Lord the Lord you God………..


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  I’m sure that today isn’t the first day that you’ve heard that statement, that sentence.

It appears multiple times in scripture, it appears in song.  What does it mean to love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and all your strength?  What does that look like?

We are still in Matthew’s Gospel, the disdained tax collector that went from exploiting Jewish people to trying to save them.  At this point in Matthew’s account, we are in the last week of Christ’s life.  He had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

He was spending his last week in or near the holy temple.  Three prominent groups in Israel at that time, the Herodians I talked about last week, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were taking turns questioning Christ in an effort to trap him in front of large crowds that had gathered for the Passover.

Today’s scripture occurs at the end of a long day for Christ.  He had been teaching and preaching, he had given the parable of the wedding banquet, talked about paying taxes and spoken about the resurrection.

Christ had silenced the Sadducees, they were a conservative group that only accepted the Law of Moses.  Much less is known about the Sadducees as compared to the Pharisees. 

The Pharisees, this religious group mentioned often in the bible, heard that the Sadducees had tapped out and they decide it is time for one more go around.

They offer up one of their best and brightest, a lawyer to question Christ.  An expert on religious custom and law up against a man with no formal training or education.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” the lawyer asked.  Christ’s response can be found in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy, it was his response to the devil during the temptation.

It is part of Jewish daily prayer called the Shema.  Christ’s response points to what our whole lives and being should be about.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Considering all his exchanges with these religions and political groups it would be easy to come to the conclusion that he was anti-Jewish or anti-establishment.  That is not the case.

Christ is an orthodox Jew, he believed in the law.  But he didn’t come to this world to beat people up with rules, he came to fulfill the law, to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies that a promised one was coming.  The promise of the Messiah that would take away the sins of the world.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

How do we love our God and neighbors like that?  Do we do love them like we should…………..How do we do those things?

Reading scripture, writing a sermon.  Those things are expected from a pastor.  What I often times run into doing those things is I get exposed.  Studying the scripture gives me time to reflect on the message I am to deliver and makes me question whether I do those things.

I tell my wife and children that I love them often, but does my behavior match the words that come from my mouth.  To be kind, not always.

If I love or when I love, it is in a broken, incomplete manner in which I do.  Too prone to get mad, too prone to lose my patience and lash out.  Sometimes, it appears that the only thing I love is my own selfish interests.

That is a window into my twisted, broken mind.  I can say that I believe that I have been obedient to God’s call, have tried to follow the best that I know how and devote time to him in prayer, read his word and give to the church.

But, do I put him first in my life?  Do I love both him and my neighbors with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind and strength…..

We moved into the neighborhood about 3.5 years ago, I have neighbors in that area that I haven’t had a conversation with.  Haven’t taken the time to get to know them.

I will try to spare you anymore of my hang-ups and give you an example of what this kind of love looks like.

Corrie ten Boom, that was her name, a young girl born to a very devout Dutch family.  She lived with her family in Holland during World War II.  She and her family bravely hid Jewish people that had fled their homes.

She offered up herself for God’s people, in anyway, any place at any time.  Scores of Jews passed through the ten Boom home.  Her selfless ways continued until the Gestapo found out and placed her and her family in one of their concentration camps.

The horrible treatment she received did not stop her from sharing her faith or leading worship services.  She would lose her father, a brother and a dear sister. 

Just a few short years after the war ended, Corrie ten Boom was speaking at a church in Germany.  At the end of the service walked an older gentlemen that was one of the most vicious guards at the concentration camp she was held in.

“A fine message he said, as you say, all of our sins are at the bottom of the sea,” as he extended his hand.  Could you imagine her angst, anxiety, anger, all the things that she must have felt.

 He told her he had become a Christian and asked for her forgiveness.  “I forgive you my brother, with all my heart.”  She would later say that she had never known God’s love so intensely as she did then…..

We are called to love the Lord our God.  We are called to be faithful.  We are not called to be rich, but if we are we should be generous with that bounty.  We are not called to spend more time on our phones than with our God.

We are not called to be convenient or cavalier Christians.  We are called to love.  When our love seems broken, imperfect, clumsy and incomplete.  We are called to love.

When we are exhausted, tired, emotionally spent and in a genuinely bad mood, we are called to love.  When devastating and unexplained news of loss, grief and illness come our way, we are called to love.

