August 30, 2020
The office and the rest of the building remain closed, but you can contact Karla during her office hours.
On September 13th we are invited to worship with First Congregational Church 700 North Bluff Clinton Iowa 52732
Call to Worship
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so?!
Hymn: “The Church’s One Foundation”
Prayer of Confession
Gracious God, thank you for your promises to us and patience with us. Even with mature faith, we admit we do not understand your ways. We may expect you to treat us better because “we are Christians.” We may doubt your love when hard times come. We justify our bad behavior towards others because we think they deserve it. Forgive us for not loving with genuine love. Forgive us for hanging onto blessings, instead of taking up our cross to follow you. Remind us of your love and forgiveness. We love you and want to follow you wherever you lead. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar. But if we confess, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us of all our iniquity.
Thanks be to God.
Prayer for illumination
Dear Lord, as we turn our attention to your Word, may your Spirit illumine it so that we might apply it to our lives as you continue to lead us daily. May our faith be encouraged as we are reminded of your holiness, love and truth. Amen.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 16:21-28
Jesus Predicts His Death
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem suffer many things the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law,that he must be killed on the third day raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter,“Get behind me, Satan!are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples,“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a]lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man going to come his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.28“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Epistle Reading: Romans 12: 9-21
Love In Action
9 must be sincere.what is evil; cling to what is good.devoted to one another in love.one another above yourselves.be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor,the Lord.joyful in hope,in affliction,in prayer.with the Lord’s people who are in need.hospitality.
14 those who persecute you;and do not curse.with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.16 in harmony with one another.not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. [a]not be conceited.
17 not repay anyone evil for evil.careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.not take revenge,dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” [b]the Lord. 20 the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” [c]
21 not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Sermon Title: “Confession, Misconception & What’s Next?”
James Michener, the author of sweeping historical novels like Hawaii, and Chesapeake, was asked at a National Press Club gathering, “How do you get your ideas for books?” He said, “Well, I usually have about 9 ideas rattling around in my head at one time—good ideas. I whittle them down and whittle them down and whittle them down until I have one idea, and then I devote the next three or four years to it. There’s no turning back once you’re in.” (shared by William J. Carl, FPC of Dallas)
I think our Christian faith starts with a hodge-podge of ideas about God, Christ, meaning in life and how to live our lives—and we whittle it down and whittle it down and whittle it down until hopefully, we have the big idea, which Jesus summed up this way: “Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”
But, keeping God center is not all that easy, is it? Previously in Matthew Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter whittled it down correctly because God revealed it to him. Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Loving God.” Peter’s confession lived up to his name, Petros, meaning Rock. On this Rock I will build my church.
A few verses later, v. 21, Jesus says, “I must go to Jerusalem where I will face suffering and certain death.” Peter, still basking in the Lord’s praise opens his big mouth and says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” His recent confession of Christ as Messiah is now clouded by his misconception of what that means.
Peter is not the only person to get the confession right and yet hold to a misconception about the Messiah’s purpose. What? Jesus isn’t going to overthrow Rome and restore Israel? He’s going to be killed?
We often like the idea of a Messiah, who, like Mighty Mouse, sings “Here I come to save the day!” I’ve even heard Christians proudly state, “I’m not afraid of Covid. I know God will protect me.” Really… To many the gospel of Christ is a gospel only of triumph and protection from all enemies. That is ultimately true, but suffering and death come before resurrection. We often are led through the valleys of shadow instead of the still waters. We live in a fallen world with disease, injustice and very bad weather at times. Christ will bring ultimate triumph, but not immediate triumph. In theological circles we call this the “now” and the “not yet” of salvation.
Those who hold to the Triumph Now, “Mighty Mouse” gospel with its promises of health and wealth and freedom from suffering right now, must wonder, “How could this disaster in my life be a part of God’s loving plan?” Peter wonders, “How could the Son of the Living God, ‘Messiah,’—[we translate the word as “Christ”] –“talk about needing to suffer and die?
