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In the Midst of Chaos, Jesus Arises (March 4, 2018)

John 2:13-22

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Wow. Are you able to imagine this scene? Jesus walks into the temple area in Jerusalem—the high, holy place where God resides—and starts running amuck in there. Driving out animals, turning over tables, creating chaos in God’s house. Jesus is disrupting the entire system of the temple.

Since Moses, people of God have been required to offer sacrifices and tithes, according to God’s law. This marketplace in the temple courtyard allowed them to meet the requirements of the law and be found righteous with God. The system worked for everyone. Yet, even though it was beneficial and in keeping with Jewish (and Roman) law, it didn’t fit with God’s kingdom of love and compassion and mercy for all people. This workable, viable, traditional system of sacrifice for righteousness, following rules and procedures in a specific place, needed to end. Since the focus has always been on righteousness with God, sacrifices in the temple don’t actually do that. Righteousness with God is not centered in the temple, but instead is centered in Christ. So Jesus disrupts a system that doesn’t work according to God’s vision in order to lift up a new system that does.

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

As long as the temple system was in place and working, God’s vision would never be seen or participated in. There was no easy way to make that adjustment away from it without complete disruption. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

There are times when some area of our lives just aren’t working. Times when our lives are in chaos, when things simply feel out of control. The confusion in those times can leave us uncertain and unable to see beyond that chaos. Most of us who’ve experienced chaos in our lives being beyond our control can testify to the reality that God is not always visible at that time. We can’t see beyond the next minute, much less recognize the presence of Christ. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

And this is true not just in our individual lives, but in any system or institution or organization that isn’t part of God’s vision of compassion and peace and grace. Not just the temple. Not just the way we run our lives. Bu even Christ’s church itself.

In many parts of the world, especially the US, people are leaving the church in droves. The system—the way of being church that many of us have known all our lives—feels beyond our ability to make work. Our best efforts don’t seem to make much difference at all. Our message of Christ’s love isn’t being heard or believed. No matter what we do, the church doesn’t seem to be able to adapt.

Much like the temple system in Jesus’ day, the church is being disrupted. I wonder if it’s because we are no longer able to see beyond the church system that’s been in place for 1700 years. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, even in the church, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Here’s how the church system as we know it has developed.[i]

“Jesus’ apostles were constantly getting in trouble with the religious leaders and power brokers of their. . . . They were beaten, jailed, and finally killed because this way of life was such a threat to the social and political order.

“At the beginning of the fourth century . . . the Roman Empire was feeling increasingly threatened by rising forces beyond its border. In CE 311 the Romans became more open minded about matters of religion. Novel (and desperate) idea: pray to any God if it can help us hold back the barbarians! Christians were granted an indulgence and asked to pray “to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.” This was the first step in creating an alliance with the Christian God, whom Constantine considered the strongest deity. Two years later, in CE 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship. At that time he was more concerned about social stability and the protection of the empire from the wrath of the Christian God than he was for justice or care for the Christians. Finally the emperor consolidated his power within the church when he convened the first worldwide gathering of Christian leaders at the Council of Nicaea in CE 325. Christendom was born. The Jesus movement was subsumed into the empire and “Christian disciple” became synonymous with “good citizen.”

“Most churches today mirror political institutions in structure, operation, and governance. Denominations gather to vote on doctrine and polity and, in some cases, to elect bishops to oversee the church. Likewise, pastors are trained and carefully credentialed to administer the sacraments and manage their churches. . . . “Don’t rock the boat” is the underlying narrative. . . . In most Christian quarters, subversion is the enemy.

“The era of the Christian society has now ended in the United States. . . . Citizenship no longer means Christian. The church is no longer the center of life. Organized religion, in its Christendom edition, is growing more and more irrelevant and we are at a loss as to what to do about it.

“What would it look like for the church to reclaim Christ’s subversive gospel of abundance and trust that the kingdom of God is at hand? . . . Oftentimes that creation looks like rebellion to the church authorities— or just plain weird.

“Jesus ultimately died a humiliating and torturous death on the cross because he posed a threat to the political and religious powers.

“The Jesus movement, born out of subversion, is at its best when it is subversive.”

In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

The major disruption of the temple that felt like the end for Jews in Jerusalem was actually a focus on Jesus as God’s vision for the world. And what feels like the end of the church to many today is the same thing. We are experiencing God at work, a seismic shift away from a church system that works for many, but may not be pointing the world to God’s vision of peace, compassion, and grace for all people. Jesus is stepping in and turning over our tables in order to disrupt the church as we know it. Though we don’t understand and though it’s frighteningly uncomfortable, In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

Instead of bemoaning the loss of the temple, let us watch for Jesus to arise. And then, let us run to him and embrace him wherever he is and whatever he’s doing. Let us watch for Jesus to arise, for he is the revealing of God’s vision for peace, for compassion, and for grace for the whole world. In the midst of the disruption and chaos, Jesus is lifted up so God’s vision for the world can be seen.

