Pastor Steve Mechem
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Rev. Jerry Keeney
Acts 17:22-28 New Testament for Everyone version
So Paul stood up in the midst of the Areopagus. ‘Men of Athens,’ he said, ‘I see that you are in every way an extremely religious people. For as I was going along and looking at your objects of worship, I saw an altar with the inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Well: I’m here to tell you about what it is that you are worshipping in ignorance. The God who made the world and everything in it, the one who is Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. Nor does he need to be looked after by human hands, as though he lacked something, since he himself gives life and breath and all things to everyone. He made from one stock every race of humans to live on the whole face of the earth, allotting them their properly ordained times and the boundaries for their dwellings. The aim was that they would search for God, and perhaps reach out for him and find him. Indeed, he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and exist; as also some of your own poets have put it, “For we are his offspring”.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Amos 5:24 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The prophet declares,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
People conclude their pledge to the flag with the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”
Dr. King is quoted as saying, “The long arc of the moral universe bends toward Justice.”
Statues of justice are characterized by a sword, scales and a blindfold.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jane Addams wrote, “True Peace is the presence of justice.”
The Torah declares, “Dont delay Justice, don’t show favoritism.”
Malcolm X said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who its for or against.”
John McCain wrote, “the longing for liberty and justice is our reality.”
Alexander Hamilton opined, “I think the first duty of society is justice.”
The prophet asks and answers, “What does the lord require of you?”
To do justice,
To love mercy,
To walk humbly with God.
its a biblical word
its a political word
its a cultural word
its a law and order word
its a mercy and love word
When you hear the word justice, what does it mean to you? (take responses)
The Hebrew word “mishpat” is the word translated justice more than 200 times in the hebrew bible.
It carries within it a law and order definition, “acquitting or punishing people based on deeds, and not based on who they may be.” Justice, the bible says, is to be impartial. And it should be noted, that justice, carefully applied, takes both the action and the circumstances surrounding those actions into account.
And also within the meaning of the word “Justice” is fairness, equity, equality and the giving to people their God given rights.
Justice means giving people their due, and built into that definition is special attention to securing rights for those who have been set aside by society.
Justice, by biblical definition is always about caring for the poor, the widow, the children, the stranger, the left behind.
Because in ancient Hebrew society, these folks were on the underside and were left on the outside looking in. Fairness and equality were not within their grasp, so justice meant looking out for them.
Biblical Justice, it seems, takes into account the struggles of the poor and dispossessed precisely because those who control the society’s purse strings tend to look out for their personal interests making the have nots disproportionately vulnerable to injustice.
Justice reflects the character of God, and God seems to press for justice (fairness) in regard to those on the edges of society. You can say it isn’t so, but even a casual reading of the bible reveals God’s great concern for justice (especially for the poor).
So much so that there is a desire that “justice will roll like a never ending river.”
Justice, as it appears to stream from the heart of God becomes a force within the people who recognize themselves to be the people of God.
As you read about justice in the bible, you quickly become aware that God expects God’s people to do justice, to work for justice, to advocate for justice and make God’s demand for justice known.
There are three amazing prophetic passages, from Micah, Isaiah, and Amos that address the need to do justice by chastising and criticizing the people of God for substituting their call to do justice with performa religion.
Isaiah quotes God (as our youth read earlier),
“I’m fed up with your worthless offerings
… seek justice.”
Micah asks the question,
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
the Answer, What the Lord requires is that you do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.
Amos quotes God,
“I hate, I reject your festivals, I don’t enjoy your joyous assemblies. Take away the noise of your songs. Rather, let justice roll down like an ever flowing river.
Of all the stuff you do in my name, God appears to be saying, the thing that matters is justice. Do it. Seek it. Let it flow.
Built into the biblical idea of justice is the ideal of right relationships. We are created to be in relationship with God and in relationship to each other.
Shared relationships beget justice.
When we refuse to be in relationship with others based on race, or sexual identity or social status, the door to injustice flies wide open. We are much more likely to fear people we don’t know and don’t understand. That fear often breeds injustice.
And, as we are captive within our own groups, we miss out on the beauty of the diverse tapestry of our world.
I wish that people who fear brown and black people would get to know more brown and black people- their fears would melt away as they recognize and embrace commonality.
