Messiah for All

Sermon from Luke 4:16-30

Many times when reading the dramatic telling of this story of when Christ declared His identity in the synagogue at Nazareth, we skip straight from Christ’s speech to the crowd wanting to throw Him off the cliff! When we skip the middle dialogue of this story, we lose what is really happening, and we think that they wanted to throw Him off the cliff because of His declaration. However, that is not the case. When He first made His declaration, they accepted it. In fact, they “spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).

The problem arose when the people began to take a “What’s in it for us?” attitude toward the fact that the Messiah was a hometown boy. They began to expect that they were going to start seeing all the perks of the Messiah centering His miraculous ministry in Nazareth.

However, He perceived the thoughts of their hearts, and the self-centered view that they took of the Messiah, that He was only for them. So He told two Old Testament stories of the blessings of God being shared with people outside the nation of Israel. When they realized that He was saying, they got angry, and this is what caused them to reject Him.

Self-protectionism is a very natural human response. We experience the same phenomenon when a weekday ministry at our church begins to grow, and suddenly there are no good parking spots left, and someone has drunk all the coffee in the kitchen, and someone has used up all the toilet paper in the bathrooms. When blessings begin to spread and ministry begins to enlarge, it can become inconvenient for the in-crowd, and it takes an intentional effort to resist becoming insular, accept the inconveniences that come when ministry is enlarged, and rejoice in seeing the Kingdom of God grow.

When we get too narrow-minded and comfort-focused, we lose the heart of God, which is focused on the people of the world. Endure the discomfort and inconvenience, and rejoice when the outsiders become your brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus is not just our Messiah, but He is the Messiah for all!

The Glorious Bridegroom

Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee

In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the glory of God in the revelation of the plan of salvation through his son, Jesus Christ. The Apostle John weaves a wedding theme throughout his writings to help us understand Jesus as a glorious bridegroom who delights in his bride the church. We first see a glimpse of his glory with Jesus’ first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Following John 2 and the very first miracle at the wedding in Cana, turn to John 3, where John the Baptist describes himself as a the “best man” who announces “Here comes the groom!” Then in John 4, Christ uses the Samaritan woman at the well’s series of failed marriages to demonstrate her need for the love of of the true groom, a love that will ultimately satisfy her deepest longings. In John 14, like a bridegroom, Jesus promises to come to claim his Church (bride) and take her back to live with him forever in the home that he has prepared for her with his father.

Finally, in the Book of Revelation, chapters 19 and 21, John envisions the wedding day as the Church, the beautifully adorned Bride of Christ, loved, purified, and perfected by him forever is married to her beloved savior and husband.

When it comes to weddings, timing matters, and the Bible assures us that Jesus is working out his perfect timing of his marriage to his bride. He promises abundant life, beyond all we can ask or imagine, just like he saved the best wine for last in his wedding miracle! He promises living water overflowing out of our souls. What a glorious bridegroom!

Our response in all this is to trust him, to give him our lives and believe in him as the one who will ultimately satisfy all the longings of our hearts and ultimately unite his church to himself in glorious consummation at the end of the ages.

My most recent wedding in Austin, Megan and Joseph Klepac…look at how he delights in her!

The Mystery Revealed

Sermon from Ephesians 3:1-20

People naturally love mysteries. We love the suspense of a story where all the pieces don’t come together until the very end. As we celebrate Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of the way the pieces of God’s story suddenly come together in Christ. His mystery is revealed.

Way back in Genesis 12, God made His promise to Abraham to bless all the families on earth. Then there is a long period of suspense to see how exactly God will work this out. God’s people spent hundreds of years searching and wondering about the mystery of how God would fulfill this promise. Ephesians 3:5 says that the mystery wasn’t revealed to previous generations, but it was then finally revealed in Christ.

What is this profound mystery?

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:6

God’s power is strong enough, His grace is amazing enough, to extend not only to one small group of chosen people, but to the entire planet. His love is deep enough that people aren’t excluded from His grace just because of the group of people they were born into, but the mystery of the gospel reveals that all people can receive God’s salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Wherever the gospel is preached, anywhere in this world or even in the heavenly places (v. 10), the mighty power of God is able to save all those who believe. The kingdom of God is spreading through the entire globe – a cosmic shift is taking place through God and His Church!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 2to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

Perspective Taking

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

I love the approach of the Church to the season of Advent, as we compare the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” of the first Advent to the Almighty King whose second coming we anticipate. It requires some thoughtful perspective-taking.

Throughout the book of Job, Job learns that he just doesn’t understand the mighty and wonderful plans that God is working out through the devastating events that he sees happening in his own life. He learns to see things through a heavenly perspective. He says:

I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 

Job 42:2-3

Jesus also speaks about the signs of the end of the age from a heavenly perspective in Luke, chapter 21. The events he describes are apocalyptic, but he describes it as a time of “power and great glory” (verse 27). He reminds His hearers that even when we are surrounded by distress, perplexity, and devastation, Christ rules over it all, and He will hold the absolute victory. 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Luke 21:33

We have times and seasons in our lives that are distressing and uncomfortable. We can’t put our faith in people and institutions, but we can ALWAYS put our faith in Jesus Christ. His promises are absolutely certain and sure. Be careful to guard your heart and not turn to anything else but Him. Everything else WILL disappoint. Pray, hold your head high, and trust only in Him.

Stewardship of Responsibility

Sermon from Nehemiah 3:1-32

All of who we are is meant to be used as an offering to God. This is what stewardship is. As we continue to consider the Book of Nehemiah and how to apply it to the state of affairs in our day, we recognize that in today’s world, we are considering not so much repairing physical walls, but the absolute crumbling of our cultural standards and truths. How can we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in a modern context?

Nehemiah 3:1 says that the high priest and his brothers “rose up” to rebuild the Sheep Gate. I like that terminology. Just like the priests of that time “rose up” and got their hands dirty to accomplish God’s work, we also need to rise up and commit ourselves to God’s work in our day. This month’s Election Day was a great example of the power of people rising up to commit themselves to accomplishing something they are passionate about. Each vote counts.

Verses 1 and 2 go on to show that each group of people was assigned a specific portion of the wall they were responsible for. They weren’t worried about the overwhelming task of rebuilding the entire wall. They were each concerned only with their own assignment, trusting that the group working next to them would take care of their own responsibility. This is a great lesson for the Church of God. We don’t need to be worried or overwhelmed about the enormity of the entire task, and we don’t need to be micromanaging everyone around us. We need to focus on our own assignment and trust everyone else to accomplish theirs.

Then verse 5 goes on to shame one group of nobles who “would not stoop to serve their Lord.” How shameful to be named in the Bible this way! We need to be humble and not consider ourselves above any task in the work of God. Instead, we need to be like our Lord Himself, who stooped to wash the feet of His disciples, and then even gave His own life for us.

There is no task too large or too small to matter in the work of God. You are called to faithfully steward your talents and abilities to serve in whatever way you can. Every job is critically important in the mission of the Church. You are not responsible for the entire work, just for your own assigned responsibility. Just like with the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day, we will see mighty works accomplished when we all rise up and faithfully fulfill our responsibilities, both large and small.

Stewardship of Responsibility – Sermon by the Rev. Charlie Holt from The Church of St John the Divine on Vimeo.