Monday, July 20, 2015

Because He first Loved Us

Readings: Psalm 89:20-37, 2 Samuel 7:1-14, Mark 6:30-34, 1 John 4:7-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 19, 2015

Welcome to 'Camp Discovery'. As you can observe by your surroundings this week has been Vacation Bible School. We've prayed, we've played, we've made, we've praised, we've studied, we've experimented...and we've had a wonderful week. Thanks to everybody who made it happen!

I have an experiment for you that... well you can try it at home, but I can explain it very easily. I want you to imagine that you have a bowl and you set it in the sink right underneath the tap. Then you turn on the water and watch what happens. What happens? That's right. As the bowl fills up to the top, the water spills out over the edge.

The theme verse for Vacation Bible School was 1 John 4:19 'We love because He first loved us'. The image of the water overflowing the bowl is a great image of how God fills our lives with God's love. In the Bible it says in Romans 5:5 'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us'

So, tell me again, what happens when the water gets to the top of the bowl? That's right. It spills over the edge. Now think about the love of God that has been poured into you and me like water into a bowl. What should happen as we fill up? Just like water overflowing a bowl, God's love overflows from us towards others.

That's why our theme verse was 'We love because He first loved us'. We came to Bible School to be filled with God's love, but not so we could keep it for ourselves, but so we can allow it to overflow to all the world.

We show love for others because God first showed love for us. We treat others in a loving way, because that's the way God has treated us. We try and live for others because God sent Jesus to live His life as a savior, who died for us and was raised for us.'We love because He first loved us' These words have tied together all the bible stories we have studied this past week.

The first VBS story was David and Goliath. In that story we learned how God's love for David made David feel brave, even when David faced a huge giant like Goliath. God wants us to know that His love for us is strong and can give us the courage to deal with the giants that come our way. Joshua told the people' 'Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you!' (Joshua 1:9). Jesus once told His disciples 'In the world there will be troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world!' (John 16:33)

We all have things we are afraid of. Me? I hate heights! Evan? Hates spiders. You? Well, I know there are some things that make you worry! But God invites us to trust in Him, just as David did. God's us courage. Courage to love others as much as God loves us!

Our second VBS story was about an amazing lady called Deborah. Deborah was a judge and ruler in Israel who used to sit beneath a great big tree and give the wisest advice. One of the generals in the army, Barak, came to her for advice, and she not only told him how the battle should be fought, but stayed alongside him the whole time and together they won a great victory.

So it is when God asks us to do something. God not only provides the wisdom to see how it can be done, but sticks with us as we do what we are asked to do! In 1 Corinthians 4:10 God promises us that we are 'Wise in Christ'. In the book of James we are told that if we lack wisdom all we have to do is ask the God 'who gives generously to all' Wise men and women still seek Jesus!

Form David we learned about courage, from Deborah we learned about wisdom, whilst from the story of Shadrach, Mischach and Adednego we learned how God can walk with God's people through the fiery trials that life can bring! We heard how Shadrach, Mischach and Adednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship a false god, and how God miraculously delivered them safe from all harm.

Their story encourages us to keep on trusting God, even when the going gets tough and we are not sure how things may turn out! God promises to be right there, in the midst of the struggle, with us. St Paul, a man who had more than his fair share of troubles, once wrote to a church in Rome these marvelous words.;

'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Rom 8:38-39 NIV)

In the story of our next character, Bartimaeus, a blind man who was given his sight back by Jesus, we saw how God gives us the faith to believe in all the amazing things Jesus can do for us. Nobody cared much for poor Bartimaeus, until Jesus came to town! Jesus called Bartimaeus to come to Him, asked him what he wanted and then sent him on his way with a new way of looking at things.

God pours out God's love to us, filling us with the Holy Spirit, promising us forgiveness and renewal and hope. 'We love because He first loved us'. God helps us to believe in the promises that Jesus made so we can see clearly how to worship and follow His way.

But God's promises are not just for us. God's promises of forgiveness and life are for all the people in our family, our friends, in our schools, in our places of work. Because God's promises are for all people, God wants to use our lives to share God's love with other people. That's what our final vacation Bible School story was about. We met a character called Ananias.

Before Paul was a follower of Jesus he hated Christians and thought they should be put in prison or even murdered. But one day, when he was on a road to a place called Damascus, he had an encounter with Jesus that changed his life around, but like Bartimaeus, left him unable to see.

