Going Deeper 2/24/2019

2019-02-24 Sermon
Genesis 45

45 Then Joseph could not control himself [any longer] in front of all those who attended him, and he called out, “Have everyone leave me.” So, no man stood there when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. 2 Joseph wept aloud, and the Egyptians [who had just left him] heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it. 3 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless, for they were stunned and dismayed by [the fact that they were in] Joseph’s presence.
4 And Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they approached him. And he said, “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to save life and preserve our family. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five more years in which there will be no plowing and harvesting. 7 God sent me [to Egypt] ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on the earth, and to keep you alive by a great escape. 8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father, and tell him, ‘Your son Joseph says this to you: “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall live in the land of Goshen [the best pasture land of Egypt], and you shall be close to me—you and your children and your grandchildren, your flocks and your herds and all you have. 11 There I will provide for you and sustain you, so that you and your household and all that are yours may not become impoverished, for there are still five years of famine to come.”’ 12 Look! Your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that I am speaking to you [personally in your language and not through an interpreter]. 13 Now you must tell my father of all my splendor and power in Egypt, and of everything that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he embraced his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. 15 He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
1 Cor. 15
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body will they come?” 36 You fool! Every time you plant seed you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up and growing] unless it first dies. 37 The seed you sow is not the body (the plant) which it is going to become, but it is a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body just as He planned, and to each kind of seed a body of its own [is given]. 39 All flesh is not the same. There is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are also heavenly bodies [sun, moon and stars] and earthly bodies [humans, animals, and plants], but the glory and beauty of the heavenly is one kind, and the glory of the earthly is another. 41 There is a glory and beauty of the sun, another glory of the moon, and yet another [distinctive] glory of the stars; and one star differs from another in glory and brilliance.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. The [human] body that is sown is perishable and mortal, it is raised imperishable and immortal. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in strength; 44 it is sown a natural body [mortal, suited to earth], it is raised a spiritual body [immortal, suited to heaven]. As surely as there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written [in Scripture], “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL (an individual);” the last Adam (Christ) became a life-giving spirit [restoring the dead to life]. 46 However, the spiritual [the immortal life] is not first, but the physical [the mortal life]; then the spiritual. 47 The first man [Adam] is from the earth, earthy [made of dust]; the second Man [Christ, the Lord] is from heaven. 48 As is the earthly man [the man of dust], so are those who are of earth; and as is the heavenly [Man], so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthly [the man of dust], [j]we will also bear the image of the heavenly [the Man of heaven].
Luke 6
27 “But I say to you who hear [Me and pay attention to My words]:  Love[that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies, [make it a practice to] do good to those who hate you, 28 bless and show kindness to those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other one also [simply ignore insignificant insults or losses and do not bother to retaliate—maintain your dignity]. Whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.30 Give to everyone who asks of you. [j]Whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.32 If you [only] love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend[money] to those from whom you expect to receive [it back], what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to receive back the same amount. 35 But love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; for your reward will be great (rich, abundant), and you will be sons of the Most High; because He Himself is kind and gracious and good to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful (responsive, compassionate, tender) just as your[heavenly] Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge [others self-righteously], and you will not be judged; do not condemn [others when you are guilty and unrepentant], and you will not be condemned [for your hypocrisy]; pardon [others when they truly repent and change], and you will be pardoned [when you truly repent and change].38 Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over [with no space left for more]. For with the standard of measurement you use [when you do good to others], it will be measured to you in return.”

Today, in the passage in Luke, Jesus teaches us about Kingdom living – living in a way that honors God and gives God glory. This passage seems simple and easy on the surface, but as we dig into it, living it out is just plain hard.
In the recent past, the most quoted verse in the Bible was John 3:16. But recent surveys indicate that now the most quoted verse is found in Luke 6:37: “judge not lest you be judged.” What is it about this verse that seems to garner so much popularity today? We should not be surprised by this in a culture that confuses fairness and equality. Let’s face it, equality is not fair! Fairness is not equality. Those of you with children are very aware of this. Each child is different. Parenting each of your children in the same way for the sake of equality is a disaster! Each one needs individual consideration. Each needs training and discipline that is appropriate for his or her personal needs. Additionally, you can drive yourself crazy trying to keep the balances even, especially when it is so unnecessary.
