HALF WAY THROUGH IT
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
MATTHEW 6: 6 & 9-15
September 6, 2020 AM SERVICES
Next Sunday marks the debut of the 2020 National Football League season and for one of the very few times in my adult life I won’t be with my brother nor with the Tammaro family, which to me will be day of great sadness. Since 1972, which truly seems like a life time ago, we have travelled from wherever each of us have been in our lives to gather for food, laughter, true friendship, and discussions about the upcoming Bills’ season. I just added up the number of years and they add up to more than my age … 47 years of family and friendship and tradition that won’t be happening next Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park New York and friends that is a sad gift that our global pandemic has given to me and my extended family. But, we know it’s right because we are all being safe … none of us want to be at the risk of getting sick nor dying. In our expanded group we have a doctor and a nurse and a couple of health care professionals … not a single one of us wants the risk for the sake of the social occasion … for the sake of tradition … just to go to a Bills game; a Bills Home Opener.
I bring up football because there is a moment in every game that is clearly defined and separate from the action on the field … HALF TIME. Half time is that moment in a game when the players get a breather; when the coaches assess what’s already happened in the game; and when fans get a bathroom break and a chance to get food. Once upon a time it was also the opportunity for marching bands to strut their stuff up and down the fields of play but that seems to have vanished over the last decade or two.
A time to refresh … a time to assess … a time to get ready for the rest of the game. Hopefully to make the adjustments needed to bring victory. And, so that’s where today’s church service is focused right on the sense of being HALF WAY THROUGH IT. On our need to assess whether we are headed for victory in Jesus Christ or not.
In no way am I predicting the years of life we each have nor am I doing what so many preachers who reject Jesus teaching do for the sake of making predictions on the end of time according to their personal observations. This morning I am again noticing God’s emphasis for living as a believer and what struck me this past Wednesday as I shared in praying the Lord’s Prayer was what is right there in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer’s traditional ENGLISH version, which comes pretty much from the King James translation with a few minor adjustments. And, if you actually open up the Gospel of Matthew as we did today, Jesus added an exclamation point to what He had taught should be right in the middle of that prayer … a prayer for the disciples; and a prayer for us. A prayer we have prayed thousands of times. It is in the middle perhaps to wake us up and to grab our attention before we slip into recitation mode but there they are Jesus and God’s expectations for those of us who follow … those of us who believe … those of us who self identify as Christians is that we would read the words; learn the words; experience the teaching of Jesus the Christ perhaps as urged by some pastor earlier this year who suggested that by reading at least a verse or two from the Gospels each and every day of our lives … for the rest of our lives … we might actually discover God’s call for us and Jesus expectations on how we are to live life.
Although Luke the historian gives us a slightly different quote of this Jesus moment; there right in the middle of those verses in Luke chapter 11 is the HALF WAY THROUGH IT MESSAGE and if you look the words jump right at us because it is a challenge to us.
In this morning’s reading from the TORAH; from Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of our Bible, we are given the very clear the directives from God for those who are God’s people. You see, unlike the fans who wander around at half time seeking solace through an overpriced hot dog or beverage … waiting in lines that go on forever … God wants us in formation marching on the field of play making beautiful music for God and Jesus Christ. God has provided us with the opportunity to learn how to live life God’s way … God even brought in a bonus coach in Jesus who simplified the God playbook to insure that any living and breathing human being could figure it out. Of course we have to read the playbook. And, even after Jesus went back to the coaching box those who believe have been given a personal trainer and coach called the Holy Spirit who is constantly nudging and whispering God’s playbook to those truly on the team …
So, let’s hear again God’s message … one that’s been shared in churches and synagogues for thousands of years, ”TODAY, I have set before you LIFE … and what’s good versus … death and what’s wrong. If …” And, church that little if is always getting in the way isn’t it? Because God made God’s decision a long long time ago … and frankly, it is God’s call to make … not any human being’s call … God decided to give us the freedom to choose to follow God or as was written in this ancient Hebrew text to choose what’s good or to follow “death and what’s wrong.” If you have made it this far along in your journey by gleefully following the world, being a player in the game of deception, division, and destruction you call life but that clearly represents the death and what’s wrong Scripture refers to then you have chosen to reject God but then that was your choice to make wasn’t it? And, it won’t get you very far if you want to be victorious when the life game is over. You merely have rejected what’s good; and God. Hopefully, you have changed back … or this morning you are willing to make the change.
