Service of Remembrance

Patricia Anne Feeback

August 27, 1939 – July 2, 2018

Word of Grace Jesus once said, I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me even though they die yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live you shall live. 

Greeting Friends, we have gathered here to praise God and to witness to our faith as we celebrate the life of Patricia Anne Sharp Feeback. We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss and our own frailty. May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope, and in death resurrection.

Gathering Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restored our life. Christ will come again in glory. Patricia Anne Sharp Feeback was baptized as a child at Rockholds First Baptist Church in Whitley County, Kentucky, and a member of Burgin Baptist Church. As in baptism Pat put on Christ, so in Christ may Pat be clothed with glory. Here and now, dear friends, we who profess Christ are God’s children. What we shall be has not yet been revealed, but we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Those who have this hope purify themselves as Christ is pure. Lord Jesus, give us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may see the light of eternity shine ever more brightly than we ever imagined. O Lord, hear our prayers through the words of our song.

Congregational Hymn “Old Rugged Cross” with Skylar Bailey 

Prayer Eternal God, we praise you for the great company of all those who have finished their course of faith and now rest in your arms. We praise you for those whom you have held in our hearts that have now gone on before us. Out of the depths of sorrow we have cried to you, O Lord. Let your ear be attentive to our needs. Lord, if all our sins were counted against us, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you. Our souls wait for you as we put our trust in your unending love and faithfulness to you. And as he taught us, so now we pray together the words he taught his disciples…

The Lord’s Prayer

Scripture “Our Shepherd’s Song” Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anoints my head with oil. My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Message Pat’s all that and a Bag of Chips…

Reading of the Obituary & Prayer Donna Dunn-Linton

Congregational Hymn “Amazing Grace” with Skylar Bailey

Commendation & Prayer God of us all, your love never ends. When all else fails, you are still our God. We pray to you for one another in our need, and for all, anywhere, who mourn with us this day. To those who doubt, give light, to those who are weak, strength, to all who have sinned, shed your mercy, to all who are in sorrow, your peace and comfort. O God, all that you have given us is yours. As first you gave Patricia Anne Feeback to us, now we give your child back to you. Receive Pat into your merciful arms. O Merciful Savior, we commend your child Pat into your capable hands. Receive your child into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the company of saints who sing your praises. God of love, we thank you for all you have given us. Above all else we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ. May God Almighty grant each one of us eternal life that one day we will see each other again in Heaven. May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with each of us always. Amen. 

Dismissal with Video “Let Us Remember When”

Graveside Service

Gathering As we gather round I have to share a story with you. As I traveled here from Maysville yesterday I passed two funeral processions that really touched my heart, and I was in deep prayer for you all. I asked the Lord for reassurance of Pat’s final resting place and the Lord answered me immediately Psalm 27.1. And, he gave it to me again later in the day as well. Hear these words, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – whom shall I be afraid?” Rest assured, dear family and friends, God answers us when we pray and God assures us of our salvation when we call upon his name. We put complete confidence in what God has done for us when we accept the gift of salvation. Let us pray. 

Prayer God of love, we thank you for all with which you have blessed us even to this day: for the gift of joy in days of health and strength and for the gifts of your abiding presence and promise in days of pain and grief. We praise you for home and friends, and for our baptism and place in your Church with all who have faithfully lived and died. Above all else we thank you for Jesus, who knew our griefs, who died our death and rose for our sake, and who lives and prays for us. 

Scripture “No More Tears” Rev. 21.1-7 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

Committal Friends, we will not all die, but we will be changed from glory to glory. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?’ Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior (1 Cor. 15). By God’s great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope (1 Pet. 1.3-9). Almighty God, into your hands we commend your child Patricia Anne Feeback in confident hope of eternal life. This body we commit to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Blessed are all who die in the Lord.

Words of Remembrance “Hidden from our Sight” Acts 1.9-11 When Jesus was at the end of his time on this earth his resurrected body was called home. In the sight of all his friends and family Jesus was taken up into heaven and it seemed that all they could do was to stand in amazement of having lost their beloved friend. Suddenly in the midst of their astonishment “men dressed in white” stood with them… God’s heavenly forces came to remind them that this is but a temporary separation. One day they would see him again. One day Jesus will return and with all the celebration of a grand party he will make his entrance and take his bride home. Oh, how we long for that day when Jesus will reunite us with the full glory of our resurrected bodies. 

The Statler Brothers Style “I’ll Fly Away” with Skylar Bailey

Legacy “Paul’s Heavenly Stadium” Hebrews 11-12 Patrician Anne Sharp Feeback has entered into her rest with Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior. She stands with the faithful departed as one who is invited to stand round the thrown of Almighty God singing his praises. By faith we leave this place knowing that in complete confidence in the Gospel message that Jesus Christ is never ashamed of those who call him their own. As we go forth from this place let us turn our attention to the race marked out for us to ensure our place in that Heavenly multitude, and join Pat and David in their heavenly bleachers as they watch over us and cheer us on! Go forth from this place remembering Pat’s legacy of sacrificial giving and knowing that we shall she her again just on the other side of the veil. Keep it simple just like Pat. 

Advertisements

Simply Pat.

Rev. 21.1-7

Heaven. It’s what’s on our mind when we face the death of a loved one. Is heaven for real? We all have our own view of heaven. We sing about it… “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and “When We all Get to Heaven” or the more contemporary songs like Faith Hill’s “There will Come a Day” or Vince Gill’s “Go Up High on that Mountain.” Billy Graham wrote a book entitled “The Heaven Answer Book” and his daughter Anne Graham Lotz wrote “Heaven: My Father’s Home” too. C.S. Lewis composed “The Great Divorce” on heaven and John Bunyan wrote “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” We wonder. We search. We read book. We read the bible. We pray. We let go. Sometimes we find answers that satisfy our longing hearts, and sometimes we just find ourselves waiting. Waiting for answers. But today Pat’s not waiting or wondering any more. She has found her answers. Today there’s no more tears, no more sorrow, no more doctors, no more tests, no more cancer, and no more treatments. It’s simple. She has found her new home. Heaven. 

Simple. It’s a word that has come up time and again to describe Pat over the last few days. Simple. Pat was simple. “S” … She was a Scotch-Irish. “I” … Independent and Stubborn. “M” … Mountain woman from Eastern Kentucky. “P” … Pat was a people person. “L” … She loved life to the fullest. “E” … She was an endless giver of herself. Pat was simply beautiful. Pat was simply the most humble person I have ever met.

