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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Image of God: One Reason I Need the Church

Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Growing up, I was the nerdy smart kid with few social skills, even fewer friends, and the one who could disappear into the woodwork and become invisible to avoid getting beat up. I always felt I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, always fell just short of what was expected.

I believed my self-worth came from what I couldn’t do, which far outweighed what I could do.

I believed my value as a person came from what others said was valuable, which didn’t happen to coincide with my gifts.

I believed my identity was grounded in failure and weakness, which my peers would continuously point out.

I didn’t like myself very much as a kid, because I believed there wasn’t much about me worth liking.

It was all a lie, but the lie had power and I believed it. I believed that those around me knew better than me. I believed that if some people didn’t think I was worthwhile, then I wasn’t worthwhile. I believed it, and in buying into this lie I was depriving the world of a unique glimpse of the image of God. A glimpse that only I could give.

Because the truth is that I am created in the image of God. Not the complete image–certainly not everything about me is Godly. But the deepest, most significant, most authentic part of me is. Because I am created by God, I reveal God. Part of God’s character is part of me. As someone created by God, it cannot be any other way.

If God is good, there is goodness that is authentically part of who I am.

If God is merciful, there is mercy that is authentically me.

If God is forgiving, there is forgiveness that is authentically me.

Do I believe that this is the truth about who I am? Sometimes, sort of. The lies continue to swirl around me, however, and I can’t seem to block them out all the time. Certainly not by myself.

That’s where I need you. Other people who know that they, too, are created in the image of God and so can recognize that. I need people to remind me of who I really am, people who can recognize the lies and point them out, people who know the image of God and can see that in me–expecially at those times when I cannot see it in myself.

That’s what we do for each other. We look for the image of God in one another. We point it out to each other. We expose the lies about our identity and celebrate together God revealed in one another.

We’ve all been lied to. Each of us has believed at one time or another that we are somehow less, that we don’t really matter, that our value is directly connected to others’ opinions, that our weaknesses define who we are. It’s not true. We are all created in the image of God. We all shine forth with God’s love and grace in wonderful and dazzling ways–not because we work up to it, but because it’s at the very core of who we are. Strip away the lies, the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the inadequacies, and the central, authentic identity we all have is people who reflect the holy, generous, gracious image of God.

That’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s something we need to hear. It’s something we need to point out to those around us.

What are the lies about yourself that you’ve believed? Lies that maybe you’ve even lived into? Have you ever believed the lie that you are farther away from God that others? Have you ever believed the lie that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever believed the lie that you don’t make a difference in the world?

We all fall prey to the lies about who we are. And we all need to see and remind each other of the image of God shining forth. That’s why we will love each other, forgive each other, show compassion to each other; because it’s God’s image among us. And that’s why we point out to those around us how we see God in them: how we see God’s goodness, mercy, love, kindness, compassion shining forth from them. Because they may not be seeing it. We owe each other the truth about who we are. We are people who, no matter what else, are created in the image of a loving, gracious, forgiving, generous God.

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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Scrambled Yokes (Matt. 11:28-30)

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That sounds so good, but that just isn’t my experience. One of the reasons we have such a hard time following Jesus—really following—is that it is incredibly difficult and frustrating. Being his disciple doesn’t make my burdens lighter, in my experience it adds to them. Being yoked to Jesus and learning from him doesn’t give me rest, it exhausts me.

Everyone has burdens. Some things just happen that are hard. We find ourselves in situations that heavy. What’s more, we bear the additional weight of trying to be successful at what we do. We carry the burden of hiding our own inadequacies.  We wonder if we’re competent, or how long before our incompetence is exposed. There’s the weight of worrying about whether we’re good enough, valuable enough, work hard enough that gets added to some life-situations that are already dragging us down some days.

So this promise Jesus makes sounds so wonderful. We come to him to get relief, rest. We walk with him, and have some weight lifted from us because he tells us his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. We become his disciples, trusting in him, following him, and expect some aspects of our lives to get a even a little bit easier.

But that doesn’t seem to happen. Following Jesus–really following him–means even more difficulty. Loving people who aren’t loveable is hard. Living a generous lifestyle means we have to give up some of the financial security we crave. Forgiving those who don’t deserve it is sometimes impossible. Recognizing that our best efforts are nowhere near good enough–acknowledging our own need for forgiveness–adds a burden that some days is too much to bear. We know Jesus is with us, but that doesn’t seem to lighten the weight at all. There are many days that being with him seems to make everything heavier and harder. So I wonder what he really means here.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” A yoke here isn’t the yellow part of an egg; it’s a shaped wooden beam that connects two oxen together side by side for pulling a plow or wagon. A larger, more experienced ox was paired with a younger, less experienced ox for training–mentoring. Together they could pull anything through any terrain. Together they were virtually unstoppable.

That’s the image Jesus uses here. He is offering to be our yoke-mate so he can mentor us. Together we would be unstoppable. That sounds wonderful until he says his yoke is easy and his burden light. That’s not how many, including me, experience it. It’s not easy, and it’s really heavy. I come to Jesus for rest for my soul, and wind up with an even more exhausting burden.

Jesus is talking to the crowds here. Everyone. He’s not speaking about us individually, but collectively. We, together, take his yoke on us. We, together, come to him with our collective heavy burdens. To be yoked with him doesn’t mean “me and Jesus” so Jesus can make my life easier. It’s us with Jesus, so together we bear our burdens collectively. Together, his yoke is a lot easier when it’s spread among all of us and his burden is a lot lighter when we share it together.

Now, here’s where this gets a little sticky. Because I don’t believe as a congregation we are very good at bearing each others burdens. We do show some care sometimes, yes. We have flashes of generosity. We catch glimpses of mercy. But we do it separately, individually.

But when it comes to being yoked together, honestly, we stink. We consider a connection to one another a hindrance to individual freedom. You see, we want to do whatever we want, and we want to do it in spite of the affect it has on those others we are yoked to. Jesus is leading from one side of the yoke, and we, together, are to be following from the other side whether we like it or not. And it doesn’t go well when we’re pulling in different directions, placing our own priorities ahead of everyone else’s; thinking our role and our ministry is more important than someone else’s. We don’t go anywhere–much less go where Jesus is leading. We have become adept over the years at insisting on our own way rather than working together, finding a scapegoat for the weight we each seem to be carrying, blaming a staff member, a pastor, a worship service, a council. We do that in an attempt to ease our own burdens, but we wind up imposing heavier ones on each other. And we all suffer for it. As a congregation, we seem to want to carry our burdens separately, individually, instead of together as Jesus invites us to do. It makes us all tired. It makes me tired.

As Lutheran Church of the Master, as those who together share this yoke with Jesus, I’m asking you to lighten the load for one another. We need to take seriously the business of forgiving each other; carrying the needs and hopes of even those we don’t know. Going out of our way to show love; being inconvenienced, happily, to benefit someone else here.

Discipleship is not easy; walking with Jesus in the world is a heavy thing to carry. I’m asking for your help. I’m offering you mine. This is just too hard for any of us to do by ourselves. We’re all tired. We’re all feeling the weight. We need one another. To be about the work Jesus has given us, to live as Christ in the world, we need to do it together. We need each other.

“Come to me, you all are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give all of you rest. Take my yoke upon you together , and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you all will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Together that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in Sermon

 

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