Blessed are the Meek, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

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Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 2 of 4: Blessed are the Meek
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-5
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 9/1/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Read Matthew 5:1-5
The beginning of the Beatitudes at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Jim’s Ride from The Man from Snowy River
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Man from Snowy River. In this movie, a rich Australian rancher buys a prize Arabian stallion. One day the stallion escapes and joins a mob of wild horses. The rancher rounds up as many hands as possible and the chase begins- thundering hooves shake the majestic Australian hills. Faster and faster they race until the mob bolts down a steep embankment. Let’s see what happens next…

The trained horses and riders will not follow the mob down the steep embankment. They stop. They know better. They call it a day.

Suddenly, one horse and rider blazes past the group and down the hill after the mob. (It’s one of the most exciting horse sequences ever filmed.) It’s our hero- Jim Craig.

He and his horse are not afraid. They move as one, a powerful team. They are strong. All watch amazed at what they can do together. The chase continues and in the end, Jim brings in all the wild horses.

How would you describe Jim and his horse?
They are one, synced, inseparable
Fearless, beautiful, strong

Man from snowy river jim horse

Together, Jim and his horse are a perfect example of meekness.

When you hear the word meek what comes to mind:
Quiet, shy, timid
Passive, Wimp, Doormat

We’ve lost the actual definition of the word “meek” and we must reclaim it. In Greek word for “meek,” praus, is used to describe a wild animal whose power was now disciplined for work, strength under authority.

We know we are at our best when we are disciplined and accountable:
You work with a coach and your game improves
There’s a reason why Weight Watchers and AA and Disciple Bible Study works
The structure makes us stronger- it’s a gift
We’re stronger together

The Natural Progression of the Beatitudes at work in a life

Blessed are the poor in spirit  
There’s nothing I can say or do or give to earn my salvation
I come as a spiritual beggar, I have nothing to offer God
I am in need of forgiveness and salvation. I know what I need.
I place my trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I receive the Kingdom
I’m now an heir, a child of the King

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn  
I stop trying to save myself
I take a good look at myself
I get honest about what a mess I am
I mourn my mess- my sin, my poor choices
Things said and done, and left unsaid and undone
How I’ve hurt myself, others, God.
I mourn. I surrender my burden to God.
I confess. I receive forgiveness.
The burden of my guilt is lifted and I’m comforted

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek  
Yes I am a spiritual beggar
Yes I am honest about my sin and need of forgiveness

If we stopped at this point, it would make sense to claim we are wimps and doormats. But if we stop here, we wouldn’t have the whole truth.

We must also recognize we are powerful
I am strong, gifted, talented, resourced

I place everything I have and everything I receive from the Holy Spirit, all my strength, under God’s authority. All that I am and all that I have I give to you and to your service. You are God and I am not. You be Jim, I’ll be the horse.

Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Snowy River Metaphors
Before we place our trust in Jesus we’re like the mob of horses- wild, rebellious, destructive, undisciplined. For some of us, we look wild and do wild things. For others, we may not look that way on the outside, but that’s what’s going on on the inside. We are unsettled, anxious, struggling.

After we place our trust in Jesus we grow to be like Jim and his horse. Strength under authority. One with God. Moving in concert with God. All of a sudden there’s direction to this power, direction to this talent.

We are more than we are by ourselves because we are one with God. We begin to understand we can be courageous, we can risk for the glory of God and the common good.

The last thing Jesus wants is for you to start following him and you become like the ranch horses- too safe, too careful, too tame, whipped, broken, timid, institutionalized.

That’s not meekness. That’s not who we really are.

All this talk of poverty of spirit and mourning our sin might make us think being a Christian is about being a wimp- passive, timid, doormat.

No! God is calling us to a life of adventure. We recognize we cannot save ourselves. We recognize we can hurt others and hurt ourselves. We place our strength under the authority of Jesus and now we are ready to join Jesus in the adventure of saving the world.

We’re in the right heart space to do it.

We’re ready to go where Jesus leads, in the way Jesus leads
Loving our enemies
Welcoming the outsider
Ending prejudice and oppression
Speaking the truth in love            ‘
Generous, sacrificial, joyful,
Compassionate, empathetic,
Powerful, and humble

We are now ready to be meek

2 Timothy 1:7
for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said:
The meek love their God so much that they desire to obey even the least command that he gives, simply out of love to him. The meek in spirit are like a photographer’s sensitive plates, and as the Word of God passes before them, they desire to have its image imprinted upon their hearts.

Where are you strong and powerful? How are you bringing that strength under God’s authority and leading? So you may be one and join Jesus in the great adventure of the saving of the world.

The message ends with the prayer before Holy Communion.

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Beatitudes Sermon, Blessed are the Meek © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Poor in Spirit, a Sermon from The Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

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Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing
Message 1 of 4: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit and Those Who Mourn 
Scripture:  Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 18:9-14
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/25/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Set the scene

  • Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry
  • He calls his first disciples – the educated and advantaged? No. Some fishermen
  • He travels around his home region of Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease
  • His fame begins to spread. Large crowds started coming- Galilee, Syria, Jerusalem, 10 Roman cities of the Decapolis, Judea, and beyond the Jordan

People started bringing him all the sick

  • folks in crippling pain
  • folks possessed by demons
  • folks with seizures
  • paralyzed folks
  • poor folks
  • suffering folks
  • desperate folks
  • the outcasts and the unwanted

Every day the crowd grows bigger and bigger and bigger.

One day Jesus heads up one of the mountainsides and sits down. This would have caught everyone’s attention. When a rabbi sits, he’s indicating a time of formal teaching. It’s unusual, he’s outside, not in the synagogue.

Everyone gathers around and settles down, expectant, waiting. What are the first words out of his mouth?

Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What??? Who in their right mind would look out over this massive crowd of broken, desperate, mourning, pain-ridden people and call them blessed?

The kingdom of God couldn’t possibly be for the likes of these. Many rabbis were teaching all over the region that the reason you were hurting, broken, sick, or poor is because you weren’t right with God and God was punishing you.

Jesus says, “Nope. That isn’t right.” Jesus says God loves them and welcomes them into the kingdom and they are blessed

I imagine Jesus looking out on that crowd on the side of the mountain and seeing all of humanity. Every person who ever lives.

I imagine Jesus looking down the mountainside and down through the ages and seeing me and seeing you.

We may have access to better medical care and clean water and be more educated. But deep down Jesus sees us and sees our brokenness and our pain.

I am those people on the mountain.
We are those people on the mountain.

We are the broken, the ill, the demon-possessed.
We are in pain, desperate, outcast.
We are loved and we are blessed and we are welcomed.
We need Jesus just like they need Jesus because we are all spiritual beggars.

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Dallas Willard’s translation of Matthew 5:3 from his book The Divine Conspiracy
Blessed are the spiritual zeros- the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of religion when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them. 

I work so hard to not be a spiritual beggar. What child says, “When I grow up I want to be a beggar?” We don’t aspire to that.

I don’t want to be a beggar. I don’t want to be a beggar spiritually, financially, emotionally.

I don’t want to be a beggar, so I work hard. I want to have something to offer God when God comes to me.

  • God will love me if I do good things
  • God will love me more than others if I do more good things
  • So doing good things and being a good person will earn me brownie points with God
  • So when the Kingdom comes and Jesus comes I have something to offer.

I’m a good person and I do good things and that will save me. Nope.

The nope is good. Aren’t you thankful we don’t have to get good to get God!

Being a good person and doing good things will not earn me brownie points with God. It will not save me. My hard-working hard turns salvation into a transaction. If I do this then God will do that. Salvation isn’t a transaction – its grace, its mercy, it’s a gift.

Yes, Jesus is correcting the twisted theology of those who would judge and exclude people from God’s love and grace. But he is also reminding them and reminding us that we all spiritual beggars and we all need a Savior.

Isaiah 64:6, NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away.

Romans 3:23 puts it even more simply- all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Now hear the Good News, Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

What does spiritual poverty mean? (Adapted from a definition by Jim Forest in his book The Ladder of the Beatitudes)

  • It starts with self-awareness. I cannot save myself.
  • I am basically defenseless. Neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death.
  • No matter what I achieve, no matter what I acquire, it will fall short.
  • Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than I need anything else. 

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14.
Look at the reason why Jesus tells this parable.
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We recognize we are spiritual beggars. We recognize our poverty of spirit. We recognize we cannot save ourselves and this naturally leads to us mourning our sin. 

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We mourn the foolishness of our boasting.
We mourn how we’ve wasted our time, our talent, and our resources.
We mourn our self-centeredness
We mourn our self-righteousness
We mourn our apathy to God and the ways of God

We mourn how our words, our action, our inaction separate us from God, others, our true selves.

We mourn and we do what the tax collector did.

  1. We recognize our reality- we are all spiritual beggars, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
  2. We stop trying to save ourselves
  3. We place our trust in the mercy and grace of Jesus

The ground is even at the foot of the cross. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all there together.

Receive the promise: blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.        

How many of us carry around the burden and guilt of sin? We mourn it, we confess it, and we are comforted. We receive the grace and forgiveness and healing we need.

