“Give Yourself Away”

 

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Dec. 4, 2016

     For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,  so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

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I am happy to see the children and families from the childcare center today in worship! We are so blessed that the 3 and 4 year olds came to sing and share your joyful spirit and energy with all of us! We love you! We pray for you! We want to be a blessing to you! If you are not a member of a local congregation and you are seeking a place to worship and have friendships with other Christians, we invite you to join with us. You are already one of the MIPC family!

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We were so pleased when some of you came to our Rally Day activities in September.

 

 

Then, more of you came to our Fall Festival in October, dressed in costume and ready for more games, food, fellowship and crafts!     

 

  Then, we invited you and some of you came to our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of weeks ago! It was so nice to share in that very special meal with you!

 

If you have 4-year-old children or grandchildren in VPK, we are blessed when they come to our church for chapel twice a month.

 

 

We are so glad when you join us for Tuesday night suppers! I

 

am looking forward to getting to know you better in the months to come. Our suppers will start up again January 17 with macaroni and cheese and fried chicken, thanks to the dedicated, hardworking volunteers on our Fellowship committee!

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The Apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, is concerned that some Jewish Christians don’t want to eat with or associate with Gentile Christians who don’t observe the Old Testament food laws. He says in Romans 14:14, “Nothing is unclean in itself” and that the important thing is to not let your convictions about diet stir you to judge others and disturb the peace of the community. Paul says in Romans 15:5, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus,  so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul quotes Old Testament Scripture to show that it still shapes and unites the community of faith–Jew and Gentile–that seeks to worship and obey the same God. In the new covenant, the food laws and circumcision are not necessary. For love of the world, God graciously sent His Son, our Emmanuel, to give up his life so we may be forgiven from our sins and have everlasting life with Him. Paul emphasizes that Scripture is the source of our hope and comfort, to help us endure suffering and remain faithful to our faithful God. He quotes from Deuteronomy 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” and Psalm 117:1, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him.” He quotes the prophet Isaiah with the verse about the Root of Jessie who will rule over the nations and be the hope of the Gentiles.

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Paul encourages Christians to eat together as a sign of their unity in Christ and their love for one another. He says in 15:7, “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God!” The word “welcome” may also be translated, “accept” and “receive.” This kind of welcome isn’t just, “Hello, how are you?” and shaking hands with a stranger or neighbor. This kind of welcome is the one where you open your heart and your home and you put the needs and desires of the other person before your own. This kind of welcome means you give yourself away, as Christ gave himself for us.

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Paul using Jesus as the perfect model of hospitality–giving and receiving it–fits the Jesus we know from the gospels. Jesus liked to eat and drink at other people’s houses. His ministry was intimate and personal and often involved food. He didn’t wait for an invitation to supper at the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector to reward and encourage him for his faith.

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He ate with his friends, Mary and Martha, who didn’t always agree on who should do the work.

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He ate with people who didn’t like or trust him and would oppose him–Pharisees and Scribes. He asked for water from a Samaritan woman not respected in her community and offered her living water so she would never thirst again.

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He ate with rich and poor, powerful and powerless as he drew others nearer to God through belief on Him and preached life in the Kingdom.

He taught his disciples to follow his example for personal and intimate ministry. He sent them out to stay in people’s homes and accept their hospitality. Those who opened their homes and fed them would be blessed. He told the 12 in Matthew 10:40-42: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Jesus, sending off the 70 in Luke 10:5-9, says “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

Jesus welcomes people by feeding them–body, mind, heart and soul. When his disciples are going to send away a crowd who have listened to Jesus teach all day, he feeds the multitude with a few loaves and a couple fish, given by a child and multiplied by God.

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At the Last Supper, Jesus blesses the bread and breaks it, giving it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat. This is my body, given for you.” He encourages them to continue to gather to eat and feed one another when he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

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In Luke 24, two disciples walk along a road with the risen Christ, not knowing who he is. They invite him to their home and don’t recognize him till they sit down to eat a meal and he “breaks the bread.”

 

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Jesus doesn’t shy away from cooking, either. The risen Christ is on the seashore cooking bread and fish over a charcoal fire in John 21, while his disciples are out fishing one day. They don’t know who he is until a miraculous catch opens their eyes to his identity. He says to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’ and  ‘Come and have breakfast.’  After the disciples’ bodies are nourished, he feeds their hearts and souls, too, offering Peter, who denied him 3 times, another chance to get it right–to give of himself, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Then he charges him to minister as He did–nourishing heart and mind, body and soul of others.