I can only speak about Pat from my perspective and your seat might look a little different from mine. She and I had a talk one night and she shared some things with me. I believe she knew Jesus. She explained to me how she understood that she needed a Good Shepherd to lead her home. She understood that Jesus was her inheritance and the forgiver of her sins. She once asked me if I had ever heard of a song that Patsy Cline sang called, “Dear God.” And, I had to admit to her that I had not. And, she just shook her head and laughed, because she knew I was missing out on some really good music. That night she shared with me the lyrics that night. Later I had to go look up the song to catch the meaning of it. It goes like this… I go to church on Sunday the vows that I make I break them on Monday the rest of the week I do as I please then come Sunday morning I pray on my knees. Dear God I know I’m not worthy but I need you so please won’t you hurry and help me turn back from the path I have trod you’ll never be sorry…Dear God. Each day we read in the paper of the carrying on of some of our neighbors we’re sinning and lying and forgetting the faith then we have the nerve to ask is it too late…” Pat understood the need to repent and ask forgiveness, and she knew that Jesus would take away her sins and set her on the right path again. Simple.

Over the years I have watched Pat live out her faith within the confines of her family and her community. She struggled to make sense of organized religion as we all have from time to time – at least I know I have. Yet she surely practiced the biblical principle that Jesus taught his disciples to take up the cross and follow. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus taught the principle twice, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Mt. 10.38) and, Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Mt. 16.24). In Mark’s Gospel Jesus taught, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Mark 8.34). And, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus taught, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9.23). Surely, with all this repetition Jesus was serious about self-denial, at least I think Pat understood this concept pretty well in how she lived her life in humility. I never saw Pat think more highly of herself than she ought. Even in her self-attested independence and stubbornness, she always had a willingness to put others needs ahead of herself. And, that’s what I call simple humility. 

Humility calls us to surrender our lives and our loves for the happiness of someone else. Pat learned to love sports because her husband David loved sports. She cooked and prepared foods because the family enjoyed them so much like banana ice cream. She enjoyed being creative in the kitchen so that her family would enjoy a good meal even when times were tough – like her famous pot roast. Pat would travel to pick-up and develop football film for the coaches review night just because it gave others so much joy. She was willing to go to great lengths for the joy that it gave her husband and others. Pat served her family and friends as Christ Jesus served his church with the joy of a cheerful giver. 

Wherever there is unselfish love to be sure you have witnessed a Christ-like love shed abroad in the heart of another. Paul teaches us the characteristics of Christ-like love in his letter to the Corinthians. Hear these words, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self–seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13.4-8). Pat lived what seemed to be a simple life grounded in biblical principles of sacrificial giving of herself to her family and her community. 

If you came into contact with Pat, she made space for you to become part of her circle of family and friends. She never judged or criticized, she was willing to forgive and forget. And, I have witnessed her graciousness of welcoming you back into the fold when you might of strayed just a little too far off the beaten path. Pat practiced the genealogy of the biblical narratives. If you tried to do right, you were right in her book. You see, God is always adding people to his family tree, and so was Pat. People who didn’t belong before you knew Pat, now belonged in Pat’s circle! The whole bible is filled with stories of new families and new people being grafted into the family of God. And, Pat practiced this kind of biblical genealogy to a fault. You see even the Bailey family became part of the Feeback clan some 30 years ago. 

This year marks my 30th anniversary of being part of the Feeback Family. And, from my EKU bleacher seat I will tell you that Pat is a Proverbs 31 woman. As a young impressionable 19-year-old girl Pat took me under her wing and became a surrogate mother to me. She and David have been role models for sacrificial marriage and parenting. Hear these words, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31.10-12). To be sure Pat was the woman behind the man who loved to mentor and coach young men in football and life across Mercer County at Burgin and Harrodsburg. They truly complimented each other. And, she taught me the value of being the woman who stands behind my family so that each one can simply become all that they can be.

Through Pat’s testimony, I was able to grasp the value of family history and scrapbooking in light of the biblical narrative of historical genealogy. Pat’s lived example of Christ-like humility and sacrificial love helped me to connect the dots of what I wanted to be as wife and mother when I grew up. Her quiet, unassuming role of support and strength for her husband was like a warm blanket on a cold football evening in late November. And, I should know because she shared a many of blankets with me. I remember all of the times we sat in the EKU end zone and in the boxed seats for some 10-years from 1989-2000 enjoying the games together and how easy she and David shared life together.

Over the many years I observed as the Feeback family members struggled through retirements, different jobs, different houses, weddings, pregnancies, birthday parties, and funerals. I could create my own scrapbook of memories for myself! I remember visiting David at the hospital in Harrodsburg after he had a heart attack, and how worried Pat was. Then later visiting the homestead at Christmas and meeting the Basset hound. I remember the move to the ranch house in Burgin. And, Teri buying her house in Harrodsburg and Sandi and Doug living in Danville, Somerset, and now in Tennessee. I could go on and on… Our lives have connected and touched over years and years of just being simply family and friends. Simple.

But my favorite memory was the first time I visited the old farm house and the donkeys were grazing out at the fence along the electric fence line, and Pat had just finished canning salsa. There were tons of beans that were sitting in the mud-room ready to be canned. David and David, Doug and Mike, Pat and Teri were all there, the basset hound – and I think David Sr almost tripped over a cat coming into the house if memory serves me right. And, we sat down around the table and opened a freshly canned jar of salsa with a bag of chips. There we were eating the salsa and chips, but Pat didn’t have a bite. And, I asked Pat why she didn’t eat any salsa and chips. I thought maybe it was because she had snacked on it while she was cooking it like my mom always did – and ruined her appetite. But she looked me dead in the eye just as serious then told me, If I want salsa on a chip, I’d eat a Dorito! Well, my jaw dropped to the floor! We laughed more that night that I can ever remember laughing. That’s what I will miss most about Pat. The simple sound of her giggle, the sight of her toothy grin, and the sparkle in her eye when she really enjoyed a good belly laugh. I’m really going to miss that…

As Teri and I have been talking this week I have come to understand that Pat often gave sacrificially to others her whole life. (And, I thought I was the special one!) Pat never did like salsa. She made salsa for the family faithfully year after year. That makes me giggle with delight… you see because of Pat I enjoy making Mrs. Wages homemade salsa for my family, too! Wouldn’t you know it! She mentored me in canning salsa some 25-years ago – something she never even liked, but did it for the love of another! Folks, that’s Christ-like love. That’s just like Jesus. That’s humility. That’s simply… Pat. 

Pat, I know you’re listening. I just want you to know that… I think You’re all that and a bag of chips! I love you! See you soon!

Animal Service of Remembrance

The Story of Noah’s Ark – Genesis 7-9

Friends, we gather together in our grief, acknowledging our human loss. May God grant us grace that in our pain we may find comfort and in sorrow hope. O God, you know our needs before we ask, give us the grace so that we may not shrink from the mystery of death. Amen.