How many of us carry around the burden of resentment? The burden of bitterness? The burden of judging others? The burden of getting busy enough to earn our salvation? The burden of self-medicating the feelings we hide?

Mourn them. Be honest with them. Hand them to Jesus. Receive the grace, mercy, and comfort Jesus is ready to provide. That’s the Good News. That’s our hope.

It feels upside down and backward. We’re “supposed to” pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and put on our big girl pants. It is actually surrender and truth and blessing.

Will you recognize who you are and receive the blessing, the comfort, the Kingdom?

Prayer based on James 4:8-10: Jesus we claim the promise that if we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Cleanse us. Purify us. We are double-minded. We deny. We hide. Help us release and lament and mourn and weep the things we have done, the things we have said, the things we have left undone. Help us to humble ourselves before you, Lord, so you will lift us up.

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Beatitudes Sermon 1 of 3 © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Sermon- Poor Man’s Lamb (2 Samuel 12)

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Sermon Series: Parables
Message 4 of 4: Poor Man’s Lamb
Scripture: 2 Samuel 12:1-15
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/18/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

colorblind example
Colorblindness affects 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. Most people see 10 million shades of color. A colorblind person only sees around 100,000 shades.

A company named EnChroma invented glasses to help colorblind people see color. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube recording the emotions of people seeing color for the first time. Here’s one of them.

Like these glasses, stories have the power to help us see, open our eyes, wake us up.

Sermon recording starts here

This morning, we’ll read a story from the prophet Nathan, praying God will use it to open our eyes and souls. As I read it, close your eyes and imagine the story.

After I read it, I’ll give you some questions to think about. This is not a quiz. Just jot down some impressions.

If you know the story or the reason the prophet Nathan told this story and who he told it to, set that aside for a moment. Look at it with fresh eyes. No spoilers for the rest of us

The Story of the Poor Man’s Lamb. 2 Samuel 12:1-4, The Voice Translation
1…Two men lived in the same city. One was quite rich and the other quite poor; 2 the rich man’s wealth included livestock with many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man owned only one little ewe lamb. He bought it and raised it in his family, with his children, like a pet. It used to eat what little food he had, drink from his meager cup, and snuggle against him. It was like a daughter to him.

4 Now a traveler came to the city to visit the rich man. To offer a proper welcome, the rich man knew he needed to fix a meal, but he did not want to take one of the animals from his flocks and herds. So instead he stole the poor man’s ewe lamb and had it killed and cooked for his guest.

What do you love as deeply as the poor man loved his lamb?
When you think about the rich man’s actions, what feelings are stirred up inside you?

Read the story again
How is the story speaking to situations in our country?
How is the story speaking to you?

Stories are powerful. They have the ability to help us see, to open our eyes, to wake us up.  A story can help us better understand a situation, see something from another person’s perspective, or see our own prejudice and sin.

What stories have changed your perspective?

What stories have opened you up, opened your eyes, awakened you to something going on in the world or going on within yourself?

The Scriptures are very powerful for doing this. The Bible is unlike any other book you will ever read. God’s Word is living, active. God communicates with us through the Scriptures.

If you go to the Bible looking for history or science, you will be disappointed. But if you go to the Scriptures looking for God, you will find God. By reading the Scriptures we learn what God’s voice sounds like. We learn the character of God.

God speaks to our souls and our character. It’s why we need to be reading the Scriptures regularly and reading the Scriptures with others. We read so it becomes more than head knowledge, it goes deep to become heart knowledge and soul knowledge. It brings a change in our life.

2 Samuel 12:1-15
The prophet Nathan tells this story to King David. David has an emotional reaction to this story, just as you did. He is awakened inside.

5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

David is read to ask, “Who is this?” David’s going to hold him accountable.

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”

It’s a hit in the chest at this point. Truth bomb.

Nathan reminds David who he really is. What David has done is out of character. David’s become something twisted, having done great evil and sin.

Nathan is a close, good, faithful friend to speak the truth to David so he can be awakened to his true self, so he can see what he has done.

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. ….

Nathan lays it all out. I know exactly what you have done.

David, the one who is called the man after God’s own heart.

  • The faithful shepherd boy who defeats the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone
  • Who then becomes the leader of the armies of Israel, a brave warrior who leads them to great victories in the Name of God.
  • Who is chased by a jealous and violent King Saul. Does David fight him or take revenge on him? No, David forgives him and proclaims again he is Saul’s servant. David is a humble, disciplined man.
  • When Saul is dead, God raises up David to be King. David unites all the tribes of God’s people, bringing them into one nation. David sets up the capitol in Jerusalem and in the center of the capital, David places the ark of the covenant where the presence and worship of God will take place.
  • David, the one who writes many of the Psalms we still read today.
  • David, who dances with abandon in the worship of Almighty God.
  • David who has many wives and could snap his fingers and have even more.

David, who is now king, abuses his power. He looks down from his palace and sees Bathsheba bathing. (How crazy is it that Nathan doesn’t use her name!)

David sees her and wants her and summons her. What can she do? Nothing because he is the king. He rapes her. He commits adultery. Then she gets pregnant.

From there it gets worse and worse. There’s deceit. There are lies. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, is brought home. David tries to cover it up by manipulating Uriah, but it doesn’t happen. He’s a man of integrity.

So David basically puts out a mob hit on him, sending him back to battle in the very front of the line, knowing he’ll be killed, so he can marry Bathsheba.

It is awful. He has stolen the poor man’s lamb. A man who was faithful to fight for his country.

Nathan is calling him out on it. Because that’s what friends do and that’s what prophets do and that’s what a story does. A story opens us up to where we have blindspots. David is totally blind to how twisted he has become.

Nathan reminds David who is truly is. This is who you are and this is what God has done for you. What you have done is evil.

What does David do? David repents. 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Our sin does not just affect ourselves, it ripples. Look at all the lives- Bathsheba’s life, Uriah’s life, the lives of all the insiders who knew what was really going on in a breach of trust. It ripples all the way up to God. It breaks relationship.

God through Nathan calls David back to himself.

This is not a fairy tale. David repents and everything’s all right. It isn’t all right. The consequences of his actions ripple and tear his family apart. It’s a mess. God redeems it.

This is the power of a story. This is why we stay in God’s Word. This is why we have close friends who are going to speak the truth in love to us and call us back to ourselves. And this is why we worship the One, True, Living God who speaks us and forgives us and gives us eyes to see.

Do you want eyes to see? We live in a time where we need to be awake and alive and true and trustworthy. We need to be the people of hope. We need to be the people of integrity. We need to stay awake to all that’s going on because we have the Word of Life.

How did the story speak to you? Did it speak to you personally? A family, business, community, or national level? What is God calling you to do?

Prayer: God we thank you for speaking to us. It is amazing that you would want to have anything to do with us. Your love is that great and your patience is that great and your mercy is that great. We thank you that we can come to you just as we are. That we don’t have to hide. We don’t have to pretend. We pray for eyes to see. Awaken us and keep us woke. Give us a story to share, a story of mercy and grace and forgiveness. A story of new life and hope and truth and justice. A story of belonging. Thank you, Lord. Make us new. Give us eyes to see. Amen.

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Poor Man’s Lamb Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon- Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh (Ezekiel 36)

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Sermon Series: Parables
Message 3 of 4: Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh
Scripture: Ezekiel 36:22-27
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/11/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Reading Ezekiel 36:22-27

Story of My Uncle David Playing This Game:
Person One hides a small object in the palm of their head. They hold their fist over the head of another person and say, “Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head. Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

The 2nd person makes a guess, one of the three. If they guess right they then try to guess what’s in the person’s hand. If they guess right, they win what’s in the person’s hand.

Stones are:

  • Cold
  • Heavy
  • Old
  • Hard, impermeable, solid
  • Inanimate, sense-less, dead

Stones can be useful. They are useful for building things- a house, a fortress, a wall.

One of the things stones are not useful for is a home for God, a place for the Spirit of God to dwell.

Acts 17:24
The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.

Sometimes people think God lives in buildings. The ancient Israelites thought God lived in the Temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s time, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, so where’s the presence of God now?

God reminds the people through Ezekiel that God doesn’t live in stone or things made of stone. God lives in flesh.

Think of Jesus. The Word of God was made flesh, not stone.

Ezekiel 36:26-27
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

What Hardens our Heart? So many things can harden our hearts. One thing can make is soft again. The Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit is available to every single one of us. Every person you will ever meet, ever see.

The Spirit is available to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. So we can be like Ebeneezer Scrooge. We can be like the Grinch. And it doesn’t just happen at Christmas.

Our heart is the center of our being, the birthplace of our motivation. Whatever we place our primary trust in, that is sitting on the throne of our heart. If it isn’t God, its an idol.

What hardens our heart?

  • Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion
  • Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness (Consider Pharaoh in Exodus)
  • Guilt, Shame
  • Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment
  • Evil, Trauma

Sometimes we make choices which harden our heart. Sometimes we are not healed of the wounds inflicted upon us and our hearts harden. Sometimes our hearts are hardened by the brokenness of our world.

“Lord have mercy if I hear of another hate crime. I’m not going to stay awake, alive, and open to it. I’m going to hunker down, protect myself, harden my heart to protect myself from all that’s going on. It’s too painful and too much.”

The hardening of our heart due to the hamster wheel of trauma in our world is what most concerns me. Anxiety is rising and people are acting out.

How can we remain soft-hearted in the midst of all of this? It’s about the Holy Spirit of God. We can’t do it in our own strength.

Prayer
Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They run to lonesome places, screaming an alarm
Soften our hearts so we can find you above the fear

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They race to revenge, pounding with anger
Soften our hearts so we can hear you above the hammering

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They rush to human strength, grasping for control
Soften our hearts so we can hold to your way, your truth, and your life

Soften our hearts so they may beat in unison with yours
So healing may flow into all brokenness
So hope may fill all devastation
So compassion and peace and unity may rise up among all people
We entrust our hearts to you

heart stone flesh full of eyes

By Chris Powers, fullofeyes.com 

Ezekiel 36:25
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

  • God offers us cleansing and forgiveness for the sin which hardens our hearts- Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion, Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness, Guilt, Shame
  • How was the Grand Canyon built? By water. The washing is stronger than stone.

Ezekiel 36:24
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

  • God offers us a home and gathers us into a trustworthy people to be our family so our hearts are not hardened by Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment

For Evil and Trauma, God takes the heart of stone that we want to fight back with and gives us a heart of flesh. We bring healing to the world the way God brings healing to the world, not by throwing stones.

Ezekiel 36:23
… through you, I display my holiness before their eyes

A heart of stone is cold, but flesh is warm
A heart of stone is heavy, but flesh is light
A heart of stone is hard, but flesh is tender
A heart of stone is impermeable, but flesh is vulnerable
A heart of stone is sense-less, but flesh is sensitive
A heart of stone is dead, but flesh is alive

This is about coming alive and staying alive in the power of the Holy Spirit. So we can share the holiness, goodness, and grace of God with the world.

What is trying to harden your heart? Confess it to God.
God, I trust you to give me a heart of flesh.
Fill me with your Spirit. Give me a heart of flesh.

Prayer: Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

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Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon- The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37)

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Sermon Series: Parables
Message 2 of 4: The Valley of Dry Bones
Scripture: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/4/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. There is no recording of this message.

Ezekiel is a wild book of the Bible, full of powerful visions and dramatic choices. It’s also a book of hope. Today, we need a word of hope for so many reasons, including the mass shootings which took place in El Paso and Dayton.

Imagine yourself around age 25, living in the big city, the capital of your country. All your life you’ve known what you’re going to do- go into the family business. This blessing would bring you purpose and position, financial security and a bright future.

One day all of it crashes. A mighty foreign power invades, but they don’t destroy the city. Instead, they gut the hope out of the people by kidnaping the best and brightest of the young people. You are taken far from home, those you love, and your future.

This is what’s happened to Ezekiel. He thought he would become a priest at the temple in Jerusalem. Instead, he’s taken into exile in Babylon.

The Book of Ezekiel starts 5 years later. Ezekiel is at a refugee camp by a river in Babylon. It’s his 30th birthday, the time when he was supposed to start serving as a priest. The time his life was supposed to begin.

Ezekiel has a vision – 4 powerful creatures, each with 4 faces, traveling in formation. Underneath them are wheels. They form a divine chariot for God’s royal throne. The very presence of God rests there.

In this overwhelming moment, God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet instead of a priest. God tells Ezekiel to speak truth, to speak out against violence, injustice, and the worship of false gods, to call people back to remembrance and repentance and relationship with God.

Ezekiel begins to speak the truth to everyone- no one listens, their hearts are hard. This goes on for years. Ezekiel stays true.

Ezekiel is also called by God to proclaim another attack is coming to Jerusalem and this time everything will be destroyed. Ezekiel’s prophesy comes true- Babylon attacks again. People of God are murdered and scattered. Jerusalem is destroyed, including the temple-

  • the center of government,
  • the needed place for forgiveness and cleansing and thanksgiving and praise
  • the home of the presence of the One True Living God

Ezekiel wonders – Is God done with us? Have we blown it for good? Too much sin, apathy, worshipping false gods…

The question is fresh for us.

Is God done with my nation?

  • Growing secularization and apathy towards God.
  • The polarization based on economics, race, age, political party
  • Wars and rumors of wars
  • 44 mass shootings in the last month

Is God done with the church?

Is God done with me?

  • Often heard people say, “If I walked into a church, the roof would cave in.”
  • I don’t think I want a conversation with God because I don’t want to hear what God would say to me.

