Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Amazing Faith of Our Enemy (May 29, 2016; 2 Pentecost C)

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,’ and he goes, and to another, “Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I want to take a closer look at the Roman centurion in today’s gospel. Although he seems to be a good guy, helping the Jews build a synagogue, he was still there as part of a foreign occupying oppressive force from Rome and a Pagan. He’s not a follower of Jesus nor is he Jewish. As a Roman, he likely believes in multiple gods.

And Jesus is amazed at this person’s faith.

Wait a minute! This centurion has no business having faith in Jesus! He doesn’t know who Jesus is, he doesn’t know God’s plan of salvation, he’s never been to church. What’s more, he’s oppressing God’s chosen people in their own homeland. He is an enemy. He’s pagan for crying out loud! And yet, Jesus is amazed by his faith. How can that be?

Faith isn’t so easily categorized or compartmentalized. Faith springs forth in surprising ways from surprising people. Faith isn’t something we “do,” it’s something God causes.

Because faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. Like the old fashioned way a young man would try to win a girl’s heart–God woos us. God attracts us, chases us, wins our affections. Paul refers to it in Romans as God’s Spirit bearing witness with our spirit. And when that connection is made, as God wins us over–even a little bit–faith happens.

In the case of the Roman centurion, even though he’s a Pagan, likely believing in multiple gods, God wooed him, connected with him, and the faith response was generosity and trust. This man helped build a synagogue for people whose religion he thought was weird. He trusted a Jewish rabbi to heal his slave. He didn’t convert to Judaism. There’s no indication he became a follower of Jesus. He’s never mentioned again. In fact, he never actually met Jesus. All communication was done through intermediaries. Yet God pursued him, won him over, just a little bit. That’s what faith is.

And it comes from God’s initial action. Faith has to be God acting first, otherwise, it isn’t faith. If it’s us doing it, it’s either self-justification or self-righteousness.

No, faith is God pursuing us first and winning us over. Which means the response can come from unexpected places. Like a Pagan Roman enemy. And their response to God’s wooing can be amazing. And surprising. And as this story makes clear, God will pursue anyone. And wins over a little bit of anyone’s heart. And faith–faith that can amaze Jesus–happens.

Faith is not the realm of the righteous. Faith is a result of a loving God who won’t quit pursuing us, and who, once in a while, continues to win a little bit of us over. Faith is God’s business, and it can happen anywhere to anyone. Churchy or not. Religious of not. Believer or not. Christian or not. Pagan enemy or not.

Think about what good news that is. That God woos anyone and wins over anyone. Who do you know who isn’t part of a Christian church? Think of someone you love who doesn’t show any sign of belief in Jesus. Who has kept you up at night worrying and praying because they don’t have a relationship with God? Who has caused you grief because they have left the church? Do you have someone in mind?

Picture God pursuing them. Relentlessly chasing them trying win them over with love. Imagine God’s acts of compassion for them, wooing them, winning their affections. And in God’s never-ending pursuit, God wins a little bit of their hearts. And that’s why this person you love and care about who, having no connection to church or to God, does such faithful things sometimes. Because God has won a bit of their hearts. That’s why even these people who’ve left the church or never went to church or don’t believe in God are capable of such amazing acts of love. Faithful responses that amaze even Jesus.

Faith is a result of God pursuing us, connecting to us, and winning us over. And eventually, God succeeds. A little bit at a time. All of us. Each of us. Me. And you. God is wooing us in order to win our affections. And God won’t give up. Even on us.

We recognize that God has won a bit of our hearts today. God has pursued us and connected with us, and our faithful response includes taking time to put together care packages for our brothers and sisters who are homeless. We are acknowledging, and rightly so in our worship, that God has successfully won us over. Even just a little. These care packages are a great act of love. These are faithful responses that amaze Jesus, which is worship.

Faith springs up in suprising ways from surprising people. Roman centurions, enemies, Pagans, atheists, Muslims, Christians. Even us. God continues to pursue us in order to win us over. Bit by bit God’s relentless love wins out. And faithful responses happen. And Jesus is amazed.

