Archive for August, 2015

Aug 30th, 2015

Such Righteous Decrees
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 30, 2015

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Psalm 15

All our Bible readings this morning speak of doing good deeds, and of not doing what is bad. There is a payoff for this. Psalm 15 says that if we do these things, we will be close to God,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
What this Psalm says, is that when we do what is right, we will dwell on God’s holy hill and travel in God’s tent. This is a symbolic way of saying that we will be close to God when we do what is right. The tent referred to is the tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them in their wanderings. God was thought to dwell in the tabernacle. And the holy hill is Mount Zion, where the temple built by Solomon stood. The temple and the tabernacle were the most holy places to the Israelites. The temple and the tabernacle represented God’s presence in the midst of the people of Israel. The temple and tabernacle meant God Himself.
The tabernacle was in the centre of the camp when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. And the Temple was the focal point of the holy city Jerusalem. So God was physically near the Israelites in the tabernacle and temple. But God was also near to them in prayer. Deuteronomy says,
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us when we pray to him? (4:8)
The same is true for us, even today. Jesus is always near to us whether we pray or not! The only distance between us and God is when we throw up blocks between God and ourselves. But God never draws away. It is we who distance ourselves from God by doing bad things. It is a paradox. God is always intimately near to us, but we don’t feel God’s presence when we distance ourselves. It feels as if we were distant, but it is never the case that we are distant. I think of that reassuring Psalm,
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee (Psalm 139:7-12).
But for us to feel God’s love and presence, we need to clear our thoughts and hearts. This is what Jesus is talking about in Mark 7. The Pharisees ask why Jesus and His disciples do not follow kosher purity rituals when they eat. The Pharisees had a practice of ceremonial washing before they eat, and also they ate only certain foods. Also food was prepared in a special way to keep all diary food separate from meat.
Jesus calls these rituals “traditions of men”–not commands of God. Jesus probably has in mind the passage from Deuteronomy 4 that we heard this morning.
Do not add to what I am commanding you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (4:2).
Jesus lifts our thinking above rituals and calls our attention to what is in our hearts. He tells us that it is not the food that comes into us that makes us clean or impure. Rather, it is what comes out of us, from our hearts.
Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean” (Mark 7:15-16).
This teaching is timeless. We don’t have anyone telling us to follow kosher laws, since we are in a Christian environment. But Jesus’ teachings are just as true for us as they were in the first century A.D. Jesus gives us a list of what kinds of things make a person unclean.
Out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean” (Mark 4:21-23).
These evils deeds are the things that distance us from God. For when we are involved in these things, we remove our consciousness from the source of everything that is good.
Paul has a similar list of evils that come out of a person’s heart, only it is a little longer. He calls these things, “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). But Paul also gives us a list of good things that can also flow out of our hearts. He calls them “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:19-23).
These are the things that bring us close to God. These are the things that show us to be Christians. In a broader sense, these things, these fruits of the Spirit, show us to be Godly people. This is true for Christians and for Jews, and for every person of faith whatever it may be. People notice these things. And people who are good hearted appreciate these attitudes and behaviors. They like being around believers who practice these principles, whether they themselves are believers of not. Moses tells the people of Israel to practice the laws that God has given them as a witness to the nations around them,
Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. . . . What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today’ (Deuteronomy 4:6, 8).
Acting in the best way we know how; following the laws of right behavior that we have learned; loving God and our neighbor will make us children of God and bring us nearer my God to thee. As the Psalmist says,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
That will be us, making our way through life covered by God’s holy tent and living on Zion in our hearts. Though we may never attain it, we can still strive to walk blamelessly and do what is right.

PRAYER

Lord, you are near us when we pray. In fact, you are always near us, you are closer to us than our own parents, children and friends. It is we who put distance between us when we wander from your teachings. But even then, you are with us. The distance we seem to put between us is only an appearance. You are intimately close to every soul that lives in this world or in the next. As the Psalm says,

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me (139).

Thank you for your continued presence. Stay with us in this world until we join with you forever in the next.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Aug 16th, 2015

As for Me and My House
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 16, 2015

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, 25-28 John 6:56-69 Psalm 34

