What an honor it has been to be your preacher for a season. You know that I have wanted these to be conversations. I have not been telling you. I have never thought that was effective as we devote ourselves to Scripture. What I have sought to do is to think with you, to be your companion in discovery. We have listened together. What will you remember of our time together?
When I was with my friends at Southeast, when I earned my doctorate, they gave me a clock that sits on my desk. They inscribed it with some words they heard from me. I cannot tell you how powerful and wonderful that gift was for me.
The inscription says:
You are the beloved of God. Created His child. Chosen His servant.
May the Lord guard your heart. May He guide your steps.
And may you find satisfaction in Him.
That is what they heard from me. They were returning to me the Truth.
What have you heard?
Maybe you will remember that the work of God is to bring order out of chaos.
Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
The wind of God, the breath of God, the Spirit of God, hovering over the chaos, about to create. I think this still happens. I think this is a good baptismal imagine. (If anyone is in Christ, it is new creation – 2 Cor 5:17).
Are you involved? Is this your work, too? I think it is.
We are created to be like God. We are created in God’s very image. His character is meant to be our character. And what is that? This is one of those passages that should be marked in your Bible.
Exodus 34:6-7 (NRSV) 6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty.
Isn’t that good news?
I think it speaks of justice and righteousness. His Way is our way. You are merciful. You are gracious. You are slow to anger and your life is steadfast. You forgive iniquity and transgression and sin. And you are not reckless. You are accountable. You are responsible. Right? And then, we also know how very difficult it is to be like God.
Perhaps that is the fundamental story of God that we find in the Old Testament.
God is faithful. Human beings are a mess.
If you were a part of our Wednesday and Sunday evening study groups, we walked through Genesis together and found that every inclination of our hearts is a mess.
Genesis 6:5 (NIV) The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.
I’m so thankful that the lead characteristic of God is mercy.
God pursues his people and is a covenant maker. He made promises to Abraham. The promises were and are that Abraham would have innumerable descendants, that they would have a place, and that through him all nations would be blessed.
This was the good news – the gospel.
Galatians 3:8 (NIV) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
Blessing. It is not extra. And it is not new.
I hope you heard me say that to be blessed was to have God’s Good Attention. It does not mean that it will go easily for you.
Jesus is blessed. And his earthly life was difficult. He was criticized. He was lied about. He was teased and mocked and abused. He was cruelly killed. And yet, he was God’s Beloved. He was blessed. God was with Him. And through Him, God was and is with you.
Hear the Blessing:
Numbers 6:22-27 (NIV) The LORD said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” 27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
Words have great power.
And your ministry is God’s Mission. He who brings order out of chaos, calls you to be a peacemaker. (Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.) God is with the Peacemakers! He calls you to heal and encourage and call people into His character (merciful, gracious, slow to become angry, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness). And this is our character, too, right? That is what it means to be a Godly person. That is the work of our lives. That is what we are doing here!
There were some Psalms that you have heard from me.
You are beautiful. You are wonderful. I know that full well!
Before a word is on your tongue, the Lord knows it completely.
There is no place to hide from God. He knows you.
Psalms 139:1-14 (NIV) O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
You are fully known. You are genuinely loved. That is good news. That is what we so want and desperately need.
We have spoken about Psalm 88 on occasion. Almost every Psalm contains a word of hope. All except for one. Psalm 88 ends this way…
Psalms 88:16-18 (NIV) Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
Sometimes, we are right there. I think it is the feeling of Jesus on the cross when he began to quote Psalm 22. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Scripture is honest. And sometimes, this is the truth from our depths. With God, you don’t have to be afraid of the truth of your heart. I think that is good news.
And, along those lines, there is Psalm 137. It is not a nice moment.
Psalms 137:8-9 (NIV) O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us— 9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Isn’t that terrible! Yet, here is what I want you to see. Sometimes we are angry. How can you be angry and sin not (Psalm 4:4, Eph., 4:26)? I think this psalm tells you. You sing it out. You sing it up. You give it up to God. He will receive it and you will be healed. I think that is good news.
And, I hope you have heard that all of this is about Jesus.
Luke 24:44 (NIV) He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Jesus came to announce the arrival of the rule and reign of God. God’s Way was breaking in with his birth, with his life, with his teaching, with his loving self-sacrifice on the cross, with his resurrection from the dead.
The Word had said that the king was coming, and a kingdom.
Daniel 2:44 (NIV) “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV) The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Jesus came. He said:
Mark 1:15 (NIV) “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Today. Now. The Way is clear. Come to it! Merciful. Gracious. Slow to become angry. Steadfast in Love. And full of the justice of God.
And he said this about the Isaiah words, which he read in the synagogue in his home town.
Luke 4:20-21 (NIV) Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today. Beauty for ashes. Praise instead of despair.
Binding up the brokenhearted. Gladness instead of mourning.
We have been through Matthew and Mark and Luke and John. We have centered on Jesus. We have seen the power of the Presence of the Messiah (the Anointed One, The King, The Christ).
He says, “follow me.”
Matthew 18:3 (NIV) And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
He says you must be born again (John 3:3) from above.
He calls you to go into the world for their sake.
John 20:21 (NIV) Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
You are the Presence of Jesus, the Body of Christ. His Work is your work. His Way is our Way.
There is more, so much more. Rejoice in the Lord, Always. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
But perhaps, most often, you would hear this hymn from Philippians 2:
Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV) Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
This is the call to the Way.
Have this mind in you. Have this attitude.
You are wonderfully blessed. God is with you and in you.
You are powerful. You are forgiven.
But it is not all for you. You cannot exploit the blessings for your self. That is not the Way. We give ourselves away. We give ourselves all the way away.
How could we complain or grumble if we have died?
This is your baptism. These are the implications of your baptism.
You died. You are resurrected. To this Way.
Okay. Enough. Not really. But it must be so. I need to end with one illustration.
Do you remember this story? You probably do.
Fred Craddock – Craddock Stories, page 27.
By Anastasia Zamyatina
I have a student who, for eight years, taught in a school in Nashville, Tennessee, for children with hearing disorders. Their ears were all right; they just did not make contact. He said that after eight years, “I just could not stand it anymore. I went home crying. I went to work crying.” He said, “One year, right after the Thanksgiving holiday, there was this beautiful girl in the school. Heather was her name. She was seven years old. We were out on the playground just after our Thanksgiving holiday. I went over to Heather, took her by the shoulders, squatted down in front of her, and said, “Heather? Heather? What did you eat for Thanksgiving?”
Heather said, “My shoes are red.”
He said to me, “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
I did not have the heart to tell him that he’s going to have experiences pretty close to that. I was in Dallas in a service in which the music, the anthem, the prayers, the songs, everything gelled, and in the sermon, everything was just right. I was in the presence of God. Standing there after the benediction, I did not want to move. I was immobilized by the presence of God in the service. Just a guest. A man in the pew in front of me – he didn’t know me, I didn’t know him – turned around and said, “Do you think Tom Landry’s going to coach the Cowboys another year?”
Do you know what the man said to me? The man said, “My shoes are red.”
O Lord, open our ears. Tune our hearts to hear. Help us to grasp the point, the story, the wonder, the hope, the news. This is what I meant to say to you, in our season together.
And if we cannot get it, even if our shoes are red.
He loves us still. This I know.