Sermons

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Doing the Works He has Done

May 14, 2017

By Pastor Cofer
Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 14:1-14

Have you ever broken your arm or leg?  I did, back when I was in first grade.  My right elbow was fractured for a significant portion of that year.  I don’t remember a lot about that year, but I do remember the cast.  I remember it being sweaty and itchy inside there, and occasionally aching quite a bit.  But that wasn’t the worst part of it.  The very worst was just not having the use of that arm.

I couldn’t really play kickball or foursquare or do much on the playground at all.  I had to eat left-handed.  And, of course, I didn’t have many good options when it came to practicing my handwriting.  My wrist was fine, so I think I mostly tried to write with my right hand…. But with the cast covering part of my palm and the inability to bend my elbow, things just didn’t go well.

And then you get the cast off and you have both hands again.  It’s a wonderful feeling.  And it’s a little awkward too.  After a few months of immobility, my arm wasn’t as strong as usual.  I was clumsier with it than normal.  But after a little while it was as good as new.

A cast on one arm is an inconvenience.  But I really feel for the folks who break both at the same time.  Or even worse, being laid up in traction at the hospital.  You’re there, thinking about all the things you could be doing.  Thinking about all the work that’s piling up.  Thinking about… well, anything, because that’s about all you can do for the time being.

Brothers and Sisters, I want to tell you that Jesus has no intention of being laid up in traction. I know he’s thinking about the things he wants to get done.  I know there’s a load of work piling up.  Remember when He said, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few?”  That’s what we’re talking about here.

It is a fact that we are the Body of Christ.  We are His hands and feet.  If He is going to get any work done around here, it’s going to be through us.

Now, this isn’t a sermon about being busier.  That’s the last thing we need.  So, before you jump ahead of me, let’s just ask the very fundamental question: What is the work that Jesus wants to get done?

He’s already died and rose again, so we can cross that off the list.  He’s paid the price for the sins of the whole world.  He’s broken the power of sin and death and crushed Satan under his heel. Check, check, check.  But there is still this big job to be done – spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Spreading the life-giving, life-saving faith to folks dying without it.

think we’re probably all still on board at this point.  But what’s coming to mind is probably more about being the “mouth” of Jesus than His Hands and Feet.  Don’t get me wrong, you can’t spread the gospel without opening your mouth.  But there’s a lot of talk in this world.  And just talking about Jesus isn’t going to get it done.

So let’s take a step back and ask, how did Jesus spread the faith?  How did His disciples spread the faith?  How did the generation after them do it?  It wasn’t just talk.  They prayed, and God did impossible things… and then they got to explain it.

I used to think that miracles were a rare thing that once in a great while God would do.  Usually they’d happen to other people, and probably in some third-world country.  But by-and-large miracles were just proofs that Jesus is God.  I’m not, so I won’t do any.

A careful reading of the scriptures would kinda blow that thought out of the water.  If I can’t do them because I’m not God, how come Peter could?  How come Paul could?  How come Stephen and Philip could?  And for that matter, what about Moses and Elijah?

I had misunderstood something very important. Yes, Jesus’ miracles were proof that He is the Son of God.  But the disciples’ miracles were proof that Jesus is the Son of God.  It wasn’t about Peter’s extraordinary power.  It wasn’t about Paul’s superhuman faith.  Jesus’ followers follow Jesus. They do what they learned from Him.

Imagine what Jesus would do among us if He were here today.  If your template is the ministry you read about in the Gospels, in Acts, and in the Epistles, then it’s probably much more supernatural than what we are used to.  Why?  Because they lived in a specially blessed era of history?  Because they were physically closer to Jesus?

I don’t think those reasons hold much water.  After all, Jesus promised to be with us until the very end. And the words we read today are pretty inclusive: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

The stuff that you imagine Jesus would do if He was here right now is stuff that Jesus wants to do, and that’s why He’s made us His Body on Earth.  Because He is ascended, He has passed on his ministry to us.  But not just the ministry.  He has given us his Spirit to live in us and empower us to carry out these works.

