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Holy Life Together (Acts 2:43-47)

There are a couple of different things going on here: some miraculous healings, and this band of disciples’ community life together.

Here’s what’s remarkable about this very early community of disciples: everyone was in awe, more and more people were coming each day into this fledgling movement. But it wasn’t because of the signs and wonders. It was because of the way these disciples lived together. It was the things they did as a community together that caused the surrounding neighborhood to sit up and take notice.

They shared all things in common.

They sold their possessions and gave the proceeds away to anyone in need.

They were continually spending time in the temple together in worship and prayer.

They ate together (pot lucks?)

They did all this with glad and generous hearts. They had fun together.

They enjoyed being together. They celebrated time together. It was how they lived that revealed Christ to the broader community.

The signs and wonders were cool. But as is still the case, the impact of signs and wonders is short-lived. I’m sure the wind and fire of Pentecost was astounding, but you can also bet the amazement faded.

Have you ever experienced something you might consider the presence of God, being in the presence of the Divine, or even miraculous? A sunset, a healing, a moment of inspiration, a time of calm in stress.

Those moments are inspirational! They are awesome! They carry you, sometimes for quite a while. We need to share these experiences with each other because they are so inspiring!

But let’s be honest. After a while usually we end up close to where we were before the sign and wonder experience. “What have you done for me lately, God?” we ask. Few people change their view of God in any significant way after an amazing spiritual experience—signs and wonders. They are astounded, they are amazed, they are moved, they may even remember, but rarely changed in any deep way. Signs and wonders are not how disciples are made. And signs and wonders are not how a community of disciples lives.

But, the way we live together, the way we celebrate together, the way we treat each other is how Jesus is most deeply revealed to our neighbors. It’s through us as a community.

Does the LCM community live any differently than any other community? Are we the people that live together with generosity as normal, forgiveness as assumed, giving each other the benefit of the doubt is what’s expected? Do we rush to protect each other from rumors or ridicule? Is our knee-jerk reaction a willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the sake of the LCM community?

Well, sometimes. We’re a mixed bag. We certainly don’t do so perfectly. We hurt each other and hold grudges sometimes. But today, I want to point out and emphasize that whether we feel like it or not, whether we exhibit it all the time or not, we are a community created in the image of God. We actually do reflect Christ. Not because we try so hard to do it, but just because we are bound together by Jesus.

When those Christ-like things happen it is a sign of the presence of Christ binding us together. And it is our relationships to one another that get the long-term attention of our neighborhood. Because it is our relationships to one another in this place that come from and reflect our relationship with God.

Look around this room. Look into the faces of all these gifts God has given us! Look at how blessed and holy we are together! Look how the Divine is real right in this room!

Who here has ever experienced holy care or comfort or support through your association with LCM? Who here knows God better because of your relationships here? Who has ever been a recipient of holy generosity through LCM? Who has been forgiven by someone in LCM? Who is loved by someone at LCM?

Who, then, can do anything but call this congregation holy? We’re a mixed bag, but don’t ever deny our holiness. When we lose sight of the holiness of this congregation, we risk losing sight of God. But the reality is that when we gather together, we gather in the presence of holiness. The way we live together bears that out, for the sake of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Sermon

 

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What Happens When You’re Touched by Holiness?

14th Sunday after Pentecost (B)

Deut 4:1-2,6-9; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

This text is about holy and unholy, Godly and ungodly, even the sources of good and evil. We’ve been led to believe that avoiding unholy things makes you more holy. That not doing evil things will make us good. That doesn’t get at the root cause of unholiness or the source of evil. But we keep trying. That’s why some have interjected views of righteousness and holiness into politics. If you vote with us you’re on the side of good. Vote with them and you are wrong, evil, and responsible for the demise of all things good and holy. When good and evil are made into philosophies or views or political action, we are avoiding what Jesus is telling us here. But, oh, if only it were that simple.

