Tag: hope

Podcast: Opening Graves, Restoring Hope

Raising_of_Lazarus

For the fifth Sunday in Lent, I preached on Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, from John 11:1-45. After encounters with Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and the man born blind (John 9:1-41), Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus from the dead. This is a rich story with many perspectives, but one very important idea: opening graves raises hope among God’s people. Here’s the podcast:

Podcast: The One Thing We Can Know

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Last week for the third Sunday of Lent, I preached on the story of the man born blind from John’s Gospel the 9th chapter. It’s an interesting story of bad theology, judgmental assumptions and an inexplicable miracle. And, it has an important lesson for us today. Here’s the podcast from that message:

Sermon: Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

On Mothers’ Day, I delivered the chapel message at Hargrave Military Academy. The 800-seat chapel was filled with cadets and their families on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility
1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV

27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Mothers In The Bible

The Bible, as I’m sure you know, contains the stories of several mothers. First, there is Eve, whose name literally means “mother of all living.” Then there was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Moms, how would you like to have God’s messenger tell you at the age of 90, that you were going to have a baby? That’s what happened to Sarah, and she became the mother of Isaac.

Isaac married a beautiful girl named Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to twin sons – Jacob and Esau. To make a long story short, Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob, and she helped her son trick his aging father out of the birthright that really belonged to his brother, Esau. After that, Esau was pretty unhappy, so Jacob left home for a long time. And people say the Bible isn’t realistic. Here we have one of the first completely dysfunctional families, with a lot of drama and intrigue. Think “Survivor” but with relatives. Anyway, things finally work out for all of them, Jacob included.

Then we have the mother of Moses, Jochebed. You remember the story of how the evil Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Moses’ mother put him in a waterproof basket, and set it in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter appears, sees the baby in the basket and takes him as her own. Moses’s sister, Miriam, is hiding in the reeds there, and pops up just in time to offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. She, of course, finds Jochebed who gets to raise her own son, until he moves into Pharaoh’s palace. Mothers, even in the Bible, are always looking out for their children.

Of course, the most famous mother in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that Mary loved her son, marveled at the work God had in store for Jesus, and suffered at his death. We know that Jesus loved his mother, Mary, because as he hangs on the cross dying, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his close disciple, John.

But for all the stories of mothers in the Bible, I think the one I like best is in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. You heard part of that story in the text today, but let me fill you in on the whole story.

The Story of Hannah and Elkanah

This story happened about 3,000 years ago. Elkanah was a kind man who was married to two women, which I would not recommend today, but 3,000 years ago things were different. Hannah and Penninah were his wives, and Penninah had given birth to children but Hannah had not. In those days, children were the equivalent of Social Security today, and parents needed children to help them, and to provide for them in their old age.

Because Penninah had children and Hannah did not, Penninah picked on Hannah mercilessly. Elkanah, caught in the middle, (which is why you shouldn’t have two wives), tried to make it up to Hannah by giving her his attention, and a double portion of meat to offer when the went up to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. As well-meaning as Elkanah was, I don’t think an extra chunk of meat made Hannah feel better.

As a matter of fact, one day when they were all at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Hannah was so distraught that she began to pray. As she prayed, she wept so hard that she could not speak. Moving her lips in silent agony, Eli, the old priest at Shiloh, thought she must be drunk.

Eli accused her of being drunk, but Hannah protested that she was only praying out of her grief because she did not have a child. Eli understood, and pronounced a blessing on her, saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grand you what you have asked of him.”

Of course, what she had asked was for a son, and in her asking Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord’s service.

She prayed, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

Hannah Brings Samuel To The Tabernacle

Of course, God hears Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel is born. Perhaps three years pass until Hannah is ready to keep her promise to God. So, on the appointed day, she and Samuel, who is probably 3 or 4 at this time, appear at the Tabernacle in front of the old priest, Eli.

There Hannah gives Samuel into Eli’s care, with these words –

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

So that’s the story of how Hannah prayed for a son, and then trusted him to God for the rest of his life.

A Story We Can Live

But this is more than a Bible story, even though it certainly is that. This story has the ring of authenticity. Here’s a woman, Hannah, who wanted more than anything to have a baby. Her prayer to God wasn’t a negotiating ploy, but a revelation of her own faith in God.

Hannah trusted God with her deepest desire, and with her future son. Hannah believed that if God allowed her to bear a child, that child would be so special that God would have great things planned for him.

Like Hannah, those of us gathered here today believe our children are special gifts from God. Our prayer may not have been the agonizing prayer of Hannah’s, but in some way each of us has prayed for our children.

