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The Shape of the Inside Determines the Appearance on the Outside (February 24, 2019)

Luke 6:27-38

 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

pottery

As a potter creates a pot, the idea around the purpose of the vessel comes first. The purpose determines how the inside of the pot needs to be shaped; the inside of a vase needs to be shaped differently than the inside of bowl. Then, the shape of the inside of a pot determines the shape of the outside. As the potter shapes the inside, the outside—the visible part of the pot—changes because it matches the inside.

Keep that image in mind as we go through this text. The shape of the inside determines the appearance of the outside.

This text in Luke is a direct continuation from last week, the Sermon on the Plain. So, much of what we talked about last week come into play here. It started with Jesus beginning this major teaching session with some Beatitude-like sayings, similar to what’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But unlike Matthew’s version, where the Beatitudes are the beginning of the famous “Sermon on the Mount,” in Luke Jesus teaches from a level place. And this is in keeping with Luke’s major theme of bringing up the lowest in the world and lowering those most exalted in the world. Because, as Luke makes clear, God has no favorites, everyone is loved, valued, and included by God equally. Everything and everyone is level with God.

The implication being that this is what the church, as the body of Christ, is to reveal. God’s priorities, God’s lack of favoritism, God’s equality. That means we are to be deliberate about calling for justice from the rich and powerful while lifting up, including, and advocating for the poor and excluded. Lift up those who are at the bottom of the world’s order while calling to account those at the top of the world’s order.

And this text today continues where it left off last week. Jesus teaching about God’s level playing field while revealing God’s level playing field.

But a word of caution about this text, because it is often distorted into one more reason to feel guilty and inadequate as disciples. This isn’t a text about what we need to try harder to do and then need to repent of when we can’t do it. Because as soon as we hear it that way, it becomes a means to judge one another, or even ourselves. “I’m much more successful at loving my enemies than you. I am obviously a real Christian. You, therefore, need to listen to me and follow Jesus like I do.” Do you see how that kind of self-righteousness could be a problem?

Or, “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t turn the other cheek. I guess I’m not a very faithful person. If I can’t do that, I may as well forget the whole thing, because obviously I can’t follow Jesus.”

This teaching by Jesus isn’t a competition to see who’s the best disciple. It’s not a measuring stick to compare ourselves to anyone else. It’s not a weapon to use against those who aren’t followers of Christ because they don’t use the language of blessing those who curse you.

No, this is a vision, not a moral imperative. This is what the Reign of God looks like. This is what would happen if the playing field actually was level. It’s how people would live if the world—like God—actually did have no favorites. This is a description of what we would begin to look like on the outside if on inside we were shaped like Christ. Remember the pottery image? The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

As we continue to allow God to shape us from the inside—as we are stretched and molded and changed—the way we live in the world begins to be shaped differently too. God, whose nature as Luke describes today, is to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” creates us in that image, and continues to recreate us and shape us in that image. This text reveals some signs of what that Christ-shaped life looks like.

So rather than beating up someone else because they don’t turn the other cheek, or rather than condemning yourself because you don’t give to everyone who begs from you, consider this text from a different point of view. As you look around your world, where do you see strange, almost extreme acts of compassion like Jesus talks about here? Where do you see this kind of mercy and generosity and striving for justice being lived out? When you see those kinds of things, you are seeing how someone is being shaped by God from the inside.

More than that, pay attention to your own signs of compassion, mercy, love. You, too, are being shaped to be like Christ from the inside. The way you live on the outside shows that happening. God at work in you. Re-shaping you as Christ from the inside. The shape of the inside of a pot determines what it looks like on the outside.

How is God shaping you into Christ-like compassion today? How is God revealing to you new ways to be merciful? How is God giving you new opportunities to love people who might seem unlovable or include people who are usually ignored? God is shaping you from the inside into the image of Christ. And it will begin to look different from the outside. It starts to look like doing what’s in the best interests even of people who hate you. It starts to look like facing violence with non-violent resistance. It starts to look like careless generosity toward those who will never be able to repay you.

As God continues re-shaping us from the inside, we are able to catch for ourselves, and give glimpses to the world, what life in Christ looks like on the outside. It will begin to look like God’s vision. It will begin to look like the Reign of God. It will begin to look like Jesus.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Sermon

 

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