When we read the Scriptures, we find that the animals of God’s creation inhabited the skies, the earth, and the sea. They shared in the fortunes of the human existences and had a part in human life since the very beginning. God, who confers gifts on all living things, has often used the service of animals or made them reminders of the gifts of salvation. Animals were saved from the flood and afterwards made a part of the covenant with Noah. 

This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God (Gen. 6.9). The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal… (7.1-2). 

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breathe of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in (7.13-16). [The Lord said to Noah] I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth (9.13). 

And, so God made a covenant in such a way that even the animals were spared in the great flood. To be sure God cares deeply for all of creation – even for [Susie]. 

Let us pray… Blessed are you, O Lord God King of the Universe. You created us and placed us on the earth to be stewards of all living things. Just like Adam we have been given the opportunity to nurture, name and raise animals as you have designed since the foundation of the earth. You created the animals and have given us the ability to train them to be our companions. For the sake of our comfort you have given us pets like [Susie]. You have cared for our every need through the gift of our beloved furry friends. And, for the opportunity to love and be loved by our animals we are grateful and praise you for being the wise Creator God that you are. 

Thank you, Lord God, for setting us as stewards over all the creatures of this earth. Lord God, although [Susie] was taken from this earth in an untimely and tragic death, we give her back to your loving care as her Creator, Protector and Sustainer. We trust your grace sustained her in her darkest hour of fear and dread because all of your creation is important to you. Into your hands we commit [Susie] in this mystery of life and death.

At this time grant us the blessed assurance of your presence that we who are anxious and fearful in the face of death may confidently face the future knowing that you were there with [Susie] at her passing and you go before us to be with us at our own end of life. Psalm 23 promises us that you prepare a place before us in the presence of our enemies and you’ve gone ahead of us to ensure that we will have a home waiting for us in glory. There will be no more tears, pain, sorrow, or death. Let us lift our eyes from the shadows of this earthly existence to the light of all eternity knowing that Jesus is waiting there with his arms opened wide where creation has been redeemed and renewed forever more. Amen.

Stars, Heroes, and Thugs

The Gospel of Matthew Sermon Series: Becoming Equipped People

Rededication Theme “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Fresh Start” – Jeremiah 29.11

Matthew 2.1-12

Politics have always been part of the fabric of the Jewish people. From Abraham’s skills at cutting covenants, to Moses in the Egyptian Pharaoh’s household, to Joseph’s being second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, to the role of judges and the establishment of a monarchy, to the promise that King David would always have someone to sit on the throne of his inheritance, and a long succession of good and bad kings across a split nation. Jesus will usher in a political powerhouse that is not of this world – the Kingdom of Heaven. In our story political leaders were blind-sided by the news. King Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed…(troubled, upset, terrified, frightened, stirred up) because they understood that the current political climate was about to be overtaken by new leadership.

Jesus is here to overthrow our political agendas. His Kingdom has come to invade ours. God has always had a political agenda – his plan is to reign over his creation, but he does that not by usurping bad authority but by inviting us to a Wedding Banquet. Jesus comes to take over the throne room of  our hearts and drive out our political scheming. Did you ever wonder why Herod, a Jewish political figure, would feel so threatened by the Messiah?

Israel’s long history of invasions are recorded in the pages of Scripture. When we look at the history of Israel, we can see that the land of the Fertile Crescent was valuable to many people. In fact it was a hot mess, and I’m not talking about the desert atmosphere. Before the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land, Joseph and Moses would influence the Pharaoh of Egypt. From the time the monarchy was established by King David, many other nations would seek to gain a foothold in the land that lies along the Mediterranean Sea. David would fight the Philistines who lived along the coastal areas. Jonah would stand against Ninevah who represented the Hittites and Assyrians to the north. Esther would speak for Israel as Queen of the Medes and Persians. Daniel would have his day in the king’s courts in Babylon.

The Promised Land was surround by nations would want her rich soil to plant their crops. Bandits would eventually lay claim to the ruins of Jericho and the like because the area was such a hot spot. The Kings Highway would run from Assyria in the north to Egypt in the South and Babylon and the Persian-Mede Empire in the East. The magi would come to see Jesus would have much history with the Israelite people. They would not have been strangers to their religious ways or the God of Heaven they served. 

During the thousand years before the Messiah would come, Israel would be governed by good and bad kings. What shaped their leadership was whether or not they would remain faithful to the God of Heaven and his decree not to worship foreign religions. Much of the Old Testament is written to remind the people to remain faithful or return from their wandering ways to the God of Heaven who would protect them and care for them. 

Across the thousand years of history from David’s established monarchy to the Messiah, the religious leaders were both good and bad. Some were there to worship the God of Heaven while others had their own personal agendas. We see in the Prophet Elijah’s day a blend between good and bad. Elijah kills 450 prophets of baal who had taken over the worship services to the king and queen, and we see that Obadiah hides the good prophets in caves to protect them from harm of Israel’s leadership. It seems in our story today that Israel is a conquered people once again. They find themselves governed by a puppet-government from Roman and surrounded by soldiers whose aim was conquest of the people and heavy taxation for Romans glory. When we think about King Herod, history records him as a great builder of cities. Yet, his gifts were not used to promote the true worship, but self-gain. In essence Herod was a bad leader over Israel even though he had incredible gifts and skills that developed cities. This do-it-yourself guy was not interested in any Messianic helper. 

In King Herod’s reign it seems that the religious leaders were waiting for something else – a shepherd. Jesus is here to replace our views of apathetic religious leadership with fresh perspectives of God’s Kingdom Rule and Reign. Jesus came to overcome our passive-aggressive religious responses to the good news of the Son of God. As we read the Gospels, it is easy to understand how corrupt the religious leadership had become as it partnered with Rome. Did you ever wonder why the religious leaders didn’t seek out Jesus?

Into this political and religious climate comes a caravan of wealthy leaders from the east. We don’t know if they are connected to a nation, but we know that they have been heavily influenced by the God of Heaven. These presumably foreigners, magi, were following a star. However, the text notes that these men weren’t looking for the star! But they were following the star to the One that they knew to be the promised King of the Jews (not Israel as a nation, but the people). They knew whom they were looking for – it was the one who has been born king of the Jews! And when they find him they are overjoyed, bowed down, worshipped, opened treasures, and presented gifts the young child. God guides them to the Messiah and protects them to go back home to the east and spread the news!

When I think about this star, several Bible stories come to mind – creation, Abraham’s Covenant with God, Joseph’s dream of becoming a leader, Balaam’s prophecy about the Messiah being a rising star, and the prophecies of the Messiah’s lineage. I am also reminded of how God warned the people not to be star-gazers. What does the scripture mean by not following stars? We do not seek out astrology such as palm reading, fortune telling, and horoscopes to find our fortunes. Our eyes should never gaze on witchcraft kinds of religious activities. The Scriptures teach us that if we do not obey then our numbers will decrease. When we fail to follow God through the reading and discipleship provided in the Bible, and follow our own view of what it means to be a God follower, God promises that our numbers will decrease. 

God created from the very beginning a vast expanse of stars in the sky. 

  • Gen. 1:16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 
  • Psa. 136:9 the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
  • Jer. 31:35 This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar- the LORD Almighty is his name: 

God’s Covenant with Abraham provides the background for the shining star in our story. 

  • Gen. 15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 
  • Gen. 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 
  • Gen. 26:4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,
  • Ex. 32:13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” 
  • Deut. 1:10 The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky. 
  • Deut. 10:22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky. 
  • 1 Chr. 27:23 David did not take the number of the men twenty years old or less, because the LORD had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky.
  • Neh. 9:23 You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. 
  • Jer. 33:22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars in the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.’”
  • Heb. 11:12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 

Joseph dreamed about stars, and those stars represented people – his very own family who would bow down to him. 

  • Gen. 37:9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

God also promised a star would rise from Jacob’s family tree, a prophesy about the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

  • Num. 24:17 [False Prophet Balaam] “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.
  • 2 Pet. 1:19  We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
  • Rev. 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

God warns his people that the vastness of the cosmos can entice us to worship it instead of the God who made it. 

  • Deut. 4:19 And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.
  • Deut. 17:3 and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, 
  • Acts 7:42-43 But God turned away from them and gave them over to the worship of the sun, moon and stars. This agrees with what is written in the book of the prophets: 
  • “‘Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, house of Israel? You have taken up the tabernacle of Molek and the star of your god Rephan, the idols you made to worship. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.

God also warns us that when we do not obey him we will be reduced in number. 

  • Deut. 28:62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 

The most famous star arises when even the pagan worshippers pay homage to the Messiah. 

  • Matt. 2:2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 
  • Matt. 2:7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 
  • Matt. 2:9-10 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 

God invites us today through this passage to reflect on our own worship. When we come together in the name of Jesus on Sunday morning, we come confessing our sins or following our own hearts and minds, following our own politics and emotions, and seeking to discover how we are to live according to what pleases us. When we come together on Sunday mornings we are to come like the Magi from the east, following the bright and morning star – Jesus the Messiah. We come not to seek political gain or do things our own way, but instead we come to be obedient to how God has invited to love and serve him in true worship. Let’s look at the magi again.

They surrendered their time and traveled a great distance. They came to the capital to honor those in political and religious authority. They came with their best gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. When they found what they were looking for …they rejoiced. They were not disappointed in what God had provided. When they came to Jesus they bowed low to worship him as was the custom of the Ancient Middle East. Worship meant humbling coming before God stretched out in the dirt. They worshipped by surrendering their ideas about what God wanted and they surrendered their will to what God desired. And, they opened up their very best gifts and presented them to Jesus. Notice they did not surrender the gifts to the King or the religious leaders… God’s gift was for the Messiah alone.   

Have you come today with your heart aimed at worshipping God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength? True religion begins with surrendering our whole selves to God. We follow the model of Jesus in the garden… “Not my will but Thine be done.”

In our story the Jewish leadership in government and religion had no interest in surrendering their power to God’s plan for a Messiah. King Herod would rather destroy the inheritance of the Jewish people and their hopes and dreams for a Messianic figure. Herod did this by massacring little babies in Bethlehem instead of laying down his personal political power. However, the foreign leaders who traveled day and night to greet this new king of the Jews were willing to bow low in worship and bring gifts, surrendering their personal power to the God of Heaven. How do you handle your personal power?

Across the pages of Israel’s history they have fought the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Hitites, the Amorites, the Jebusites, the Syrians, the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Egyptians, and the list goes on. Abraham spent much of his time cutting covenants and persuading people to live in peace. The people that fought against Israel would often quake with fear of the God of Heaven. Whenever the people were taken captive like Joseph in Egypt, God would make a name for himself through that person. Moses represented God’s interest to Egypt’s Pharaoh. David represented God’s interest when he killed the Philistine giant Goliath. Esther represented God’s people when she put her life on the line to go before King Xerxes to save her people from certain death. Daniel served God in Babylon even unto the threat of death in the lion’s den. We know these people as God’s heroes, but we too are called to be just as daring in our influence for God! Just think that it is because of people like these who influence those in foreign nations where they were placed in exile that the Magi even had any understanding of a Messianic figure – even the false prophet Balaam couldn’t help himself but speak of God’s coming Messiah! How do you handle your personal influence?

Do you ever wonder how you might be impacting the world around you? I wonder and try to live intentionally every day. In 500 years from now will your faith story be of such value to God that others will be able to say that their family tree was impacted by your witness? Will others say this year that “I know more about Jesus because you were  part of my community and my church history”?.

What will they say about you? How does God see you?

Lord God, may we handle our personal power and personal influence to give you glory and honor in all we do and say. Amen. 

A Deeper Journey of Faith

John 15

We have been on a deeper journey through Jesus’ final discourse for several weeks as he makes his way to his passion, death and resurrection in John’s Gospel. 2000 years have passed and this remarkable tale of our Savior remains a quest for scholars to plummet the depths of its wisdom. Throughout Jesus’ testimony of stories, he continually makes statements that offend people. This is yet another opportunity for Jesus to insist on a hard teaching: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branches that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit (15.1-2).” Pruning becomes the catalyst for the production of more fruit, and the gateway to more power in the vine and branches. It is easy for us to become offended with the ideal that we might need to be pruned. We are already in the vine, why on earth would we need to be groomed? We have all we need! 

The journey through John’s Gospel has revealed to me that the language really requires deeper reading that what the surface shows. In the Gospels Jesus is always laying down new commandments that are really expositions of the Old Testament laws. What do I mean by exposition? He is going deeper into the understanding of what God means for us to live not just right with our neighbors but holy. Jesus is restoring us in relationship with our Heavenly Father. In John 13.34 the text reads, “I give you a ‘new commandment:’ Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” And, again in John 15.12, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” 

You might have noticed that the rose bushes have been pruned this spring. When I began to prune, I noticed how deeply diseased the bushes had become and how many dead branches were trapped deep inside the bushes. I wrestled with the vines until I could finally untangle the branches and cut back the dead parts. We had a huge pile of pruned materials that were disposed. After the bushes took so long to grow back, I wondered if I had pruned them too hard. They had grown over 7 foot tall and I pruned them back to about 2 feet tall. During this time I wondered if they would become vulnerable to disease, or if they would bloom. Finally, they began to bud and they were gorgeous in full bloom. Today those same bushes are struggling once again with the need for pruning.  As I have been researching the best time to prune the knock-out-rose bushes. And, it is seems the best time to prune is when they are at rest between the times of summer blooming or late winter/early spring before the beginning of spring foliage https://www.southernliving.com/garden/grumpy-gardener/pruning-knock-out-rose-when-why-and-how). Perhaps that says a lot about us too. Aren’t we best pruned when we are at rest. When we are in full-throttle and producing, it’s not the time to correct our game plan or redirect our behavior. Correction is best offered when the church is in a phase of quiet and rest. Are you in a season of rest? Is the church in a season of rest? Is God pruning during this time?

