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The Power of a Vulnerable God (March 19, 2017)

John 4:5-42

So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Here’s my current strategy with the gospel of John. I take a small piece—usually one I can’t understand—preach myself into a corner, and see if Jesus will get me out. For now, at least, it seems to work.  The small piece that caught me is Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink.

If you were here last week, I pointed out that Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night—in the dark. This is a metaphor in John for “not getting it,” for “being in the dark.” He is a male, a Jew, a leader in Jerusalem, well-versed and well-respected.

This woman is, obviously, female, is a Samaritan (enemies of the Jews). She’s had a difficult life and pretty much everything she knows about God and/or religion is, from the perspective of a Jewish rabbi, wrong.

But, she meets Jesus at noon—the brightest part of the day. She, unlike Nicodemus last week, is “in the light.” Right away, doesn’t that make you curious? What does she get that a religious leader and teacher of God’s law doesn’t? What is happening in this story?

“Give me a drink,” Jesus asks her. It is a request. He’s simply asking her for some water. It’s her well, after all. And she has the only bucket around.

And, there it is. He asks her for water.

This is Jesus, right? Son of the Almighty God. Second person of the Holy Trinity. Performer of miracles. Doer of signs and wonders. Why doesn’t he create a bucket of his own and draw his own water? Why doesn’t he just make the water come up out of the well by itself and hover right in front of him? Why doesn’t he just miraculously dig his own well with sparkling water? I mean, it’s Jesus, after all. I’m sure he’s share it with her. Or just miraculously hydrate himself.

He’s got all the power, right? Putting aside the Divine thing, from a human perspective he has the advantage too. He is Jewish, he’s male, and he’s respected as a rabbi, a teacher. He’s got every advantage. Why not just make this simple and use his advantage to quench his thirst?

But that’s not what he does. He is tired and he is thirsty. He’s not in his home territory. And so he gives up power, privilege, and advantage and gives it over to her. He becomes vulnerable to her. He submits himself to her and asks her if she would use her bucket and her well to help him. As tired and as thirsty as he is, he allows her to exercise her power over him.

And he has to cross some cultural boundaries to do so. He’s male, she’s female; he’s Jewish, she’s Samaritan. In both cases, he’s not supposed to even talk with her, much less establish a relationship and give her an advantage over him.

Why does he do this? For the same reason Jesus does everything—vulnerability and inclusivity reveal the character of God.

How different is Jesus’ understanding of God than mine! I want an almighty God of strength who uses that strength to help me out. I want a God who is will intervene when I am in need. A God who, because I believe, will give me an advantage over others—the unbelievers and the unrighteous.

The bottom line is that, if God isn’t powerful and giving the advantage to those of us on the inside, what good is that?

This is not exactly the way Jesus goes about it, though. Jesus reveals a God who gives up power. A God who’s more interested in relationship than advantage. A God who is vulnerable. A God who is thirsty and asks for a drink. What good is a God like that?

I had an experience this week that showed me. I was visiting someone in the hospital this week and the spouse of the sick person was there. The one who was sick couldn’t feed themselves or even talk. Completely vulnerable with no advantage whatsoever at that point. But the spouse lovingly fed their sick loved-one a mouthful at a time, talking and smiling and encouraging all the while in genuine love and openness.

I realized, at that moment, how powerfully God was present. This was a #HolyMoment. God was there in the connection between these two. A connection that can only happen when they are open and vulnerable to the other.

God doesn’t come in the power and the morality and the strength and the righteousness. No, God is present in the space created by vulnerability and openness to the other. God is present when we give up our advantage for the sake of an open connection to another person. God is present in that vulnerable space.

Like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.

There are four newly resettled refugee families in our church neighborhood. Without knowing it, certainly without choosing it, they are offering us an opportunity to experience the presence of God. They are, right now, quite vulnerable and powerless in a new country. We have every advantage.

Today, let’s give up our advantage. Let’s welcome them as people of dignity and worth. This is Jesus at the well. We have an amazing opportunity to include people with openness and grace. One way is spending time making welcome cards for each family. More than that, cards of gratitude.

In addition to providing material needs for these families that come out of our abundance (i.e., advantage), today let’s make ourselves vulnerable for their sake. Let’s pour out ourselves in love and gratitude. Let’s humble ourselves in their presence. Then, let’s see the presence of God in that space of openness.