Is God done? The resounding answer of God is NO! I’m going to do something new.

It’s not because we are deserving or worthy. It’s not because we’ve said the magic words or earned it with a magic sacrifice.

It’s because this is God’s character. God’s being. God says this is who I am. I am the One who makes all things new. I am the One who creates. I am the One who saves and I do not change.

valley dry bones

The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14) Notice how often the spirit appears in this passage!

1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

Dry Bones

  • Very Many Bones- it takes time to tour the valley. Reinforces the loss.
  • Very Dry Bones- the people have been dead a long time, the bones are picked clean, bleached white

Rebellion against God brings death

  • Death of Ezekiel’s dream to be a priest
  • Death of home, of life the Promised Land
  • Death of Jerusalem and Death of the Temple
  • Death of many people
  • Death of the covenant? God says, “No!” and God creates.

3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them:

  • This is how God creates, God speaks. Consider the creation story in Genesis and Jesus the Word made flesh.

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

  • God speaks and there is breath and life and holiness and goodness. God does this for us. In our dryness, our desert, our death, God speaks.

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

  • They lived and they stood. They stand, withstand, and stand firm. They were not just flesh and bone, not the walking dead. Now they were bone and breath and life.

11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’         

  • Have you ever had that voice running through your head? I’m just dried up, no good, all is hopeless, a lost cause, no one to help me, no one who loves me, this bad choice will haunt me forever. That isn’t the voice of God.

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber Quote: God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions, and God keeps loving us back to life over and over again.

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

We will know that we know that we know.

It’s not enough for us to try harder and do better. We surrender into life by the breath of God.

Our God is a God of creation, a God of life – just like Genesis 2, just like the raising of Lazarus, just like Pentecost, just like the resurrection of Jesus, God brings life to our bones. Not just bones but breath.

God cleansing. God breathing. God creating. God resurrecting.

Let us breathe and be full of hope. God is not done with us. We’ve got work to do. To help other folks find what’s found us. We are the people of hope.

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The Valley of Dry Bones © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Sermon- The Plumb Line (Amos 7.8)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 1 of 4: The Plumb Line
Scripture: Amos 7:8
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 7/28/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Rev. Jose Nieves

  • Pastor First UMC, Kissimmee
    • Leads school/church partnerships with several local schools
    • A faithful man of God, a powerful man of prayer
  • Two weeks ago, preacher for the High School students, while I was the preacher for the middle school students at camp
    • One morning at camp, I see him, he looks awful. I thought he was sick.
    • He was brokenhearted- Up late following the developments in Puerto Rico
    • He was born there and much of his family still lives there

I suspect you’re brokenhearted over Puerto Rico as well

  • The recent confirmation of extensive corruption among the ruling elite
    • Extortion, Fraud, Favoritism, Mishandling public funds
  • The injustice, abuse, and neglect are hard to take. It rends your heart. But at the root of what makes this possible, is how the ruling elite viewed those they were elected to serve.
    • The revelation of deep-seated disrespect, mocking, contempt of the people, people still trying to recover from hurricanes

People rose up, they joined together and used their voice to speak out against the evil, the injustice, the oppression, and the devaluing of human beings. The people rose up and became prophets. They spoke. truth to power and called for change.

A prophet is empowered by God and called by God to speak truth to power. This is hard, uncomfortable work. It takes tremendous faith and courage and discipline to speak what people don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

How many of us like to read the Old Testament prophets? Not many. It’s hard to read them, the level of truth-telling and pain.

We’ll be spending time with the Old Testament prophets for the next few weeks. The prophets feel very fresh in our day and time. We need to read the prophets regularly.

  1. I need their example of truth-telling and courage. I need the reminder as a child of the One, True, Living God, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I too have a calling to be prophetic. To use my resources, and my influence, and my resources, and my voice to speak out against evil, injustice, and oppression. It’s a part of our calling as the people of God.
  2. I need to hear their message. This is what happens to the people of God when things get twisted and crooked and we lose our way. I need the reminder so I don’t do it. And so that I don’t condone it by my silence and my apathy.

Some of you are asking, but I thought we were going to be studying parables? We are: Old Testament Parables

  • Parables are stories and metaphors with deep spiritual meaning
  • Parables are used by prophets to help people listen; to call people to justice, righteousness, and action.
  • Where do you think Jesus got the idea to use parables? From the prophets!

Amos helps us to have a heart after God’s heart, not a crooked twisted heart. 