It isn’t your power, it’s His.  It’s on His authority.  It’s His promise: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You will ask anything in my name and I will do it.

I know it can be hard to believe that as an absolute statement, because we’ve all prayed for things that didn’t happen. And I’m not about to tell you that it’s because you didn’t believe hard enough or something.  Rather, let’s talk about what praying in Jesus’ name means.

See, there are times when the Father is glorified in ways we don’t expect.  There are times when His plans aren’t what we expect… so even though we ask, and ask in faith, He might still say no.  Those times are often hard to understand, but God can be trusted to know what’s best.

The trouble is that those experiences can be formative.  We can start expecting Him not to intervene, not to heal (or just to do so in small, natural ways).  And so we start wrapping a cast and a sling around Jesus’ arms as if they were broken – immobilizing them so we don’t hurt ourselves further.

Friends, Jesus’ arms work just fine.  His hands can do so much more than we expect or even imagine.  If we start with expecting God to say “no” to the prayers we really want to pray, then we will never pray them. Don’t you know that God’s heart is for life and healing and restoration?  “No” is not his default position… “No” is the exception, not the rule.

It isn’t about getting what we want.  It isn’t about demonstrating our great faith.  It’s about Jesus being glorified.  It’s about being His hands and feet to continue His ministry.  It’s about putting actions behind our words.

We do nothing on our own. He is calling us to pray in His Name, with His power and on His authority.  The Father is revealed in Jesus and Jesus is revealed in us when we do the works that He does through us.

 

By Pastor Cofer Fifth Sunday of Easter John 14:1-14 Have you ever broken your arm or leg?  I did, back when I was in first grade.  My right elbow was fractured for a significant portion of that year.  I don’t remember a lot about that year, but I do remember the cast.  I remember it being sweaty and ...

Led by the Shepherd

May 7, 2017

By Pastor Michael Cofer
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:1-10

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. I’m not sure there is a more comforting image of Jesus in all of scripture. As soon as I read these words, my mind is instantly pulled back to the 23rd Psalm with its green pastures and quiet waters. And it’s such a relief to know that I’m not lost or alone – that Jesus is protecting and guiding me all the way.

Granted it’s not the most dignified thing in the world to be called a sheep. After all, sheep are easily frightened and not terribly bright. They need a shepherd to protect them from dangers – and sometimes from themselves.

And while that may not be dignified, it does pretty well describe some aspects of my relationship to Jesus. I do need his protection. I do need his guidance. I do need his wisdom and courage.

That said, there is a sizable portion of Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd that will really challenge us if we take it seriously. I think we all like the idea that Jesus calls us by name, and that we (his sheep) will be able to recognize his voice and follow him. And that’s were things actually start to challenge us.

See, we’re not meant to stay in the pen. Now, the pen is great. It’s a safe place where we can rest secure. The shepherd leads the flock into the pen for their good.

But, the pen isn’t an end unto itself. Suppose the flock stayed in the pen and never followed the shepherd out into the world… what would happen to the flock?

After a while they’d get hungry and munch the grass where they stand. And for a time, they’d think things are great. But after a while they’d eat it all up. And then they’d get hungrier and hungrier. Maybe they’d fight over the little bit of grass they have left. They’d waste away. And if they stay in the pen long enough, there just won’t be a flock anymore.

The Good Shepherd doesn’t keep the flock in the pen all day. He leads them out. He calls their name and leads them out. He wants them to move to new pastures where they can eat and thrive. He wants them to stretch their legs – to grow strong and mature and that just doesn’t happen in the pen. Nor does he take the flock to the same spot time and time again. The same problem would happen. He has to move them to where the grass is green, even if they’ve never been there before.

Now, let’s make the turn to unpack this metaphor. The shepherd is Jesus. The flock is his church. Note that while he knows each of us by name and calls us by name, he is moving the flock together. He wants to keep the church together and moving as one. Now, the pen is… well… it’s probably right here: a place of rest and safety for his church. And the pastures are… well, for lack of a better term, the pastures are out there. Out in our city. Out in our future.

Hopefully by now you know that I’m not a “God wants to make you rich and comfortable so you can coast into eternal life” kind of preacher. But these words of Jesus are for you: He has come that you may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life can’t be contained in a pen – even one as nice as this.
So, the first challenge is for the flock to get out of the pen. Now, if you’re with me so far, then let’s talk about the next challenge – following the Shepherd out.
See, as soon as we realize that there ain’t enough grass here to feed us all, the next impulse would be for us to go find some pastures. There’s a million wrong ways to do this, and only one right way.

Should we go back to the pastures we have fond memories of? It was good yesterday, surely it’ll be good tomorrow? Should we choose the best and brightest sheep to work up a plan to scout out good pastures? Should we talk to some of the other flocks and get notes on where they’ve been grazing?
Or, should we look to the good shepherd, respond to his call, and trust that he knows better than the rest of us? Should we trust him to protect us when the way to where he is taking us is rocky and dark?

I think we have some funny ideas about lost sheep. Being a lost sheep doesn’t mean jumping the fence when the rest of the flock is in the pen. Well, it can mean that, but that’s much less common. More common is simply going your own way when the shepherd is driving the flock. Maybe it’s a refusal to move with the flock. Maybe it’s a determination to head toward familiar pastures. Maybe it’s a fixation with a new and novel sight that you just have to check out.
It can be any of these things equally… and it’s usually not callous or malicious. But the truth is quite simple, if you go any direction other than where the good shepherd leads – even if it’s to a place he took you in the past – you are wandering off. It’s the shepherd’s job to know where we’re going and lead the way. It’s our job to trust and follow.

As a congregation, we’ve taken some steps forward in this area. We cannot respond to his call if we aren’t listening. We will not get to the green pastures he has marked out for us if we try to go our own way. That’s why events like last week’s prayer service are so important. Many of the people of Hope have faithful and vibrant private prayer lives, but we need that same humility and trust as a whole church.

We’re used to discussion and debating and voting and consensus to guide our way forward – and all of that can be fine, but if we all agree on any direction other than where Christ is leading us, we’re lost. The abundant life that Jesus has in store for this church begins with seeking his will and listening to him anew.

You know, when we read the Easter story and see the disciples hiding in the upper room with the doors locked even after the reports of the resurrection reached them, we shake our heads and say, “What’s there to fear? Jesus is alive! He’s defeated death and hell and the devil himself!”

Shouldn’t we have that same attitude about our own church? Jesus doesn’t want us to stay small and hidden and afraid. There is nothing to fear because He laid down his life for us, and even death couldn’t hold him. Jesus is alive today and he loves this flock more than you’ll ever know. He has abundant life to lead us to and He is calling us out.

By Pastor Michael Cofer Fourth Sunday of Easter John 10:1-10 Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. I’m not sure there is a more comforting image of Jesus in all of scripture. As soon as I read these words, my mind is instantly pulled back to the 23rd Psalm with its green pastures and quiet waters. And it’s such a ...

Easter 2017

April 20, 2017

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” In the movie, Peter Falk plays the grandfather of a boy who has stayed home from school sick (presumably to play videogames).  So, grandpa swoops in to make the boy feel better by reading one of his favorite books.

At first, the boy is skeptical and critical… but before long, he is fully engrossed in the story. And then this happens… [Video Clip]

How can that boy be so sure that the hero will win in the end?  Because that’s how it’s meant to be.  That’s what’s right.  Maybe life isn’t always like that, but it should be.

We just know the hero can’t really lose… not really.   But even though you know he can’t lose, you still get the goosebumps and the chill up your spine when he swoops in and to the rescue.

This is the beauty of Jesus’ life… it unfolds the way our hearts know it should, because He is the hero that we long for.  Every other hero that has come before and every one that will follow after ultimately loses to something – even if only to their own mortality.  But Jesus is victorious over everything – even death can’t stop him.

