Monday, April 8, 2013

2nd Sermon ULC

Listen to the Podcast [Click Here]

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I hope all is well on your various spiritual journeys.  It's not always easy is it?  In fact a lot of the time it's very very hard.  This journey as a good soldier of Christ requires a lot of perseverence.

I know it did during my journey.  Maybe this was true with a lot of you as well, but at a young age I was consistently aware that something just wasn't right in the world.

You remember the movie The Matrix?  With Keanu Reeves?  I remember the scene where Morpheus, this revolutionary, found Neo, this hacker who had been searching for him.  He said to Neo: "Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me."

For me, when I saw that scene in the movie, it really rung true.  That was something I'd noticed all my life.  Something wasn't quite right.  I had that feeling first when I was 8 or 9 years old.  Later on in life it got stronger and stronger as I read about corruption, disease, famine, and just all the problems of the world.

But back to Morpheus here, hes sitting before Neo and explaining this to Neo, this hacker, of this feeling thats been inside him his entire life.  Morpheus offers him a choice of taking a red pill or a blue pill, one will put him to sleep and he'll wake up and choose whatever he wants to believe.  The other is to go down "the rabbit hole" and see the truth.  Of course Neo chose to go down the rabbit hole and the movie went on from there.

But isn't that what brought a lot of us to Christianity?  We wanted answers!  We didn't care how ugly the truth was.  We were tired of the "bro" lifestyle or the bar scene or the endless pattern of everyday life.  And a lot of us felt that hole in the chest.  That feeling that something ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL was missing on the inside of us.

And many of us tried to fill that gaping hole with things that could never fill it.  Drugs, sex, alcohol, cheap thrills, or we just tried to switch off that hole by staring into the endless glare of television screens or computer screens.

But you know what?  None of that filled the hole.  We still woke up the next day, and there it was.  That yearning, for something more.  For something real.  For righteousness in a dark world!

We knew none of this was right.  Many of us, when the mention of a God governing the universe was brought up turned hard against it.  How could an all loving God allow this kind of destruction and disaster to befall his children?  We were angry at the world, angry at God, and just angry in general.

What really opened that door for me, was realizing that if there was an all powerful God, he didn't owe me anything.  If I was his creation, he didn't owe me a single thing.  I was his to do with as he would.  If only we didn't have the kind of anger we had toward God directed toward things like government, media, corruption, or world hunger?  Right?

But maybe I just needed to understand what was really going on, before casting all the problems of the world on my creator.  And now I do understand what's going on here, and I want to share that with you, as I understand it from scripture.

See our Father created the universe, he created the Earth and he put humanity on it.  This was at the beginning of time.  The Earth was created to be a paradise.  It was meant to be a place of peace, where this creator walked about the beautiful paradise in direct contact with his creations.  We know the first humans were Adam and Eve.  They lived with God in paradise.  And God loved them!  He watched happily as Adam named the animals.  He watched them go about their days in the beautiful garden.  And I can imagine, it was quite a wonderful thing.  Peaceful, serene, full of the happiness and joy that comes from being so close to the Father in a beautiful garden.  But then something happened.

There was one tree in this vast garden that the two humans were instructed to never eat from.  They were told if they ate from it, they would die.  Simple enough right?  Don't eat that fruit!

We know that God had two creations, one was humanity, and the other we know as angels.  Angels were the servants of God, doing his work behind the scenes around humanity, sometimes seen, very often not seen.

There was an angel named Lucifer, or Satan, and we know this angel was once God's favorite, probably because of the high amount of passion this particular angel had.

So you've got Adam and Eve, in the garden, you've got God walking about the garden in direct presence with the first humans.  Then you have the angels, who kind of work in the background for God.  Lucifer, this angel was jealous of God's great love for his new creation, humanity.  So Lucifer went into this perfect garden, and told the first humans they would be God-like if they ate from that tree.

We know that the first humans, Adam and Eve at that fruit which Lucifer offered to them.  They instantly died spiritually, as God had told them.  Instantly, they were cut off from the perfection that is direct contact with God.  The eating of this fruit is the origin of humanity's inherent disobedience to God.  God sent them out of the garden, into this place, the place we are now, which is the Earth, as it is now.

Something fundamental about Earth changed on that day.  It was once a great garden, but then with the first sin done by man kind the Earth changed.  It became a harsh place, difficult to live in.  God, this mysterious figure walking about the garden would no longer walk about this corrupted Earth.  He returned to heaven, which we might call by modern terms, an alternative reality, or different dimension that where we are now.

