Category: Living Together

Living Together God’s Way

Sermon, Epiphany 7A (Proper 2)
Sunday February 20, 2011.

Ocean Forest

Living together in God’s wayLeviticus 19:2-18

Friends, I could not go past this first bible reading from Leviticus. It is all about being community. When you put these ancient directives into our current place, it makes for challenging but also enlightening and helpful hearing – a word from the Lord about how we are to be together in every sphere of life.

We hear God shaping his people in their desert wandering community. God speaks his vision of community to his people on the journey so that they can truly live in his land, hi s presence and with others in his world.

So, we do well this morning to hear these very practice directives on how to live together in God’s mission community so that we actually LIVE – TOGETHER with God’s peace and power at our core.

19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.Sounds impossible! But not if we trust that Jesus makes us holy and acceptable to a perfect God in our baptism into his death and resurrection. So this is really more: Stay in my holiness and be like me in holiness.
All that we will be instructed in is about remaining in God’s holiness and life

19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.I hear God saying – don’t be takers, but givers. Yes, take what you need from planet earth, from your work, from people’s generosity, but leave other people plenty. Leave food, money, a room, a chair for another – especially those in need. Don’t take everything from what you earn or gain in life. Leave room for generous giving of heart, things and wallet.

19:10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: Why leave room for generosity to others? Because the poor matter and people’s needs matter to God. The ground matters. Plants and animals matter. People matter. We, the holy community of God in the world are called to value the needs of others and our planet and respond accordingly.

19:11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.
No one likes having their stuff taken. It creates mistrust and suspicion among people. And of course, we know the damage done by hurtful and harmful words spoken by whatever means, be it SMS, email, phone or face to face. So for the community of God, words are a premium gift to be used very carefully and with all wisdom from God. Careful words create community.

19:12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.It is a very serious thing to call down God’s name as the reason or authority for your actions. Have you ever had one of those conversations where you disagree with a person’s attitude or action and they say, “Well, God told me to do that”. The conversation is over and somehow, things were not the same as they used to be between you.
We want to be very careful and quite sure of God’s will before claiming we are doing it! Paul says there is no law against loving our neighbour. As we love and give, we are on the right track and in God’s will.
On the Name of God; well it is a shame that the Lord’s name is taken so lightly and is so often profaned, but all we can do is use it to do what he intended it for – as Luther says… ”to ask for help in any kind of trouble, and to praise, thank God”. (Small Catechism). That is what God gave us his personal name for.

19:13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; …. and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.I think the message here for us to be open and free in our giving of what we owe people, or, to not tightly hang on to what we owe to someone until we absolutely have to give them. Instead God’s way is to pay what we owe straight away and move on so that all remains well between us, because if there is one thing that causes the community lots of grief, it is money and lack of payment of money!
Unpaid debt in money or kind can cause a rift between even the best of friends or between family members, and this is tragic because it so unnecessary.

19:14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.Yes, that is why our school has a support program for all kinds of children and young people and their parents! I think God is affirming us here for our attention to people’s different needs in learning, business, sport.

19:15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.We are not free to judge our neighbour with malice, hatred, or spite but only justice – God’s justice, which is never with only mere punishment in mind, but some punishment and mostly restoration to the community.
As for unjust judgment, that is hard to tell sometimes isn’t it? Sometimes there are no winners and everybody loses in a situation, no matter what the judgment has been. I think of the fires a couple of weeks ago and the justice of it all when we found out the off-duty police officer had no intention whatsoever of destroying 60+ homes. He was just carelessly using his angle grinder….
But, even though injustice can be sometimes very hard to discern or judge, we are called to try and find God’s restorative justice in every situation; whether it be in protecting our God-given environment, another person or a whole country.