One of my favorite pastimes is gardening. I’m a big fan of HGTV’s Master Gardner Paul James and his show “Gardening by the Yard.”  Let’s get out our pruning equipment and go to work. John’s testimony is that Jesus is the true vine and we are called to be the branches. The heart of Christianity is mutual indwelling. It is abiding, remaining or the Greek word “μείνατε” (one time event). The text explains that we will have no power “δύναται” (power) to produce fruit in our lives unless we stay connect to the true vine. The text helps us to understand the abiding is a one time deal, and the power that comes to produce the fruit is the power of God flowing through our branch from the true vine. If we act in our own strength, we will not be connected to the power source of the true vine. When we remove ourselves from the power source, we will dry up and die. 

When I was a teenage, I remember my Grandmother taking me out to the garden where her grapevines were producing a bountiful harvest of green grapes on beautiful full vines. When I saw the vines and grapes, I exclaimed how wonderful they were. But to my surprise she grumbled under her breathe, these vines were not pruned this spring and the grapes will be hard and sour. And, sure enough, those grapes were hard and sour. I don’t know if my Grandmother knew much about the value of pruning but I do know that she believed that had she pruned her vines those grapes would have been fewer, larger, and sweeter to the taste.  

Charles Spurgeon preached in his work entitled “The Weeding of the Garden” once said that we are a garden weeded with love and heavily disciplined by God’s intentional hand. Spurgeon understands conversions as by the hand of God that is lasting salvation, all other works of salvation is no salvation at all. True. But, there are points of salvation history that Spurgeon omits in his passionate discourse. He scoffs at the biblical texts that emphasis the importance of raising children in the historical faith, opting for the adult personal response to God’s saving grace. Mr. Spurgeon, even as convinced as he was that he was fully right about salvation and preached every Sunday to 6000 members, I see texts that he missed. 

I love the texts about baby Moses floating down the Nile, young Joshua waiting at the Tent of Meeting, three year old little Samuel sleeping in the Temple, and Jesse’s youngest son David anointed to be King, eight year old Josiah hidden away to one day become the King to restore the Book of the Law, and baby John the Baptist who kicked in his mother’s womb under the anointing of the Holy Ghost! I cannot help but wonder why he missed such rich emphasis on the children (Deut. 6, 1 Sam. 1-3, Ps. 78, 2 Kings 22-23, 2 Chr. 34-35) But the bottomline is … I can agree with Mr. Spurgeon upon his emphasis of importance of God’s hand upon adults who come to salvation. I can celebrate Spurgeon’s part of the Gospel story, although it edits the leadership and discipleship of children out of salvation history. But O what wondrous love Spurgeon had for our God! When we arrive in heaven, we will all fall short.

We need a little humility along the way. Sometimes we act like kinder- “gardeners” on the playground fighting over who gets to go down the sliding board first! We get angry. We get confused. We feel hurt. We sulk. We blame. We pout. We have a pity party. We point fingers. And, God will sit us down in little chairs with our knees touching and our faces glaring at each other until we come to the realization that he loves us equally. He will whisper in our ears, You know what you despise about her, I just love it! You know what gets on your nerves about him, that’s my favorite characteristic! When will we ever learn that God’s just nuts about all us? Even with our flaws glaring, God sees the best in us! That’s why most of God’s time is spent pruning us. 

Jesus made himself nothing (Philippians 2). He modeled for us what it means to put aside our wants, wishes and desires even our right to be right and take up the biblical text. Jesus calls us to turn aside from our pride and empty ourselves and to study the character and nature of Jesus Christ so as to be filled with his grace. We must take the journey through the garden and face the places in us that demand, “Did God really say? Or are you just making that up?” We must together die to our arrogance and self-righteous thinking that divides us rather than brings us together. Thomas a Kempis once said, “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish yourself to be” (Andrew Murray, Humility, 75). The short letter that James wrote packs a lot of wisdom, he writes, “God…gives grace to the humble… humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4.6,10). If you hold on to your right to be right, you will die thinking yourself right but gaining no heavenly reward. 

The teaching of abiding is living in humility. If Jesus came to this life with the full understanding that he would do nothing apart from his Heavenly Father, how much more should we? In John’s writings he makes it clear that Jesus did nothing by himself (John 5.19). Jesus only judged by what he heard from his Heavenly Father (John 5.30). Jesus never sought to please himself (5.30). Jesus never accepted praise from people (5.41). Jesus never came to do his own will, but the will of his Father (6.38). Jesus never taught his own words, but those of his Heavenly Father (7.16). Jesus never did anything by himself, but always worked with his Heavenly Father (8.42). Jesus always sought to bring glory to his Heavenly Father, not to earn a name for himself (8.50). 

Jesus lived a life of complete obedience and absolute surrender. Jesus lived a life on his knees in prayer morning by morning. Jesus understood the fullness of the Scriptures and taught exactly what the Word commanded in connection with what he heard from his Heavenly Father. Jesus understood what it meant to abide, and he teaches us in this passage what it means for us to abide. The pinnacle of Jesus’ life story is his abiding in the forgiveness not of strangers who crucified and denied him but the people whom he knew who were given authority to be his spiritual and political leaders in his community. 

Forgiveness is a critical on-going issue in the life of every Christian disciple. Dr. Harvey Brown, Jr. the president of Impact Ministries and former Army Chaplain writes in his pamphlet “Forgiveness: Finding Freedom from your Past” that, “This overwhelming conviction of sin is a gift from God that draws us toward the Author of life and mercy. … Repentance is so much more than being sorry. It is a decision.” It is, indeed, a decision to draw upon a limitless supply of God’s amazing grace no matter how enormous our debt or how many enemies we have made. Jesus provides for us an account that never runs out. 

