Second Reformed Church

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009

Happy Reformation Day! Make sure to give each of the little sinners that comes to your door today a copy of Luther's Theses.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

November Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

11/1/09 Communion/All Saints
Revelation 7:1-17 “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb”

11/8/09 Stewardship
I John 3:16-18 “Are You Giving God Your Leftovers?”

11/15/09 Thanksgiving
Colossians 1:3-14 “We Always Thank God”

11/22/09 Christ the King
Guest preacher: Rev. Luis Perez

11/29/09 Advent 1
John 1:1-18 “The Word Became Flesh”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Christ Lives in Me" Sermon: Galatians 2:15-21

“Christ Lives in Me”
[Galatians 2:15-21]
October 25, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Have you ever done anything wrong? Have you ever not done what you ought to have done? That’s a very simple way of explaining what sin is – it’s doing what God has said not to do and/or not doing what God says we ought to do. And God tells us, even if we do not want to admit it, we have all sinned – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:3:23, ESV). And what happens to those who sin? God tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). And that is not just physical death, but eternal death – eternal war with God – the Eternal Wrath of God against those who are never reconciled to God (cf. I Corintthinas 6:9-10).

It would seem, then, if we really consider it, the most important question we could ask is “How does a person become right with God?” How can you – how can I – become right with God? How can we come out from under God’s Wrath and enter into His Kingdom of Life?

From the beginning of the Church, two different ideas were taught. In first century Jerusalem, there were some who taught that salvation is by faith plus keeping all of the laws of the Old Testament. Today, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by faith plus doing enough good works and/or buying enough indulgences and/or by serving enough time in purgatory. Today, some charismatic and Pentecostal groups teach that salvation is by faith plus the good work of speaking in tongues. And some of the Seventh Day Adventists teach that salvation is by faith plus worshiping on Saturday.

The Reformers – John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others – understood that “faith plus something we do equals salvation” is not what is taught in the Scripture. God says and teaches us through His Word that salvation is by faith alone – we become right with God through faith alone. This faith by which we are reconciled to God receives and believes in Jesus and what He has done for all those who will believe in Him. Let us consider, on this Reformation Sunday, what it is that we believe and receive through faith alone through which God reconciles us to Himself.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is, among other things, confronting the Judaizers – those who were teaching that salvation is by faith plus keeping the Old Testament Law – and telling the Galatian Christians not to believe them – that salvation is by faith alone – keeping the Law could not save anyone and it does not make what Jesus did any more effective. In fact, it makes it look as though Jesus’ Sacrifice was not enough. It makes it look as though what Jesus did was great, but it only gets us so far – we have to keep the Law, which brings us the rest of the way to being right with God. Blasphemy! Heresy!

Paul tells the Galatian Christians to remember that they were born Jews, under the Law, but they knew, even as Jews, it is not possible to be justified by works of the Law, and as David wrote, “no one living is righteous before [God]” (Psalm 143:2b, ESV).

Well, what does it mean to be justified? To be justified is to be declared legally innocent. Understand, when we are justified through Jesus Alone, we are not merely declared not guilty, but we are declared innocent – and we’ll see how that is in a moment. But it is by being justified through faith alone in Jesus Alone that we are reconciled – made right – with God.

Paul tells the Galatian Christians that they believed in Jesus Christ Alone – the He is the Promised Savior, God become Man, Who lived under His Own Law, suffered, died, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne – in order to be justified. They knew that every mere human being is born a sinner and therefore condemned, so no matter how much of the Law a person keeps, it can never be enough to merit perfection, which is the only way a person could “work” his way into the Kingdom.

Then Paul addresses a hypothetical question: “If Jews are justified by the Law, and not sinners, like the Gentiles – the non-Jews – does that mean that Jesus makes the Jews sinners?” You see, there was an idea amongst the Jews that it was possible for them to keep the Law and be holy without the Savior. We remember the rich young ruler who said he had kept all of the law perfectly from his youth. Paul answers, “Certainly not!” Jesus unveils our sin – He makes us understand that we are sinners – He removes our self-imposed blinders and shows us for who we truly are, but He does not make us sinners. We are sinners of our own doing.

So, in verse eighteen, Paul says if we argue that the Law justifies us – saves us – in any degree or in any part – all we do is prove that we are sinners. The Law was given to us to show us what God requires and to expose our sin. To try to use the Law to show were are not sinners backfires.

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.” This is the first half of how were are justified – how we are made right with God: as we already said, the punishment for sin is death, and every mere human being is a sinner. The Law exposes our sin and condemns us. The only way we can live is if Someone Who never sinned voluntarily takes our place – as our Substitute – and receives the full punishment – God’s Wrath – on Himself. That is what Jesus has done for everyone who will believe. Jesus has taken your place and my place and your place, and suffered the punishment for your sin and my sin and your sin. Jesus acted as our Representative and Substitute before God and received the penalty we were due for our sin. So, just as we became sinners “in Adam” – because Adam was humanity’s representative at the creation, we receive new life – forgiveness for our sins – as we have been crucified with Christ. As Paul also wrote, “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:11, ESV).

