Pentecost Sunday – May 19, 2013
Rev. Randolph Kesler
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Prayer for the Nation
O God of all truth, we approach You this day for our beloved nation. Gratefully we acknowledge that you have led us and blessed us all these many years from our founding, through our floundering and to our freedom. Keep, I pray, your hand of providence and your heart of purpose upon us. Help us always to stand for justice and agape in your world as we seek to represent your grace and will. Bring defeat, I pray, to all who oppose the freedom and liberty that you have taught us to love and move them, by your hand, to a deeper understanding of their place in your world. Bring them to the light of your salvation according to your omnipotent will.
Enable the leaders of this nation who love liberty and respect God given authority to unmask the impure motives of those who would prostitute the great principles on which this nation was founded. Convict of sin those who practice licentiousness in the name of liberty, who seek confirmation under the cloak of position and power for their abandonment of conscience.
Empower us, as children in Christ, to confront evil in our commitment to grace. Help us to deal kindly and charitably with all who profess their love for you and help us to deal courageously and confrontationally with systemic evil and personal corruption in those who refuse to see your light and come to your truth.
Bless this nation – not because we are a New Israel- but because our founders faithfully founded us upon the principles and purposes of Judeo-Christian revelation in your Word. Enable us to witness in this world to your goodness which you have placed within us and, if we refuse to do so, give us honesty not to be surprised when our nation succumbs to deceit and treachery.
O God of truth, free us from weakness in the face of lawlessness no matter how innocent and sweet it appears to be. Keep your church free and strong and holy. Make us the mirror image of your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
The Blessings of Liberty
1 Peter 2. 13-17
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Today our congregation likes to celebrate the joy of American independence. I have no hesitancy about such a celebration because I am firmly convinced that you and I are quite capable of loving our country and worshiping our Lord at the same time.
I am also certain that there is no one in this fellowship who would not say if pressed into a hard situation that if a choice had to be made between being faithful to our Lord or being obedient to an oppressive American government- “I will put being a follower of Christ ahead of being an American citizen.”
I pray such a choice never comes to us but I would not be surprised if one day it happens.
Do not read that as the statement of a reactionary but the affirmation of a committed Christian and a disappointed patriot. I believe in the best America has to offer, but I also know that the United States , as a human form of government, is subject to failure and falling and that God is forever.
You and I worship the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords, the One who raises one nation to take down another nation – the One before whom one day all the powers and nations of this earth will one day bow in.
America has been oppressed now for many years by processes that I believe are weakening our fabric and testing our resolve. Without delineating specifics, these processes fall under one general category – and that is lawlessness mediated by the breakdown in authority. We see this in a general disrespect for law. And a general disrespect for law or authority cannot help but lead to a breakdown in ethics.
You may remember the popular comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes which invited us to share the misadventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger. One day on a walk in the woods, six-year-old boy Calvin announces to Hobbes the stuffed tiger that he has decided he doesn’t believe in ethics anymore, because, as far as he’s concerned, “The ends justify the means.” “Get what you can while the getting is good,” Calvin reasons, “Might makes right.”
At this, Hobbes, the stuffed tiger, promptly pushes his human friend into a mud hole. “Why’d you do that?” Calvin objects. “You were in my way,” Hobbes replies, “and now you’re not. The ends justify the means.”
Sitting in the mud, Calvin seems to reach a brief moment of enlightenment, until he uncovers a way to reconcile the conflict with self-interest: “I didn’t mean for everyone, you dolt. Just me.”
An attitude of “I’ll do what I want and hope I don’t get caught” or “I’ll do what I want and you can’t stop me,” or I’ll do what I want and what business is it of yours, anyway” permeates the culture.
And, without exception, the general culture of a group is but the composite mirror of the individuals within it. The attitude of lawlessness always ends in the abuse of human beings whether it occurs in the culture or in the church.
On May 14 of this year(2012) we celebrated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. And the Magna Carta was signed on June 15, 1215, 797 years ago this year. Both of these are hailed as ultimately significant in the political history of the world because they established the power of the people to limit the reach and influence of the government which ruled them.
All government, including the best government, seems to have an insatiable appetite for devouring more and more of the people’s power. It is their nature in a fallen world.
