For those of you who are just visiting with us, church here at Central has just completed 40 Days of Purpose, a 40 day period of studying, listening and looking for God’s purpose and vision in our lives as individuals, as small groups. Over 500 of us have been in small groups during this period, and for us as a church, what God has in store for us the next steps. And the five aspect of a purpose driven life are the aspects that are up in the power point just a minute ago, and I would like to remember them in terms of three ships that keep me moving, with an “M”. Worship, fellowship, discipleship. Those are the ships. Ministry and mission; those are the “M” in which we move. So if that helps you to remember what we have been doing, great. If not, forget it. We will go on from there.
For those of you who may not know me, I am not a stranger to EPIC though you might think I am stranger than most. Usually, you will find me seated up in the balcony, right beside the AV booth, and usually I am there praying for the service here. And, in a lot of ways I would be more comfortable if I was up there right now instead of right here. My name is George Pattee. I am an elder here at Central serving as the clerk of the session, and for those of you who may not know, session is kind of the leadership team for Central Church. It’s a group of ten men and woman plus our interim senior pastor, George Antonakas, and I serve as the clerk of that group. Prior to my coming to the Baltimore area I used to be a Methodist minister, and I served churches in rural Vermont and New York for about ten years. That was a few years ago actually, I stopped that in 1990. And since that time I have been an automotive technician with Timonium Toyota just up the road here. I will put in a plug for them for free! A couple of my co-workers are here supporting me and cheering me on and I am thankful for their presence here this morning as well and welcome them.
One of the joys of being a pastor was the joy of week in and week out being able to open the Word of God to God’s people. What a privilege. What a joy. And one of the challenges of doing that here in just a one shot, is kind of the challenge of the story I heard about an old Vermont farmer and the pastor that was his friend. It turns out there was this one Sunday in the middle of winter, kind of like February 16th of this year. The pastor got up and he looked out the window, there was already 30 inches on snow on the ground and it was still snowing hard. Now, he lived right next door to the sanctuary, so he got up and walked over and opened up the sanctuary, came in and sat down, not really expecting anybody to show up. Well, lo and behold, one lone farmer showed up from a mile down the road. He had saddled up his horse, it was in that time, and he made his way to church. Just the one. So the pastor looked at his old friend and he said, “John, what do you think we should do?” The farmer said, “Well, you know pastor, if I take a load of hay out to the field and only one cow comes to be fed, I feed her.” Pastor thought that was good advice. So, he went to the pulpit and Farmer John sat in the first pew and he began to preach. He spoke for about thirty minutes. Thirty minutes turned into an hourmanhour turned into two hours. After about two hours, he pronounced the benediction and then he went back down front and shook the farmers hand and said, “Well John, what did you think?” The farmer turned to him and kind of thought for a minute and he said, “Well, you know pastor, if I take a load of hay out to the field and only one cow shows up, I don’t dump the whole load on her.” Well, I trust I don’t dump the whole load this morning and I did give Rob the permission to cut the mike if it gets to that point.
One of the things that I thought about as I prepared this morning is kind of a freebie. It’s an old saying that I heard when I was in school years ago about scripture. It goes like this. A text without its context is nothing more than a pre-text. Now, let me illustrate that real quickly. A text without its context, is nothing more than a pre-text. Picture a group of guys in an evening around the table in somebody’s living room having a couple of sodas or whatever and they are talking guy talk and one of the guys says, “I met this girl last night and she is beautiful, wonderful, everything I ever wanted. And to boot, on top of all that she said I love you.” Well, now in your mind play back like you would in a TV ad or a commercial to the night before, okay? This guy is sitting at the table with this girl and she is looking over at him with this look of utter disdain on her face and she says, “I? love you?!” It’s the same three words, but the context makes all the difference, doesn’t it? The same is true of scripture. Whenever we read about scripture, whenever we read about God, whether it’s reading 40 Day of Purpose, Purpose Driven Life, whether it’s a Celebration of Discipline or any other good Christian book, good Christian literature and a scripture is referenced, its always good to look at the context, to go back and take a look at that scripture and break it open. I would encourage you as we continue to explore and some of our small groups are going to continue to explore the chapters in Purpose Driven Life more in depth. Take a look at those verses. Take a look at them in their context. Understand them in the fuller and broader sense of what God is saying in those particular scriptures and text. That was for free.