[i] Era of Christendom source: Estock, Beth Ann; Nixon, Paul. Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, The Pilgrim Press. Kindle Edition. 2016.

 

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2018 in Sermon

 

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What to Do When God Isn’t Listening

1 Kings 17:17-24

 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “OLord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Be careful when you are faithful to the voice of God. It gets you in trouble.

Elijah has been listening to God and following God’s leading already several times just in this chapter. He heard “the word of the Lord” telling him where to hide from the wrath of a king, that there would be a drought and where he could find food, that there would be shelter in a town called Zarephath, and how he could provide ongoing food for himself and his host–a widow there.

Be careful, Elijah. You’re being pretty faithful. You’re about to get into trouble.

Sure enough, after Elijah had done all this, including feeding this woman and her son for eight days, her son dies. She blames Elijah for it.  In the middle of a drought where there is no food, Elijah–by being faithful to God–has fed this little family for 8 days, now is being blamed for this trajedy.

Have you had that Elijah experience? Being nothing but faithful, he’s being blamed for this poor woman’s grief and loss: “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” Sometimes, when we’re frightened or lost or grieving, we just need to blame someone. For this woman, Elijah is the scapegoat for her pain and misery.

Elijah gets that too. After being unjustly blamed for the boy’s death, he turns around and does the same thing. He takes the boy upstairs  and cries out to God, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he demands that God do something about it, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” Have you ever blamed God for your misery and then asked God to do something about it?

So far, I’m tracking with Elijah pretty well. I’ve been blamed when I’ve tried only to be faithful. I’ve blamed others–often God–when things are difficult. And I’ve begged God to intervene somehow to change the situation.

But then comes the part that causes a little problem for me. Vs. 22, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

I’m fine with the child being revived. I think God uses uses all kinds of things, including hospitals and skilled medical people of all kinds to do this sort of thing with some regularity. Some of you have had personal experience with that and have amazing stories to tell of God giving you a new chance, a new life; sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes relationally.

No, that’s not where I get stumped. I find myself a little annoyed at the phrase, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah.” I don’t know about you, but it seems that God doesn’t always listen. Sometimes, it seems like God isn’t listening at all. Perhaps we can understand that if we haven’t been listening to God, if we’ve been neglecting our relationship a bit. But how about when we’re in a stretch where we’re feeling tight with God, like we’re being pretty faithful, like we’re all about God’s will, and God and us are on the same page. And then, like Elijah, all that faithfulness gets us in trouble. Someone’s experiencing a loss and they’re blaming you for it; one of your kids does something stupid and your spouse assures you that it’s your fault; a friend misunderstands an innocent statement and the relationship is seriously damaged. Then there are those days when all this and more happens all at once. Have you had a day like that? It all just piles up, snowballs, and gets overwhelming?

What do you do? Many will cry out to God, “O Lord my God, do something!” Do something. Anything. Please. . . Hello? . . . Are you there?

And then we hear vs. 22 in 1Kings 17, “The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah” and intervened. The Lord did exactly what Elijah asked and restored the boy’s life. Well, isn’t that special? What about us, God? What about our pain, our loss, our grief, our despair? Why aren’t you listening to our voice? When we cry out for help, for you to make things better, where are you then?

Here’s what happens. God hears your cries. And God answers and points to the cross and says, “That’s how committed to you I am. That’s how willing I am to go into your pain with you. I’m not leaving. Nothing can keep me away from you; not even death. I’m with you–right with you–in your struggle. I’m holding you in your fear. I’m comforting you in your pain. I’m at your side in your suffering. I know you feel overwhelmed, but I’m here to sustain you. Life is coming. There will be an easing of your pain and loss. Watch for it. I’m here. I’m here. Whether you are faithful or not, doing my will or not, listening to my voice or not, I am the God of life. For the son of the widow of Zarephath. For you. And nothing will keep me from coming to you. Today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Enduring the Holy Spirit

The Day of Pentecost
Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17; Acts 2:1-21

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

I have a new respect for what these disciples experienced on that Pentecost Day. They endured the chaos of the Holy Spirit. They hung in there despite their uncertainty and confusion. Instead of trying to keep things the same–safe, orderly, and predictable hidden away in their room–they kept their heads down and went with whatever the Holy Spirit was doing, however they got dragged along. The Holy Spirit comes, chaos often ensues.