That’s the first half – Jesus as our Representative – our Substitute – stood in our place – we were crucified in Jesus and with Jesus – and the debt for our sins was paid. Our guilt has been removed. We are forgiven.

But the second half is this – Christ does not just put us back in the place of Adam before the Fall – a human being who is innocent, but has the ability to sin. No, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” You see, Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly. He never sinned. He is holy. And Jesus imputes – He credits to our account – His perfect righteousness – His perfect keeping of the entire Law of God, so that when God looks at us He sees the whole Law perfectly fulfilled in us. And, as we have seen, He gives us the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to remind us of all that He has said in His Word and to help us understand all of it.

Christ’s obedience to the Law is our comfort, because we know that no matter what our failures in this world may be, we are eternally credited by Jesus with the full keeping of the Law. And, we are also forgiven for all of our real sin, because Jesus has already taken the punishment of all of the sin we will ever commit on Himself.

How could anyone possibly think that what we do can and would add to the Work of Jesus? Now we live by faith alone – receiving and believing that Jesus has lived a Perfect and Holy Life under God’s Law, that He has voluntarily been our Substitute, taking the punishment for our sin – so we were crucified in Christ, and He has credited us with His Holy keeping of God’s Law and given us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – so Christ lives in me – the Father sees Christ when He looks at us.

As Paul wrote, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (II Corinthians 5:14-15, ESV).

If, Paul concludes in this morning’s reading, if we could be justified through the Law – if we could be forgiven and made holy through the keeping of the Law – then Jesus would have died for no purpose. Do you understand? If we can or have to do anything to have God declare us innocent and bring us into His Kingdom, then Jesus’ Death was worthless. If Jesus did not do it all – if Jesus did not have to do it all – then the Incarnation was worthless.

But it was not worthless, dear brothers and sisters – and that is why we celebrate Reformation Sunday, remembering the rediscovery of the biblical teaching of justification by faith alone.

We know from the Word of God that Adam sinned as our representative, so every mere human being is born a sinner.

We know that God’s Law exposes our sin and condemns us to eternal death, and no one can completely keep the Law.

So, we need a Savior. We need God to become man, live under His Own Law, suffer, die, rise from the dead, and ascend back to His throne. We need the God-Man to voluntarily take our place on the cross as our Representative – as our Substitute – and take God’s Wrath upon Himself for our sakes – for our sin. And we need the God-Man to impute – to credit us with His Holy Keeping of the Law, so we would be seen as righteous in the Eyes of God and be received into His Eternal Kingdom.

And, brothers and sisters, that is exactly what Jesus did. And if you believe in Jesus Alone by faith alone – not relying on your own good works to save you – He will save you. He will forgive you. He will make you right with God. He will prepare a place for you. And you will have an eternal home with God.

What should our response to this be? What else can it be but to thankfully obey God? How else could we show our everlasting thanks to God, but by doing those things He has commanded us to do and not doing those things that He has forbidden – not because they have any part in our being right before God, but because we are so thankful to God for what He has done for us – (because we cannot help ourselves!) – that we want to do everything we can, by the help of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us – to please God?

We have been crucified with Christ; our sins are forgiven.

Christ lives in us; we are seen as holy by the Father.

Let us rejoice, give thanks, and live for Jesus.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, You came to us when we had nothing but sin to offer, and You chose to die for us and to give us life through You. How amazing is our God Let us be thankful and live ever more thankful lives, letting others know about the Only Savior, our Only Hope. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Reformation Sunday Pot-luck Lunch

Join us for worship this morning at 10:30 AM and then stay after as we celebrate the biblical understanding of the Scripture with a pot-luck lunch. All are invited!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Do You Understand?" Sermon: Acts 8:26-40

“Do You Understand?”
[Acts 8:26-40]
October 18, 2009 Second Reformed Church

This morning we meet Philip for the second of three times in the book of Acts: we saw his encounter with Simon Magus, who desired to buy the ability to give the Gift of the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, and now we are told that an angel of the Lord told Philip to go south – remember he was in Samaria in the north – to the road that went from Jerusalem to Gaza.

This was an old route that was not used as often as others at that time – it went from Jerusalem, which is northeast of the Dead Sea, and extended down to the port city of Gaza, in what we now call the West Bank. This road went through a section of desert. So, since it was an old road and a road that went through the desert, we might well expect that it was lightly traveled.

For whatever reason, in the Plan of God, there was an Ethiopian eunuch on that road. He was a court official of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia. He was a man of power – in charge of the treasury of the Queen. And he had come to Jerusalem to worship – he had made what would have been about a twelve-day journey by chariot from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship. He was a Gentile believer in the God of Israel. He was one of the few at that time outside of Israel who was a faithful follower of YHWH. And he was a fulfillment of prophecy:

David wrote, “Nobles shall come from Egypt; Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God” (Psalm 68:31, ESV). Ethiopia was once called Cush.

And Isaiah wrote, “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3-5, ESV).

Both as a nobleman from Cush (Ethiopia) and as a eunuch who believed in the God of Israel, this man was part of the fulfillment of the prophecy that God made that He would bring eunuchs and Gentiles – and specifically those from Ethiopia – into His Kingdom. And we know from reading the whole history as it is presented in our text that this man believed in the Savior that God sent.

And Philip saw the chariot, and the Holy Spirit told Philip to run and catch up to the chariot – it must not have been going very fast – and as he ran up beside the chariot, he heard the eunuch reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Now let’s consider what that tells us: This eunuch was a powerful man, he would have had his own servants, servants who could have read to him, but we are told that he was reading the scroll himself. We can assume that he was also holding the scroll as he read. There were not many scrolls of the Scripture in existence, so it would have been costly to obtain. Yet, here he was, with his own copy of Isaiah, reading it himself, out loud, as he was being taken home.

Consider: first century chariots didn’t have shock absorbers or air-conditioning. He was on an old road – probably bumpy – going through a desert part of Israel, reading what was likely a Greek scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

If he didn’t want a servant to read the scroll to him, or if he didn’t have a servant with him to read the scroll to him, why didn’t he just wait until he got back to the palace, where he could be more comfortable to read? Why was he reading in a chariot on a hot, bumpy road? Why wasn’t he doing everything he could to make the ride home comfortable?

There can only be one reason: he wanted to read the Word of God – Isaiah – right then and there, uncomfortable as it was, because reading the Word of God was a top priority for him. He desired to read the Word of God whenever and wherever he could, even if the conditions weren’t optimal, because the Word of God was that important to him.

Many of us have seen each other’s homes. Most of us have comfortable places to sit and read. We sit and read the newspaper, and we sit and watch TV, ... do we sit in our comfortable chairs and on our comfortable couches and read God’s Word? We read Nora Roberts and James Patterson, do we read the Word that contains the Way to eternal life?

In a strange way, it is a comfort and quite disturbing to know that nothing changes:

St. Chrysostom, in the fourth century, made this comment: “Consider, I ask you, what a great effort it was not to neglect reading even while on a journey, and especially while seated in a chariot. Let this be heeded by those people who do not even deign to do it at home but rather think reading the Scriptures is a waste of time, claiming as an excuse their living with a wife, conscription in military service, caring for children, attending to domestics and looking after other concerns, they do not think it necessary for them to show any interest in reading the holy Scriptures” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 98).

Most people I ask either say they don’t read the Bible because they don’t have the time or because they don’t understand it. The excuse of not having time is a silly excuse, as we can understand from Chrysostom’s quote – we make time for what we believe is important. And as far as not understanding the Bible, I find that most people say that but have never even tried to read it, or they pick up an old King James Bible and get thrown by the language. If you have trouble understanding the language of the Bible you have, ask me, and I will at least recommend another.

Still, there are some who have difficulty understanding even so – that is in part due to the fact that there are difficult passages in the Bible. But most of it is straightforward, so, if you need help in understanding something – ask me, look it up in a good reference book, etc., don’t let go of something of importance in the Scripture.

We need to read our Bibles every day to be healthy Christians. I find it helpful to have a plan or a system for reading. I used one that is in the daily devotional that I read that has an Old Testament and a New Testament reading for each day – a total of about three chapters a day – which, if you flip through the Bible, you’ll see is not much. I just began Jeremiah and I Timothy. We have shorter reading plans in Freeman Hall – take them, they are free. If you start one, you may slip up and not do a reading one day. That’s okay, just go on to the next day. I find doing my reading first thing in the morning helpful, both for my state of mind and so I won’t get busy and forget to read. Do what works for you, but read. If Jesus and His Salvation – if the Word of God is a priority in your life – and if you’re here this morning, I assume it is – read you Bible.

If you’re not a Christian – if you haven’t believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, you will find the Bible even more difficult to understand, and that’s understandable – you can’t understand God’s Word until you believe it, and then God the Holy Spirit lives in you and helps you to understand.

Philip ran up to the chariot and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Isaiah 53:7-8, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from earth.”

And the eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” “Of course I don’t understand it. I have been in Jerusalem and listened to the rabbis, and they argue amongst themselves as to what the text means. I don’t understand it myself – their arguments all seem equally valid to me – I need someone who really understands to guide me through – to explain the text to me.”

God has done something very strange. God has given the world a book with everything it needs to know for salvation and life, and God has made it impossible to understand until it is believed. God has ordained ministers to preach the Word of God – and teachers will tell you that monologues – speeches – sermons – are a terrible way to convey information. (I can see your mind wandering right now.)

Paul wrote, “For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news ’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17, ESV).

Philip joined the eunuch in the chariot and sat with him. And the eunuch asked, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” The rabbis of the time were scrambling to make sense of this text, because it had been understood to be about the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior – and the Christians were claiming it was about Jesus of Nazareth – the Crucified – so the rabbis were saying it must be a prophecy about Isaiah, himself, or someone else – which of course makes no sense.

So Philip, like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, opened the Scriptures to the eunuch, and showed him that this text was part of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Paul would later write, “...Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5b-11, ESV).