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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Sermon

 

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OK, Really. Are You the One? Will You Change the World? You? (Dec. 11, 2016)

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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.

One of my professional passions is in the area of those outside of the church. I’ve spent years of study, conversation, and trial-and-error in connecting with many of these people. I’ve recently been on a journey of discovery about our Millennials (that generation that is between 20 and 35 years of age), and why they by-and-large are uninterested in church—or, if present, see the church quite differently.

First to those of you who are under 40. We haven’t listened to you very well. I don’t have easy answers, but do know that those of us who are older have to take your views more seriously than we have. The fact that an entire generation is largely missing from Christian congregations of all stripes means that what we are doing isn’t significant to you. And research indicates that once you leave you aren’t likely to come back, even if you have children (which worked for previous generations). I’m hearing you say that you find no compelling reason to be part of a congregational community. Everything you would get from a church that would be of value you can get at least as well somewhere else.

No only do many of you as youth and young adults find the church not really helpful, but your view of the church and Christianity is more negative than positive. You often categorize the church as hypocritical, judgmental, exclusive, homophobic, and more into political power than loving our neighbors. Not every congregation falls into that generalization, and I think LCM does a little better than some. But unfortunately, we all get lumped together whether we like it or not.

Few positives and lots of negatives. Makes for a grim outlook for the future of LCM and the rest of the church, doesn’t it?

I don’t necessarily think so. I bring this up on the 3rd Sunday of Advent because I think John the Baptist can actually help us all understand some things. John the Baptist gets you, I think. He asks questions of Jesus that sound a lot like the questions you ask.

John’s in prison in this text, having been arrested by King Herod for opening his mouth once too often. But regardless, from prison he hears about Jesus’ ministry and sends some of his own followers to question Jesus. Well, just one question. “Are you the Messiah, or should we keep looking?” Are you really going to make a difference, or just another religious hypocrite.

Jesus’ answer: Tell John what you see. Blind see, lame walk, lepers healed, deaf hear, dead live, poor have good news.

John is asking Jesus the same kinds of questions that many of you younger people are asking. Is the message of church significant for me? Are church people serious about God’s love and compassion? Do you really care? When we look at you, will we get a clear picture of this Jesus you talk about?

And apparently, you’re not getting great answers to your questions. You look at the church as see the same judgmental, closed-minded, hypocritical people you see everywhere else. And the church therefore looks no different than any other volunteer organization.

I hope you give us another chance. There are significant things that can happen through this church. There are some powerfully good things here. We are an organization that is built on love for all people, justice for all people, peace for all people, compassion for all people. The church has changed history, and in some pretty amazing ways. Hospitals, education, care for the poor, asylum for refugees, standing with those who are not part of the power structure—these are all things the church has a history of initiating. And we do so because of Jesus, actually. We may not follow him perfectly (and never will), but as long as we’re connecting to him we will feed the hungry, serve the poor, stand with the oppressed. We will follow Jesus in changing the world. You can’t judge the path based on those who are walking on it. To be the church in the world Jesus envisions, we need your help.

Now to those of us who are older—40s on up. It’s not that people younger than you are opposed to God, but they are opposed to much of what they see being done in God’s name. They often see a church that talks badly about people. A church that claims their God loves everyone, but won’t stand up for the poor. A church whose God calls them to help those who are discriminated against, but isn’t putting much effort into it. A church that claims to follow Jesus in loving all people, even his enemies, yet seems to exist primarily for itself.

What do you think people see when they look at LCM? A church that is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the world around us, or yet one more judgmental group of people.

Though we are serious about God’s compassion and live that out every day, we can take more seriously how we reflect the Christ who forgives all.

We send fifty-six 6th graders to Outdoor Lab, but we can acknowledge we don’t always emphasize living as disciples of Jesus.

We can serve the neighborhood around us, but still need to listen to the critiques and repent when they are valid.

As we struggle to love God, each other, and our neighbors, we can be honest about our struggle to love God, each other, and our neighbors.

When people ask, “Does LCM have anything worthwhile for my life?” we can respond with honesty, “What do you see? Imperfect people, yes, but also lives that are now changed, people that are now loved, hopeless that now have hope, the poor that now have good news.”

The future can be very good. We just need to be willing to be changed by two things: by God’s love for us shown to us in Jesus. And by the cries of people who need that love shown to them.

John’s question is that simple, “Are you going to change the world?” And Jesus’ answer is that simple, “What do you see?”