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Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Sermon


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“Experience God” Sunday (Holy Trinity), May 22, 2016

John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Trinity Sunday is the only day of the church calendar devoted to a doctrine. So I tend to think it’s the worst Sunday of the year. Not because I don’t like doctrines, because I do (at least some of them), but because I don’t think our time in Sunday worship is the best place to deal with our doctrines. Classes and lectures are better suited, I think. Doctrines are what we teach, what our history has led to, the particulars as to what makes us different than other people, theological places where me might draw lines in the sand. So, yeah, deal with doctrines in a class setting. With lots of opportunity to ask questions and think and share and argue and find relevance. In that way I think doctrines are fun! But not in worship.

That got me thinking that if Sundays aren’t really to emphasize doctrines, what should Sundays be about?

When you get down to it, our Sunday worship really is more about the experience of God than the knowledge about God. It’s one thing to know God is forgiving, it’s another thing entirely to experience forgiveness. Knowing God loves you is way different than actually being loved.

Which got me thinking that maybe I’ve been going about this Trinity Sunday all wrong. Maybe instead of teaching a doctrine so we can know a theory trying to explain God as 3-in-1, maybe instead we should consider the experience of the Trinity.

That’s really where our best doctrines come from anyway: attempts to explain our experiences of God. Martin Luther’s experience of a gracious God of mercy was different than a harsh God of judgment he’d been taught. So he tried to explain that and the Protestant Reformation began.

The early church didn’t have a doctrine of the Trinity–that didn’t formalize until the end of the 4th century. The problem was Jesus. It appears that his earliest disciples experienced him as divine in some way, yet every good Jew knew there was only one God. So how could they talk about their Jesus experience? It took a few centuries, but the doctrine of the Trinity was the best explanation the church could come up with. There is one God, but that one God is comprised of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Personally, I imagine the bishops who met and voted on this kind of walking away afterward a little embarrassed. This confusing piece of doctrine was the best they could come up with. But it stuck, became orthodoxy, and here we are.

So if the doctrine of the Trinity was the 4th century church’s attempt at explaining how the disciples experienced God in Jesus, how would we try to explain our experience of God? Doctrines start with an attempt at explaining an experience. So let’s start with our experience of God.

I can’t teach an experience of God, but I can share it. My strongest experiences of God have taken place when I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. There have been times when everything I thought could sustain me failed. Like all at once. My friends, my credentials, my education, my confidence, my strengths, my health, my faith, and even my treasured theology all have let me down at one time or another. But when they all fail at the same time, that’s bad.

How do you hang on to something for support when it can’t support you? How do you lift yourself up by your credentials when you realize they count for nothing? How do you cling to a God that seems to have disappeared? How do you ask for help when the very people you could ask are the ones kicking you down? How do you keep from falling when there is nothing there to hold you up?

The answer is you don’t. You can’t. You just fall because that’s all there is.

And that’s when I’ve experienced God most profoundly. In the falling. Because when I come to realize there’s nothing to stop the fall, that’s when I’ve understood that I’m held in God’s hands. All my goodness, unselfishness, hard work, good theology, overcoming difficulties made no difference. I was just being held. But my vulnerabilities, weaknesses, failures, and insecurities didn’t make any difference either. I was just being held. It wasn’t about me, it was about God. This experience says nothing about me, but everything about God. It’s not about who I am or am not, but all about who God is.

So if I were to make this experience of God into a doctrine, what would it be called? The doctrine of the Big, Soft Hands? Would this be Holy Catcher’s Mitt Sunday?

Probably not. But perhaps my experience of God resonates with you. And maybe your experience of God could touch my heart, or the heart of someone else. And then together, when we share our divine experiences, we all understand God better and maybe even trust God a little more deeply. And wouldn’t we all be better off for that?

So maybe instead of “Holy Trinity Sunday,” we could call this “Experience God Sunday.” And we all come together and share our experience of being in the presence of the Holy. Wouldn’t that be exciting?!

What’s your experience of God? I’d like to hear it. I think it would be good to share it with someone. Or if you can’t do that, then at least watch for it.

I trust in God. I trust that not because I know the doctrine of the Trinity, but because I’ve experienced being held in God’s hands.

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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Sermon


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Pentecost: We’ve Been Doing it Backwards (Pentecost Day, May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly a couple of weeks ago, I went to a workshop on “Being a Neighborhood Church.” The agenda was to help congregations develop relationships in their communities.

