Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sermon Ephesians 6:19-20 “Sharing My Faith”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Ephesians 6:19-20 “Sharing My Faith”
March 10, 2019

Listen to this Sermon

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent.   Lent is a 40 day period, excluding Sundays, that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues into Holy Week.   We prepare ourselves during Lent for the death of Jesus.   Sundays are excluded from Lent because Sunday is always a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.   The early church used Lent as a time of preparation when people would learn about Jesus leading to their baptisms on Easter.

We are continuing our look at Believe, Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.  We started this series last Fall when we looked at what we believe, the content of our faith.   This winter we have been looking at what we do as a result of what we believe, spiritual practices. 

Next week I will be on study leave.  Mark Hetterly will be in this pulpit.   In two weeks I will return and we will begin the third stage of the Believe series.   We will look at what we become as a result of what we believe and what we do.   We will be looking at Christian virtues we develop as we become more like Jesus.

Today we will look at the final spiritual practice in the Believe series, “Sharing My Faith”.  We will get to this, but first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

The Psalmist asked a very important question,  Psalm 8:4 “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”   What are human beings?  This is a fundamental question we all face and how we answer it affects how we think about the world we live in.

One thing that is beyond dispute is that human beings are troubled.   We are all mortal and face death.  We remember our dear friend Clinton Dunn who died last month.   We are all subject to disease.   Alex Trebek, the host of the tv show Jeopardy, was just diagnosed with 4th stage pancreatic cancer.   We suffer from violence.   Murders in New York City are up 30% since the first of the year.   We suffer economic shortages in a world of plenty.  And every Sunday there is a long list of suffering we pray over in worship. 

Why do human beings suffer?  In America today there are two answers to this question.   Let’s look at these.

One view, that is increasingly popular in America, is that we suffer because we are victims of injustice and bigotry.   We see women getting paid less than men and say that they are suffering from centuries of male preference.   We see black men in prison and say that they are victims of slavery and Jim Crow laws which enforced white privilege.  We see discrimination against transgendered men and women and say that this is due to continuing fear of changing sexual practices.    In this view, we are all victims. 

So being a victim is one explanation for why we experience troubles.    There is another view, which I would call a biblical view.

In the biblical view, we are not victims of injustice and bigotry.   Rather, we are sinners.   We refuse to follow God and have been doing this as far back as our earliest ancestors.    As a result of sin, we experience death, disease, violence and economic scarcity. 

So there are two world views to explain our troubles, either we are victims or we are sinners. 

Both world views suggest solutions to our problems.    Those who believe that we are victims of injustice and bigotry say that the solution is political power.   If we elect the right people to political office they will deal effectively with the injustice and bigotry.   That is one solution.  Here is the other.  Those who believe that we are sinners say that the solution is a savior.   If we accept Jesus Christ as Lord then Jesus will deal with sin and its consequence. 

So, which of these theories best fit the world we live in?   Which one is true?   Are we victims or sinners?   The best test would be to see which one best helps to bring people out of trouble. 

Have you ever heard anyone who claims to be a victim of injustice and bigotry say that they are now no longer a victim because of the action of a political leader?   I don’t hear it.    I have heard in every election cycle since I have been an adult that certain groups are still victims of injustice and bigotry regardless of who gets elected and what policies they enact.   Even today  I hear that people in certain groups are still victims.   Electing the “right” political leader seems to have little or no effect.

Now, what about those who consider sin to be a problem?   Have you ever heard someone say that they were troubled by sin, but when Jesus entered their hearts, they experienced transformation to new life?   Of course!   We hear this all the time when Christians give their testimonies.   There is a book in the back of the sanctuary which has all of your stories of transformation. 

So which one of these world views is true.   I think it is clear that the biblical worldview, that we are sinners in need of a savior, is true because we have experienced the transformation that comes from a life where Jesus is Lord and Savior.

We believe in the biblical world view.   But there are many people in our community, in our families, where we work, in the MOT retirement center, in our restaurants, and in our stores who believe that they are victims without hope of transformation.    So, what would be the kind thing to do for them?   What could we say or do to help them find the transformation to new life in Jesus Christ? 
Well, we could share our stories.  We could tell people we meet about what Jesus has done for us.   We could share our testimony.   This would be the kind thing to do.    It would give people a new way to think and a solution to their trouble.  Just tell people what Christ has done for you.

If you are having trouble knowing what to say I urge you to speak with Nancy Carol Willis.   She is a professional writer and will help you to express your love for Jesus.   Once you have the words and develop the skill to share your testimony, talking to others about your relationship with Jesus will be easy. 
We hear the Apostle Paul talk about this in his letter to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

The spiritual practice of “Sharing My Faith” means that we fearlessly share our testimony about what Jesus has done for us.    All we have to do is be kind and engage in conversations with people we meet.   We don’t have to worry about what to say.   God will give us the words.   All we have to do is tell people about what Jesus has done for us.   God takes it the rest of the way.   Listen to this example from the Apostle Paul.