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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“Dressed for Action” (August 7, 2014)

This sermon can also be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood/

Luke 12:32-40

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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.

A week ago we took 12 LCM young people up to Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp. Before that, however, we had a lot of preparation to do We had made our reservations months before. The kids participated in multiple fund-raisers. There were physical exams, immunizations to be done and forms to be filled out. There were down payments and personal accounts to be kept track of.

Lists of what to bring and what not to bring were sent. Rides up to camp were arranged. Rides back home were planned.

Then there was the packing. It can get cold at 9000 ft, so jackets and long-sleeved shirts are necessary. It’s hot during the day, so summer clothing is nLooking.for.Godeeded. Plus shoes for playing, boots for hiking, sleeping bags, bug spray, extra socks, water bottles. A lot of preparation went into this one week.

But last Sunday, 12 kids were packed and ready. 12 kids, many of whom weren’t sure what they were getting into, loaded into cars one way or another and took off for the best week of the summer.

This gospel text today would describe them as “dressed for action with their lamps lit.” When it was time for camp to start at Sky Ranch, all 12 of our kids were ready. Because they, with their parents and with the support of their church, had prepared for that week.

This convoluted gospel reading in Luke is about that. God is on the move, and we are to be ready to be part of God’s work and God’s mission when those opportunities rise up. Jesus is telling us to be ready for him to come and knock on our door so we can be part of what he’s getting ready to do. He calls us to be ready, because you never know when Jesus is going to invite us into something big. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

So what will it be that Jesus calls us into? What big thing will God beLooking.for.God.1

doing that we need to be ready for? Racial justice? Homelessness? Children’s health? Hunger? Poverty? Or something we haven’t thought about yet? A major project that will take years, or a small act that may seem almost trivial? Whatever it is, be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

Last week we took part in some reconciliation with the Police Department and the African American community. There was some real energy around that. Part of it was one worship, so the room had more people, but there was more going on. God’s work of unity and reconciliation was being accomplished. Jesus came and knocked on our door. And I think we were ready. I think that we were dressed for action with our lamps lit. Jesus knocked, we opened the door, and a little more unity—a little more reconciliation came into the world. That’s what Jesus is making available to us. This is what he’s telling us to be prepared for. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For the children at Molholm Elementary, Green Mountain Elementary, and throughout Jeffco who may have to start school without school supplies, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For the homeless who may sleep tonight with empty stomachs, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For those around the world with no means of feeding themselves, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

For those who are pushed around by bullies on the playground, or by employers who care more for profit than decency, or by local governments who cater to the powerful rather than defend the powerless, Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

When Jesus comes knocking, be ready to open the door. When God moves in compassion, be prepared to follow.

It’s one thing to talk about being ready, another to actually do the prep work. The best way is to be able to recognize God at work. You can’t join God if you don’t see God. So rather than focusing on the darkness and the evil and the hatred that get so much of the attention around us, we can also look for the mercy, the compassion, the kindness, the efforts to bring peace and reconciliation that are happening right now. Watch for those, pay attention. God is doing this all around us—we need to see them.

So that we can be ready to join God in them.

To help us be dressed for action with our lamps lit, we have Looking for God booklets today. This is an idea from my friend Alexa Schroeder from Sky Ranch. I encourage you to pick one up and use it. It’s quite simple: each page has a different characteristic of God on it. Each day you watch for that characteristic happening, and you jot it down. For instance, day 1 is “Joyfulness.” On day 1 watch for something joyful, because that is God at work. Perhaps you can even join God in bringing joy to someone else that day. It’s amazing that when you’re looking for something you begin to see it. Being dressed for action with our lamps lit starts very simply. Watch for Jesus.

We had 12 kids watching for camp to begin. They knew it was happening so they could be ready.

We are people who are watching for God in action. We can know it’s happening so we can be ready.

God is at work in our world. God invites us to join in. Get ready. Be dressed for action with your lamps lit.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Compassion is Shown, God Become Visible (June 5, 2016, Pentecost 3 C)

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

This is a story that strikes us as unusual, because people just aren’t raised from the dead very often. Not that we hear about. But it’s not unheard of biblically. Our first reading is one of those times, and there are a few others. Yet always it’s about the glory of God, and the person raising someone from death is proclaimed a prophet of God.

