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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Power Doesn’t Bring Victory (June 25, 2017)

Matthew 10:24-39

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

I was one of those kids who got bullied a lot in elementary and middle school. I was the shy, passive, skinny, band geek who wore big glasses and got good grades and wasn’t good in sports. In those days, that was a perfect recipe for being picked on. I believed, at the time, that I had two choices: either fight back, fighting power with more power, or run away, avoiding the power altogether. I rarely did the first, and became very good at the second.

Jesus is talking to me in this text. Because both of my choices in response to the power of bullies were responses to their power. Either I got more power (learn how to beat them up) or be frightened by their power (run away). But what Jesus is actually saying here is that power isn’t relevant. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

He’s been pretty clear with his disciples up until now. You have the authority, he says as he’s sending them out, to love with God’s love and to show God’s compassion to those you meet. Start with your neighbors, and show them what the kingdom of heaven looks like. It looks like healing, like kindness, like removing obstacles in their lives, like lifting them up. You have the authority to do that. So go do it.

He continues today by recognizing that showing the compassion of God in the face of those who use power has consequences. Don’t worry about that, he says. When you follow me, you love your enemies and you show compassion to those around you. This won’t be easy. Those who use power to win may not respond well. Follow me in love anyway. Some may turn against you. Even if they’re in your own family. Follow me to show compassion anyway. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

You don’t have to be afraid of those who use power, he says. They cannot affect your soul, he says. You don’t have to be afraid, because God, who knows every sparrow that falls, loves you. God knows how many hairs are on your head, and says you are valuable to God. So it’s God you pay attention to. It’s God’s kingdom you reveal in the world. Because God, who created the heavens and the earth, is with you and loves you and knows how valuable you actually are. So we don’t have to be afraid of those who use power to win. Because their power doesn’t matter to God. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

We may understand that, but it doesn’t make it easy. And, if we’re honest, I think most of us would admit that following Jesus in into the pits of power armed only with love is not the kind of Christianity we signed up for. Very few of us are Jesus “activists,” marching in Jesus rallies and risking alienation from our loved ones for Jesus’ sake.

This discipleship work is hard stuff, and we can’t afford to start kicking ourselves if we don’t measure up to some arbitrary (and false!) standard we’ve created in our heads. Instead of running away in fear because those who use power might use it against us, we need to lift each other up, and encourage each other, because there will be another opportunity to show compassion. And another one after that. And then another. We aren’t going to follow Jesus to stand with every person in every situation where compassion is called for, but we can follow him into some of them, even though we’ll miss the mark in others.

Rather than feeling bad about the ones we miss, or defending ourselves when we miss them, we need to encourage each other for the next opportunity. Instead of fighting those who use power with more power, we need to remind each other what love looks like. As we do that, the ways in which we follow Jesus become clearer. We can see more opportunities to follow Jesus in love and compassion, and we venture a little further than we did the last time we tried.

What this looks like for me is that I’ve become more vocal about the racism in our culture. Sometimes I can bring compassion into the midst of racists without fighting to win a racist argument. I’m clearer about calling out my own white privilege. I’m more bold in being an outspoken advocate for the LGTBQ community. And I’ve appreciated the support when I am “unfriended” on social media or hear disparaging remarks as a result. I’ve needed the forgiveness offered when I haven’t stood up with love for those who need a voice and a friend. As a result, I’m more likely to follow Jesus further the next time.

Following Jesus isn’t about winning, or being right, defeating those in power, or even using power for good things. It’s about being Christ’s love and Christ’s compassion in the face of those who use power to win. Following Jesus makes for very bad politics but very good discipleship. Because it is love and compassion. In fact, following Jesus, cross and all, is the only way to reveal to the world what the kingdom of heaven looks like. Jesus is pretty clear with us. We have the authority, he says, to love with God’s love and to show God’s compassion to those we meet. No matter the consequences. In the kingdom of heaven, power doesn’t bring victory. Only love and compassion do.

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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“That’s What Compassion Looks Like” (June 18, 2017)

Matthew 9:35—10:8

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” 10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

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.

Jesus gives his apostles their marching orders. He gives them specific instructions on how to go about this mission. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. Accept no pay.

What do you think? Are these specific instructions how disciples all over the world and who live centuries later are to go about being part of Jesus’ mission? Don’t go near non-Jews, stay out of towns that aren’t exclusively Jewish, and talk only to Jews? Of course not. We understand these specific instructions are for those twelve in a precise context at a particular time.

So how do we understand our role, our own specifics, in being part of Jesus’ mission? Where do we find that? Where in the Bible do we discover what Jesus calls us to do in our context, in in our time, in our particular circumstances?

I find the answer to that toward the beginning of this text. Jesus is going about cities and villages, but he’s the only one teaching, healing, and so forth. Then, in verse 36, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless.” It’s at that point that he gathers the twelve disciples together and sends them out to do the same thing he’s been doing: cast out demons, teach, heal and so forth.

The trigger that turns him from doing it alone to recruiting and equipping his disciples to join him is his compassion for those who are stressed, who are worried, who are helpless. In his context, compassion looks like healing and casting out demons—the source of people’s worry and anxiety. Those are the things that keep them without any voice or power. It’s his compassion, recognizing the depth and breadth of people’s anxiety and pain.

The guiding value here isn’t Jesus’ specifics of teaching, healing, or casting out demons. Rather, it’s compassion—noticing the concerns that cause people to throw their hands up in despair, to give up. Stepping in when someone is helpless or vulnerable, especially when it would be easier to look the other way.

The girl who noticed a new classmate seemed sad. When she tried to talk to him, she realized he only spoke Spanish. So she took out her phone and used a translation app to write him a note asking if he wanted to sit with her today. “Look for me at lunch, and I’ll show you where we sit. We can just color or tell scary stories.” That’s what compassion looks like.

The man on the lite rail who noticed another man with his head in his hands, mumbling. When he asked the man if he was ok, the man replied he had a headache and was running late for a job interview. A woman nearby offered him an Advil, but he had no water, so a young mother offered him a juice box. The first man suggested that when the other man got to the interview, to apologize for being late, but offer no excuses. Just walk into the interview tall and tie his hair back if he could. A teenager nearby gave him a hair-tie off her wrist. When the man stepped off the train for his interview, the whole car waved and wished him good luck. That’s what compassion looks like.

Or the grandmother who was new to text messaging and tried to invite her grandchild to Thanksgiving dinner, but entered the wrong number, accidentally inviting a random 17 year old. When they figured out the mistake, the grandma invited him anyway texting, “Of course you can come. That’s what grandmas do . . . feed everyone.” That’s what compassion looks like.

Or this week at VBS, one girl’s first time here and didn’t know anyone.  One the first night and was having a hard time participating, obviously very shy. Another girl in her crew saw it, came over to her and invited her to do the movements to the song together. By the next night, the girl was involved in everything and having a wonderful time. That’s what compassion looks like.

Those are the instructions Jesus gave his disciples. Show compassion. Simply pay attention to those you meet and step in when someone is stressed or defenseless. It’s less about solving the issue and more about simply being there–showing up. Letting someone know they aren’t alone in their helplessness. Going a step beyond what’s easy to accompany another person who is vulnerable.

Those who follow Jesus are sent into their neighborhood simply to do that—show compassion.

Think about where you’re likely to be his week. What would compassion look like in those places, among those people. Recognize that each one of us are called, are equipped, and are sent to those exact places with clear instructions from Jesus himself. Pay attention to those you meet. When you see someone alone or anxious or helpless, step in and walk with them for a few minutes. Le them know someone cares. That’s what Jesus himself did. That’s what he sent his disciples to do. Show compassion.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

That’s us. We are the disciples who are now being sent to show compassion. As we go, we are already proclaiming the good news, that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Christ in You. Teach That (June 11, 2017)

Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel, which takes place on Easter day. The male disciples haven’t yet seen the resurrected Jesus, and have only the word of the female disciples to go on (who’ve seen an angel and Jesus). They weren’t around that morning when all the resurrection events were happening. So, having missed the earthquake, the rolled away stone, the angel’s command, and an appearance of the risen Christ, these eleven men head on up the mountain where the female disciples say Jesus will meet them. Sure enough, Jesus is there, and the reaction of these—the closest of Jesus’ followers—is mixed. Some worship him, some doubt.