It is important to note that, as mere human beings, we have limited knowledge about anyone or anything or any situation. Regardless of how well informed we think we are, we don’t even have a fraction of the knowledge required to make a fair judgement. This is why we are told to refrain from judging, especially when that judgement comes from our own self-righteousness. “Well, I would never do a thing like that!” Really? I have a motto: never say never. Any human being at any time and in any situation is capable of horrific sin. No one is immune. Our sense of fairness is self-centered and very flawed. God’s sense of fairness is truly fair. God has all the facts. God isn’t swayed by ‘fake news’ or rumors or opinions. God is not deceived. Our feeble attempts at judgement almost always result in harm because we are so limited in our perspective. What Jesus says here is basically, leave the judgement to the expert, God. Our job is to love as we have been loved, and, frankly, that is hard enough. Can any of us live up to even our own standards, let alone God’s?
Our Gospel Lesson today comes right on the heels of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and is occasionally called the ‘Sermon on the Plain.’ It was given to those who followed Jesus, both disciples and the crowd that assembled to hear his teaching. Jesus continues to describe God’s upside-down economy in this discourse as well. He continues to challenge the cultural norms of his day and of our modern day. Servanthood over power. Forgiveness over vengeance. Humility over pride. 
Wealth, power and authority are often seen as God’s blessing, but these passages tend to contradict that way of thinking just as the Beatitudes contradict our normal way of thinking. 
Jesus begins with the phrase, “I say unto you that hear…” – these are lessons of universal concern and are well worth hearing and adhering to. BUT they are hard lessons to put into practice. 
How do we move from following our natural instincts of judging others according to our sense of fairness, keeping score, matching blow for blow – unkind word for unkind word? How do we move from living under our natural thinking or reacting in anger when wronged or responding with hurt when we are hurt to a lifestyle of living by grace and kindness? One thing is for sure, it won’t happen in our own strength.
Let’s look at how God responds to us. Verse 35 says that we respond in kindness “because He Himself is kind and gracious and good to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful (responsive, compassionate, tender) just as your[heavenly] Father is merciful.” Jesus revealed the true and merciful nature of God to us. Yes, God’s nature is to be merciful. 
Can you see how this contrasts with our natural inclinations to keep score? The Jews of Jesus’ day were masters of score keeping and they saw God in terms of their own thinking instead of looking at God as the Scriptures describe. They imagined, as many people do now, that God keeps score and balances the score card with blessings and curses, heaven and hell. Their temple giving was ridiculously regulated. For example, cumin seeds were counted out when they were harvested. 10% was given to God, which was actually the temple. I have a mint plant in my yard that is very large. I cannot imagine counting the leaves as I harvest it and figuring out 10%. This is simply human nature. We like to have everything neatly prescribed to insure fairness, but it follows our sense of fairness, not God’s perfect fairness. We would like to put all our unknowns into a neat Excel sheet and know exactly what we are dealing with. Wouldn’t that be nice. Keep dreaming.
We take this fairness mentality even farther, though, than counting mint leaves or cumin seeds. When someone says something unkind to or about us, we naturally respond with an unkind word in return. If someone hits us, it is natural to hit back and soon the fight escalates. But God’s economy doesn’t work that way.
When I was a new teacher, two senior boys started a fight near me to see what I would do. I prayed about it quickly and then I let them continue to fight and kept and eye on it. It didn’t take long for the fight to end (about two or three punches each) because it didn’t take long to realize that the pain wasn’t worth the fight and they soon stopped on their own. They found out that the end result of an eye for an eye wasn’t victory. Jesus wants us to avoid the pain of keeping score, retaliation and getting even and learn from his teaching. We already have victory. 
There is a common misconception about this passage. When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, he is calling us to respond, not in kind, but in kindness. He does not tell Christians to roll over and play dead when we see injustice and evil. We are called to be salt and light. Light exposes evil and injustice. Salt works to get rid of it. One can confront evil and injustice and still be kind. We are not called to blend in with the world, but to stand out and to stand for justice while expressing mercy and grace. This is just as important for followers of Christ today as it was in Jesus’ time.