The same with Jesus today. Only to a bigger degree. He raises this man in front of the whole town, it’s public. And their praise of God and proclamation of Jesus as a prophet are louder and longer. Prophets reveal God’s intentions. Jesus reveals God.

Jesus recognizes he is one in whom God becomes visible. He reveals over and over the presence of God, and how God sees the world and how God’s vision is different. He understands that his “job” is to proclaim that God can be seen because God is here, and then show it regardless of the cost. Which means he consistently shows compassion, love, and forgiveness. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

So it’s consistent with Jesus to see a woman who is now hopeless. Not only has she lost her primary means of support (her husband), but now has lost any hope for her future (in the death of her only son). She is completely powerless now and is nothing more than an object of pity. So Jesus shows compassion and restores her son. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

This is more than just a story of bringing someone back to life. Look at how Jesus reveals God. Take a look at what compassion looks like for him.

He’s traveling with his disciples, presumably on other business, when he sees this woman.

He sees her.

It’s hard to show compassion unless you see the need. In our busy lives, it’s much easier to look away, ignore, or make judgments about those in need of compassion. It’s inconvenient to take notice. Even if we do notice them, too often we blame them for their situation or rationalize why we don’t need to show compassion.

But Jesus sees this woman. He understands her situation. He doesn’t think about the inconvenience or whether or not she should have had a better financial plan. He sees her pain, sees her grief, sees her vulnerability. When you see someone’s hurt, you have the opportunity to show compassion.

Who in need of compassion are we noticing? Who in need of compassion are we not noticing? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

Seeing her, Jesus then speaks to her. A personal contact. Words that show he sees her difficulty. “Don’t cry.” More than just noticing she’s in pain, he makes contact with her. He walks alongside her. He enters her life.

Writing a check to a good cause is a good thing, but entering the lives of those to whom you are trying to show compassion is another. There’s something consoling about being present with people. Even if you can’t fix the situation, you can be present with someone. There’s power in showing up. Spending time with someone reveals compassion.

Who can you show up for? Who can you get to know? Who can you meet and listen to? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Seeing the woman, and being present with her, he then acts to lessen her difficulty. This is a situation where he can actually do that. You and I can’t raise someone from the dead (I don’t think), but we can spend time at the Action Center, we can be a Big Brother or Big Sister, we can record books for the blind, we can build houses with Habitat for Humanity. We can bring someone a meal. We can say a prayer. We can mail someone a card.

Whose suffering can you lessen? How can your time be spent to make a difference for someone else? When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

Jesus is the one who shows us the heart of God. He does so through his compassion for others, regardless of their situation, or reasons, or choices.

Jesus sees you, he is present with you, and he steps into your life in compassion.

And he invites us to join him in doing so for others. To pay attention and see the suffering of others, to listen to them and be present with them, and to step in on their behalf to make a difference for them.

In other words, to show compassion and reveal God. When compassion is shown, God becomes visible.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Why is the Church Here? (Mark 12:38-44)

 

What do you think of the poor widow in this text giving away everything she has to live on? Is she someone we should emulate? Is she a model of stewardship? Should we feel guilty if we don’t give away everything we have? Is she just being irresponsible?

Notice that Jesus doesn’t commend her for contributing all she had to live on, nor does he tell his disciples to “go and do likewise.” Why she gives away everything isn’t actually the point here.

The first part of this text, in fact, this whole section of Mark’s gospel, is an escalation of the conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities (scribes and pharisees). The reason why this conflict is escalating is really the point. This poor widow stands in stark contratst to the scribes.

Scribes are denounced by Jesus because the way they are on the inside of a temple system that benefits them. They’re not stealing or anything. The customs and rules of the temple have been in place for centuries. There were 13 “trumpets” for offerings in one of the courtyards. They funded the running of the temple, made it convenient for sacrifices, helped the poor, and so on. The scribes aren’t doing anything unexpected, illegal, or dishonest. They are doing what everyone knows the temple has always done. It’s not their fault that it works for them. They just want respect, best seats, places of honor, look good to others (long robes and long prayers). Since it works for them, they don’t want this temple setup to change.

The contrast Jesus makes is between the scribes who are part of a temple where their needs are met vs. the poor widow who is on the outside edge of the temple community but whose needs are not met, and yet still gives all she has.