19:16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.We are not to be “Underbelly” kind of people! Any underhandedness, deceit, dishonesty, intended or unintended hurts the community greatly. When we share this kind of behaviour we exasperates the problem 10 fold. We all know this and yet, we seem to find it hard to say less rather than more.
We need to keep learning how to control the tongue which is like a ship’s rudder – small but hugely influential – says James in his letter.
We really do need to learn more and more to not get ourselves in what they call “triangulation” where instead of telling another person who may have wronged us or upset us about how we are feeling and what their actions have meant, we actually get used to telling them directly. Sure we can gain support from another friend and maybe even ask that friend to support us in some way as we reach the goal of speaking directly with the person who has wronged us – but in the end our goal is that, and not to share the issue with anyone or everyone.

19:17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.I don’t think any of us want to hate anyone, it is just that we seem to let hatred develop over time. It usually comes from being hurt and not talking about our hurt with the person who hurt us or even a good friend. We hold it too long and then are quite guilty for feeling hatred for another person.
God is calling us to “reprove our neighbour”. In other words, tell the person who has hurt you that they have hurt you, as soon as you can – even before the sunset at the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 4:26).
This lessens the likelihood of carrying anger and it turning into bitterness and hatred – which is so destructive for the one carrying it and the whole community.
God says we are accountable for the hatred and bitterness we carry – even though it came as a result of someone else’s wrong. We need to take learn how to tell each other when we hurt each other and so, save ourselves a whole lot of guilt and trouble.

So, there it is; God’s practical direction for us here and now.

We might feel overwhelmed with our inability to do any of this and we might view God as having unreasonable expectations! But he says he gives us these directions not because he is some harsh school master waiting to see us fail, but for our good – our life – our well-being.
Paul can say that “all is yours” in 1Corinthians 3. All the wisdom, power, gifts, ability, faith and love are already yours in Jesus Christ. You have received him and his community in your baptism and as we actually do these directives on living together, we will actually LIVE – TOGETHER.

Instead of depleting each other, hurting each other we will help each other live – live in God’s grace and peace and be at each with each other more and more.

I am praying we take God’s practical direction into our heart and then try them and see how God uses us to be life bringers in our community so that we actually be the community through which others in this place receive the love and blessing of God in Jesus as their Saviour. Amen

Living it Together 2

Living it Together
1 & 2 Timothy Sep 12 – October 24, 2010.
Thanksgiving Day, Week 2
Background and 1 Timothy 6:6-19

We continue delving into the Timothy journey this morning on this thanksgiving day.
Remember we are in one of the “Pastoral Epistles”.
The letters offer a wide spectrum of warnings and encouragements as well as instructions to pastors/leaders in the local church based on actual experience of the author.
We are in the important Roman provincial city of Ephesus; a city dominated by one of 7 wonders of the ancient world – temple to the goddess, Dina or Artemis.

TEXT Timothy 6:6-19 (New International Version)
6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Paul’s Charge to Timothy
11But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen.
17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Today God speaks of how to deal with both  the blessing of wealth and the dangers of it and what that great gift is of being truly content in God and in so, in life.
 title slide

“Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker was watching a new neighbour move in next door. After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, plush furniture, and costly wall hangings had been carried in, the onlooker called over, “If you find you’re lacking anything, neighbour, let me know and I’ll show you how to live without it.”

Contentment? I read this quote from some unknown person….
“I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet”.

There seems to have been some people in the Ephesian community who were falling for the age old trap of selling out for the almighty dollar – at the cost of everything else in life. They seem to have been saying that being disinterested in money, lacking the heart to chase it and build it was a road to emptiness and poverty.
But there seems to have been a, faith-destroying side to this flawed view. These church folks were suggesting that living a God-pleasing, faithful life was to be the ticket to financial gain! As if our whole life with God was really all about gaining material possessions, health and whatever else is good for us in our view!
Paul turns this shallow understanding of life in Jesus right back on their heads and says, in fact, there is great benefit in godly living – and it is not financial gain – but that most valuable state of being – ‘contentment’. “Godliness with contentment is great gain”, says Paul to Timothy, just in case the young pastor is in doubt.

So Paul is saying that we live in God’s way for contentment in him – not for what money or possessions or status we think we need and seek.

