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C’mon, Jesus, Give Us a Win! (April 14, 2019)

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Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the 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.

Let’s go back in time to March 20, 2012. That was the day Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. Remember how excited we all were? After several years of falling short, we in Denver wanted another Superbowl victory, and we believed this was the quarterback who could give us that. We wanted the win. On March 20, 2012 we were all filled with renewed hope. It was a new day, a new era. We had reason to be excited, because the chances of victory had just increased exponentially. And it proved true. Two Superbowl appearances and one Lombardi Trophy back in Denver. March 20, 2012 was a day we could celebrate.

OK, so what if we later found out that Peyton Manning’s agenda wasn’t to win a Superbowl, but was something else entirely? What if his whole purpose in coming to Denver in 2012 was to make the NFL into a completely new sport? Not even a sport at all, but into more of a book club?

If we found that to be true, all of us who had put our hope in him for a Broncos Superbowl victory would be pretty disappointed—even angry—when we found out about that, wouldn’t we? We’d feel betrayed.

That’s kind of the feeling of Palm Sunday. Only rather than a Superbowl win, for Israel it’s freedom from Roman oppression. That’s the Lombardi trophy; that’s the victory; that’s the hope; that’s the excitement.

Jesus, the hero of this hope, is on his way, riding on what Luke describes as a colt, descending down the path from the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. As he makes his way, people keep spreading their cloaks on the path in front of him because he’s going to bring us this victory. He’s got winner written all over him. He will bring the trophy of Freedom back to Jerusalem and all Israel.

Now, as he is getting closer to the city gates, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice . . . saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Can you see why this crowd is so excited? Jesus is entering Jerusalem, which means victory is at hand. So of course they are calling him a king. He is the one who will restore Israel. He will bring our victory. He is our hope, our savior.

The crowds are hailing him as king because they want a victory and they think Jesus can get it for them. But how do they think Jesus is going to fulfill this hope? . . . Their expectations can only match their experience. Victory will come through what they know—power, strength, violence, overcoming Rome with some kind of military victory. That’s how you score a win.

Jesus is coming into Jerusalem, but he does it with a completely different agenda. He comes knowing that what he stands for will get him killed. For Jesus this isn’t about getting a win for the home team over their arch-rival, Rome. For Jesus this is about putting into practice everything he’s been teaching and preaching his whole ministry. It’s about the presence of the reign of God, the kingdom of God, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s not about achieving victory over Rome, it’s about living God’s way of compassion, unconditional love, peace, and forgiveness right up to the end. It’s about living in God’s way regardless of the consequences. It’s about his words and his actions matching up. He will show compassion, even if he’s arrested. He will show love, even if he’s tortured. He will show forgiveness even if he’s killed.

The crowd hails him as a king, which is true, and therefore needs to be celebrated! But ironically his kingdom is way different than they think it is. Jesus will reveal God’s kingdom of compassion with every breath he has because it is God’s way—whether anyone agrees or not.

And when the crowds, who do disagree, discover that his victory isn’t what they think it ought to be, they feel betrayed. They won’t be able to contain their disappointment. In their anger they will turn on him. That’s the undercurrent within the parades and celebrations of Palm Sunday. You could see that in the video (“Hosanna, Hey-sanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar, 40th Anniversary edition, 2000 film).

We live in this same Palm Sunday tension. We have expectations of Christ, and they aren’t always met. We want the win, but we don’t see how the way of Jesus can ever bring it. We think that only strength and power can bring triumph, yet the will of God doesn’t ever go there. We want victory over all evil, sickness, war, poverty, and hardship. And we turn to Jesus for that. Sometimes we can even celebrate him as king over those things. But when he doesn’t act in power, when he doesn’t intimidate our enemies and conquer all the wrongs of this world with his mighty arm, we have a hard time containing our disappointment. Like the Palm Sunday crowds, we just don’t see how this commitment to compassion and love for all can ever accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

Jesus, we thought you were the one. But evil and suffering and poverty and adversity are still very much a part of our world. We put our hope in you, Jesus, and you’ve let us down. We call you Lord and Messiah, but you just aren’t getting the job done. So we’ll do it our way—with force and violence if necessary. If you won’t protect us, we’ll protect ourselves.

God’s way of peace, of compassion, of dignity for the poor, of unconditional love don’t always make sense in our world of where the strongest win. But they are God’s ways nonetheless, which makes them necessary. And God’s way for the world has come in Jesus! If we don’t celebrate that, “the rocks and stones themselves will start to sing.”