God sent Ananias to Paul to teach him what the gospel was about and to restore his vision. Ananias was afraid. He had heard such bad things about Paul and how much he hated the followers of Jesus. But once he encountered Paul he realized that God had changed Paul's life around.

Because Ananias knew that God greatly loved him, Ananias was able to love Paul. Because God greatly loves us, we also are able to love others in God's name and with God's power.

How do we find the resources we need to follow Jesus? We need the courage of David, the wisdom of Deborah, the boldness of Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, the faith of Bartimaeus and the servant heart of Ananias. How do we find such things?

'We love because He first loved us'. We are like that bowl we spoke about at the start. We ask God to fill us with God's Holy Spirit so that we overflow with God's love. We ask when we pray. We fill ourselves to overflowing when we gather for worship. We renew our resources through reading the Scriptures. We meet Jesus when we help others. He told His disciples, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Just like a bowl overflowing with water God has poured out so much love for us in Jesus Christ, more love than we can hold! Our challenge is to allow God's love to overflow and spill over into the lives of others. Just like David and Deborah, Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego, Bartimaeus and Ananias managed to do. Just like faithful Christians across the centuries have done. God has poured God's love into you and me. 'We love because He first loved us'. Throughout the week we shared the following memory exercise...

Because He first loved us - We love
We love - Because He first loved us!
David – Courage
Deborah – Wisdom
Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego - 'Thru the flames, thru the flames'
Bartimaeus – 'You gotta have faith'
Ananaias - Serve
Because He first loved us - We love
We love - Because He first loved us

Thanks to all who made VBS an amazing week!

Adrian J Pratt B.D.

(Materials adapted from 2015 Concordia VBS materials 'Pastors Overview)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stories Jesus might have heard - at V.B.S.

Readings: Psalm 24, Isaiah 43:1-3a :Ephesians 1:3-14, Matthew 7:1-5
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, July 12th, 2015

Tomorrow Vacation Bible School begins! We are going to be telling stories about Biblical characters like David and Deborah and Shadrach, Mischach and Abednego and Bartimaeus and Ananias.

Jesus may have heard of some of those stories when He was growing up. When He preached, if He wanted to say something really important He always told a story. But there were other stories that the rabbi's, the Sunday School teachers of the day, told. And some of them have survived the passage of time. Now I have no idea if they had Vacation Bible School when Jesus was growing up, but if they did... here's some 'Stories Jesus might have heard at VBS”

Who is to blame?
One day 3 men, very poor and very full of complaints were begging in the street. They grumbled about the heat. They grumbled about the flies. They grumbled about being hungry. They grumbled most of all about the rich people who passed them by and gave them no money.

One of the men was blind and couldn't get any work. One of them was lame and couldn't get to work. The other was lazy and didn't want to work. The lazy man became tired of being poor and doing nothing but listening to the others grumbling and announced “I have a cunning plan!”

They laughed at him. Then they argued with him. Finally they shut up and listened to him. “I will only tell you my amazing money making plan if you promise to share all the money we are going to make with me, Agreed?” “Agreed, Agreed” they both said.

Here was the cunning plan. The blind man could carry the lame man on his back to a big vineyard. Then the lame man on the blind mans back could reach up and steal the grapes. They would then bring them to the lazy man who would sit on the street corner and sell them for loads of money!

'Is this legal? Is this legal?' the blind man and the lame man said. 'Not really', said the lazy man, 'But nobody can prove we did it'. The blind man would say that he could not have stolen what he couldn't see. The lame man would say he could not have stolen what he couldn't reach. The lazy man would say he had never even been near the vineyard.

They carried out their plan. But they were caught. They were sent to court to be tried. The Judge listened to their pleas. 'Wasn't me, I couldn't see'. 'Wasn't I, I couldn't reach' 'Wasn't me, I wasn't there!'

The judge was not impressed. 'So you are saying that none of you did it?' 'Yes sir your honor.' 'You are right' said the Judge, not one of you did it. You all did it. You are all to blame. Bailiff, take them to the dungeons!

After telling the story the rabbi would explain that everybody has a part to play in making the world a good place to be or a bad place to be. As individuals we may make excuses and say “It's not my fault”... but that doesn't get us off the hook. God wants us to be responsible for each other. So when things go wrong, we are all to blame.

It reminds me of a passage in Luke's gospel. There had been a terrible accident. A tower in a place called Siloam had collapsed and fallen and killed a number of people who just happened to be passing by. Some people are saying, “Well they must have been terrible people if God allowed a tower to fall on them.” Jesus didn't see it that way.

Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (Luke 13:4-5 NIV)

It is as though He is saying, “Hold on a minute. We all make mistakes in our lives. We're all responsible for the kind of world we live in. When accidents happen, don't go looking for who to blame. Worry about sorting your own life out, before taking a shot at somebody who can't answer for themselves!”

As we heard in our Bible reading, a famous sermon Jesus preached from the mountaintop He said "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Who is to blame? We are all to blame! Another story...

Do what you like!
A different 3 men. These 3 men all agreed on the same thing. They were tired of obeying the rules. They were tired of people saying “Do this, do that, don't do this, don't do that'. So they agreed together that they would sail away to another land... a land where the only rule was that they had no rules. “We'll be free to do what we like” they said.

And so they set out on their voyage. One of them was given the task of getting the food. The only thing he bought along was a huge piece of fatty salted Pork. Now if you remember Jewish people didn't eat pork. “We don't eat Pork” said the other two. “I thought we said no rules?” said the first. “We don't eat Pork” they replied and threw the only food they had over the side. So it wasn't long before they were very hungry.

Now it wasn't as though they had gone far. The man who promised to row them across the sea to the land where they could be free, had decided that, even though it was a general rule that when you rowed a boat you needed two oars that was too much like hard work and he was going to use only one.

Have you ever rowed with one oar? What happens?

You just go round and round in a big circle. So the other two were angry. Not only were they hungry but they were going nowhere. 'Idiot' they said 'It's a rule of science that you need to have an oar on each side to row a boat.' The man said “I thought we said no rules?” So they took the one oar away from him and threw it over the side.

So now the boat just drifted. Drifted, drifted, drifted, further and further out to sea. And they were hot. And they were hungry.

The third man was so hot and hungry and tired that he wanted to bathe his feet. But rather than put his feet over the side he pulled out his knife and put a hole in the floor of the boat. “What are you doing said the others, Don't you know that the boat will sink if you put a hole in it. “But my feet are hot. I thought we said no rules? So I've made a hole in the...” bubblebubblebubble gurglegurglegurgle splashsplashsploosh.

And they were no more.

The Rabbi would finish the story by saying “When everybody does exactly what they like, nobody gets anything they want!”

When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia he reminded them that Jesus came to set them free. But freedom didn't mean there were no rules to obey. In fact he offered them a better way to live, the rule of love. The kind of love He had found through Jesus Christ. He writes in Galatians 5:13 “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don't let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.

One final story, this time about trusting God.

All that God does is well
A rabbi once had to travel on a long dangerous journey. All he had with him was a donkey to ride, a lamp to see his way and a chicken to give him eggs. One stormy night he came to a little village and asked for shelter. But the people who lived there were afraid of strangers and they told him to go away. The rabbi looked up to heaven and said 'All that God does is well'. He went into the forest to shelter.

Preparing for the night he tied his donkey to a branch but the branch was rotten and the donkey broke away and ran off. The rabbi looked up to heaven and said 'All that God does is well' and settled down to sleep in a pile of leaves.

Just as he was dropping off he was awakened by the sound of squawking. There was a fox running away with his chicken. The rabbi looked up to heaven and said 'All that God does is well' and thought 'At least I still have my lamp.' No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than the oil in his lamp ran dry. The rabbi looked up to heaven and said 'All that God does is well'

In the morning he awoke to see a cloud of smoke over the forest. Hearing a rustling in the leaves he found an old man, hiding and terrified. The man explained how during the night enemy soldiers had attacked the village, murdered whoever they found and then set everything on fire.

The rabbi went on his way, without his donkey or his chicken or his lamp. He reflected on the night as he walked. If I had slept in the village, or if during the night my donkey had brayed or my chicken squawked, or if my light had given away my sleeping place – I must surely would not be here today. God may have taken my possessions, but God has preserved my life. Once more he looked up to heaven... and this time... with a smile said boldly 'All that God does is well'

There is a bible verse in the Book of Romans that tells us “ We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good. (Rom 8:28).

We don't always understand why things happen. But sometimes we look back and see that if they hadn't happened, then something worse may have happened to us! It seems it always pays to trust God.

Stories Jesus might have heard at VBS”.

Who is to blame? Look in the mirror. We are all responsible for the world we live in!
Do what you like! But don't be blind to the consequences. Live by the rule of love.
All that God does is well. God is in the business of making beautiful things out of our disasters. After the Cross came the Resurrection! Trust in God... and we'll have a most excellent V.B.S. Amen!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.