Think about their life now that Jesus was ascended and they couldn’t see him anymore. They were unsure. They felt like they were kind of on their own, even though they weren’t exactly sure what to do or how God was calling them. But they could have meetings and prayer sessions and conversations about it. Sounds like some of us here.

On the other hand, now that he was no longer with them, things had finally calmed down a bit. There was some order and predictability. They had time to think, to pray, to consider their next moves. They were still disciples of Jesus. They had followed him, listened to his teachings, believed him Son of God, believed he was raised from the dead. Sounds like some of us here.

So they met together, prayed, read some scripture, shared meals, and tried to figure out God’s direction. Sounds like some of us here.

They were trying, but just weren’t sure what all this meant for the world–what their part in God’s redeeming work actually was. So they kept talking and meeting and asking and trying to figure it all out. Sounds like some of us here.

I’m pretty certain that prior to Pentecost these disciples had spoken to others about Jesus. I’m sure they had shared news of his death and resurrection with any number of people. They were there; they saw it all; he was their good friend and teacher. Wasn’t that enough? There was no blueprint for what this whole discipleship thing was supposed to look like.

But suddenly something happened. I’m not sure they were fully aware of it, and I’m not sure they liked it very much. At least not at first. These verses in Acts are the only mention in scripture of the tongues of fire and the violent wind at the coming of the Spirit. In John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on them. In Paul’s writings, the coming of the Holy Spirit is evident through one’s faith. Only Luke describes it this way, this radically. That leads me to believe that these disciples weren’t thinking, “Tongues of fire? Alright! Now the Spirit of God has filled me! Sound of a violent wind? OK, now I am equipped to proclaim Jesus! Hey, everyone, I’m speakin Japanese! And French! And Mesopotamian! If only my Spanish teacher were grading me today! Finally the Holy Spirit has come. Watch what happens when I preach now!”

No, I’m convinced they didn’t know what was going on. This was just chaos. All they could do was what they had been doing, trying to be faithful, trying to figure this out, sharing their story. Because when you read this account, the disciples aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary. The Holy Spirit, however, is.
Thousands of people didn’t gather outside of the house because of the disciples’ newfound language skills. They certainly didn’t gather because of what the disciples were saying about Jesus. No, the crowd gathered because of the noise of this wind that was coming from the house. Even then they weren’t listening to what the disciples were actually saying; they were only hearing that their own native languages were being spoken. They aren’t believing in Jesus. No, just like the disciples, the crowds are trying to figure out what’s happening, too. The scene is simply chaotic. Wind and fire and languages. No one has the first clue as to what’s going on.
“Aren’t these Galileans? How can we be hearing them in our own languages?” The crowds are just as confused as the disciples. The best explanation those outside can come up with for these uneducated fishermen speaking fluently in foreign languages is that these disciples are drunk. Really? That’s the best they’ve got? Apparently they don’t have much experience listening to drunk people.

It wasn’t anything the disciples were doing, it’s what the Holy Spirit was doing. On her own. The Holy Spirit blows where she wants to blow, and accomplishes what she wants to accomplish. Not because of our efforts, but sometimes through them. It’s not explainable, not orderly, not according to our priorities or expectations. Wind and fire and languages. The Holy Spirit makes noise, and chaos ensues. Whether we like it or not. Whether we put forth effort or not.

We are a congregation that puts forth a tremendous amount of effort. We are healthy, creative, adventurous, caring, diverse, focused, authentic, involved. We are, in a lot of  ways, what many congregations strive to be. We’ve had things pretty good here for quite a number of years. I kinda like that. It’s calm and rational. We can take time to evaluate, to ponder, to discuss, to gather input before we make a decision and move forward. That’s what we do. That’s the way we operatate. That’s LCM going about our business of being God’s church in the world.

But sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up. Things can feel chaotic. Not everything goes in an orderly, calm kind of way. It’s not that we’re doing anything differently, necessarily, but the Holy Spirit begins to blow and burn and speak. We try to figure out what’s happeninging, why things are different, why things aren’t going the way we had planned. Why suddenly what we had been doing that was so sucessful now seems to have shifted out from underneath us. I have a newfound appreciation for the disciples on that first Pentecost Day.

I think, sometimes, that we long for the orderly, predictable way of our past. The chaos and uncertainlty of Pentecost is unsettling. What will happen? What is God up to around us? What has God called us into now? I’m not sure I know the answer.