I want to tell you something – and it’ll offend some people, but I just don’t care because I have to speak truth.  The Christian faith is the only one that is vindicated.  It is the only faith that has a victorious hero at the end of the story.

“Wait a minute!” you think.  “What about Islam?  Muhammad rides off into heaven!  And then there’s the Buddha!  He becomes so enlightened that he just… I dunno.  Whatever he does. And I could go on.”

Sure, you could.  But before you do, let me ask you this question: where are the witnesses?  Who was there when Muhammad rode off in to heaven?  Nobody.  There are no witnesses in the story because there were no witnesses to the event because it didn’t happen.  Who was there when Buddha reached enlightenment and transcended his body?  Nobody.  It had to happen in secret and all alone, because there were no witnesses.  But if there were no witnesses, how do we know what happened?  We DON’T because it is just a made-up story.

But what about Jesus?  His is not a story of a man doing miraculous things is secret.  He is in the streets.  He’s in the synagogue.  He is nailed to a cross for all the world to look upon.  He was killed by trained killers – people who had executed dozens or maybe hundreds of people in the same way.  He was dead as dead can be.  He was sealed in a tomb – literally sealed to prevent anyone from sneaking in.  Guards were paid to keep all of Jesus’ followers away so that no one could fake his resurrection.

But He went and rose anyway!  In glory, he rolled away the stone and stepped out and the guards ran panicked back to the priests who hired them.  And He stayed there, outside the tomb so Mary could meet Him.  And then He walked with people on the road.  Then He appeared in the upper room.  Then He walked on a lake in broad daylight.  And by the time He ascended into heaven, there were more than 100 witnesses there to confirm the fact.  Saint Paul reports that Jesus showed himself to more than 500 people after the resurrection.   FIVE. HUNDRED.  Most of whom were still alive when He made that claim.

And that doesn’t even mention the dead he raised with him who went home to their families to bear witnesses to what Jesus had done.  Jesus stuck around for over a month, eating and talking and showing that He was very, very much alive!

We talk a lot about the cross, and we talk fairly often about the empty tomb.  But the truth is, the empty tomb is not proof enough.  My hope is not in the empty tomb – an “Argument from silence.”  My hope is in the risen Christ… Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh.  That’s the real proof.

I’m making a big deal about this because if you think that Jesus’ resurrection is just another religious myth to help us feel better about our own mortality or something, you have completely missed the point.  The story of Easter is not a metaphor or a fiction or some sort of spiritualized account.  JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY.  Not just in our hearts or memories.  He is ALIVE.

You want to know how I know my faith is founded on the truth – how in the midst of countless belief systems, I can be absolutely sure that Jesus is what he claimed to be?  Because He did it all out in the open, for all the world to see.  JESUS DIED. JESUS ROSE. AND HE IS ALIVE TO THIS DAY.

Which is great for Him… but that is far from the end of the story.  His resurrection is also the proof of the promise that we will rise with Him.  In 1 Corinthians it says, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

See, the story of Easter isn’t just a cool story about something that happened to somebody else ages ago, halfway around the world. His victory over death is for you.  He’s showing you a preview of what’s ahead.

When you pray to Christ, you’re praying to a flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing person who literally loved you to death, and overcame it.  Jesus paid it all on the cross, it’s true, but what good is that if we still end up dead?  But this is the goal.  This is the victory.  This is what He’s about.

And if He was so public about His resurrection, how could we not be?  He doesn’t want us to keep this message a secret, held in these four walls or in the quiet of your own heart.  He wants us in the streets!  He wants us out there and over-the-moon excited. Bold. Joyful. Fearless, because…

CHRIST IS RISEN!

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” In the movie, Peter Falk plays the grandfather of a boy who has stayed home from school sick (presumably to play videogames).  So, grandpa swoops in to make the boy feel better by reading one of his favorite books. At first, the boy is skeptical ...

You can find a full listing of our sermons on the sermon archive.