Sunday, February 23, 2020
Our God and Father, the God of our Master, Jesus, is a merciful and loving God, who calls us to show mercy to others, and has mercifully chosen Jesus as an example from whom we might learn and follow abundantly here on earth and into eternal life.
As James, the brother of Jesus, assures us, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, meaning that we can count on God’s mercy when we repent, but cannot simply rest on our mere self-righteous professions of faith to save us, because, “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13.)
When we fail to have mercy, and our faith is inactive, we face the judgment of God, and we shall not inherit eternal life, nor is our life here as abundant as God wants it to be for us.
Jesus, the man God chose, adopted and sent to the world to preach a Good and Beneficial message to us about God’s will for our lives, teaches us that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) and we are called to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36.)
Mercy, according to Jesus, is active service to others.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a lawyer who came to him and asked “Who may inherit eternal life?” He tells of the men who walked by an injured man on the road and didn't help him, but the Samaritan, whom he called “good,” showed him mercy. He said of that man, “Go and do the same.”
Just as God is merciful and shows mercy, we are commanded to actively do the same. And because we have the example of the man, Jesus, we know we are capable of doing what God asks us.
For James, as with Jesus, being merciful is more than a mental exercise, or mere mental consent to a set of doctrines or propositions – the acceptance of which somehow leads instantly to eternal life.
James reminds us that mercy and active service as an active part of our faith, a requirement of it, as inseparable as our heads are from our hearts.
“Religion that is pure and stainless according to God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows who are suffering, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27.)
Jesus has called us to a higher religion – a religion of works and action.
By way of parable, Jesus teaches us that when we serve others, even the least prosperous among us, we serve him and serve God our Father.
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Matt 25:35.)
Clearly, Jesus teaches that God will judge both the righteous and the wicked based on their Works (Matt. 16:27; Ecclesiastes 3:17.)
But to those who showed no mercy and did not perform Good Works, but instead practiced lawlessness, God will say, “I never knew you.” and they shall not inherit eternal life, even if they cry Jesus’ name loudly (Matt. 7:21-23.)
The Psalmist says of God, “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me. With the merciful you show yourself merciful," (Psalm 18:20.)
We are called to go, and do the same.
Sunday, February 16, 2020
When a man comes out of a dark room into the light, his eyes are dazzled, and he discerns all objects indistinctly, not because there is not light enough, but because there is too much light. When I look back to the early years of Christianity, I see in that bright dawn a few figures, shadows of men like trees walking, and one form in the midst of them like unto the form of the Son of God.
The eyes are dazzled by such a vision, and yet there appears at first little enough for the mind to dwell upon. The records are broken and fragmentary, the details somewhat meager, and the authenticity in some parts thought by many to be more than doubtful.
Then I ask myself "Was Christianity nothing but a dream of the past? Is it nothing but a sentiment in the present?"
The heart, which has longings for something definite and tangible, wants to go up to Jesus, as it were, and touch the hands and the side, and be present at the dark hour in Gethsemane, and feel the crown of thorns, and watch the agony of the Cross, in order that it may be fixed and certified concerning the Son of Man, and know in whom we have believed. "What is Christianity?" is a question which many serious men are asking in the present day.
We must have sadly departed from the simplicity which is in Jesus - we must have somehow got entirely off track, away from the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of those who heard that sermon as to what Christianity really meant, or what Christ really taught.
They did not argue when they heard the words, "Blessed are whose who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled,: and ' Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," and those were the sort of words which drew thousands after Jesus, and made the common people very attentive to hear Him. The words did not sound vague; they conveyed a definite meaning, quite definite enough for all practical purposes; and doubtless that meaning was the very essence of Christianity.
Many people say, 'There was nothing new in the teaching of Christ; the world had heard it all before." And we should do well to admit what is admissible in such a statement at once, and to the fullest extent. We might perhaps say that there was nothing very new in any one individual precept of Christianity; that, if we knew enough about the religious developments which preceded it, we should find a great deal of Christianity before Christ.
Every petition of the Lord's Prayer, for instance, in the literature that already existed at the coming of Christ. You don't find the very prayer anywhere written down, but you may pick out the several parts of it, or something very like them.
Now just in the same way you don't find Christianity itself in the past religions or philosophies of the world; but you may take out a great many points and arrange them in a certain order, and call that Christianity, and say that the whole of its ethical system was in the world in a sort of fragmentary way, in a sort of general sense, long before Christ came.