Our headlines today constantly report stories of arrogance, power, abuses of power, wealth and violence. We are constantly confronted with the evil around us. So how do we internalize the goodness of God and make our responses to wrongs in our lives line up with God’s way? It’s not a new question. The admonition to love our enemies and do good to those who harm us isn’t just some lofty idea that we ‘try’ to make happen. It’s not a call to just grit our teeth and make a resolution to be nice. 
Rather, this is a call to live as Christ – contrary to our human nature. And this way is only possible through reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. To forgive in the face of hurt is only possible with Christ as our strength. Our faith is not an object, it is a way of life.
God wants us to stand out in the world. I don’t recall any teaching where God asks us to be hidden or unnoticed. God wants us to live in a way that brings honor to him and that people notice. Now be careful here, this can quickly turn to pride and wrong motivation. Kingdom living is focused on God. Earthly living is focused on us. There’s a huge difference.  
Throughout Scripture, God provides examples of living in his Kingdom way. I like God’s teaching style. He gives us examples of people doing his will both in correct and God-honoring ways; and also examples of people who did not honor God. And, as a good teacher, he shows us the outcomes and consequences of both ways. 
One of the best examples, in my opinion, of Godly living if found in the story of Joseph. Regardless of what you think about Joseph and the dreams that he told his brothers, the fact is that they treated him terribly! The dreams were prophetic, but who would consider their little brother a prophet? Prophets are rarely taken seriously by family members. They know them too well. However, in the passage we read today, we see that prophecy fulfilled. 
Joseph’s brothers, in retaliation for what they saw as favoritism on the part of Jacob, their father, and arrogance on the part of Joseph for sharing the prophetic dreams he had, sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Through a long period of slavery, imprisonment and eventually his rise to power in the Egyptian government, God uses Joseph to save his family – the family that will eventually be the lineage of Jesus. Our lesson today shows Joseph’s actions toward the brothers that had so horribly wronged him. In all fairness, as we think of fairness, Joseph could have imprisoned his brothers. After all, that is what they did to him. But God had a different plan. Joseph explains it to his brothers by saying, “God sent me to Egypt ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on the earth and to keep you alive by a great escape. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.” 
One of the keys to Kingdom living is to look for God – to look for what God is doing – to look for what God is teaching us. But how do we do that? 
The key to being able to follow Christ and follow his teaching and engage in Kingdom living is found in our 1 Corinthians passage. “Every time you plant seed you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up and growing] unless it first dies. 37 The seed you sow is not the body (the plant) which it is going to become, but it is a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or some other grain.”
Our old sin nature leads us to everlasting death. Overcoming – putting to death that old nature – leads to life. We see this illustrated in the example of the seed. Seeds are dry and lifeless until planted. When the old nature dies, only then can the new man emerge full of life. Change is possible. New life is possible. It is not easy, but it is worth every bit of effort. 
Luke 9:23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to follow Me [as My disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests], and take up his cross daily [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me].
Taking up your cross daily is the same as dying to yourself daily. It is a daily commitment – and sometimes and hour by hour commitment – to follow Jesus and honor his teaching. Discipleship isn’t easy. Discipleship isn’t cheap. But discipleship is worth the price. 
Philippians 1:21   For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
After hearing the example of the seed, does this verse take on new meaning? We sang some songs of commitment today. Are you able to honestly say “I surrender all” or “take my life…”? 
Living for Jesus is not easy, is it? We won’t be successful if we try to do it on our own. But God has that covered. We have the Holy Spirit in our corner, helping us and giving us the strength and the means to be disciples. It’s a matter of getting out of the way, dying to self, and committing to live as Jesus taught. 
Quote from Pastor Mark’s former messages
Jesus doesn’t love us when we change, he helps us change us because he loves us.

Children’s Sermon
Do you like bread? Pancakes? What are bread and pancakes usually made of?
Show them the wheat. Pick off a seed or two and give it to them. 
What’s wrong with it? It’s dead. 
But, if we bury it – plant it – it will turn into a wheat plant and each seed will produce many more grains of wheat. 
The Bible tells us that the seed must die and dry out in order to sprout and have life again. 
Jesus tells us that we need to die to self so that we can live in him.