John 3:14-21

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

“I’m grateful for work more important than how I happen to feel about it on any given day.” – Fred Croddock

Let us Pray

Metaphor – Light

Nic at night – Jesus in the Light

Evil in darkness – Justice in the light

Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent. Being that it is the fourth week there are some people who are celebrating the fact that they are the fourth week in to their discipline of fasting from a specific food or activity that has given them more time to be with God in prayer and devotion. There are others who are totally frustrated because they have not been able to keep their commitment to God and their focus on being closer with God.

During this fourth week of Lent some people are clear about what they need to do as we approach the time of remembering Jesus on the Cross and celebrating the resurrection of our Lord to deal with the temptations, frustrations and distractions that keep them from being able to hear the voice of God, move with the will of God and experience God’s best for their lives.  There are others who are clueless about what to do next because they have allowed the issues and vicissitudes of life to overwhelm them and obscure their vision of having a closer walk with the Master.

This fourth week of Lent is a time deep discernment for both groups of people. The people who are celebrating their commitment and discipline are asking the question do I continue fasting lunch on Wednesdays and giving the money to the soup kitchen.  Do I continue taping Scandal and Empire so that I can spend an entire evening in prayer and studying God’s Word.  The group of people who have not kept their commitment are asking the question to I pick myself up and recommit or do I continue to make excuses which builds walls of nothingness rather than disciplines that keep us connected to the Master of the Universe.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

For both groups of people I would like to encourage you to keep focused. Resurrection Day is approaching and the good news is that God’s grace is available to all.  Those who have kept their Lenten commitments may be finding it difficult to maintain and the temptations that you didn’t experience in the first three weeks is not staring you in the face and even hunting you down. God’s grace is available to you to have strength to endure.  Those who experienced challenges may be asking what the point is.  God’s grace is available to you to start today ad to remain faithful to the commitments to fast, pray and study.

In this fourth week of Lent we are engaged in looking at a possibly the most familiar text in the New Testament.  John 3:16 is a theme for signs at football games, street corners, soccer games, Facebook pages, Instagram pages, billboards and tracts left in airport restrooms. Non believers can even quote the text

“ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

This verse is first a Word to Nicodemous to clarify for him the need to be born again and what that means.  This verse is also the glue and connection that explains verses 17-

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“Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:22-25 (NRSV)

Why is it important for Christians to gather? Some people would say we need to gather to collect offerings, so the church can survive. Others may think that it is necessary to gather because church is the place where God can be worshiped by God’s people. I have heard also that when people miss church, people feel empty. We need to remember that Paul is writing for the first century church, which is not probably the same image we think about church today.

Churches back in that time were basically houses hosting a few people who gathered clandestinely to know more about this Jesus, the son of God. They were simultaneously surrounded by multiple gods lifted up by people who praised living kings and rulers from the empires.

Paul, once convicted about Jesus’ love, talks about the power of gathering because by getting together, it gives identity to the worshippeople of God; identity in love, compassion, grace, and favor. Identity that is marked by the faith. Faith in the one who came to give his life against all political systems imposed. Through Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, Paul was able to teach that a king is not the one who rules through oppression, but who loves with such power that brings hope to those that were lacking of it.

Gathering on a regular basis helps us to build self-discipline, and while the discipline takes place, our souls are transformed gradually to become what God intents for us. How? Through gatherings, we may see the reflection of our sinful nature in each other and at the same time we may reflect the grace that God provides. As part of congregational formation, the transformation may occur to help us grow as individuals as well as Body of Christ.

Now, the challenge that Paul brings us in this letter is to not only taking the image of gatherings in a place like our church, but also taking this personal and communal formation to other spheres of lives: home, work, friends, and enemies with the purpose to see “one another to love and good deeds.” It liberates us, frees us, and reshapes us.

Prayer: God almighty. Guide us to intentionally be open to your voice, so we can take the church -your church- with us wherever we go. Break the barriers of our minds, hearts, and souls, and change us in such a way that the transformation never ends. Please, forgive us for limiting your gatherings to one place. Merciful God, in your powerful son’s name, we pray. Amen.

Carlos Reyes

 “…a grand jury decided Monday not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the news triggered fresh confrontations between protesters and police in the tense Missouri city.” CNN

My reflections this morning begin with this excerpt from a CNN new article.  There are so many emotions right now that this is not a definitive response but an attempt to organize all of the thoughts.