And, in a way this goes back to my urging … actually you might not know it but I am really pleading with you to invest a little time each day into reading the words of Jesus and looking at your true self, not the one that you primp up for the world to see but you need to determine if you are honestly accepting God’s directives through Jesus or whether you choose to reject the teaching of Jesus so those you enjoy hanging out with in the world give you a big thumb’s up.
Scripture continues, “IF you obey the Lord your God’s commandments by loving the LORD your God.” Just a brief escape from Scripture for a moment but if you are even a casual reader of God’s Word … you should have noticed that loving God is an essential so consider today as we go to the Table of the Lord … DO YOU LOVE GOD first and foremost with all your heart, mind and soul? Jesus, remember Him, Jesus said the TOP two commandments begin with NUMBER one … LOVE GOD. And, the Old Testament lesson continues “by loving the LORD your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments, His regulations, and His case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord God will bless you.”
So, consider church this as your locker room this morning and God’s Word the coach giving you this analysis of life because you and I are going to have to get back on the field of play. This Old Testament reading takes us into keeping everything that God teaches as a verification of our love of God, which you might remember is a key requirement if we truly believe and are not just faking it. If we want to win the game and live and thrive, which means eternal life with our God is the plan for Phase 2 of our existence. No one said it was supposed to be easy … ok, yea there are some folks who act like you don’t really have to follow God’s rules; you are better and busier … you can ignore Jesus … you can join the “in” crowds … those teachers are out there; some even have fancy titles but do you listen to them or God’s Word. Are you concerned that you might lose the game by listening to the other team’s coaches and commentators?
God knew some might lose the game and that’s why in today’s reading from Deuteronomy … God’s message is clarified for those who find faith but then drift away, “BUT IF YOUR HEART TURNS AWAY and YOU REFUSE TO LISTEN and ARE SO MISLED … worshiping other gods and serving them. YOU WILL DEFINITELY DIE!”
Just a quick aside on other gods because it came up in Bible study this week. Other gods include human leaders, nationalism, possessions, and other elements of human life and do not only refer to fake gods like BAAL. People claim ‘I don’t have any other god before the Creator God’ when the truth is if you look at what they write and say … who they associate with and who they put down … how they live … you can see that they are not only worshiping another god or gods but serving that god too because those words and actions and thoughts and life dedication for their personal gods are stronger and more powerful to those individuals than their commitment to the true God because they have turned away and refuse to listen to God and Jesus Christ probably because they don’t like the message that God has about living life as a true believer. Perhaps it counters their life philosophy or how their friends like to live.
So, back to the Gospel lesson … back to the Lord’s Prayer back to those words that jumped out at me during Wednesday morning’s Communion service: FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US. Now, today’s reading from the COMMON ENGLISH TRANSLATION reads, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged You, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.”
Friends, you see God gives us this amazing opportunity to get back in line on the team guaranteed to win at the end of the game. No matter how many times you have screwed up and frankly, I have screwed up a lot in my life; I am so far from perfect and in desperate need of forgiveness. God says … come on back to my team I will forgive you my sons and daughters. I will embrace you, treasure you, and yes FORGIVE YOU but …
Don’t you just hate those words if and but. I think that the consideration of forgiveness is sitting right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer because it connects with our obligation for action if God is to forgive us. We pray … Jesus teaches … IF WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO HAVE WRONGED US. This goes back to that IF moment from the reading in Deuteronomy. God’s rules, God in charge … God loves all of humanity but God has set up a set of rules to get us to the winning side when all is said and done here.
We need to love God … we need to love all of our neighbors … as proof of our loving God we obey God’s Commandments … we live our life for God and Jesus because faith without actions is truly not faith at all it is very very dead but here’s the tough one for human beings who have been done wrong … we don’t like to forgive …we like to hold onto the past and use it for our own purposes but Paul teaches, “I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s out to win the game in the end but Jesus teaches, “IF IF IF IF you forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” That’s the Word of God for the people of God …
So, consider today’s visit to the Lord’s Table your chance to be refreshed and forgiven by God to get back into the rest of the game. It’s half time … victory awaits us when the game is over. Our lesson of the day read, “Now choose life, so that you will live by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to Him. That’s how you will survive.” That’s how you will get to the end of the game .. that’s how you will end up with the prize of God’s upward call in Jesus Christ.”