Sermon Series


Sunday, June 2, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 11:17-32 [NLTse]

17 But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18 First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19 But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!

20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this!

23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord Himself. On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.” 25 In the same way, He took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and His people—an agreement confirmed with My blood. Do this to remember Me as often as you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until He comes again.

27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. 29 For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died.

31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

The well-to-do in first-century Greco-Roman cities like Corinth lived in dwellings architecturally known as domas. A domus included multiple rooms, indoor courtyards, gardens, and beautifully painted walls that were elaborately laid out. The vestibulum (entrance hall) led into a large central hall called the atrium, which was the focal point of the domus and contained a statue of an altar to the household gods. Leading off the atrium were cubicula (bedrooms), a dining room (called a triclinium) where guests could recline on couches and eat dinner whilst reclining, a tablinum (the living room or study) and tabernae (that is, the owners shops on the exterior that faced the street).

During dinner parties, festivals, and religious banquets in Greco-Roman society, hosts often reserved the limited seating in the triclinium (which means “three couches”) for members of their own social class. (Nine persons could be seated in a typical triclinium, reclining three to a couch.) Then, as many as forty others could be served in the adjoining atrium-courtyard. At such gatherings the guests in the atrium would often be served inferior food and inferior drink, and often complained about it.

The churches in first-century Corinth met in the homes of the well-to-do among their congregations, and it seems that this societal pattern of preferring some over others had spilled over into the church.

At different times across 1 Corinthians Paul addresses the divisions the Corinthian church had become known for: Some follow Paul; others follow Cephas (that is, Simon Peter); others follow Apollos; and others even seemed to be so arrogant as to make clear that they followed Christ! Paul highlights their arrogance here, sarcastically, saying, “Of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!” For many of these Corinthians it’s become all about being known for Christ, being recognized as a part of the “right church”. But Paul isn’t pleased: Their divisions “disgrace God’s church and shame the poor,” he says.

In the first-century church, when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated it included a fellowship mean that ended with Communion. (Like the Seder meal we celebrate each Maundy Thursday downstairs in Fellowship Hall.) It seems that in Corinth the fellowship meal had become a time when some ate and drank excessively while others went hungry and without. There was little sharing or caring. And this certainly did not demonstrate the unity and love that should characterize Christ’s church, nor was it good preparation for Communion.

The Corinthians seemed to have lost sight of the sacredness of the Passover celebration the Lord’s Supper was based upon: When the Lord was preparing Israel for the exodus from Egypt and the body of the sacrificed Passover Lamb was eaten and its blood was painted on the doorposts of the Israelite homes; and every house marked with the Lamb’s blood was “passed over” when the Destroyer came to slay the firstborn of family and flock dwelling the land of Egypt. Likewise, Jesus took the bread and said, “This is My body,” and we eat it, and He said of the cup, “This is My blood,” and as we drink we paint it on our hearts so that the Destroyer passes over us when the time for the “second death” comes. (The Revelation speaking of the “first death” as the death we die here in this life, but the “second death” being that condemnation to the Lake of Fire when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead once and for all time.)

And so Paul warns them not to eat the bread or take the cup unworthily: Because how can someone take lightly or jokingly the saving gift of Jesus’ body and blood offered to us in the bread and the cup? The Lord’s Supper is a visible representation showing the death of Christ for our sins. It reminds us of Christ’s death, and it reminds us of the glorious hope of His return! When we participate our faith is strengthened through fellowship with Christ, and our faith is strengthened through fellowship with other believers. And just as Peter warned the husbands reading his first letter how dishonoring their wives inhibited their prayers, likewise, participating in the Lord’s Supper while dishonoring others in the Body of Christ is eating and drinking unworthily: And many among the Corinthian Christians were sick and dying – not receiving the healing God had for them – because they weren’t treating each other as they should. (And because they weren’t treating as holy, wondrous, and awe-filled the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb Who has set us free.)

Do we have any elementary-aged kids in the congregation this morning? [Raise hands.] Any teenagers? [Raise hands.] “Does it matter to you that Jesus died on the cross for you? That He loves you that much? That He wants to be with you so much that He would go to such lengths to draw you near, through His death?” Anybody here single? [Raise hands.] Or newly married? [Raise hands.] Any widows or widowers? [Raise hands.] Or anyone married for 50 years or more? [Raise hands.] “Does it matter to you that your sins have been forgiven?  Does it matter that in giving you the Holy Spirit He’s given you power to change things here on the Earth as you pray?  Does it matter to you that He grants you grace to stand against every temptation and guidance to know the ways you are to go here in this world? “Anybody going away to college soon? [Raise hands.] Anybody going away to war? [Raise hands.] Anybody here grieving? [Raise hands.] Anybody here considering leaving your marriage? Or looking for work? Or hating your work? [Raise hands.]” Does it matter to you that, with everybody so afraid of death that, for you, death is just that last leg of the journey home to Paradise with God? Does it matter that Christ has completely taken the punishment for your sin, that you are unpunishable here in this world? Does it matter to you that, no matter what life throws your way that nothing can ever separate you from the love of God He’s shown you in Christ Jesus our Lord? Because all that is what we celebrate and all that is what we look forward to every time we eat this bread and drink this cup and keep on proclaiming His saving death until He comes again!

May 26, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

I began preaching through the Gospel of John at New Years. Since then we’ve had many wonderful distractions from John with Lent and Holy Week and Easter. And then the Lord lead us to spend some time focusing on “honor” and growing more honoring and honorable. So here it is, the end of May, and we’re only beginning John, chapter 4! J

John 4:1-30 [NLTse]

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that He was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself didn’t baptize them—His disciples did). 3 So He left Judea and returned to Galilee.

4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually He came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give Me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are You asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and Who you are speaking to, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would You get this living water? 12 And besides, do You think You’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can You offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— 18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “You must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that You Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

21 Jesus replied, “Believe Me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the One you worship, while We Jews know all about Him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one Who is called Christ. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

27 Just then His disciples came back. They were shocked to find Him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do You want with her?” or “Why are You talking to her?” 28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could He possibly be the Messiah?” 30 So the people came streaming from the village to see Him…

39 Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 When they came out to see Him, they begged Him to stay in their village. So He stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear His message and believe. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard Him ourselves. Now we know that He is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The Lord is on the outskirts of the Samaritan village of Sychar, located at the base of Mt. Gerazim: Mt. Gerazim being where the Samaritans believed Moses was told to build God’s Temple, not Jerusalem. It’s about noontime – the sixth hour (most always counted from 6am in the morning or 6pm at night). And He’s waiting beside the well famously dug by the patriarch, Jacob: Waiting for His disciples to return with lunch.

While He waits a woman from Sychar comes for water, carrying her water jar the easiest way to carry a heavy, awkward item: On her head. And the Lord Jesus asks if she would draw Him some water.

Now, the rabbi’s said, “It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman!” And they said, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritan is like the one that eats the flesh of swine.” But the Lord ignores such racial and gender barriers: He’s on a mission from God!

The woman, also, knows of the hatred between Jews and Samaritans (being a Samaritan she likely shared it!), so she’s amazed by His request and asks Him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are You asking me for a drink?” But Jesus doesn’t answer her. Instead He says, “If you knew how good God is and Who I am, you, dear lady, would be asking Me for water, and I would give you living water.”

His statement confuses her. You see, “living water” to her was simply running water: Fresh water, flowing water, like that from a river or stream; “living water” was in contrast with “dead water”, stagnant water, like that sitting in a well, basin, or pool. And she seems to hear in His words an insult against the patriarch, Jacob, who’d dug the well. But Jesus doesn’t let up, He says that the “living water” He’s talking about will be like a spring of water inside of her always gushing up to eternal life!

Now, the woman does ask the Lord Jesus to give her this water, but it seems clear that she’s only thinking they’re talking about water. Of course, we’ve read the whole account, so we know He’s truly talking about believing in Him, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that keep on springing up inside of us once we’ve come to believe!