  1. I pray for the Brown family because they are reliving the grief of losing their son. “Earth has no sorry that heaven cannot heal” is true but when you repeatedly tear the scab off the healing is delayed.  I pray that the family can experience peace.
  2. The brokenness of humanity is evident in every aspect of this situation. As a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ I am fully persuaded that as believers we have failed Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson, Jay Nixon, Benjamin Crump the violent rioters, the grand jury and the people live in the area. Too many churches are not teaching that we live by God’s grace, we are saved by God’s Grace and we move toward sanctification by Grace which begins with following Jesus.
  3. Everyone’s life matters. This situation highlights and promotes the systematic devaluation of the lives of young poor black men in the justice system in America. From Florida to Cleveland to Baltimore to Missouri there is no accountability for the killing of young poor black men. There are also is no major movements of men mentoring poor young boys, teaching entrepreneurship, championing academic achievement and involving ourselves in such a way that the masses of poor youth experience the world beyond their community in a significant way.
  4. I am in support of an economic boycott. It must be focused on companies with significant influence and power within the St. Louis area.
  • Emerson Electric
  • Express Scripts
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Walmart
  • Monsanto
  • Charter Communications
  • A..G. Edwards
  • Boeing
  • Build –a- Bear

Walmart, Monsanto, A.G. Edwards and Charter Communications can be targeted nationwide but will require unbelievable numbers of people to participate to make a difference.

I am angry at the failure of our justice system and the racism that is still evident in America. I am profoundly frustrated with the violence perpetrated by a few as a result of the decision. I am disappointed that the African American community is more reactive than proactive at addressing the conditions of the poor.  I read somewhere (and I don’t have the reference this morning) that for every middle class AA there are five still living below the poverty line.  With this being said our middle class, educated, socially upwardly mobile, DuBois framed talented tenth have fallen short and ignored their responsibility to empower the poor.

As I said this is not the definitive response but an opportunity for me to organize my thoughts for an appropriate response.

Psalm 136

God’s Work in Creation and in History

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

By. Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan

Jack SullivanJust caught Peter and Paul, of the famed freedom and justice singing trio Peter, Paul and Mary, on the Tavis Smiley show. Goodness, they were magnificent! It was quite good to hear them sing some of the folk songs of the Civil Rights movement while describing the climate surrounding their music and activism. They have a book out titled, “Peter, Paul and Mary: 50 Years in Life and Song”. As I heard their music and reflections, I became inspired by the fact that the sacred work of Civil Rights and freedom has always featured a multicultural, multifaith cast of bold, risk-taking, visionary people who had the audacity to sing their faith and convictions as they delivered truth to power. While our contemporary climate does reveal amazing levels of progress since the 1960s, the rivers and streams of everyday life continue to reveal toxic amounts of waste products such as hate, bigotry, violence, and discrimination of many forms that poison too many of our environments, physical, political and cultural. I am not altogether sure of the many songs we sing when we gather nowadays, but I sure think it is time for our music to recapture the passion and poetry of the songs of people like Peter, Paul and Mary, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and so many others who sang about freedom, justice and peace and therefore provided us with a soundtrack for social progress. During a contemporary era where large segments of society seem to congratulate themselves for not knowing or accepting the histories, values, and aspirations of people who differ from themselves, we need right brain inspiration that can liberate us from the prisons of our linear, individualism-colored world views so that we may actually see ourselves caring for our neighbors by acknowledging then dismantling walls and systems of nullification and selective privilege, by helping each other to succeed, and by learning each other’s story. Now is the time for music that teaches us, transforms us, and then transports us so that we may create earthly places where the long dictatorship of fear comes to an end, where a warm smile can melt glaciers of arrogance, and where people are willing to walk or roll hand-in-hand into a future punctuated by peace, with progress for everybody, and the trivialization of nobody. When we sing songs with these kinds of themes, we open ourselves to God’s still awesome ability to transform the world. I am ready to sing! How about you?

Missional Communities vary widely but can be described as mid-sized groups (20 – 50 people) who are bonded in vision and on the mission of God for their group together. At Infinite Grace we call them Grace Communities and Grace Circles.  We are preparing to launch 4 Grace Communities in September.  We are looking at Arbutus, Catonsville, Woodlawn, and Randalstown.  Check us out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/infinitegracefellowship

I believe that there is a lack of understanding about what the Beloved Community is and how it should operate in the 21st Century. Who are the guardians of the dream or the transmitters of the vision? I believe that the Beloved Community is balanced between Chrisitan piety and social responsibility. The ultimate goal is justice for everyone.(Rawl’s Equality Principle) God’s call for us to be in relationship with God and people demands that we share this relationship that we expereince as love, grace and forgiveness so that everyone will expereince what we are/have expereinced. The Beloved Community embraced radical racial and class diversity, economic opportunity for all and justice for those who were oppressed. This is the core of the Beloved Community.

Is this a lost concept with middle/upper middle class Americans? Does the American middle class value working for justice and equality of all of God’s people or only those who are most like them? People who encountered the Beloved Community in the King framework were transformed. They believed that their individual happiness in life (Mill’s happiness Principle) was rooted in the community being whole and unified. (Dyke’s Community is greater than the individual principle) That is why there was a civil rights movement.

Proposition: The civil rights movement is dead. Now is the time for the Beloved Community to become a reality in the lives of Americans.

Thesis: The vision of a flourishing democratic society that President Obama has cast is embodied in the Beloved Community of Dr. King. Without the theological foundation of God’s grace that also seeks justice for all, the vision is incomplete.