The deeper question Jesus is asking is, “Why is the temple here, and whose needs are being met by it?” And he has a problem with the answer, because even though the temple is a community of God’s people for God’s work, that’s not what is happening. It’s a system that sustains those on the inside, the scribes and Pharisees, while virtually ignoring the needs of people like this poor widow. Of course the scribes are most comfortable with it. It’s working for them! Instead of caring about this poor widow, the scribes are more concerned with maintaining a church system that meets their needs.

Oh, those nasty scribes! How dare they?! It’s so easy to judge them, because we are nothing like them! Right? . . .

Can you guess where I’m going here? How many of us, when looking for a church or critiquing a church, ask the question, “What does this church offer me? How can it benefit me? What can it meet the needs of my family?” and use that answer to evaluate that church? If I’m not getting what I want in one church, I’ll check out another one that will give it to me.

Again, Jesus asks the deeper question, “Why is the church here, and whose needs are being met by it?”

Jesus has been, and is now, leading up to a total denouncing of the temple system because those who are inside are the ones who benefit. Rather than using the temple to serve others in God’s name, the scribes use it for their own comfort and benefit, to meet their own needs.

So I wonder, why are we here in this place? What’s our primary concern about whose needs should be met by this church?

Jesus makes it very plain that he and the community of his disciples are here first for those outside, those on the margins, the poor, the lost, the helpless. We, as followers of Jesus, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit not primarily for ourselves but for those Jesus came to serve. If we, and our families, and our friends, are the primary beneficiaries of our own congregational system, we will be continually disappointed and frustrated in the church. Because that’s not the core identity of the church, not what the church is here for. Jesus is calling us to something else–a life in which we are not the center. We are called to give ourselves away. Our whole lives. For the sake of those the rest of the world disregards.

What would be different if that whole temple system was set up to meet the needs of people like this poor widow who has nothing—no income, no support, no security? What if she was the primary beneficiary rather than those inside?

That’s where Jesus’ conflict with the scribes and Pharisees is leading him. Jesus challenges systems that aren’t serving others. He calls out religious people, acting in God’s name, who believe the church should primarily benefit themselves. Jesus keeps trying, over and over, to get his disciples to see this. This is what God is about. This is what the Jesus community exists for.

If there’s any conflict in the church today, it’s over the same thing. Does the church primarily exist to serve its members, or does it primarily exist to serve the world Jesus died to save?

LCM is at a perfect point, right now, to clarify our answer that question. Why is the church here? Why is LCM here? For those of us on the inside of this church, whose needs should be considered first?

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Right Belief: Making a Case that it Doesn’t Really Matter (Mark 8:27-38)

 

Have you ever had this experience? When people discover that you come here to church, you get a response like, Yeah, I believe in God but I’m just not into the church thing.

Most people are pretty moral, trustworthy, knowledgeable, faithful, people of good character. Society usually thinks well of them, and most people respect them and hold them in high regard. Most of us believe in God and many would call Jesus “Messiah.”

So what’s the problem? If they’re good people, believe in God, not bothering anyone, is anything wrong?

Most of us, honestly, would say, “Can’t think of much wrong.”

Perhaps that’s the problem. We’re focusing on what we think instead of what God thinks. Peter gets the answer right, “You’re the Messiah,” and though Jesus tells him he got the answer right, he also ends up telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  So apparently, believing in God and recognizing who Jesus is may not be what God is after.

From a human perspective, we try hard to do the right things and believe the right things. But again, according to Jesus’ response to Peter, God’s perspective is different.

Peter was the first disciple to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but was also the one who Jesus called Satan and who denied even knowing Jesus later. When our emphasis is limited to correct beliefs, our minds are on human things.

And yet we still pour all our effort into climbing this ladder of righteousness. And Jesus calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

So we try even harder –proclaim the highest morality in God’s name, put a fish on our car, avoid any semblance of hypocrisy, maintain the highest integrity, tell others about Jesus, become a model for others.And Jesus still calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

The problem isn’t our effort at believing correctly. The problem is that we think our correct belief counts. We think this belief is what ultimately makes us right before God. But no matter how much we get it right, how high we climb, how good we are, Jesus still calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

As long as we are measuring our own beliefs we are setting our minds on human things, not divine things. And our best efforts end up with our lives denying the things of God.

Jesus reveals the divine things, the things of God. God comes down and meets us in our brokenness, helplessness, unbelief. God comes among us, separate from our correct beliefs. God offers forgiveness and life in a way unconnected from our own righteousness. And God loves us not because of our beliefs, but because it is the divine thing.

God simply loves us. That is the divine thing. This is the role of the Messiah—to put skin on the depth of that love. That is how God makes us new. That is the thing that counts. That can never be changed by good character or right believing. God’s love for you. The divine thing. This is a gift from God revealed through Jesus, the Messiah.

Broken people, sinful people, unworthy people, unbelieving people, cast-off people, people on the edges, even you are loved by God. Because it is God’s way, the divine thing.

That is where God meets us. That is how God comes to us. That is how God makes us new. That is the good news of Jesus the Messiah. That is how God is entering our lives even now. Love.

Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious people, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

God’s love is costly. But it is life. So we give up the life of human thinking and pick up our cross of love, follow Jesus in the way of loving others, and we experience the gift of our lives being given to us through love.

The fact of being loved by God is our experience of the divine thing. That love oozing out of us for the sake of others is setting our minds on the divine thing.

Calling Jesus the Messiah is the right thing. But following that Messiah in love is the divine thing: loving our enemies, loving those we disagree with, loving those who hurt us, loving those who don’t deserve it. And that is the love that God pours on you continuously. That is the love God has for you. The divine thing is love.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Wherever We Draw Dividing Lines, God Has Already Erased Them (Eph 2:11-22)

I was having a conversation a while back with someone. As sometimes happens when we allow it, the conversation turned to things spiritual. In the course of the conversation I asked this person why they didn’t take part in a church. They said, “God and I are OK, so I don’t really need a church.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say, and, of course, couldn’t think of anything at the moment. So I went deep and offered the profound, wise response of, “Oh . . . OK.”

But that comment has stuck with me. If, as Ephesians says in chapter one (last week), God’s work of saving all creation and all people is now in place, then what do we need a church for? If all obstacles between humanity and God have been removed, then “God and me” are OK. So what’s the point of the church?

These verses in Ephesians give us a glimpse of an answer. The author starts by stating that in the cross, Jesus has “[created] in himself one new humanity . . . thus making peace.”

“One new humanity.” Jesus has created peace by creating one new humanity. Out of divided people, both Jews and Gentiles claiming the way of righteousness, each claiming to be better, each blaming the other for their woes, each focusing on the differences between them, Jesus has created something new in himself. One new humanity, reconciled to God and to each other through the cross. In Jesus the whole household of God is joined together, built together, reconciled together, with Jesus as the cornerstone of the whole structure. If there’s any disunity, it’s our doing, not God’s. We are the ones who put up divisions. And then we have the audacity to use God’s name to maintain these divisions.

The God who is reconciling all creation has also created a church with a particular purpose: to reveal God–which means God’s reconciliation–to the world. We can’t expect the world to get along if we can’t. How can we expect the peace of God in the world when the church isn’t boldly loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us? God’s church keeps separating, dividing, splitting and splintering over issues of doctrine or being “more right” than someone else, and then somehow we think the world is going to see God through our actions?

I caught part of the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night included betowing the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner–formerly Bruce Jenner. Regardless of any controversy around how she got the award, I find it sad that it’s the people who claim reconciliation in Christ who are often the most critical of her as a transgendered woman. Either we are reconciled in Christ or we are not. Either we trust God’s work on the cross or we don’t. We can’t have it both ways. If we are reconciled to God in Christ, then we are reconciled to one another in Christ too. It’s the same reconciling work. The cross has made us all one in Jesus.

Yes, each one of us is OK with God, but that means that we have to be OK with each other. The divisions we create–no matter where–are denials of Christ’s work on the cross.

Draw divisions wherever you want: male/female, young/old, long-timer/newcomer, 8:00/10:30, heretical /orthodox, active/inactive, progressive/conservative, gay/straight, Christian/Muslim, natural-born/immigrant. It doesn’t matter. Because God has already made peace between whatever groups we’re talking about. There is now just one new humanity with Jesus as the cornerstone of it. The dividing line has been erased. We are one instead of two, reconciled through the cross. The hostility between any of us has been put to death. In Jesus the whole thing is joined together. To deny another person–no matter who they are–is to deny Jesus.

When we pray today, let’s be sure to pray for our enemies, those we disagree with, those who’ve hurt us, those we are convinced God shouldn’t love. Whether we can love them or not, God already does. Whether we include them or not, God already has. Whether we are reconciled with them or not, they are already OK with God.

There is now one new humanity. We just have to admit it.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Sermon

 

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