If at your house, your children were happy accidents, as they were at ours, you may not have prayed for them to come. But as soon as you knew they were on the way, your heart was filled with concern, with love, with hope, and with a kind of desperate desire that God would bring them into this world safely. And, your on-going prayer, is that God keep them safe, guide them carefully, and help them reach their potential.

There is another way in which you moms and grandmothers, and others gathered here today are like Hannah, though. Like Hannah, you trusted your child to others at a young age.  Okay, maybe not three, but at 12 or 13, I’m sure you weren’t ready for your son to leave the safety and security of your home.

Yet, because you love your son, you have entrusted his safety, his education, and his future potential to Hargrave Military Academy. Like Hannah, last fall, or several falls ago, you delivered your son to this campus, to give him into the care of the faculty and staff here at this historic institution.

Why did you do that? Because you believed, like Hannah, that your son deserved the best. That your son would benefit from attending school here at Hargrave, an institution founded upon Christian values.

I can’t imagine the sacrifice that this must take on your part. For some of you, that sacrifice is financial. But for all of you, there is a bigger sacrifice that you as mothers and grandmothers have made.

Now, I don’t want to make any of you cry, but I do want to salute your sacrifice. When you sent your son to Hargrave, you realized that the back door would no longer bang loudly at 3:30 PM each day when school was over, because your son is here. You realized that you would miss out on that whirlwind of endless soccer practices, football games, drama club presentations, and all of the other afterschool activities kids are involved in.

When you sent your son to Hargrave, I’m sure you realized that when he got hurt, you would no longer be there to put a band-aid on his scraped knee like you did when he was six. (By the way, don’t do that now because he’ll be really embarrassed!)

You and your family have missed seeing him compete at swim meets, or on the baseball field, or in the science fair because you made the sacrifice to send your son here instead of keeping him at home.

You made these sacrifices because just like Hannah, you believe that your son is special, that God gave him to you and your family. Because you believe in your son, and his future, like Hannah, you have entrusted him to others to shape his life, strengthen his character, and send him home as a responsible, mature young man.

So, on this Mothers’ Day, I commend your sacrifice, your love, and your dreams for your son.

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

But, before I finish here today, I have a word for your sons, for these cadets whom you have entrusted to this institution.

The sacrifices that your mother, and your family have made need to be acknowledged and repaid.

Let me tell you what happened to Samuel after his mother left his at the Tabernacle in Eli’s care.  As a young boy, Samuel was sleeping one night, when he heard a voice calling him. “Samuel, Samuel” the voice said.

Thinking it was old Eli calling, because young Samuel was now old enough to be Eli’s helper, Samuel went to the old priest’s room. “Did you call me?” Samuel asked Eli.

Eli replied, “No, I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

This happened again. A voice calls “Samuel, Samuel” but when Samuel went to Eli’s room, Eli said, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

Well, the third time this happened, Eli figured out what was going on. “God is speaking to you. The next time you hear the voice call your name, say ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears you.”

Samuel did just that, and God called Samuel to be one of the great Old Testament leaders. Samuel would become the spokesman for God, God’s representative to the nation of Israel. When Israel clamored for a king, Samuel would anoint Saul, and when Saul failed, Samuel would anoint King David to be King over Israel. Samuel took his mother’s sacrifice seriously, and lived up to the opportunity given him as Eli’s helper, and then as the spiritual leader of Israel.

Let me tell you a story about a young man who responded to his mother’s sacrifice. Peng Si is from Guangzhou, China. About four years’ ago, his family scraped together enough money for him to attend college in the United States. Peng Si enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

During the three years it took Peng Si to complete his degree, he was very careful with his expenses. His family had already sacrificed over $75,000 to give him an education in the United States, so Peng Si did not even travel home to see his mother and father during his entire three years of study. He did not want to spend a penny more of his parents’ money, than he had to.

After graduation, Peng Si planned to start a master’s program. But word came from China that his mother was gravely ill with hepatitis. Her only hope was a partial-liver transplant. Peng Si’s twin sister volunteered to donate a part of her liver, but doctors said she was too thin to survive the surgery.

Against his mother’s wishes, Peng Si volunteered to donate 60% of his liver to his ailing mother. The surgery took place on July 22 last year. Both mother and son came through the surgery well.

The Chinese press picked up this story of mother and son. He was called a “shining example for all his peers all over China to follow” by the doctor who performed the surgery.