Acts 22:1 “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul!
Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8 “‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9 My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10 “‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.

“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12 “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13 He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14 “Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15 You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

This is called evangelism.    We share our story with others.  Notice that evangelism is not the same as church growth, but they are related.   Church growth requires that you knock on doors, or pass out fliers, or pay for advertising that will entice people to come to church.    These are all ways of getting people who already know Christ to come to our church.   But evangelism is being willing to talk to people who believe that they are victims of injustice and bigotry.    We share our stories about our savior who has transformed our lives.
Humankind suffers from all kinds of problems.   It is tempting to think that these problems are caused by injustice and bigotry, and we are victims.   This is false. 

  Our problems are caused by sin and we need a savior.    We know this because Jesus is that savior and he has given us new life.   We share our stories of new life with those who still believe that they are victims.   We invite them into a relationship with our savior Jesus Christ.   This is the spiritual practice of sharing your faith.  Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for all that you have done for us.   We thank you for the transformation to new life we have experienced.   Give us opportunities to share our stories about the benefits of having you in our lives.    This we pray in your glorious name.   Amen.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Sermon 2 Corinthians 8:7 “Giving My Resource”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon 2 Corinthians 8:7 “Giving My Resource”
March 3, 2019

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We are continuing our look at spiritual practices which as we do them will make us more and more like Jesus.  Last week we talked about our time and how that could be used for God’s purposes.   Today we will talk about our money and how that too should be used for God’s purposes.   We will get to this, but first, let's pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Our scripture today comes from 2 Corinthians 8:7  “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
“Grace of giving.”   What could this be?

The word “grace”  has to do with giving or receiving an unmerited favor.   Grace is a characteristic of God.   God gives us blessings we do not deserve.

      Many Christians have a much too narrow view of God’s grace.  They believe that Jesus graciously gave up his life on the cross for us so that we would receive by this grace forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.   This is absolutely true.   You can count on it.   But God’s grace is so much bigger than this.

Consider that God gave you a brand new day this morning.  Did you make the sun rise?  What did you do to earn this day?  How much do you think this day is worth? God created this day and God graciously gave it to you. 

Consider the family that God gave you.   God placed you with your parents.   God brought you and your spouse together.   God blesses families with children.   How much is family worth to you?   Do you have enough money to pay God what your family is worth?  Thankfully God has graciously given you your family.

Consider the job you work.   Who gave you the abilities and talents to do what needs to be done?   Who brought you and the perfect job together?   God graciously gives us our talents and abilities.   How much are these worth to you?   How much are your student loans to God?  Thankfully any debt we may owe to God is paid in full by Jesus Christ.

So if by God’s grace we are constantly blessed what should be our response?   Bethel folks, “We are blessed to be a  … ? 
We are created in the image of God.   So if a characteristic of God is to graciously bless us then we should gracious bless others.   Right?

So what does “grace of giving” mean?   It just means that we are to graciously give from our resources as a blessing to others just as God has blessed us.

While on his third missionary journey, the Apostle Paul heard that the church in Jerusalem was struggling.   He was in Macedonia, so he asked the Macedonian churches to share their resources.   Then he wrote, to a wealthier church in Corinth and asked them to do the same, not out of some obligation, but in gratitude for all the blessings they had received from God.  Here is what Paul wrote.

2 Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

So the Macedonian churches were very poor.   They were just fisherman.   And they are suffering some kind of intense trial.   You wouldn’t think that they would be able to give much for the Jerusalem church.   But they did.  They gave more than they could really afford because of the great joy their gracious God has given them.   Filled with joy they gave more and more.

  Paul then sent Titus to Corinth to ask them to give for the Jerusalem church.  Corinth was a much more substantial church.   It was on a major crossroads between the shipping routes east and west.    And so the Corinthian church could be expected to give far more than the Macedonian churches could. 

 Here is the message Titus took from Paul to Corinth.

7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Paul wants the Corinthian church to give not out of compulsion but out of a desire to be generous and helpful because that is what Jesus did.   So if we want to be more like Jesus we too should give out of our generous hearts.  Notice that Paul is not asking for something extraordinary.    He simply wants them to give an amount proportional to the blessings they had received from God.  And all of this is a form of insurance.   If all Christians are generous then no one would ever suffer from financial difficulties.

Let me tell you an old story.   There was once a church in a growing affluent community.   Everyone in this church had a nice house.   Everyone drove a nice car.   No one suffered from extreme poverty. 
One day Mary got in her car and turned the key.  She heard a horrible noise coming from under the hood.   And the car would not start.   So the car was towed over to Big Al’s Car Repair.   Big Al looked at the car and said that he could fix it, but it would be expensive and the car was just not worth the repair.  So Mary went out and bought a brand new car and she was so happy.   It cost almost $30K, but Mary could afford that.

