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“Knowing Truth” (October 29, 2017)

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Today we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s experience of a deeper truth. One that caused him to change outlooks, approaches, and life itself. And as a result of his experience of a deeper truth, the whole church (including the Roman Catholic church) was reformed.

Here’s what’s going on in this 8th chapter of John. The narrative is set during the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles, which acknowledges God’s presence with the Jewish people as they fled from slavery in Egypt. They built temporary huts, sometimes called booths or tabernacles, and used them for shelter during their 40 years in the wilderness. At the time that John is describing, all people are invited to gather in Jerusalem for this celebration—many of whom would build replica booth-like dwellings and even eat and sleep there during the week of the celebration.

As the people are commemorating God’s protection in the wilderness during their flight from slavery in Egypt, Jesus speaks of the very things the people have gathered to observe: slavery and freedom, dwelling places and truth.

Jesus says, “If you continue (literally: dwell, tabernacle, live) in my word, you are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Those who had previously believed in him argue, saying, “We have Abraham and Sarah as our ancestors. We’ve never been slaves.” Uhhmmm . . . did they forget why they’re gathered in Jerusalem in the first place? What the Festival of Tabernacles is about?

Even if the people aren’t clear about what slavery–therefore freedom–is, Jesus is very pointed about it. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

What does he mean by “knowing truth”? The word John uses for “to know” (ginosko) is more than intellectual agreement. It means to deeply know, to be assured by, to know completely. It is the word used in the Bible when a man and a woman “know” each other, and 9 months later a baby is born. It’s more than reading a book about a subject, OK?

It’s like the difference between objectively watching an event and actually seeing what’s happening.

It’s like the difference between casually hearing someone talk and actually listening to what they are saying.

It’s like this: I can read books about white-water rafting, listen to lectures, and see movies–and therefore know about it. But that’s different than actually going white-water rafting. Then, I know it from the inside out, based on my experiences. I know it much more deeply. Ginosko.

This is the knowing Jesus talks about: an experience of Christ (who is truth) that changes us from the inside out. Much deeper knowledge. For example, quite a few years ago, I knew that the Bible stood in opposition to homosexuality. I knew it, because I could recite all seven verses in the Bible that seemed to oppose it. That’s one kind of knowledge, a book-like, incomplete knowledge.

Then, through a series of events, experiences, studies, and conversations, I came to a different kind of knowing, ginosko, a deeper, more complete knowing than a few Bible verses. I experienced the truth of God’s love and God’s inclusivity in ways that have changed me from the inside out. I have been set free from a bondage of a narrow, external perspective to a deeper, internal freedom in God’s grace and love for all humanity.

We will be witnessing today, in love and support, three of our young people as they take significant steps in their faith journey. Two will affirm their baptisms, and one will be received in the rite of Welcome to Baptism. They are doing this today not because they know the doctrines of the church, or have memorized enough Bible verses, but because they have struggled with what they actually believe. They have been brought inside and come to a deeper knowledge of God in their lives—which sometimes leaves more questions than answers. They probably can’t articulate Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed, but they have, I believe, experienced a deeper, internal knowledge of the Holy Spirit working faith in them (because we all know that that’s what the 3rd Article is about, right? Right?). They don’t know all the answers, but they know how to ask questions, how to watch for God in the world, and how faith needs to continue to grow with them. I’m not even sure they would say that, but I know it, because I’ve watched it happen in them. They know God in significant ways. And they know from the inside that God knows them. They know some truths, and they are set free.

You have hopefully heard about LCM’s “Renewal Team,” which is part of a cohort of three congregations seeking to know more fully what God is calling us to be and do. The idea is not for us to follow a program or series of prescribed steps, but to come to a deeper knowing of what God is doing in us and in our neighborhood.

On this 500h Anniversary of the Reformation, John declares that we are set free in Christ—truly free. Free from prejudice, from fear, from pretention, from other people’s opinions, from stagnation, from whatever it is that keeps us captive. And it is Christ who not only reveals this truth, but in whom that truth comes to us. This is the freedom Martin Luther experienced 500 years ago. A freedom that changed the world. As we continue to grow in our experience, our deep knowledge of this Christ from the inside out, we too become more and more free.

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Posted by on October 29, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Listen with Your Heart (April 17, 2016)

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”

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.

Have you ever heard any of these things said to you? Or thought them yourself? Have you heard these voices?

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“This is all your fault.”

“No one likes you anyway, and no one ever has.”

“You can’t be trusted.”

“You’re too incompetent.”

“You’ll never make it.”

“You don’t have the abilities.”

“Everyone would be better off without you.”

“You’re incapable of making a difference.”

“Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you’ll never make it happen.”

“You’re just not worth the effort.”

These are among the words I have actually heard spoken to me. More often than not, it’s my own voice saying them. Sometimes these words are spoken so frequently that I begin to believe them. And when I start to believe them, I might even start to act as if they were true.

There are a lot of voices telling us different things. A lot of voices. They come from everywhere: social media, friends, family, the news media, public figures, commercials, even the church. Too many voices trying to convince us of too many things. Sometimes we arent sure which voices to trust.

Which is why this text from the gospel of John is so important.

“My sheep hear MY voice,” Jesus says. “I know them, and they follow me.”

That should come as a relief. In the midst of all the voices clamoring for our attention, Jesus knows his sheep and they do hear his voice. And hearing his voice, can follow him. A voice that we can hear through all the other noise. A voice we can to trust. A voice that will tell us the truth. A voice that leads to life.

Jesus knows us, calls us, leads us, gives us life, and we can’t be removed from his hand. Good news, right? This should be the end of this sermon.

Except . . . We just can’t let it go at that. We need to complicate it, find a way to make this good news into something else. We move this wonderful message of comfort from a deep, inner heart, faith place where the voice of Jesus resonates to a narrow, intellectual, head place where all the other voices are competing.

We work ourselves out of comfort into skepticism. We analyze until we find some wiggle room, like Jesus saying, “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” and we won’t let it go.

Now, you see, we can open a door into all kinds of anxiety. Like:

Who are his sheep?

Who aren’t his sheep?

I’m not sure I hear Jesus’ voice, does that mean I may not be one of his sheep?

Does that mean I’m not going to heaven?

What do I have to do to become one of his sheep?

How do I hear his voice?

And this beautiful assurance of life and belonging become an anxiety-ridden exercize in doubt.

So let’s put an end to the anxiety. Let’s hear this text the way it is meant to be heard. What is something you feel confident you know about God? . . .

How do you know that? . . . .

It’s because you’ve heard the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

Have you ever loved someone? Not just a partner or significant other, but a sibling, a parent, a friend. Someone you trust and would be willing to go out of your way to help, or ask help from. That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

How many of you have ever had a moment when you’ve understood that you are actually OK, a glimpse of being worthwhile, a small recognition of your gifts, a little crack into the difference you have made in someone’s life? That’s the voice of Jesus. You know it, you recognize it, and you, therefore, are one of his sheep, held lovingly in his hand where nothing can snatch you away.

There’s a voice of truth calling you. One voice that says you are deeply and dearly loved. One voice that points out that you are good enough right now. One voice that reveals in your heart the truth about who you are. The voice of Jesus. You are his sheep.

So for just a few seconds, listen to the voice of Jesus. Listen with your deep inner being so your head won’t make excuses. LIsten and trust it. Listen as a sheep would hear the voice of their shepherd, whose voice they really do know. Listen and be comforted. Listen and be reassured.

Jesus says to you, “You are my sheep and you hear my voice. I know you, and you follow me. I give you eternal life, and you will never perish. No one will snatch you out of my hand.”

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Image of God: One Reason I Need the Church

Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Growing up, I was the nerdy smart kid with few social skills, even fewer friends, and the one who could disappear into the woodwork and become invisible to avoid getting beat up. I always felt I didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough, always fell just short of what was expected.

I believed my self-worth came from what I couldn’t do, which far outweighed what I could do.

I believed my value as a person came from what others said was valuable, which didn’t happen to coincide with my gifts.

I believed my identity was grounded in failure and weakness, which my peers would continuously point out.

I didn’t like myself very much as a kid, because I believed there wasn’t much about me worth liking.

It was all a lie, but the lie had power and I believed it. I believed that those around me knew better than me. I believed that if some people didn’t think I was worthwhile, then I wasn’t worthwhile. I believed it, and in buying into this lie I was depriving the world of a unique glimpse of the image of God. A glimpse that only I could give.

Because the truth is that I am created in the image of God. Not the complete image–certainly not everything about me is Godly. But the deepest, most significant, most authentic part of me is. Because I am created by God, I reveal God. Part of God’s character is part of me. As someone created by God, it cannot be any other way.

If God is good, there is goodness that is authentically part of who I am.

If God is merciful, there is mercy that is authentically me.

If God is forgiving, there is forgiveness that is authentically me.

Do I believe that this is the truth about who I am? Sometimes, sort of. The lies continue to swirl around me, however, and I can’t seem to block them out all the time. Certainly not by myself.

That’s where I need you. Other people who know that they, too, are created in the image of God and so can recognize that. I need people to remind me of who I really am, people who can recognize the lies and point them out, people who know the image of God and can see that in me–expecially at those times when I cannot see it in myself.

That’s what we do for each other. We look for the image of God in one another. We point it out to each other. We expose the lies about our identity and celebrate together God revealed in one another.

We’ve all been lied to. Each of us has believed at one time or another that we are somehow less, that we don’t really matter, that our value is directly connected to others’ opinions, that our weaknesses define who we are. It’s not true. We are all created in the image of God. We all shine forth with God’s love and grace in wonderful and dazzling ways–not because we work up to it, but because it’s at the very core of who we are. Strip away the lies, the self-doubts, the insecurities, and the inadequacies, and the central, authentic identity we all have is people who reflect the holy, generous, gracious image of God.