But the reason Peng Si gave for his act of love was interesting. He said, “Everyone at my US university was very proactive about getting involved in charity and social justice causes,” he said. “It really focused my outlook on what I need to do to help other people, not just to take care of myself.”

I hope you never are faced with a situation like Peng Si and his mother were, but you can still honor the sacrifice your mother and family have made by sending you to Hargrave.

You can listen for the voice of God in your life, maybe not like Samuel did, but God’s voice just the same. That inner voice that tells you to rise above the crowd, to distinguish yourself in your studies, your sports activities, and your relationships.

Several weeks ago, the news media carried the story of 11 Secret Servicemen. These men thought that because they had a privileged position — guarding the President of the United States — that they were exempt from the rules of decency and self-respect. That’s a mistake that is often made by those who enjoy special privileges.

What these 11 men failed to understand is that their special privilege demanded a higher level of accountability and conduct than would be demanded of most people. They made the mistake of thinking their privilege was a license to do as they pleased, when really their privilege was the opportunity to excel. Instead they embarrassed themselves, humiliated their families, and brought shame and ridicule on the United States.

Character counts. The decisions we make matter. You can’t just take care of yourself. Sacrifice demands responsibility. Honor your mothers today by exceeding expectations, overcoming obstacles, and demonstrating character. That is your mom’s hope for you. Give her the gift of your best on this Mothers’ Day.

Podcast: When God Comes Down

On the first Sunday in Advent this year, I chose Isaiah 64:1-9 as the text for my sermon, When God Comes Down.  Here’s the link to the podcast from that sermon. http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/When_God_Comes_Down.mp3

When Death Comes To Our Community

This is the sermon I am going to preach on Sunday, February 21, 2010.  It comes on the occasion of the death of one of our members tonight, Saturday, February 20.

When Pope John XXIII lay dying, the Pope’s physician is reported to have said, “Holy Father, you have asked me many times to tell you when the end was near so you could prepare.”  The Pope replied, “Yes.  Don’t feel badly, Doctor.  I understand. I am ready.”

With that the Pope’s secretary, Loris Capovilla collapsed at the Pope’s bedside weeping.

“Courage, my son.  I am a bishop, and I must die as a bishop, with simplicity but with majesty, and you must help me.  Go get the people together.”

His reply was, “Santo Padre, they are waiting.” — Accompany Them With Singing, Introduction.

Last night one of our own left us.  Earl Hedrick went home to be with God.  I had planned to preach today on angels as God’s ushers, bringing us at death and at the end of time into the presence of God.  And while that might be a subject of great interest to us at another time, I felt today I needed to speak to you as your pastor about death, and what happens when death comes to our community.

This is not Earl’s funeral or eulogy, but because his death came so close upon our gathering here today, and came as such a shock to each of us, I want to take a few minutes today to talk about death and how we as followers of Christ deal with the grief and loss that accompanies death.

Dying Is Part of Our Life’s Journey

We all know we are going to die someday, but the will to live that beats in our chest does all it can to push death away.  We have sought to remove death from our lives, our homes, even our churches so much that when death does come in unexpected and surprising ways, we are struck with its finality and force.

There was a time when death was seen as the shadow companion of life.  Walk through any old cemetery where the grave stones display dates that reach back a hundred or more years.  What strikes me each time I visit an old cemetery is the number of small

Continue reading “When Death Comes To Our Community”

Paying Attention to the Outrageous

Hitler_w_youngmenSomebody did it again.  They compared one of our political leaders to Hitler.  It really doesn’t matter who did it because this is becoming a regular tactic for the extremists.  The frustrating thing is they get what they want — publicity.

The media pounce on their pronouncements as though the words they uttered were the first like them.  Bloggers and political sites pick up the refrain — “How dare they invoke the name of Hitler!” The outrage is palpable, and then the next day it starts all over again.

Frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of pop media personalities cheapening the tragedy of the Holocaust with their self-serving tirades.  If this is what passes for discourse and dialogue in America, we are at a new low.

But I also tell myself we must be on the cusp of change because so many are so afraid right now.  In times of turbulent change, the dividers voices are often the loudest.  It was that way during the Civil Rights struggle, it was that way during the Viet Nam war protests, and it’s that way again.

But I also know that the nascent signs of change in churches are encouraging.   Multi-ethnic congregations are blossoming, and new expressions of church are springing up in unlikely places.  Multi-culturalism is becoming almost as popular a topic among church conference planners as multi-site strategies.  More and more congregations are moving out into their communities, connecting with new groups of people who are helped, and who in turn change the helpers. Just as some courageous churches led the way in seeking justice for African-Americans, and later in seeking peace, these churches are the bellwether for change in our society.

That’s what we should be paying attention to — this new consciousness that I have not seen before in so many churches.  A consciousness of need, but of more than need.  An awareness of our responsibility as followers of Jesus to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  Next week I’m speaking to Duke Divinity School students about rural church ministry.  I’m going to talk about this new thing I see happening because it is unprecedented.

Examples emerge in unlikely places.  A church heals its community by planting a community garden in the wake of a local murder.  Another church reaches out to bikers and blue collar workers, not just for worship, but to help create jobs for them.  Churches feed people now in towns where before that need went unmet.  Kids are given school supplies, and encouraged to come after school for tutoring to an urban church that provides a safe haven until their working-class parents get home.

Change must be on the way because the voices of fear are growing louder and more shrill each day.  That’s the reason I pay attention to the outrageous statements of those publicity seekers.  I pay attention because I believe their outrageous statements carry with them a harbinger of hope, an indicator of impending change.   Let’s hope so, and let’s find a place to bring about that change.

Sermon, Sunday, June 15, 2008: Poured Into Our Hearts

Poured Into Our Hearts
Romans 5:1-8

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Understanding Paul’s Theological Jargon

Last week we looked at Romans 4, where Paul talked about faith. Specifically, Paul used the example of Abraham as a person of faith and because of his faith, Paul says it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. Remember what we said righteousness was? Going the same direction as God — orienting our lives with the plan of God. That’s what Abraham did as he left his homeland, the Ur of Chaldees, and all the pagan idolatry there to follow the plan of God. Because, the Bible tells us, Abraham believed that God had the power to keep His promises. And of course, God had promised Abraham at the age of almost 100, and Sarah his wife, who was about 90, that they would have a son. Abraham would be the father of a great nation, and would be a blessing to the world. Now faith is believing God can, and righteousness is packing for the journey. So, that’s where we left Paul last week.

But, this week, we run into more theological jargon from Paul, starting with verse 1 of chapter 5. Paul uses words like justified, peace, grace, and hope. Let’s take a look at these and see if we can bring them down from the world of Greek and Roman thought into our own 21st century world.

The Results of Faith

Without getting bogged down in more theological mire, let’s just remind ourselves that Paul is telling us that Abraham wasn’t counted righteous because of what he did, but because of his faith. So, faith — belief — is a central part of what Paul is trying to tell us. Faith is trust, faith is confidence, faith is assurance that God is powerful enough to keep his promises. But, what are the results of that faith for those of us who believe?

First, in verse 1, Paul says we have peace. Now when we think of peace in our modern day, 21st century lives we think of peace as tranquility, peace of mind, calmness, the absence of agitation — an internal feeling that everything is all right.

But, that’s not how Paul uses the word peace. The imagery Paul uses here is that of the military. The Roman empire is famous for its Pax Romana — the Roman peace. Now, here’s how Rome made peace with the world of the first century. The emperor would send his legions into a country and give them the chance to become a part of the Roman empire or be killed. In the words of President Bush, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.” You did not want to be with the enemies of Rome when the Empire was at its most dominant.

So, when Paul says “we have peace with God,” he doesn’t mean a warm fuzzy feeling that “Wow, don’t I feel calm and tranquil now.” No, Paul means we are no longer enemies of God. We have crossed over, we are no longer at war with God, we are no longer going in the opposite direction, we are at peace with God. We’ve signed the peace treaty, there is no threat to us anymore, we are not “enemy combatants” we have crossed over into the family of God. So, this term “peace” is a legal term, a description of our relationship with God.

Secondly, in verse 2, Paul says we now have access to grace in which we now stand. In 1992, I was briefly on the staff of the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation. In addition to running an art gallery in the downtown mall in Nashville, The Greater Nashville Arts Foundation put on “Summer Lights in Music City” — a city-wide festival celebrating the arts. We closed off several downtown blocks, and set up stages for musical performances. We had visual arts, performing arts, food, activities for kids — it was great! Thousands of people came out each year to hear great musical groups, watch dramatic presentations, do hands-on art projects, eat some great food, and generally have a great time in downtown Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River.

