Tag Archives: helpless

We’re Moving From Acts 1 to Acts 2 (May 20, 2018)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

  1. Church in North America in decline for 40+ years.
    1. LCM
      1. Decline last 10 years
      2. Gained 15 years prior
      3. Steady now
    2. Even with “flash in the pan” churches, reality is that fewer people are part of a church in Lakewood, and that number continues to decrease. Shows no sign of letting up.
    3. Everyone’s got a “Quick Fix!”
      1. More of this, less of that.
      2. Give people what they want to hear.
      3. Make people happy. Don’t make them uncomfortable.
      1. Not because we’re slacking off or caring less.
      2. Not because we aren’t putting in enough energy or commitment.
      3. Many of you are worn out from working so hard for the sake of Christ’s church.
    5. Reality is that the culture has simply changed too fast. Faster and faster. Church isn’t able to change as quickly. No let-up in sight.
      1. Our best efforts are not going to be enough.
      2. We can feel lost and helpless.
    6. Knowing we are baptized into Christ’s mission of loving the world as God loves it, knowing how important the purpose of the church is, yet realizing we can’t do it, we pray, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the church?” Take us back to our glory years?
  2. Acts and Pentecost
    1. Acts 2. (Pentecost text today) we know: fire, wind, HS, other languages, 3000 baptized. “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!”
    2. Acts 1. Worth backing up just a bit to put this all into context:
      1. Jesus has been dead 6-7 weeks.
      2. Rumors that some have seen him alive, but no one claims to have seen him for several weeks now.
      3. He’s gone. And with him went all hope of God’s justice and God’s kingdom.
        1. Knowing how important this mission is, their best efforts are not going to be enough.
        2. They feel lost and helpless.
      4. Then, when all are together, he appears and speaks to them.
        • Hope restored! We can’t, but Jesus can! Knowing how important God’s mission through God’s chosen people is, they ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore Israel?”
  1. Sound familiar? Take us back to our glory years?
  1. Then he disappears again, so . . . they replace Judas.
  • Today!
    1. Doesn’t it feel like we’re living in Acts 1 sometimes?
      1. We know how important this work is.
      2. Excited and hopeful, then nothing happens.
      3. Jesus shows up, and then seems to disappear.
      4. We don’t exactly what to do, so we hunker down, form committees, and have meetings.
    2. But if today can feel like Acts 1, guess what’s next? Acts 2!
      1. Holy Spirit is on the move! Nothing will be like it was before! . . . Nothing.
      2. Further parallels in Acts 2 à
        1. The job of the disciples changed from keeping order to keeping up! They couldn’t see the Spirit, but they could see what the Spirit was doing.
          1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re praying that even if we can’t see the Spirit, that we could keep up with what the Spirit is doing.
        2. The responses to what the disciples were doing were mixed, at best. Bewildered, Amazed, Astonished, Perplexed, Sneered and made fun of them, Made false accusations. These were fellow Jews!
          1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re recognizing the responses will be mixed at best. These from fellow Christians—maybe even LCM members.
  • Peter pointed out from scripture (Joel) that all that was happening was not unusual for God. The Hebrew scriptures are full of images of fire and wind and Spirit moving through diverse people. Young/old, male/female, slave/free.
    1. When we pray, “Wow! Holy Spirit, do that!” we’re praying that we would be prepared for the Spirit to do anything—through anyone! What matters is that we know God, and can recognize God’s movement anywhere and anytime. God loves and God saves!
  1. It might feel like we’re living in Acts 1 sometimes, but we’re really living in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit is on the move—now! Nothing is like it was before. nothing. The Holy Spirit will surprise us, so hang on. It’s gonna get a little windy and a little firey. Ready or not, the Spirit’s got this.
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Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Sermon


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What To Do When You Can’t Do Anything (March 5, 2017)

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the very first thing that happens to Jesus after his baptism. He’s led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit leads him, deliberately, into the wilderness. If the Spirit is doing it, it must be important, somehow.

In the Bible, the wilderness is always a difficult place. It’s a place of preparation, of waiting for God, of learning to trust God. It’s a place where all the things we rely on are stripped away. Where we are the most vulnerable, weak, and lost. It’s a place where we are alone and where our strength is drained until we have nothing left.

And you can’t hurry through it, either. Which is why it’s often described biblically with a metaphor of “40.”

  • It rained 40 days and nights with Noah and his family trapped in the wilderness of an ark.
  • Moses fasted 40 days and nights on the wilderness of Mt. Sinai waiting for God to inscribe a covenant.
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
  • Which is why, by the way, that this Lenten season of preparation, repentance, and fasting lasts for 40 days.
  • Now, Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.

Have you been there? I have. I’ve spoken of it before. A “dark night of the soul” when everything within me that I’ve looked to and counted on to sustain me seemed to disappear. My strengths, my gifts and talents, my intellect, even my theology couldn’t hold me up. And I felt like I was falling with nothing to grab hold of, nothing to slow my fall. I was diagnosed during that wilderness period with depression, no amount of strength, perseverance, or endurance could get me out. It was a wilderness.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in God or questioned God’s existence, it’s that God didn’t matter. It’s not that I was hopeless, I was helpless, which is different. I was utterly, completely, and totally without any of my reliable resources. Lost in wilderness. Completely vulnerable.

Have you experienced that wilderness before?

Grief feels like that. When you put out all possible effort and still fail feels like that. Addiction feels like that. I imagine that our new refugee neighbors who have had to leave their homes and their countries, and who have been living in terror for years feel like that. That’s wilderness. And it’s not a place we ever want to be.

So why does the Spirit lead Jesus to a place like that?

Because it’s in the wilderness that you meet God most profoundly. Biblically, that’s what happens.

  • After the wilderness, Noah met God and was given a covenant of life.
  • After the wilderness, Moses met God and was given the law.
  • After the wilderness, the Israelites met God and were delivered into the promised land.

Maybe it’s because in the wilderness there’s nothing else to rely on. Maybe it’s because we’re in such need that we can recognize God. Maybe it’s because we’re so desperate that we actually are willing to trust God. When we live through the wilderness, when we have that experience of being held up only by the mercy of God, our relationship with God changes. What really happens in the wilderness is that we come to know who we are.

This is actually our Lenten journey. A wilderness journey of 40 days where we learn to rely more on God and less on the world. Where we get to know and to trust God more deeply. Where we find out who we really are as God’s beloved children.

When I was falling in the wilderness, feeling utterly helpless and vulnerable, I met God in a way that was entirely new. Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t meet God. God met me in the wilderness. I realized at some point that I was no longer falling, but instead, I was being held, lifted up. As weak and helpless as I was feeling, I experienced the reality that I was worth something to God. Without access to any of my own personal resources that I had been able to trust my whole life, I came to understand that I am gifted by God.

I went into the wilderness with fear and trembling, God met me there, and I came out with deeper trust in God and greater clarity for my life.

Why wouldn’t it be the same for Jesus? He went into the wilderness having just heard in his baptism that he was the Son of God, the Beloved. How could he live up to that? So he was led into the wilderness, God met him there, and he came out with deeper trust in God and greater clarity for his life.

When you find yourself in the wilderness, when you are feeling helpless and vulnerable and weak, Jesus assures us that God will meet you. 40 days is a metaphor for a long time, but God will meet you. You eventually will have the opportunity to experience God in a new way, to recognize how trustworthy God is.  You can, after the 40 days, know how loved and how worthwhile you really are.

I don’t ever want to go back into the wilderness. But if I find myself there, I will cling to the promise of a God who will meet me there.

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Posted by on March 5, 2017 in Sermon


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