Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

Sermon Notes 112022

Jeremiah 23:1-6, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 1:68-79, Luke 23:1-6

Jeremiah 23:1-6

1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD. 5 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

Colossians 1:11-20

11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully. 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him, all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 1:68-79

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Luke 23:33-43

33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Fear not, I am with you!

We are children of God! Do you remember when you were a child and relied upon others? In our earliest years, we trust our caretakers (parents) to take care of us. I pray that you all were blessed with this special time in your life. Sadly, many children today are not so blessed. They are neglected and abused by the ones upon whom they rely. Children are amazing in their resilience in their times of challenge. Think of how many times a toddler will try to walk, fall down, and get up and try again. They have endless hope in the possibility of what they can do when they can walk. As we age, we suffer through disappointments and often become cynical. Adults are much more likely to give up or walk away from opportunities because they are hard. 

In today’s world, parents and caretakers want their children to have a better life than they had and they will do anything to make this happen. Even our youngest elementary students are less resilient than the generations who preceded them. This is an interesting outcome for those who grow up and someone makes sure that they do not face challenges. My goal as a teacher was to help my students become thinkers: critical and creative. To be a thinker requires that you have the ability to work through problems and move forward. I had two favorite sayings posted in my classroom, “Hard is Good” and “Risking Failure to Achieve Success” So many of our young people have been so coddled that we have to teach them to not give up through a process known as “productive struggle”. We actually had to create a way for students to learn. 

On the flip side of this, less privileged children are much more likely to be resilient. We read stories of remarkable young people who are leading the charge for education and better lives. Malala, who was shot on her way to school in Pakistan, (Nobel Prize at 17) is an advocate for female education in cultures where this is not allowed. William Kamkwamba from Malawi, who after having to stop attending school because his family could not afford his tuition, worked through difficult challenges to build a wind turbine to provide electricity for his village and pull water from the ground to irrigate the crops. Greta Thunberg of Sweden began her work on improving the environment at the young age of 15 as she appeared before Parliament to voice her concerns and ideas about how to improve our world. Obviously, we don’t wish such hardship on any children, but our challenges help us grow. “Hard is good!”

In our first passage from Luke, we read Zechariah’s Song. This hymn addresses John the Baptist as “child” and envisions him as a prophet, a leader who will guide us all in the way of peace. He will lead us to Christ. We know how the prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when “a little child” will lead our ecological world (see Isaiah 11:6). Such a vision of a young child should lead us to examine how children are treated in our families, neighborhoods, and Christian congregations. 

Zechariah’s song celebrating the announcement of his son’s birth is a wonderful hymn that highlights some of the mighty acts of God. Two things stand out in the first half of this hymn. One is that God has raised up a mighty savior for us, and the other is that we can serve God without fear.

Fear has been with us from the beginning. Adam was afraid in the garden (see Genesis 3:10), and the Bible is full of announcements that tell us not to be afraid. Most angelic appearances begin with “Fear not.” Zechariah himself was afraid when an angel of the Lord appeared to him. When Gabriel approaches Mary as recorded in Luke 1:30 30 The angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. The words Do Not Fear appear in the Bible 365 times. Some of my favorite passages when I am in need of comfort are 

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?

What causes us fear? Obviously, there are all of the phobias that are listed as causing people to fear. (spiders, heights, darkness, falling, death) For me, uncertainty is probably at the top of my list. From where do our fears come?  Fear is described as an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined. Fear can cause debilitation or motivate us to accomplish great things. Johnny Agar a young man with Cerebral Palsy who just completed his first Iron Man Competition with his dad spoke of his desire to compete and cause himself such pain: “It gives my challenges a purpose!” When we feel lost, when we are afraid, we need to hear the divine, “Fear not!” Many choose to retreat from their fear by hiding in the darkness, God raises a mighty savior to help us gain freedom from fear. Think of the prophets who share glimpses of God’s glory.  Earlier this month we took time to think of all the parents, relatives, colleagues, friends, teachers, and ministers God has sent to us! We are assured that we are not walking alone; we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) as we run the race set before us. With this help, we can experience moments of awe and reverence rather than worry and anxiety.

Jesus said that the reign of God belongs to children and those who become like children (see Matthew 18:3). This involves recognizing and respecting children and seeing them as the messengers of God who lead us on the path of peace.

Christ’s reign empowers us to work for peace. We can be thankful to God that the Christ child is the Prince of Peace and will guide and strengthen us as we do the work of peacemaking.

M. Thomas Thangaraj, a retired preacher and professor of Theology says, 

“We who are called to live under the reign of Christ have to ask ourselves if our lives are ordered to promote life, unity, freedom, and safety for all. When we answer this question honestly, we are humbled to confess that we have failed to live up to our calling. This admission is the start of our journey toward faithfulness. Then comes accepting that the reign of Christ is not something that we establish. We can only pray, “Let your reign come. Let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

In response, This prayer will be followed by acts of kindness, works of justice, and attempts to promote unity. In every move we make, the grace of the reign of Christ envelops and empowers us.”

Have you ever heard someone (probably a mother when her child was accused of some wrongdoing), say that the child didn’t know any better? They had not yet learned right from wrong. Imagine causing someone angst by violating a culture or tradition of which you are unaware. Our final passage from Luke this morning shares the story of the criminals who were hanging on either side of Christ.  

34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” . . . 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Jesus’ forgiving his enemies mirrors the motherly love of God because all those who are standing around are the children of God the Mother. We, God’s children, are living in the time of the reign of Christ. We are called to practice forgiving one another, even those who do wrong to us and others. It is not easy to live out such love; we need God’s love flowing into our hearts.

Jesus came so that we would know what we were doing. And yet as he died, he prayed to God to forgive us because we didn’t get it. We didn’t know. From our earthly examples, we might expect Jesus to walk away and leave us to our own demise, but Jesus didn’t give up on us. He began his dying by trying to help us live. “Father, forgive them.” From the cross, Jesus was trying to get us back or keep us in the right relationship with God. Forgive them. Heal them. Hold them. Gather them up. Stitch them back together. Through me, repair the relationship!

The Good News this morning is that Jesus came to bring mercy, forgiveness, and light. When we listen to Luke 23 we remember the death of Jesus. Here Jesus, the Light of the world, dies as an act of mercy for our forgiveness. Through his death, we are forgiven and brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Like the penitent thief hanging with Jesus, we are given a place in paradise despite our sinful lives. Paradise begins when we enter into a relationship with Jesus. We are resurrection people and the reign of Christ began that early morning in the garden. Eternity starts now, not just when we die, but right now when we reach out for the nail-scarred hand and realize that we are not alone. Help us, O Lord, to approach our lives as loved children of God as we live our lives without fear because we know that you are with us always! And All God’s people say, Amen!

Listen and remember our Lord God who chooses us, loves us, and blesses us!

Turn back to your bulletin and pray with me again the words of our opening prayer: Lord Jesus, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, so that all people might come within the reach of your saving embrace.

Clothe us in your Spirit, that we, stretching out our hands in loving service for others, may bring those who do not know you to an awareness and love of you; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign, One God forever!  Amen!

Benediction: Though the days increase in their darkness, the Lord of light and love reigns supreme. May the power of God’s love be in your hearts and reflected in your lives now and always. Go in peace and may God’s peace be with you. AMEN.