Turn in your Bibles and pew Bibles if you would to Luke 24, Verses 36-53. You will find it on page 749 in your pew Bibles. Kind of keep that open in front of you. I will be referring back to it periodically, and I have asked Heidi to try to keep up with me as far as flashing those texts up on Power Point. So she will be giving you the text as I read it here now, but kind of keep your Bibles open, we will be referring back to it routinely.
Let me set the stage here. It’s Easter Sunday night. The disciples are in the upper room, not just the disciples, Jesus’ followers. There are men and women there. They are a group there of Jesus’ followers and they just had two people come back from the road to Emmaus, a town called Emmaus, and they are sharing crazy stories about seeing a living Lord, a risen Lord. And so these folks are gathered in the upper room. The doors are locked. They are afraid that the people that have arrested Jesus are going to be coming for them any minute and they are confused. They don’t understand. They don’t know how to put this all together. And in that context, Luke writes this.
“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures. It’s a key verse. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”
Let’s pray together. Lord God, you inspired Luke to record this truth. Now, inspire us through your spirit, to hear it, to hear it deep within our hearts, beyond our emotions Lord to deep within our wills, that our lives might be transformed, might be changed by your truth. This we ask in the name of your son, our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are finishing celebrating 40 Day of Purpose. This passage in Luke also is a compression of 40 days. The beginning of the passage as I said was Easter Sunday. The end of the passage is what we call the Ascension, when Jesus was raised bodily form to heaven. That was a period of 40 days that took place there, that is compressed here. And, you will notice right off, if you look at the last couple of verses that the disciples move from that cowering confused band that we saw at the beginning to a group that are worshipping him and returning to Jerusalem with great joy, staying at the temple, continually praising God. These aren’t the same people, but they are. There is a transformation that has taken place. They have spent time with a risen Lord and it shows. We spent time with the risen Lord in the last 40 days. Brothers and sisters, it shows. It shows. What are some of the things that they learned? There are some interesting parallels here to some of the things that we have been exposing ourselves to and learning over these last 40 days. What did they learn about God? The first thing they learned is that it’s all about God, not me. It’s all about God, not me. Jesus said in Verse 44, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Jesus is speaking of God here. He is God in the flesh and it’s all about him and what he has done.
We celebrate the Lord’s table this morning. Communion. We celebrate Christ’s death. We proclaim his death until He comes again. And right behind the Communion table is the empty cross. We celebrate his resurrection. The resurrection of the Lord. These are God’s purposes. That Christ might die for us. That our lives broken and torn by sin and the ravages of a broken world, might be brought to new life to resurrection life with his Son.
You can find some great theology in some of the strangest places. Yesterday, I took a break from preparing for today. Relaxed with my wife Debbie and at my son’s suggestion, I have two boys, Josh and George, the youngest is 19, the oldest is soon to be 22. At their suggestion, we went and saw the latest Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty. Anybody seen it yet? I’m not sure you would want to admit it, but anyway. So if you like the movie, great. If you didn’t, blame it on my sons for this illustration. But, the story here about Bruce is that he is just an average Joe who gets really upset with God. He doesn’t like the way his life is going. He feels that he is getting the short end of stick all the time. And so, he just lets God have it in a fit or rage. You know, one of these kind of prayers that only Jim Carrey can do, you know with the lines running down his neck. Well, the next thing you know, Jim Carrey has God’s powers. And God says basically to him, “Bruce, you think it’s so easy, you think you can do such a great job, here you go.” Well, the results are predictable as you can imagine from a Jim Carrey movie and at the height of everything coming unglued and his personal life coming undone, there is this tremendous scene where he is walking down the middle of the street and the rain is pouring down as only Hollywood can make rain pour down. And he falls to his knees, its in the middle of the night, streets are virtually abandoned, he falls to his knees and he cries out, looking up to heaven and he says this, “I don’t want to be God anymore. I surrender.” And then he gets hit by a truck. But anyway. It’s okay. The movie gets better. I won’t say anymore, I don’t want to spoil it all. But isn’t that powerful theology? Have you ever been in that place trying so hard to be what God never intended you to be, trying so hard to be in control of your life, trying so hard to make sure its all about me, its all about what I get, its all about my life, my goals, my hopes, my dreams. Have you ever been there? Have you ever sensed the emptiness in that striving? The quiet, desperate, alone emptiness, many of us have. Bruce’s cry becomes our cry. I don’t want to be God anymore. I surrender. God, it is about you. It’s not about me.