When people have a different opinion from us, do things we don’t approve of and don’t look like us, we are called to love them.  Respect them, treat them with the dignity that every human being has the right too. 

I will grant you that love is something of an emotion, it can be.  I would contend that love is an action.  Love gets kids up, fed and off to school and is there for them.  Love looks after those that aren’t able to take care of themselves.

Love is an action.  Love requires sacrifice.  I don’t think you can love someone or something that you don’t spend any time with.  The same is truth for our God.  The more you understand God, the more spiritual you become, the greater you should be able to love.

 

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

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Give to God the things that belong to God…


In today’s reading two groups that were normally opposed to each other come together in an effort to trap a poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus.  The Pharisees I have talked often about. 

They were the religious leaders of the day.  They studied scripture, laws and customs and were quick to point out the transgressions of other with little awareness of their own sin.

The Herodians are presumed to be followers of Herod Antipas, the Roman leader.  The Herodians were a political group, not a religious one.  Acting as an extension of the Roman government.

Political and religious groups jockeying for position is as common today as it was in Christ’s day.  Israel was essentially a colony of the Roman Empire.  The Jewish people paid a tax to the Roman government that probably went to fund the Roman troops, guards and governor that occupied their country.

There was much bitterness over paying this.  Life was hard.  Large families in a rural society mean long hours of work on the farm, planting crops, tending livestock and praying for God’s provision.

How many of you hear today enjoy paying taxes?  How many of you celebrate when you property tax comes due?  Or when you buy a vehicle, only to be assessed several hundred dollars more….

I do not enjoy paying taxes, but it is the duty of a citizen of this country to help pay their share.  I don’t build the roads and bridges I drive on, plow snow from them or home school my children.

The Pharisees and Herodians approach Christ, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.

They flatter Christ and try to butter him up.  Teacher we know that you are a good guy, you are the man, you don’t show favorites and are abundantly fair.  They patronize him for what is coming next.

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” they ask him.  Should we pay the Roman tax? 

Keep in mind that we have religious leaders that oppose the Romans peacefully and an extension of the Roman government present.  Here is how this is a trap.

If Christ says yes if it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor then he would be seen as sympathizing with the Romans and betraying his own Jewish people.  A yes would give the Pharisees something to run with and undermine Christ’s credibility.

If he says no, it is not lawful to pay tax to the emperor then he could be accused of treason, sedition and be subject to the brutality that the Romans were famous for.

Further, endorsing the Herodian position, their tax and the currency used which hinted at the divinity of the Caesar.  How is Christ to do……….We’ve all been in a position where our choice was the lesser of two evils.

What does Christ do……..How does he find a way out of this well played trap? 

Christ did what he always does.  He saw the condition of the hearts of the men that were questioning him.  He knows the condition of the heart of each of us here today and all those that are not here.

He sees through the deceit, the trickery and the trap.  “Why are you putting me to the test you hypocrites?’ he asks.  Show me the coin used for the tax.

The group brought him a denarius.  The denarius spoke of both Romans oppression and blasphemy.  Farmer’s harvest were taxed, Jewish possessions were taxed.  A denarius was the usual wage for a day’s worth of work.

“Whose head is this and whose title?” Christ asks.  It is the emperor of course, the Caesar.  “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s.”

Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God the things that belong to God.  Fulfill your obligations as working law-abiding citizens to you government, whether you approve of it or not.  Like it or not, it is the obligation and duty of every person.

Give to the government the things that bear the image of the government and its leaders and those that have done great things for their country, but give to God the things that bear the image of God.

So, where is the image of God found, who or what bears it…………Each of us do.  Every human being in every corner of the world does.  All of humankind was made in his image. 

It is us, ourselves, our being, our lives that we are to give to God.  But, do we do that?  Do we trust in God enough to do that?  Do we trust in God at all?

As Christians we have both earthly and heavenly responsibilities.  We are responsible to support our families, to be good parents to our children.  Nurturing and supporting them as them grow.  To respect our parents and elders. 

To work, pay our own way, our fair share.  To be responsible stewards of all that God has given us.  We have heavenly responsibilities as well.  A level of detachment has to exist in our lives.

We have to be able to detach from busy lives and spend time with our God.  We have to separate the wants of the flesh from the life of the spirit.  The wants of the flesh are overwhelming and can only be tamed by the spirit.

You are all probably familiar with the scripture in Matthew 25 – I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me.

Heavenly responsibilities.  Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and give to God what belongs to God.  Christ reasserts God’s ownership, sovereignty and rule.  A God so powerful, yet peaceful, fierce, but loving.

So peaceful and loving that he allows each of us to choose what do to with him.  We might complain how much tax we have to pay and how poorly those dollars are put to work sometime.  Roads full of potholes, spending large amounts of money on things we don’t think are needed.

I’m sure you’ve thought about this……You know how lucky we are to live as freely as we do.  There are people, many people, that live in danger for worshipping our God.  Many people in this world don’t have the freedoms that we have.

Give to the emperor what bears his image and give to God what bears his.  We have to find a balance between our obligations here on earth while fulfilling our obligations to God. 

We are to be about the work of the church.  When I say that I’m not talking about the self-preservation of the church.  I’m talking about growing and investing in people.  In relationships with one other, about being a deep group of people with purpose and vision.

Praying for guidance for this community of believers and how we can better reach people.  Better serve people.  Easy their suffering and bring them closer to God.

Give to the emperor, give to our government the things that belong to it and give to God the things that belong to God.

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

How do you want to be remembered?


 

Repentance
Repentance

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

How do you want to be remembered?  We have to accept that death is a part of this life.  Not to be feared, but to be a celebration of this life and the life to come.  From a jail cell, Paul wrote, “For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  The person you were before coming to faith is gone and you have been born again.  When that happen, life changes.

Lives that burned for the things of this world are transformed into selfless lives of service.  Things are seen for what they are.  They have functional value and it’s nice to have nice things, but not at the expense of being able to do for others or finding your self-worth in them.

We don’t remember people for what the took — we remember people for what they gave.  How do you want to be remembered?

 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

Authority.


 

God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14
God can do a lot with Little Judges 6:14

 

I mentioned last week that we are near the end of Christ’s life in the book of Matthew.  He had made his triumphal return to the city of Jerusalem for the last time.  He had been hailed as a king, “Hosanna, Hosanna, in the highest!”

His relationship with the high priests, those that studied and were experts on religious custom and the law was contentious prior to his arrival in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, a time of celebration for the Jewish people.

The people hailed him as a king when he entered the city.  Then Christ had the audacity to go to the temple and drive out those who were selling animals to be sacrificed in the temple.  Jewish people traveled from great distance to celebrate, worship and offer a sacrifice to their God.

Those that did the commerce in the temple took a little for themselves.  Let us exploit these travelers, these pilgrims.  Christ kept reversing the norm and upsetting those that took advantage of others. 

In today’s scripture, Christ enters the temple again, the very same place where he had just run those trying to make a profit.  He was teaching and preaching.

Those religions leaders I spoke of have had enough of him.  They approach him and ask, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Why do you keep upsetting us, why are we the butt of these riddles you speak of, why do you keep exposing us?  That is what I think is going through their minds.  What gives you the right, who do you think you are?

To their defense not many people knew Christ’s true identity.  He didn’t flaunt it around, instead he kept it a secret oftentimes. 

Knowing that they were out to get him Christ responded to their question with a question, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

Where did John the Baptist get his authority?  It was granted to him by our God of course.  He was called to be the voice out in the wilderness, paving the way for his cousin, Jesus the Messiah.  John the Baptist was wildly popular and had disciples of his own.

After discussing this among themselves, the chief priests, elders and scribes respond, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘why then did you not believe him?’  But if we say, ‘of human origin, we are afraid of the crowd for all regard John as a prophet.” 

“We don’t know.”  That was their answer, we don’t know.  Christ answered them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Discovering who Christ truly is should be central to our lives.  We should want the answer to the question that was posed…..Oh that’s easy, Christ is God’s son, he’s part of the trinity that many don’t fully understand, there is your answer.

That is a correct, but dangerously superficial answer.  The Christian journey is a life-long adventure into finding the truth in our own lives.  That search for truth always points us in the direction of our God. 

You know, I read this week’s scripture early this week and I was sure that I was going to struggle with it.  So I read it again and I was still sure I was going to labor with this reading from Matthew because the meaning within it wasn’t obvious to me.