Jesus’ command in this text is agape holy love (not friendship philo, sexual eros, or family storge), “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (15.12-14).” Some fifty-five years following the break-through of missionaries in Indonesian tribal culture, the metaphor of the “peace-child” continues to bring salvation to the people of Papua. Not all of Indonesia is Christian but the province of Papua is predominantly Christian based on the work of Don and Carol Richardson in the 1970s with the Sawi community who valued treachery and betrayal as heroic. When told the story of Jesus’ betrayal, Judas became the hero until the Richardson’s discovered a local tradition of the “peace child” offering. In the local communities a father would give his son to his enemy to restore peace and reconciliation. Once the Gospel was explained to the Sawi in their cultural terms, Jesus became the ultimate peace child and the Gospel spread across the Papua region (https://www.mnnonline.org/news/fifty-years-later-peace-child-tribe-still-following-christ/). Are you ready to give up your life as a peace offering like the Sawi people?

Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians, “Of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1.30). We are called to live in Christ Jesus.

We are called to live as a holy and righteous people. In the Old Testament God has laid a foundation of how we live in righteousness according to the Law which we could not fulfill under our own power, but in the New Testament we are called to life in holiness. Jesus Christ has provided the way for us to life in holiness by his blood that satisfied the righteousness required of the Law of Moses. We now live as holy ones united with God as we intentionally stay connected to the source of our holiness that is Christ Jesus.

The first thing that is revealed to us is that we are sinners, and our thoughts and actions are not as they should be. I remember the first time I heard the Lord’s Prayer recited in Sunday School and discussed. The words of that prayer cut to my heart as a seven year old because I knew the difference between right and wrong. No one had to tell me about the secrets being kept in my family tree because sin is easily detected even to a child. It’s only as we become adults that we sweep sin under the rug and hide or declare it a secret. Adam and Eve understood in the garden decisions cost us peace of mind so much so that we too leave our relationship with God in the garden to hide behind bushes. Or perhaps we are like Cain and cover up the dead and pretend. Sin breaks our relationship with God. For those left in the shadow of sin there are two important temptations that must be faced to remain faithful to God: offense and unforgiveness. Of all the obstacles to abiding in God, offense and unforgiveness are the two most common cause of broken fellowship. 

We live in a culture that places the analogy of sports at a level equal to the parables in the Word of God. The problem with this sports analogy being so prevalent in our culture is the underlying desire for winning. That’s what makes laying down our weapons of holding on to unresolved pain so easy – we think we are winning. The only looser in this situation is the one who refuses to let go and forgive. We cannot be guided by a spirit of offense or personal sense of justice, but by the Word of God. If we are making our judgements based on what we believe, then our judgements may be faulty. So how do we live this life of perpetual surrender to God in forgiveness? We must know who we are abiding in and who abides in us! 

Do we know that the Prophet, High Priest, and the King of Israel lives in this tent of a body? Do we know that the Slain Lamb of God resides in this flesh? Are we able to go about our day and deliver the manifest presence of the Blood of Christ as the perpetual forgiveness from within our hearts? Can we live in the place of bowing the knee to the Name of Jesus Christ? Do we know the power of that Name? Have we hidden God’s Word in our Hearts? Do we know that God has written the Torah upon our heart and given us the mind of Christ so that we have a clear conscious? Can we say that we understand the value of the Word and the Spirit of God and the importance of delivering the testimony of Jesus Christ to anyone who comes our way as the plan for salvation of our souls? We are the Temple of God that is designed to worship God night and day to sing his praises, so are we providing space for God to live in us to recreate the image of God within us? Do we know that we are a child of God? Don’t let today pass without seeking God, especially if you don’t know the depth of his abiding grace. Have you forgotten how much God loves you? Have you become discouraged thinking that God isn’t interested in you? God hasn’t fallen asleep… God is still here waiting for you to come home with arms opened wide! Come to the altar of your heart and find peace with God. God is waiting for you. 

The Father’s “Spirit and Image”

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3.16

Let’s enter the story of John 14.

It’s the Festival of Passover. Jesus knows it is time to leave this world. He loved those who were his own. They have eaten a meal together. He has served them by washing their feet. Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, has left the disciples to turn Jesus over to the Sanhedrin. Jesus finds himself self-disclosing the relationship of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as his final speech to his closest friends in the upper room. In the upper room as they lounged over a meal and shared the cup together, Jesus prophesies that One would betray him and others would deny and desert the Son of God. In the distress of his final hours Jesus teaches his most provocative teaching on the coming Holy Spirit. The Son would soon ask the Father to send another helper to teach and re-teach the messages of Jesus. 

John 14.1-4 is about our spiritual place. God has provided a place for his people. In Revelation 20, 21, and 22 John will develop this idea about that place prepared for us more clearly. According to John, the saints will rule with Christ, Satan is defeated, judgment will come, a new heaven and a new earth will emerge. There shall be a new Jerusalem whose Temple is the Lord God Almighty. We believe in that place! That place is where Father, Son and Holy Spirit are our all and all, and we worship them in Spirit and Truth. 

John 14.5-10 is about our spiritual identity. God has provided an identity for his people. They shall inherit his Holy Spirit that will live within them. We will become the perfect image of God just like Jesus is the perfect likeness of his Heavenly Father. “Spitten Image” or “Spitting Image” or “Spit and Image” or “Splitting Image” or “Spirit and Image” means perfect likeness. The phrase originated with the ideal that a child could be so like his parent that they could have spit them out of their mouths. This phase rings of creation as God spoke and created the earth and all that is in it. To be sure Jesus is explaining that he is the “Spirit and Image” – the perfect likeness – of his Heavenly Father. They are of One and the same substance. That identity is our identity, and we are to become the “Spirit and Image” of God. 

John 14.10-14 is about spiritual works. The works that Jesus has accomplished are the proof of his connection with the Father. Even when people do not believe in Jesus, he asserts that the miracles are the proof that they can believe in the Father’s works among them. Jesus inspires his disciples that they will do even greater things. The disciples may ask for anything in Jesus’ name and he will accomplish it. The works of Jesus is our job, and we are to live like Jesus.  

John 14.15-26 is about spiritual provision. Jesus promises that he will send a Companion along side each of us to help us to love him and obey his every word. We are keepers of the word and a place for the Spirit of God to rest upon this earth. God has not left us as spiritual orphans in this world. When we grow daily in our discipleship, we belong to God more now than we ever have.  The provision is ours to behold, and God has given each of us the opportunity to accept this gift of relationship with the Godhead found in the Companion that leads us to love and obey. 

John 14.26 is about God’s promise of spiritual teaching and re-teaching. God promises to be with us – companioning us and advocating for us – providing the teaching and reteaching that our flesh needs. Airline stewards teach us that we are to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first so that we can care for others. Our understanding of the Trinity is like the oxygen we need in an environment that cannot sustain us. The teaching and re-teaching is the work of the Promised Companion, and we are to listen and follow the Companion’s guidance to worshiping in Spirit and Truth. 

