August 13, 2017: Dwell

Pastor Steve Mechem

Psalm 105:1-6 Common English Bible

1
Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!
2
Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!
3
Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
4
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!
5
Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—
6
you who are the offspring of Abraham, his servant,
and the children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

Audio only.

August 6, 2017: Tilt

Pastor Steve Mechem

Psalm 17:1-7 Common English Bible

Listen to what’s right, LORD;
pay attention to my cry!
Listen closely to my prayer;
it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie!
My justice comes from you;
let your eyes see what is right!
You have examined my heart,
testing me at night.
You’ve looked me over closely,
but haven’t found anything wrong.
My mouth doesn’t sin.
But these other people’s deeds?
I have avoided such violent ways
by the command from your lips.
My steps are set firmly on your paths;
my feet haven’t slipped.
I cry out to you because you answer me.
So tilt your ears toward me now—
listen to what I’m saying!
Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways
because you are the one
who saves those who take refuge in you,
saving them from their attackers
by your strong hand.

Audio only.

July 30, 2017: Following

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 7: 24-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Jesus said, “Come follow me.”

What does that mean, “follow Jesus?”

Sounds simple enough but there are so many contradictory and confusing responses to the question, how do I know how to follow Jesus?

I say one thing, the preacher down the street says something else, the “Christian” leaders who claim to speak for us say something else. Books, magazine articles, podcasts, blogs, vlogs, posts and tweets all answer the question differently.

Some of us grew up believing that we followed Jesus by walking forward at the time of Invitation at the end of a church service, by saying some version of the sinner’s prayer and by being baptized. That is what we were taught is required to follow Jesus.

Others learned that if they went through some instructional classes, they would be following Jesus.

Some of us are encouraged to follow Jesus by going to church regularly, giving tithes, being moral sexually, not using taboo words, refusing intoxicating beverages, and avoiding sin (however sin is defined by our church).

Some of us are told that if you avoid certain things things you are following Jesus.
Don't drink.
Don’t play cards.
Don't gamble.
Don't dance.
Don't go to bars.
Don't go to movies.

Still others are told they are following Jesus when they reject people who are different than them- people who practice other religions, people whose sexuality is defined differently, people who break the sin rules, and people who have made mistakes in their lives. These people are to be avoided and excluded if we want to follow Jesus.

Wear the right clothes.
Say the right words.
Pray the right prayers.
Listen to the right music.
Exclude the right people.
Attend the right church.
And you will be followers of Jesus, some say.

Of course different leaders will discern differently which clothes are right, which words are wrong, which prayers are true, which music is godly, which church is bible-based and spirit-filled.

It can leave us confused.

I wonder what Jesus says is the way we follow him?

Listening to final words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”

Hearing Jesus and putting what we hear into practice is the working definition of what is means to follow Jesus.

For the last seven months we have been looking at the core of Jesus’ teaching as it has been preserved for us in the Sermon on the Mount.

Every Sunday, except a couple, you have been confronted with Jesus words. We have dissected them and put them back together and sought life applications from them.

These words, comprising three chapters in Matthew’s gospel, were not spoken by Jesus as idealistically unachievable aphorisms. They weren't given as unreachable goals. I believe Jesus spoke the word so that we might hear them and then put into practice. They become the foundation for a life lived in the grace of God.

I don’t believe that the Sermon on the Mount was a once delivered speech. I believe that it was basically Jesus’ stump speech and that over Jesus’ three year ministry, the words of the sermon are repeated over and over again by Jesus, perhaps with modification, but still largely intact, as Jesus would confront people with the reality of following him.

So I would declare that if you want to follow Jesus, you should listen to Jesus and practice what you hear. And the Sermon on the Mount is an amazing capsulation of Jesus’ teaching.

I share with you these take-always from the sermon.

1) Choose. There is a gate to enter, a path to walk, a way to live. We choose love over hate, grace over judgement, inclusion over exclusion. We choose to follow Jesus by living lives defined by love.

2) Seek. God’s kingdom is in-breaking. We follow Jesus as we seek the Kingdom over which Jesus is Lord. The kingdom is defined by love, grace, graciousness, mercy, justice and kindness.

3) Trust. Big picture, we have little control over our lives. Stuff happens. We can plan, and build, and save, and discover our plans are fruitless, what we build rots, what we save is taken from us. The thing that we can ultimately do is trust. Trust God to be God. Trust and chill. After all, tomorrow will have enough problems of its own.

4) Love. Your God, your neighbor, yourself, your enemy. In love, turn the other cheek. In love, walk the extra mile. In love, be generous. Remember that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in the words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

5) Be authentic. Don’t be religious for show. Don’t be kind just because people are watching. Don’t give and expect a plaque. Be who you are - and who you are becoming.

6) Forgive. Seems like a requirement to receive the wholeness that comes with being forgiven. Forgive because it frees you from your self imposed exile of bitterness and lostness.

7) Be blessed. Seriously- feeling poor in spirit, struggling, striving, serving, hurting, helping, running on empty? Then you are blessed because God can work in and through you. Celebrate your blessedness.

8) Accept. Quit judging people over things you don’t know, or don’t understand, or don’t like. Quit judging people over things you fear or have been taught to fear. See each person you encounter, Rich, Poor, Homeless, White, Brown, Black, Gay, Trans, Straight, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist, as a beloved child of God. Accept them and love them.