Philip opened the Scriptures and explained to the eunuch that Jesus is the Savior that God sent for all who will believe. God sent His Son to earth as a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, and He lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended back to His throne in Heaven, having secured the salvation of all who will repent of their sins and believe in Him Alone for salvation.

And the eunuch believed savingly in Jesus Alone, and when they happened upon some water, the eunuch said, “See, here is water What prevents me from being baptized?” The eunuch did not want to wait until he got back to Ethiopia to be baptized in a clean lake or river, or in a baptismal font or pool. No, as soon as he saw a small amount of dirty water on the side of the road in the desert, he desired to obey Jesus’ command to be baptized: “See, here is water What prevents me from being baptized?” His nobility was put aside – he was now a servant of Jesus Christ and desired to jump to obedience.

Did you notice as we read the Scripture that the text jumps from verse thirty-six to verse thirty-eight? Verse thirty-seven is in a footnote. It reads, “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” The verse is in a footnote because we do not know whether it is authentic, or whether it was added later. However, the point is moot: Philip would not have baptized the eunuch unless the eunuch repented and confessed faith in Jesus Alone for his salvation. So, whether or not those were the exact words he said, the eunuch did confess his faith, they stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized the eunuch in the water by the side of the road.

Do you want to please God? Do you want to obey Him? Do you get excited reading His Word – hearing it read and preached – and want to act on it? Some of you have asked me why I spend so much of much vacation time going to conferences and lectures – because the Bible excited me – God excites me – Jesus excites me – this Gospel that we believe in excites me – and I want to know it and know our God better – both for my sake and so I can serve you better. Pray that you would want to understand more. Pray that you would want more of Jesus.

And then Philip was gone – the Spirit of the Lord carried him to Azotus – thirty-four miles up the coast – and the eunuch saw him no more. We have a few records of supernatural transportation in the Scripture. There’s not much more we can say about it than that: it was supernatural.

And the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. He was full of the joy of his salvation. He went back to Ethiopia, rejoicing, knowing that the Savior he had hoped for had come. He believed in Jesus and brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Ethiopia. “...you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b, ESV). This eunuch was the beginning of the spreading of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. His name is never even mentioned, but we will know him in the Kingdom.

Philip continued preaching the Gospel, beginning at Azorus, continuing up through all of the towns until he came to Caesarea. Once he got to Caesarea, as we find out later in the book of Acts, he gets married and has four daughters, and they entertain the “soon-to-be” Apostle Paul as he preached the Gospel in that city.

What does this history tells us?

First, we ought to desire to read the Word of God. If we love our God and Savior, how can we not be drawn to His Word and want to know it better and Him through it? If you have or had a spouse, didn’t you want to talk with that spouse and know him or her better? If you have a best friend, don’t you want to talk with him or her and get to know him or her better? We have access to the Word of the Almighty and Immortal God and Savior of the Universe, don’t you want to know Him better?

Then, second, we ought to have reading the Word of God as a priority. Not everyone is called to be a pastor or a theologian. Not everyone is called to spend the majority of their lives studying, reading, praying, teaching, and preaching the Word of God, as I have, but doesn’t it make sense that reading God’s Word would be a priority for every Christian? Shouldn’t that be something we all look forward to doing every day? Don’t we long to know what God will say to us in the next chapter?

Then, third we ought to ask for help in understanding the Word of God, both from other Christians and God. Ask me about translations. Come to Bible study. Read good Christian books. Ask me questions – and if I don’t know, I will get back to you. Ask other Christians that you believe have a good understanding of the Scripture. And pray that God will help you to understand. God had given you God within you – God the Father and God the Son have given God the Holy Spirit to live in every Christian. Remember what Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV). God will help us understand what God has said.

One warning: although God has promised to help us understand His Word, we may make mistakes and the devil seeks to mislead us. So, as we read the Scripture, let us be aware of what the Church has always taught, and if we come up with something that has never been taught by the Church before, or goes against two thousand years of accepted teaching, consider whether you may be mistaken – perhaps inspired by green leftovers...

Fourth, we ought to respond promptly to the Word of God. As we read and understand the Word of God, if we love God, we ought to respond promptly to what He has said. If our response is, “Oh, I don’t believe that” or “Aww, do I have to?” there is something wrong with us, not God, not the text. If we love God, we ought to put ourselves and our preferences and predilections at the feet of Jesus, humbly submitting to what He says – for He is God.

Consider your favorite sin – I have a favorite sin – it is something that we get enjoyment out of doing, but we try not to do because God has said not to do it. For example, a murderer, at least in some sense, enjoys murdering, but God says not to murder, so when a murderer comes to faith, he must humble himself and submit to God and not do what God has forbidden.

But we are also to do those things that God says to do. Love our neighbor – even to creepy ones. Even the ones that are nasty to us. Worship. Pray. Fellowship with other Christians. Jesus said these things are a light burden (cf., Matthew 11:30) compared to the burden we have carried in our lives as slaves to sin.

And that leads to our fifth and final application, we ought to find ourselves rejoicing in Jesus as we follow the Word of God. The Christian life will not always be a happy life, but if we live life through the lense of the Gospel of Jess Christ, it will be a joyful one. If we rightly follow the Word of God, we will have joy.