That’s something we need to be reminded of. It’s something we need to hear. It’s something we need to point out to those around us.

What are the lies about yourself that you’ve believed? Lies that maybe you’ve even lived into? Have you ever believed the lie that you are farther away from God that others? Have you ever believed the lie that you have nothing to contribute? Have you ever believed the lie that you don’t make a difference in the world?

We all fall prey to the lies about who we are. And we all need to see and remind each other of the image of God shining forth. That’s why we will love each other, forgive each other, show compassion to each other; because it’s God’s image among us. And that’s why we point out to those around us how we see God in them: how we see God’s goodness, mercy, love, kindness, compassion shining forth from them. Because they may not be seeing it. We owe each other the truth about who we are. We are people who, no matter what else, are created in the image of a loving, gracious, forgiving, generous God.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in Sermon

 

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The Spirit of Truth? No Thanks.

Have you ever had the awkward experience of someone offering you forgiveness for something you didn’t do? When I was in seminary someone “forgave” me for dropping an air conditioner out of a third floor window. It did happen; it’s just that I was several hundred miles away on my internship when it occurred.  So of course I felt it necessary to justify myself and explain that I had nothing do with the dropped air conditioner, and therefore don’t need your forgiveness. How dare you forgive me when I don’t need it!
I think that sense of justification is usually how we feel about Jesus’ forgiveness too. We often look for reasons to avoid the need for forgiveness first. We convince ourselves we aren’t that bad, I’m basically a good person, I was justified in my actions, lots of other people are worse, I didn’t intend any harm, I was trying to do the right thing, it’s not my fault, I had good reason. Or we just can’t think of ourselves as broken enough to really need forgiveness. Stay close, Jesus, and if I need you, I’ll let you know. But unless you hear from me, you can just be on call. Because I really don’t need THAT much forgiveness.
The fact of the matter is that we really don’t want forgiveness. We want to not need forgiveness. We don’t want Jesus to forgive us; we want Jesus to tell us we’re doing OK without him.
So Jesus has to send his parclete, counselor, helper, advocate, the Holy Spirit: to remind us of what Jesus said and did, that Jesus is about the forgiveness of sin, calling to our attention the fact that we need forgiveness. Jesus calls this the Spirit of Truth.
Truth isn’t always easy, isn’t always refreshing. Truth can be harsh, even devastating. Alcoholics and addicts being told the “truth” about their condition is anything but fun. Having the oncologist tell you the “truth” about terminal cancer is hardly easy. Have you ever had a loved one tell you the “truth” about what a jerk you’ve been? Truth can be hard to hear. Which is why we so often resort to justifying ourselves instead. Then, we don’t need to hear the truth.
So whether we like it or not, Jesus has sent to us the Spirit of Truth, to point out, again and again, exactly what it is we need to be forgiven for; to reveal to us, again and again, how broken and far from God we actually are; to speak to us, again and again, how shallow and cheap our self-justification is. No wonder we try to ignore the Spirit of Truth when she speaks.
It seems we’ll do anything to avoid hearing the truth of our situation, to make ourselves feel better about our need for forgiveness. We claim that we have a good prayer life, we raise good kids, we give money to charity, we serve the church, we’ve spent minimal time in prison, we’ve even made a decision to make Jesus our personal Lord and Savior. So what? What we’re really saying is, “Thanks for dying and everything, Jesus, but I’m doing OK. I’m sure there are some people that really need you, but why don’t we just be friends? I’ll do you favors by going to church and pretending to be spiritually superior, and if I really need it, you can return the favor by forgiving me. Deal?”
That’s kind of like getting a cancer diagnosis and telling the oncologist, “I’ll do you a favor by eating whole grains when I want to, and you do me a favor by curing my cancer if I ever need it. Deal? I’m sure I don’t really have cancer. It’s just not that bad. I’ll let you know.”
We need to hear the truth: We need forgiveness. Desperately. Continuously. Immediately. We need forgiveness because we worship our own gods of personal preference and comfort. We use Jesus’ name to justify ourselves. We tear apart relationships if it makes us look better. We hold resentments against people who’ve hurt us. We hoard our money. We justify violence. We do just enough religious stuff to ease our consciences. We quit when following Jesus gets hard. We look for enemies so we have someone to hate and someone to blame.
Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. The truth is that we really need his forgiveness. We need to know that on our own we are hopeless. His forgiveness is our only hope.
And, Jesus has sent the Spirit of Truth to tell us the truth. And the truth is that we already are forgiven. Jesus will never abandon us or ignore us. His forgiveness has already brought us to God. We are set free from the power of our own brokenness. Christ’s forgiveness comes to us unconditionally, continuously, right now. It is for us. It is for you.
The Spirit of Truth is with us forever. We need Jesus’ forgiveness. And he has given it to you. It is already done for you. It will continue for you. Forever. Amen

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Sermon

 

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