The passage from John this morning is touching to me. We see people leaving Jesus. Then we have those poignant words Jesus asks His very disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” But speaking for all the twelve, Peter says powerful words in response,
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that you are the Holy One of God (John6:68).
I take two themes from this statement. First there is the issue of Jesus words. Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John6:63). Peter affirms this when he says, “You have the words of eternal life.” This means that Jesus’ words are powerful and give eternal life. These statements point to Jesus’ teachings as the power for eternal life. Then there is the second message from the words of Peter. This is a really difficult idea for some. Peter calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God.” The term “Holy One” is a very specific term from the Old Testament. In many, many passages, the Old Testament speaks of The Holy One. And in those passages, The Holy One is Yahweh Himself. I will cite 22 of those passages here:
Daniel 4:10, 13; Habakkuk 3:3; Isaiah 1:4; 5:19; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30: 11, 12; 41:16; 43:3, 11, 14, 15; (here the Holy One is also called “your Savior,” vs. 3, 11; and “your Redeemer,” vs. 14 ); 47:4 (where Holy One is called “your Redeemer”); 48:41; 49:7; 54:5 (“your Redeemer”) Psalm 78:41; Jeremiah 51:5; and in other places.
Luke also uses this term for Jesus when His birth is prophesied. In that Gospel, we find Gabriel telling Mary, “The Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). So Jesus, as “the Holy One” is none other than Jehovah God in human form.
This idea of Jesus as God in the flesh is difficult for many people. This is the reason why many Jews deserted Jesus. In our story for this morning, Jesus claims that He is the bread that came down from heaven. This means that Jesus is Divine. And Jesus said these things in a synagogue. This means that by saying these words, Jesus is no longer just another rabbi. It means that Jesus is God in the flesh. This is what caused many of the Jews to fall away. John tells us that,
At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’” (John 6:41-42)
The words of Jesus, then, have two points for our consideration. First, that His teachings give eternal life. Second, that Jesus is God in the flesh.
It’s interesting how people react to these two points. Many of the people I talk to, believers or non-believers like the words that Jesus speaks. That is, they agree that Jesus’ teachings are beautiful and that a person would do well to follow them. I would agree that it is Jesus’ teachings that matter most. What makes a Christian is not so much what he or she thinks about Jesus, but rather the way a person lives. Robert Frost said it so well,
If you would learn the way a man feels about God, don’t ask him to put a name on himself. All that is said with names is soon not enough.
If you would have out the way a man feels about God, watch his life, hear his words (Edward Connery Lathem 1967. Interviews with Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 149).
I concur completely with Frost. Don’t ask people to put a name on themselves. I know Sikhs who are as Christian as I could hope to be. And I have known Christian who don’t impress me with the way they go about their business. It is how a person lives that matters. It is how a person responds to Jesus’ words that matter. And if one finds Jesus’ words spoken by some other prophet or sage, it matters not. What does matter is how a person relates to those words and how a person lives them in their daily life.
Now we come to a very curious phenomenon. That is how we view Jesus the Person. Many westerners have a hard time with the idea of Jesus as a Divine Human. Likewise there are leading Bible scholars who doubt that Jesus actually rose from the grave. But what I find curious is that Buddhists and Muslims have no problem with Jesus’ resurrection. It is a prominent doctrine in Muslim writings that Jesus was both born of a virgin and that He rose from the grave. And I was just reading a book of interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama said that a Buddhist would have no problem believing that Jesus rose from the grave. Furthermore, there are Buddhists who see Jesus as one of their celestial demi-gods called bodhisattvas. So even to a Buddhist, Jesus is a special kind of being.
So I think about the words of Joshua. Joshua is talking to the Israelites about which God to serve. I think of Joshua because Jesus is also talking about which God to serve. Joshua takes seriously the idea that there are other gods in the region of Palestine and Mesopotamia. Joshua lays it before the Israelites,
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living (Joshua 24:14-15).
So Joshua lays out a choice before the Israelites–whom will they serve. Then Joshua says a line that I love, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (24:15). Joshua is basically saying that it is up to every individual to serve whichever God fits them best. But Joshua makes a stand and declares that his God is Yahweh.
That is how I view my Christianity. As for me and my house, we will follow Jesus. This church is open to every person’s free decision which God to follow and how to conceive of God. But we also have our ideas about God. We see God as the Divine Human Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, that is how we see God. But we accept and welcome varieties and diversities in the way a person conceives of God. Due probably to my upbringing and my education, I find that this church’s doctrines about God make the most sense to me. I have shopped around and come back home to the church I was raised in. Thinking of God as the Divine Human Jesus Christ simplifies all the complexities surrounding the trinity. The history of Christianity can well be considered a history of trying to figure out the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think John says it all. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57). Jesus has life from the Father living in Him and we have life from Jesus dwelling in us.
So we live when we feed on Jesus’ wisdom. We live because of the words Jesus spoke. Taking them to heart gives us spiritual life. Believing that Jesus is God will not by itself save a person. As Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” As for me and my house, we believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God, spoken of by the prophets. And we believe that His words, coming as they do from heaven, give eternal life.

PRAYER

Lord, we praise you this morning for your wonderful words of eternal life. You have taught us the ways that lead to heaven, and to company with you and the angels forever. Your words are Spirit and they are life. If we feed on the teachings you gave us, we will come into your kingdom, whether here on earth or in the life to come. Lord, we know that you are God. We know that you came to earth to save the whole human race. And we are forever grateful that you do save all who call upon your name.

And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. Lord, we especially ask that you be with the people of Egypt and of Syria. Comfort those who have been harmed, and pacify the hard hearts of those who use violence to obtain their own will. M may all warring factions find their way to peace.

Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

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He Will Drive No One Away
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 9, 2015

Exodus 16:1-15 John 6:35-51 Psalm 34:1-10

Jesus gives us a comforting promise, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Jesus says further that those who come to Him have eternal life,
I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:48-51).
How comforting that is. Jesus will drive no one away who comes to Him, and those who come to Him have eternal life.
We use portions of John’s Gospel in our communion service. In particular we use this section from John, when Jesus calls Himself the bread of life. We cite John 6:35: “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
How can Jesus give eternal life? There are several verses in this John passage, and elsewhere in John, where it is clear that Jesus is God. Or at least, Jesus has powers that had been attributed to God.
To ease into this idea, let’s look at the passages that say Jesus has God’s power. Jesus says that He came to do the will of the Father, not His own will, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38). This suggests that Jesus is acting as God, since He is doing God’s will. Again,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:19-20).
So Jesus is doing what He sees the Father doing. The two are one in action. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says about Himself, “On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (6:27). Jesus says that He lives because of the Father and we live because of Jesus, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (6:57). Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that God has given Him God’s power to judge. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son” (5:22). As God gives life, so does Jesus,
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will (5:21).
We are to revere Jesus just as we would God, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (5:23). Finally, Jesus has life in Himself, as does God. This appears to make Jesus equal to God, as there can be only one life in itself, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (5:26). Jesus calls God his Father, “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (6:40). So far, one could read these verses and conclude that Jesus and the Father are two very closely related beings.
But there are a couple of verses that make the startling claim that Jesus is God. For instance, Verse 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (5:46). Moses wrote only about God’s relationship with humanity. There is no mention of the Messiah in Moses–only God. So how can Jesus say that Moses wrote about Him? That can only be true if Jesus is God. Jesus makes this explicit in John 6:45, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God’” (6:45). This means that Jesus, who is doing the teaching, is God.
This is a sticking point for many people. Many see Jesus as a great teacher. Many see Jesus as a great prophet. But some find it hard to see Jesus as the Word made flesh, God in human form. The Jews of Jesus’ day refused to see Jesus as divine. They knew Mary and Joseph, and think that Joseph is Jesus’ father,
Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven? (John 6:42).
This is what makes Christianity different from other religions. We believe that this kind, healing, patient, loving God, our Lord Jesus is our Savior. Even if there is still a heavenly Father besides Jesus, it is this loving Jesus who saves us. We have seen so many scriptures that say Jesus is the one who judges, who gives eternal life, who is the true shepherd. And this loving Jesus will turn no one away who comes to Him, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
The question of belief and good deeds comes up in relation to Jesus as Savior. In John 6 there is a lot of talk about believing in Jesus. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (6:40). “He who believes has eternal life” (6:47).
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (6:28-29).
That sounds like easy work. And it is not surprising that many Christians would like to end the discussion at that. But there are other verses that say our deeds matter, too.
A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29).
This passage clearly states that our deeds determine whether we are condemned or whether we will inherit eternal life. And John 3:19-21 agrees with this passage–belief and deeds both matter,
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (3:19-21).
This is a clear statement that deeds matter as much as does belief. And this passage follows that one verse that Evangelical Christians emphasize so strongly, namely, John 3:15:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15).
My Bible is published by an Evangelical company, and I was amused to read a footnote about this John 3:15 passage. The publishers appear to want to do away with John 3:19-21. The footnote is tricky, and if not read carefully can be misleading. The note reads, “Some interpreters end the quotation after verse 15.” Many Christians would like to read only verse 15 about salvation by belief only. The quote doesn’t say that reliable manuscripts end at verse 15. Nor does the footnote say that translators end the passage at verse 15. It says only that some interpreters end the quotation at verse 15. Indeed.
Evangelical Christians would like to end the quote with that verse about belief. But John says that deeds do matter. The passage above says that those whose deeds are wrought in God turn toward the light. And the passage from chapter 5 says that “those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
It would appear that believing in Jesus and living a good life is what John tells us to do to inherit eternal life. If we turn to the light, if we come to Jesus, we will live. Turning to Jesus means following Jesus. It means following Jesus’ teachings. It means following the life Jesus demonstrated.
Thinking of God as Jesus is a very welcoming image to me. Jesus is not a judging, wrathful being in the clouds. He is a humble, human, forgiving, healing God who walks in earthly dust. This is the God who will not drive away anyone, not anyone, who comes to Him.

PRAYER

Lord, you have promised that you are always with us–even to the end of the age. And you have promised that you will never turn away anyone who comes to you. We know that you never stop in your efforts to save and regenerate us. And you are continually putting before us opportunities to let our light shine as your disciples and your children. We thank you for your love. We praise you for your holiness. We worship you for your omnipotence. You have all power to save us and we ask you into our hearts this morning and always. For when you are in our hearts we are in heaven and in heavenly joy. We are grateful that there is no where that we can hide from you. For wherever we are, you can come to us and lift us up to you and your kingdom. Thanks be to you.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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