So Jesus tells her to go and get her husband, because, although she seems fully engaged by their conversation, there can be no conversion without conviction: Talking about water and thirst and about living water and never being thirsty again had clearly aroused her mind and stirred her emotions, but the Lord knew He needed to touch her conscience, as well, and that meant bringing up her sin.

The woman responds the same way many do when the Lord addresses our sin: She tries to distract Him, in her case, with a question about religious practices. (It is much more comfortable to debate religion than to face our sins!)

The perfect evangelist, the Lord Jesus responds to her question, but in a way that draws her to begin seeing Him as the fulfillment of all her hopes and dreams and the desires of her heart. Basically He said, “No, not all religions are equally acceptable before God; yes, there are many zealous and well-meaning worshipers out there, but many are acting in ignorance and wrong-belief. The only faith that God accepts is that which He entrusted to the Jews: The Bible is Jewish in origin; the Savior God has provided is Jewish by birth; and, the very first to be a part of God’s Kingdom will be exclusively Jews! But true worship is far above the competing claims of Samaritans and Jews others.” Jesus says, “I have come to usher in a new age, the Kingdom of God! And only those with the Holy Spirit living within them, and only those who obey God’s truth, only those worship God acceptably.

I don’t know if you see it, but I find the woman’s response kind of comical, almost like she’s saying, “Yeah. Um, wow! That’s good… I’m not exactly sure what You’re talking about. But I do know that the Messiah – the Christ – is coming and that He’ll explain everything to us.” And then Jesus says, “I Am.” And know that in such a response that He is calling Himself by God’s Own name, “Yahweh; I am that I am”. Claiming to be that One: The Messiah; the Christ.

And (I love it) the Bible tells us that then, she just left: She just left Jesus sitting there by the well; she left her water jar behind; she just left and went to tell all her neighbors in Sychar what the Lord Jesus had done for her…

And it blows me away that the Bible tells us, “Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” Not because she presented some well-thought out theological, but simply because she told them what He’d done for her.

So, I ask you, What has Jesus done for you? … Tell me, short and sweet, what has Jesus done for you? … [Ask several folks from around the congregation: What has Jesus done for you? What has Jesus done for you? What has Jesus done for you?]

Are you willing to tell others? Go tell others…

May 12, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Exodus 20:1-17 [NLTse]

Then God gave the people all these instructions:

2 “I am the Lord your God, Who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.

3 “You must not have any other god but Me.

4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God Who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject Me. 6 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love Me and obey My commands.

7 “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse His name.

8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day He rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You must not murder.

14 “You must not commit adultery.

15 “You must not steal.

16 “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17 “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

When I was growing up we were made to stand when a woman entered the room where we were sitting, or when a woman who was sitting among us got up. We were made to give our seat to my mother or aunt or grandmother, if they needed one, or to any visitor or adult who came into the room if we had a better seat or a seat that was more convenient for them than was available. We were made to hold open doors for women and the elderly. We were not allowed to talk back to adults, even if they were rude to us. (We were told to always be honest and respectful, and if adults were rude towards us or treating us badly, to excuse ourselves and simply walk away.)

During those years I saw all of these things as rules I had to obey, things I had to do or I would get into trouble. But I’ve grown to see them as ways I can demonstrate honor towards others. (I’m sure when I was growing up someone told me that all these deeds were ways to show honor to those in authority or older than me, but I don’t remember it.)

Even today when I get together with my folks, I hold the chair for my mom when she sits down at the dinner table. (Or at least I try to remember to.) And my mother gets to take the first bite when we’re all at meals together. Or, if she’s not at the table, my wife, Amy, does. And we’re working on establishing this around my home more and more, as well: To show those around us that we honor them; and to actively keep the idea of honoring others in the forefront of our minds, even though these acts can seem a little excessive and awkward sometimes.