Jesus responds probably more harshly to Peter than to anyone else when he says, “Get behind me Satan.” Peter has been given the keys to heaven, but has momentarily dropped them! He is thinking in human terms, not as God thinks. And Peter, for the first time perhaps, is speechless!
Christ makes it clear to his bewildered disciples. “If any want to become my followers, let, them take up their cross and follow me.” Choose to save your life or lose it. The paradox? If we save it, we will lose it, and if we lose it for the Lord, we will find it when the Lord comes with his angels in glory.
That means for us today…
Let’s not rest on the laurels of our spiritual past. Peter is called the “rock” on which Christ will build his church. A few sentences later, the loyal fisherman is called “satan.” Faith—whether of a church or of a person—is not merely a point in time confession, or a glorious bygone era. Rather, faith is a constant journey of learning, of mistakes, of growth, of challenge, of discipline, of obedience.
Human wisdom does not always cut it with the Lord. Our “wisdom” may be contrary, and even “satanic” by comparison to God’s wisdom and truth. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to humans,” Paul writes in Romans. So let’s be less dogmatic! God’s ways are higher than our ways. Who would have thought the death of Christ on a cross would accomplish the salvation of God’s people? The wisdom of God…
Christianity is more than merely a set of beliefs or a code of moral behavior. Our Christian faith is to be a total commitment to the person, Jesus Christ. Once we answer Christ’s question, “Who am I?” for ourselves, we must decide what to do with that revelation. What difference will it make daily in my life to take up my cross and follow Jesus?
So, while I doubt any of us are headed for the kind of service and eventual martyrdom required of those early disciples, and of so many thousands around the world today. Yet, we are still told to take up our cross and follow Jesus. What might that look like?
What does it mean to lose one’s life today in order to gain it ultimately? How should our faith be reflected even in a Covid-19 pandemic, in a country torn politically, racially, economically? How should we then live?
Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” He also wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
How? I find an answer in this little text from Romans 12. Most days I’m not trying to figure out the BIG questions of the meaning of life or what is heaven really like. Most days, I need to decide how I will treat others with my words, how might I help someone in need, how can I trust God to meet my needs and not worry or lose hope?
To live by faith in the Son of God who loves you and me and who lives within you and me, is practically spelled out by Christ: Love God, love neighbor. And more specifically, here in Romans 12: Let love be genuine. Hate evil, cling to good. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
As we take up the cross to follow Christ, we are laying aside our own lives each day. How do we love another genuinely? It might look like this, as Peter wrote in his letter: “Do not return insult for insult but give a blessing instead.”
For example, the other day while distributing food at the River Bend Foodbank drive up, a man came on foot and demanded something we couldn’t give. He started swearing like a sailor at us and at the police security guy. He didn’t stop swearing long enough to hear anything reasonable, but I finally said to him as he was walking away still ranting: “I’m sorry… May the Lord bless and keep you. May God’s presence be upon you.” It was obvious he wasn’t in a coherent frame of mind, but I took this verse literally. “Bless those who curse you.” I’ve recently done the same with Facebook friends of friends who get pretty testy sometimes over politics. I simply say, “We will never agree, but may God bless you in some special way today.” Often they offer a blessing back.
I’m not suggesting we need never speak up. We are to speak truth in love. We need the prophets of our day to speak truth and justice, and we need to care for each other. Whether it is during our family gatherings, in Facebook disagreements, or on the streets of our towns. Instead of hurling insults, instead of anger and even violence, what if we sat down and listened, and offered to bless the other in prayer? Not in a condescending way, but out of genuine care for that person. Let love be genuine.
We need not be haughty, but let us associate with the lowly. We need not repay evil for evil, but rather do what is noble in the sight of all.
Two chapters later in Romans 14 says this: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Friends, as we take up our cross to follow Christ, day to day let us lose ourselves on behalf of another. Let us model this to our children and grandchildren. Our nation needs genuine love. Our communities need it. We need it. To God be all glory. Amen.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Prayers of the people
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn “I Surrender All”