I wish my family and friends who are homophobic would get to know some gay folks and interact with them. They would discover that there is nothing to fear and so much joy of life to be experienced.
I wish my xenophobic friends would step outside themselves and get to know people who are culturally different than them. they would discover a brand new world of shared experiences.
We are meant to be in relationship with one another. And that relationship is meant to be diverse, inclusive, and engaging. And that breeds justice.
As Timothy Keller writes, “If I threw 1000 threads onto the table they wouldn’t be a fabric. They'd be threads laying on top of each other. Threads become fabric when each one has been woven over, under, around, and through every other one. The more inter-dependent they are the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but He didn’t make them to be in aggregation. Rather, He made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, web, interdependent relationship with each other.
Jesus tells a parable.
The parable is actually depicted in this window.
A man is wounded by robbers, his body broken and left for dead. He is a bloody mess, and from a distance he looks dead.
A priest comes by the man. He is likely to be on his way to the temple to serve and realizes that if the man is dead, or bloodied and he touches him, he will immediately become disqualified for service in the temple. And since there are so many priests and their rotations are set, there was every reason to believe that this might be the only time in his whole life that he would be called on to serve his two week term in the temple. It is a big deal, a badge of honor, and so he chooses religious duty over mercy.
Next comes a religious teacher. No doubt he is heading to the temple to engage with the other religious teachers in great theological debate. But if he is ceremonially unclean, he won't be allowed in. His ideas wont be heard, people wont be persuaded by his great insight. So he sees the hurt man, and fearing contamination, walks right on by.
A third person comes by. He is not identified by religion but by nationality. He is a despised Samaritan, the bad guys in every first century story, and listeners to Jesus’ story probably expect that he will approach the wounded man only to strip him of any remaining possessions.
The Samaritan approaches the wounded one, looks him over, is deeply moved, and cares for him, binds his wounds, puts him on his donkey and walks beside him to a hostel.
He leaves the man in the hostel keepers care leaving him money for his care and promising to pay any additional costs on his return.
Jesus looks at his listeners, at all of us really, and declares, “Go and do likewise.”
The prophet declares that God grows weary of worship and religious performance when the needs of the hurting are ignored.
So, we pursue justice.
We pursue justice by marching, and serving on committees, and by being engaged and by voting in ways that bring justice to people.
We pursue justice by learning the truth about people and their struggles.
We pursue justice by recognizing that our strength as justice doers is in the doing of it.
When we see a need, we work to find a solution.
When we see a person bullied, we stand beside them.
When we see someone hurting, we offer comfort and grace,
We speak the in love, even when our voice quivers.
We Pray, we work, we walk alongside.
We touch, we speak, we listen, we embrace.
Justice. We just do it, whenever, wherever we can.
Let Justice roll like an ever-flowing river and let it begin in us.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Ephesians 5:15-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
I realized that the structure of today’s sermon was such that we would begin down and work our way back up. But my fear was that beginning in a downward place might create a funk that prohibited us from climbing upward. So, I’ve changed things just a little bit so that we begin up and move down and then move upward again.
Here’s the up!
I really believe that the humanity is getting better. You have to measure such a statement based on the totality of history and not from year to year or even generation to generation. If you look at the reality of history, over the long haul things are much better than they have ever been.
Don’t hear me wrong, we are nowhere close to Utopia, but in comparison to the past, humanity is making progress.
I believe the vast majority of folks are decent and kind. As I experienced last Sunday while taking the city bus home from church. I had my mini iPad in my cargo pocket. As I stood up to leave the bus, it must have fallen out.
I started to walk down the sidewalk and heard the bus’s horn. I turned to see a woman was walking toward me with my iPad. She had seen it on the seat. It would have been so simple for her to be the owner of a mini ipad. As a loser of billfolds and keys and passports, (and now iPads) I can testify that people are generally kind and go out of their way to return those things.
I believe in the basic goodness of God’s creation. God created, and said, “it is good.”
People take care of each other better now than in the past.
There is more emphasis on human rights now then there has ever been.
There are safety nets for the least protected among us.
Again I’m not saying we’re there yet, but I am saying we are farther along than we’ve ever been.
There is less violence.
There are more protections for people.
There is an emphasis on education and healthcare and fairness in the workplace.
Indoor plumbing, enough said.
Advancements in medicine and science and social understanding help people live lives with more opportunities.
Humanitarian efforts, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, One, Heifer International, countless aid organizations work across the globe to make life better.
There is more student involvement and activism than ever.
As Dr. King said so brilliantly, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I believe we are seeing the long arc of history bend toward justice and righteousness and goodness.
And I further believe that a primary cause of progress is the infusion of the kingdom of God into the world. It is a kingdom where we are taught to care for one another, to love one another, to sacrifice for one another. And that has happened since the beginning of the Jesus’ movement.
While the kingdom may not come to fruition as quickly as we would like, it is in the midst of becoming.
Now, the down.
Having said all of that, it is possible, in the present day, to be discouraged, and fearful, and troubled, as you read the headlines and experience life-
Climate change and the propensity on the part of some to ignore it,
Human trafficking, modern day slavery, genocide, extreme poverty and an utter disregard for the suffering of fellow humans,
The immense refugee crisis,
A response to immigrants that sounds hateful and appears cruel,
A resurgence of white supremacy and the growth of hate groups,
Mass shootings that occur so often as to become routine,
A political system that seems to be imploding and where true political leadership and courage seem at a loss,
An economic system that favors those who have over those who have not In greater ways that it ever has before,
Basic human decency appears to be on the decline while sexism, racism, bigotry, and xenaphobia appear to be on the rise, or at least people with those predilections feel emboldened to act out.
At our Courageous Conversation this past Saturday, the facilitator was trying to bring us to a place where we might focus on the church’s role in the world. He said to us “what does this have to do with the church with a with a capital C?”
I sat in my chair, flummoxed, as I wondered what he even meant by church with a capital C. I know he was talking about the worldwide church, but at this point in my journey, I’m not even sure what that is or if I belong to it.
When I see a video of a American missionary in Uganda harassing, verbally bullying, insulting, and physically assaulting a hotel employee in the name of Jesus, I say to myself “his church and my church- not the same thing.”
When I read of clergy abusing children, targeting young boys and girls and then passing them along for other clergy to abuse, I say to myself “this church and my church- not the same thing.”
When I listen to the people who claim to represent church and church leadership in this country speak out, I find myself saying “their church and my church- not the same thing.”
When I watch the church compromise itself, sell its soul, for political power and a seat at the table, I find myself thinking “their church and my church- not the same thing.”
I don’t know what church with a capital C means anymore but I am afraid that it does not mean following Jesus.
To many people, these seem like dark days. Like the kid on the cover of our bulletin, we cover our faces with our hands and look through the slots between our fingers fearful of what we might see next.
The apostle Paul might describe these days as evil. That’s the description he uses as he writes to his friends in Ephesus, “the days are evil.”
So what are we to do as we live in seemingly evil days?
Do we fight back?
Do we run and hide?
Do we give up and acquiesce?
Do we become the evil we so abhor?
Here’s where we go up again.
Paul’s gives some simple but profound advice. He writes, “do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Last week I made the argument that the will of God is not so much about mysterious and mystical discernment of what God wants us to do in life, where to live, what job to have, etc., but rather, God’s will is about doing what we know God wants us to do because we have been told it through Scripture and seen it in the life and activity of Jesus.
Love one another.
Stand beside the put aside.
Stand up for those who have been pushed down.
Pray for your enemies
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Accept people where they are.
Speak truth in love.
Wash some feet.
I wear this shirt today as a reminder that it is our responsibility to choose kind. The shirt is part of an active anti-bullying campaign, but it’s message reverberates throughout all of life, especially in troubled times.
Always choose kindness.
People who truly choose kindness are mocked on Cable news, scoffed at on social media, and derided by political bullies.
Bu don’t be confused. Don’t hear “choose kindness” and think “choose capitulation” or “choose to be a doormat.” Hear this- to practice kindness in the light of an unkind world, is to act courageously and bravely.
To stand with the hurting is kindness.
To strive for justice is kindness.
To reach down to help someone up is kindness.
To turn the other cheek is courageous and kind.
To forgive is kindness.
As Jesus hung on the cross, he proclaimed, “Forgive them Father for they don’t what they are doing.” The ultimate act of kindness.
Choose kindness, choose to act out the will of God. That is the way through evil days as we anticipate the deeper reality of the now and coming kingdom.