The adoption of these two documents also advanced a healthy respect for the rule of law. America has always prided herself on being a nation based on the rule of law. That is precisely what separated her from most of the other nations on the face of the earth. And the Preamble to the Constitution states concisely the reasons for the institution of American government by constitution.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense,[promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Declaration of Independence written twelve years earlier had firmly documented the spiritual and moral basis of the formation of a new government in severing the umbilical cord from Mother Britain.
It was the right of a free people when oppressed by over bearing government to take redress- to seek relief and not only was it the right of a free people, it was their responsibility to do so for coming generations. They knew the cost, they counted the cost, and they paid the cost. Therefore, Americans of every generation have been asked to pay a similar cost in a variety of ways.
We should pause to consider – what makes a people free?
What makes a people free is the realization and the exercise of that power which they assume to be theirs because they are possessed by an innate dignity and inherent value as human beings made in the Image of God.
Something inside tells us we have worth.
As Christians, we believe that when God created the world and humankind, particularly, that God did so at great sacrifice to Himself. God exists in absolute freedom to be and do whatever he chooses; therefore, when He created He gave up – sacrificed part of his being and nature and essence – to give us limited freedom.
Since we are created in his Image, we share his power.
Therefore, power- the ability to self rule- is not something which Americans derive from government. Power is what Americans give to government. Now that is a reversal of most of the governmental entities which have ruled since the beginning of time.
“Americans changed this approach with three words: We the People.
“We the people” tell the government what to do; it doesn’t tell us. “We the People” are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route to take, and how fast.
Almost all the world’s constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which “We the People” tell government what it is allowed to do. “We the People” are free.” (Ronald Reagan, 1989)
So in the American frame of liberty, power from God flows to the people and from the people to the government.
Is there a Scriptural mandate for this doctrine? Of course.
According to Scripture it is the responsibility of government to bring order to society and the tool by which that order is implemented is dominion. It is the dominion given by God to Adam and Eve in Genesis “over the fish of the sea and birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen. 1. 26b)
Such power properly administered is called dominion; but improperly implemented is called dominance.
Proper dominion is the use of power for the good of all concerned- agape. According to the Preamble to our Constitution, proper dominion brings about justice in the society.
The benefits of justice are threefold: domestic tranquility, common defense and general welfare.
The first benefit of justice is domestic tranquility, which is peace and order among all parties through the fair and equal application of the law for the benefit of all people.
The second benefit of justice provides for the common defense. Society cannot long endure unless people can defend themselves from a national point of view. So we need a defense.
The third benefit of justice is general welfare which means to me that the populace is given the opportunity to work and earn for themselves without bias and prejudice in employment and burdensome taxation from the government. People can certainly spend their own money more wisely than government.
Such justice insures the blessings of liberty for coming generations. No government should over extend its contract with its people. Yet it is the nature of all government to over extend its will and power.
George Washington reminded us, “A government is like a fire, a handy servant, but a dangerous master.”
And if you can’t remember that quote, maybe you can remember the biting tribute Groucho Marx paid to the toadies of governmental power- the politicians-those who turn dominion into dominance.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
All of these blessings of liberty are secured by faithful adherence to the rule of law.
Rule of law is what separates American government from dictatorships, oligarchies, totalitarian control or anarchy.
Our text points us in much the same directions as does the preamble to the Constitution. Is that not odd? I wonder which one came first. (The Biblical text by about 1800 years)
And what does the Scripture tell us regarding good citizenship? It tells us the blessings of liberty are exhibited in the exercise of freedom in a responsible way.
We shall not long be able to “secure the blessings of liberty” for coming generations if we do not adhere to honesty and truth in the recording of the history of this nation. We have suffered for the past 40 years from the excesses and prejudices of revisionist historians who neither seek source material nor commit themselves to the frugal interpretation of historical fact and reality;
Or knowing the facts, purposely twist them to fit their world view.
They would have us believe, and some of us would readily accept, that the founders of this nation were at most deists and at least, secularists who neither affirmed our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Christian God and who also lived as non- Christians.
That the facts don’t support them is inconsequential.
Rev. Henry Muhlenberg, pastor of the Lutheran Church near Valley Forge in the horrendous winter of 1777 noted concerning George Washington. “I heard a fine example today, namely that his Excellency General Washington rode around among his army yesterday and admonished each and every one to fear God, to put away wickedness…and to practice Christian virtues. From all appearances, this gentleman does not belong to the so called world of society, for he respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness.” (1)
And secondly, (there are voluminous examples of Washington’s Christian faith) Washington’s concluding paragraph in his circular letter sent to the governors of the thirteen colonies in June, 1783:
“Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy Holy protection; and Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field.
