Sunday, May 6, 2012

Refiner’s Fire

Communion Sunday and the Fifth Sunday of Easter 

Any minute now the service will begin. The sanctuary is abuzz with members and visitors catching up on the week, the chatter vibrant with life.

“Hey, good morning! We’ll start with ‘the Lord be with you.’"

“And also with you,” we reply.

1. Brad shared the decision that was made last week in our congregational meeting, approving the raising of funds for a downpayment on the construction of a new church building.

2. Men will meet here next Saturday at 5:00, go to Sammy’s for pizza and return to prepare breakfast for the following morning’s Mother’s Day Breakfast.

3. Youth are selling shares of stock as a fund raiser for CHIC. May 20 will be the stockholders’ dinner.

4. VBS is coming and they are inviting everyone to participate, June 11-15. There will be a Friday meeting at 10:00 a.m. here at the church.

The quartet began the service by singing He Hideth My Soul. Pastor Brad prayed for God to bless the service and the quartet followed with a lively tune called Movin’ before transitioning to a series worshipful songs that we sang together as a congregation.

Norm read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian that is found in the book Acts. Brad then led us in a time of prayer.

Refiner’s Fire

Brad began by introducing a character that he's introduced before. But first, he showed us a rock that had been dug up by his excavator. It’s hard to carry around heavy things, he told us, and he proceeded to share a story about portaging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The canoe was heavy and during a two mile portage his father had sunk in some mud and crumpled to his knees so that he was under this heavy canoe. It made for a comical image and an apt illustration for the sermon.

Who would sign up to do something that would burden their heart for along time.  I’ve been thinking about grudges this week. What would it look like if it were a tangible object? Brad described junior varsity-sized grudges and fully mature grudges and even made reference to little grudges that he called grudgettes.

Hold a grudge, carry a grudge, nurse a grudge… we feed it to keep it alive… feed it emotions and other food that makes it grow, and we carry it around for months and even years. “I don’t talk to them. I have nothing to do with them.” 

People wake up in the morning, pick it back up and carry it throughout the day.

It makes us feel superior when we carry a grudge. There is something about righteous indignation that makes us feel better.

Grudges do not make us happier, though, and do not make us better people, yet we keep them alive and carry them.

Every human being has been hurt by another human being. The number of people who don’t talk to their family members is tragically large. Fathers and sons that don’t talk to each other, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters....

Brad shared the story about Dear Abby and Ann Landers who were sisters who feuded their whole lives and now a second generation is carrying on the fight.These are people who make a living giving advice on relationships.

Sometimes people in the same church do this. Judgment, bitterness and hostility in their heart, even though they worship the same God.

The Patron Saint of the Grudge, Brad noted, was Lamech. You will find him in Genesis 4, a couple generations after Adam and Eve. Background, Cain killed his brother Abel, and God put a mark on Cain and said no one should kill Cain because revenge is not God’s way. Lamech, a descendant of Cain, was hurt by someone and got even by killing him.

Lamech exclaimed to his wives that if Cain is avenged seven time, then "Lamech seventy-seven times."

Lamech in his boasting was justifying himself. His enemies had it coming. “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you back.” 77 times…. That’s the way bitterness works.  How much is enough? Seven times is not. On and on is how it goes.

Jesus comes along and says, there are a lot of ways to kill someone. He said this to people who prided themselves on how religious they were. Jesus said love is not about murder avoidance. You can kill with harsh words. Or you can just withdraw, the passive/aggressive approach. When you’re married you can get really skilled at this.

Do this enough you become a stone carrier, carrying a stone of bitterness. Judgmentalism, coldness, meanness of spirit is all working inside you until it pervades your whole personality.

There is, however, another way. Jesus came along to proclaim that in light of God forgiveness there is an alternative in life. You can respond differently, you can forgive.

One time Peter came to Jesus and asked, “How many times do I have to forgive this guy? Do I have to forgive seven times?" That seemed like a lot to Peter, but he threw it out there. This happened as they prepared for the Day of Atonement. Reconciliation is an important thing to do, and the task of reconciling was one’s responsibility in preparation, but he figured there has to be a limit on this matter.

So Peter asks, “It’s the other guy’s fault. Why do I have to make the first move, the other guy did me wrong. How many times do I have to forgive? Seven times?” He thought he was being generous.

Jesus said not seven, but 70 times 7.

Brad said he believed Jesus chose this amount because it was a reversing of the Law of Lamech. “Peter, put down the stone. Following Me means you put down the stone." He added, “Unless you forgive from the heart, God will not forgive you.” Doesn’t that scare anyone?

My forgiveness came at the cost of that cross. When I forget how deeply I am stained by sin,it has unhealthy consequences. We are in desperate need of forgiveness. Spiritually I am deeply stained by my sin. It starts with pride, self-centeredness, and grows from there.

The cost to liberate us from this burden was high. There is only one safe place to put a grudge, that is at the foot of the cross, Brad stated. "You don’t have a right to that grudge. Remember the price that was paid for your forgiveness. Leave your stone at the cross."

After this we entered into communion. 

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