Do you remember when we used to honor the Lord by not even coming up onto the Chancel unless we absolutely had to, and even then, so careful not to touch anything unless we had to? (I can remember looking for excuses to get up into the Chancel where I grew up whenever I could. And I would take my time, and look around, and see what was behind all the furniture that we could only see the front of…) You would never put anything on the Table, never put anything on the Pulpit or baptismal Font. Never! The whole area was to be treated reverently, holy to the Lord! We dressed up for church to honor God. We took off our hats when we came into the church building to honor God…

But, like for me with all the do’s and don’t’s I grew up with, it seems that the idea of “honoring God” through these actions fell away and behaviors simply became “what you do when you’re in church”! It all became “the right way to behave”! And our expressions of honor became rigid laws. And since we Christians know that we’ve died to the law many of us rebelled against these laws, too. And we set ourselves and our children free from them all and treated the building and the Sanctuary and the Chancel and the Table and the Font and the Pulpit like anywhere else, and treated each other like anyone else…

We’ve been talking about honor off and on this past month or so because I believe the Lord is calling His Church to re-establish a “culture of honor”, and calling us to do so here at First Presbyterian Church. I don’t want us to create rules. I don’t want to hear us talking about how “you just don’t do that here” or how “that’s wrong to do that in church”. I don’t want us to demand for others around us to “Give me your seat. You’re supposed to honor me, remember.” I hope to be a part of and to overhear conversations where we’re encouraging each other to consider doing this or that in order to honor God, or in order to show honor to this or that person around us. Fighting the human temptation to make everything into laws to control each other and have things be our way, I want to invite us to actively honor Christ, and each other, and all those Christ calls among us here.

There are evangelistic reasons for honoring the Lord and those around us, because it’s so rare for people to behave these ways towards others anymore. When a kid holds the door for an older person it gets their attention. When you go out of your way to say an encouraging word, ask another’s forgiveness for even a minor infraction, do an intentional act of kindness, you stand out. And then after a while people might want to find out why we treat them and those around us as though they were so special. And if we’re ready to share Christ with them, telling them how He made all human beings in His image, which makes every person worthy of honor, because Jesus died in the hopes of reconciling each of us to God, then they might give themselves to loving and following Him, too.

Some of you may think that I’m overstating things. Do all of these little deeds and actions really make such a big difference? Well, I think the reality of it all reveals the truth of it. Because some of you have commented to me when I still do some of these things – opening the car door to let you in or let you out, holding your chair to seat you, standing when you stand, picking up things you’ve dropped – and you’ve mentioned to me how special these awkward, extravagant little acts to honor you make you feel. And I can tell you today how very honorable I feel when I do them. So it works both ways!

And yet, it’s not just for evangelism or to feel good or even have others feel good. It’s really about the abundant life Jesus came to give us. In the Ten Commandments our Father has promised us that honoring our parents influences the length and quality of our lives. A “long” life comes from honoring our parents. A “full” life comes from honoring our moms and our dads.

And the apostle Peter writes: “You husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) Honoring our folks affects the length and quality of our lives, and honoring our wives (men) keeps our prayers from being hindered: Either God doesn’t respond to our prayers when we don’t honor our wives, or dishonoring our wives puts us in a place where we can’t pray rightly. Whichever is at the heart of what Peter is teaching, a significant part of keeping our relationship with God open and healthy is honoring our wives!

And if set ourselves to honor the Lord’s house and Sanctuary in these ways and others, and to honor the family of God, and to honor all people in these and other ways, perhaps we’ll grow in honoring Him and one another and others better and with greater integrity in our hearts, and honor them with our thoughts and with what we say to and say about them, too.

Honoring the Lord and honoring each other and others is a part of readying Christ’s Church for the revival He longs to bring. If you look up the word honor in a Thesaurus you will find it to be one of the most often-used words in the Bible. The Lord is very concerned about His Own honor, and He is very concerned that we are honorable, act honorably, and treat others with honor. Honoring Him and those around us, even in ways that might seem awkward or excessive, is an important part of preparing ourselves and inviting Him to be among us with the revival that only He can bring.

“Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever.” (Psalm 15:3-5)