The Lighthouse Keeper

Greetings from Pastor Kerry, former pastor of Spring City UMC. This blog contains my sermon outlines and/or manuscripts from my pastorate among the people of Spring City PA, from 2006 to 2011. Pastor Dennis is now the lighthouse keeper. Come and worship on Sundays at 10:00 a.m.!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ask A Pastor: Who Goes There? Questions About Hell.

August 26, 2007

from Luke 16:19-31 and Matthew 8:5-13

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." – Romans 10:9

My sermon outline:

• Last week on death. It happens to everyone; there is bodily conscious life beyond death; there are spiritual powers in the world that are not to be trifled with; Christ has cancelled power of death. For those in Christ, life after death is glorious and in God’s presence.

And then there’s the questions on your bulletin cover today.

• I would love to simply turn to the KJV reading of 2 Peter 3:9 (God is not willing that any should perish; cf NIV et al, 'not wanting'), justifying that eternal punishment (conscious and bodily) is inconsistent with God’s abundant mercy, and that it is disproportionate to any crime we can commit (imagine being grounded for entire childhood because you lied, yet in many ways life as we know it is childlike compared to the life that is to come); however doing so somewhat takes away not only from God’s justice but from Jesus’ sacrifice.

Barna 2003: 76% of Americans believe heaven exists, 71% believe Hell exists. 39% describe hell as state of eternal separation, 32% it’s an actual place of torment and suffering.

There’s certainly enough talk of hell in the NT, that it’s difficult to deny. However, our 21st C understanding of hell may well be very different than Jesus’ 1st C use of the concept. Words do change. There was a time if you told your parents you had a gay time at the park they wouldn’t give you a queer look.

• Have you heard other terms for Hell? Hades, Gehenna, Sheol. Different concepts, somewhat merged.

• Sheol is the older concept, the OT/ancient Jewish concept. Uncertain meaning, shadowy, grave, pit. Neutral place of dead. Something between conscious and non-existent. Not a place of punishment, although the idea of despair (at not being in God’s presence) starts to kick in, and as history brings us closer to Jesus’ time, punishment starts to figure in a bit. What Dreams May Come, Annie is in a sheol-like existence, lost in her own despair When Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man, he’s talking about Sheol, using the Greek word Hades, and we’re given a glimpse of a split afterlife: Lazarus in Bosom of Abraham, and rich man in fiery torment. It’s now that sheol/hades starts to merge with the more familiar image of hell, Gehenna.

• Gehenna was an actual place, bordering Jerusalem, and it was an unpleasant place. Today we might call certain sections of cities ghettoes, this would evoke similar images. Gehenna had in ancient times been a place where child sacrifices were made to pagan gods; naturally (or perhaps superstitiously) it didn’t morph into the high-rent district but turned into a garbage dump slash incinerator, where the fires always burned and the stench never ended. It is this word that is most often translated as hell in the NT, and just as Sheol/Hades changes meanings a few thousand years ago, Gehenna goes from geographical location to place of judgment and punishment.

Sidebar: Purgatory. Post-death place of purification, kinda grew out of concept of what if you are believer but die with unconfessed unrepented sins? You need cleansed before you can enter into God’s presence. There is scant scriptural support for this concept, plus it’s apocryphal. Sola scriptura, sola fide is enough for protestants.

• In the gospels, Jesus speaks the most about hell in Matthew (mostly Gehenna) and if you take a look at the contexts Jesus speaks about it, you find a few things: he is typically exhorting Pharisees, pointing out the differences between the spirit of God’s law and their heartless pretense. Jesus is speaking to religious leaders who should be humbled in the sight of the Lord but who have abandoned truth for power and position; it is such as these that fiery garbage pits are for. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus tells about the unfaithful, the ones who should have been examples of God’s mercy and love, being sent “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

There’s a difference between talking about being grounded for eternity for believing the wrong thing and telling stories designed to get you to change your ways and set you on the right path. Think of the bogeyman

• So there’s this muddied picture of hell, taking elements from the simple place of the dead plus the image of a burning garbage heap, plus judgment for religious leaders gone bad. Stewards. If you had two kids, and left one of them in charge of the laundry and asked the other one to help and you came home and the laundry wasn’t even started, who would you be more upset with? Jesus’ use of hell imagery was for the ones who were supposed to be in charge!
23 minutes in hell Bill Weise, went to hell, brought back by Jesus. “Some unusual things God is doing to help people awaken to the truth.”  Jesus is way, truth, life.