John 14.27 is about spiritual peace. Peace refutes the worldly ways of being troubled and afraid. Peace replaces worldly fear. Peace contradicts the world’s ruler. Jesus loves the Father and obeys everything that the Father commands. The true peace we are seeking comes by way of relationship with the Trinity alone, and in the Trinity we find our unity with our brethren.  

Heaven is waiting. We are called to live in the Image and Spirit of God. We are called to love and obey. God has provided us his Companion to teach and reteach us the way, the truth and the life so that we might attain the peace of God within ourselves. We need look no further in the Scriptures that here in this passage to discover the road to eternal life.  

But let’s dig deeper. 

In our passage Jesus declares that he is the way, the truth and the life. If he is the way, shouldn’t we ask the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how is he leading us? In this pericope Jesus’ teaching is clear. Jesus is leading us to the Father for the soul purpose of a relationship with the Father to worship in Spirit and Truth that we might love God with our whole-heart and follow his commands through the indwelling presence of our Companion, the Holy Spirit. Across the pages of John’s writings, he inspires us with the words that Jesus spoke about his Father. Jesus is leading us back to a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. Jesus knows the way. We were meant to be in relationship with the Father, and Jesus has revealed the Father to us. Jesus teaches us that the Father and Jesus are One. There is divine unity. Because Jesus and the Father are one when we ask for whatever, Jesus makes a promise that he and the Father together will hear and answer. It is the first promise in this passage – to answer when we call. This promise comes with stipulations. The passage of promise is followed with a passage of keeping the commandments.The Companion assists the believer in fulfilling the loving God and following Jesus’ commandments. 

Jesus makes two promises. First, the promise to hear and answer us, and second, the promise to send the Companion. The promise that he will send a Companion that will make the relationship with Jesus and the Father possible for all believers to be united with the Trinity. That Companion we understand as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. He is called the encourager, the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit helps us to see and know. The Spirit lives in us, remains in us, causes us to live, and unites us with the Father and the Son. 

John’s Gospel clearly outlines the importance of Jesus’ understanding of God as Father with over 100 accounts of the usage of Father in his Gospel and another 19 accounts in his letters and his book of prophecy. In chapter one Jesus is the Father’s only Son, and the Son is the only one who has seen the Father  (1.14). The Son is at the Father’s side, and makes God known to the world  (1.18). 

In chapter two Jesus understood the Temple as his Father’s house, a place of prayer and not a place of business (2.16). In chapter three the Father has given everything into his Son’s hands (3.35). In chapter four Jesus instructs the woman at the well that true worship is worshiping the Father (4.21) in spirit and truth (4.23). Jesus declares that the Father is looking for worshippers like this – authentic worship.

In chapter five Jesus explains that the Father is working, and so is the Son (5.17). Jesus made himself equal with God by calling himself God’s Son (5.18). The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus for doing away with the Sabbath rules (5.18). The Son does only what he sees his Father doing (5.19). The Father loves the Son and reveals everything to him (5.20).  The Father has life in himself, raises the dead and gives life to whomever. Thus also the Son has life in himself, raises the dead, and gives life to whomever he chooses (5.26, 21). The Father has handed over judgement to his Son (5.22). The Father and the Son are equally honored (5.23). The Father has assigned works to the Son and those works will testify and witness to the purposes of the Father (5.36). The Father sent the Son and the works prove that the Son is operating on behalf of the Father (5.36). Jesus comes in the name of the Father whom he hears and sees (5.37,43). The Son has been given the place of judgement but Moses will be the judge of the Jewish leaders (5.45). 

In chapter six Jesus implores the people to work not for perishable food but for eternal life whom the Son will give (6.27). The manna in the desert was not provided by Moses but the God of Moses, Jesus’ Father (6.32). The Father sends true bread from Heaven, and that bread is Jesus (6.32). Jesus promises not to send anyone away whom the Father gives (6.37). Eternal Life in the  Son is the Father’s will (6.40). No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws them to Jesus (6.44, 45). The Son is the only one who has seen the Father (6.46).  Those who partake of Jesus have life (6.65), but they must be drawn by the Father before the Son engages them in relationship.  

We skip over chapter seven. In chapter eight when Jesus chooses to judge, it is because the Father has judgement with the Son together (8.16). The Father witnesses to the Son (8.18). John expresses a close knit link between the Father and the Son so when you know the Son you also know the Father (8.19). Jesus speaks for the Father, and only what the Father speaks is what Jesus repeats (8.27-28). Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing (8.38). When God is our Father, then love for Jesus is inevitable (8.41-44). Jesus does not come to earth by his own accord but by the will of the Father; he is God sent (8.42). Jesus honors his Father (8.49). The Father glorifies the Son (8.54). 

We skip chapter nine. In chapter ten the Father and Son know each other (10.15). The Father’s love is dependent upon Jesus surrendering his life, it is a command because of the Messianic role Jesus plays in salvation history (10.17-18). The works of Jesus testify to his identity (10.25). The Father is greater than all, and has the ability to relinquish creation to the Son (10.29).  The Father and the Son are united as one (10.30). The works prove the Father is supporting the Son even when the people did not believe in the Son (10.32-38). In chapter eleven the Father hears the Son (11.41). In chapter twelve the Father honors those who serve Jesus (12.26). In the garden Jesus will become deeply troubled and prays to his heavenly Father to glorify his name (12.27-28), and the Father replies with a third affirmation from heaven. (Remember Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, and here). Jesus has always followed the Father’s commands of what he should speak and say and not one word more or less (12.49-50). 

In chapter thirteen Jesus prepares to return from whence he came, he knows that he must leave this world and return to the Father (13.1-3). Jesus had been given everything from the Father (13.3). In chapter fourteen the invitation comes from Jesus that opens up heaven (14.2). Heaven is like the Father’s house with many spare rooms for a sleepover (14.2). No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, when we see Jesus we have seen the Father (14.6, 9). The Father dwells in Jesus and they operate as One (14.10, 11). Jesus promises that we will do greater works that he was able because he is returning to the Father (14.12). When we ask in Jesus name the answers will come because the Father desires to glorify the Son through answering our prayers (14.13). Jesus speaks to the Father and the Father answers him. Jesus requested the Companion to be with us (14.16). Unity comes because the Companion will testify to the Father and the Son within us. Keeping Jesus’ word commands proves our love toward Jesus (14.21, 23). The Trinity will make our heart their home if we love Jesus and obey the word from the Father (14.23). The Father together with the Son will send the Companion, the Holy Spirit (14.26). The Father is greater than Jesus (14.28). Jesus loves the Father and obeys everything he commands (14.31). 

