RSS

Tag Archives: unconditional love

Arrogance Is Never the Gospel (May 21, 2017)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

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.

Have you heard of this apostle Paul? He is the one who opened up this new Jesus movement to the Gentiles. He’s the greatest evangelist of all time. He is credited with writing most of the New Testament. In this text in Acts, we get to hear one of this great man’s sermons. This famous follower of Jesus, after being chased out of two towns because his speaking about Jesus is so powerful, is now brought to this incredible venue to explain his views. The Areopagus in Athens, world-famous for its speakers and its court hearings. This is the big time.

Our bishop, Jim Gonia, preached Easter morning at Red Rocks Amphitheater this year. But as big a deal as that is, it can’t hold a candle to the Areopagus in Athens Greece in Paul’s day.

So here he is, on the biggest stage of his life, in front of a whole lot of people eagerly awaiting his speaking.

With all that heightened anticipation, he begins. And the response from the crowd is, “Meh.” Oh, a few were moved to follow Jesus. But the vast majority just kind of went, “What’s the big deal?”

To be honest, that’s pretty much my reaction too. Really, Paul? That’s the best you’ve got? You Greeks have a Unkown God, but we know who that God is? God doesn’t really live in statues? That doesn’t do much for me.

To be fair, perhaps Paul was having an off day. After all, the Thessolonicans won’t leave him alone. They’ve run him out of two cities now, and if they knew he was in Athens, they’d probably try again.

And this sermon was rather impromptu. He had been talking in the synagogue and then in the marketplace, which was his usual pattern, and those people whisked him off to the Areopagus, put him up on the stage, and said, “Go.” He had no time to prepare.

So we can cut him a little bit of slack. Even on his best day, no single sermon of Paul’s could ever touch everyone. Even Jesus couldn’t reach every person who heard.

But that really is true. Each person has unique experiences and histories. We’re all wired just a bit differently so that what has deep meaning to me is hardly worth hearing to you. That which reaches inside and touches the depths of your very soul might just sound like dogs howling to me.

The context of our lives matters. That’s the amazing thing about this gospel—it is good news in every context because it is solely about love and grace.

If it’s not sounding like good news to you, you’re likely hearing it from the perspective of someone else’s context. And if they’re telling you that what moves them and connects with them is the only way this gospel is real, they don’t know the gospel of Christ. They are putting their faith not in the gospel, but in their own interpretation of it as it touched them. And trying to make their unique perspective universal for everyone has got to be the height of self-centeredness. I can’t tell you that my history is the only one that matters. I can’t tell you that my interpretation of the gospel is the ultimate interpretation. I can’t tell you that what excites me has to, by my definition, excite you. And that if it does not, then you are obviously less, inferior, not as godly as me.

I’m glad some aspect of God’s love was moving to people who think that way, but no one can demand everyone else twist their lives to fit into one person’s perpective. Your life experiences are different than mine, so what would ever make me think that what makes sense for my life would have to make sense for yours before your life can be legitimate? What kind of arrogance is that?

The bottom line—and that which makes the gospel so universal—is that God is love. Which means you are worthy of love. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “How has  love made a difference for you? How has love touched you and made you new? What does love look like for you?” This is the gospel. This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what God is like. And your story about this love, which is God, which is what Jesus is about, makes a huge difference.

Your story of love, of God, of Christ, is likely different than other people’s. Which means some may not be as moved by your story as you are. That doesn’t mean don’t speak about God’s love in your life, quite the contrary! It means you need to speak it clearly and boldly! It will touch someone! Just don’t be discouraged or upset if it doesn’t resonate with everyone. It’s not supposed to. It will touch some people, but it won’t—it can’t—touch every other person. No one’s story can do that. Christ is too genuine for that. Christ will reach other people with other experiences. We must affirm and recognize the validity of others’ stories of being made new in love too. They are genuine and just as legitimate as yours.

Share your story of God’s love in Christ. And don’t let anyone tell you, no matter how famous they are, that because their story is different, it’s more legitimate than yours. Christ has come to you in love. Nothing is more legitimate than that. Recognize God’s love in your life. Claim it. Share it. And encourage others to do the same. Even if the way God’s love touched them is different than yours. Share your story with me. I’d love to hear it even if it’s different than mine. Who knows, I might learn more about Christ’s love from your experience. Wouldn’t that be great?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Pentecost: We’ve Been Doing it Backwards (Pentecost Day, May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

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.