The next Sunday Mary drove the new car to church.    Everyone was so impressed.   They really liked the color and the leather interior and the new car smell.   Everyone agreed that Mary had made a good choice.

That Sunday the preacher talked about using our resources for God’s purposes.   Mary loved the sermon.

Immediately after worship, the church had a special meeting.   Mary attended as she always did.   The pastor told the church that the road construction in front of the church was almost done and the church has a new entrance.   The pastor said that the entrance was too dark at night and the church really needed a new sign and additional parking lot lighting.   He said that the cost of doing these things was about the same as the cost of Mary’s new car.   And he urged the church to buy a sign and lights as soon as possible. 

Mary wasn’t sure how to respond.   The church had so many needs.   And the church budget couldn’t support everything.   But she also realized that the pastor was right a new sign and parking lot lights were really needed.   What should Mary do?  What should the church do?

Of course, this is not some old story about a church far away.   This is the story of us.   We are the ones who have no problem buying a new car, or taking a long vacation, or doing expensive home improvements.   But our church struggles with extreme poverty unable to buy a new shed for the mowers, unable to resurface the parking lot, unable to buy new parking lot lights and a new sign, unable to build a much-needed sanctuary.  So what’s wrong?   Why is a church of affluent Americans having financial difficulties unable to make the capital improvements we desperately need?  It must be because we do not do the spiritual practice of giving my resources.

Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to give with these words.

9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

So the spiritual practice of Giving My Resources means that we give to bless others just as God blesses us.   And as we bless others with our giving the promise is that God will bless us even more.

So if we all increase our giving right now then we could easily afford to put up a new sign and lights in the parking lot.   We can resurface and stripe the old parking lot.   We can buy a new shed for the mowers.   All of this would be a blessing not just for ourselves but for the growing community around us.   And God will bless this church with people and money that will flow in abundance.  Let’s pray.

Father in heaven we thank you for the blessing of this church.   And we pledge to bless the church with our financial resources.   Help us to use these resources to bless the community.   And continue to bless us with resources so that we can proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to a community that will be blessed by you and your church.   This we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Sermon – Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Solemn Assembly

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
Sermon – Joel 2:1-2, 12-17  Solemn Assembly
New Covenant Church
Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tonight we have gathered in a solemn assembly for the imposition of ashes.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of forty days, excluding Sundays leading up to Easter.  It begins by reminding us that we are dust, from dust we came to dust we shall return.  Ashes are a sign of our own mortality.  They help us to remember our sin and desire for forgiveness.   And so tonight we gather for repentance and prayer.

We have received a warning from the Prophet Joel.  I'll tell you what he has to say, but first, let's pray.

Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen. (John Calvin)

Let's look at some of today's headlines.  A tornado rips through the southern part of our country killing 23.   Violent protests continue in Venezuela over economic conditions.  Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan.  China is experiencing an economic downturn. 

Are these signs that God is about to do something?   I hope so.  I pray every day that Jesus will return and put everything right.  But do we really want this?  Do we really want the Day of the Lord to fix the world?  We turn to the Book of Joel for some guidance.

Four hundred years before the birth of Christ, a giant swarm of locusts and grasshoppers descended on the farms around Jerusalem.  The devoured all the barley and wheat growing in the fields.  They ate all the leaves on grape vines and olive trees.  When the holocaust ended God sent the Prophet Joel to deliver some bad news.

Joel first went to see the alcoholics.  He told the drunks the bad news.  Locusts had eaten all the grapes and there would be no grape harvest and no wine this year.  They would not have the wine they needed to stay drunk.

Then Joel went to see the priests.  He told the religious people in the temple the bad news.  Locusts had eaten all the grain growing in the field and the grapes on the vine.  There would be no grain offerings or drink offerings this year.  The people would not have the offerings they needed to bring into the temple as symbols of their relationship with God.

Finally, Joel went to see the farmers.  He told them the bad news.  Locusts had eaten their crops and vineyards.  There would be no joyful harvest this year. 

Joel realized that the disaster was bad, but they would survive.  He also realized that one day, maybe one day soon, there would be a more complete, more terrible disaster.  This would come on judgment day when God comes to judge the earth.  The locusts were just a warning that the Day of the Lord was coming.  This is what the prophet Joel said.
Joel 2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand— 2  a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.  Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

Joel's warning is that God is coming.  He will come with the angelic army, the heavenly hosts, with the power to destroy all he has made.  This will be a day of judgment when all people must account for their sin.  And God will punish us for what we have done. 

This is my warning to you.  God is coming.  He may come soon.  And we will all be judged.  God will not come to judge an individual or a group of people.  God will come to judge everyone.  All of us should be afraid, literally scared to death of this judgment, because none of us is righteous.  None of us is good enough.  None of us can stand before God with pure hearts and clean hands.

So what are we to do?  Is there no hope?  Let's go back to the prophet.

12 “(But)  Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

Joel has told the people that it is now time to repent:  to stop worshiping false gods, to stop ignoring the needs of your neighbor, to stop your sinful behavior.  Now is the time to change your ways and become obedient to God not because God is a fearful judge, but because God is gracious, kind, loving, and wants to forgive you and give you everything you need for a good life.  So, what should we do?  Let's go back to the prophet and find out.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.

So, we are to come together in this a sacred assembly.  We are to confess our sin and ask God for forgiveness.  And no one should be left out.  This assembly is for everyone, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, everyone.  Everyone needs to repent, turn away from sin and turn to God in prayer.  The prophet Joel then told the priests how they should pray in this assembly.

17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples,  ‘Where is their God?’”

So my job as your pastor tonight is to ask God to forgive you.  I am to remind God of his love and faithfulness.  And give God the opportunity to forgive us and love us as a sign to the world of his character and power.

The Prophet Joel leaves us tonight with a promise.  If we turn from our evil ways and turn back to our creator then we will be blessed.  Let's listen.

Joel 3:17 “Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill.  Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her.  18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water.  A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and will water the valley of acacias.

If we turn from sin and turn to God, God will forgive us and bless us as his children.  This is the good news, the promise of scripture.

So when will this happen?  When can we expect the Day of the Lord when God will come to Earth.  Joel tells us.

Joel 2:28-29  I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

And so the Day of the Lord, when God comes to judge and forgives all who repent, is when the Holy Spirit comes to earth.  This has already happened.  Listen to this from the Book of Acts.

Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

According to the Apostle Peter, this was the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.  The Day of the Lord has come.  And in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are washed away and we are made new. So in gratitude for what God has done for you repent, turn away from sin, and turn toward your savior, Jesus Christ, with obedience.   And receive God’s gracious forgiveness and love.  Let's pray.

O Lord, your people have assembled.  Spare us your judgment.  Grant us forgiveness.  Fill us with your Spirit.  This we pray in your son's name.  Amen.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Sermon Colossians 3:17 “Offering My Time”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Colossians 3:17 “Offering My Time”
February 24, 2019

Listen to this sermon.

We are continuing with our look at spiritual practices.  These are things that we do which when built upon faith help us to become more like Jesus.   So we worship, pray and study the Bible.  We have a single-minded focus on Jesus, we surrender to God’s will, we are a part of a biblical community and we use our spiritual gifts for God’s purposes.  All of these are important and if you do them the Holy Spirit will transform you into what God created you to be.

Today we turn to another spiritual practice.   This is “offering my time.”  We will get to this, but first, let's pray. 

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

Our scripture for today comes from the third chapter of Colossians, verse 17.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

God has given us 24 hours every day.   About a third of these are used for sleep.  About 16 hours every day we are awake.  And scripture is teaching us that every waking hour should be dedicated to fulfilling God’s purposes in the world.  So how do we do this?   How do we put God first in everything we do?

First, our focus must be on Jesus.   When I wake in the morning I go in the bathroom and talk to God about the day ahead.   Before breakfast, I give thanks to God for so many blessings.   As I drive to the church I listen to podcasts. 

 There are not strictly speaking Christian podcasts although to do listen to some of those.   I like to listen to Christian thinkers talking about world events.   When I arrive at church I pray in the sanctuary and then work in the office preparing Bible studies, sermons, liturgies and phone messages.   The rest of the day is visiting people or answering email or doctor’s appointments or do something with Grace.   But everything I do I try to think about Jesus.   Scripture teaches us that we should always focus on Jesus.

Colossians 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

So the first step is offering our time is to focus always on Jesus every hour of the day.   If we are always focusing on Jesus then we begin to realize how our own behavior is far short of what God wants.  This is called sin.  And so the second thing we must do is to stop sinning and start leading a lifestyle that is pleasing to God.   Scripture puts it this way.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

So as we live our lives, we first focus on Jesus and second repent of our sin.  The third thing that we do is that we accept everyone regardless of race or class.

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

So focusing on Jesus, repenting sins, and accepting everyone are the first three steps in living a life pleasing to God.   The next step is to put on virtue.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

So every waking hour we should be kind to everyone we meet.   We should be humble, gentle and patient.   And we should be forgiving just as God forgave us. 

So we focus on Jesus, repent of our sins, we accept everyone regardless of race,  and we act a virtuous people living our lives in a way that is pleasing to God.
If we do these things we receive two benefits.   The first benefit is a peaceful heart.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

So if we want to live peaceful lives we focus on Jesus, repent of our sin, accept everyone, and live virtuously.  Then our hearts will be filled with the peace of Jesus.   And we will have a second benefit.

