Pastor Hal Low
August 9, 2015
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” – Acts 2:42
Call to Worship (based on Psalm 145)
Leader: Every day we will remember the works of the Lord.
People: From generation to generation the greatness of our God will be taught to young and old. From day to day we will seek time to reflect on the kindness the Lord has towards us.
Leader: We shall celebrate your abundant goodness, and sing of your righteousness.
People: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Prayer of Transformation
Keep me, O God, from pettiness, and give me a spirt of generosity. Let me be done with fault-finding and self-seeking. May I put away all pretense and greet everyone without prejudice or judgment. Let me take time each day to talk with you, and listen to your promptings in my heart. Make me grow calm, serene, gentle, and kind. We pray in the name of your Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-25
(12) But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; (13) esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (14) And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. (15) See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. (16) Rejoice always, (17) pray without ceasing, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (19) Do not quench the Spirit. (20) Do not despise the words of prophets, (21) but test everything; hold fast to what is good; (22) abstain from every form of evil. (23) May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (24) The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (25) Beloved, pray for us.
(1) ‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (2) ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. (3) But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (5) ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. (6) But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (7) ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. (8) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(9) ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
(10) Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(11) Give us this day our daily bread.
(12) And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
(13) And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
(14) For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; (15) but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (16) ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. (17) But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, (18) so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (19) ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; (20) but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (22) ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; (23) but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
Sermon: “On Spiritual Disciplines”
(This is the beginning of a sermon series on “Spiritual Disciplines”)
Do you remember the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I had my own version of it this past week. My car had been having this rattling noise for the past three weeks or so. It just kept getting worse, and I was worried it was going to break down. This week it got so bad I asked someone about a mechanic in the area. I gave the mechanic a call and explained the problem. He asked me if I had checked the oil. I told him I get the oil changed regularly every three months and it wasn’t due until Sept. 15th.
The next day when I went to drive; the rattling was just awful, and I remembered that the mechanic suggested I check the oil. So I stopped the car and checked the dip stick and it was bone dry. I immediately put in 2 quarts of oil, and guess what? You got it, the rattling was gone. My car is 15 years old, so checking the oil every three months is just not enough.
Sometimes our faith life is like that, we are so busy with things that we think occasional check-ins will get us by. That’s where spiritual disciplines can help us out.
What are spiritual disciplines? In a nutshell, they are practices that help us stay focused and keep us aware of God’s presence. Of course God is present always and everywhere, but when we lose sight of that fact, life can become a lot harder. Our sleepy eyes and distracted hearts need a steady reminder, and spiritual disciplines provide a means of remembering.
Going to weekly worship on Sundays is one spiritual discipline some of us practice. And it’s an important discipline for many reasons. Not the least of because it reminds us we are part of something bigger than ourselves – part of the Body of Christ, called to live out our faith in community. Jesus thought being part of the community is central to faith; that’s why in today’s gospel reading the first word Jesus used to teach us how to pray is “our.” Not “my Father,” but “Our Father.” As Paul tells us elsewhere in his epistles, “there is one God and Father of all.” And weekly communal worship is a good reminder of that fact.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus names four spiritual disciplines. We aren’t going to go in depth into each one of them now, because this is the beginning of a series, but let’s take a brief look at each one Jesus mentions in today’s reading.
First, he talks of giving alms. What is alms? It’s not the same as tithings, though there is a connection, and will we reflect more deeply on alms and tithing in next week’s sermon. Alms are when we offer help to someone who needs help. It can be in the form of money, or food, or assisting in some other need. It can be as simple as giving someone a hug when they really need a hug.
The next discipline Jesus talks about is prayer. In the reading today he warns us about praying in public so others can see. Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that what we do on Sundays, gather in public and pray in front of each other? Yes, Sunday worship is public worship, but Jesus isn’t saying don’t pray together. Jesus worshipped in the temple and prayed in the synagogues all of the time. What Jesus is talking about is praying in public for the sake of having others see you do it. Not to pick on politicians, but sometimes that’s what they do. To win votes they make a public display of their piety. Even a great atheist like Stalin would make reference to God to get his troops hyped to action. In some churches wearing hats is popular, and for some women it becomes all about out-doing each other with the biggest or grandest hat. For them it’s not a spiritual discipline; they have lost the point, and that’s what Jesus is talking about.
The next spiritual discipline Jesus mentions is forgiveness. We are a forgiven people, and Jesus reminds us here that we are called to be forgiving. And he thinks it’s a big deal because he says, “If you don’t forgive the wrongs others do to you, how can you expect your Father to forgive you?” Elsewhere in the gospel he tells us, “the measure by which you measure others is the measure that you will be measured by.” So it is a good idea to use the measure of kindness.
The last practice Jesus talks about is fasting. This is not my favorite spiritual discipline, but one that helps us to remember that the only thing we really need is God. Not even food, which we spend much time thinking about, concocting, and consuming, is as central to life as God’s grace. Food is actually just another one of God’s gifts, and that’s what grace is – gifts from God. Everything we have, everything we are, is a gift, is God’s grace poured out upon us. Fasting can help us keep our focus on the real prize.
But there is a danger in “spiritual” disciplines. It’s important, crucial even, to remember that they are not an end in themselves. Spiritual disciplines like alms giving and prayer help us to be aware of God’s grace, but God’s grace is not dependent on our spiritual disciplines. Perfectly practicing any particular discipline does not merit us a place in the kingdom. That’s “works” mentality. That’s thinking you can buy your way into the kingdom. But we enter the kingdom by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, not by our own doing.
So avoid the pitfall that spiritual disciplines are the way to salvation. Jesus is the way to salvation, to healing, to reconciliation with God and one another. Disciplines are merely a tool to help us stay focused on Jesus, to help us keep aware of God’s abiding presence and action in our lives.
So let’s look at our epistle reading from today:
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them [he is speaking to us, the church, and how we are to help and support those in the church]. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. [Don’t seek revenge; don’t think its ok to treat others poorly because they have treated you poorly. Rather always do good, and not just to fellow members in Christ, but to all.] Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (19) Do not quench the Spirit. [Paul is telling us it is God’s will for us to allows have joy in our hearts because God is always with us, being aware of God presence produces joy because it affirms we are loved. And pray always giving thanks both in good times and in bad times, because no matter what happens – even death – God is with us, and for us, and that is good news and the reason to always have a grateful heart. If we listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we will be moved in joy.]… hold fast to what is good; (22) abstain from every form of evil. [Then he prays for them, and for us saying,] May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely. [THE WHOLE POINT OF ALL PRAYER – IS TO BE SANCTIFIED, that is to be made holy, to become like Christ. This is what we need to “pray without ceasing” for, because being like Christ is the only thing that really matters]…The one who calls you is faithful. [Indeed God, who calls us and loves us, is the ever-faithful one, no matter how many times we fall or fail, God is always there, always ready to sanctify us more and more. So don’t give up, no matter what you feel or do, keep praying to be sanctified. And lastly Paul writes,] Beloved, pray for us.
We may wonder why does Paul ask for the church to pray for him? I mean Paul is a great apostle, yet even he is in need of prayer. So pray always for all the church, pray for all the leaders of the church, and pray for me, your pastor, because I need your prayers too. And in doing this we fulfill God’s will for us in Jesus Christ.