9) Do. “Do to others as you would desire others to do to you.” Proactively and without thought of reward and recognition. Treat others kindly, with respect, with understanding. Just do it!!

10) Shine. Let it shine, baby!!! God’s love shines through you. God’s grace is manifest through you. God’s mercy comes through you. For some people, the only evidence they may have of God’s love, and grace and mercy is you. Don’t mess it up!!! Shine!

Jesus said, Come Follow Me.
Choose
Seek
Trust
Love
Be authentic
Forgive
Be blessed
Accept
Do
Shine.

And above all things, put on love, which fulfills the law and the prophets.

Amen.

July 23, 2017: A Road, A Fruit, and A Way of Life

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 7: 13-23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.


Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.


Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'”

Audio only.

July 16, 2017: Hope's End

Rev. Jerry Keeney

Genesis 1:26-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”


Ephesians 4:15-16 New Revised Standard Version
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Audio only.

July 9, 2017: Snakes For Fish

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 7:7-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.


I think this passage is so fun and so interesting. Interesting and necessary for understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

I would divide the passage up into three sections. The final section I would label, “expectation.”

The second section I would name, “comparison.”

The very first section leaves me a little confused.

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I don’t know if the best label for this section of the passage is “hope”, or “promise”, or “truth.”

The words of Jesus sound so great, but reality sometimes comes up a little short of expectation.

Honestly, The number of things I have asked God for over the years that haven’t been given to me would fill a book. I have searched and have not found, I have knocked and the door has remained closed.

I have, over the years, at various times, kept a prayer journal. When I look back in them I discover I am still seeking the same answers, praying the same prayers.

Now, If I am honest, I will admit that if many of my prayers were answered as I uttered them, the answers would certainly have worked toward my detriment.

Still- I have asked, and have not been given, I have sought, and have not found, I have knocked, and have still been shut out.

Even Jesus, in his ministry, experienced the reality of unanswered prayer. I see at least two unanswered prayers that came from the lips of Jesus.

First, in the garden, he prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” As we all know, Jesus drank fully from the cup of suffering as he died terrible and torturous death.

Second, on that last night of his life he prayed about his followers, his church, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The church, from the first business meeting in Jerusalem on, has never ever been one, not in 2,000 years.

And so, I wonder, are Jesus’ words truth? Or are his words a promise of something to come? Or are his words just hopeful rhetoric, hoping that God will respond to our every need and want?

What do you think? Are these words, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,” hope, or promise, or truth. What do you think?

Congregational conversation:

The second section of this passage is a comparison.

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Here Jesus compares God to our earthly parents. Our earthly parents, as flawed as they may be, generally love us and do the best for us. Can’t we expect God, who by definition is love to be as faithful to us as our own parents.

Can you imagine the scene in which a family sits down to a meal and the mom and dad have a salmon steak on rice pilaf, with homemade bread and butter to eat while on the children’s plates are a pile of live snakes and a couple of rocks? Maybe I can imagine it on a episode of “Criminal Minds,” but it would certainly point to deranged and evil and sick parents.

God is not deranged or evil or sick, and God will certainly take care of God’s children.

The third section in this passage I am calling expectation.

If God watches out for us as a loving parent.
If God’s love seeks the best for us.
Then it only makes sense, that as children of God, we take care of each other by:
respecting each other
caring for each other
treating each other kindly

It is not rocket science, it is the simple reality of faith.

There is not room in our discipleship for
hate,
racism
bigotry,
sexism,
homophobia,
intolerance,
bullying,
meanness,
ugliness,
narcissism,
narrow mindedness,
or elitism.

So, how does it work, “doing unto others as you would have others do to you?”

It starts with each of us.
Internally, we make a decision to practice kindness. And not just to our family and friends and people like us, but to everyone we encounter.

The decision is not based on how others treat us, it is based on what God has called us to be!

So,

I am kind.
even when people are unkind to me.

I give people a break,
even if they would not give me a break.

I am generous,
even when people are not generous to me.

I am helpful,
even when people are not helpful to me.

I see the best in others,
even if they are bent on seeing the worst in me.

I don’t give up on people,
even if people have given up on me.

Why?

Because God is love and teaches each us to love as a response to that love. It is that simple.

We are taught that we can see Jesus in the people around us, in the people we encounter.

Therefore, we respond to people in kindness, if for no other reason, because in them we can see Jesus.

There is a Praise Chorus with extremely simple but profound lyrics:
“The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you,
The Jesus in me loves the Jesus in you,
So easy, so easy, so easy to love.”

I would disagree with the line that says its easy to love, and change the word “easy” to “simple.” Simple is not the same as easy. Simple can be very hard. Loving some people is not easy, but it is a simple task when we recognize Jesus in them.

Knowing the the spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus resides in each of us does not necessarily make it easy to love, but it makes it simple to love.

God is love.
God loves each of us.
In each person resides the spirit of God.
We see Jesus in each of them.
Therefore, we treat them with
kindness and respect,
as we would want to be treated.

It is as simple as that!

Amen.

July 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for July is now available here.

June 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for June is now available here.

May 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for May is now available here.

April 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for April is now available here.