There is a song that we sing that’s like that. I will spare you by trying to sing it to you. My wife Debbie and I used to sing duets when I was in ministry. But, it got so typically what would happen is about half way through the song, she would be singing solo and I would be crying. I sing with my hands, because I can’t sing with my voice. I usually do get choked up. So I won’t try to sing this song for you, but I will share the lyrics. The title of the song is Jesus, Lover of My Soul. We sung it here at EPIC. The chorus goes like this.
“It’s all about You Jesus.
And all this is for You.
For Your glory and Your fame.
It’s not about me as if You should do things my way.
You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways.”
The other thing we learn about God is that God is busy creating a family. He is busy creating a community. He tells his disciples that in Verse 46. He says, “Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day.” And then in Verse 47, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. God wants a big family. How many of you out there want big families? Anybody? We got a few folks that want a big families, okay. I see more husbands’ hands raised than wives. Anyway. God wants a big family and he wants a multi-cultural family from every town, every tribe, every nation, beginning at Jerusalem. What does that mean? Should we pack up EPIC and head to the Middle East? No. Beginning at our Jerusalem. Your Jerusalem. My Jerusalem. Our friends. Our neighbors. Our enemies. Our community.
These are a few things that we have learned about God. What about life? Well, the disciples learned and we have learned that life is preparation for eternity. You know there is not much worth living for unless you have something worthy dying for. Something worth sacrificing for. You know you have made it when you warrant a flavor from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Years ago, stay with me here, I am getting back to what I am talking about, this isn’t way off the wall. Years ago, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream came out with Cherry Garcia for Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, right? Well, within the last year or so they have come out with a new flavor. Phish food. (Spells out PHISH) For the group Phish. I hear a few Phish fans out there, okay. Well, one of the bumper stickers that I see around for Phish says, Just phillin (spells out phillin) up space. Is that what life is about? There is a limerick about that. It’s a limerick of the bear. It says,
A cheerful old bear at the zoo
could always find something to do.
When it bored him you know
to walk to and fro,
he reversed it and walked fro and to.
Has life degenerated into something like that perhaps for you? For me? Is that what life is about? Lots of activity, lots of coming and goings? Lot of doings, but no meaning. Life is meant to prepare us for eternity.
I’m reminded of the words of Maximus in the movie Gladiator. In the opening scene just prior to the battle that would secure the Roman peace for the next couple of centuries. The final but major battle of the Roman legions. Maximus, the general of the armies of Rome to the north, rallies the troops and while he is with his Calvary, he turns to them and he says this, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” That’s true. What we do here in life can echo in eternity. Let me give you a tip on the best way to begin preparing for eternity. Ask God to give you a heart for that which moves His heart deeply.
What moves his heart deeply? Well we have already seen it. He wants to adopt a family. Do we have a heart for our Jerusalem? Our co-workers? Our friends? Our neighbors? And beyond? God does. God has a heart for them. Does it trouble us that they know little if anything about life that lasts, about the giver of life who can enrich the soul and give purpose and meaning to life? Does that trouble us that they know so little? It troubles God. He yearns for those who do not yet know him.
