Joshua 4:1-9; Hebrews 11:32-40
If you’ve been following the news lately, on Sunday, May 19th, billionaire Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019. Mr. Smith made the announcement on Sunday as he gave the commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” Mr. Smith told the new graduates. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.” The news surprised the roughly 400 graduating seniors, many of whom leaped to their feet after Mr. Smith’s announcement.
Mr. Smith, who also received an honorary doctorate Sunday, is a co-founder of the investment firm Vista Equity Partners and had already pledged $1.5 million to the college, according to the Associated Press. One graduating student, Aaron Mitchom, told the AP that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt — 25 years, according to his math. “I can delete that spreadsheet now,” he said. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment, it was like a burden had been taken off.”
What is the proper response toward this generosity? In my opinion, the Morehouse College Class of 2019, should never forget two important things. First, they should never forget how much they’ve been given. Second, they should pay forward in living the same kind of generosity with others.
I believe one of the most important days we celebrate as a nation is Memorial Day; the day to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our national freedom. Without their bravery, heroism, and sacrifice, our daily pleasures and freedoms would not be possible. This is a day to pause and recognize the great price that has been paid and to show our gratefulness for those who have paid so very much.
Let’s Never Forget
Do you know why this day is important? Do you know why our nation set aside that day? It is important because we are forgetful people. It is so easy to forget. Scriptures warns us against this forgetful life style. Probably the most important event in the history of God’s people in the Old Testament is the exodus and liberation from the bondage of Egypt. The Passover meal with its details was a reminder of this great event. In Exodus 12:14 we read, “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”
In Joshua chapter, the people of God are crossing the Jordan River over to the Promised Land. Their landscape is about to change literally one hundred percent, from the wilderness wanderings to the security of the Promised Land. God commanded the children of Israel to make a memorial of rocks. Joshua 4:20-24, “And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
Same thing we see when it comes to the central event in the New Testament, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 11:24, to “Do this in remembrance of me.” This morning, I would like to share with the Church two short observations this Memorial Day weekend; one is directed to us as a congregation, and the other is directed to Sara Jacklyn Hinson as she is getting baptized today.
First: Let’s Always Remember Who We Are
As God’s chosen people, let’s always remember we are a very special people set a part by God for a special purpose. The reading I chose for our Preparation for Worship today is Deuteronomy 7:7-9. It says, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”
We are to live as covenant people. In other words, our call is to live a God centered life. In a time when God is pushed to the margins of so many people’s lives, those who confess Christ as their Lord and Savior are to live differently. When we do that, out legacy will challenge not only the world today, but many generations to come. If God has generously welcomed us, we are to welcome each other. I do not want to name people least to forget anyone, but since I’ve been here, there are certain people who have gone to be with the Lord, but they left a great legacy. People whose lives made a difference in this congregation’s life and in this community. That’s what the author of the Letter to Hebrews says when he lists all the names in Hebrews chapter 11. These are heroes of faith, men and women of God who walked and lived faithfully with the Lord.
Second: Sara ~ Remember Your Baptism
Today, Sara Jacklyn Hinson is getting baptized. She will be marked as Christ’s own forever. She will carry the name of Christ. It is our responsibility and privilege along with Lisa, Rob, and the family to raise Sara in the instructions of the Lord, help her to grasp the love of Jesus, and instill the faith in her heart.
A few years ago, I visited Leningrad, Russia. In Leningrad, I heard the story of the 900,000 people who perished in the long siege of Leningrad during World War II. At one point they were trying to save the children from both the Nazis and starvation – so they placed them on trucks to cross a frozen lake to safer locations. Many of the moms, sure that they would never see their children again, yelled to them as they got on the trucks, “Son, remember your name. Daughter, remember your baptism.” It is our duty to help each other and our young ones to remember who they are, to remember their baptism. May we do so. May God help us to live sacrificially and generously. May the power of the legacy of God’s people who have gone before us challenge us today. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday May 26, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Romans 16:1, Proverb 31
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar. 15 She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants. 25 Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness. 27 She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: 29 "Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all." 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.
When I was growing up, we watched family sitcoms like “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave it to Beaver,” or “Father Knows Best.” When my kids were growing up it was “The Brady Bunch” and “The Cosbys.” Gender roles were pretty clear, and parents were pretty much in charge of the home. Now a host of family sitcoms turns the family on its head with shows like “The Simpsons, modern Family, Blackish, Family Guy, etc. it seems like the world has gone crazy.
It is a confusing and difficult time for the family. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my children are grown and out on their own. I would not want to be a kid again for anything. I did not have to deal with 1/10 of what kids today encounter. Neither would I want to be a parent today with all the pressures and cultural baggage that families are facing. I tremendously respect and appreciate those of you who are living out the Christian life in your homes on a daily basis.
I especially would not want to face the pressure of being a woman in today’s world. The supermodels starve themselves in order to get into their clothes. The movie stars with their own professional makeup artists make you feel like you have no value unless your looks are perfect. The professional business women make you feel like a nobody if you decide to work at home. Those who balance career and home, and volunteer for everything make you feel like giving up. And there are always those who remind you of where you fall short.
But the Bible is full of words of encouragement which show how God values women. The world may put you down, but God lifts you up. The world may expect the impossible, but God comes to you with grace and a heart that accepts you for who you are. You are important to God in many ways.
I want to talk specifically about three of those ways today. A woman has a special place in the heart of God and his plan for the world.
1-The first thing that I want to emphasize today is that: A woman’s place is in the home. Now don’t go crazy on me here, it’s not what you think, because actually, a man’s place is in the home as well — each of our places is in the home. The home is where we are nurtured, loved and encouraged. That doesn’t mean that a woman’s only place is in the home, but, as with men, it should be her best place. Women are so much better at this nurturing thing than we men are. Home should be where men and women find their meaning, because this is the place of our most important and abiding relationships. God is all about relationships. Having a relationship with God is what it means to be a Christian. Having a relationship with other people is what it means to be fully human.
It is in the home where we learn to live with other people in important ways. We learn to forgive other people when they are wrong. We learn to extend grace when they are difficult. We learn not to set unrealistic expectations on others. We learn that love is more than a feeling; it is a deep and abiding commitment that overcomes feelings. It is the Agape love spoken of in the bible. It is an act of the will. A woman’s place is in the home, because she is to be the recipient of these divine gifts expressed through human agents — namely her family. She is shown appreciation. She is told of her value to her husband, children and the home.
I know that I cannot imagine what I would be like if it were not for my wife helping me to see the importance of responding in different ways. Every year I appreciate her more. Every year I realize I should have listened to her more. Her place is in our home. She works outside the home part-time, but she is at her best when she is at home. And because she is there, I am at my best at home.
Home is where the ministry is. We minister to each other. We minister to our children, even though they are grown we try to encourage them in the Christian faith by word and example. Those who believe that only what happens outside the home is important have missed God’s greatest calling as we, both men and women, minister to the people in our homes. We bind their emotional wounds. We lift their spirits. We allow people to be themselves. We show kindness when they have been beaten up by the world. We give smiles and hugs. We listen and try to understand. A woman’s place is many places, but her place is most importantly in the home.
2-The second point I would like to emphasize is: A woman’s place is in the world. Proverbs 31 describes and praises a woman who is truly a worldly woman. She has her own business and takes her place in the marketplace. She is dealing in real estate. She is helping those in need and providing for the needs of her family through her trading. The Bible ends this section describing her activity by saying, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31). You would have to have lived in the time which this was written to appreciate how radical this elevated view of womanhood is. The surrounding cultures did not give women a place of dignity and honor, as the Hebrews did.