We also had security at each stage and art venue. Keeping 25,000 people on their best behavior in a downtown setting isn’t always easy. So, each exhibitor, artist, musician, food vendor, and festival staff member were given passes, which we wore around our necks on lanyards. Some passes only admitted the individual to specific areas — food, visual arts, stages, etc. But, I had an all-access pass — I could go anywhere! And, so I did. I walked back stage as musicians were getting ready to perform. I walked behind the barricades where only artists and exhibitors were allowed. I even had access to Tennessee state office buildings, because some of the exhibits were being set up in their lobbies. I had an all-access pass with no restrictions.

Paul says that’s what Jesus has done for us — He’s given us an all-access pass to the presence of God. Paul calls that the glory of God. And, he says, we’re standing in it. Now the word Paul actually uses there is the Greek word for someone who ushers you into the presence of royalty. Jesus takes us by the hand, and brings us into the presence of God. We have no right there on our own. We didn’t earn a royal audience, nor could we ever. But, Jesus says, “Come with me. I want to introduce you to my Father. He’s been waiting to see you for a long time. Come on, you’re with me.”

Thirdly, Paul says “we rejoice.” Of course, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. That’s an easy one. Who wouldn’t rejoice in the future where the Kingdom of God is fully come, where God’s glory is completely unveiled, where that glory settles over the new heaven and the new earth with such luminosity that the Book of Revelation says there is no need of the sun by day or the moon by night, for God is the light in the midst of His people. Easy to see why we’d be rejoicing over the prospect of future glory.

But, Paul doesn’t just rejoice over God’s glory. Paul says we also rejoice in suffering. Uh-oh. We didn’t sign up for this — or did we? Let’s look at rejoicing in suffering more closely.

Rejoicing in Suffering

Paul says we rejoice in suffering because suffering produces perseverance. The word there means “sticking out your chest, standing firm, and not being moved.” It’s not a passive verb at all — hupomone. Hupo means under. It’s the word we use when we say “hypodermic” as in needle! A hypodermic needle goes “under” the skin. Mone’ means to stand firm. Standing firm under pressure is really what Paul is saying here. That’s the kind of perseverance suffering produces.

Dr. Bill Wallace, Southern Baptist missionary to China, rejoiced at suffering. Wallace left is hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee in 1935 to serve in Wuchow, China as a medical missionary. Dr. Wallace stayed through the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, and the Korean War. When in 1951, the new Chinese communist government accused Bill Wallace of being a spy, he went to jail, and was tortured and killed for his faith. The communists sought to cover up their crime by burying Wallace’s body in a secret location, but Chinese Christians found his body, and reburied Wallace with the simple inscription, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Paul could have no better example that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character, than the person of Bill Wallace.

The Basis for Our Hope

But Paul says, “character produces hope.” Now when we talk about hope, we really mean “wish.” As in “I hope it will rain this week.” We might as well be saying, “I wish it would rain.” Because there’s nothing behind that kind of hope. But Paul’s hope is different. Paul’s hope is based on a promise — a promise kept by the God who keeps His promises. Paul’s hope isn’t one of many possibilities that may happen. Paul’s hope is a guarantee, a rock-solid assurance, an event promised in the future. Paul says, “hope doesn’t disappoint us.” Why?

Are you ready? Hope doesn’t disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts! While we’re looking at words Paul uses, let’s look at this verb, poured out. The King James Version translates it as “shed abroad” but that doesn’t mean much to us today. Poured out is used 9 times in the Book of Revelation, but always to describe God’s wrath being poured out on God’s enemies.

But, we’re not enemies any longer, remember? We have peace with God now. So, instead of pouring out His wrath on us, God pours out His love. Not just on us, but in us. In us through the presence of His Holy Spirit. Paul calls the Holy Spirit the down payment on our hope. The earnest money of that which is to come. The God who was with us, is now in us. Poured into our hearts. The essence of who we are, the God-shaped piece in each of us, now filled with God Himself.

And how did all this come about? How do we know that God loves us and has poured out his love into our hearts/ Because Paul says, at just the right time, Jesus died for the irreverent — the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act. He didn’t wait for us to improve ourselves. He didn’t wait for us to do better. He died for us. He gave himself in love, so we could see it, hear it, feel it, and understand it. Someone said, “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” That’s how we know God loves us. That’s how it’s possible to remain firm in the midst of suffering. That’s how we know we’re not in this alone.

While we were still sinners — undeserving, ungrateful, unhappy — Christ died for us. And in his death and resurrection, Christ made peace between us and God possible. Christ ushered into the presence of the King of the Universe, not on our merit, but on his. Christ gave us reason to rejoice, even in suffering, because God loves us and pours His love into our hearts before we can ever deserve it. We have an all-access pass to the glory of God!