• Now. People of other religions? We may well be surprised at who is and who is not in heaven.
Matthew 8 centurion (outsider) sees the truth and power in Jesus and is edified/blessed, while Jesus says ‘twon’t be the case for all insiders even, for the stewards who have neglected their duty.
Psalm 71:14 I will always have hope
Revelation 20:12 the dead (sheol) will be judged by their deeds.
CS Lewis Chronicles, Last Battle. Hope.

• Bottom line, I trust there will be nothing to complain about. I trust that God’s sense of justice and mercy are far greater than mine, and that what God decides will be right.

• And cling to Romans 10:9: confess with lips JC=Lord and believe in heart that God raised him... follow Jesus, repent, believe.

• Hymn 562 Jesus, Lord, We Look To Thee

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 57 in worship. muggy.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ask A Pastor: What Happens When We Die?

August 19, 2007

from Psalm 139 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ." – 1 Corinthians 15:57

My sermon outline:

• Think about your first experience with death. Anybody willing to share? Think about when a friend loses a loved one, what do you do? What do you say?

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying Nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes. One of the powerful things about death is that there is nothing we can do about it, it is not under our control, and we hate not being in control. You can define death scientifically, you can discuss it philosophically, you can read books about it or watch movies about it, but it remains surrounded by a shroud of mystery. In addition to that, death is connected to a number of other questions and phenomena, as indicated on the cover of your bulletins. What happens when we die? What about the idea of reincarnation? What about people who have died and come back (NDE’s), what about OOBEs? What about people who claim to talk to the dead?

• Let’s start with what we know: it is inescapable; it will happen to every one of us; it’s a fact of life.

• Christians believe there is life beyond death, that there is something about us, an individual soul or spirit which lives on. Christians vary on some of the specifics, but in general it is believed that this soul, created by God, is immortal; that after death this part of us remains conscious; and that we in fact are endowed with some kind of new body.

For the faithful, in addition to receiving peace and rest, that soul remains in God’s presence forever, which is very desirable.

(See Philippians 1:21-26: "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.")

• The Christian POV turns the certainty of death into a promise of good to come, but death is a power that did not always hold such promise, since it is generally regarded as payment for sin. (or the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23)

• reincarnation: what is it, non-Christian implications (recycled soul, not redeemed)

• So in death, our souls remain alive and conscious... Can we talk to the dead?
Possible, not to be entertained lightly, also a number of scriptures that point out to avoid mediums (those who communicate with the dead). : “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:31 a few verses later God equates the practice with prostitution.

There are spiritual powers that are unwise to mess with. Paul writes in Ephesians 6 about the ways to battle those powers. Not to be taken lightly.

• Can the dead talk to us? I won’t say no. Personal story.

• Skipped hell. I’ll talk about that next week.

• Story of the three trees: their hopes were all related to their afterlife...

• Death is real and it is powerful, but viewed from the Christian POV, it brings life.

• Hymn 377 It Is Well With My Soul (Horatio Spafford wrote in 1873 after the at-sea death of his four daughters)

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 47 in worship. Cool.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ask A Pastor: What Can I Do to Make the World a Better Place?

August 12, 2007

from John 13:12-17 and 2 Chronicles 27

"Jotham ... did what was right in the sight of the LORD just as his father Uzziah had done..." – 2 Chronicles 27:1-2

My sermon outline:

• Good: “Live so that the preacher won’t have to lie at your funeral”
Better: “Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

• Today a look at one of the ancient kings of Judah, Jotham. In the line of kings that followed David and Solomon and lasted until the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were destroyed or exiled, Jotham was about the 11th. Some were real good, some were real bad. Jotham was one of the good ones. Reigned around 740BC, during the time of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and Amos. Jotham is a direct descendant of David, and is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, as well. Here in 2 Chronicles, he’s got his own chapter, chapter 27.

• Verses 1-2. He did right like his father, but he didn’t invade temple.
(Uzziah his father had done right in the sight of the Lord until his pride took over and he tried to enter the priestly part of the temple to offer sacrifices. Got huffy. Got leprosy. Died in relative dishonor)

• Verses 3-5. Worked hard. Worked on God’s house, worked for God’s kingdom, fortifying cities in the countryside. Brought home the bacon (well...) he made some good money shall we say taxing the Ammonites.

• Verse 6. God made him strong. Then he died (I like to think he died serving the Lord). Died at 41, when his 20 year old son took over. Verse 28:1. Uh-oh. Ahaz didn’t do what was right (28 tells all about it). And remember the people were corrupt anyway (27:2). These things tell us a bit about Jotham: even though his loved ones and countrymen didn’t follow the Lord, he did. Man of integrity, man of God. Regardless of what others did or didn’t do.

Did right, worked hard, brought home the bacon, ordered his life acc. to God.
Thomas Jefferson: Whenever you do anything, act as if all the world were watching.