About 20 people gathered for this workshop, and one of the presenters shared an example of a beautiful relationship they have with the school across the street from them where both church and school have benefited. The other presented how God is already active in the neighborhood. As we enter into relationships within our neighborhoods, we are actually reflecting the image of God there.

“How do we do that?” someone asked.

“By discovering what God might be doing in the neighborhood and becoming part of that.

“That sounds hard.”

“Yes, it does take time to develop those relationships in your community where you can begin to see—”

“So, do we meet with the school administration before we meet with the faculty?”

“I don’t know. First you need to see whether or not God is even calling you into a relationship with—”

“How much money do we need to budget for this school thing?”

“You really need to see what God is doing in your neighborh—”

“How many families from the school program thing will join our church?”

They couldn’t seem to get past a program. They couldn’t see God as actually active in their communities. This presenter was speaking a foreign language, he was filled with new wine. You can’t program God into your neighborhood. You can’t impose God on people. You can’t.

Well, you can. But it would be the opposite of what happens in the book of Acts, especially in this text on the day of Pentecost.

You see, on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit just blew through in some rather obvious ways—fire, wind, languages, bold proclamations of God’s mighty deeds of power. Obvious to some, at least. Not obvious to everyone. There were those who simply thought these Galileans were drunk and just wrote off the whole event.

Here’s the order of events—and this order matters.

  • Jews gathering in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, like they’d been doing every year for centuries. Normal activity.
  • Then, the Holy Spirit gets active with the fire and the wind.
  • After that, the disciples responded with all the languages and Peter gives his sermon.
  • Finally, after this text today, 3000 people were baptized; some disciples were jailed, others beaten, and some killed.

Normal life, Holy Spirit, response, consequences (some good, some not so good). That’s the way the church began. Life is going on, Holy Spirit disrupts, disciples respond to that, and who-knows-what-happens as a result.

I think the church has tried to reverse that order. At least the institutional church of the last 17 centuries or so. We start at the end, with what we want the consequences to be (usually because it benefits us), and then we back up and try to figure out a way to make that happen. We back up further and ask God to bless our work. Then we package it and impose it on people’s lives.

For instance: the 3000 baptisms in one day sound really good. And there were more day by day too. So let’s start there, we say. Let’s make that happen. How can we get that result?

So we back up and make the church buildings attractive, we create magnificent programs that people want to come to, we preach entertaining sermons that people want to hear, we promise people heaven and threaten them with hell, we sing songs we’re sure they want to hear because we like them, and we put on a really good pot of coffee.

Then we back up further and assure ourselves that this is what God wants and ask God to bless it.

And we present this church with all its programming to the public, expecting the results we want. When it falls short, we bump up the programs, add more jokes to the sermons, make the bulletins slicker and add projection. And we tell people how to make their lives easier. Then we advertise this new and revised church to the public, hoping for the results we planned.

Over and over and over we do this, never noticing that we’ve actually got the whole thing backwards, which pretty much leaves God until last. But we’ve been doing it this way for so long that it seems normal, right, good, and even Godly. That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for centuries.

All the while, the Holy Spirit continues moving, interrupting people’s lives. Sometimes we as the church are kind of busy with our own agenda so we don’t always see it. We can convince ourselves that the Holy Spirit can’t move without the church, forgetting that on that first Pentecost day, there was no church. Just a bunch of Jesus followers sitting in a room without programs, educational systems, choirs or bands, or even coffee. But the Holy Spirit came anyway. And not all, but some people noticed. And they responded. And some things happened.

With us or without us, the Holy Spirit will get all up in people’s lives. It’s our job to notice, to respond, and to take the consequences whether we like them or not.

It’s the same Holy Spirit today as in Acts 2. Where is the Holy Spirit intervening now? Look for where mercy being proclaimed, or compassion being shown. Those things that are definitely of God. It sometimes comes from unexpected people in unexpected ways. Even Galileans who appear drunk.

Have you seen the Holy Spirit moving? Have you recognized compassion being proclaimed? Have you noticed those who are normally pushed to the edges brought in and told they matter?