  • Amos was a very ordinary person. A shepherd and sycamore-fig farmer.
  • Called by God to be a prophet (not his family business, not a professional corrupted prophet)
  • Lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, traveled to Bethel in the northern Kingdom of Israel to speak truth to power

That power was King Jeroboam II

  • Powerful King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Successful military leader
    • won battles
    • enlarged their territory
    • generated great wealth for some, a ruling elite
  • Misused his power as king of God’s people
    • Promoted the worship of false gods. As the worship became false, twisted and corrupted, so did their hearts.
    • Promoted corrupt, predatory business practices, an injustice especially harmful to the poor

Amos 8:4-6, The Voice. Like a bowl of ripe fruit, the time was ripe. God would overlook their injustice no longer

Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor to ruin, Who asks, “When will the new moon festival be done so we can sell our grain? And when will the Sabbath end so we can sell our wheat? Then we can tamper with our scales and make the bushel measure smaller and the counterweight heavier to cheat our customers. We can buy the needy for silver and the poor and their property for the price of a pair of sandals. We can even sell the chaff we sweep up as grain.”

  • False weights and measures, selling food that was inedible, human trafficking, taking over people’s property and lives

People with voice and influence were either and active part of the corruption or fat, happy and apathetic to it. 

I read that and ask, “Lord is that me?”     

Amos begins speaking out against the injustice. Speaks truth to power so things can change.

  • How could this injustice come from people who were once denied justice and enslaved in Egypt?
  • How could this be if you are children of Abraham, chosen and privileged and covenanted to be a blessing to the nations, to care for the stranger and the poor, to proclaim the salvation of God in word and deed?
  • How could you do this to fellow human beings beloved of God, made in the very image of God?
  • How could this happen if you still worship the One True Living God who rescued you from oppression and established you in the Promised Land?

That was the problem- Their worship was full of hypocrisy, all show. We show something but it’s not the truth of our hearts and souls. It was crooked and their hearts grew crooked  

  • People faithfully attended worship- making offerings and ritual sacrifices
    • Yet became apathetic to injustice or downright embraced injustice
    • Their worship did not change their actions, affect their choices, give them eyes to see every single person as a beloved child of God worthy respect, dignity, and access to resources we all need.
    • Their worship was disconnected from how they treated people
    • Lord is that me?

Amos 5:21-24, NRSV
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Righteousness = right relationship. Equal, compassionate treatment no matter the social differences

Justice = concrete actions to create righteousness. Right relationship in action. Love in action. God’s beauty, power, and grace in action flowing through us.

Our of our worship flows right relationship with others, ourselves, and the earth.

When we see something that isn’t right we act, we speak, we do something to make it right. The flow of worship in right relationship and justice.

Isaiah 28:17, NIV.
I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.

plumb line

This is probably the most famous image from the prophet Amos. Someone reminded me you could use a plumb bob as a weapon. It’s heavy and pointed.

Its proper use for thousands of years is to make sure what’s being built stays true. If the ground is uneven, what you’re building can stay true if you use a plumb line. If we just eyeball it, it will be crooked.

No matter how you twist or swing a plumb line it will quickly return to true.

Amos 7:8, The Voice.
Eternal One: What do you see, Amos?
Amos: A plumb line.
Eternal One: Watch what I’m about to do! I am going to put a plumb line up against My people Israel to see what is straight and true, And I will not look the other way any longer.

What would it be like for God to hold a plumb line up next to our lives, up next to our hearts? Would they be shown to be true? Would they be shown living and flowing with grace, hope, justice, and mercy out of the very worship of God?

Or would they be shown to be twisted and crooked?

We do not have to shy away from allowing God to hold up a plumb line to us. With God, there is always the chance for change, for mercy, redemption, forgiveness. The chance to repent and turn. The chance for the healing of our hearts.

May we accept our calling to live true. To be a prophet of God. To walk alongside another. To give voice to one who has no voice.

What keeps you up at night saying, “God something should be done about this?” God is calling you to action.

Lord, help us to hear the call. To lead a life worthy of the call and the grace and hope we’ve found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The closing prayer is based on this devotion by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
A plumb line held straight
by the gravity of love,
without curve or spin of human twist,
plumb line of blessing
unbowed by curse,
unbent by fear or greed,
plumb line seeking, unerring, the center,
all creatures’ belovedness and belonging,
the wellbeing of all Creation.

Measure your acts, O human,
judge your policies, O Nation,
by this and no other.
Does it bless without cursing?
Does it serve without stealing?
Does it join and not divide?

God’s plumb line
will not slide sideways
to favor some over others,
but loves all dearly;
it will not sway to sacrifice one’s thriving
for another’s desires.

The ground is uneven but the line is set.
The corrupt tilt their heads;
the wise discern
and build accordingly.

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The Plumb Line © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Fruit (Galatians 5)

Sermon Series spirit filled 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: Spirit Filled
Message 5 of 5: Pour Out Your Fruit
Scripture: Galatians 5:1, 13-14, 16-25 
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 7/7/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

What is the Fruit of the Spirit?

  • What is your favorite fruit?
  • 9 virtues (character traits) which the Holy Spirit grows in our lives
  • Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

Who wants more of this in their life? We all do. If you had to pick one to have more of in your life, which would you pick? (I want patience. Give me patience now!)

They are all good like a good piece of fruit. They are good gifts from God.

God expects fruit in our lives. They are the natural progression of being a follower of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit at work in our life. Growth in grace. Being alive and multiplying. Being rooted and grounded in Christ.

This is the fruit of abiding in Christ. The Spirit abides with us and in us. This is the natural fruit from believing and praying and trusting and seeking and serving.

It’s very simple: A follower of Christ should look and act differently than someone yet to believe.

Where’s the fruit? Do we look all that different?

  • Where are the saved crying out in thanksgiving?
  • Where are the bodies, families, and unjust systems healed for the Glory of God
  • Where are the leaders leading out of Godly wisdom and humility?
  • Where are the abused, angry, and addicted rejoicing in Christ’s freedom?

There is fruit my friends, but too often we don’t tell anyone about it. We hide it. We’re afraid of bragging, being weird, we’re shy.

Testimonies of Grace Stimson, Alida Noel Provence, and Pam Rader. 

The Holy Spirit is at work. There is fruit. It’s about having eyes to see it. It’s about wanting it. The Spirit is never forced upon us.

Galatians 5 is all about freedom.

Galatians 5:1
For freedom, Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

  • Freedom from a false understanding of the law which lays a heavy burden on us
  • Purpose of the Law was to show us our need of a Savior- we can’t fulfill the law in our own strength
  • Good gift of the law was twisted into a set of rules – follow the rules you’ll earn God’s love and salvation
  • How are we saved? By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by your own doing, not of works and rules (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Galatians 5:13-14
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Wide swing to another end of the spectrum in understanding freedom in Christ
  • Christ has set me free so I can do whatever I want
  • No- our freedom is so we can love and serve one another

In true freedom, we live by the Spirit not the law, not rules
In true freedom, we are guided by the Spirit not our fleshy selfishness or achieving

Galatians 5:16-25 NRSV
16 Live by the Spirit, I say and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious:

  • a “sin list” of 15 actions
  • fornication, impurity, licentiousness (misuse of the good gift of sex)
  • idolatry, sorcery (playing God)
  • Enmities (hostility), strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy
    • Heart of peace sees people as people
    • heart of war sees people as objects, obstacles to be overcome or fixed, projects, problems, a means to an end. People not as people
  • drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. (misuse of the good gift of celebration)

I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

tug of war

Tug Of War Battle: Flesh vs. Spirit, Heart of War vs. Heart of Peace, Old Life without Christ vs. New Life with Christ. Just like in Tug of War, there will be a surrender. Will you surrender to the flesh or will you surrender to the Spirit? Do you want the Fruit of the Spirit or do you want the crazyville of the sin list?

The Fruit of the Spirit is the evidence we’ve surrendered to the Spirit, that we’re finding true freedom in Christ.

There is an awful, scary warning in the middle of this passage. (v. 21) If you act like the sin list you won’t inherit the Kingdom. But I still get angry… I still envy… I want patience NOW… I don’t have self-control over chocolate, or something else.

We’re awakening and becoming self-aware. The warning is serious, we take it seriously, so we get to work. I’ll work on my patience.

Did you hear the W word? I’ll work on being more patient and there we are trapped again. We turn the list of the Fruit of the Spirit into a new set of laws which will bind us. We work hard to achieve them in our own strength.

Truth: We can’t create the Fruit of the Spirit. All we do is surrender to it. 

We give ourselves grace because it takes a long time to bear fruit. If you were to plant a fruit tree, how long would it take before it bore fruit? If you were to plant seeds, how long would it take? The Holy Spirit is the seed.

John 15:4
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

We abide. Every day we open ourselves to the Spirit. Grow fruit in me. It’s that simple.

An apple tree doesn’t have to focus and work really hard to produce apples. It’s the natural result of seed meeting soil, sun, water.

The Holy Spirit is the seed.  The Spirit meets the soil of our soul. It’s watered by our openness and trust, prayer, scripture, community, seeking, surrender.

Give yourself grace. Tell someone about the fruit.

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Holy Spirit, Pour Out Your Fruit © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.