I would like to think I can read scripture and know pretty quick what direction I’m going to go with it.  That wasn’t the case with this in spite of the fact that my bible titles this encounter, “The Authority of Jesus Questioned.”

It was questioned during his lifetime.  It is questioned now.  Does God exist, can you see the work of his hand in this world, can you see the work of his people? 

I like to think that I stick to the scripture, but I got to thinking about authority when I was struggling with this scripture. 

Authority.  Was it important to respect and obey your parents growing up?  Of course it was, we didn’t always do it, but they are our parents and they are an authority figure.

Did, or are, you supposed to listen to your teachers?  Your coaches?  To those in law enforcement, your doctor, your attorney, your parole officer – if you have one and maybe even your pastor….Why……

Because each is an authority figure and each has power and influence and hopefully they know what they are doing.  Our God is the ultimate authority figure, to whom we will have to give an account of our deeds someday.

Authority figures give us advise, they look out for our best interest and they tell us what to do and that is where things don’t go so good.  How many of you like to be told what to do?  How many of you didn’t do something because someone told you to do it?

All of us have probably done that.  We like to have options, make our own choices, I don’t like being ordered to do something.  It seems like we live in a time where authority figures are questioned, judged and blamed.

It’s not my child’s fault, the fault lies with the teacher, with the coach, the principal or whoever it was that tried to provide something that looked like discipline. 

We desperately need authority in our lives.  We depend on it.  We need leaders within our church, our school our community that have the courage to step up and lead in spite of the insults hurled at them.

We depend on authority, we need it, we have to have it.  We depend and are reliant on Christ’s authority.  If Christ is not God’s son, if he did not die on a cross and was resurrected three days later we are all wasting our time.  You should have slept in this morning and you certainly should not be paying me to preach to you.

We would be random people living random lives that made little sense.  I would rather believe that I am wonderfully made than I descended from an ape or caveman. 

We need to respect and honor our God’s authority, we need to listen for his voice, for his guidance and direction.  Once we hear it, once we make time to listen for it.  He has a calling for each of us.

Doesn’t mean it is to be a minister, a missionary or a monk or a nun.  We have to take the courage to answer that call, to submit to that authority. 

I think that is what authority is.  We minded our parents, for the most part hopefully, and submitted to what they wanted us to do because they had our best interest in mind in trying to teach us and mold us into hard-working, law-abiding citizens.

Teachers, coaches, family and friends have played the same role in our lives.  It is no different with our God.  

He has looked after and cared for us when we turned our back on him.  We’ve had to endure and suffer and we didn’t like it, it was awful.  But did it make us better?  Did it allow us to be grateful and feel blessed for all that we did have? 

The authority of our God, in three persons, is absolute and pure.  The bible is God’s word, his letter to each of us, it is how he reveals himself in the written word.  It has authority.  Let us honor our God who works tirelessly to bring us closer to him. 

Pastor Shawn, Seymour UMC

Author of Incomplete

http://www.incompletedevotional.com

Forgiveness….


Word of God
Word of God

The parable of the unforgiving servant.  This parable is pretty straight forward and applicable to today’s world.  Like the servant in today’s scripture we are to forgive as we have been forgiven.  All day, every day.

Forgiveness, the amazing power that forgiveness possesses, it frees both the offender and the offended.  It breaks the shackles and chains of resentment, grudges and bitterness.  With such tremendous power, forgiveness should be our number one option, our go to when needed, right?

It doesn’t seem to work that way does it?  When we are injured, our feelings get hurt or some event brings to light those things that we are insecure about – are we quick to forgive…..or are we quick to retaliate?

You’ve heard me tell you I’m a hypocrite before right?  When reading scripture or preparing a sermon I often times get exposed for my own behavior, for my own sin, for my unwillingness at times to forgive.

Sometimes we like to own those offenses, they become a badge of honor to tell others about and plot revenge.  Do you know what such and such did to me?  Can you believe that? 

I’ll tell you something I don’t get mad, I get even.  Ever had that phrase go through your mind and off your lips?  In our broken, human form revenge, retaliation, emotion and anger move us toward retribution.

But why would we want to hang onto such ugliness?  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Those looking for scripture to support their case for revenge often cite that passage.

