Today was the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of our collective celebration which will culminate on Christmas, which is the anniversary celebration of our Savior's birth.
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Today's sermon focused on one of the most critical questions of our faith. "Why do we actually need a Savior?"
This kind of question is not easily answered. The reason for this is that it is difficult for us to understand or appreciate what separates us from God.
After all, isn't God capable of overcoming the separation between us even if we cannot?
There is a problem here that eludes us -- and that problem is Sin.
Sin -- whether we fully understand it or not -- has important implications for our life, our faith and our need for salvation.
First, Sin is a special kind of evil. There are many evils in this fallen world -- from earthquakes to disease -- but Sin is special -- because it relates especially to the distinction between who we are and who we think we should be -- and who we are meant to be. So many of us struggle with this -- and struggle with the reality that none of us can, or our own accord, become who we were meant to be without God's help.
Second, because of Sin, something is wrong with everything. Sin is so pervasive in our world that it is literally part of everything. Sin infuses even our most righteous deeds. In this light, we cannot do what we were meant to do without God's help.
Third, Sin has no respect for our position or who we are. As we are reminded in Romans 3, that all of us fall short of the Glory of God. Without God's help, even our aspirations fall short. We cannot know what is best to want and to hope for without God's help.
Fourth, the problem is us... and we usually don't know it. God has given us marvelous capabilities -- rationality, logic, and discernment -- but in using these capabilities we fail to account for the pervasiveness of Sin and Sin's ability to corrupt every thing it touches. We are so immersed in Sin -- that we cannot see its influence on every decision we make and every action we take. We can neither recognize nor escape the pervasiveness of Sin and its effects on our actions without God's Help.
Fifth, (but perhaps this should have been first) Sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with him. From the first Story in the Bible, we are told of Adam and Eve and how their sin of disobedience created distance between God and Man. Our limited understanding of the nature of Sin keeps most of us from appreciating the extent of the damage that our actions create in our relationship with our Creator. Indeed, most of us do not even ponder the potential ramifications of our sin. Few of us are like David, who despaired at the possibility of becoming separated from God because of his sinful seduction of Bathsheba and his sinful actions to ensure the battlefield death of her husband Uriah. Only God can help us to fully grasp the extent of the damage that our Sin causes in our relationship with him.
Sixth, the damage that we create (even without knowing it) is like a debt -- it must be offset by someone in order to restore the balance in our relationship with God. The pervasiveness of Sin makes it difficult for us to grasp the distance from which we can and have fallen away from God -- that said, the fact that we cannot grasp the extent of our indebtedness -- does not relieve the fact of our debt. We need a Savior not only because of the size and nature of our debt -- but also to restore us into a relationship with God that can begin to bear fruit.
In closing, once we recognize our need for him, Jesus is there for us -- to rescue us. To restore us to life, to free us from bondage, to make payment for our sins, and, to bring us safely back home.
In him, not only can we experience grace -- but by his example, we become capable of extending his grace and love to others.
And that, my friends is why we need a Savior.
Today's Sermon focused on the lessons of Philippians 4:4-9.
In the scripture Paul tells his readers that they should "Rejoice in the Lord Always" and he emphasizes this point by repeating himself "Rejoice!"
Paul's advice is given based both on his own experience -- and on his appreciation of God's peace which transcends all human understanding -- and is his gift to us through his Son, Christ Jesus.
For the "Lord is near" Paul tells us, and he advises us that we should not be anxious about anything, but instead, in every situation, we should present our requests to God with both prayer and thanksgiving.
From our vantage point in the Washington Metro area in March 2018, it is difficult for us to fully appreciate whether Paul's words can be easily applied to our busy lives. Although we can appreciate that Paul was speaking to a church that faced potential persecution -- does his appeal have relevance for our lives today?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES!
We live in incredibly stressful times -- and though we may not be faced with physical persecution for our faith, the rapidly shifting norms of our society make it increasingly difficult to hold fast to the virtues passed on to us by our Savior.
Anxiety is a reality of our every day lives
So, given this fact, can Paul's guidance to us be of use? and if so, what are the practical steps we need to take to follow his advice?
First and foremost, we need to recognize that God is in Control. This can be hard for us to believe in a society that teaches each of us that we must be self-reliant. It is this self-reliance that drives us to look for solutions to all of the ills that beset us -- and that puts us in search of the magic pill or silver bullet solution that will solve all of our problems. Eventually, we will comet to realize that "there is no magic pill."
Secondly, we need to realize that our ability to deal with the challenges that we face, whether they be from anxiety itself, or from anxiety associated with loneliness, separation, the loss of a job, the failing of a business, or all of the above, are founded in our attitudes. Current research in the field chronicled by Dr. Kelly McGonigal illustrates that our traditional beliefs about stress and its impact on our health and wellbeing may be fundamentally wrong. Indeed, her TED talk and her book (The Upside of Stress) make a compelling case that stress may actually be good for us. If we reflect deeply on these challenges, especially in those cases where the challenges drove us to our knees in desperation, at some point, we may recognize that the problem actually helped us to recognize the limits of our capabilities living without the presence of God in our lives. Indeed, though it may not be true for everyone, for some of us, the challenge is what actually drives us to seek out the loving arms of God.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we must learn to rejoice and give thanks in every situation. Yes, we may face adversity -- after all we live in a fallen world. Our bodies will eventually grow old, and weak, and we will die. But the timing of this ultimate challenge is not under our control.
What is under our control is how we choose to live in this present moment. At one end of the spectrum we can choose to be stressed out of our minds with worry and doubt relying solely on our own capabilities and capacity for response.
At the other end of the spectrum we can recognize the challenges we face an an opportunity to worship -- giving Thanks in a God who so loved the world that he gave us his one and only Son. In this we can rejoice because we recognize that the Lord is near and the Lord is in Control. All we need do is present our requests to God through prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.