15 … And be thankful.

Not only are our hearts overflowing with peace but also gratitude for all God has for us. 

So what are some of the things that we can do to make sure that we are following Jesus every hour of the day? 

One useful practice is to keep a journal.   I urge you to keep a journal and write down everything you do for a couple of days.    For each hour of the day ask the question, “Did I please or displease God?”  Write down all the times you fell short.   Write down all the times you were virtuous.  Then read your journal.   This will give you a pretty good idea about how well you are offering your time to God.

Another useful practice is to use the time in the car for God’s purposes.    Many of us are in a car a lot.    And if you are like me we listen to the radio or podcasts or music or audiobook.   But what if we used driving time as a time to connect to others.    Grace is really good at this.    When we are in the car together I drive and she is on the phone.  She is connecting with friends, people in the church, people we have known in other places and family.   This is something we could all do.   We have a new portrait directory.   If you are a passenger in a car use this time to connect with people in the church.    See what they are doing and the problems they face.   Pray for them.   Setup visits.   Build community. 

So we are keeping journals and searching for opportunities to talk with people by phone.   And a third thing you can do is to set aside a period of time every day to serve others.   Maybe you have lunch with someone who just lost a loved one. 

 Maybe you visit someone who has a hard time getting around in the winter.  Maybe you join the choir or bell and offer you musical talent.   Every day, think about how you can do something to help someone else. 

So we keep a journal, call people and try to help someone every day. 
There is an old story about offering time.   A man has been working for a long time at a very stressful job.   He works long hours.  And he comes home late, exhausted.

One evening as he sat, exhausted, on the couch his 5-year-old son said, “Daddy can I ask you a question?”

To which his tired father said, “I guess, what is it?

His little boy then asked, “How much money do you make an hour?

The father became irritable and said, “Why would you ask such a thing?”

The child said, “I just need to know.   How much do you make an hour?”

The father replied, “I make $20 per hour.”

The little boy looked at his father and said, “May I borrow $10?”

The father was now furious. “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is just so you can buy a toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. I work long, hard hours every day, and I don’t have time for this right now.” The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.

After a bit, the dad calmed down and began to think he may have been too hard on his son. Maybe he really did need the ten dollars for some good reason. He went to the door of his little boy’s room. The dad asked, “Are you asleep, son?”

“No, Daddy, I’m awake,” replied the boy.

“I’ve been thinking maybe I was too hard on you earlier,” said the man. “It’s been a long day, and I took out my frustrations on you. Here’s ten dollars. What do you need it for?”

The little boy sat straight up. “Oh, thank you daddy!” Reaching under his pillow, he pulled out some crumpled bills he had saved from his allowance.

“Why did you want more money if you already had some?” the father asked, about to get irritated again.

The son slowly counted out his money and then, looking up at his dad, said, “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do. Daddy, I have twenty dollars now. Can I buy an hour of your time? I miss you.”

While this story certainly tugs at our heartstrings and causes us to evaluate our own priorities of time, we cannot help but think of and be grateful for our heavenly Father, who gives us his constant, undivided, and unending attention to the details of our lives.

We need to offer our time to God.   We focus on Jesus.   We repent our sins.   We welcome everyone regardless of race.  And we live virtuous lives.   We do this by keeping a journal to chronical how we spend our time.   We find time to connect with others.   And we serve someone in need every day.   Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, help us to devote every hour you give us to your purposes.   Help us to focus on Christ.  Help us to find time to connect with each other.   Help us to serve others every day.   Help us to live with peaceful hearts, filled with gratitude.  This we pray in the name of your son whom we serve.  Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Sermon Romans 12:4-6 “Spiritual Gifts

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Romans 12:4-6 “Spiritual Gifts
February 17, 2019

Listen to this sermon.

I am continuing today with my sermon series drawn from Believe, Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus.   We started last Fall, by looking at what we believe.   Since the beginning of the year, we have been looking at what we do as a result of what we believe.   So, what are some of the things we do? 

We worship, pray and study the Bible.   We have a single-minded focus on Jesus, submit to God’s will, and be part of a biblical community.  As we do these things we become more like Jesus.   Today we turn to another important biblical practice, discerning and using the Spiritual Gifts we receive from God.  We will get to this, but first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

There are two kinds of gifts that we receive from God, physical gifts and spiritual gifts.   Physical gifts are things we see, touch, weigh, and measure.  God has given us hands and feet.  God has given us a world with ample food and water.   God has given us air to breathe.   All of these are physical gifts.

But what are spiritual gifts?   Suppose that this week your true love gave you a dozen roses for Valentine’s day.  These roses are physical gifts.  But the physical gift is not nearly as important as the spiritual gift of the love that motivated someone to give you a dozen roses.   Love is a spiritual gift from God.   It cannot be measured and weighed.   But it exists and we know it.