At the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly a couple of weeks ago, I went to a workshop on “Being a Neighborhood Church.” The agenda was to help congregations develop relationships in their communities.

About 20 people gathered for this workshop, and one of the presenters shared an example of a beautiful relationship they have with the school across the street from them where both church and school have benefited. The other presented how God is already active in the neighborhood. As we enter into relationships within our neighborhoods, we are actually reflecting the image of God there.

“How do we do that?” someone asked.

“By discovering what God might be doing in the neighborhood and becoming part of that.

“That sounds hard.”

“Yes, it does take time to develop those relationships in your community where you can begin to see—”

“So, do we meet with the school administration before we meet with the faculty?”

“I don’t know. First you need to see whether or not God is even calling you into a relationship with—”

“How much money do we need to budget for this school thing?”

“You really need to see what God is doing in your neighborh—”

“How many families from the school program thing will join our church?”

They couldn’t seem to get past a program. They couldn’t see God as actually active in their communities. This presenter was speaking a foreign language, he was filled with new wine. You can’t program God into your neighborhood. You can’t impose God on people. You can’t.

Well, you can. But it would be the opposite of what happens in the book of Acts, especially in this text on the day of Pentecost.

You see, on that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit just blew through in some rather obvious ways—fire, wind, languages, bold proclamations of God’s mighty deeds of power. Obvious to some, at least. Not obvious to everyone. There were those who simply thought these Galileans were drunk and just wrote off the whole event.

Here’s the order of events—and this order matters.

  • Jews gathering in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival, like they’d been doing every year for centuries. Normal activity.
  • Then, the Holy Spirit gets active with the fire and the wind.
  • After that, the disciples responded with all the languages and Peter gives his sermon.
  • Finally, after this text today, 3000 people were baptized; some disciples were jailed, others beaten, and some killed.

Normal life, Holy Spirit, response, consequences (some good, some not so good). That’s the way the church began. Life is going on, Holy Spirit disrupts, disciples respond to that, and who-knows-what-happens as a result.

I think the church has tried to reverse that order. At least the institutional church of the last 17 centuries or so. We start at the end, with what we want the consequences to be (usually because it benefits us), and then we back up and try to figure out a way to make that happen. We back up further and ask God to bless our work. Then we package it and impose it on people’s lives.

For instance: the 3000 baptisms in one day sound really good. And there were more day by day too. So let’s start there, we say. Let’s make that happen. How can we get that result?

So we back up and make the church buildings attractive, we create magnificent programs that people want to come to, we preach entertaining sermons that people want to hear, we promise people heaven and threaten them with hell, we sing songs we’re sure they want to hear because we like them, and we put on a really good pot of coffee.

Then we back up further and assure ourselves that this is what God wants and ask God to bless it.

And we present this church with all its programming to the public, expecting the results we want. When it falls short, we bump up the programs, add more jokes to the sermons, make the bulletins slicker and add projection. And we tell people how to make their lives easier. Then we advertise this new and revised church to the public, hoping for the results we planned.

Over and over and over we do this, never noticing that we’ve actually got the whole thing backwards, which pretty much leaves God until last. But we’ve been doing it this way for so long that it seems normal, right, good, and even Godly. That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves for centuries.

All the while, the Holy Spirit continues moving, interrupting people’s lives. Sometimes we as the church are kind of busy with our own agenda so we don’t always see it. We can convince ourselves that the Holy Spirit can’t move without the church, forgetting that on that first Pentecost day, there was no church. Just a bunch of Jesus followers sitting in a room without programs, educational systems, choirs or bands, or even coffee. But the Holy Spirit came anyway. And not all, but some people noticed. And they responded. And some things happened.

With us or without us, the Holy Spirit will get all up in people’s lives. It’s our job to notice, to respond, and to take the consequences whether we like them or not.

It’s the same Holy Spirit today as in Acts 2. Where is the Holy Spirit intervening now? Look for where mercy being proclaimed, or compassion being shown. Those things that are definitely of God. It sometimes comes from unexpected people in unexpected ways. Even Galileans who appear drunk.

Have you seen the Holy Spirit moving? Have you recognized compassion being proclaimed? Have you noticed those who are normally pushed to the edges brought in and told they matter?

Here’s one instance I’ve seen this week. On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch included this statement in a speech to the legislators of her home state of North Carolina, “Let me speak to directly to the transgender community. No matter how isolated or scared you may feel today, the Department of Justice . . . wants you to know that we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you moving forward.”

That is nothing but people being shown compassion. That is care and love being proclaimed to some who are pushed away in North Carolina. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. And someone responded. And who knows what the results will be.

Some of us hear this speech from Loretta Lynch and will say to one another, “What does this mean?” Others will sneer, “She is filled with new wine.” Others will say, “How is it that we hear these things coming from the government?”

No one expects to experience the Holy Spirit through the U.S. government. Just like no one expected to experience the Holy Spirit through a bunch of Galilean yokels. But it doesn’t who responds to the Spirit, it’s that the Spirit is moving.

In the midst of life, the Holy Spirit blows in and disrupts, some notice and respond, and things happen.

On this Pentecost Day, may we take time to notice the Holy Spirit’s interruptions. May we discover anew God’s compassion and grace being revealed in people’s lives. And may we respond to the Holy Spirit’s love as it blows all around us.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

A Legacy of Loving the World: 7 Easter C

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m mindful today of the fact that my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and that it is progressing. I call her every week, but that’s becoming less successful because sometimes she forgets how to use the phone. Alzheimer’s has been called the disease of 1000 griefs, because you lose the person you love one little piece at a time.

I’m mindful today that I won’t be able to talk to the woman who raised me again. That woman is gone. What’s left is someone who looks like my mom but who sometimes can’t remember how underwear works. I miss the fiercely independent, strong, vibrant, intelligent woman who raised my sisters and me. I’d like to tell her one more time how much I appreciate the sacrifices she made, how I think she was right to value education as highly as she did, how proud I am of the awards and honors she received as a social worker–both statewide and nationally, and that much of what I’ve learned about authentic, self-giving love I’ve learned from her.

I can tell her these things–and I do–but they are just words to her. She doesn’t always track the meaning of what I’m saying.

I’d like her to know that some of the things she valued most in life are still making a difference in the world, that she has left a legacy. She had a hand in shaping the way resources are now provided for families with handicapped children in the state of Utah. She raised four responsible and caring children who live many of the values she instilled in us and show love and care to their families. Her commitment as a parent, sacrificing whatever was necessary for the sake of her children, is my model for being a parent. She emphasized always doing the right thing, even if it costs you, even if it is hard, even if the consequences aren’t fun, even if no one believes you. You still live with honor, with dignity, and with ethics.

I’d love to tell her that this is her ongoing legacy, that these values and accomplishments are still making a difference in the world, but I can’t communicate that to her any more. I can’t tell her, but that doesn’t diminish her legacy. This world is kinder, more helpful to people with challenges, more honest, and more ethical because of her. I’m part of that legacy. And I’m proud to be.

What would you like your legacy to be? What are the values you’d like to continue to affect the world after you’re gone? How do you want the world to be different because you were here? That’s your legacy, and it’s what you leave behind for the world.

Some people leave a legacy through their finances. They set up a foundation or a trust or an endowment so their money can continue to provide something they value after they’ve died. Many churches have an endowment for exactly that purpose.

Others leave a legacy through their children. Raising them to carry on the family business or the family reputation or the family values. This is often the concern for royal families who ascend to the throne of their country.

Others leave a legacy through modeling the values of a particular lifestyle that inspires others to live those values in a similar way. Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr exemplify this.

Regardless of how you do it, it’s worth pondering what kind of a difference you’d like to make in the world after you’re gone. What would you like your legacy to be?

In this text from John, Jesus is praying that he would leave a legacy. Sometimes texts from the gospel of John don’t make immediate sense and just sound like a lot of words. That one today, I think, can be like that. But what’s happening is that Jesus is praying that his disciples will carry on his mission of loving the world. Just as he has known the Father’s love in order to share it, he’s praying his future disciples would know his love so they can share it. As he and the Father are joined together to love the world, he’s praying that we would be joined to one another to do the same thing. He’s praying that we would carry on his legacy of loving the world with God’s own love.

What Jesus wants more than anything is that his love, which has saved the world, won’t die with him. He’s imploring the Father to allow his legacy of loving the world to continue; that his disciples would somehow unite with him in this. He knows the only hope the world has is that God’s love can continue to be shown. He has lived his whole life showing that love. And now he is pleading that his disciples will be able to do it.

Jesus is praying for us here. He’s including us as part of his legacy. This is his hope, that God’s love for the world continue to be revealed.

I’m moved that Jesus has invited me to be part of his legacy. I’m honored to be included in that with you. The love he has shown to us, the love that has restored us, comforted us, assured us, is the love he invites us to share. The love that has saved us is the love that will save the world. And Jesus is praying that we will be united with him in showing them that love.

That’s Jesus’ legacy: the creation of a community of people that love the world like he does. May God’s love continue to hold us as we carry on that legacy.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

“An Annoying God of Grace” Easter 6 (C)

John 5:1-9

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

This guy who is healed by Jesus in this text really annoys me. What a lousy whiner. Thirty-eight years he’s been lying there by this pool waiting to be healed. That’s not patience, that’s a life-style.

When Jesus comes along and sees him there and asks him if he wants to be healed, you’d think this guy would be excited. But he doesn’t say yes, he just makes excuses for why he hasn’t been healed yet. The myth was that when the water get stirred up by an angel, the first one in supposedly gets healed. This guy just whines to Jesus that someone always gets there ahead of him. You mean to tell me that after 38 years he can’t figure out a way to get in the water faster? C’mon! Lie at the edge of the pool and just roll in. Do something!

But Jesus heals him anyway. And later, when the religious authorities get after this guy for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, which, according to the law, is considered breaking the Sabbath, he blames Jesus, “That guy told me to do it.”

“What guy?” They ask. “I don’t know.”

He’s sick for 38 years, someone has the compassion to heal him in an instant, and this guy doesn’t even find out who did it? Instead of standing up for Jesus, he blames him for getting caught working on the Sabbath.

A little after that, Jesus finds the guy again and introduces himself. Still no thanks or appreciation. No, this guy runs back to the Jewish authorities and throws Jesus under the bus. “Remember I told you about that guy to told me to carry my mat on the Sabbath? Well, I found out who he is. His name is Jesus.” And this is what gets the Jewish authorities beginning to plot against Jesus.

This guy is a whiny, spineless, ungrateful, faithless, weasel. And of all the people that were waiting for healing that day, Jesus picks this guy. Of all the people that were waiting by that pool, surely one of them had a bit more character than this guy. Probably any other person there would have at least said “Thank you.” Some might have been become disciples. But Jesus picks this guy. The most undeserving, ungrateful, slime ball of the day. And Jesus heals him.

Sometimes grace is really bothersome. Because that’s what this is. Grace. Regardless of whether he deserves it or not, Jesus shows compassion. Even though this guy sells Jesus out, Jesus shows him care. With grace, a person’s goodness, character, ethics, beliefs, or status aren’t part of the picture. Those things don’t enter into the equation at all. Grace is just grace. For anyone.

Grace has nothing to do with qualifications or deserving. If those enter in, it’s no longer grace.

I saw a video on facebook where a man taped money all over himself, and carried a sign that said, “Take what you need.” The man didn’t ask any questions or find out anyone’s story, he just let anyone take whatever amount of money off him that they wanted. Some admitted they didn’t need it, but just took more. Others grabbed handfuls and ran. A homeless man took a few bills but left most of it for other, he said, who needed it more.

A person walking around giving away money to anyone without question is a picture of grace.

Jesus healing an ungrateful whiner is a picture of grace.

It’ll drive you crazy if you let it. Because if you let any qualifications whatsoever enter into the picture at all, you’ll either get annoyed by grace or you’ll have to disavow it.

Yet this is the God we have. An annoying God of grace. A God who doesn’t care if we deserve it or not. A God for whom our gratitude or ingratitude isn’t influential in any way. A God for whom it doesn’t even register as to whether we’re good or bad, ethical or currupt, faithful or faithless. God who just showers grace. To all. Without question. Without judgement. Without reservation.

We can accept it or not. If we do, it opens our eyes to a pretty amazing God and helps us understand who we are as church. If we don’t , we’ll simply find reasons to reject it.

If we begin with our own worthiness, or even hint at that in the equation, we’ll never appreciate the depths of God’s grace. We’ll find ways to rationalize why we don’t deserve it (or just as bad, justify why we do!). We’ll continually berate ourselves for not being enough, for failing, for incurring God’s anger, for being less than we should be. Or, we’ll falsely prop ourselves up as better, holier, or more righteous than other people. We’ll deny the reality of grace and remain vulnerable to hopelessness or self-righteousness. And we’ll continue judging each other.

But as we learn to accept the reality of God’s unconditional grace, we not only realize that this grace includes the whiny slug at the pool at Bethzatha, it also includes us. It includes you. Without reservation, condition, or question. When we look for grace, we see God with new eyes, and When we look for grace, we see each other without judgement. When we look for grace, we care less about who deserves compassion and simply deliver it. When we look for grace, we’ll reflect less the conditional love of the world, and more of God’s unconditional love.

We can actually become part of God’s grace toward the world, toward each other, even toward the man by the pool at Bethzatha that Jesus chooses to heal. And maybe even toward ourselves.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 1, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.”

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A Foolish, Wasteful, Outlandish God (March 6, 2016)

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “

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.

What do you think? Is it possible to overstate God’s love?

Is it possible to exaggerate God’s grace?

Is it possible to make too much of God’s forgiveness?

How can we ever “overdo” these primary aspects of God? If anything, we have a tendency to restrict them or narrow them or lessen them. We usually add some condition to God’s love with something like “when we come to God ” or “if we repent.” That misrepresents God, and makes God into something more resembling us than, well, God.

Which is why this parable is so beautiful. It is about as strong a statement of God’s grace as anything in scripture. Even though we call it “The Prodigal Son,” it’s actually a parable about the hugeness of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is a parable that tells us that God goes overboard, that God is extravagant, that God’s love is so unconditional that it doesn’t make any sense.

Take a look at it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good you are,no matter what you believe, the bottom line is the same in this parable: you are loved, you are included, you are wanted as part of God’s celebration of love—love for you.

The younger son asks for his inheritance—basically telling his father he has no use for his father alive. He’s wants to act as if his father was already dead. Are you one who doesn’t get along with your family?

He then pretends he has no family or community that cares about him to the extent that he goes off to a distant country. Are you one who pushes away anyone that might care about you?

He spends everything in dissolute living: completely, selfishly, and foolishly. Are you one who is foolish with money, who wastes it or makes really bad choices with it?

Then he finds himself living out the consequences of his really bad decisions. He’s starving. Are you one who doesn’t have enough?

Finally he realizes there is a source of food—but it’s back home. He has already abandoned his place in the family, so he thinks maybe he can get hired on as a worker on his father’s property. He practices his speech to convince his father to let him work on the farm. Maybe he’s sincere, maybe he isn’t. It doesn’t matter, because—

The father doesn’t give him a chance to make his speech. The father abandons all dignity and decorum and runs out to meet his son and embraces him. The father loves him and welcomes this son regardless of anything the son does or doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say. That’s how exceptional the father’s love is!

Then the father throws a huge party for this wayward son. Everything goes into it! The biggest and most wasteful use of funds there ever was! It’s a foolish thing to do. But that’s how outlandish the father’s love is!

Then the elder son catches wind of what’s going on. The good son, the obedient son, the loyal son. Is that you?

He is resentful that his brother gets everything! Are you one who feels slighted because others are getting more than you are?

He refuses to join the party, because it’s stupid, because it is wasteful, because he resents the injustice of it, because he feels as if all his work for all these years is simply taken for granted. Is this you?

But the father comes out to this son too, just like the father did for the younger son, and pleads with him to join the party. Because the father’s love includes this son too.

And the father tells him that everything he has belongs to this son, and that this son has a special place in the father’s heart. Please come with me. Please come to the party. Please celebrate with me. Please eat and drink and dance. Because I love you both. The father’s love doesn’t leave anyone or anything out. No matter what.

And it doesn’t make sense to us sometimes. And we think God has to have some limits, some conditions. Right? It would be foolish for God to love that way.

And that’s the point. God simply loves you. All out, over the top, foolishly loves you. God throws away dignity, wisdom, protocol, reason because God is head-over-heels in love with you.

Whether you have a close family or your family has disowned you. God loves you completely.

Whether you have a life filled with supporting people or are completely alone. God loves you absolutely.

Whether you are foolish, wasteful, and addicted, or whether you are prudent, wise, and resourceful. God loves you madly.

Whether you’ve cause your own difficulties or whether your difficulties aren’t your fault at all. God loves you passionately.

Whether you love God or whether you disregard God. God loves you fiercely.

Whether you were dragged here or whether you never miss a Sunday. God’s love for you never changes.

Whether you throw away every opportunity or whether you are waiting to be recognized for your hard work. God loves you more than you know.

And there’s a party. For all those God loves. For you. Because sometimes love just makes you celebrate.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 8, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: