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Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Spirit of Truth? No Thanks.

Have you ever had the awkward experience of someone offering you forgiveness for something you didn’t do? When I was in seminary someone “forgave” me for dropping an air conditioner out of a third floor window. It did happen; it’s just that I was several hundred miles away on my internship when it occurred.  So of course I felt it necessary to justify myself and explain that I had nothing do with the dropped air conditioner, and therefore don’t need your forgiveness. How dare you forgive me when I don’t need it!
I think that sense of justification is usually how we feel about Jesus’ forgiveness too. We often look for reasons to avoid the need for forgiveness first. We convince ourselves we aren’t that bad, I’m basically a good person, I was justified in my actions, lots of other people are worse, I didn’t intend any harm, I was trying to do the right thing, it’s not my fault, I had good reason. Or we just can’t think of ourselves as broken enough to really need forgiveness. Stay close, Jesus, and if I need you, I’ll let you know. But unless you hear from me, you can just be on call. Because I really don’t need THAT much forgiveness.
The fact of the matter is that we really don’t want forgiveness. We want to not need forgiveness. We don’t want Jesus to forgive us; we want Jesus to tell us we’re doing OK without him.
So Jesus has to send his parclete, counselor, helper, advocate, the Holy Spirit: to remind us of what Jesus said and did, that Jesus is about the forgiveness of sin, calling to our attention the fact that we need forgiveness. Jesus calls this the Spirit of Truth.
Truth isn’t always easy, isn’t always refreshing. Truth can be harsh, even devastating. Alcoholics and addicts being told the “truth” about their condition is anything but fun. Having the oncologist tell you the “truth” about terminal cancer is hardly easy. Have you ever had a loved one tell you the “truth” about what a jerk you’ve been? Truth can be hard to hear. Which is why we so often resort to justifying ourselves instead. Then, we don’t need to hear the truth.
So whether we like it or not, Jesus has sent to us the Spirit of Truth, to point out, again and again, exactly what it is we need to be forgiven for; to reveal to us, again and again, how broken and far from God we actually are; to speak to us, again and again, how shallow and cheap our self-justification is. No wonder we try to ignore the Spirit of Truth when she speaks.
It seems we’ll do anything to avoid hearing the truth of our situation, to make ourselves feel better about our need for forgiveness. We claim that we have a good prayer life, we raise good kids, we give money to charity, we serve the church, we’ve spent minimal time in prison, we’ve even made a decision to make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior. So what? What we’re really saying is, “Thanks for dying and everything, Jesus, but I’m doing OK. I’m sure there are some people that really need you, but why don’t we just be friends? I’ll do you favors by going to church and pretending to be spiritually superior, and if I really need it, you can return the favor by forgiving me. Deal?”
That’s kind of like getting a cancer diagnosis and telling the oncologist, “I’ll do you a favor by eating whole grains when I want to, and you do me a favor by curing my cancer if I ever need it. Deal? I’m sure I don’t really have cancer. It’s just not that bad. I’ll let you know.”
We need to hear the truth: We need forgiveness. Desperately. Continuously. Immediately. We need forgiveness because we worship our own gods of personal preference and comfort. We use Jesus’ name to justify ourselves. We tear apart relationships if it makes us look better. We hold resentments against people who’ve hurt us. We hoard our money. We justify violence. We do just enough religious stuff to ease our consciences. We quit when following Jesus gets hard. We look for enemies so we have someone to hate and someone to blame.
Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. The truth is that we really need his forgiveness. We need to know that on our own we are hopeless. His forgiveness is our only hope.
And, Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. And the truth is that we already are forgiven. Jesus will never abandon us or ignore us. His forgiveness has already brought us to God. We are set free from the power of our own brokenness. Christ’s forgiveness comes to us unconditionally, continuously, right now. It is for us. It is for you.
The Spirit of Truth is with us forever. We need Jesus’ forgiveness. And he has given it to you. It is already done for you. It will continue for you. Forever. Amen

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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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W-a-a-a-a-a-a-y Beyond “Being Saved” (John 14:1-14)

What are some things we know about who Jesus is? . . .

What do we know about what Jesus came to do? . . .

We can trust that Jesus reveals God to us. Many of us have operated out of an assumption that we who are Christians are “in” while others are “out,” right? We who believe in Jesus are saved, while those others may not be. Our eternity is secure, while theirs is uncertain.

That’s the way a lot of us were raised. Most adults who have grown up in the church were raised with a little bit of that attitude. We know who Jesus is, got baptized, were taught about him in Sunday School, got confirmed in this Christian faith, and now attend church and stay in good with God. “Going to church” has been for good Christian believing people. We may not be that blunt about it, but for many of us, that attitude is a little bit there. Doesn’t that strike some chord of familiarity for some of us? And so we’ve understood the church from that perspective. The church is for us, for good Jesus-loving Christian folk.

The problem is that it isn’t what Jesus is about. Therefore, it isn’t what God is about. Therefore it can’t be what the church is about. Jesus, when he expressed a preference, sided with the ones outside of the church. He saved his harshest criticisms for those who were part of the church.

There’s an expression that has stuck with me is, “Whenever you draw a line to separate people, Jesus is always found on the other side of it.” That is consistent with who Jesus is and what he came among us to accomplish. God is a very inclusive God. It is a theme repeated over and over and over throughout scripture:

  • God is the God of all; there are no other gods.
  • God’s redemptive love is for all people and all of creation.
  • God’s mandate is to take care of the poor, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, regardless of their beliefs or anything else.
  • Jesus did not come to condemn but to forgive.
  • There is no longer insider or outsider, gay or straight, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female
  • While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
  • All people sin and fall short of the glory of God.
  • If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

God is always about reconciliation and leveling the playing field for everyone, never about division or superiority. There’s a consistent theme throughout the biblical witness that God doesn’t lift some over others, especially because of what they believe, but that all people are loved by God and equally in need of God’s grace. Those who trust in God’s grace revealed in Jesus aren’t better, but do have the responsibility of sharing that news of God’s inclusive love through their lives and their words.

If, as people of the Word, we take this most basic theme of scripture seriously–that God’s grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion are for all–what do we do with a verse like v.6? “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

With many of us having the upbringing we did, it’s easy to make that exclusive, isn’t it? To lift ourselves up over those who don’t believe in Jesus. Since we believe, we have the way to heaven, i.e., Jesus. No one outside this exclusive believers’ club can come to the Father–sorry, no heaven for you. And we hear this verse abused this way all the time. Even though that interpretation runs counter to pretty much everything else we know about Jesus (therefore God), we have found a way to use verses like this to divide humanity into the good/bad, believers/non-believers, saved/unsaved.

But what does this verse look like if we start from a deeper biblical perspective–revealed in Jesus–that God is inclusive, merciful to all, and covers everyone with grace?

If you read more than just v.6, things look a little different. This whole passage today is part of a five chapter monologue by Jesus while at the dinner table with his disciples. He’s covering a lot of ground, as this is the last meal he will share with them before he’s arrested and condemned to death later that night. But in this part he’s assuring them that since they know Jesus, they also know God. That Jesus’ relationship with the Father means that he reveals who God is. That Jesus came to bring the parent/child relationship that he has with God to them too. That God is loving, caring, and always close–today, tomorrow, even beyond death. That you can take comfort in that. Because you know me, because you’ve seen God at work through me, you already know God.

This isn’t a text about division or exclusivity. It’s a statement our identity as Christian people: that what we know about Jesus is by definition what we know about God; as we know Jesus, we do know God. Take comfort in that. Proclaim that. It’s a perspective on God that needs to be heard in the world; and needs to be heard in the church too. What we know, experience, and proclaim about Jesus is the what we know, experience, and proclaim about God.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Faith Doesn’t Change Anything . . .

3 Easter (A)

Luke 24:13-35

When has Jesus been absent for you? When have you needed him and he didn’t show up?  When have you said of Jesus, “We had hoped you would be the one to save us. . .” “We had hoped . . .”

Jesus, we had hoped you would be the one to:

–save our marriage;

–save me from this diagnosis;

–save my job;

–save me from the expense of this repair;

–save my kids from injury until I had health insurance.

Let’s face it – Jesus hardly ever works in the way we think Jesus ought to. There is hardship, pain, and distress – God doesn’t always get us out of it. We are disappointed. We had hoped . . .

So it’s easy to imagine how Cleopas and his companion are feeling as they travel the 7 miles to Emmaus. In v.21, we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

We had hoped he was the Messiah! But obviously not. Messiahs don’t die.

In the midst of their disappointment, grieving, struggles, and hopelessness, they simply didn’t see that Jesus was right there with them.

Jesus walks with them, asks them what’s the matter – what they’re talking about. They tell him the entire story. They know the whole thing, even the claims that he’s risen from the dead! They know everything except that he’s right there with them. They see everything except that the risen Lord with them at the very point of their disappointment; with them at the very moment when they are least likely to recognize him. They are caught in their disappoint—their unfulfilled hope—and cannot recognize the presence of God right there with them in the moment.

What they know doesn’t change anything; hearing the voice of Jesus doesn’t change anything; even inviting Jesus to stay with them doesn’t change anything. The only thing that changes anything (and it changes everything) is that Jesus is already with them.

We gather together in his presence – we know that, we talk about it here. But our knowledge doesn’t change us, or the world around us. Our understanding of this worship time doesn’t change us. Whether or not we are personally satisfied with what happens here today doesn’t change us. Not really. It is Christ who changes us. It is Christ who is with us, who forgives us, who gives us new life. It is Christ who is with us on the road, with us in our disappointment, with us in our struggles.

That’s often the way it works. The risen Jesus, whose presence not even death can hinder, meets us in our place of greatest disappointment, pain, grief, and struggle. He comes at the very times that we are living in unfulfilled hope. For him the most important thing is not whether or not we see him, but that his presence gives us new hope.

So how has God disappointed you? That’s where the risen Christ is. Where is your pain, despair, hopelessness? Where in your life are your deepest struggles? Where had you hoped? That’s where Jesus comes to you. That’s where he’s meeting you now.

He meets us here, he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. He has come to us who are disappointed, who struggle, who had hoped, who are looking so hard at our difficulties that we can’t see beyond them. He has defeated the power of sin and death and brings victorious new life to us.

With all that whirls around us in our lives, it can still be difficult to recognize the risen Jesus in our midst. But Jesus comes. He opens. He forgives. He loves. He restores. He brings new life. He creates hope.

And when we look back of this day, we’ll say to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Don’t see him? That doesn’t mean he isn’t with you. Don’t recognize him at work in your life? That doesn’t mean he isn’t present with you. Can’t see past your life circumstances now? That doesn’t mean he isn’t bringing new life to you.

Today we can gather with one another, at the table, and trust his promise to be present. Today we can receive the forgiveness and life he offers. Today we can leave this table and recognize his presence at all the other places we go in our lives.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Sermon

 

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