And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific (soothing) temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of the blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation.
Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Does that sound like a secularist to you?
May God preserve and defend the United States of America and long may He use her as an instrument for peace and harmony to accomplish His will in His world.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Our Father, you know all there is to know about each of us and how you would like for us to fit into your providence for this world. Open our eyes to your callings for each of us- forgive us for our stubborn insistence for our own desires. O God, forgive us for muddling through life in smugness and conceit.
Oftentimes we are coldly complacent about your will and purpose, acting as though we are timepieces of your design, tightly wound at some point in the distant past, never needing to be cleaned or adjusted or reconditioned. Most of our lives, Lord, simply tick- tock – tick- tock along —bound by schedules and agendas which hasten our descent toward a predetermined rendezvous with all things eternal.
O God, forgive us for missing the point of life and the mission of Christ. Awaken us just now to the beauty of our loved ones smile – to the joy of walking together in the pilgrimage of faith – to the tears of laughter which seek shelter in our hearts; yet often limp away in grief.
O God, why can’t we see beauty in those around us? Why can’t we find appreciation in the ministry of those we have known for most of our lives? Why can’t we accept as your calling and gift to us— each and every child of God in our midst?
Deliver us from the caverns of criticism into which we fall and from which we seem unable to escape.
O God, bring true confession- heart felt confession- heart breaking confession—and bring about radical change in our behaviors. Help us to learn to forgive those who hold grudges and nurse bitterness. They seem caught in the tangle of their own depression and negativity. Free us to be grateful for those you give to us each day meant to bless us and sent for our growth in Christ. And free us to be blessings to all your children in our pathways today.
O most holy One, force us forward into the wilderness of our lives this week – seeking the lost sheep of your kingdom to bring them safely into the Shepherd’s fold. In the name of the Good Shepherd, we give you thanks. Amen.
Reverend Randolph Kesler
Rev. Randolph Kesler
Living Between the Times
Mark 16. 19-10
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”
This morning we need to take stock of our liturgical calendar. You might remember that last week was Pentecost and, if you are aware of such things, you would think it odd that we now take up the subject of Jesus’ ascension, which obviously preceded Pentecost. However, if you will allow for the fact that I want to finish a text on which I’ve been working for a few weeks- that being the longer ending of St. Mark’s gospel; then you would understand that I can quite easily reverse the order of these two events and move right along. I hope you can as well.
In the Biblical ordering of events we find the chronological sequence regarding Jesus as birth, baptism, ministry, , profession as Messiah by Peter, Transfiguration , Gethsemane, arrest, trial and death, resurrection and post resurrection appearances and , after 40 days, His ascension. Then follows Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father because the Son has ascended to the Father. However, if you would like some Biblical precedent for the disordering of these texts, I can offer you some.
Even after the Ascension and Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Ascended Christ still appears, even though He is described as seated at the right hand of God. He accosts Saul the Pharisee en-route to Damascus to persecute the followers of the Way. In the same nexus of events He speaks to Ananias, instructing him to minister to Saul, to place his hands on him restoring his sight and to shepherd him as God’s lamb in baptism as he is filled with Holy Spirit.
After the ascension, the Risen Christ directs Peter in opening the door of the gospel to all people, not just Jewish believers. And, He speaks to the Apostle John in his old age granting him magnificent visions of Himself as the Lamb Slain, the Heavenly Messiah, the Bridegroom and the Judge and Victor over all things and all powers and all people and nations- the King of kings and the Lord of lords. So we are on firm Biblical footing when we mix and un-match the sequence of events in the life of the Risen Christ.
I have been amazed as I studied and thought about the Ascension. At first I thought of it as sparse in material in the New Testament, but as my research continued I found that this subject is quite substantial in the writings of the Apostles and those who knew them, in terms of sheer volume. Granted, it is not mentioned so much by the name – Ascension – but the work of the Risen One after He ascends is widely discussed.
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.”
It seems to me that in this action Jesus, the Heavenly Christ, the Son of God emulated the same action God takes on the seventh day of creation. God rested on the Sabbath.
Jesus sat down at God’s right hand following the Ascension, the climax of the earthly revelation of the Son of God.