I have a new respect for what these disciples experienced on that Pentecost Day. The Holy Spirit comes, chaos often ensues. The Holy Spirit will do what she does on her own. She blows where she wants to blow, and accomplishes what she wants to accomplish. Not because of our efforts, but sometimes through them. It’s not explainable, not orderly, not according to our priorities or expectations. Wind and fire and languages. The Holy Spirit makes noise, and chaos ensues. Whether we like it or not. Whether we cooperate or not. Blow, Spirit, blow. We can deal with chaos. Light a holy fire. We will put up with whatever you’ve got in mind. Speak through us. We are here. Come, Holy Spirit.
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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Sermon

 

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Fear, Trust, and Response (4 Pentecost B)

4th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Job 38:1-11; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

What are you afraid of? Really afraid of? What makes that panicky feeling rise up inside you to where you aren’t sure you can fully control your response? Spiders, snakes? Heights, close spaces? You won’t measure up, aren’t good enough? Failure, death?

Regardless of what terrifies us, our fears are real and our response to fear is powerful. When you are beginning to panic, your response to your situation is entirely different than when you are calm and rational.

Jesus’ disciples are panicking. They don’t think about the fact that they really are being rather rude. They don’t think about the fact that this is Jesus in the boat with them—the man who casts our demons and heals sick people. The strength of this storm is so violent that these professional fishermen, who spend their life on this sea, are terrified because they are beginning to drown right now. They are staring death in the eye, and the darkness and chaos of the sea are about to engulf them and take them down under the waves forever.

Sometimes you can’t control what you’re afraid of. When you are experiencing fear, you are experiencing fear. So I think we can cut the disciples a little bit of slack here. I mean, I saw George Clooney in “The Perfect Storm.” I think they probably have reason to be terrified.

We can’t always control those things that terrify us. We don’t have the capability of keeping every situation in our world calm and smooth. Sometimes the chaos comes. Sometimes our lives are out of our control. Sometimes we are just afraid. That is something we cannot control.

But we don’t have to respond out of our fear.

These disciples are terrified, and with good reason. But their response to the storm and the waves comes from their fear. “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?” they cry out. It’s a cry of fear, of terror. And they expect Jesus to be terrified with them. “We’re dying! Didn’t you notice? Don’t you care?” They are panicking, losing control. Their fear is dictating their words and their actions.

But it doesn’t have to be so. Jesus is in the boat with them. Their fear is stronger than their trust in him right now. The presence of the storm is more significant to them than the presence of Christ. Their response shows it.

Now Jesus stills the storm anyway. He commands the sea to be still; he rebukes the wind into calm. Immediately the storm is over and the sea gentle. Whether the disciples trusted him in this situation or not doesn’t seem to matter. Jesus is present and takes care of the situation, regardless of how the disciples panic, regardless of their lack of faith, regardless of the fact that they are more afraid of the storm than they are the one who has power over the storm. Jesus is there. He can always calm the waves.

Do you think the disciples’ response would have been different if they trusted Jesus regardless of their fear? The storm would have been the same, they’d still be in the middle of the waves and the wind. They’d still be terrified. The presence of Jesus would have been the same. The outcome would probably have been the same. But what could the disciples’ response to their fear of the storm have been?

Not that trusting Jesus means avoiding storms—absolutely not! Jesus is the one who had them get into the boat to go across to the other side of the sea. He led them into the terror of the storm! Following Jesus may lead us right into chaos and fear! But he goes with us. Trusting that he goes with us can make all the difference.

Since the storms and our fear are out of our control, perhaps our response when terrified might make a difference as to how we handle our fear. When we do face the waves that threaten to drown us, the wind that capsizes us, the fear that paralyses us, what difference might it make to trust in the presence of Jesus in the midst of that storm? How could trusting Jesus change how we approach those things that terrify us? How might our response be different?

Instead of a fearful “God, I’m dying. Don’t you care?” what might be a more trusting response? Not to get Jesus to do what they want, but an expression of their trust in the presence of Jesus in the midst of the waves and the wind and the fear. What would have been better for the disciples to shout? Really. What would have been a response coming from trust rather than from fear? . . .

Think of one for yourself. Say it to yourself. Say it again. Write it down. Say it over and over.

This is your storm prayer. This is your wind and waves prayer. This is what you can now pray when you’re frightened. This is your trusting response.

Everyone’s is going to be a little different, but everyone say their trusting response at the same time. Ready? Together!

Again!

Keep this prayer with you. Every time the waves come, pray it! Jesus is with you in the boat, now we can respond that way. What are you afraid of? Really afraid of? What makes that panicky feeling rise up inside you to where you aren’t sure you can fully control your response? Fear may be there, and the storms and the wind and the waves. But so is Jesus. Now we can respond to him when we’re afraid.

When we pray the prayers of the people later in the service, everyone use this as your response to each prayer petition.

Lord, in your mercy. . .

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Sermon

 

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