There are many spiritual gifts from God.   What we have to do is discern which gifts we have received and then use those gifts in service to God.

When I was a kid I took piano lessons.   I loved playing the piano.   I would play classical music and show tunes.  The themes from Exodus and Hello Dolly were my favorite.   But as I grew older I lost interest in music and stopped playing the piano.

Then as a young adult, I start playing again.   I relearned some of the classical music I played as a kid and I started playing hymns.  I loved it.   And I thought that God would use my music ability in the church.   I heard some wonderful musicians at my church I wanted to do what they did.   So I signed up for piano lessons.   The wife of the Director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington was a piano teacher.   She taught from a concert Bosendorfer piano in a special room she added to her house.   I went there weekly, and I practiced every day.  I got better, but never good enough.   I realized that even if I practiced for hours every day I could never get to the point where I felt comfortable performing in church.

I had the desire to play the piano, but I did not have the spiritual gift for music.  Jenny on the other hand does.  I am certain that Jen practices a lot.   But she also has a spiritual gift from God that allows her to play the piano as an act of worship and through her playing, all of us can worship through singing. 

 Jenny has both recognized her spiritual gift of music and uses this gift in service to God by playing the piano for this church.

Ken has another spiritual gift.  His gift is teaching.   He has the God-given ability to teach people how to sing and play bells.   And now he is working with the youth teaching them to play instruments for a praise band.  Ken has discerned his gift for teaching music and is using this gift in service to God right here at New Covenant Church.

And this brings us to today scripture.

Romans 12:4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

I discerned that I did not have the gift of music, and could not use music in service to God.  So I started to look for other gifts I might have and how I could serve.   I took a Bethel class at National Presbyterian Church.    I watch my teacher, Jennifer Walter, very carefully.   I admired the ease with which she presented the lesson.  She clearly had a gift for teaching the Bible.   And I thought that I might have this spiritual gift too.

In order to discern if God had provided me with the gift of being able to teach the Bible, I got involved in a Bethel teacher class with my pastor.   I studied as much as I could about techniques for teaching scripture.   And I could test out some of these techniques as a Bethel teacher at the church.   Though all of this I was able to discern that I did have the spiritual gift of being able to teach the Bible.   And I have used this gift in God’s service as a Bible teacher and as a pastor. 

There are many people in the Bible who had received spiritual gifts from God.  When the Israelites were wandering in the desert they needed a tent where Moses could talk with God.   They needed people with spiritual gifts who could design and build an appropriate tabernacle for the presence of God.    Here are the people who applied for these jobs.

Exodus35:30 Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 32 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 33 to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. 34 And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.

So God provided the Israelites with people with the spiritual gifts they needed.  Bezalel and Oholiab were both given the spiritual gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to design and build a beautiful tabernacle for God.   These same gifts were given to New Covenant Church as evidenced by the beautiful banner adorning our northern wall. 

Jesus knew that the church would need spiritual gifts.  And he promised to send his Spirit to the church to equip us with the gifts we need.

John 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

And Jesus kept his promise.  He sent his Spirit and equipped his church.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Acts2:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women,  I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below,  blood and fire and billows of smoke.  20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’[c]

So the promise of the prophet Joel and realized on Pentecost was that the church would receive the gifts of prophecy, visions, and dreams.

Some of you may have these gifts.   You may have other gifts.  What’s important is that you discern which gifts God has given you, that you nurture those gifts and use them in service to God.  The Apostle Peter put it this way.

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

God had given each of us spiritual gifts.  We are to discern which gifts we have received.   We are to nurture these gifts in love and use them in service to others.   This biblical practice, discerning and using spiritual gifts, will make us more and more like Jesus.   Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, help us to know the spiritual gifts you have given us.    Guide us as we develop these gifts and use them to bless others.   This we pray in your son’s name.   Amen.   

Friday, February 15, 2019

Sermon Acts 2:44-47 “Biblical Community”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Acts 2:44-47 “Biblical Community”
February 10, 2019

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We have been looking at spiritual practices which bring us closer to God and make us more like Jesus.   Worship, prayer, Bible Study, a single-minded focus on Jesus, and submission to God’s will are all crucial to your spiritual development.   Today we turn to another important spiritual practice, Biblical Community.    We will get to this, but first, let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

The New Testament was written in Greek.   And it uses a particular Greek word over and over again.   This word is “koinonia”. 

There is no word in English that means the same thing as “koinonia”.   So translators have some difficulty.    Most translate “koinonia” as “community” or “fellowship”.   But translations cannot tell you what “koinonia” means without some additional explanation.