These are God actions or events. The Sabbath for God and the Sitting at the right hand of God for the Lord Jesus are the cessation of certain onetime actions. For example, the original word of creation will not need to be repeated as in the creation of light or time. And the self sacrificial death of Jesus will never again be repeated. So creation and redemption are once for all events as the New Testament authors assert repeatedly.
However, the effects of creation and redemption will be ongoing forever. So, the Sabbath and the Sitting are cause for celebration. Creation and redemption represent the expression of the heart of God. As the mantra which stretches across the expanse of the OT, “For the Lord is good; his love endures to all generations.” How can he be better to you than to give you life by grace? It is the gift of God to us without any deserving on our parts. Then, following our tainting of that grace, God reaches to us again and extends new life, abundant life, new creation life – by grace and faith. The Father and the Son have begun their respective reigns over the entire universe and over all powers and beings, spiritual and material.
The Apostle John, in Revelation, emphasizes the majesty of creation and depth of redemption in chapters four and five.
The Lord God is praised forever and ever for creating:
“Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him, who sits on the throne and says:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Rev, 4. 9-11)
And, chapter five – redemption:
And the Son, the Risen Christ, the Lamb Slain before the foundation of the world is also praised for his sacrifice in redemption and atonement. “And they sang a new song, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth…Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders…Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.’”
“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever.” (Rev. 5).
Paul tells us:
The Risen One has accomplished what He came to do.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 2
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1. 18-23)
So, the God side of ascension reaffirms that what God created, He will one day redeem and reclaim as His own without the taint and smudge of sin, restoring us to the benefits of a new creation.
What, then, we must ask ourselves is the meaning of the Ascension for you and me?
“Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”
In the fourteenth chapter of John, Jesus tells the Twelve, “I am going to leave you for a while. But not to worry, I am going to prepare a place for you and since I am going to prepare a place for you, I will come again for you.”
I Am Going there—I Am Coming Back.
Those two actions are the bookends which enclose the Christ events of Ascension and Parousia – or the Return of Christ.
For the past 2000 years, the people of God have been living in that holy interim- between the times.
What are you and I to do between the times?
What is our calling and purpose?
Preaching about the Lord
Our calling and purpose is to fulfill the ministry of Jesus Christ in the church as his chosen instruments telling all the world of God’s love for them. The word “preaching” we translate as herald. A herald is a messenger who announces good news – particularly a victory in battle. Jesus acted as a herald when he proclaimed, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
A herald, in the Biblical sense, announces the benefits of the victory of God’s love and goodness plus it urges the acceptance of the message with warnings and consequences stated for not doing so.
Finally, the herald issues an invitation, a summons to join the event, come to the party, get involved in abundant living.
Presence of the Lord
Secondly, in the interim between the times, we are to learn to be cognizant of the presence of the Lord working with us.
There are those who preach in their own strength or power. Unless we spend time in the Lord’s presence daily, our preaching will be vain and empty. What good is our preaching- our witness- if we do not know well the One about whom we witness?
The presence of the Lord works with us by gifting us through the Holy Spirit for his service as apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers—– that Christian leadership should prepare the people of God for works of service, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph. 4. 11-13)
The Signs Confirm His Word
How do we know we are carrying out Jesus’ ministry as we have been called to do?
We come back to the signs we were given the text for two weeks ago:
Concerning the signs, the truth is that if your life is not a conduit of God’s grace and mercy to everyone in this world, you are not serving between the times as you’ve been called to do.
Linda Ellis tells about a man who spoke at the funeral of a friend referring to the birth date and death date on her tombstone. He made the point that the birth date and the death date really had little meaning in the life of his friend. What did have meaning was the –DASH- between the two dates.
The dash in each of our lives is what counts for God. How well did we spend our lives, invest our time, and give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name? What we possess is generally what possesses us.
Pray that we are Christ people, faithfully, living between the times.
My dad worked a long way from home so he had to leave early in the mornings. So, the night before, he would often leave instructions for my brother and myself on jobs that had to be done before he got home the next evening. We lived in the interim then and we still do now.
We await the return of the Lord Jesus and celebrate our belief in his sovereignty by faithfully doing his work today.
The Father and Son have left us now the opportunity to participate in the ongoing benefits of their acts of creation and redemption.
Thanks be to God.