1 Peter 3: 18-22
MARK 1: 9-15

FEBRUARY 25, 2024

Jesus clearly and concisely made the call, “All who want to come after me, MUST SAY NO to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”

Those are the words of Jesus Christ! You may have heard about Him especially since this is the season of LENT, a Holy Season. God felt that humanity needed Jesus … a Savior, a Messiah, a Holy teacher whom we would follow and since we are here today in these moments having chosen to worship God I am pretty sure you understand that.

God wants love and worship from the one aspect of all of God’s creation whom we call humanity … living and breathing people capable of making eye contact with each other, smiling together, visibly identifiable not as a concept that is not alive but a human whether we are referring to a baby whose cries wake us and smiles energize us or as those living life in careers and with families or as older individuals whose journey is nearing completion … that’s us folks! Humanity made up of a rainbow of colors, languages, histories, and ongoing realities. All loved by God and God is calling ALL equally to love God back as we travel through our limited journey called life.

The God of Creation, back in the day before Jesus, had pleaded with God’s people to step away from the human rush and trauma to notice that when they, humanity, connected with God they would lack nothing that really matters in this life or beyond into eternity.

God even attempted and still is actively trying to “lead humanity beside still waters so that their inner being … their essence, our souls, … could be restored. God even tried to get humanity to lie back in fields of green and when humanity did recover God was willing to be there to lead each human along the right paths … the paths of righteousness for God’s sake” because after all God was and is and will ever more be …. God! Whereas humans are just one small segment of God’s Creation whom God loves with intensity.

But God saw that humanity wasn’t listening … actually friends, I know you might find this hard to believe or accept, but humans were actively rejecting God back in the day and choosing things of the world to invest their time and souls into. They were marching behind human leaders whose messages were as far removed from God’s teaching and expectations for life as the planets Mercury and Saturn are from each other … actually even farther than that because God over and over again saw God’s humans making choices focused on the moment not even hinting that they cared about God nor God’s teaching … much less worshiping God with praise and reverence that today’s Psalm teaches.

Do you ever wonder why God gave humans free choice … have you ever wondered how disappointed God was in those days when humans aligned with people whose focus was on hurting others, enriching themselves, and ignoring those who were suffering … it’s almost impossible isn’t it to consider that there were people who had actually heard the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy who might be neglecting those who were hungry or hurting in their world because in those Holy books God reminded God’s people to love their ALL of their neighbors, to treat strangers in their land as if they were citizens, and to love and worship God these were not options but expectations of God. But somehow those people didn’t seem to give a care about God … we know how idols were created out of gold almost right in the presences of God.

There was an interesting meme the other day that talked about how bizarre it is to think that we humans associate our wealth with pieces of paper and a mineral like gold. That children in the world are starving to death but most lust for a few dozen bars of gold or a pile of paper cash to be set for life. Anyhow, no one in the 21st century is worshiping gold or money like they were back then, right? But then again ….

According to the American Gaming Association 67.8 MILLION American adults … 67.8 MILLION of our neighbors and friends gambled more than TWENTY THREE POINT ONE BILLION DOLLARS on the 2024 SUPER BOWL. That compares to the 80 million Americans who say they worshiped in a church or synagogue or mosque at least one time in the last three months. I doubt those worshiping have ever given TWENTY THREE POINT ONE BILLION DOLLARS in one Sunday’s offering to care for anyone.

DO YOU CARE? Although I haven’t really talked about Jesus yet this morning … I do want to open up to Matthew 25 in my Bible to share something that Jesus talked about in one of His harshest and most direct reflections of God’s teaching. Jesus declared as He taught a group of people who had been hanging around Him that even some folks who think that they are aligned with God really aren’t. He shared the parable of how the KING … no not King Charles of England but the KING of ALL TIME who we will refer to as God … Jesus shared that God had split the group of humans all of whom had business cards that said they were God believers …. They were split into two groups; sheeps and goats.

Now, the King … GOD … had been paying attention to all of those humans. Funny, isn’t it, how God does not get involved but that God also ALWAYS knows what’s going on. So these people were there for the end of the story moment … the eternal life door was right in front of these folks. And, no it wasn’t like Monty Hall offering trades because Jesus had earlier shared the story of those who had lost the life game attempting to make a deal once it was all over … you know to bargain with God but it was too late.

Anyhow, back to TWENTY THREE BILLION POINT ONE DOLLARS gambled on the SUPER BOWL by 67.8 MILLION of our neighbors … can you imagine if we added up all the dollars wagered on those online sports betting FAN DUELS, MGM’S, and others … you know someone has to pay for all of those commercials and those companies friends are not in the business of losing money nor being charitable and letting people win.

Jesus told those who had failed to do what God expected the following <READ from MATTHEW 25> ”“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”“

That TWENTY-THREE POINT ONE BILLION DOLLARS wagered on the SUPER BOWL could have fed SIX MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED NINETY-FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED and SEVENTEEN Americans for a year based on a year’s food cost of $3400. That’s feeding folks at the average rate but if we are feeding the poor we never give them that much … even more hungry homeless people would have food. The choices being betting on Super Bowl where you could bet on how long the National Anthem would take to be sung or who would win a coin toss or whether Taylor Swift would hug or kiss Travis after the game and for how long … or FEEDING more than SIX MILLION hungry human beings … we choose betting on the SUPER BOWL and friends do you care? Do you think God cares … do you think the homeless on our streets care?

Well, yea God does care, and Jesus arrived on the scene … you do remember that cute manger scenario with the green tree and ornaments with presents underneath for everyone plus the guy with the white beard dressed in red. You do CARE ABOUT that holiday filled with gifts and cookies, right? CHRISTMAS matter? Easter? Lent?

In our reading from the Psalms, we hear the before Jesus’s call to God’s people … “Future descendants will SERVE HIM … generations will be told about my LORD!!” We even heard that “the right to rule belongs to THE LORD … HE RULES ALL NATIONS!” It’s probably good to be reminded especially since we have had people from every other continent on earth that God’s love is a global love not centered nor focused on any one group of people nor on any one nation and the psalmist reminds us of that too.

This morning, we opened up with a slide that I actually borrowed from one of my dear friends of faith who lives out in Colorado. Jenny is posting Scripture related to our hearts every day for the month of February whereas I am posting messages related to recognizing that our hearts matter, that we should have caring hearts and that the world needs a heavy dose of love these days. The message that we shared from King Solomon is a message that comes down to the question of whether you care or not about God. We are here today … I know Mike Minder and MJ wish they were here together rather than being in Jefferson Hospital’s where Mike was taken last night … I know we have others in our church family like Rosie Platt who celebrated a birthday this week and Janet Brown and Joyce Nuneviller and Barbara Hoffman who wish they were here today, but age slows things down doesn’t it … but as I look out at all of you whether you are here in person or worshiping online … I believe we each need to answer for ourselves the essential question of faith DO WE CARE TO …

Trust in the Lord with all of our hearts and to not lean on our own understanding?” DO WE CARE TO “In all our ways acknowledge God and then are we allowing God to direct our paths?” Are we willing to go along with God to the green pastures and still waters and quiet places this Lenten Season to restore our souls? Frankly, are we willing to make our priorities ones that align with God rather than the popular polls that are reported in our news stories each day?

There’s a choice to be made and a determination as we move along in this Lenten Season do we care enough to accept God’s love? Are we bold enough to acknowledge God and faithful enough to allow God to direct our paths using the teaching of Jesus Christ as our rules for life? Jesus asked a very similar question in today’s Gospel, “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of when that person comes before my Father in heaven.

Why indeed? We are called to praise God! To worship God! To love God. God loves each of us so much … Jesus came to show that love and to teach us. Choose Him! AMEN

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