But supposing it was, what then? Christianity is not less original, and not less divine, even although there may have been nothing unknown, nothing new in its several parts. People seem to think that originality must always consist of novelty in detail, but it does not. Christianity does not consist of such novelty, yet it is original.
Christ teaches us to carry on the development of our religious feelings, of our infinite aspirations under the influences of Purity and Love—twin stars revolving around each other, making one center of life, out of which springs the development of the world, and the harmonious progress of human society.
The interest of human beings in other human beings, and of God in all human beings, shown by deeds of love, and the irresistible power of a holy life, that is the heart and marrow of Christianity, as it is sketched lightly but firmly by the Master's own hand in the Sermon on the Mount; and that was, and ever must be, the only life, and heat, and radiance which the Christian Church ever had or ever can have.
(Adapted from an 1870 sermon by Rev. Hugh Reginald Haweis 1836-1901)
Sunday, February 9, 2020
What Is Love? Love is one of those words in the English language that can be easily confused. Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.
This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek.
Love most often was conveyed with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love.
It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)
The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light.
But it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; JUST as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.
This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.
"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love we have for food, movies and other things with which we have a strong emotional attachment.
It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.
The Power of Love, the kind of Love that God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is.
This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.
The faith that Jesus teaches challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works in the service of others.
And we are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)
"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
Sunday, February 2, 2020
All of us are born with the God-given gift of Reason, the ability to think, analyze and question, and we are called to use that gift for the glory of God, the advancement of His spiritual Kingdom, and for the benefit of those around us.
Reason and Faith are not opposed to one another, but are instead necessary for us to understand God and God's will for us. Rationality walks hand-in-hand with Spirituality. When irrational elements of religion are stripped away, we may focus clearly on the mission God's Anointed One sends us to do.
God gave us Reason and the ability to obey Him, and Reason is a God-given gift we must use to discern His Will.
The Book of Proverbs begins with a beautiful poem praising wisdom, understanding, Reason and knowledge:
"To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth - Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:2-7)
God has created us as thinking beings, capable of perceiving, learning, growing, and expanding in knowledge and great understanding.
By use of Reason, we can either choose to understand the words God and His spokesman, Jesus, sends us for our own benefit, or choose freely to HATE knowledge, wisdom and reproof, turning our backs on God and those whom He sent us. We will "eat the fruits of our way" if we do so, however (Prov. 1:29-31) and will be judged according to our Works.
Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to, "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37.) Loving with our hearts and our very being (our Souls, our psyche) is one thing, but we are called also to use our MINDS - our understanding and our knowledge. These are not dirty words that spit upon faith, and our God does not diminish them at all, nor does his chosen and adopted Son, Jesus.
Some might now cite the Proverb, "Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding," (3:5) and it's certainly true! Anyone who has begun seeking higher education knows how much we simply do NOT know! But a humble acknowledgement of our lack of understanding itself points to our need to acquire it, and God loves those whom he corrects (Prov. 3:11)
Rev. George Harris (1794-1859) wrote, "Because we are required to submit to the divine authority, we should be assured, before we receive any doctrine that it is divine; and this it is evident we can only learn by bringing the doctrine before the high tribunal of Reason.
Reason is unquestionably a divine law, written with indelible characters upon every human heart; and no laws can be divine which are a contradiction to our Reason, or which are plainly repugnant to that sense of right and wrong which is implanted in the mind."
When looking at scripture, we therefore must examine it cautiously - rejecting narrow, small-minded Literalism and mindless (often out-of-context) proof-texting - and instead interpret it using our God-given gifts of Reason and common sense, and knowing these books were written by men, selected and chosen for inclusion in a Bible for men, and are interpreted by men.
Just as Jesus tells us the Sabbath was created for us, and not us for the Sabbath, use of our gift of Reason to examine God's message for us only makes sense.
In our moral lives, as well, we must employ Reason as a tool by which we may be guided.
The Rev. Joseph Priestley wrote, encouraging young men in college, "Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you."
We have not been given impossible tasks by our God and by His Prophet, Jesus. Our senses have not been dulled nor our understandings darkened so much that we cannot turn to God and repent of our shortcomings.
If both Reason and our Hearts, along with our Teacher, Jesus, compel us to obey God, love Him, serve our fellow human beings with every fiber of our being, how can God's Kingdom NOT appear on the earth as we walk it?