Yes, praise, sing, shout, celebrate! God’s reign is on the move! It may not be what we think we want, but it is even better news than that! It is God’s good news for all creation! The reign of God is here! And as we’ll find out in the events of this coming Holy Week, ultimately nothing can stop God’s ways. Not strength, not violence, not power, not money. Not even death. And so we do shout and sing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2019 in Sermon

 

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It’s All About Hope, Even in the Church (Dec 9, 2018)

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ “

One thing most all of us have in common, I think, is that we all want to make a difference. We all want to believe we are valued and that what we have to contribute to the world around us is worthwhile.

Which is one reason why we seek some sense of power and influence. Because it’s from those positions that we can have an impact. When we have some authority we can more quickly make changes that we believe will improve things. Sometimes that influence is abused and is used for selfish purposes, but often the intention is good. Make a difference, be the change, improve the world. If you’re not recognized as influential, no one will ever know whether or not what you can contribute would be helpful.

We’ve got in this text a whole line-up of power players. Luke lists a virtual “Who’s who” of authorities and big-time players. Emperors, governors, rulers of various regions, and high priests. Political and religious influencers. Everyone who can have an impact on the world around them is listed.

And then comes John the Baptist. This guy who’s living out in the desert, wearing camel’s hair and eating bugs. Pretty significant contrast between the Emperor of the most powerful nation the world had ever known and this “possibly” sane man screaming quotes from old-time prophets out in the wilderness.

And yet, Luke makes clear, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God sent it through wilderness-John, the bug-eater. And I think we would all say that if there’s any hope for the world at all, God would certainly be at the top of the list of providers. And bug-eater John is who and how God brings a word of hope into the world.

One of the things I learned on my “Listening Tour” sabbatical is how lots of people view the church. The church is seen by many (both inside and outside the church) as similar to John the Baptist. Maybe the church used to be influential, but now it’s just kind of quaint. A group of kind of naïve do-gooders who are just a bit out of touch. The church would be a good place, perhaps, to bring your kids so they can learn how to be nice and moral citizens. But not much more. If you are looking for charity, go to the church. But if you’re looking to change the world, you gotta go to the power-players, the influential folks. Go to the people and the institutions that give you the best hope of making a difference. That is not perceived as the church.

And yet, when a word of hope is needed in the world, God has sent it through the church. I think the more the world looks to power for hope, the more important the message of hope from the church becomes. What so many people consider to be the least likely source of life-changing hope becomes an instrument used by God for that very purpose.

Advent is all about hope, and how God reveals it.

Today, Daniel P, from our council’s vision team, will share experiences of God hope revealed in this church.

Next week, Venessa V will share how God’s hope is revealed in our neighborhood.

And two weeks from now, our Bishop, Jim Gonia, will talk about God’s hope being revealed in our world.

Advent is the season of hope. It’s all about hope. And God’s hope is sometimes revealed in the least likely ways through the least likely people. Blessed Advent. May it be filled with renewed hope for you.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Sermon

 

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A Place at the Table (Oct 21, 2018)

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus]and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Well, whatever’s going on in this text can’t be good. “OK, Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask.” Promise that first and then we’ll tell you what we want. Deal?

What could possibly go wrong here?

Can you just see Jesus rolling his eyes? Can you hear the deep sigh as he fortifies his patience?

“What is it you want me to do for you?” he asks.

James and John pull him a little further away from the others. Then they lean in close and whisper, “We want to be on either side of you when you become king. We want to ride your coattails into power. We want to sit in the best seats in positions glory. C’mon, Jesus, you know we’re your favorite apostles.”

With a sad look in his eyes, Jesus slowly shakes his head and says “You still don’t get it. Getting more power over others and benefitting yourself is the opposite of how God’s reign works. The ‘way’ of the cross is the way of serving others, giving up power so those without it have equal places at the table.” And then watch when we get to Jerusalem. Watch as I’m arrested, spit at, beaten, mocked, and put on a cross. I’ll show you what this cup is that you want to drink. I’ll show you what this baptism is that you’re so excited about. It’s the opposite of what you think—the opposite of what you want. So be careful. You may just get what you’re asking for. What is greatness?

So I’m wondering before hearing this text, if asked who’s the greatest person you know–would your answer be different than if you were asked now? Isn’t our first, immediate thought someone who is powerful, famous, influential–more along the lines of what James and John are looking for? But then Jesus’ definition sinks in a bit, and we have to rethink it. So go ahead and rethink it. By Jesus’ definition, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all,” who is the greatest person you know? . . .

Let me tell you about a great person I met in Jackson, MS this summer. I’d just spend a couple of days in Mississippi, and was finding this state to be both hopeful and frustrating. There were definite signs, not only of the deep and cruel racism that were glaring parts of its history, but also signs of genuine striving for inclusivity and equality. Yet there seemed to be a tiredness, an acceptance by blacks of their lesser places at the table and a refusal by whites to actually acknowledge their seats of privilege. I was confused because MS has the largest percentage of black citizens of any state in the country, and I couldn’t understand why there was such a repressive imbalance of power.

So, on my last night in Jackson, MS, I met a great person. She was a black woman about 25-30 years old and was serving tables at the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. She was competent, attentive, funny, personable, and was on her way to earning a pretty good tip. We were getting along fine.

On a whim, since it was my last night in MS, I called her over and wondered if she’d answer a question for me. “Sure, if I can,” she said.

I explained to her how I was feeling about this state of Mississippi, and wondered if she had any insights (this was a “listening tour” sabbatical, remember?). “With such a high percentage of black citizens,” I pursued, “why does there seem to be this oppressive undertone? Am I misreading something?”

“No,” she replied. And then she said some things I found incredibly courageous—and that revealed her greatness. “I find it confusing too. I’m not from MS originally—I’ve only lived here for a couple of years. But, yes, for some reason I can’t figure out the power here is still held by whites.”

Then she said what I consider to be the most courageous—and the greatest—thing of all. “For instance, in this hotel, all the service employees are black, and all the managers are white.”

Even though she didn’t know anything about me, who I was, or why I was asking, she spoke up on behalf of blacks who may well be stuck in service jobs relying on tips or minimum wage to pay rent. For all she knew I could’ve been a friend of management coming to check up on how well the service employees were doing their jobs. There were many scenarios where someone like me could have had her fired.

But from her position of relatively little power, she spoke a truth that revealed her greatness. The blindness to power and privilege on the part of management was laid bare by this waitress. A place at the table for all.

The white management of that hotel seeks to sit, one at the right hand and one at the left of glory, clinging to seats of power and refusing to acknowledge any injustice. In the words of Jesus, they lord their power over others and are tyrants over them. And a black table server, drinking the cup that Jesus drinks, the cup of what could have been a huge personal sacrifice, took a risk of becoming last of all by speaking up for service employees who need a place at the table. That’s the greatness Jesus talks about. That’s the greatness James and John don’t understand. That’s the greatness of Jesus himself, and this is the greatness that reveals the nature of God.

It’s the greatness of Jesus that has opened the kingdom of heaven. It is the greatness of Jesus that includes even us. And it’s this greatness of Jesus we are now called to reveal, and then to emulate. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Who opens up places at the table? Who extends the table to include more? Who gives up cushy seats of honor and privilege so that others can share? That person may be the greatest person you know.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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The Power of Powerlessness (Ash Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018)

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— 2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. . . .
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?’ “

As the people of Jerusalem try to rebuild the city after returning from a 70 year exile held captive in Babylon. They are experiencing the worst disaster that anyone can remember. For an agricultural society, a plague of locusts means starvation and death. But this plague tops anything that even the oldest people have ever heard about. It’s overwhelming. It’s hopeless.

I think that in some ways we share that experience of hopelessness. There are things in our world that we can’t even imagine fixing. Our country is more divided than ever before; greed, lies, obstruction  seem to grow unchecked; an all-out war on the most vulnerable among us seems to actually be deliberate, our national leaders seem more out of touch and uncaring than ever.  There are 2400 homeless children in Jefferson County, yet the obstacles and the anger around any address of the issue seem insurmountable.

It just seems like there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes, as if we’re experiencing a plague of locusts, we can feel powerless.

And that’s what the people of Israel were experiencing too.

Our tendency when we feel overwhelmed is to pull in, hunker down, and make sure our own little corner of the world is safe. If the world is falling apart, we’re going to do what we can to stay clear of that. We’re going to remain where it’s safe, put in a security system, buy a handgun, and do what we can to make sure we’re going to be OK.  If the situation is bigger than our ability to deal with, we take care of ourselves first.

But here’s what Joel’s people in Jerusalem did in the face of a hopeless situation. All of them together threw their lot in with God. They recognized that their situation was bigger than their ability to deal with, so they—all of them together—publicly turned to God for hope and help. Maybe God would do something, maybe not. That was up to God, not them. But they called everyone together to fast and pray and see what God would do. And they did it openly and publicly.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

For Joel and his people, the response to despair wasn’t “how can I survive this?” but “how can we help each other seek God in this?” And everyone participated.