I find that amazing. They followed Jesus for three years, saw his miracles, watched him die, now they are talking with him, raised from the dead. Yet some still aren’t sure? That’s like the ultimate is assurance, don’t you think? How often have you said, “Just give me a sign, God!” Well, let’s see, how about raising someone from the dead. I think that should pretty well take care of it. And it still isn’t enough for some of them. I think they might be just a little bit fussy here, don’t you? “You’re gonna have to do better than that to convince me, Jesus. Go ahead. I’m waiting. Let’s see something impressive.”

What’s interesting is that Jesus doesn’t seem to care whether they believe or doubt. It doesn’t seem to matter to him. All of these disciples, all of them, the men and the women, the believers and the doubters, all of them are given the same commission. “Go.” “Make disciples.” “Baptize.” “Teach.” Whether you believe or whether you doubt. Whether you think you’re a credible witness or not. Whether anyone will listen to you or not. “Go.”

We usually emphasize the “make disciples” part of this. That’s only part, and it’s not a part we deal with well anyway. A disciple is a follower, a learner, a student. Which, when you think about it, isn’t the same as believing. I can learn from anyone, whether I “believe in” them or not. I can find something intriguing, hear something I didn’t know, tag along out of nothing more than finding them interesting without “believing in” them. A disciple, even these closest to Jesus, are apparently quite free to doubt. They are still disciples, still following, still learning. That’s why they showed up on this mountain, because some of the disciples said Jesus would meet them there.

If being a “learner” is what it means to be a disciple, I think a lot of believers aren’t very good disciples, because some believers have quit learning. Perhaps, then, a disciple is someone who is honest about their current state of belief, but are still willing to consider the possibility this could be something worthwhile. So they learn and follow, with enough hope in what’s being taught that it’s worth continuing to check it out. Maybe a disciple isn’t so much a “believer” as a “hoper.”

So let’s leave the “making disciples” part alone for a while. How about instead we consider the “teaching them” part?

Think of someone who has taught you about Christ and what he commands his followers to do. How did they do it? Chances are pretty good that people who teach us about Christ are people we know well. Most methods of teaching come through relationships.

Lots of people have taught me to obey all that Jesus commanded. I’m sure that’s true for you too. And they’ve all taught in different ways.

My mom was my first teacher. Through her unselfish commitment to her children, she taught me Christ’s command to deny yourself by sacrificing a lot in order to take care of me even when I took it for granted.

My wife teaches me how to obey Christ’s command to forgive 70×7 times by forgiving me even when I say and do stupid things.

My children teach me how to obey Christ’s command to live as a child of God by pursuing their God-given gifts whether I approve or not.

There are staff members at Sky Ranch who teach me how to obey Christ’s command to see Christ in every person by calling out Christ in me.

Our Confirmation students teach me how to obey Christ’s command to grow in spirit by continually asking deep and authentic questions.

As a congregation, you teach me how to obey Christ’s command to have compassion on the least by showing compassion each time a need is made known.

All of these people and so many more are already obeying Jesus’ Great Commission by revealing Christ who is present in their own lives. In that they are teaching me to obey everything Jesus commands. In that, they teach me to be a better disciple.

There are those who get caught up in how many people they’ve converted to Christianity. Don’t be one of them. That really isn’t what Jesus is commanding here. Instead, consider the whole of the Great Commission, consider what Christ-like traits are in you. Consider what you might be teaching those close to you what Jesus is like.

Just as each of us have had several Christ-teachers, so none of us can be the only teacher for anyone else. What part of Christ do you reveal? What part of Christ’s priorities do you live? Be that teacher. Teach that. “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Sermon

 

A Trinitarian Perspective: The Holy Spirit, Changing Us With Love (Pentecost, June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-21; 1Cor 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

The Day of Pentecost is, for the church, one of the “Big Three Holidays,” right up there with Christmas and Easter. One reason it doesn’t get the publicity is that Hallmark and big retailers haven’t figured out how to make a profit off of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost has been celebrated by Jews forever. It means “50,” and was celebrated 50 days after Passover. It’s also called in the Jewish faith the Festival of Weeks, celebrated as a harvest festival. Not a big decoration theme for the mall.

More than retailers and TV specials, Pentecost doesn’t get the press of Easter and Christmas because it is about the Holy Spirit. And we really don’t get the Holy Spirit. So we don’t make Pentecost a big deal.

But it is a big deal. It’s all about the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, and that in John, Jesus actually breathes into us. The Holy Spirit. The left-over member of the Trinity. The one we don’t really know what to do with. The aspect of God we ignore because we can’t really define. But if we don’t know the Holy Spirit, how can we claim to know God?

We are more comfortable with God the Father, the Creator. We know who that is and what that role is. Creator. When we pray, usually this is who we envision, isn’t it? Isn’t is usually God the Father we imagine answers our prayers? But this is also a God who seems far off, remote, waiting for us to call upon him (always “him”!). And, we believe it is God the Father who comes down and intervenes in the world to answer our prayers. If we have enough faith, we are told. For some reason, we seem to be OK with a god like that.

Or Jesus, God the Son is OK too. We understand him as a historical figure who “died for our sins.” 2000 years ago, he died, rose, and ascended. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, which separates our prayers from people of other faiths, I guess. Jesus is a good person, a moral guide, but also often far off—at least in history. We use his name with respect, and claim to follow him. But too often following him simply means being a good person. For some reason, we seem to be OK with that.

But the Holy Spirit is different. The Holy Spirit is God present here and now, with real people in real situations. The Holy Spirit elicits the heart of Christ from within us.

When we express compassion, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we love someone, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are generous, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we are moved by beautiful music or art, that is God present: the Holy Spirit.

When we become angry at an injustice perpetrated on someone who is weak or vulnerable, that’s God present: the Holy Spirit.

I wonder if we have more problems with the Holy Spirit because we want to put parameters around the Spirit, the same way we do with he Father and the Son. That may well be part of the issue for us—the Spirit cannot be controlled or influenced! Instead, the Spirit influences us! And that isn’t always comfortable.

If we’re OK thinking of God as a far-off entity that exists outside of us, the Holy Spirit can be unsettling. Because the Holy Spirit is God all up in our lives, doing whatever she wants, whenever she wants. If we give in to that, well, who knows what could happen?! We could, you know, change!

Yet that’s what the Holy Spirit does within us. I know a woman who all her life had maintained pretty “traditional” views on marriage and family. She used obscure Bible verses she saw on TV to feel better about her assumption of marriage being between a man and a woman. She was religious, but for her, God was “out there” somewhere, watching to make sure his people didn’t commit too many sins and went to church. Her parents and her circle of religious friends didn’t make a big deal about it, but said homosexuality was a sin. So she just held the same position her parents held without ever really thinking about it.

Then one day her daughter pulled her aside and said they needed to talk. They were close, so the woman knew something significant was up. “I’m gay,” her daughter told her. “I’ve wanted to tell you for years, but was afraid you would kick me out or quit loving me.”

The woman was shocked. She hadn’t even thought about this possibility. She did two wise things, however. She told her daughter that nothing could make her stop loving her. And she asked for a few days to process this news.

During those few days, she prayed, she cried, she shouted, she researched, and she prayed some more. But as confused as she was, the overriding position she kept coming back to was that this was her daughter and she loved her with all her heart. Nothing could change that.

Her daughter’s sexual orientation didn’t seem like such a big deal after that. It was love that mattered. And love was all that mattered. So she found that her position on homosexuality changed. God present: the Holy Spirit moved her with love to change. She didn’t ask for it or hope for it. God present: the Holy Spirit, blew in and made God’s love real—with real people in real situations.

With the Holy Spirit, God can no longer be far off in heaven answering some prayers and ignoring others. With the Holy Spirit, God is here, right now, messing with us. With the Holy Spirit, the nature—the heart—of God becomes real and connects inside us. And we are changed by the heart of God to be more like Christ. With the Holy Spirit, none of us are safe, because with the Holy Spirit, God’s love, grace, compassion, forgiveness and justice become real in our lives, with real faces on real people in real life. With the Holy Spirit, you never know what’s going to happen. Hang on. Happy Pentecost.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Sermon

 

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