Monday, April 9, 2012

Spiritual Stimulus Plan

Sermon by Jonathan Firme

Good morning. I have to share that I would not be here in front of you today were it not for the love and support of Jean , Harvey, and all of my family and friends who have helped and guided me along my walk with God. I am honored to have the opportunity to share this part of my journey with you. Let us pray.

Dear God, we thank you for all the journeys you send us on. Some sweet, some sour,

all of them worthwhile. We thank you for those who travel with us – family, friends,

strangers and most of all you. For we remember that you are always with us,

helping us, guiding us along the path. Amen.

I was never good at tests. Early in my school career, I can vividly remember frequent bouts of Test Anxiety. It usually started the night before a test, right about the time I remembered there was going to be one. I would crack open the books, trying to absorb the material. I would fake an illness, hoping to trick my mother into letting me stay home the next day. That never worked – she was a nurse.

Of course, studying is just one part a long process called learning. A process that involves several steps. Think of learning to tie your shoes. There is Confusion, in which we ask questions about the new thing we have encountered. Frustration sinks in when we try and try and come to the realization that we don't know how to do it, so we practice . Then, we usually develop a Confidence, when we consciously understand how to tie our shoes. And, finally, when we really master it, we are no longer conscious that we know how, we just do.

My problem was that I was trying to jump in right there near the top. Skipping the first few steps. It didn't seem to matter that I was in class every day, that I took notes, or how much I studied that night before. My test grades were usually pretty poor, so I began to really fear taking a test.

I am not alone, am I?

Many people fear and even avoid tests. Just like the servant in the parable of the talents. He feared the test, the responsibility of being in charge of this sum of money. So, as was common practice at that time, he buried it. People would often bury something in order to absolve themselves of any responsibility to it. This has turned out to be a great thing for archaeologists digging up rare artifacts, but it did little to help the poor servant. The time came, and he had to own up to his actions.

The three parables we have discussed the past few weeks – the parable of the bridesmaids, the talents and todays reading, the sorting of the sheep and goats, are use in Matthew to teach about the very thing that keeps some people away from church. The one thing a lot churches really don't want to talk about. It can be a great way to scare people into attending church, but it is often tip toed around, passed over, or flat out ignored.

Judgment, anyone?

Let's face it the prospect of a final judgment can be rather intimidating. A whole series of books and dvd's feast off that fear. Not helping to minimize it, rather using it to have power over others. And, of course, to make a whole lot of money. We cannot bury it and make it go away. Eventually we are all called to account. You have to take the final exam. We certainly do not need to fear judgment. We just need to prepare ourselves for it.

I had friends in school who always seemed to get the “good teacher.” That great guy who would provide you with the questions that were going to be on the test. Sometimes even the answers to those questions! Oh how I longed to be in one of those classes. Then, in my freshman year of high school, it happened. I got Mr. Hrvyniak for U.S. Civics. Hryvniak gave study sheets to the tests! They had all the questions right there. There was a space below each question for you to fill in the answer and supposedly study it for some period of time prior to the test. The night before my first Civics test, I sat there frantically trying to fill out my study guide so that I could study it before the test. I didn't have a lot of success with study guides. I wondered what all the fuss had been about. I was like the bridesmaid in the first of our parables. I thought having this study guide would make me prepared, but when it came time for the exam, I was out of oil.

God, it seems, is a lot like that good teacher with the study guide. He gives us the answers, the questions, all of it. Everything we need to pass the exam is right here. Yet, many of us are so afraid of the judgment we cannot bring ourselves to discuss it. And, if asked about it by someone who is now called unchurched, who we would all love to see join us, we are left unable to explain, unable to ease their fears or answer their questions.

The third parable strikes right at the heart of the matter. As we heard today,

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Many ask, “How can God do this?”, “How can God be so cruel?”, “I thought we were all God's children.” , “I thought God loved us all, forgives us!”, “Jesus tells us that judging others is not right!”

Rest assured that God does indeed love every one of us, but this isn't a walk through a field of marshmallow fluff and candy canes. God forgives us, if we ask. If we realize our wrongs and ask for his forgiveness. We are God's children. And just as our children have the ability to disappoint us, sadden us, make us angry, and suffer punishment from us, and never fall away from our love, we too can disappoint, sadden and anger our Father. If we do, when we do, there is a consequence, and God still loves us, even though we may have broken his heart, God still loves us. Jesus teaches that God will judge us, that is why we shall not judge others. We just need to use the study guide to be prepared for that day. It is really quite simple folks.

There are many people who believe they know when the Judgment will occur. There are still others who spend every waking moment trying to figure out when it be. I know, from my own experiences, it does you absolutely no good to know when that test is going to happen. I could write down that there was going to be a physics exam on Tuesday morning. That it would begin at 9:27 and that I would have 47 minutes to take it, and I could still fail it. I had pretty good attendance, took notes, knew what was probably going to be on the test , and I could still fail it. All that simply wasn't enough. It's not enough to go to class, take notes, and have a study guide.



So, we know there is a test, we don't know when. How are we going to prepare? How do we join up with,or stay with, the sheep? How can we help others join God's flock? We have got to apply the principles in order to understand them. It simply isn't enough to go to church every Sunday of your life, memorize the bible and carry it with you. We all need to read this book, study it, and live it! Find out how Jesus lived his life and live like Jesus. Take it seriously, every day, as though the world depended upon it. Because it does.

When we live in times of working parents, working children, Sunday morning hockey, Friday night Girl Scouts, violin, choir, football, band, hunting, fishing... and Reality Television, how can we begin to prepare ourselves for God. Do these stories mean anything anymore? Does the idea of 10 talents, 750 pounds of silver, 10 lifetimes of wages, mean anything to us when our lawmakers are discussing a 25 billion dollar band aid for the auto industry, after applying a 750 billion dollar tourniquet to our financial system?

The miracle of the bible is that, yes, even though the story of the talents had nothing to do with a persons abilities; the word talent did not refer to abilities until the middle ages, it is still relevant to us today. Even though oil lamps are more of a collectors item than an everyday necessity, we still study and learn from the story. But we have to study it, learn it, practice it, and teach it.

We need nothing less than a Spiritual Stimulus Plan. A Spiritual Bailout, if you will. This plan involves people talking with each other, friends and strangers, about the good thing God is doing in our lives. In small ways and in big ways. Sharing those stories. It will require those who attend church every Sunday to go a little further into their faith by joining or creating a bible study or faith formation group, to never be finished growing your faith. Those who cannot attend every Sunday will need to suggest, or even create a service that they can attend on a regular basis. All of us will need to meet our pledged offerings before we pay $50 for dinner and a movie.

The Spiritual Stimulus Plan requires all of us, all of God's children helping each other with the study guide, bringing friends to school, helping shed light on the tough questions. We do not need to fear the judgment. We do not need to be afraid of being left behind. God tells us, that just by practicing what he has laid down in the bible. By living our lives as Jesus lived his, we are preparing for the final exam, and better yet, we can live out our lives knowing that whenever it may come, we will pass it with flying colors.

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