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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Like a Seed (John 12:20-33)

A seed is planted in the ground. The darkness is a difficult place to be. In the darkness you are alone, isolated. In the darkness, none of the things that used to work, that used to bring light into your world, will work any more. In the darkness none of your strategies will bring the light, none of your efforts make any difference, none of your talents or knowledge or experience have any impact. Even everything we thought we knew about God is useless in the darkness. You are helpless and cannot find the light, much less be a light. It the darkness it just won’t work.

Sometimes the darkness descends on us individually. Other times the darkness descends on us collectively. Maybe you are living in the dark today. Our whole world can seem dark sometimes. Some feel that this is the experience of LCM, that darkness has descended on us as a congregation. Many things that used to bring life is working. Some of our efforts seem to be failing. We keep trying different things to recapture life and light, and yet the darkness doesn’t lift. We desperately look to what we know and what we trust to get us out of the darkness.

We fix worship styles and music styles, but there is no new life.

We seek to reinstate a dead Sunday School institution because it used to work, but there are few kids.

We want to start new programs, correct our doctrine, get the new members to bring life and energy. But the darkness isn’t lifted.

We cling to memories of the magical days of the 1960s, or 70s, or 80s, or whenever, wondering why those days seemed so bright and today seems so dark.

We tweak and we work and we struggle in the dark. We argue and we look for someone to blame and we defend what we love, and the darkness still permeates.

When you are in the darkness, nothing you do or know or try has any effect. You can die in the darkness.

So it makes sense that we would cling to anything, to everything that we think can give us life. We cling with desperation to the things that made sense before the darkness descended. We even cling to our former notions about God and call that faith. But the more we cling, the deeper the darkness.

Eventually, in the darkness everything will be stripped away. All our notions and preconceptions. Our pride, our justifications, our desperation, our knowledge, our certainties. Even what we know–or thought we knew–about God will all die in the darkness.

And then can new life emerge.

Like a seed.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Some Greeks came up to Philip and wanted to see Jesus. Jesus replies, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If you want to see Jesus, it will involve darkness. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live in Jesus means a journey into the darkness. Like a seed being planted in the darkness of the ground.

A seed can cling to anything in its former life as a seed. Sunshine, birds flying by, life hanging out on a branch or a stalk. But clinging to that won’t bring it life. A seed has to be buried in the darkness of the earth in order to spring forth in its new life, a life bearing fruit.

The very core, the very breath, the very heartbeat of Christianity is that there is a God who brings life out of death, light out of darkness.

Like a seed growing up from the darkness of the ground.

Like a crucified body rising up to life from the darkness of a tomb.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Are you in the dark? Is the world around us in the dark? Is LCM in the dark? What is being stripped away in the darkness? What is being opened up, made new, given new life in the darkness? What is emerging from the darkness that will bear much fruit?

What is dying in the darkness so that something new and fruitful and alive can be brought forth? This is what God does. This is what we say we believe. This is the heartbeat of our faith: God brings life from death. God brings light from darkness.

Like a seed. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” Jesus says. Then he goes on, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We have a God of light who is with us in the darkness. And new life comes.

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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The Dismantling of the Church (John 2:13-22)

What is Jesus so mad about? Are the temple moneychangers cheating people or being dishonest? No.

Is this whole setup of exchanging money that declares Caesar as Lord for money that declares God as Lord not working? No.

Is this temple system ineffective? No, it’s working quite well, actually.

Is it dishonoring God? No, not really.

So why is he so angry?

The whole temple system, which operates quite well and efficiently, isn’t empowering people with God’s love, forgiveness, and generosity. It’s not pointing people to Jesus, who brings that into the world.

The fact that it works isn’t what counts. The fact that sincere, God-loving people like it isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s been around for centuries isn’t what counts. The fact that it’s good religious practice isn’t what counts.

The temple system of sacrifice, even though it functions well, doesn’t reveal what God is doing. It doesn’t bring people into forgiving others, loving others, being generous to others. It doesn’t allow for Reign of God, the Heart of God coming in Jesus. It’s a system of religious practice that functions in a cul-de-sac all by itself. But it’s not connecting with God and God’s mission of forgiveness, love, and generosity happening in Jesus.

Jesus comes into the temple and is dismantling the system, taking it apart. Any system that bears God’s name but isn’t about God’s work—isn’t empowering, even compelling, people into forgiving, loving, being generous ought to be dismantled.

That’s all well and good. But here’s where this gets hard. God’s doing it again. A religious system that operates well and that lots of God-fearing people like is being dismantled. Church as we know it is being taken apart—by God, I believe. For similar reasons. The church we are familiar with isn’t set up to reveal the fullness of God’s will as revealed in Jesus. Christianity as an institutional church is more about self-perpetuation than forgiveness. It’s more about numerical growth than unconditional love. We care more about fellow Christians than we do about atheists, Jews, Muslims, or non-religious people. We, the Christian Church, are a well-functioning, religious, well established cul-de-sac that functions far too often separately from God and God’s mission. And we are being dismantled. Look around at all the countries that we used to call “Christian.” Every one of the traditional Christian countries is losing members hand over fist.

What if that is by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if Jesus has come into our temples and is turning over our systems of practicing religion because they aren’t joining people to what God is doing? What if the people leaving our churches in droves are being led by God to something else?

What if that’s true?

Sure, some of those who participated in the temple system in Jesus’ day were moved to greater love and forgiveness. And sure, some people who participate in the church today are authentically moved to greater mercy and generosity. But it seems the system of church itself isn’t accomplishing that.

Because I don’t know what it’s going to look like. If God would show us what she’s doing with the church, perhaps we could help with it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. We don’t know, and that makes us uncomfortable at best, terrified at worst. Or else we just ignore it and keep offering our temple sacrifices despite Jesus turning over the tables.

If this is happening, what do we do?

Vs. 22, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” I guess we cling to Jesus. I guess we trust God. I guess we follow the Holy Spirit’s movement as we can. What else can we do? God is going to do what God is going to do. Love, forgiveness, and generosity—those things of God—will be the signs of Jesus’ disciples. Why not run full speed to Jesus? Run headlong to forgiveness, love, and generosity. The tables of the church are being overturned. Let’s see what Jesus is up to. And let us follow him.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2015 in Sermon

 

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How Do You Know if You’re Successful? (Mark 8:31-38)

Think of someone who is successful. Why do you think they are successful? What’s the measure?

Are you successful? How do you know?

Our human nature is to strive to be prosperous, strong, influential. Doesn’t God want us to be successful? Don’t we thank God for our  successes—calling them “blessings”?

Peter and the other disciples have experienced Jesus’ “success.” They have seen Jesus cure people, cast out demons, feed thousands, challenge the powerful, teach crowds in amazing ways. He is amazingly strong and influential! Everything you’d think a successful person would do. Everything we think a successful church should do.

So imagine how shocked these disciples were to hear Jesus saying that success means suffering, rejection, death. And when Peter tries to question that view of success—because, after all, that just doesn’t make any sense—Jesus calls him Satan. He says that Peter’s human view of success is not of God. It is merely human, satanic. If Peter believes that human views of success are God’s views, then Peter is standing in God’s way, and he needs to back down and get out of Jesus’ way. Because God has a mission, and God will be successful. God’s reign of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and generosity has come into the world, and in Jesus it is taking on the powers of human success head on.

Even though it will cost Jesus his life. Even though it will look to all the world as if Jesus has failed. And in the face of all that Jesus is still adamant that this is God’s success. He brings God’s love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and generosity into the world regardless of how inconvenient it is. No matter the cost to him. So, Peter, if you’re not on board with that then “get behind me, Satan.” The world will be loved and we will be forgiven. Period. That is Jesus’ mission; therefore, as his church, it is ours too.

So how did the church get so far off track?

When did the church become more concerned about gaining members and money than about forgiveness and grace? When did Christ’s church begin to put its members’ comfort and convenience ahead the inconvenience of showing God’s love and mercy in the world?

Go to almost any Christian congregation of any denomination and it won’t be long before you hear the priority of human success. “How big is the church?” “This outreach program is fine, but will it bring in new members?” “How do we get more people inside our doors?” “How’s the budget?”

Peter would stand with us in using these as measures of success. Because in our world they make sense; from a human perspective they make sense. If our human measures are successful, we appear strong, prosperous, influential to the world. We gain status and respect in the world.

But if we hold that as a higher measure of success than forgiving the unforgiveable and loving the unloveable, then Jesus tells us to get behind him, because we are not contributing to God’s success.

Christ’s church can’t make decisions based on how many people like them. The church can’t back off loving the neighborhood because some withhold offerings. If we were merely a human institution those views might make sense. But we are not just a human organization. We are the body of Christ. We are called by God into God’s success. Even if it is painful. Even if it is hard. Even if it is inconvenient. Even if it costs us. Even if it leads us toward the cross.

Ironically, Jesus says it’s following him to the cross that leads us to success and life. Isn’t that a kick? God is successful. The world is loved. The world is forgiven. Even the church. Even you. And nothing will stop Jesus from continuing to bring that love and grace to you. Even if it costs him. God will succeed. God already has. God’s love surrounds you now. You are absolutely forgiven now. Perhaps, as the church, we will find that successful. Because apparently Jesus does.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Sermon

 

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