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Jesus says to Peter, using his formal given name and not the nickname that he had given him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16A second time Jesus says to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter says, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says, ‘Tend my sheep.’17Jesus says a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter feels hurt because he has asked him three times if he loved him. And Peter says, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus says, ‘Feed my sheep.’

 

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The bake sale after worship today will feed your body and bless the souls at the childcare center, which is in need of trikes and a stroller that would hold 4 or more babies. Thank you to all who made cookies and other sweets to sell at the sale! But before you shop for goodies, please take some time to enjoy fellowship and refreshments in our Narthex, the lobby of the church. It will be a perfect time to “welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.” But remember, “welcome” means much more than just saying, “Hi, how are you?” It means opening your heart and home.

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It means putting the needs and desires of your neighbors before your own. It means give yourself away as Christ gave himself for us.

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Let us pray.

God of Hope, we give you thanks for the welcome you have given us, receiving us through the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, and every day, holding out your arms to us and beckoning us to come. Thank you for your love and grace, covering all our sins, and for providing for our needs each day–body, mind, heart and soul. Help us, Lord, to minister as Jesus did–to seek to be welcoming to one another and to the stranger in need. Teach us to open our hearts and love without fear–to give ourselves away, as your Son gave Himself for us. In His name we pray. Amen.

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“Put on” Christ

First Sunday in Advent, Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in immorality and shamelessness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

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Just two days before Thanksgiving, the girl with ringlits spilling out from underneath a black cap shook her head when asked if she had a celebration or prayer concern to share during circle time. Elly is one of the few quiet ones. Most children in Kids Klub are nearly bursting to share about their chickens and bunnies, dogs and cats, loose or lost teeth and getting braces, having birthdays and family vacations, trips to grandma’s, good grades and college-age siblings coming home for the holidays.

 

They request prayer for brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, and friends who are sick and healing for their own colds, stomach bugs and scrapes and sprains from falling off monkey bars and bicycles. On Tuesday, after children had shared their celebrations and concerns in our circle time, I was amazed when 7 of them volunteered to lead the prayer for the group! Their prayers were simple and brief, but came straight from the heart.

Dress rehearsal for their Christmas program is Friday afternoon, but some of the kids have been wearing cowboy hats and boots and practicing their “Western” accents since August, when they began rehearsing for “The Loaned Manger.” Putting on the costumes–dressing up like characters in the Old West– helps them learn their parts and brings them joy.

 

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At the same time, they are encouraged to be themselves– their best possible selves. But when the costume goes on, they must let go of fear, anxiety and doubt and trust that others will love and accept them as they are–and not ridicule or reject them. . In this creative, affirming, Christ-centered environment, I have seen the children bloom and grow.

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Paul’s language in the first two verses of today’s passage in Romans–the imagery of a person waking in the morning and getting dressed, putting on the “armor of light” or “weapons of light,” as some translations say–comes from an early Christian hymn. The Christian must prepare for battle, just as naturally and routinely as we get dressed every morning to prepare for the weather and activities of the day. The battle is not with other people; it is a spiritual battle with our own “flesh” and temptation to sin. What we put on is for our protection and strength–overcoming evil with good, as Paul says in 12:21. What we put on helps bring about the inner transformation needed to change our sinful behaviors. Paul tells us in his own words in verse 14 that the “armor of light” is, in fact, Jesus Christ.

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When Paul says “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers,” he wants us to live as if the Kingdom of God–a glimpse of which we have when we celebrate communion– has already come to fruition. The “day” that is “near” that Paul speaks of is not just the day of Christ’s return as he promised but the new era that dawned with the cross and resurrection. The age of Adam and the fall of human beings is the “night” that is “far gone.” The age of Redemption is here–when sinners are saved by grace and no longer live for themselves, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:15, “but for him who died for them and was raised again.” And, again, in Romans 14:7-8, “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.”

But like those who are sleeping, we may not be aware of what is going on in the spiritual realm. The Holy season of Advent falls in one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. TV commercials tell us we need to spend, spend, spend! We need expensive cars and bigger TVs; the good news is that Black Friday sales are extended till the end of the month! Some people are making lists and muttering to themselves, “I have shopping to do. Presents to wrap. Cards to write. Cookies to bake. Holiday meals to make. A tree, house, and yard to decorate.”

 

We might forget that now, more than ever, is the time when we cannot wear ordinary garments. We cannot live ordinary lives.

“Be not conformed to the world,” Paul tells us in Romans 12:2. Choose transformation by the renewing of our minds. It doesn’t just happen. We don’t have to give in to what the world demands of us. We choose to discern the will of God–“what is good and acceptable and perfect,” Paul says, and we choose to obey, as we promise in the prayer Jesus taught us, “Thy will be done.”

Paul’s teachings are not just for this church in Rome that he hadn’t yet visited, a church he wanted to support him in a new mission to Spain; it is for the Body of Christ, who are “many,” he says in Romans 12:5-6, with different gifts “according to (God’s) grace…” He urges unity for Jew and Gentile believers, who often did not agree on how Christians should live. The important thing was to not do or say things that would cause another brother or sister to “stumble” in their walk of faith. Paul writes in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” “Live in harmony with one another,” he says in 12:16. In 12:18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

After quoting from the early Christian hymn and reminding us to be clothed in Christ in our war against sin, Paul says, “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in…” and he lists certain sins that are “works of darkness” that must first be put off before putting on the “armor of light”– Jesus Christ. William Barclay (The Letter to the Romans, p. 210- 211) has this to say about the sins… Reveling or revelry (komos) was “originally the band of friends who accompanied a victor home from the games, singing his praises and celebrating his triumph.” Later, it came to mean a noisy band of no-goods creating havoc in the city streets at night. Drunkenness (methe) “was a particularly disgraceful thing to the Greeks,” surprisingly, since they were “a wine-drinking people. Even children drank wine.” Breakfast was a piece of bread dipped in wine. But the wine was diluted and drunk because “the water supply was inadequate and dangerous.” Immorality (koite) means literally “a bed” and “has in its meaning the desire for a forbidden bed.” Shamelessness (aselgeia) describes those who are not only immoral; they don’t care who sees them doing their evil deeds or what people think. The last two sins, given their position at the end of the sentence, are the ones of which Paul is most concerned for the Body. The sin of contention or quarreling (eris) “comes from a desire for place, power and prestige and from the hatred of being bettered. It is essentially the sin which places self in the foreground and is the entire negation of Christian love.” Jealousy (zelos) “describes the spirit which cannot be content with what it has and looks with jealous eye on every blessing given to someone else and denied to itself.”

For Paul, love is the most important thing. In Romans 12:9-10, he says, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.” And in the three verses that precede today’s reading, Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…” He names several Commandments, before concluding the sum of which are, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He adds to Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

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Friends, now more than ever, in this season of hoping and waiting for our Savior, but also too much busyness and materialism, we cannot wear ordinary garments. We cannot live ordinary lives. Choose to be transformed! Cast off fear and doubt and other sins that get in the way of healthy change in our lives as individuals and in our life of faith together. Love one another. Accept one another. Live in peace. Put on the armor of light. Put on Jesus Christ.

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I want to make sure you know that Kids Klub isn’t just about preparing children to put on a Bible show twice a year. It’s about love and acceptance. Elly is only 5–and one of the youngest children in our after school program. She came because a friend invited her. When her grandma picked her up at the end of the first class, she started to cry–and I was worried that something had happened that first day. I went over to comfort her. But her grandma assured me that nothing bad had happened. She was crying because she didn’t want to leave.

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But why does she always wear her black hat? her grandmother asked. She tells her to take it off when she is inside for respect. I think Elly wears it to be like the others in their cowboy hats–and putting on the “costume” gives her confidence to be someone she hasn’t been before. Someone new. But also the best possible self she can be–if she can cast off fear and doubt and trust that she will be loved and accepted for who she is.

On Saturday, I hope you will come and support the children as they share the love of Jesus with the community through drama, movement and music, such as this beautiful song by Rob Howard: “Everlasting Light.” For God so loved the world that he gave his only son and if we believe in him we will have life everlasting. Life everlasting. Jesus, everlasting light, shine through my darkness with hope so bright. Jesus, everlasting light, shine through my darkness tonight. I am the light of the world. He that follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. The light of life.

 

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Let us pray…

 

Holy one, thank you for sending Jesus to be the light of the world, shining in our darkness. Help us, Lord, to let go of the sins that keep us from being our best selves or even someone altogether new, if you lead us. Stir us to remember each day when we get up and get dressed, that we also need to pray and put on the armor of light. We need to put on Jesus Christ! Lead us to be not conformed to the world during this Holy season of Advent and not feel the pressure to keep up with everyone else in our spending and doing. Teach us to love one another, Lord, and to live in peace. And we seek a blessing of joy for the children, staff and faithful volunteers of Kids Klub as they prepare to shine your light to the families, community and congregation. Keep them all healthy and safe. Help them learn their lines and songs and to remember always the love and grace of Jesus Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.