You know what, it troubles your session as well. As a session here at Central we have really wrestled in the last couple of meetings and months trying to sense what is it that God is calling us to do in the context of our community. You don’t have to look too far to see that we don’t live in heaven. There are signs of the forces of hell all around us. Broken lives. Broken dreams. Broken hopes. Broken fears. All of those are all around us. There is a song, People need the Lord and one of the phrases in that song says, “At the end of broken dreams, He is the open door.” You know we could go through this entire room and if we were courageous enough, each one of us could probably tick off at least one broken dream that we are carrying with us right now, that carries pain. But we also know that Christ is the open door. That Christ carries us in our brokenness. That Christ holds us and that Christ transforms us. But, what about those who haven’t heard that good news? Maybe some of you this morning for the very first time are hearing that good news. It is good news. It deserves to be shared.
What have we learned about spiritual growth? That we grow through making commitments. Jesus says, “You are witnesses of these things.” Do you feel overwhelmed by what God is calling you to do? Do you sense that yearning inside of you that God is saying this is the next chapter in your life? This is what I want next for you in your life. This is my purpose for you. Are you overwhelmed by that? Are you scared by that? Good. You’re in good company. The disciples were cowering behind closed doors. If you would have asked me two days ago, how I was doing as far as preparing for this, I was cowering. Yeah. Make that commitment. Take that step. But don’t take that step alone. That’s the other thing we have learned about spiritual growth. That we grow through fellowship. That we grow through fellowship.
There is a movie; one of my favorites and it is called Men of Honor. It’s a true story about master diver Carl Brashear, Navy master diver, and at the end of the movie he was. He was African-American, the first African-American Navy diver. At the end of the movie, he is seeking to be reinstated into active duty in the Navy after suffering an accident that resulted in the amputation of his right leg, just below the knee. And there is a board of inquiry deciding his fate and the head of that board of inquiry wants to retire him and not return him to active duty. The head of that board says to him, “In order to return to active duty, you must complete the same test that every Navy diver has to complete in today’s Navy.” And he wheels in a 300-lb diving suit. He says you must take 12 steps with this suit. “Are you prepared to do this, Mr. Brashear?” And Brashear says, “Yes I am.” But this is a surprise to him. He had not known that this was going to be required of him. So, as they strap on the suit an old mentor of his, at sometimes an adversary, at other times a friend comes into the courtroom. He name is Billy Sunday and he is a retired navy diver. And he stands in front of Brashear and he says, “There is no way that you can carry this suit by yourself. You will go six steps maximum” and Brashear says, “Watch me.” So, Sunday stands 12 steps away from Brashear and he tells him to stand up and he does in front of this tribunal and a crowd of witnesses. Brashear stands and he takes not the first six steps, but the first nine steps without stopping on sheer willpower. All the while, his mentor Sunday counts them off. But when he gets to the ninth step he falters and he begins to sway and he begins to totter and he begins to look up at his friend, his antagonist, his mentor Sunday. He begins to look up at him with this look of despair on his face and Sunday says, “Cookie straighten that gear. I want my 12 steps.” If you have seen the movie you know that is what he calls Brashear during training. He calls him Cookie; it’s a derogatory term. Brashear stands, and under the strength of his friend and his friend’s exhortations and encouragement, he takes the final three steps and is reinstated back in to active duty. He could not have done that alone. No matter how much he willed it, no matter how much it was his plan, design and purpose for life, he could not have done that alone. He needed that friend.
Jesus in this passage speaks to his followers in the plural, the third person plural. Did you notice that? He doesn’t single out and say, “Hey Peter, this is what I want you to do. John, you know you go over here, I’ve got this plan for you.” He talks to them in the third person plural or the second person plural. He talks to them as community. I have heard folks say, and in fact I used to say it, that the Old Testament is about God dealing with a nation and the New Testament is about God’s dealings with individuals. I am not at all together comfortable with that. Jesus always deals with a community and the context of community. I am getting a little ahead of myself, which is probably a good thing because we are running out of time.