• I’ve mentioned Brother Lawrence before. 17th Century French monk, practice presence of God, made the kitchen his sanctuary.

He was assigned to the monastery kitchen where, amidst the tedious chores of cooking and cleaning at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule of spirituality and work. In his Maxims, Lawrence writes, "Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?"

For Brother Lawrence, "common business," no matter how mundane or routine, was the medium of God's love. The issue was not the sacredness or worldly status of the task but the motivation behind it. "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."

• He wished he could do something for God unnoticed, so that he might not receive any return from God, just the knowledge that he had acted lovingly towards God. He complained lovingly that god did not let any of his actions pass without God-love reward.

In his writings we are left the following prayer:

"My God, since You are with me, and since it is Your will that I should apply my mind to these outward things, I pray that You will give me the grace to remain with You and keep company with You. But so that my work may be better, Lord, work with me; receive my work and possess all my affections."

• SO what can you do to make the world a better place?

Do what you do, do it well, do it for the love of God.
If you sew, paint, play music, teach, rock babies, cook, walk, talk, if you’re good at math... offer it to God. Coach, mow lawns...
Mother Teresa said, “Go home and love your families.” If you love your families you can influence those around you, and you can send positive ripples out...
...Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can. John Wesley.

• Hymn 452 My Faith Looks Up To Thee

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 50 in worship. Warm and humid.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ask A Pastor: How Can I Recharge My Spiritual Batteries?

August 5, 2007

from Ephesians 5:15-20 and Psalm 73

"Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time... Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is... Be filled with the Spirit... sing psalms and hymns... giving thanks to God at all times...." – Ephesians 5:15-20

My sermon outline:

• Sharpen your axe story: lumberjack hired. Record was 7 trees. Day 1: 6. 2:5. 3:3. 4:1. How often did you sharpen your axe? “Sharpen my axe? I didn’t have time to sharpen my axe!”

Sharp axe, charged battery... Sometimes our lives fill with discontent. Sometimes the demands on our time pile and pile and pile up and we break under the pressure. Sadly during those times we tend to not sharpen our axes because we don’t have time.

“Be careful how you live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most of the time.” – Eph 5:15-16

Making the most of the time may very well mean stopping what you’re doing, analyzing and evaluating your priorities, and then making some changes in your actions.

Sharpening an axe, in the short term, takes away from productivity: you’re not making progress. But it is part of the progress, a vital part of getting things done. Like Martha (Lk. 10:38-42), some of us are busy doing so many good things we do not take time to discern what things are needed.

Take time to analyze your schedule, for the week and for the month. What are you devoting your time to? What things really matter? What activities have eternal consequences? Determine what things you can leave out of your schedule without harm to yourself or others. Choose to neglect those for a period of time. After that time period has expired, look back and see if it has made any difference in your life.

• Perhaps stopping what you’re doing will require a fast, breaking the pattern of what you normally do, so you can determine or understand what the will of the Lord is. Break the pattern because even spiritual discipline can turn into mere routine into empty ritual into boredom, losing the meaning and dishonoring God. Break the pattern by changing when you devotion, where you worship, what you wear... see it in a new light. Fast from food, from ego, from TV computer radio, from speaking. Remove yourself from distraction so you can take the time to listen to God. Write a prayer, paraphrase a scripture passage, journal your griefs and your woes (blog). Empty yourself before God Find a trouble tree if you have to.

• Some rechargings are simpler: take a break. Practice good bodily self-care (my theme).

• Psalmist wrote that it was in comparison to others that he stumbled in life (all unhappiness comes from comparison; but you whoever you are are fearfully and wonderfully made) and he nurtured envy until it consumed him and distorted his view of God:

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you. (Psalm 73:21-22)

• Whether discontent or overwhelm there are a few things we can do to recharge the batteries. Paul tells us to seek the Lord, to be filled with the Spirit, to join in communal worship, singing Psalms and hymns, giving thanks to God all the time... Psalmist confessed that it was when he went into the sanctuary that he regained proper perspective... into the sanctuary for worship, to be in community, to share strength, to receive nurture...

In addition to keeping Sabbath, keep a jubilee. 7 wks set aside a sacred time, a down time, not chore time or activity that requires recovery. Do something like before (Write a prayer, paraphrase a scripture passage, journal your griefs and your woes). Pray a passage or a newspaper or a hymn.

Step away from yourself by doing something for someone else. Volunteer at hospital (nail painter in a wheelchair!). Visit a shut-in. Help out at a blood-drive or a race. Contact a school or a church, see if they could use help. Write a letter.

• Above all give thanks. (Ps 73:23-26) That is the literal meaning of eucharist.

- Pastor Kerry
This Sunday: 47 in worship. It's hot. Communion Sunday.