A lot of the details we don't know really know, but we know that after that moment God really pulled back on his dominion and direct interaction on Earth.  In fact, Lucifer, this rogue rebelling angel was the one who stayed with humanity here on Earth.  And Lucifer began to set up his dark kingdom here, full of misery, destruction, and death.  But our Father didn't leave us at that.  He definitely could have.  He could have written us off as a failed, dark creation that had turned against him.  But NO!  During the next few thousand years, as humanity tried to survive on this Earth he constantly reached out to humanity, protecting them, and and giving them encouragement, love, and eventually his laws.

So we've got humanity on the run, spreading out over this corrupted Earth gone wrong.  We've got Satan(or Lucifer) setting up a dark kingdom here of oppression and corruption.  Satan enlisted other angels his rebellion against God, and these we know as demons, who constantly work in the world to subvert humanity.  Then we've got God, working a plan to restore humanity to it's connection with him.  He begins to set up a nation, called Israel, in this dark world, that would be a light to it, and could spread God's love and God's word and laws about the entire world.  He watches over Israel, and rises it up into power, but Israel continues to fail God in almost every way possible.  God used many along in this journey that we read about in the old testament:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, just to name a few, to slowly build up this "nation of priests."  We know God gave Moses the law, which are the ten commandments.

God offered the ten commandments as a way for humanity to get right with him and return to their full connection with him.  They were ten rules for living, just basic rules about being a good person!  Don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, don't kill, those kinds of things.  Fairly simple rules is you really look them over.  Sadly, humanity with it's constant propensity to make mistakes and cause problems, couldn't live up to these laws.

God needed someone who could come into the world, fulfill all the laws, without breaking them, and also teach the nation of Israel.  So he sent Jesus the Christ, his only son.  But what does that mean really?  His "only son" ?  We don't really know.  We know that Jesus in fact was God, yet somehow separate.  It's confusing, trying to figure out how Jesus and God are related.  Heres how I choose to look at it: God came to Earth in human form, as Jesus Christ, to personally save us.

That's arguable, and I don't want to argue it, that's just how I choose to see it, in light of scripture not being completely clear on the relationship between God, Jesus, and the holy spirit.

But imagine this.  God creates humanity.  The first humans choose to turn against God, because they would prefer to BE GOD.  A corrupt, tangent Earth is formed where the perfect garden of Eden had been.  Satan, this rogue angel is constantly trying to keep God and humanity separated, out of this deranged child-like anger and jealousy at God for loving humanity SO MUCH.

But God isn't done there.  He loves his humans.  HE WANTS THEM BACK WITH HIM.  So he comes down to Earth PERSONALLY as a human.  He teaches the people of Israel about their way back to him.  Jesus Christ is the BRIDGE God builds between humanity and himself.  He says look, I know your hearts are sinful, you can't seem to keep the ten commandments.  Well you know what, I love you SO MUCH, I'm here to fulfill that requirement PERSONALLY.  Then all you have to do is ACCEPT the sacrifice I'm going to make for you.  Just TRY to turn from your sins, and follow the ways I'm showing you as Jesus here.  YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT PERFECTLY!  I know you're going to continue sinning even after receiving my sacrifice for you.  But just.. try.

So Jesus Christ, called "Immanuel" or "God with us" lived a perfect life.  Didn't sin ONCE!  But but but, at the same time he was TEMPTED in every way we are as human beings.  Which means, at times he may have wanted to sin, but he never gave in to it.  God the Father needed the ten commandments, or "the law" to be kept.

And we don't know exactly why that is.  Maybe it was because it was an agreement he made with humanity, and it couldn't be broken.  Maybe it had something to do with morality, or universal order.  Maybe it had something to do with what was going on between God and the rebellious angels.  We don't know for sure, and we don't really need to know.

But God saw we couldn't fulfill the law, came to the Earth in human form as Christ Jesus, and fulfilled the requirement of the law.  Not only did he do that, he also took on the burden of ALL THE SINS of humanity from the beginning of time, til the end of time, and paid the debt for ALL THOSE SINS on the cross.

Do we know exactly what that means?  No, we don't.  I had a friend suggest that perhaps while Jesus Christ was on the cross he was wearing, and holding, and FEELING the weight of every sin ever committed by man kind, or would be committed by man kind.  That's the way he chooses to look at it, and I like that, because again we don't know exactly what that means.  It may have been the physical act of dying on the cross itself, or it might have been something more complex where Jesus was wearing the pain of all the sins of man kind.  It's debatable, and again, I don't want to debate it.  So there it is.

