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Sermon for Sunday 30 August 2020

First Reading                                     Jeremiah 15:15-21

15O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. 16Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 17I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. 18Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? 19Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. 20And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord. 21I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

Psalm                                                      Psalm 26

1Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered. 2Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind. 3For your love is before my eyes; I have walked faithfully with you. 4I have not sat with the worthless, nor do I consort with the deceitful. 5I have hated the company of evildoers; I will not sit down with the wicked. 6I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, that I may go in procession round your altar, 7Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving and recounting all your wonderful deeds. 8 Lord, I love the house in which you dwell and the place where your glory abides. 9Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with those who thirst for blood, 10Whose hands are full of evil plots, and their right hand full of bribes. 11As for me, I will live with integrity; redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me. 12My foot stands on level ground; in the full assembly I will bless the Lord.

Second Reading                                Romans 12:9-21

9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Gospel                                                    Matthew 16:21-28

21Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Would Jesus Recognize the Faith He Founded

From the handful of followers who first heard His message, to the 2.6 billion Christians alive today, the followers of Jesus were called to be the salt of the earth, the city on a hill, and the force that would heal and transform the world.  As of this year (2020), Christians form 32 percent of the world’s population.  Think about that, nearly 1/3 of the world’s population today claims to be a Christian.  We can look at these numbers in several ways.

First that 2/3 of the earth’s population today need to hear the saving message of God’s love in Jesus, that we’re commanded to share.  That the opportunity is indeed great, as Jesus told the disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37).  But for the moment I’d like for us to consider the following questions, how successful has the faith Jesus taught been?  What are its prospects for the future?  And finally, if Jesus were to return to Earth today, would He even recognize His teachings?

Today, it seems that Christians have developed the ability to blend in so well with the rest of society, that it’s hard to distinguish us from the rest of the world.  In John chapter 15 verse 19, Jesus says, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own….you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world….”  Eugene Peterson’s The Message, a paraphrase Bible, might make that a little clearer.  He puts it this way: “If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own.  But…I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms…”  This leads us to ask the question: “What is different about our lifestyle?  Can people, without effort, tell whether we are followers of Christ or not?

A preacher tells the story that his kids were always asking him to take them out for a treat such as an ice cream soda or pizza or lunch in one of the local restaurants after Sunday church activities.  But one Sunday he protested and asked: “Where does it say that you kids should always get something to eat and drink right after church?”  Without even batting an eye, his daughter said: “In the Bible, Daddy.  Jesus said, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.'”  I’m pretty sure she missed the meaning of that passage, but it’s obvious that she was familiar with Scripture.

It’s also obvious she learned that Bible passage in church and a Christian home.  But why do we bring our kids to church and teach them the Bible?  Why do we concern ourselves with our children’s Christian education and spiritual life?  Hopefully, it’s because we live in what could be called “Oddville” with “peculiar” people.  Look again at our epistle passage for this morning and maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Starting at the beginning of the chapter 12 verses 1 and 2 we read, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Then moving down to verse 19 we read, Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written (Deut. 32:35), “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads” (Proverbs 25:21).  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Really think about these 5 verses, compared them to what the world teaches; if that isn’t odd, then I don’t know what is.  If we even half-heartedly attempt to live out what Paul writes, we would definitely qualify to live in a place called Oddville, or even a town called Peculiar.  This is even more true when you put them into the context of 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.”

Now it should probably come as no surprise, but both Oddvill and Peculiar are both real towns; Oddville is in Kentucky and Peculiar is in Missouri.  I was doing a little research, trying to find out how and why these towns got their names and ran across a list of the 15 oddest town names in America.  Towns named Why in Arizona and Whynot, Mississippi, or Boring in Oregon and Dismal in Tennessee.  Boogertown, NC not to be confused with Boger City.  Then you have No Name Colorado and Cheesequake, New Jersey.  My favorite on this list was is Looneyville, Texas.  The list of town names continues, but the names are a bit much for inclusion in a sermon; I’ll let you do the research.  For now, however, I did some additional digging in to how Oddville got its name. 

Oddville was first settled in 1799 and apparently chose the name in an attempt to satisfy the postal authorities with a unique name when the post office opened in 1851.  The reason I say that you and I would qualify to live in Oddville is because we’re not called to be “Normal People.”  Biblically speaking we’re actually called to be abnormal.  Normal, by societal standards is what we see on TV, in the movies, in magazines and on those quote, end quote, Reality TV shows.  Normal, by worldly standards, is the big house, the fancy car, greed, the desire to achieve power filled with a sense of self-importance, living an in your face self-centered life of the celebrity; this is what everybody seems to want.  Normal today is the American Dream on steroids and living a life on the verge of being out of control.  But this isn’t what Jesus taught.

You and I have been called to be abnormal.  We’re called to live by a different standard.  Remember, Jesus said, “I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms….  From the very beginning God’s people have been Peculiar and lived in Oddville.  While the rest of the world was practicing polytheistic religions, God told Abraham that there was just one God.  While other religions were requiring the sacrifice of the first-born child, God lead Abraham and Isaac to the hill of sacrifice and then emphatically said: “No more child sacrifices.”  While other religions were making grand sacrifices to win back the attention of their so-called gods over and over again, we’re told by God, “I will not leave you nor forsake you.”

While other religions leave us to wallow in the filth and stench of our sin, God sent Jesus, His own Son, to take our sin upon Himself and be the last and final sacrifice needed to forgive and redeem the sins of the entire world.  God did what God told Abraham not to do.  While other religions say life has no meaning and there is nothing beyond death, God reminds us that through Jesus, what He did on the cross and how Jesus rose from the dead, gives us not only the hope, but the promise of eternal life with Christ because death has been defeated.  We are called to be abnormal people, a peculiar people.  Others need to see us as people who live in Oddville.

Peculiar, Missouri, by the way, apparently it got its name in a similar fashion as Oddville.  In about 1858 the area had gotten big enough to need a post office.  The man seeking the town’s first postmaster position sent a request to the US Post Office with the name of Excelsior.  However, the postmaster wannabe was told that name was already taken in Missouri.  So, he chose another name.  That name was also taken.  This happened 4 more times.  “Finally, exasperated, he wrote to Washington and said, ‘Listen.  We’ll take any name.  Just send us a name that’s a little bit peculiar, and we’ll be happy.'”  The folks in Peculiar learned a very important lesson.  Never let the government choose a name.  But they seem to be proud of the name, and it stuck.

So, why do I say we live as what others might define as a Peculiar people?  We do so, not because of the little quirks that make us all unique, but because of Christ.  We have chosen to live by a different set of rules and a different master.  We believe that loving God with all our heart soul mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, (Luke 10:27) are the highest rules for living.  John Wesley would call this Personal & Social Holiness.  Jesus simply called it being a Disciple.  Paul said: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.” 

Therefore, by worldly standards, we are a Peculiar People.  We’re not supposed to be normal.  We’re called to look at the world with different eyes.  And we do.  That’s why our mission statement resonates with us so much.  ” That all may know Jesus Christ and become responsible members of His church through our caring.”  And the thing is, with all the pessimism in the world today, we still believe that we can “become responsible members of His church” and transform the world.  This is why we collect money to buy flood buckets for those devastated by hurricane Laura.  This is why we donate money, fill our food box and volunteer to help feed the hungry in the Dallas and Lincolnton areas.

Each year we fill baby bottles, or write checks, to support the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Gaston county.  We set aside Benevolence funds to build homes, to support ministries in Africa and to support Mission congregations in our area.  We support Seminaries and seminary students and we pray for those we serve and support.  We do this because we believe that we are called to love God first and others ahead of ourselves.  We are a peculiar people because we think we can transform the world by sharing God’s love and the gospel of Jesus Christ, thereby saving lives.

We might never get to see the individuals we impact through our giving, but in our daily interactions with others, we can see the impact we have on our neighbors because we choose to live out our faith in a very public way.  Each and every time we do this, lives are being transformed.  And as disciples of Jesus Christ, they too, in turn, will continue to transform the world for God’s kingdom.

Leadership Magazine had a great story about a pastor visiting a church service.  He wrote: “It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn’t get out of bed on the right side of the sheet music.  As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around.  People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.  “By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn.  And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range.  And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful.  And on the fifth verse, the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life.

The normal thing would have been to try and not be embarrassed or turn to our neighbor and make a snide comment about coming back when he got a tune up.  But luckily that church was living in “Oddville’ with “Peculiar” people and they exhibited what life in the body of Christ is supposed to be, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us to be best of our abilities.  In other words, we’re called to live in “Oddville” with “peculiar” people and be “odd for God.”

When we live like Christ, the world says we’re odd.  When we set Jesus as our example for living, the world will see us as peculiar.  And you know what, that’s OK, because whether they know it or not, they’re echoing what the Apostle Peter says: “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.”  We are actually fulfilling what Paul encouraged us to do: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”

In closing I’d like to re-ask the questions I began with, how successful has the faith Jesus taught been?  What are the prospects of the Christian faith and teachings for the future?  And finally, if Jesus were to return to Earth today, would He recognize His teachings?  To this I’d also like to add, where do we live today, in Oddville or in Normal?  The answer to these questions is up to each and every one of us.  If the answer is no, then we live in Normal, by the world’s standards.  If the answer is yes, then we can gladly say we live in Oddville.  By the way, the town of Oddville, that we live in, is also called the kingdom of God, and in the future this town will have the name “The New Jerusalem.” 

My prayer is that we’re living how Jesus told us to live when He said: “I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms….”  The challenge for us is to be odd for God and live on God’s terms and not the world’s.  By being odd for God, we can transform this world.


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