Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, and 20
MATTHEW 21: 33-46

October 8, 2023

The Lord … maketh me to lie down in green pastures. The Lord … leadeth me beside the still waters. THE LORD … THE LORD GOD who created the heavens and the earth … the LORD GOD who out of love sent Jesus Christ to all of humanity … attempting to bring all of humanity home to the LORD GOD … that God … is actively attempting to RESTORETH my soul and to leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for THE LORD GOD’s name’s sake. And, that Lord God is trying to do the same for you and all of our neighbors. Are you ready and perhaps even more importantly are you willing to be restored for and by the Lord God?

The life choice decision is not for my sake … not yours … not for some political leader’s … nor some athletic superstars’ sake not even for the sake of a popular singer whom an athletic superstar is trying to woo these days … God’s goal is to bring us back to a place where we get on the paths of righteousness for the sake of our God whom we are called to love, trust, and obey! The God who created the universe. The God of Jesus. The God who calls us to love God first and then to love ALL of our neighbors …. You remember that God, right?

The truth is when we make that life choice … it is for the sake of the Lord but we benefit too because we will become part of the community of believers who allow God to mold and make us into the people God wants us to be … changing our hearts from being amongst those who embrace the world into the people who worship God. So that we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever, which becomes especially important when we talk about eternity a time frame most of us want to dismiss from any conversation.

Good morning church! It is good to be back here at St. Paul’s on a Sunday morning … I am thankful for Dave Fish, Reverend Glenn Conaway, and Reverend Joyce Mooney who preached in my place and for all of our leadership team who made sure that all was well with St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. I have spent time with clergy and friends and family these last few weeks.

Yes, there are stories to be told but this morning have you remembered to read the Twenty Third Psalm? A few short weeks ago I challenged each of you to read that specific Psalm once a week, every week for the rest of your lives. I knew that it would be a real challenge for some of you to find the time every week to read the 127 words from this Psalm due to your busy schedules but I also knew and still know that if each of us invested the time to read just those 127 words carefully and sincerely every single week for the rest of our lives that we will begin to discover our God’s intentions for people of faith when we allow our God to matter more than the world.

Psalm 24, which FYI immediately follows the Twenty Third Psalm in most Bibles begins with these words … “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” I accidentally found myself going beyond the last words of the 23rd Psalm in my ‘kitchen Bible’ one day. I had just finished the words, “surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” when I had a few extra seconds … and the 24th Psalm lifted a challenge to me and a question for this morning. “ARE YOU READY TO BE TESTED by God?”

This is not some mundane question. Having just wandered through the hallways of my high school as part of my reunion celebrations I was regularly tested in those classrooms by different teachers to see if I was ready to move on with my life as an adult. With a high school diploma, which was handed to me on a beautiful June evening just a few years ago. I couldn’t reject taking the tests otherwise I’d still be floundering around in those hallways as a relatively older student … and there will come a day when you and I will be faced with the ultimate question based on our choice for our lives’ adventures … will we be amongst those who are not only ready to be tested by God but who will pass the test.

That Psalm continues with a series of questions … “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His Holy place? Who is this King of Glory? Who is he?”

This morning can you answer those relatively simple questions? Do you agree with the premise of the Psalm that “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it?

Yesterday, we were honored to be invited to join with the congregation of Beth El Synagogue in Margate for the worship service of SUKKOT (SUE-COAT). The Jewish holiday remembers the 40 years that the people of the Lord spent in the dessert after escaping slavery in Egypt. It celebrates the harvest and also is when the people of other traditions are invited to worship with the Jewish people in their synagogues around the world.

Rabbi Aaron Krauss in his sermon stated that “it is difficult to separate his soul from God.” He continued, “people of faith are to be intimately connected with the Divine spirit.”

We heard from the Torah this morning in the reading from Exodus the words of God spoken to Moses when God presented the Ten Commandments to God’s people. “I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD; you must HAVE NO OTHER gods before me … do not make an idol for yourself.”

So, when you consider your faith walk with God … your connection with Jesus Christ … are you finding it more difficult every single day to separate yourself from God or do you have a laundry list of gods whose connection to your life makes it difficult to value time with the God of creation perhaps n0t even having enough time for 128 words once a week? Perhaps all too frequently not finding a single day in the week to treat as holy or as a Sabbath dedicated to worship.

I ask because I have worshiped with others since I have last stood before you … I have found quiet places of peacefulness and rest that I desperately needed. I have heard the testimony of lifetime friends. I have rediscovered God in familiar as well as unexpected places.

We heard today that we are not to be afraid “because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God.” Friends, you are always in awe of God … aren’t you?

If you wear HANES underwear products then you have probably benefited from the work of my high school, middle school, and elementary school classmate and friend John Griffenhagen. I had not seen John since the day of our graduation until last week. He was what we referred to as a ‘geek’ in high school and he went to Cornell University and then on to HANES where he is amongst their senior analytics team members. Remember the label no label … his team; his leadership but as John and I leaned against a high-top last Saturday night it was John’s connection to another team that mattered most to him … he had heard I was a pastor and he wanted to tell me about his faith walk. He wanted to share with me how Jesus Christ and God make a difference for John each day. He teaches Bible Study … he is a leader in his church … his family is focused on helping his church grow. I cannot even begin to describe the smile on this 31 year old man’s face … remember we went to school together … amidst all the conversations of classmates and the music of the DJ … John Griffenhagen not only told me about his faith … he celebrated it … it was clear to me that John gets it … the God of creation is my friend’s LORD and GOD.

How often to you energetically talk about your faith with your biggest smile? I had to stop another classmate from continuously calling me pastor instead of Dave, but Don told me how Jesus Christ had rescued his wife from a path of devastation she had chosen ten years ago where something else became her god … NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME … says the Lord God, Creator of the Universe. This man was just so thankful that he had witnessed the woman he loves and treasures getting back on the path God intended for her rather than the one the world was pulling her towards.

Passing that God test really comes down to whether you really agree that you shouldn’t have other things that you rank above God. How do you use God’s name by the way? Casual references? No connecting to your life? If you listened closely to the reading this morning you heard God’s expectations, “DO NOT USE THE LORD YOUR GOD’s name as if it were of no significance.” We often hear do not use the Lord’s name in vain but that’s the Shakespearean era’s word … so we think it means cursing but truthfully God wants to be and expects to be treated as if God is God … ready and happy to “make us lie down in green pastures while leading us beside the still waters, and ultimately and most importantly restoring our souls” if we are up for that.

So, are you ready to be tested? If God Fed Exed a FAITH TEST to you to complete by the day’s end … would you be confident in the pending evaluation? Not afraid because you are always in awe?

Jesus turned to the chief priests and Pharisees asking “Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, the stone that the builders rejected has become our cornerstone?”

So, in Psalm 24 … the Psalm that follows the Twenty Third Psalm that all of you have been reading we learn the answers to some questions … the one who may ascend the Hill of the Lord is the one with clean hands and a pure heart who dot not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive a blessing from God his Savior.

Who is the King of glory? The Lord Almighty He is the king of glory. And, that God wants to restore your souls and take you besides the still waters so that you will have no fear answering the questions of faith because you will be amongst those who believe. Who have taken on God’s love and made it real in your lives … as we more forward towards 2024 I pray you are one of the faithful who will make this church stronger so that we can reach others who are in need of discovering God’s love and truth. AMEN

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