three masks) - that God put on different masks at different times as he acted out the different roles.
.
The butterfly analogy has been used (show slide). The caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly - three forms of the same insect.
We have tried names to explain the Trinity - (slides of creator, redeemer, sustainer) - these are the three ways we understand God working - God the creator, God the redeemer and God the sustainer.
In the Presbyterian Church our symbol (show Presbyterian symbol) was designed to represent Trinity - the three that makes up the cross.
During the middle ages when all the great and beautiful cathedrals in Europe were built, they used stained glass windows to try and explain Trinity - (Show some of those) And then artists tried to depict the trinity (show slide)
All these explanations are really inadequate to get to the real essence of what Trinity is. Martin Luther came up with this drawing: (show Luthers diagram) which is suppose to help but I think just muddies it up and leaves us with more questions. But it does define Trinity in the way we are to understand. Jesus is not the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is not Jesus nor the Spirit, the Spirit is neither Jesus nor the Father, but they are all God.
Understand? I like this cartoon - and we would probably agree! (show cartoon)
It is not a natural thing to be able to simply understand this Trinity; it is not natural to understand how one thing can be three and none of those comparisons, caterpillar, or egg, or shamrocks or diagrams can really make it make sense.
But Jesus, as he talks to Nicodemus helps us to understand that being a follower of Christ is not a natural thing…. In the gospel reading this morning we have the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark of night because Nicodemus is afraid what will happen if the other members of the Sanhedrin - this is the group that will later condemn Jesus to be crucified - find out that Nicodemus is meeting with Jesus. Nicodemus is trying to figure out what Jesus is teaching - what message Jesus is trying to get across to the people. Here we hear Jesus say, “You can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are born again.” Now, a quick reference to that phrase ‘born again’….. The actual Greek says “born from above” meaning - you can’t be a follower of Christ unless you are brought to Christ by the Father and then filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that becoming a follower of Christ is an act of Trinity - The Father, the Son and the Holy spirit are all active in your being here; in your being a follower of Christ; you are all ‘born from above’ because of the work of the Trinity - all parts of God active in you and assuring you of All of God working to make you His!
What makes this even harder, is that the term ‘trinity’ is never found in the Bible. So if it isn’t talked about in the Bible, how is it that it is such an important part of our faith? There is no statement anywhere that describes Trinity - but there is overwhelming evidence of its existence. For example, every time God speaks and refers to himself it is in the plural. If you remember the story of the Tower of Babel we read last week, did you catch God saying, “Let ‘us’ go down and see this city.” Every time regardless of where God speaks - he uses the term ‘us’ - ‘us’ of course meaning, more than one.
Even God’s most common name in the Old Testament, Elohim, is a plural term.
There are instances where we see all three members at the same time - at Jesus baptism - we see Jesus, we hear the voice of the Father and we see the Spirit in the form of a dove descend on Jesus.
So the trinitarian concept is something that is just assumed throughout the accounts of the Bible.
Which still doesn’t help us understand this concept of Trinity - Do you know the definition of faith?
- succumbing to a concept for which there is no proof. And that is what we have to do. Trinity is one of those essential concepts in our understanding of God that is just totally beyond our understanding - we just simply have to have faith in a God who is so huge and so great and so omniscient that the only way he can present himself to us is by showing himself to us as a loving father, an obedient son who died for our redemption and a spirit who sustains our life.
Amen!



The Ascension

The Ascension


Let us say together the Apostle’s Creed (recite the creed). The creed was written in order to give people a concise understanding of the faith - short enough that people could memorize it but comprehensive enough that everything that essentially we need to know and believe to follow God is included. There were no Bibles available for people to look at so they needed a way to get the facts about the faith. Originally it was a baptismal creed - those adults being baptized would learn it in question and answer form and then recited it at their baptism.
So let’s think about this creed and what the early church fathers felt was import an for us to know…..
First that God created heaven and earth - short and sweet and essential for us to believe. The last paragraph gives us some one sentence essentials - The Holy Spirit, that regardless of tradition, or denomination, we are all one church in Jesus Christ, that we are all part of the communion of believers - living or dead, that our sins are forgiven, that we will be bodily resurrected and will live forever. The middle paragraph, the longest one, tells us what we need to know about Jesus - the basics. That Jesus was the son of God, that his birth was a miracle, that he was crucified and died, that he rose from the dead and that he ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of the God the father almighty.
And that last little section is what we need to talk about today - he ascended into heaven….. This is Ascension Sunday - the day set aside to recognize that essential section of the Apostle’s Creed - that Jesus ascended into heaven. A little over 40 days ago, we recognized the death of Jesus and his resurrection. Jesus remained on earth for 40 days after the resurrection, spending time with the disciples - teaching them and encouraging them in the role they were going to have to fulfill as the Apostles of Jesus. We had our Christ Candle burning in the sanctuary to remind us of the special presence of Jesus during these 40 days. During these 40 days Jesus was also trying to prepare the disciples for the fact that he was going away - for good this time.
On the 40th day after the resurrection, this coming Thursday, Jesus gathered the disciples on a mountaintop, and told them that this was it. That this was the moment he was leaving - he told them not to worry. He was going to heaven, but he was going to send his spirit back and this spirit would live in them and give them the power they needed to do the job God had assigned them. Their job was to go out into the world and teach everyone what he had taught them. The disciples were to take everything that Jesus had taught them and now teach it to the rest of ‘the world’. Go back to Jerusalem, and wait. When the time is right my spirit will come to you. Which by the way we will celebrate next Sunday as we remember the event known as Pentecost.
So as the disciples are standing there, they watch as Jesus literally, physically, ascends through the clouds and on to heaven. They just stood there mesmerized. Can you imagine? They stood there long enough staring up in the sky that an angel came and said, “Don’t just stand there looking up into heaven!” Go! Do what Jesus said! Go back to Jerusalem and wait for the spirit Jesus will send you. Off they went, singing and praising God and they did what Jesus told them - they went back to the upper room and waited expectantly for whatever this spirit might be!
So the disciples are in the upper room waiting for whatever this ‘spirit’ is that Jesus has promised them. And thinking about that sight witnessing Jesus’ ascent into heaven. Which makes us start to think about heaven…. Other than knowing that God the Father and Jesus are there, what do we know about heaven? We talk about it a lot - we all want to end up there. We all probably have our own vision of what heaven is like. But what does the Bible actually teach us about heaven?
We know that God created it. We read that passage from Genesis to begin the service - in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Heaven was something new that God created at the same time he created the earth. There is no real description of what ‘heaven’ is but we know that

it is where God lives with his angels. The word ‘heaven’ is used as a term of where God is - even thought we know that we are taught that God is everywhere.
What God and the writers of the Bible know is that we as humans need concrete images to help us understand concepts. We need a visual picture to help us figure all this out. So the writers portray God as a king like, or father like, being sitting on a throne where he looks out over the earth - his kingdom. Not that this is necessarily what it is really like. This is simply an image that the people who lived during the time of the bible would have been able to relate to. To understand God - think of him as a great king sitting on a throne in a great throne room. This visual image would portray for these people complete control and complete power. They lived under earthly kings who had complete control over their lives and total power. This is not what it is really like, but a good way for you to think about God and heaven. That image doesn’t work so well for us and I’m not even sure there is an image that would work since we have never lived under that kind of total power and total control over our lives. But that is what that image of God is suppose to portray - that concept of God overseeing us and in control.
Often we hear in Bible stories that ‘the heavens open up and we see the glory of God” - the visual would be looking up in the sky and seeing God sitting on his throne. The idea is to reassure us that God is there and that God is at work and God is in charge. That comfort of knowing that God is watching and knows what is going on in our lives.
The other definition of what we know about heaven is that it is the place where God’s servants go when their work is done in this life. We read many times that someone’s work was done and they were ‘lifted into heaven’.
When we are ‘lifted into heaven’ what is it going to be like? We don’t have a clue. There is no definitive description of what heaven is actually like. We have the description of God’s throne room with angels flying around him and worshipping him. We know that Jesus sits in his throne on the right side of God. We have Jesus telling us that he has prepared a room/mansion for us. The Apostle John was lifted up by God and given a ‘vision of heaven’. Then John says - there are no words to describe it. I don’t have the proper vocabulary to convey to you what it is like. But here is my best shot - and he describes streets of gold and buildings of jewels and that there is no light source other than the glowing, glory of God.
Heaven is something that can’t be described - but it will be good. Even better than the physical description, there is the description of what we will be like in heaven. We do not turn into angels who sit on clouds strumming harps of gold…… but the prevailing description of heaven is a time when we will be at peace - there will be no pain and no tears and no hardship. And we will have the ability to not only see God but to worship him as he truly desires to be worshipped.
Sounds like somewhere we would like to be, so how do we get there? First, and most important, you cannot earn your way to heaven. Heaven is not the goal of living a life for Christ. We are saved by grace. Heaven is the ‘reward’ not the ‘goal’ of living as God’s people. You go to heaven by acknowledging your salvation in Jesus Christ and then living as Christ calls us to. We are taught not to live with heaven in mind, but to just know that we can be confident heaven is the final destination.
How do we get there? And here is the importance of the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus died - so will we. Jesus was resurrected - so are we. Jesus ascended into heaven - so will we.
The importance of celebrating the ascension is that we are celebrating Jesus’ ascension but we are also celebrating
our ascension. Because Jesus rose to this mysterious place we call heaven, so will we. That is the good news of this day!
The ascension, according to the Gospels and our early church Fathers, is a very significant event - it rates right up there with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost as important days for us to recognize in the church. Ascension is actually the completion of what Jesus was to do when he came to earth. We celebrate his birth at Christmas so that he could be one of us, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday we remember his death for our forgiveness, Easter we acknowledge Jesus rising from the dead so that we will rise from the dead as well. And then, when this time is completed, as Jesus ascends into heaven to be with God the Father to live with God forever - assuring us that we too will live forever in heaven with God. Amen!