The message that Christ brought almost always turns human motive and cultural norms and expectations 180 degrees.  Completely reverses what was to be expected.

You must be last in order to be first, those that are humble will be exalted.  This passage is no different.  The disciple Peter approaches Christ and asks him this question, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  As many as seven times?

Seven times seems like enough doesn’t it?  Seven slams, seven sarcastic remarks, seven times you make me mad, seven times you injure me verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually and I will forgive.  But the eighth time, you’re mine.

I don’t know where Peter got that number, but it caused me to think and reflect.  If you get beyond those that you live with, spouse, children, family and close friends.  If someone made you mad seven times how much time would you be spending with them?

Probably not a whole lot.  I would be avoiding them as much as possible.  I have a lot of work to do on this forgiveness thing.

Christ responds to Peter’s question of is seven times enough to forgive, “Not seven times, but 77 times.”  I read another translation that said 70 times 7.  Are you kidding, at least 77 and as many as 490 times?

As much as them seems to be I look at those married couples that have been together for decades, some for half a century or longer.  Do you think that forgiveness has been part of their story?

I think that it would have to be.  The inability to forgive leads to bitterness.  Is it enjoyable to be around someone that is bitter?  Our existence was not made to be heavy and burdensome with the weight of every slight one has ever encountered.

Our existence is meant to be light and joyful, full of compassion with hearts willing to forgive.  The granting of forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.  It can be done in person or in prayer.

After telling Peter how many times he would have to forgive he speaks the parable of the unforgiving servant.  “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  One that owed 10,000 talents was brought to him.” 

A talent is a measurement of weight, it is approximately 130 pounds of what was probably a precious metal or something of value.  10,000 talents is equal to 1.3 million pounds of gold, silver or some other valuable commodity.  1.3 million pounds.

It was more than a lifetime of debt, a debt that could not be repaid.  The servant that owed this amount was well aware that he couldn’t pay it and when the king ordered that he, his wife and children and all their possession be sold to pay it, he begged for patience, he begged for forgiveness.

And what did the king that was owed this extraordinary amount of money do?  He forgave it.  Just like that….You know the bible is rich with symbolism, who do you think that the king in this scripture is?

……It is the God we serve, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king that paid the ransom for those who could not pay it.  Who sent his son to die in their place.  A king that opened the treasure chest of grace and shared it with all and it pleased him to do so.

The servant fell in front of the king and begged not to be sold into slavery.  The kind of slavery that carrying grudges and resentments bring.  The king said that I forgive you of everything, all of it.

As the parable continues the servant that had been forgiven of a mountain of debt, whose family had been spared from being split up and sold into slavery, turns to another servant who owes him a fraction of the debt that he just had cancelled and seizes him by the throat and demands payment.

This servant got down on his hands and knees and pleads for more time, pleads for forgiveness.  The man that had been forgiven of so much refused to forgive a far smaller debt and had him thrown into prison until he could pay the debt he owed.

Very ironic that given the blessing, the good fortune that was extended that he couldn’t extend even a fraction to someone else.  Any guesses on who the unforgiving servant is in this parable…….

I’m afraid that it has been each one of us at some point in our life.  I know it has been me, I suspect it has been you.  It has been anyone that has withheld forgiveness in spite of how much they have been forgiven.

We have all been hurt, injured, slighted, talked about, gossiped about or made fun of at some point in our life.  We have to let those things go, we can’t control what other people do, we can only control our response to such things.

Word got back to the king of what had taken place.  The servant that had been forgiven of a lifetime of debt was summoned to appear before him.  “You wicked slave!” he says, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  Should you not have mercy on your fellow man, as I had mercy on you?”

In his anger the king handed over the unforgiving servant to be tortured until he could pay his entire debt.  Christ would end the parable with this word of warning, “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

An unwillingness to forgive not only haunts us in this life, but in the one to come.  Hard hearts, hearts of those whose lives are painfully difficult have to be soften by coming to faith, by knowing the healing power of our God.

We are called to set the example, to live lives full of grace, mercy and compassion to be an example, to witness to those that are distant from God.  To show a willingness to forgive as our Father in heaven has forgiven us.

 

Pastor Shawn LaRue, Seymour UMC
Author of Incomplete