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On not giving up (worship gathering of August 19, 2007)

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Proper 15 (20); August 19, 2007
Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2,8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

The band played Blessed Be Your Name; Jesus, Be the Centre; Jesus, All for Jesus; In His Time
Pastor Sharon prayed, Terry Hagedorn welcomed, and we read this paragraph together from Hebrews 12:

runner Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.*

And I began the sermon:

Why, do you suppose, the Bible includes this paragraph? What’s it’s purpose? Good clue in the last phrase: so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. We who follow Jesus sometimes feel like giving up. And included here are some antidotes: throw off everything that hinders … and sin … run with perseverance … and fix our eyes on Jesus.

Let’s do that for a moment. [Here I asked them to look over the stories of Jesus prior to Luke 13 that we’ve been learning from in recent months, and find things that had been important to them. Several told of such things, and when finished, the atmosphere was considerably more hopeful. I observed that we’d been doing just what Hebrews had suggested: Consider him …. so that you will not grow weary and lose heart, and that they could feel the difference. ]

Now, look at the opposite result:

Isaiah 5
The Song of the Vineyard
1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.*

Remember what we read in Isaiah 1 last week?

Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

What happens to you if you defend the defenseless? Those who take advantage of the defenseless won’t like it, won’t like you, and will tell you to go back to church and leave this matter to the experts. You’ll have trouble.

Now go with me back to Jesus. He’s on his way to Jerusalem where he’ll be killed. It’s hanging over his mind like a dark cloud; no one gets it but him. And he picks up on the cost of defending the defenseless:

Luke 12:49-56
Not Peace but Division
49″I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!

Remember a time Jesus sends fire on the earth? How about Pentecost, the birth of the Church, when men and women are filled with the Spirit and empowered to do what Jesus himself did.

And by baptism, surely he’s metaphorically speaking of his crucifixion. How he wishes he could get on with it! But his work isn’t done, he’s got to keep pouring everything he can into the people who follow him, and shove all his own dread off for a little longer.

Ever been in trouble? Setting trouble right is slow. Years ago, maybe 1991, someone asked for the privilege of voting on whether I should remain as the pastor here. “Ok, we’ll call the District Superintendent, he give you a chance to plead your case for having the church vote on whether I stay or go.” It was a big deal. Lots at stake – my family’s home, for instance. Called DS, who was swamped. Couldn’t come for a month. A month! So life goes on “as usual.” I preached each week to people wanting to get rid of me. My family wonders about our future. We all just wait. Uncomfortable!

Some of you have been in spots like that, where someone accused you, and you just had to wait for the time when it could all settle out. Jesus must have felt something like that. And here’s what he says, in sorrow, as he realizes what it’s going to cost for truth to break in on a world that loves lies:

51Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”*

I read of a bishop who said, “Wherever St. Paul went, a riot broke out. Wherever I go, they serve tea.”

Maybe we’ve gotten so self-focused, we no longer defend the defenseless. If we do, and people get mad, what are we going to do? Hebrews 12:2: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Remember that Jesus – what was it we’d seen in Luke? What thrilled your heart? I don’t think duty is enough to keep me from giving up. Toughness isn’t enough, either. Religion certainly isn’t. Nor “devotions” nor worship nor praying. Only one possibility, I think, for keeping our hearts when we’re discouraged beyond words: Jesus.
Find a way to be looking at what Jesus says and does.

Close with the whole Hebrews passage, as the writer describes great ones who did not give up:

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
29By faith the people passed through the Red Sea[a] as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. 31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. 32And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again.

Now notice a huge change in tone – great answers to prayer happened above, but now the list devolves to situations where bad things weren’t prevented:

Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned[c]; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

And yet, even of those who appeared to have lost everything in the eyes of others looking on:

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Don’t ever let anyone tell you “if you only had faith” you could keep bad things from happening. For here are people with a faith that merited special commendation, yet some of them suffered terribly.

In His Time, see? As the song says, He makes all things beautiful, in His time.

And now back to where we started, but in a different version, The Message:

Hebrews 12
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, [the image here is like that of a track star stripping off his sweatsuit beside the starting blocks] start running—and never quit!

No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!**

No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. So I was asking God how to put these words to work in my own life this week while I prepared for today. What is it that “hinders”? And as I pushed the lawn mower around yesterday, something began to take shape in my mind that I think I needed to see.

I don’t like calling people on the phone. It spooks me. I’m not afraid of the people themselves, but I have this feeling that I’m barely getting everything done, and if I open the door to conversations, I’ll get in over my head, and sink.

One time before I was a pastor, I had a few sales jobs. I was skilled at making presentations – won awards sometimes. But guess what: I hated calling people on the phone and asking them to let me come tell them about what I sold.

Now I’m a pastor, and I love preaching. But I’m still lousy at calling people up on the phone and doing what I can to help draw us together. And that’s what I saw as I mowed the grass. If I’m going to be what I need to be to pastor well, that’s going to have to get better. I’m going to have to get over my worries, and find a little trust in God, and do my homework at building relationships with people.

That’s what my hindrance seems to be. And I’d get a lot of joy from the results, I think, if I got over it. So I invite you to start praying for that weakness of mine to mend, and to ask me from time to time if I’m keeping at it. Time for me to grow.

Perhaps, as you reflect, you see something that “hinders” in you. I invite you to join me in working on ourselves, and getting stronger in the areas we’re weak, so we can run this race for God, self, and others more effectively. Want to go for it?

Tags: , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury
Scripture versions: *New International Version (NIV)Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society
**The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Written by Monte

August 20, 2007 at 1:58 pm

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