In chapter fifteen the Father is a vineyard keeper, and Jesus is the vine (15.1). We are called to remain in love with Jesus by keeping the commandments, and bearing fruit that glorifies the Father (15.8, 9, 10). Transparency between Father and Son leaks over into the relationship between Son and the disciples as the disciples become friends of God (15.15). God has chosen and appointed his disciples who are to go and produce lasting fruit (15.16). Jesus opens the invitation for disciples to ask anything of the Father in his name (15.16). The invitation is wide-open but it requires a heart of loving obedience (15.16). Jesus makes it clear that you cannot hate one part of the Godhead and love the other, they are a package deal (15.23). The proof of the works is evidence enough, and requires belief (15.24).  Ignorance about the Father and the Son relationship produces bad fruit (16.3). The Companion proves to the world that it was wrong about righteousness (16.10). The Companion will take what is the Son’s and proclaim it to you (16.15). 

 “When the Companion comes, whom I will send from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify about me.” – John 15.26

In chapter sixteen Jesus reveals the resurrection. The Son is returning to the Father (16.17). This is the third occurrence of Jesus insisting on the disciples asking for whatever they need in his name so that the Father can bestow it upon them to glorify Jesus (16.23). If the illustration of Father was only an analogy, then Jesus would have surely said so before he died or even after resurrection, but here in the passage Jesus had arrived at a time when speaking plainly about the Father is a must (16.25). When we ask in Jesus’ name he intercedes on our behalf to secure the answer (16.26). Our loving relationship with Jesus unites us with the Father and both the Father and the Son lavish their love on us (16.26, 27). Jesus prophecies that he will be left alone by his disciples, but he reminds them that Father God is always with him (16.28, 32). 

In chapter seventeen Jesus expresses his desire to be glorified by the Father for the surrendered life he has lead as a human being and he requests to return to the creational glory (17.1, 5). The evidence of salvation is the unity we have with the Father and the Son through the uniting power of the Holy Spirit (17.11, 21, 24, 25). Jesus reminds his disciples that he will indeed drink the cup that the Father has given him, the cup of crucifixion (18.11). After the resurrection Jesus informs Mary not to hold him closely as he is returning to his Father (20.17). He asks her to go and tell the disciples, his brothers and sisters, that he is returning to Father God (20.17). Note the emphases, Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20.17 Later Jesus will visit the disciples and offer his parting words of commissioning, Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” John 20.21

John’s Gospel focuses on testimony and witness. It is God the Father who testifies on behalf of Jesus at the baptism, transfiguration, and at his final Passover with an audible voice (Mt. 4.16-17, Mt. 17.5-6, John 12.27-30). There are only 20 times that an audible voice from heaven occurs (Gen. 21.17, 22.11, 22.15, Ex. 20.22, Deut. 4.36, Neh. 9.13, Ps. 76.8, Dan. 4.31, Mk. 1.11, Lk. 3.22, Jn 12.28, 2 Peter 1.18, Acts. 11.9, Heb. 12.25, Rev. 11.12, 11.15, 12.10, 14.2, 14.3, 18.4). 

When we hear the relationship of the Trinity throughout the passages in John’s Gospel what I hope struck you as much as it did me was the requirement to love God and obey the word and commands of Jesus, which is to love and obey the Father’s will. Just as Jesus modeled obedience and love to the Father so we are to live the same. The Companion has but one purpose and that is to help us to be obedient and love. We are called to love and obey. As we notice over and over in God’s word, the problem that kept reoccurring in the history of Israel has always been stubborn heartedness. The Companion has come to us to be our heart-softener. True unity according to John’s Gospel is union with the Father and the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit who unites us in love and obedience to the one who created and died for us. 

In the church we are always at risk of making God in our own image. Skylar and I recently reflected on a book entitled “Encoding Methodism: Telling and Retelling Narratives of Wesleyan Origins” by Ted A. Campbell. He writes through the history of our church to discover the branches that we have created with our enthusiasm. The broken places in us cry out for victory in God. We read the Scripture from our particular vantage point so that we might correct the injustices we have witnessed in our life stories. We can latch on to any cause and make it our one view of Scripture. For instance we might see separation as the way that John Wesley created a fresh movement in the Anglican Church, but in fact Wesley is still listed among the preachers in the records of the Anglican community. We might see Wesley as an evangelist as the American Methodist created such strong evangelistic outreaches in the development of the early church, but in fact Wesley understood his role as a disciple-maker by urging the people to go deeper in their faith. At the core of the Wesleyan revival is spiritual formation. Some may latch-on to Wesley’s social reformation and opposition to slavery, but his was the fruit of deeper formation, not stand alone ministries. In recent years Bob Tuttle and Ken Collins have shaped the Wesleyan history as “folk theology” or what we might call spiritual formation in the trenches of life’s difficulties. This perhaps is my view of the Scriptures and of Wesley’s contribution to my life. If theology doesn’t transform the heart, it will never reach the streets to be good works for others.

In our day theology is as confused as the branches of denominations we boast. However, just a hundred years ago most denominations would not have argued over the Godhead. They would have understood collectively the role of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact Hugh Price Hughes wrote in his 1890 sermon entitled “‘Robert Elsmere’ and Mr. Gladstone’s Criticism of the Book” noted, “It is a remarkable fact that ever since the 4th century the Christian conception of Christ has been absolutely unchanged. Amid all our controversies and schisms we have never doubted or disputed the claims of Christ. Today if you were to shut up in a room the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Mr. Spurgeon, Cardinal Manning, General Booth, the chairman of the Congregational Union, and the President of the Methodist Conference and told them they must remain there until they were all agreed in a common definition in the claims of Christ they would not be detailed for 5 minutes.” – except from Social Christianity: Sermons Delivered in St. James Hall, London (Ted A. Campbell, Encoding Methodism, 99-100)

Today that claim is not necessarily accurate across the church body of believers who serve as preachers and teachers in the Christian faith. I have served with a number of Presbyterian USA ordained clergy who discount the validity of God as Father substituting the language of the goddess Sophia as their preferred way of worship. I have served along side one who had been ordained in the United Church of Christ tradition and chose to practice the Bahai religion. She claimed that in good conscience she could remain a preacher because she could teach the good moral/ethical concepts of the Christian tradition while believing that Jesus was not the Son of God but only a mere man. I have served along side one who had been ordained in the American Baptist tradition who chose to practice witchcraft as part of her daily spiritual walk instead of recognizing the Spirit of Jesus as the one way to eternal life. When we think about how confused our world is about the Godhead, it is important to remain faithful to the core values of our faith heritage that has been consistent for over two millennium. Our job is not to condemn others for a preferred way of worship, but to hold the doors open wide for those who would like to grow deeper in the ancient faith that has been our inheritance since the birth of the church perhaps we can say the birth of the Hebrew people many, many years ago. 

As we close our service today let us stand and recite together the Apostle’s Creed and profess our faith in the One True God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the Creature, Redeemer, and Sustainer of our faith. Amen.