Do you understand?

Let us pray:
God of Love, Who has given us Your Very Word and the indwelling of God Himself, draw us more closely to You. Make us like that eunuch who just had to read Your Word and then rejoiced and responded in joy when he understood it. Do not let us find comfort until we find comfort in You and in all that You have said. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Prayer Meeting

The pastor is starting a prayer meeting, Saturdays from 3 PM to 4 PM at the church, beginning (D.V.) on November 14th. The pastor plans to be there praying. If you would like to join him, you are welcome to do so. If you would like him to talk with you or pray for you, please come. And if you have any prayer requests you would like him to pray for, please let him know. Our Great God invites us to come boldly into His throneroom and ask of Him. Let us not neglect this means of communing with our God and each other.

Flea Market Set-up

Calling all volunteers: we intend (D.V.) to do Flea Market set-up on Thursdays October 22nd, 29th, and November 5th, between the hours of 8 AM and 12 PM, and Saturdays October 24th and 31st from 1 PM to 4 PM. Also, the pastor is planning to do set-up after this Sunday's Consistory meeting (tomorrow) -- if any would like to stay and help out, that would be great -- bring a change of clothes!

The Flea Market is Coming!

Our next Flea Market is scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, from 10 AM to 2 PM. Please plan to come, shop, and, if you are able, to help sell as well. You are needed in all regards, and we look forward to seeing you then.

Consistory

D.V., the Consistory will meet tomorrow after morning worship. Consistory members: please plan to stay for the meeting. Thank you!

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Remembering Grandma"

Remembering Grandma
October 9, 2009
Basking Ridge Country Club

For those of you who may not know me, I am Rev. Peter Butler, Jr., the eldest grandchild of Harriet Jean Schmidt Tymeson Fiacre. We have come together this morning to remember grandma – as I knew her – to remember what was good and beautiful and lovely – and funny – about her. In the midst of mourning her death, we gather to celebrate her life and all that we enjoyed about her. And to those who talked with grandma in the past few months, if she were able to vocalize, I’m sure she would tell us, “I’m just fine!”

Grandma and I began talking about this day several years ago when she asked me to preside at this “service.” I said that I would, and she told me that she wanted me to wear my clerical collar, but she wanted “NOTHING RELIGIOUS” to be said or done. I said I would comply with her wishes, but I also wondered what in the world I would do, dressed in my clerics, but not doing any of the liturgical things I normally do at a funeral or memorial. I thought about standing up here and having you just look at me in my clerics and not saying anything.

But this past week, it occurred to me why grandma wanted me to be dressed in my clerics, and it has to do with the fact that if my mother had listened to my grandmother, I might never have been born. You see, when grandma met my father, she was not entirely taken with him. I have been told again and again that after my father dropped my mother back home, my grandmother said, “That is the type of man who would mow the lawn in a t-shirt.” I am like my father, and maybe grandma wanted to make sure I would wear my clerics because she was worried I would wear jeans and a t-shirt today. Grandma did come to love my father, by the way, especially when my father turned forty-six and she remained forty-five.

Grandma was forty-five years old all the years I knew her, which means she was two when I was born – younger than her mother was when she gave birth to her. We come from an amazing line of women. And until recently, on each of my birthdays, grandma would call me and wish me a happy birthday and ask, “Did I ever tell you that your birth was the first time I had a bourbon on the rocks before 9 A.M.?”

Grandma also said that she wanted us to gather and talk about how wonderful she was – that’s what she said – that’s why we are here. And then, after we have talked about how wonderful she was, she said we should go to Canoe Brook and have lunch on her account – before they knew she had died – so they would be stuck with the bill. That didn’t quite work out, but I think what we have here is quite fitting.

Over the past few years, grandma and I would get together from time to time at Canoe Brook for lunch to catch up – I will miss those times – not just for the good food – not just because I enjoyed spending time with her – but because I came to expect that grandma would ask me three questions over the course of our conversation:

First, “Why are you so fat?”

Grandma looked good and thought everyone else ought to look good, and part of looking good was to be thin. I have never been thin, and I dare not hold me breath until I am thin. But I know that grandma’s question was not just a matter of my appearance, she was truly concerned about my health. She was particularly dismayed when I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, and she expressed her not understanding why I should have this disease. I told her that I have come to understand that the real question is “Why am I so well? Why am I so blessed? Why am I am American with health insurance?” I could be much worse off, so I am thankful that I am only chronically ill, and I try to use my illness for the good of others. Grandma would be happy to hear that I am losing weight and I have been exercising five days a week for several months now. So, who knows, maybe, someday I will be thin.

The second question was, “Why are you still single?”

Grandma loved family. Grandma loved being married. Of course there were ups and downs; of course she didn’t understand or agree with everything about each of us, but she loved us wholeheartedly. She was concerned about my being alone – about being lonely – about not having someone there to help me, and I am grateful that she was concerned for me, though marriage has not happened for me and it may never. Right now I am happy and very busy with my family and my church. Even if my mother and three youngest siblings weren’t close by, I pastor a church of about twenty people who need constant supervision, and I have a cat who demands constant attention. But I am thankful that grandma was concerned for my happiness and security.