That’s why religion is big business. Behave in certain ways and you are aligned with the will of God. Yes, you can know joy in your marriage if you follow God’s seven steps to a holy relationship. Or send a check to this address and you will be rid of the demons that are making you ill. Or die in a holy cause and you will live forever in the arms of God. Or believe correctly and you can avoid the eternal fires of hell. When good and evil are made into beliefs or behaviors, we are avoiding what Jesus is telling us here. But, oh, of only it were that simple.

This is what the Pharisees and scribes think too. They would teach that the things that were unclean could be made clean through outward actions. Something could be made holy if it went through special purification rituals. This was important. As distinct from all other nations, the Hebrews were given specific instructions concerning cleanness and how to recover it when it had been lost through carelessness or disobedience. The Jews recognized themselves as “a holy people, God’s own people,” and therefore holiness was an important part of their life. Care had to be taken to make sure they remained holy, because holiness was of God, and unholiness was against God. So traditions and rituals developed over the centuries. Different interpretations of these customs evolved, and debates were held around the issue of holiness. The Pharisees were instructors to the people in the laws of holiness, and their interpretations were taken very seriously.

So it was an issue of their very identity as the people of God when people who claimed to be Jews ate unholy food with unholy hands. If you are God’s people, recognize that food is a gift of life from God and treat it as such! Receive it with holy hands! Follow the customary rituals of washing so that unclean, unholy food won’t make you unholy. Your standing with God is at stake! Dress better and you’ll be a better person.

The thinking was that the ordinary, the common, was unclean. If something unclean touched something clean, the clean would be defiled and no longer for God, no longer holy.

But Jesus’ response goes a new direction. Jesus says that evil doesn’t come about from touching unpurified things. Rather, it comes from the sinful nature that’s part of who we are. And so, going through rituals to make things clean and holy cannot make a person holy, because it doesn’t get at the source of the unholiness. You can’t come closer to God through actions beginning on the outside of you any more than adding purified water would cleanse e-coli contaminated water. People who are religious are just as sinful as those who aren’t. It’s much deeper that beliefs or actions.

Worship, prayer, belief, Bible study, kindness, political affiliation, voting record, generosity, good moral character, a specific dress code – none of these make us holier, better, or closer to God. These are external things, outside of us. These are hand-washing actions and cannot begin to touch the sinful nature that exists in our hearts, the very core of our identity.

It’s not what we do that makes us holy or unholy, good or evil. If that were the case, then all we’d have to do was quit doing bad things and we’d all be cured. Quit fighting and wars would stop. Be kind to others and your world would be a kinder place. Stop being self-centered and you would be happier. Dress better and global warming is stopped.

But we know those things don’t work. We’ve been trying it since Genesis 3 and it hasn’t worked yet. Being good can’t begin on the outside. Jesus says we have to get at the source, the heart. That can’t come from what we do. It has to come from God. And that is what Jesus is all about. His purpose here is not to show us a new, improved way to behave. It isn’t to give us good moral instruction. As God the Son, the holiest of the holy, Jesus came amongst the unholy, the sinful to make us holy. He came to bring us into God’s own holiness. He came to touch us with his holiness, to give us a new and holy heart. He came amongst us to take on the power of evil – at its very core, within us – and make it holy. And he came to give that new and holy heart to us. In him we are made holy. As he changes us from within we are made holy.

Of course, not everything about us is unholy and evil. We are created in the image of God and have capacity for great goodness and selfless compassion. But I believe his point is that holiness changes unholiness. The holy touches the unholy, the clean touches the unclean, the right and good and generous and merciful touches the corrupt, the self-centered, the evil – and it is changed.

That is the hope of the world. That’s how the world will change – as God continues to touch it in holiness. As God continues to touch us.

Jesus comes amongst us to touch us with holiness. And then to call us, as people made holy, to touch others with that same holiness. We show compassion and love and mercy and forgiveness to each other and the world, not to become holier people, but to make the world a holier place.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Sermon

 

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