“Koinonia” has three aspects.   First, it is a group of people who come together to form a community or fellowship.  Second, these people share their resources.  And third, they have a mutual interest.   So, “Koinonia” is a group of people who come together to share their resources to accomplish mutual interests. 
The most common “koinonia” is marriage.   A husband and wife join together in marriage.  They share everything they have.   And they mutual interests such as raising a family. 

Our God is “koinonia”.   When we began the Believe series we asked: “Who is the God we worship?”  We worship one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a “koinonia”.  They come together as one God.   They share all their knowledge and power.  And their mutual interest is to love their creation.
Humans were created in the image of this God.   So we were created with the need to be in “koinonia”.    When God created the first man, Adam, he said, Genesis 2:8 ... “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” 

It is not good for us to be alone either.  We were created to be in “koinonia”,  a community which shares its resources and has mutual interests.   We can satisfy our need in for “koinonia” many ways.   We can get married.   We can join clubs, associations, fraternal organizations.   Any of these can be “koinonia” if people gather together, share their resources and have mutual interests.

The New Testament is very clear that the church is to be a “koinonia”.  We gather together for worship, prayer, Bible study, service to ourselves and others, and care for our buildings and grounds.   We share our resources through gifts, tithes, and offerings.   And we have the mutual interest of bringing the people of Middletown to Christ. 

So, what are some of the ways that we have been a “koinonia” this week?  Last Friday we comforted Norma who lost her husband and offered food and transportation.  We took Craig for his colonoscopy.   On Tuesday morning we talked about biblical community and prayed for the church.   We practiced singing and playing bells for worship.   We talked about lights and signs for our new entrance.  We put up some wind flag to mark the entrance.  We cleaned the sanctuary.  We make bulletins and slides for worship.   We come together, share our time and money, and have the mutual interest of advancing the kingdom of God here in Middletown. 

And this brings us to today’s scripture.

Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is the “koinonia” of the early church.   They gathered together to remember what Jesus said and did.   They broke bread and drank wine together as Jesus commanded them in his memory.   They shared their resources with each other taking care of each other’s needs.   They also took care of the people in the community.   They were sincere in their faith and happy.   They praised God for their blessings.  And it should not be surprising that almost everyone wanted to join them.  I would.   Wouldn’t you?

So why are people not banging down our doors to be part of our “koinonia” here a New Covenant Church?   Are we caring for anyone with a need?   Are we sharing our resources sufficiently so that we can respond to needs?  Do we have glad and sincere hearts?   We must be missing something. 

Let’s take a closer look at what was happening in the “koinonia” of the early church.

Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.

Tabitha had the reputation of caring for people.   This was the reputation of the early Christians.   Everyone thought of Christians as people who were always doing good for others.   They fed the hungry.   They clothed the naked.   They cared for the sick, the widows and the orphans.   And everyone in the community knew that if you had a problem find a Christian to help you.

Evidently, everyone in the community depended on Tabitha.   So when she got sick everyone was concerned.  And when she died everyone grieved.

37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

Tabitha had cared for others.   And now in her death, everyone wanted to care for her.  The washed her, placed her in a bedroom, and called for an apostle to come.

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

So we see Tabitha’s ministry.   She cared for the widows.  She made clothes for them.  These were destitute women with no husbands and no sons to care for them.   They could not own land or businesses.   So their only hope was to find a Christian who cared.   The widows found Tabitha who used the resources of the “koinonia” to care for them.   And so they grieved Tabitha’s death because they lost this good friend.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive.

Not only were the early Christian able to care for others with their own resources they were also empowered by the Holy Spirit to care for people in extraordinary ways.   The Apostle Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to raise Tabitha from the dead. 

What if we cared for people in Middletown the way Tabitha cared for people in Joppa?  What if we were empowered by the Holy Spirit to do extraordinary things?   What would happen here in Middletown?   Well, here is what happened in Joppa.

42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

What if New Covenant Church had the reputation that we really cared for the people of Middletown?    What if we made sure that whatever people needed, a meal, a warm place to stay, clothes for the kids,  an ear to listen to problems?  What would happen to our church if this was our reputation?  People would want to be part of our “koinonia”.   They would join with us.   They would share their resources.   And they would join us in our mutual interests of praising God and serving God’s kingdom by caring for people.

So I urge you to continue being a “koinonia” for Middletown.  Care for people.  Meet their needs.   Feed the hungry.   Find warm places for people to stay.   Provide clothes for children to wear in school.  And invite people to join with us in this “koinonia” where we share our resources and have a mutual interest in following and becoming more and more like Jesus.

Let’s pray.   Father in heaven we thank you for Rev. Burkley and his work in starting the “koinonia” in Middletown.   We thank you for our desire to care for one another and the people of our community.   Help us to see the needs of people in this community and give us the resources to meet those needs.   We thank you for our partnerships with Our Daily Bread, Neighborhood House, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A and Compassion International.  And bless us Lord with people who want to be part of our “koinonia” which we call New Covenant Church.  In Jesus’ name, we pray.   Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sermon Romans 12:1 “Total Surrender”

Rev. Jeffrey T. Howard
New Covenant Presbyterian Church
Sermon Romans 12:1 “Total Surrender”
February 3, 2019

Listen to this sermon.

We are continuing today with our look at spiritual practices.   These are things that we do to become more like Jesus.  So we worship, pray, study the Bible, and single-mindedly follow Jesus.  As we do these things the Holy Spirit works within us to transform us into what God created us to be.

Today we turn to another spiritual practice, Total Surrender.   The idea here is that we dedicate our lives not to our own purposes but to God’s purposes.  We will get to this, but first let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy Heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

When we pray the Lord’s prayer we say these words, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   This means that we want God’s will, not our will, but God’s will to prevail on earth.   And so we surrender our free will and pledge to do whatever God wants us to do.

Jesus put it this way, Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, said this as he was losing his life for Jesus,

Acts 7:54 “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” ...

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Stephen, and all the Christian martyrs who followed him gave up their lives to follow Jesus.    They surrendered everything so that God’s will be done.

Whenever we make major decisions in our lives we must surrender our will and follow God’s will.   We have to discern God’s will through worship, prayer, and Bible study.   Once we know the character of God and what God has done in the past then we will know what God wants done now.   And we are to choose to follow God’s will over our own.

Let’s take a look at one of the most important decisions a person will ever make, and try to discern God’s will in this matter.    The important decision we will look at is whether or not someone should abort a unborn child.

Abortion is legal in every state. In 1973 the Supreme Court found an implied right of privacy in the Constitution and ruled that a woman could choose to abort a child growing within her.   This decision was and remains very controversial.   One side focuses on the mother, and the choice she can make.   The other side focuses on the child and the life that is lost.     We are divided between pro-choice and pro-life positions.

The standard that was set in 1973 was that a child could be aborted only if it was not viable.   Viability means that the child could live independently outside of the mother.    If a child could live outside of the mother then the abortion is prohibited.   This was the law in all 50 states.

But this week the law changed in New York.  New York was the first state to remove the viability standard.  Now an abortion can occur in New York right up to the time of birth for any reason.  Rhode Island and Virginia are considering similar laws.   And the Governor of Virginia suggested this week that a child could be aborted shortly after birth if a woman and her doctor so choose.
We know that it is the will of many people to abort children before they are born.   Thankfully it is the will of most people that a child be allowed birth.

 State law gives us this right to choose according to our own will.   But as Christians, we are to surrender our will and accept God’s will when we are making important decisions.   So what is God’s will for a child not yet born?

Let’s turn to the Law of Moses and see what God has to say.  Exodus 21 “22 If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Abortion is a clear violation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.”  And the punishment for it is proportional to harm caused to the unborn child.
A child growing in a mother’s womb is a creation of God.   We read this in Job 31:13 “Did not he who made me in the womb make them?  Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”

A child is created in the image of God.  We read this in Genesis 1:27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

God cares for children before they are born.  We read this is Psalm 139, “13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,  I know that full well.  15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

God designed each child.   We read this is Exodus 4  “11 The Lord said to him (Moses) , “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
We have a wonderful story at the beginning of Luke’s gospel about a meeting between two pregnant women.   Here is what happened:

Luke 1:39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

The child in Elizabeth’s womb recognized that he was in the presence of Jesus and was able to receive the Holy Spirit.   And so children are able to worship even before birth.

And this brings us to today’s scripture, Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
When a woman is pregnant she is offering her body as a living sacrifice to bring new life into the world.   She is to bring her child into the world through birth and nurture it in the faith because this is holy and pleasing to God.

Let me tell you a story about a woman who led a life holy and pleasing to God.

 Agnes lost her father at 9 years old.   But her relationship with Jesus sustained her and at age 12, over her mother’s objections, she entered religious life as a nun.  Agnes felt God’s call to go to India to serve the poorest of the poor.   By the time Agnes died at 87 she had started over 600 homeless shelters, orphanages, AIDS hospices, leprosy clinics and homes for single mothers in over 130 countries.   In 1999, Gallup called her one of the most highly admired people of the 20th century.  You know Agnes by her religious name, Mother Teresa.

The spiritual practice of Total Surrender means that we surrender our free will and follow God’s will in every important decision we make.   We discern God’s will in our lives through worship, Bible study, prayer, and single-minded focus on Jesus.  Once we discern God’s will for a particular decision we surrender our own wills and follow God’s will.  We make a spiritual sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Let’s pray.

Father in heaven, we thank you for designing us and caring for us in the womb.   We thank you for birth and for those who nurtured us in the faith.   Help us to always seek to know your will for every important decision in our lives.   And help us to surrender our will and follow your will in everything we do.   This we pray in Jesus’s name.   Amen.