Here’s one instance I’ve seen this week. On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch included this statement in a speech to the legislators of her home state of North Carolina, “Let me speak to directly to the transgender community. No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice . . . wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you moving forward.”

That is nothing but people being shown compassion. That is care and love being proclaimed to some who are pushed away in North Carolina. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. And someone responded. And who knows what the results will be.

Some of us hear this speech from Loretta Lynch and will say to one another, “What does this mean?” Others will sneer, “She is filled with new wine.” Others will say, “How is it that we hear these things coming from the government?”

No one expects to experience the Holy Spirit through the U.S. government. Just like no one expected to experience the Holy Spirit through a bunch of Galilean yokels. But it doesn’t who responds to the Spirit, it’s that the Spirit is moving.

In the midst of life, the Holy Spirit blows in and disrupts, some notice and respond, and things happen.

On this Pentecost Day, may we take time to notice the Holy Spirit’s interruptions. May we discover anew God’s compassion and grace being revealed in people’s lives. And may we respond to the Holy Spirit’s love as it blows all around us.

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Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Sermon


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A Legacy of Loving the World: 7 Easter C

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m mindful today of the fact that my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and that it is progressing. I call her every week, but that’s becoming less successful because sometimes she forgets how to use the phone. Alzheimer’s has been called the disease of 1000 griefs, because you lose the person you love one little piece at a time.

I’m mindful today that I won’t be able to talk to the woman who raised me again. That woman is gone. What’s left is someone who looks like my mom but who sometimes can’t remember how underwear works. I miss the fiercely independent, strong, vibrant, intelligent woman who raised my sisters and me. I’d like to tell her one more time how much I appreciate the sacrifices she made, how I think she was right to value education as highly as she did, how proud I am of the awards and honors she received as a social worker–both statewide and nationally, and that much of what I’ve learned about authentic, self-giving love I’ve learned from her.

I can tell her these things–and I do–but they are just words to her. She doesn’t always track the meaning of what I’m saying.

I’d like her to know that some of the things she valued most in life are still making a difference in the world, that she has left a legacy. She had a hand in shaping the way resources are now provided for families with handicapped children in the state of Utah. She raised four responsible and caring children who live many of the values she instilled in us and show love and care to their families. Her commitment as a parent, sacrificing whatever was necessary for the sake of her children, is my model for being a parent. She emphasized always doing the right thing, even if it costs you, even if it is hard, even if the consequences aren’t fun, even if no one believes you. You still live with honor, with dignity, and with ethics.

I’d love to tell her that this is her ongoing legacy, that these values and accomplishments are still making a difference in the world, but I can’t communicate that to her any more. I can’t tell her, but that doesn’t diminish her legacy. This world is kinder, more helpful to people with challenges, more honest, and more ethical because of her. I’m part of that legacy. And I’m proud to be.

What would you like your legacy to be? What are the values you’d like to continue to affect the world after you’re gone? How do you want the world to be different because you were here? That’s your legacy, and it’s what you leave behind for the world.

Some people leave a legacy through their finances. They set up a foundation or a trust or an endowment so their money can continue to provide something they value after they’ve died. Many churches have an endowment for exactly that purpose.

Others leave a legacy through their children. Raising them to carry on the family business or the family reputation or the family values. This is often the concern for royal families who ascend to the throne of their country.

Others leave a legacy through modeling the values of a particular lifestyle that inspires others to live those values in a similar way. Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr exemplify this.

Regardless of how you do it, it’s worth pondering what kind of a difference you’d like to make in the world after you’re gone. What would you like your legacy to be?

In this text from John, Jesus is praying that he would leave a legacy. Sometimes texts from the gospel of John don’t make immediate sense and just sound like a lot of words. That one today, I think, can be like that. But what’s happening is that Jesus is praying that his disciples will carry on his mission of loving the world. Just as he has known the Father’s love in order to share it, he’s praying his future disciples would know his love so they can share it. As he and the Father are joined together to love the world, he’s praying that we would be joined to one another to do the same thing. He’s praying that we would carry on his legacy of loving the world with God’s own love.

What Jesus wants more than anything is that his love, which has saved the world, won’t die with him. He’s imploring the Father to allow his legacy of loving the world to continue; that his disciples would somehow unite with him in this. He knows the only hope the world has is that God’s love can continue to be shown. He has lived his whole life showing that love. And now he is pleading that his disciples will be able to do it.

Jesus is praying for us here. He’s including us as part of his legacy. This is his hope, that God’s love for the world continue to be revealed.

I’m moved that Jesus has invited me to be part of his legacy. I’m honored to be included in that with you. The love he has shown to us, the love that has restored us, comforted us, assured us, is the love he invites us to share. The love that has saved us is the love that will save the world. And Jesus is praying that we will be united with him in showing them that love.

That’s Jesus’ legacy: the creation of a community of people that love the world like he does. May God’s love continue to hold us as we carry on that legacy.

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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Sermon


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“An Annoying God of Grace” Easter 6 (C)

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

This guy who is healed by Jesus in this text really annoys me. What a lousy whiner. Thirty-eight years he’s been lying there by this pool waiting to be healed. That’s not patience, that’s a life-style.

When Jesus comes along and sees him there and asks him if he wants to be healed, you’d think this guy would be excited. But he doesn’t say yes, he just makes excuses for why he hasn’t been healed yet. The myth was that when the water get stirred up by an angel, the first one in supposedly gets healed. This guy just whines to Jesus that someone always gets there ahead of him. You mean to tell me that after 38 years he can’t figure out a way to get in the water faster? C’mon! Lie at the edge of the pool and just roll in. Do something!

But Jesus heals him anyway. And later, when the religious authorities get after this guy for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, which, according to the law, is considered breaking the Sabbath, he blames Jesus, “That guy told me to do it.”

“What guy?” They ask. “I don’t know.”

He’s sick for 38 years, someone has the compassion to heal him in an instant, and this guy doesn’t even find out who did it? Instead of standing up for Jesus, he blames him for getting caught working on the Sabbath.

A little after that, Jesus finds the guy again and introduces himself. Still no thanks or appreciation. No, this guy runs back to the Jewish authorities and throws Jesus under the bus. “Remember I told you about that guy to told me to carry my mat on the Sabbath? Well, I found out who he is. His name is Jesus.” And this is what gets the Jewish authorities beginning to plot against Jesus.

This guy is a whiny, spineless, ungrateful, faithless, weasel. And of all the people that were waiting for healing that day, Jesus picks this guy. Of all the people that were waiting by that pool, surely one of them had a bit more character than this guy. Probably any other person there would have at least said “Thank you.” Some might have been become disciples. But Jesus picks this guy. The most undeserving, ungrateful, slime ball of the day. And Jesus heals him.

Sometimes grace is really bothersome. Because that’s what this is. Grace. Regardless of whether he deserves it or not, Jesus shows compassion. Even though this guy sells Jesus out, Jesus shows him care. With grace, a person’s goodness, character, ethics, beliefs, or status aren’t part of the picture. Those things don’t enter into the equation at all. Grace is just grace. For anyone.

Grace has nothing to do with qualifications or deserving. If those enter in, it’s no longer grace.

I saw a video on facebook where a man taped money all over himself, and carried a sign that said, “Take what you need.” The man didn’t ask any questions or find out anyone’s story, he just let anyone take whatever amount of money off him that they wanted. Some admitted they didn’t need it, but just took more. Others grabbed handfuls and ran. A homeless man took a few bills but left most of it for other, he said, who needed it more.

A person walking around giving away money to anyone without question is a picture of grace.

Jesus healing an ungrateful whiner is a picture of grace.

It’ll drive you crazy if you let it. Because if you let any qualifications whatsoever enter into the picture at all, you’ll either get annoyed by grace or you’ll have to disavow it.

Yet this is the God we have. An annoying God of grace. A God who doesn’t care if we deserve it or not. A God for whom our gratitude or ingratitude isn’t influential in any way. A God for whom it doesn’t even register as to whether we’re good or bad, ethical or currupt, faithful or faithless. God who just showers grace. To all. Without question. Without judgement. Without reservation.

We can accept it or not. If we do, it opens our eyes to a pretty amazing God and helps us understand who we are as church. If we don’t , we’ll simply find reasons to reject it.

If we begin with our own worthiness, or even hint at that in the equation, we’ll never appreciate the depths of God’s grace. We’ll find ways to rationalize why we don’t deserve it (or just as bad, justify why we do!). We’ll continually berate ourselves for not being enough, for failing, for incurring God’s anger, for being less than we should be. Or, we’ll falsely prop ourselves up as better, holier, or more righteous than other people. We’ll deny the reality of grace and remain vulnerable to hopelessness or self-righteousness. And we’ll continue judging each other.

But as we learn to accept the reality of God’s unconditional grace, we not only realize that this grace includes the whiny slug at the pool at Bethzatha, it also includes us. It includes you. Without reservation, condition, or question. When we look for grace, we see God with new eyes, and When we look for grace, we see each other without judgement. When we look for grace, we care less about who deserves compassion and simply deliver it. When we look for grace, we’ll reflect less the conditional love of the world, and more of God’s unconditional love.

We can actually become part of God’s grace toward the world, toward each other, even toward the man by the pool at Bethzatha that Jesus chooses to heal. And maybe even toward ourselves.

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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Sermon


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“What Love Looks Like” Easter 5 (C)

John 13:31-35

31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.33Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

OK, here’s what Jesus did not say:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have really good theology…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you believe the same way your really devout neighbor says you should…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you never question the doctrines of orthodox Christianity…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you are have better morals than others…

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have at least 25 biblical passages memorized…

Jesus is at his last supper with his disciples in John’s gospel, Judas has just left to betray him, and Jesus will be arrested and put on trial before too long. It’s time to get right down to it and say what needs to be said.

“Love one another,” he tells them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

He’s already shown them what loving one another looks like during this meal. He has washed their feet and told them that serving others as he serves them is showing love.

He, after announcing that Judas will betray him later this evening, proceeds, out of love, to offer food to the one who will betray him.

And even after Judas has left to turn him in, Jesus focuses on preparing his disciples to show that kind of love to the world.

He feels so strongly about this, that ultimately, Jesus chooses the way of love even in the face of torture and death. He will not stop loving others. Even those who betray him, who deny him, who condemn him, who put him to death. Love is the be-all-end-all. Love matters, and it’s really the only thing that matters.

Jesus isn’t talking about a gooey Hallmark kind of love, but a love that makes you willing to humble yourself, willing to wash other’s feet, willing to turn away from power and violence, willing even to face death. A love that Jesus is more committed to than anything else.

That’s the love by which people will know we are his disciples.

Philip Yancey writes about a definition of love that Mother Teresa gave at a National Prayer Breakfast years ago.

Rolled out in a wheelchair, the frail, eighty-three-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate needed help to stand up. A special platform had been positioned to allow her to see over the podium. Even so, hunched over, four-feet-six-inches tall, she could barely reach the microphone. She spoke clearly and slowly with a thick accent in a voice that nonetheless managed to fill the auditorium. Mother Teresa said that America has become a selfish nation, in danger of losing the proper meaning of love: “giving until it hurts.”[1]

Mother Teresa said that love is giving – giving until it hurts. That’s what Jesus does. In fact, he not only gives until it hurts; he continues giving until he dies. Regardless of the pain he will suffer. This way of life centered on love is so desperately important that he will not abandon it. Even in the face of death.

That’s the kind of love he commands us to show to one another. That’s the kind of love that reveals discipleship to the world.

The Cogswell family is mourning the loss of their mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, and great-grandmother Esther Renaud, who passed away Wednesday. They moved her into their house and took care of her as she weakened. They provided special memory events and went out of their way to bring some joy to Esther in her last weeks and months. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

We will be electing people into some council positions in a few weeks. Those who submit to being on the ballot know that they will face difficult decisions that may not be liked by everyone. But when you see the ballot, you’ll know that these are some of the people who love this church and are willing to face that. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

I was talking to someone this week whose job had been extremely demanding for an extended period of time. Against his better judgment, he was being required to work up to 80 hours a week for months. He told me that those extra hours cannot come out of his time with his kids, as this isn’t his kids’ fault. It will come out of my own time, not theirs. Love one another like that, Jesus says.

Be willing to serve. Be willing to sacrifice. Be willing to risk. Do it out of the love we have for one another. Love one another like that, because, Jesus says, that’s how I love you.

[1] Yancey, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? 2003, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI. p.244.

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Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Sermon


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