And the third question was – and let me ask my dear church members who are here not to be offended: my grandmother had met you and she thought you were a lovely group of people, and she told me that she could tell how much you all care for me. But her third question was, “Why are you so underpaid?”

Grandma was proud of my abilities and my education and my desire to continue my education. So much so that she even gave me a few loans – which I quickly paid back in full – so I could continue my education – even when she was not entirely thrilled with what I was pursuing.

When I went to Drew University, she couldn’t have been prouder – her first grandchild was off to college, and she was still forty-five. I went to Drew with Chemistry in mind and an interest in neurological chemistry. But when I shortly declared a major in Philosophy, she wanted to know, “What are you going to do with that?” I told her I thought teaching could be the answer, which pleased her, but I needed time to work and save money before I could go on to graduate school.

I did end up going to graduate school, but I went back with the intention of becoming a pastor, to which she told me, “You are wasting your abilities ” But, after changing my degree to a Master’s in Theology and getting adjunct jobs teaching at several universities, she thought I had finally found my way, and she began to encourage me to get my doctorate.

I did go back to graduate school and did graduate studies in English Literature, thinking of teaching, but I decided I was right in the first place and went on to get a Master’s of Divinity and to become an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. She was very proud of my accomplishments and for my pastoring at Second Reformed Church in Irvington, though she said she didn’t need the “crutch” of religion. “I guess some people need it, but I don’t,” she said. And she continued to encourage me to get a doctorate.

Grandma was always a great supporter of my further education, and she wanted to see me rewarded – recognized – for my work and abilities. I told her that I love my church and my people and they do well by me given what we have. She always wanted more for me – better for me – and I hope I will become a better man and a better pastor as time goes by.

I am disappointed, though. Grandma did not keep her promise to me: she told me that she was going to live to be 100, and I had until then to get my doctorate. She wanted to see me get a doctorate, and she said she expected me to get it before she died. I am not opposed to getting a doctorate, and I may some day – I told her time and money prevents it for now – but I am disappointed that grandma will not be here in the flesh to see that day. I am humbled and thankful that grandma was proud of me and thought me worthwhile.

By the time the third question had been asked, I knew lunch was coming to a close.

I am thankful that I had time to visit and talk to her while she was in the hospital, and I hope she heard me.

Despite being fat, single, and underpaid, I am going to miss her; I love grandma, and I know she loved me.

At this time I would like to ask others who would like to say something positive or funny in remembrance of grandma to come forward to speak, and once everyone who wishes has spoken, I will close us...

Grandma said she didn’t want “ANYTHING RELIGIOUS” at this service, so let me simply close by inviting you to move into the other room to enjoy the luncheon that has been prepared for us, but don’t eat too much, because you’re already too fat!

We Need Your Help

We are setting up for the Flea Market: if you are able to help set up, we are planning, D.V., to set up on Thursdays from 8 AM to 12 PM. We are also planning, D.V., to set up on Saturday, October 10th, from 10 AM to 2 PM. Other dates will be announced as they are planned. Let us know when you are available!

The Flea Market is Coming! (D.V.)

The Flea Market is scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, from 10 AM to 2 PM, D.V. Please plan to help out by setting up, making donations, helping sell, and making purchases. We need your help to make this event a success! Thank you!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"Simon Magus -- Heretic" Sermon: Acts 8:4-25

“Simon Magus – Heretic”
[Acts 8:4-25]
October 4, 2009 Second Reformed Church

Do you know what “simony” is? Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “simony” as the “buying or selling of sacred or spiritual things, as sacraments or benefices” – a church office – priest, bishop, etc. The word came into existence and is named for the character we meet in this morning’s Scripture.

Last week we saw the first martyr of the Church – Stephen – and the beginning of a great persecution against the Christians, who were, at that time, primarily in Jerusalem. The Jews of Jerusalem followed the Sanhedrin in their sin and sought to purge Jerusalem of Christians. In God’s Providence, this moved the Christians out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria, just as Jesus had prophesied before His Ascension.

We may remember from the Gospels that Samaria was an area in Northern Israel where half-breeds – people who were half-Jewish and half of a pagan nationality – lived. They were looked down upon and considered to be more pagan than Jewish. Jesus ministered among them and was criticized for it.

As we have seen Luke do already, this morning’s text begins with a summary statement and then gives a specific story. He begins with a general account of Philip’s ministry in Samaria and then gives us a specific story of a magician named Simon.

Those who left Jerusalem at the beginning of the persecution included everyone except the apostles. For that reason, we know that this Philip was not one of the twelve apostles, but was probably the Philip we meet in chapter six – one of the first deacons. And he, with others, continued to preach the Word – that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone – as they left Jerusalem and went to Judea and Samaria.

Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ as the Savior that God sent for all who would believe. Luke tells us that great crowds went out to hear Philip preach, and Philip cast out demons and healed the paralyzed and the lame by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the city was filled with much joy, by which we understand that they also believed what Philip was preaching: there was a mass conversion of Samaritans to Christianity.

What does that tell us? It tells us that we should not shut our mouths because times get tough or because others don’t want the Gospel to be preached. As we’ve seen before, Christianity flourishes under persecution. It’s when times are good that people forget that they are sinners in need of a Savior. That’s why it is so difficult for the Church in the United States, especially in the Northeast: we have it so easy compared to the rest of the world, we are so rich compared to the rest of the world, that the plain Gospel is not well received. Some well-meaning people have tried to make the Gospel more “saleable” to Americans, but in so doing, they have compromised the truth and the heart of the Gospel.

For example, Rev. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in California has named his eldest daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, to be his successor when he retires. In an interview, she said that one of the major things she plans to do differently is to stay away from the Scripture and tell stories that reflect the moral teaching of the Scripture instead.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Jesus of the Scriptures – the Scriptures which are the Very Word of God. We cannot do less, neither for well-meaning reasons, nor out of fear. We must, in the way that God has gifted us, tell others that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. The Holy Spirit lives in every Christian and we receive grace through the reading and preaching of the Word, through the sacraments, and through prayer – to be able to be Jesus’ witnesses. Let us be like Philip, not looking to be killed, but using wisdom to go forth and let others know wherever we are of the Salvation that is only found in Jesus.

“But.” There’s always a “but.” There was not good news for every person: Luke tells us “there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.”

Simon was a very famous person, Justin Martyr records, “After Christ’s ascension into heaven, the devils put forward certain people who said that they themselves were gods; and they were not only not persecuted by you [the Roman government] but even deemed worthy of honors. There was a Samaritan, Simon, a native of the village called Gitto, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic, by virtue of the art of the devils operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god he was honored by you with a statue, which statue was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, and bore that inscription, in the language of Rome, ‘Simoni Deo Sancto,’ ‘To Simon the holy god.’ And almost all of the Samaritans, and a few even of other nations, worship him and acknowledge him as the first god, ...” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament V: Acts, 90).

Simon was not a street-corner magician – he was a master of the dark arts, considered to be a god, and held in high regard by the Samaritans and even the Romans. But when he saw the power that Philip had – as he understood it – when he saw Philip casting out demons – hearing them scream as they left the bodies of the possessed – and saw him healing those who could not be healed by the physicians – he wanted in. He wanted that power. He believed that this Jesus gave them some sort of power, and he wanted it, so he confessed his belief in Jesus and was baptized with the other Samaritans.

Now the apostles in Jerusalem heard of the mass conversion in Samaria, so they sent Peter and John to go and see for themselves, to pray for the converts, to lay hands on them, that they would receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

That might confuse us: haven’t I preached and haven’t we understood from the Scriptures that once we believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, God the Holy Spirit lives in us? I doubt most if any of us have understood that there was a time after conversion that one did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So what is going on here? Why would God have the converts to Christianity not be indwelt by God the Holy Spirit until the apostles laid their hands on them and prayed?

For at least two reasons:

First, the Holy Spirit was not immediately given to the first converts so there would be no confusion that the Holy Spirit is naturally in the apostles or other believers or that He is our own spirit – even our own spirit made better or perfect. No, the Holy Spirit is not something that comes from within us. In fact, He is another Being from us; He is an Alien Person Who inhabits us; Christians have a Person – One of the Persons of God – inhabiting their human person.

And second, the fact that the apostles had to give the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands shows that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a gift. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit has to be given – He cannot be gotten in any other way than as a gift.

So what about today? Are we converted to Christ and then sometime in the future receive the Holy Spirit? Later in the book of Acts we will see that is not true. Now, when a person converts – believe – in Jesus savingly – he or she is immediately indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. Why the change? The major reason is this: in the infancy of the Church, the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of hands by the apostles, and all of the apostles are dead. So now, God immediately gives the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit to the person who believes in Jesus savingly.

“But.” But Simon was a businessman. He went to Peter and asked to have the ability to give the Holy Spirit to anyone he laid hands on. And he offered Peter money for the ability. This is what we now call “simony.” Simon offered to pay for the ability to indwell people with the Holy Spirit.

And Peter flew into a rage: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right with God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

God gave Peter the insight to know that Simon had not converted – he was still a pagan. We know God gave him that knowledge because no human can judge another’s heart. Our faith or lack of faith is shown – to some extent – through the fruit we bear, but it is possible to fool people and to even fool ourselves. But God made it clear to Peter that Simon did not believe savingly, so Peter cursed Simon and his money, wishing it to rot with him, as it showed his heart was not right with God.

If someone tells you that you have to give money to be saved, don’t believe it. If someone tells you that you have to send money in to a ministry to be healed, don’t believe it. Salvation is free. God’s Grace is free. Understand, I am not saying it is wrong to give to the work of the Church – we are to give as a response of thankfulness. But giving money to a church or a minister will not save you or heal you or get you anything special from God. That is simony, and it is a sin.

Peter also tells Simon to repent of his wickedness. Simon was wicked, still dead in his sins. He had not savingly believed, so the Gospel call to repent and believe was still preached to him. He was still called to repent of his wickedness and come to Christ.

That is the message we have for all people. God did not reveal to Peter whether Simon might one day come to a true faith, so Peter was obliged to continue to preach the Gospel to him. We can’t know a person’s heart, so we are obliged to continue to preach the Gospel. A person may come to faith even in the moment of death, so we cannot say with one hundred percent certainty who is saved and who is not. We can say that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone, and if you do not believe in Jesus savingly, you will suffer God’s Wrath eternally in Hell. But we, of our own knowledge, cannot say with certainty whether a person died in faith or not. There are signs. True Christians bear Christ-like fruit. I can say that because of what you say and do, I believe you are a Christian, but I am not God. I cannot see your heart. And you will not have to answer to me at the end of the age. We saw in Peter’s letters that he urged his readers to make their calling and election sure, because Jesus is the Judge. Not you, and not me.

And someone may ask, “Well, Simon was baptized. Doesn’t that mean he was saved?” The Roman Catholic Church says, “yes.” The Bible says, “no.” We baptize as a sign of salvation – as a sign of what Christ does in a person who believes – which is why we can baptize infants with a clear conscience – we do not claim that baptizing an infant “makes” that child a Christian. But, if a person does coming to a saving faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit seals that baptism – and then it is not merely a sign of what Christ does in a person, but a seal of what Christ has done in a person. We ought to baptize infants as a physical example of what Christ does, but if the child never believes, all the waters of baptism did for the child was get him wet. Baptism does not save a person.

And someone might still ask, “Well, Luke says in verse thirteen that Simon believed. Doesn’t that mean that he was saved?” Given what follows in our text, we must say “no.” God revealed to Peter that Simon had not savingly believed in Jesus, which is why Peter rebuked him and called him to repent of his wickedness. So, what does it mean in verse thirteen to say that Simon believed? Based on his actions, we can say that Simon believed that there was power to be had in Jesus and through His apostles – and Simon wanted that power. He did not believe savingly – he did not repent of his sins and believe in Jesus as the Savior that God sent for all who will believe.

Our biblical knowledge of Simon ends with his request, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Simon is never again mentioned in the Bible. Did he come to faith? He was certainly scared by what Peter said to him. But the answer is that we do not know for certain. Simon was considered by the Church Fathers as the first heretic, and Justin Martyr who wrote in the second century, some seventy years after this incident in the Scripture, gave us the report of the statue to Simon proclaiming him a god. We don’t know for sure. The historical report is not good. But, as I said, it is possible for a person to repent on his deathbed and be received into the Kingdom.

After this, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, and along the way, they continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many of the villages of the Samaritans.

What then can we say?

We are all called, not matter where we are, no matter what we are facing, to let others know that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Christ Alone.

The Holy Spirit is One of the Persons of God; He is not our own spirit.

The indwelling of Holy Spirit is given as a gift by God to those who truly repent of their sins and believe that Jesus is the Savior.

Baptism, in-and-of itself, does not save anyone.

And, it is possible to have belief in the historicity of Jesus, the power of Jesus, the accuracy of the Scripture, and so forth, and still not have saving faith. In order to be saved, we must repent of our sin and believe that Jesus is God the Savior, sent for all those Who will believe. If you do not, you are not a Christian. No matter how much of the Bible you have memorized, no matter how much you respect and admire Jesus and the Scripture – listen, you can be a great preacher, an excellent theologian, pack stadiums, and have a world-famous ministry, but if you do not repent and believe in Jesus as your Savior, you will go to Hell.

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday. It is the Sunday during the year when “all” churches, not matter how often they normally receive the sacrament, celebrate it together in a unified reception. If you receive the bread and the cup this morning, and you do not believe in Jesus as your Savior, you will receive a bit of bread and a bit of the fruit of the grape. If you receive the bread and the cup this morning, and you do not believe in Jesus as your Savior, you are eating and drinking judgment on yourself. But if you receive the bread and the cup this morning, and you have repented of your sin, and you have believed in Jesus as your Savior, then He will commune with you spiritually this morning. He will minister to you and give you His Grace. He will strengthen you and prepare you for the work that He has called you to do.

You can fool yourself. You can fool me. But you can’t fool God. There is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone. And that Salvation is a gift.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have not left our Salvation to ourselves. We thank You that we do not have to be good enough or rich enough to earn Your Salvation. We thank You that You call us to repent and believe – that you have done all the Work and give us the very faith we need to believe. We ask if any here this morning are unsure, that You would come to them and draw them to You – that You would give them true repentance and Your Salvation, and then that You would meet with them and us as we receive the bread and the cup. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

October Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach this month:

10/4/09 Worldwide Communion Acts 8:4-25 “Simon Magus – Heretic”
10/11/09 Guest preacher: Bill Galloway
10/18/09 Acts 8:26-40 “Do You Understand?”
10/25/09 Reformation Sunday Galatians 2:15-21 “Christ Lives in Me”

Don't forget: October is pastor appreciation month. And this pastor's birthday is October 11th. (Hint; hint.)