The main reason why giving your heart to the pursuit of wealth destroys your faith and your life in the end is because wealth is so flimsy! Banking on money in the bank to bring lasting contentment in life is folly, according to the Word of God.
So, what to do my heart when it comes to money and the pursuit of the accumulation of wealth?

Flee. “Flee from giving too much of your heart to it”, says Paul to young Timothy.
“Take hold of”: Grab on to the more lasting and precious and life-giving thing – God and his word and his people”, says Paul.
Grab on to where you have been with God, says Paul. Remember where you have come from with the Lord and hang on to that.
But there is something else to do. “Confess faith”. (v13). Instead of speaking about the making of money and the great reward of being wealthy and etc…, speak about your life in God’s riches – your security and personal fulfillment in the love of Christ and his presence with you.

So, this is how we receive the great personal gain of that much sought after gift, “contentment”: Flee from the love of it, hold on to the things of faith and speak about them

And what of being wealthy? Everyone here is wealthy – or at least wealthier than a lot of other people around the world. Interesting how Paul never suggests that being wealthy is bad – just dangerous.

I was reading a book called “Mustard Seed Verses McWorld” by Tim Sine. It is an insightful work that sees right through our ‘McWorld’; fast and disposable culture.
Tom suggests that there is a whole generation of wealthy Christian people who don’t know how to be wealthy and faithful at the same time. Somehow we wealthy Christians seem to hear “Wealth is not good” in the church. Therefore we go underground and don’t mention the “M” word or the “Giving” theme.

Well, let’s get above ground now. Being wealthy is not bad – just dangerous; like every other sort of life really! Wealth is a gift. It is not even a gift to be gotten rid of as quickly as possible or hidden as much as you can to be a “real” Christian, as far as Paul is concerned here. He says that this wealth has been given to you by God for your enjoyment! (v17).

God has given me my income, my house, my motorbike, my car, my……. because he is happy that I enjoy them. That’s the truth. The truth is that wealthy Christian can do a lot of things, support a lot of people and be a huge blessing to many people – because they can – because we can.

“Tell the wealthy folks to be rich in good actions – generous and always willing to share”, says Paul to Pastor Timothy. Paul can say this with confidence because he knows in his own life that God and his provision is trustworthy. He knows words from God like these…

Psalm 145:15-16 (New International Version)
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

So, wealthy men and women of God, we can trust that the Lord will provide all we need and more – enough for us to be generous.
And with this trust, we don’t need to attaching too much of ourselves to the pursuit of wealth and status. Instead we can be generous, hospitable, giving people. That is how to deal with our wealth in this community – give it, share it, do good things with it.

It is also our responsibility to pay for the work of the gospel with our wealth. That is why we have an offering and why we don’t seek lots of government grants or company sponsorship for our congregation’s work.

Christians pay for the work of the Lord and for the help of those in need. It is what we do. It’s what Jesus told us to do. The guide in the OT community was that God’s people gave a 10th of their income for the Levites – the priestly family who served the people and the Lord in a special way in the worship and teaching of God’s Word and help for the alien and the needy in Israel.

I have come across wonderful wealthy Christians who have done so much good for people and the church and those in need in my Christian walk They have become a model of how to be a wealthy Christian to Leanne and I – generous, giving, sharing their time and their wealth.

Maybe the truth is that the less stick we put in stocks and shares and money and etc. the less our heart is sidetracked by this pursuit and the more our heart finds its peace and love and rest in Jesus? Maybe Paul is right – Contentment in God’s Way and his love is of the greatest personal gain for each of us and for those around us.

So, friends, watch your heart when it comes to your money and stuff.
Thank the Lord for it all. Hold on to who you are in your baptism and what the Lord has called you to. Speak of your faith; speak of the gift of life in Jesus.
Give it away as much as possible.

Do good things with your wealth – things for the gospel, things to meet the needs of those in need. Support our work here – give your offering as an offering to the Lord of your life who has given himself and everything he has to you and still does.
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honour and might forever. Amen.