The whole point of the story of Adam and Eve is that man by himself was inadequate in this world. He needed someone — not just someone to do his work and meet his needs, but a full partner without whom life would not be nearly so rich.
3-Well, the third thing it is important for us to recognize is that: A woman’s place is in the church. We all know that the church could not exist without the women who do so much of the work of the church. And they do this in spite of the fact that they have often been kept out of the positions of leadership. In many churches women are not permitted to preach. Some denominations do not even allow them to hold leadership positions of any kind. Some of this has come about because of Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). But we must remember that Paul was starting churches in the middle of pagan cultures which looked on women as little more than property. A woman was the property of a man and could be discarded at will in these godless societies. For a woman to be in a place of authority or preach would have hurt any chance for the church to reach out effectively in that culture. But while these guidelines were culturally appropriate, women gained an increasing role in the life of the church as Christianity influenced the culture.
But remember that it was women who faithfully stayed by Jesus in his darkest hour after all the men had fled. They were the last ones at the cross and the first ones at the tomb. They were the first to tell the world about Christ’s resurrection. It was a woman named Anna who first preached to the world about the infant Jesus being the Messiah. A large group of women were in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers. It was a woman named Lydia who was the first gentile convert during Paul’s missionary journey to the European continent. Women made up an important part of the leadership of the early church including the church’s prophets, teachers and ministers.
In the Old Testament Hebrew culture, Miriam served alongside her brother Moses in leading Israel. Deborah became a judge, or Prime Minister, of the nation. And the woman Huldah was a prophet.
In the New Testament era, Phillip had four daughters who were prophets — they spoke the Word of God. Priscilla was a co-laborer with her husband as they preached and taught in the early church. The church met in the homes identified by the names of women, indicating she was the leader or preacher of that church. In Romans 16:1 it is interesting that Phoebe is described as a “deaconess” or “servant” in many translations. The word in the original Greek is diakonos. When that word is used in context with a man it is most always translated “minister.” But in order not to offend those who believe that women should not be ministers, and suffer the loss of sales, the publishing companies chose the word deaconess instead. But there is no reason to believe she was not exactly what the Word of God says she was — a minister in the same sense as men were ministers.
I was struck again this year as I read through the book of Acts and realized again what an important place women had in the ministry of the church. As the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to pray, it says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). The people of Jerusalem had gathered around because the followers of Jesus, both men and women, come out from that prayer meeting speaking in the native tongues of the foreigners in Jerusalem, preaching the message of Christ on that first Pentecost. Some thought they were drunk, because they couldn’t understand what they were saying, but Peter explained that they were full of the Holy Spirit. Listen again as he quotes the Old Testament in that sermon: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:16-18).
Paul said “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). In the kingdom of God there is no distinction between male and female, black or white, poor or rich, educated or unschooled, beautiful or ordinary — we are all the children of God. It is our relationship with him that gives our life its value, and that alone.
We all have a role to play and a life to live out. Sometimes the roles God calls us to are directed by our gender and sometimes they are not. One thing is for sure, whatever way in which we choose to serve, it has eternal value in the eyes of God.
So whether you are a woman who is teaching the eschatological values of the kingdom to the occupants of your home, teaching your child life lessons like how to tie their shoes, or doing it in the church or in the world, the hand of God is on your life. As the Scripture says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Thank God for the women of this world and especially this church who faithfully do his will.
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday May 12, 2019)
Russell Long, Elder
Psalm 8; Philippians 3:10-11
One of my closest friends is a Jesuit Monk. We went to graduate school together and we often check on each other. A couple weeks ago, he sent me this joke that I am using as an introduction to my meditation today. He said, “I heard about this Protestant man named Bill. Bill liked to sneak off to the horse races and bid. One day, after losing so much money, he saw a Catholic Priest step onto the tracks and blesses a horse. Sure enough, the horse won the first place. He blessed another horse, that horse won again. Seeing this, Bill went to the ATM, took out all of his money and this time he saw the Priest not only touch the horse’s forehead, but he touched his eyes, his ears, and all his legs. Feeling confident, Bill bid all of his money. But in the middle of the race, the horse fell over dead. Bill couldn’t believe it. He went to the Priest and asked him, “What in the world happened?” The Priest said, “That’s the problem with you, Protestants. You do not know the difference between a blessing and the last rites.” Friends, believe me, it is not about being Catholic or Protestant; it is not about how much rituals you observe. It is not about how much religion you’ve got in your life. It is all about growing up to be like Christ.