Pastor Steve Mechem
Ephesians 4:25-32 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
When I was younger, a teenager, new in the faith, seeking God in every part of my life, I was involved in several different prayer groups.
We would meet in homes, churches, restaurants and we would pray. It fit very much into the Jesus Movement tradition of which I was (and still am) a part.
We would pray for forgiveness.
We would pray for people.
We would pray about situations.
But above all else, we would pray for God’s will to be done.
We used phrases like,
“reveal to us your will,”
“direct us in your will,”
“speak to us your will”
“guide us in your will.”
We prayed for God’s will to be done in the world, in our community, in our own personal lives.
It was important for us to pray for, and to discern God’s will in our lives.
I am sure that the emphasis on God’s will in our personal lives was linked to the reality of our lives as young people, with our future before us and life molding decisions to be made at every turn.
We prayed that God would direct us to the college that God willed for us to attend.
We prayed that God would reveal to us who God wanted us to date and marry.
We prayed that God would lead us to the career God had chosen for us.
We prayed that God would reveal God’s will so we could follow.
Nothing wrong with these prayers, in fact, there are a lot of things right with them- to seek God in the big details of life is super important.
But, as a more mature, older guy, I have come to some conclusions about what it means to seek and follow God’s will.
While seeking God’s will in the big, in the specific is all well and good, but the truest measure of following God’s will, it seems to me, is found in the little things, the mundane, the everyday.
God may indeed lead us in the big things, but we learn to follow God’s will in the little things.
Its the little things that matter.
The pioneer of glam rock, Alice Cooper, released a song back in 2000 on his Brutal Planet album titled, “Its the little things.” Its pretty ingenious, in the song, Cooper admits that the big things he can take, deal with, but it is the little things that set him off.
The first verse, which I kinda relate to reads,
You can burn my house, You can cut my hair
You can make me wrestle naked with a grizzly bear
You can poison my cat, Baby I don't care
But if you talk in the movies I'll kill you right there.
It's the little things
That drive me wild
While the lyrics are a bit on the dark side, the reality is that it is in the little things that who we are is exposed, and it is in the little things where we discover who we might be by God’s grace.
The Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book titled, “Peace in Every Step.” The idea behind the meditations in the book is that in everyday living, in each little step of life, we discover the peace of God.
In Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who the hero of the story, beside Horton, is a young who named Jo-Jo whom plays with a yo-yo and is described as “ a very small, very small shirker.” This who, JO-Jo would finally save the day by shouting, “yop.” And of course there is Horton the Elephant who declares that a “person is a person, no matter how small.”
It was Mother Teresa who famously said, “you may not do great thing, but do the small, the little things, in love.”
Now what do Alice Cooper and Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Seuss and Mother Teresa have to do with knowing the will of God?
The will of God, rather than just being about the big things, Where should I live?, What should I do for a vocation?, Who should I marry? is more about everyday behavior and actions- it’s found in doing the little things.
So, in Ephesians, Paul makes a list of little things (in comparison to the big things we usually assign to God’s Will) that God is wanting us to do. And doing what God wants us to do is the exact definition of God’s Will! It was read earlier in the New Revised Standard Version. Hear it now from the Message Bible.
“What this adds up to, then, is this:
no more lies, no more pretense.
Tell your neighbor the truth.
In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all.
When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.
Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more!
Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work.
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk.
Be gentle with one another, sensitive.
Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
Do you want to follow God’s will? Be real. Be authentic.
Do you want to follow God’s will? Be honest.
Do you want to discover God’s will? connect with others in relationship.
Do you want to discern God’s will? React to life with honestly, if it angers you, be angry, but deal with your emotions in positive ways don’t allow them to fuel hate or a need for revenge.
Do you want to understand God’s will? Share deeply of your resources with others without judgement.
Do you want to follow God’s will. Let your words be affirming and encouraging.
Do you want to be in God’s will? Love God. Celebrate God’s presence in your life.
Do you want to follow God’s will? The gossip, the meanness, the rudeness- just stop it!
Do you want to follow God’s will? Forgive. Period.
God’s will is discovered in the little things of life, the behaviors, the actions, the words that lift people up and support justice and exude love and grace.
When Jesus says, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” perhaps, beyond big things like world peace and justice, He is praying that we should strive to live everyday lives that are
Perhaps the will of God isn’t something we mystically discern, but something we discover as we actively live it out! We find it by doing it.