How has what we learned impacted us? Jesus’ followers went from fearful to faithful. How did that happen? Spending time with the living Lord. How do you spend time with a living Lord? In his word? With his people? In prayer? All of these ways, we spend time with the living Lord. Let me ask you a personal question. What do you fear most right now? What is your greatest fear today? And where is God in that fear? Picture him entering that scene or that scenario. How would it change? How might faith, hope and love replace that fear if Christ were with you saying, “I am with you always. Peace be still. My wholeness I give to you.” We are pressed, but not crushed. We are at times distressed, but not destroyed. We are desperate from time to time, but we are not despairing. If you are following on your sheet there, they did this in community and I have already spoken about that. Authentic community.
So let’s move on from there. Where do we go from here? Let’s start living what we have learned. Jesus tells his followers then and now, he says, “You are witnesses of these things” and then he says later on, “Wait.” You are witness and wait. That does not make a whole lot of sense, does it? I mean, if I am a witness, shouldn’t I be witnessing? You’re witnesses, but wait. You see, the living Lord knew that some other things needed to fall into place. Have you ever been in God’s waiting room? It a tough spot. Especially for those of us who are active oriented, go-getters, let’s get on with the next thing. But sometimes God calls us to wait while he works within our hearts and our lives. But, that also needs to be balanced with the fact that we only keep what we do give away, particularly in light of spiritual things. The disciples in Jesus’ day, his followers, followed his instructions. They waited and ten days later, what happened? All heaven broke loose. Acts, Chapter 2, correct? What happened to Peter and John, those two that were cowering behind closed doors in fear? They find themselves standing before the same court that had condemned Jesus to death. Acts, Chapter 4. They are standing before the same court, the San Hedron, on trial for preaching about Jesus and Peter says, judge for yourselves whether its right for us to obey you or to obey God. We are under compulsion. We must proclaim the good news of the forgiveness of sins which is found in Jesus Christ. We can do no other. And then Luke records in Acts, Chapter 4, Verse 13, the response of the San Hedren to that. It says, when they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled ordinary men, they were astonished and here’s the kicker, they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Have you been with Jesus? Has all heaven broken loose in your life? John the Son of Thunder, becomes John the Beloved. Peter the Coward, becomes Peter the Proclaimer. Mary the Prostitute becomes Mary the first worshipper at the tomb. What has the world told you that you will always be? Don’t believe it. Spend time with the living Lord. He sees in you what you feel farthest from. Remember what he said to them he says to you, you are and you will be. Let all heaven break loose upon your life today. Let it break loose upon your worship, your fellowship, your discipleship, your ministry and your mission.
Let’s pray together. Father we want to start here and start now. Here at your table, the table that you set through the death and resurrection of your son. That our lives might reflect the glory of the Lord. And now in these moments if your heart is in agreement with this prayer, I would ask you to pray it with me quietly there as we bow in prayer, and continue in prayer. God, I want to find that purpose for which you created me. I accept that you know who I am, what my gifts are, how my life can count for something meaningful and lasting. I accept that Jesus died on the cross for my sins because of his great love for me. I thank him for that. I am sorry for my sin. I repent of it. And I now accept your forgiveness. Come into my life and begin the process of molding me in to all that you planned I should be and directing me in the path that you have chosen for me. Give me the courage and strength to live worthily of your love and to follow this purpose wherever it leads. Amen.
Sermon Outline Notes:
Celebrating 40 Days
What have we learned over the past 40 days?
That it’s all about God not me.
That God is busy creating a family.
That life is preparation for eternity
About Spiritual Growth?
That we grow through making commitments
That we grow through fellowship
How has what we’ve learned impacted us?
Jesus’ followers went from fearful to faithful.
They did this in community.
Where do we go from here?
Let’s start living what we’ve learned.
We only keep what we give away.