As church, as the body of Christ, as followers of Jesus, this is what we can offer the world. A public, altogether, open, everyone involved, plea to God in the midst of things that seem impossible.

We say God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

We say God is our refuge and strength.

We say God is with us in the midst of difficulties.

We say Jesus brings among us the mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness of God.

We say that this is unconditional.

We say we trust God in these things.

Here’s our chance to live those things we believe. Let us come together during this season of Lent. Let us, as the whole congregation of Lutheran Church of the Master—all of us—call upon God to spare our world, to end hatred, to stop terror, to put an end to poverty, to protect the vulnerable, to do those things that we ourselves can feel powerless to do.

15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;  16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 

This Lent, as we gather each week, both on Wednesdays and Sundays, across ages, ethnicities, genders, faith backgrounds, let us remind one another of God’s promise of hope and newness. Let us discover our own part in God’s promise. Let us, altogether, publicly and openly, call upon our God. Let us share with the world what we believe our God can do. Amen.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2018 in Sermon

 

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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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A Tale of Two Visions (Palm Sunday) March 13, 2016

Luke 19:29-40

When [Jesus] had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”34They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” 39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the 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 the hardest things about this Palm Sunday is the contrast between Jesus and Pilate.

1 - Copy Slide 1  Because it’s more than that. It’s a contrast between God’s vision for the world and our vision for the world. Palm Sunday reveals the difference—the gap—that still exists between God’s ways and our ways.

Look at Pilate’s arrival in Jerusalem next to Jesus’. Both have to do with the entrance of a king/power, yet drastically different.

Pilate comes on horseback, in strength, in a mighty parade, surrounded by glamour and armor and legions of Roman troops.

Jesus comes on a colt, in simplicity, surrounded by the poor and the sinners in Jerusalem.

These are not just differences in parade planning. They reveal a deep, core perspective on the way we live, on what it is we truly trust.

We say we believe that Jesus reveals God’s ways, which the Bible refers to as the kingdom of God, right? So what does this contrast on Palm Sunday say about this?2 - Copy

Slide 2 In real life, who would we rather trust, someone armed with incredible strength and power, who (we hope) wields it for good, or someone armed with humility, who’s biggest weapon is a command to love one another?

You see? This day is more than waving palm branches and calling Jesus a king. Palm Sunday goes way deeper than that. Palm Sunday exposes the reality of God’s reign, right here among us, that we have a hard time with.

When you look at 3 - CopyJesus’ message and life and teachings as a whole, it becomes clear that God’s ways still aren’t our ways all the time. We have difficulty with God’s ways because they contrast with some aspects of our preferred culture and lifestyle. For instance:

Slide 3 Which way would we rather live? And yet, Jesus continuously tells us to quit worrying about what we have or don’t have. But it’s hard to trust God’s ways, isn’t it?

Slide 4 Sometimes we eve4 - Copyn try to make our priorities look like God’s priorities. But on Palm Sunday Jesus makes it pretty clear that we’re fooling ourselves. Jesus exposes the difference between the way God actually works and the way we wish God worked. God’s ways are the ways of generosity.

But more than philosophical differences, Jesus calls us to actually follow him. He says that his ways are the ways of truth and life. If Jesus is about God’s reign, and we are disciples of Jesus, then our lives are called to reflect God’s ways in the world. Easier said than done.

Slide 5  God’s ways are the w5 - Copyays of humility, of lifting up the other person. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem reveals God’s vision that has no room for revenge.

6 - CopySlide 6  Following Jesus means we seek to care for others more than we seek to control our lives and our future and our surroundings.

 

Slide 77 - Copy  Jesus reveals that the way of God is the way of reconciliation. There is no room in God’s vision for aggression and violence.8 - Copy

Slide 8  As disciples of Jesus we follow him into the ways of peace, trusting Jesus when he says “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We work with him in moving toward a future when the wolf and the lamb lie down together. This isn’t easy, nor is it simple. Sometimes we are left with only bad options. And we have to choose the least bad one.

 

Slide 9 The way Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem reveals that God’s ways are found in meekness rather than might. We stand with those who are pushed aside rather than seek 9our own advantage.

Slide 10 As disciples we do this not because we understand it or even think it’s better. Rather, we are aligned with Jesus in God’s ways because Jesus reveals that God’s ways really do lead to life.

10As we grow in our realization that God’s vision for creation is our call, our identity, our core as people created in God’s image, we contribute to life in the world. To do anything else, no matter how much sense the world around us says it makes, does not reveal God. It does not show love to the world. It does not move us forward in the ways of God. God’s ways, revealed in Jesus this Palm Sunday, reveal God.

God’s love, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s vision, revealed by Jesus, reveals God.

God’s life, revealed in Jesus, reveals God.

And we, who are surrounded by, immersed in, and filled up with the love and grace of God revealed through Jesus, are even now being changed by it. And today, on Palm Sunday, we have the chance to see our life in Christ even more clearly. To follow him more closely. To reveal the ways of God more fully.

Happy Palm Sunday.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Where is God? Last, Least, Servant, Slave (Mark 10:35-45)

If you’ve been here any Sunday during any of the last several weeks, you’ve heard this theme in Mark repeatedly: the greatest are servants, the last are first, whoever wishes to be first of all must be slave of all.

Everytime Jesus tells them this, the disciples never get it. This time James and John are wanting glory for themselves. And when the others hear about it they’re angry because they didn’t think of it first.

Why is it in Mark’s gospel, Jesus gives us this same emphasis over and over? Welcome the kingdom like a little child instead of a powerful person. Give all your money to the poor and then you’ll have treasure in heaven. If you want to save your life lose it. If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to be the greatest, be the servant.

Last, least, servant, slave. Over and over, Jesus, we get it! We’ll take serving others more seriously! We won’t seek our own glory! We won’t abuse power over others! We’ll be humble and meek and generous and helpful to everyone!

Sort of.

What we mean is that we’ll serve others when we have time to do it. We’ll put others ahead of ourselves until they start getting credit for our work. We’ll be generous with all of our extra money and time. We won’t seek glory for ourselves unless someone else starts getting recognized. We’ll consider ourselves last until others start thinking we actually are last.

Let’s be honest, it seems that what Jesus is proposing–over and over and over–doesn’t really work in our world. You start putting everyone else ahead of you and pretty soon everyone else is ahead of you.

You start being the servant of all and it isn’t too long before all people start thinking of you that way.

You keep being last and soon you are last.

If you don’t shine at least a small spotlight on yourself and tout your own abilities somehow, who will ever notice your abilities? Then, even when you have gifts to offer no one will take them seriously because you won’t be seen as credible. Your strengths won’t be recognized after a while. If you do a good job of being last of all and servant of all and least of all, that’s exactly where you end up.

We get what Jesus is saying, and we try to live it, I think. Up to a point. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus really wants from us? Just do what he commands–to a point? Just follow him–partway?

Our Estmate of Giving cards for 2016 are coming in today. We’ll give generously–kind of.

How do we reconcile these constant demands of Jesus to be last and least and servant and slave with the reality of how our world actually works?

At some point, don’t we have to recognize what we’re good at–maybe even great at—and call attention to that aspect of ourselve in order to be seen as having something worth offering? In order to contribute with our gifts?

Jesus seems pretty clear, over and over. I’m not as clear as to how that works out. But here’s how I’m wrestling with it–at least today.

I believe Jesus means what he’s saying here. As his disciples, we are to be least, last, servant, slave. We know he means it, because he does it himself. From birth through life and even into death, Jesus is last, least, servant, and slave. Doing this may mean we don’t get ahead at work. We may not maximize our earning potential. It might result in those who glorify themselves not taking us seriously. It’s humbling, even humiliating at times.

But what happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we look at people differently. We connect to them differently. Or relationship with them changes. We notice what’s going on in their lives. We recognize needs we never would have noticed before. The whole barometer of measuring success is dramatically different.

One by one, little by little, we affect people’s lives in ways we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. We may not even notice, they may not either. What happens when we are last, least, servant, and slave is that we embody the compassion of Jesus. We become Christ in the world. We change the world in God’s image from the bottom up rather than contribute more of what the world already knows, from the top down.

I’m beginning to think that the only way to save the world is from the bottom up, not the top down. We reveal Jesus more significantly from below, not from above. We affect people’s lives in more important ways as the least rather than as the best.

Most people around us, even many in the church, will disagree. Because the prevailing understanding is that power changes the world, not slavery. Jesus challenges that. And then calls us to join him at the bottom. Last, least, servant, slave. That’s how the world is saved. That’s where we’re called to be. That’s where we join Jesus.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2015 in Sermon

 

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