God came back to an Earth twisted by sin to offer COMPLETE FORGIVENESS and REDEMPTION to humanity.  God said look, I know its tough out there on this Earth of yours.  You cut yourself off from me, now you live on your own Earth, distanced from me.  I can see that's not working out for you, with all those wars, famines, diseases, death, and corruption.  But you know what?  I want you to be my child again.  I want you to be DIRECTLY CONNECTED to me again.

So how do we do that?  It's called The Bible.  And it tells you about God the Father, when he came to Earth in human form as Christ Jesus and recreated that connection with humanity.   But what exactly has to be done to get right with our creator?  Because we're upset, we're lost, we feel empty and nothing seems to make sense.  Well here it is: Accept the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, BELIEVE that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins PERSONALLY.  We must also turn from our sins, and try to live the way Jesus Christ did.  We must give our lives over to God, to Jesus Christ.  And yes, we still have a sinful nature within us.  So we'll continue to sin, but we'll try not to.  God won't base our salvation and reconnection to him on the good things we do, though we must try to do good things.  He sees us as righteous when we have that strong BELIEF in Christ Jesus and the good words of the Bible.  That BELIEF is how God judges our righteousness.

And that BELIEF grows as we study scripture, attend church, get into groups, Bible studies, support groups, and just WORK ON OURSELVES with God's tools and his guidebook, the Bible. 

Isaiah 40;31 says "Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength."  So when we offer our creator that TRUST or FAITH or BELIEF, whichever word you like, God gives us strength that we never had before.  I know on my own I could have never overcome the sins of the past.  And we all have those sins.  I work for the church here, but I'm not perfect, I sin, WE ALL SIN!  I drank a lot, I liked to party when I was a kid.  It doesn't matter anymore.  So if you've got things in your life that you just can't seem to overcome, well, maybe that's because you're trying to overcome those things alone.

God offers us great strength and power when we have the courage and wisdom to simply lean on him.  Trust in him.  Go before him, humbly, I beg of you, and tell him that you're powerless over whatever you're struggling with.  It can be anything, from drugs to lying, to scamming people out of money.  Tell God you can't get rid of that sin alone.  Say LORD I NEED YOU!  And I promise you, he will start working to help you out of that sin.  That's a fact.  So just get humble about it.  We need some help from our Father.  And hes generous in giving it, let me tell you.  

I speak from experience in sin, to know that I couldn't get out alone.  My Father had to step in, and clock that bully in the nose, send him runnin.  

After Christ died on the cross, he returned in 3 days and spoke to his followers.  He sent them out into the world to offer up the gospel, which means, the good news.  And as we see today, they succeeded, because Christianity is a world religion.  The Bible is most read book in the history of humanity.  

So here we are today, in the world, 2013, things are very messy still.  They seem to be getting continously worse.  The economies of the world are plummeting.  There are constant wars and threats of new wars.  There is constant greed and corruption in government and business.  Here humanity is today, WITH ALL THESE DISTRACTIONS, products of our enemy, the rogue angel, trying to keep us from the truth of God.  But humans, brave Christians, newly allied with God, are fighting back.  The television is a huge distraction, but Christians create things like the movie "The Gospel of John" and more recently the hit History Channel series "The Bible."  The internet and computers are a huge distraction, but Christians fight back with social networking God's word, creating podcast audio sermons, and social networks to spread the good news.  The fight continues everyday and our weapon is the word of God! 

So that disconnection from God, that splinter in the mind, the empty hole in the chest that we talked about earlier, that's the feeling of being disconnected from our creator.  But we can fill that hole.  When we accept Christ's sacrifice that hole is filled with that connection to God  we need SO MUCH.

Ephesians 3:17-19 says Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Isn't that just wow?  That just amazes me.  Some religions want you to think you can't understand that piece of scripture without a Priest.  Well, I understand it, and I bet you understand it too.  When we have that it produces great fruit in our lives.  We receive the holy spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 says "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.  There is no law against these things."  You know what?  Those are things that I want in my life very badly.  I can't imagine someone who wouldn't want those things!  Love I want in my life.  I want to be joyful and full of peace!  I want to be patient in my trials.  I want to be kind to people.  I want to be a good person!  I want to be faithful and gentle, and I definitely want to be self controlled.  Well we can have those things, we really really can.  And how do all those things glue together in us?  Colossians 3:14 says "Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection."  Love holds it all together!

So let me close with a piece of scripture from 1st Peter, to remind you of WHO YOU ARE when you're a Christian.  1 Peter 2:9 says "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 

Thank you for being part of my spiritual journey, God bless you, and have a great day

-Minister Justin Steckbauer, ULC