As I pointed out last week, in the Christian life, it is so easy to get sidetracked. A follower of Jesus needs to be clear and focused at all times on what it is we are after. In our text, the apostle Paul sums up what we’re supposed to be aiming at. Paul says that the goal of the Christian life is two-fold: (1) to know Christ and (2) to be like Him.
In our post Easter sermon series, we are looking at Philippians 3:10-11. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Needless to say, Christianity is a personal, growing relationship with the risen and living Lord Jesus Christ that results in our growing conformity to Him. Our goal is to know Him and to become like Him.
First: The Goal of the Christian Life is to Know ChristLast week we looked at the first half of Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:10 “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.” God desires that we constantly SEEK MORE OF HIM and give Him the rightful place in our lives.
Paul had known Christ for over thirty years when he wrote Philippians. He was regarded as one of the most important leaders, teachers, and evangelists of the early Church. Yet, he wrote in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.” Paul was so determined, so committed to know Christ ~ “I want to know Christ.” Yes, there will be a cost involved for knowing and following Christ, but Paul was immovable; no turning back. “What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present not future,” Paul says in Romans 8:35-39. Paul makes it crystal clear here that we won’t experience the power of Christ’s resurrection unless we share Christ in His suffering. This knowledge, the knowledge of Christ, the power of His resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings will eventually lead to becoming like him.
Second: Becoming Like Christ
Many many years ago, I had the joy of teaching a Sunday School Class in my home Church in Egypt. One time I gave the kids an assignment to write out what they would like to be or to do when they grow up? They wrote down all kinds of things like fly a jet, becoming a doctor, or a police officer, earning much money and be a millionaire, be like this or that celebrity. In all the list of hopes, dreams, and future goals, one stood out for me. It was from a 5th grader who said, “I want to be like Jesus.” Of all the things we could strive for in life, shouldn’t this be on the top of the list for every Christian?
Every living creature on earth resembles its parent. A duckling looks like its parent duck, a lamb looks like a sheep, a calf looks like a cow. Even in some cases where the resemblance isn’t that close, it can be proven that the child belongs to the parent by the DNA testing. As sons and daughters of God, we have been created to look like Christ.
God desires that we become like Jesus. When God first created human beings, He made them in His own image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” As soon as Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit and as soon as Adam joined her in that disobedience, they destroyed much of the image of God in them. Sin distorted the image of God in humanity.
But God is not easily deterred from His purposes and so He sent Jesus to this earth. Jesus was God in the flesh. He was fully God, but He was also fully human. Through His death on the cross and resurrection, he made it possible for human beings to have their rebellion forgiven and to once again enter into the newness of becoming what they had originally been created to become and that is like God.
Friends, this is God’s plan. This is His intention for us. Let us not settle for less. The idea is put very clearly in Romans 8:29, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” The phrase “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” indicates God’s plan for those who follow Him. He has created us and intends for us to be just like Jesus. Rick Warren, the author of Purpose Driven Life, says, “Jesus did not die on the cross just so we could live comfortable, well-adjusted lives. His purpose is far deeper; He wants to make us like Himself before He takes us to heaven.” So, let me ask you today my friends: are you living like Jesus? Do we love as He did? Do we have His compassion? Are you willing to obey the Father as He did? Do we live generously and graciously as He lived? May it be so, friends. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday May 5, 2019)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor