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08.18.19 Eyes of Faith Hebrews 11 Luke 12 Sermon Summary

You know the opening verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the one about “peace on earth” and “God and sinners reconciled.” So began the Gospel of Luke. But now Jesus says he doesn’t come to bring peace; instead he comes to bring “fire and division.”

This passage falls in a larger teaching about what it means to be a faithful disciple, and more specifically how we are to be watchful for Jesus’ return. What kind of division is Jesus referring to? Is it the church’s debate about whether he is divine or human? Whether he is Jewish or the bringer of a new religion? Whether he is the redeemer of all creation or the savior of only a tiny minority of humans? Whether he is present with the Spirit or seated with God in heaven?

These are the ways the church has divided over Jesus, but is this what he means? Should the church have divided over whether to admit people of African descent? Or over recognizing the gifts of women in ordination? Or blessing the life-long, loving, mutual commitment of same-sex partners?

What kind of division is Jesus talking about? And how does it help us to be more faithful disciples? And how does it guide us in being more watchful for his return?

I think this has less to do with doctrinal disputes like those above and more to do with behavior. Though Jesus revealed God to us, he also revealed what it looks like to be a faithful human to God. When he fed the 5000+ men and women, he showed us that faithful humans provide for the needy. When he related to sinners, he showed us that it is faithful to forgive. To the outcast, the faithful offer welcome. Regarding the lost, faithful people seek them. To those on the margins of society, Jesus was an advocate.

This way of faithfulness is opposite of the way of the world. Think about what the world says about the needy: They have made bad decisions, or are lazy, or just unlucky. Sinners deserve the judgment upon them. The outcast are outcast because we’ve cast them out. The lost should have stayed with the flock. Do we really want to make room in the middle of our lives for those who are on the margins?

Because Jesus’ faithfulness is opposite to the world, when we follow Jesus it eventually leads to division. There will be conflict. There will be protests. There will be arrests. There will be persecutions. There will be crucifixions. Just as Jesus.

He refers to this dynamic as bringing fire to the earth. This is the purging fire of God’s redeeming work in the world. But before those fires burn, dividing people who follow faithfulness from those who do not, the purifying fire burns first in us.

Because while Jesus reveals God and faithful humanity, he also reveals that we are already divided. We possess the remnant of the divine image with which we are created. And the power of sin also resides in us. It’s a close but uneven division. Using the metaphor of the household, Jesus says among the five residents, we are divided three against two today, and two against three tomorrow.

We are closely divided within ourselves. We desire to be faithful, but we are weak when it comes to carrying it out. It is for this reason that Jesus urges us to watch for him, the pioneer and perfector of faith. We’re not to avoid the divisions or the fires. Instead we are to watch for Jesus to come and help. This is what it means to be a faithful disciple.

We don’t settle for a peace that is not also just. Or a peace that is not also loving. Or a peace that is not also inclusive. For such peace is not peace, but compromise. It is compromise with the power of sin within us and in the world.

Disciples of Jesus pursue faithfulness as he did, and watch for him when the divisions come and the fires burn, as they inevitably will. To help us, Jesus gave us the Table where we remember his death and resurrection, what he calls the “completion of his baptism.” His baptism is complete, and until our baptism is also complete in death and resurrection, we remember Jesus and watch for his coming, receiving him again and again at the Lord’s Table.

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04.21.19 Amazing Doubt Isaiah 65.17-25 Luke 24.1-12 Sermon Summary

“Jerusalem” means “City of peace”. I can’t remember it ever being that, which is why Isaiah’s prophecy about Jerusalem is so hard to believe.

When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, there was little doubt what could happen. It was Passover week, the most important Jewish holiday celebrating their liberation from foreign powers. Thus occupying Rome already had an itchy trigger finger. This in addition to the fact that Jesus’ conflict with religious authorities was reaching its peak.

Jesus went knowing the very real possibility that he would die. Even his disciples, as they reluctantly joined him on his journey, said, “Let us go and die with him.”

Jerusalem was the center of corruption. A greedy priesthood was collaborating with Rome and disenfranchising the common religious people. Some Jews separated themselves. Others planned rebellion. Some emphasized ritual purity. Others urged spiritual renewal. No one was looking to Jerusalem for leadership. And yet that is where Jesus insisted on going.

Jesus went to Jerusalem because Jesus was a believer in Isaiah. On one hand, Isaiah is easy to believe in. He is quoted throughout the Bible and throughout Christian worship. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.” “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “To us a child will be born, and his name shall be wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace.” “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.”

These verses make it easy to believe Isaiah. But these are not the verses Jesus believed most. He believed Isaiah’s prophecies about Jerusalem. God would create a new Jerusalem, a whole new earth, even new heavens! Jerusalem would be a joy. A place of life instead of death. A place of justice instead of exploitation. A place of answered prayer instead of religious commerce. A place of peace instead of strife. A place of healing instead of hurting.

This is the Isaiah Jesus believed in. This is the Jerusalem Jesus came to save.

Sounds like a pipe dream, doesn’t it? If someone told you this is how it ends in Jerusalem, given the history of Jerusalem, it would seem like an idle tale.

So it makes some sense that the women came to the tomb having prepared spices. They witnessed Jesus executed and buried outside of Jerusalem despite all his faith. They didn’t have Jesus’ faith in Isaiah anymore, Jesus’ faith in God’s creating something new, Jesus’ faith in Jerusalem.

They had lost faith. When our faith is shaken we do as they did. We do what we can. We go back to what works. We lean on tradition. We remember the “good old days.” We prepare spices, like Mary, Joanna, and the other women. At least it’s familiar. It gives us something to do.

And then there, right in the middle of our coping, though we’re convinced our dreams are dead, in the midst of our tradition, God’s promises come to us anew. And we hear a gentle and familiar admonition: “Why are you searching for the living among the dead? Do you not remember his words?”

Then they remembered. And they believed. More than belief, they had conviction. Still Isaiah’s visions were true. Still God has power to create. Still Jerusalem, and the earth, and the heavens can be saved. For still and again, Jesus is alive.

So they told the other disciples, and the other disciples heard. Maybe they also remembered. But they considered it an “idle tale.”

Sometimes hearing and remembering aren’t enough. How many of us have heard and remembered the stories, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter? Sometimes we need an experience. Like the scent of a candle. Like the splash of water on our face. Or the warmth of wine in our chest. Or the gentle touch of a Good Samaritan.

And even then for some people it takes more time. For Peter chased an experience. He ran to the grave, saw that it was empty, then “went home amazed at what had happened.”

Peter had amazing doubt. At least there is doubt. Doubt suggests at a minimum we’re asking questions. Amazing doubt may be closer than doubt to conviction, but it has some ways to go. We know Peter eventually got there. Maybe we will too.

This morning you’ve heard that on this third day since Jesus’ death he has risen from the dead. Maybe you’re like the women that morning. Grieving a loss. Resigned to reality. In spiritual despair. Don’t worry—you’re on the path.

Maybe you’ve heard Isaiah’s vision this morning, and God’s plan to create all things new, and a little hope has stirred within you.

Maybe this morning your belief has strengthened into conviction and you know beyond knowledge, with a peace that transcends understanding, that God can recreate your life just as God resurrected Christ from the dead.

Or perhaps you’ve heard and experienced something here and you don’t know quite what to make of it, but it is amazing to you. You have amazing doubt.

Wherever you are, this morning you’re on the path. You’ve joined other disciples of doubt who are trying their best to follow Jesus—Jesus who has resurrected from the dead to lead us into God’s peaceful city.

It is the resurrected Christ who is our host at this Table. He invites us to rejoice in his presence, to receive his life, and to have our faith strengthened so that we may see as Isaiah saw, and work for peace in the world.

04.20.19 Amazing Doubt Luke 24.1-12 Easter Vigil Version

The Great Easter Vigil is the dramatic counterpoint to Christmas Eve. Four months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Incarnation, the appearance of light in a dark world. Tonight we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, the triumph of light in the universe.

During the Vigil we hear a rehearsal of “salvation history,” stories of the Bible recounting God’s deliverance. There may be as many as twelve or more such stories read. There must be at least three.

Tonight we heard Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Zephaniah’s prophecy assuring the return of the Exiles, and the one story that is required every Vigil, the Exodus account. The reading from Exodus is Israel’s foundational story. In it God’s identity as deliverer and savior is revealed, as well as the Jewish identity as God’s own people.

It is amazing to me how early doubt enters the community of faith. After the ten plagues in Egypt, how could the ancient Israelites doubt? And yet they did. They said, “This God is a tease. He leads us out of Egypt into the wilderness only to let us die here.”

Moses’ message in response was, “Keep going. You don’t know when God’s deliverance will kick in.”

Story after story, in remembrance like the reading from Exodus, in metaphor like Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, in poetry like Zephaniah’s prophecy, through Joseph, David, Gideon, Sampson, Ruth, and Ester, the Bible tells the history of salvation.

It’s amazing to me that the followers of Jesus doubted. Had they completely forgotten the God to whom Jesus prayed? Had they missed the God to whom Jesus pointed?

I suppose in the face of death and such utter disappointment that perhaps it’s understandable that they doubted. Or just forgot.

When it happens to us, when we doubt or forget, we do what we can. We go back to what works. We lean on tradition. We remember the “good old days.” We prepare spices, like Mary, Joanna, and the other women. At least it’s familiar. It gives us something to do.

And then there, right in the middle of our coping, though we’re convinced our dreams are dead, in the midst of our tradition, God’s promises come to us anew and we hear a gentle and familiar admonition: “Why are you searching for the living among the dead? Do you not remember his words?”

Then they did remember, and they believed. More than belief, they had conviction. Still God’s promises were true. Still God saves. Still we are God’s people.

So they told the other disciples. he other disciples heard, maybe they also remembered. But they considered it an “idle tale.” Sometimes hearing and remembering aren’t enough. How many of us have heard and remembered the stories, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter?

Sometimes we need an experience, like the scent of a candle, like the splash of water on our face, or the warmth of wine in our chest, or the gentle touch of a Good Samaritan. And even then for some people it takes more time. For Peter chased an experience. He ran to the grave, saw that it was empty, then “went home amazed at what had happened.”

Peter had amazing doubt. At least there’s doubt. Doubt suggests at a minimum we’re asking questions. Amazing doubt may be closer than doubt to conviction, but it has some ways to go.

We know Peter eventually got there. Maybe we will too.

Tonight you’ve heard pieces of the salvation story and how in Jesus God renews his promises. Maybe you’re like the women that morning. Grieving a loss. Resigned to reality. In spiritual despair. Don’t worry—you’re on the path.

Maybe you’ve heard the promise tonight, and a little hope has stirred within you.

Maybe tonight your belief has strengthened into conviction and you know beyond knowledge, with a peace that transcends understanding, that God is your savior and that you are God’s child.

Or perhaps you’ve heard and experienced something here and you don’t quite know how to handle it, but it is amazing to you. You have amazing doubt.

Wherever you are, tonight you’re on the path. You’ve joined other disciples of doubt who are trying their best to follow Jesus—Jesus, who has resurrected from the dead to lead us into God’s deliverance.

 

 

04.19.19 John 19.16-42 Good Friday Sermon

The late Roman Catholic scholar and priest Raymond Brown described the Gospels as “Passion narratives with long introductions.” Indeed the suffering (passion) of Jesus has enjoyed historical priority in the telling of Jesus’ life.

After the sixteenth century Reformation in the West, Jesus’ death became the particular focus for Protestants. This is when the theology that “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place” became dominant. More recently among evangelicals, the emphasis has been on Jesus’ resurrection.

But it is a fair question: Why did Jesus die? Beyond the obvious answer that he was a created being? Perhaps the compelling question is better phrased, Why did Jesus die the way he did?

There is some truth to the answer above. “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place.” We do see this answer in the New Testament which was written beginning about twenty-five years after Jesus death.

But Jesus, and some NT writers, had a larger view, in part because if Jesus’ death satisfied the penalty for sin, why do we still feel guilty and anxious? Why do we still die? Why do we still suffer?

The larger vision of Jesus’ suffering and death is reflected in parts of the book of Hebrews. There we read that, “We have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate identification with our weakness as human creatures. We succumb to death.

Using John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, I want to reflect upon this question. How does Christ sympathize with our weakness?

There are times we suffer uniquely alone, for example, in the death of a child or through the burden of a degenerative disease. It helps to remember that Christ carried the Cross alone.

There are times when the popular crowd excludes us. It helps to remember that Jesus was crucified with outcasts.

Sometimes our words are taken out of context, and our good intentions are derailed by a carless word. Jesus also was misunderstood and mischaracterized though he was a king.

Sometimes people gossip about us. Christ was also a humiliated celebrity.

There are times when we resolve to love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s a sacrifice. It helps to remember that Jesus suffered with a purpose.

Sometimes people are just mean. It helps to remember Jesus was also mistreated with the Roman soldier’s spear.

And John tells us that Jesus trusted God in his suffering. This is the practical meaning of his death according to the larger vision. We can trust God in our suffering because Christ trusted God in his suffering.

And more, as God vindicated Christ’s suffering by resurrecting him from the dead, so we hope God will vindicate our suffering. For we share in Christ’s suffering when we suffer, and we share in Christ’s death with our death. And the sacrament of baptism promises that we will share in Christ’s resurrection also. We don’t suffer alone, and when we do suffer, we still have hope.

So let us listen to the Passion narratives and their long introductions and the Good Friday liturgies. Let us find comfort in Christ’s death “for your sins and in your place.” And let us find strength in Christ’s death “because you don’t suffer alone and because you have hope.”

04.18.19 Grace to the Humble John 13.1-17 Sermon

Tonight the paradox of Holy Week is distilled into one act. Of course the week begins with Jesus’ entrance as a king and through a gross miscarriage of justice it ends with his execution as traitor. And in one act we see the message again: Jesus the teacher and Lord washes the feet of his disciples as a slave.

This one act, and all of Holy Week, simply reflects his life. His whole ministry was one of paradox. Against the religious, he welcomed sinners. Against the powerful, he welcomed disenfranchised. Against the popular, he welcomed the outcast. Against those who had no need of a doctor, he welcomed the sick. Jesus’ life was a paradox.

John offers an explanation as to how Jesus could live according to the paradox: “Jesus knew God had given him all things, that he was from God, and was returning to God.” It was this assurance that led him to be faithful, that led him to serve. The assurance goes all the way back to his baptism and forward to his crucifixion.

Jesus is the revelation of the paradox of God, a God who graciously exchanges the light for those living in darkness, the faithful for the unfaithful, the free for the bound, the innocent for the guilty, the sinless for the unclean, the truly living for the truly dying, the giver for the greedy, and the king for the subject. Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker summarizes our situation: “If yours is the glory, mine must be the shame.”

Except for Jesus. For there is another paradox in this passage. You and I can participate in the same divine life as Jesus. He said, “Unless I wash your feet, you have no share with me.”

How can we who are in shame, have a share in the glorious? How can we who are the guilty, have a share in the innocent?

It starts with Jesus washing our feet, cleaning us where we need it. Not our heads and our hands, as Peter insisted (unless we need that), but only our targeted need. The place we need it most, which we hide the hardest, is where God wants to wash us. That’s where grace is applied to us. It takes humility to receive grace, to have a share, and it starts with Jesus washing our feet.

But then it continues. We have to wash others, according to their need, not where we want to show them grace, but where they need it. It takes humility to offer grace as well.

And Jesus has plenty of grace to offer, plenty of grace to share, for all who will allow him to wash their feet, and who will wash the feet of others. Amen.

04.14.19 Jesus’ Preview of our Lives Philippians 2.1-11 Sermon Summary

The central claim of Christianity is that God is revealed in Jesus Christ. What we overlook is that we also are revealed in Jesus Christ.

We began our Lenten Journey on Ash Wednesday, when we contemplated how all things return to dust, including sin, and how this is good news.

Then we read about the Temptation of Jesus, and considered how God claims us as his children without regard to how useful we are, what others say about us, or even how religious we are.

Then we talked about repentance and change, how it helps to have the proper attitude, to use new language in our prayers, and the inspiration we can draw from the examples of the saints.

But then we talked about repenting of repentance, how we must turn away from sin and fear and turn instead to holiness and love.

Last week we read about Mary of Bethany and Paul the Apostle, and observed how a habit of giving opens us up to receive from God and frees us to give extravagantly.

Now our Lenten journey brings us to Holy Week. It begins with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem and ends with Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Jesus’ last week is a dramatic reminder of our destiny, a rehearsal of our own lives. As he did, we make a grand entrance at our birth, with many people anticipating our arrival and welcoming us with joy.

Then we live lives of drama, just as Jesus did throughout the week. We enjoy friendship as at the house of Mary and Martha. We experience conflict, as Jesus did with the authorities. We suffer betrayal, like Jesus did by Judas. And we encounter systemic unfairness and injustice, like Jesus did before his crucifixion.

Finally, we all will experience death. Death empties us of our lives. For some, it is a welcome relief. For others, as death approaches, we cling all the harder to life. But no matter where we are on the continuum, death empties us completely.

As we begin this Holy Week, this preview of our lives through the last week of Jesus’ life, let us remember: In the meantime, between today and the day we die, we can live this life in Christ. And we can live this life with Christ in us. And so we can live with the assurance that God will resurrect us, just as he did Christ at the end of his life.

In other words, Holy Week reminds us that Jesus’ fate is our fate. Eventually we all lose our lives. Eventually we all take up the cross. Eventually we all return to dust. Eventually we all rest in God. Eventually we all rise with Christ.

Since this is the case, Paul urges us to have the same mind as Christ, even in this life. We are to humble ourselves, to serve one another and the world, to make our lives really count for something. This Holy Week, and throughout our lives, let us live in Christ, let us serve in Christ, let us die in Christ, and let us rise with Christ.

When Christ said, “remember me” at his Table, this is what he meant. Remember my body, remember my blood. Live, serve, die, and rise with me.

04.07.19 John 12.1-12 Pouring Out Sermon Summary

The story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus is one that makes many people uncomfortable. We just KNOW the point is that we all should give more to Jesus. Few of us have the faith to admit that we’re more like Judas. Fortunately, there are some simple steps we may take to become more like Mary.

Jesus had come to the house of Mary and Martha, sisters to Lazarus, in Bethany, a town outside of Jerusalem, a short time after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. At some point during dinner, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair.

The action alone was extraordinary and reminds us that every giving action is a form of worship. But what is more, the perfume was valuable—300 denarii we’re told. A year’s worth of wages. Let’s estimate it at $30,000 today. That’s like giving Jesus a new car.

Mary appears to have understood something that we say we understand, but our actions don’t always align. She understood that God deserves gifts from us. She understood also that God delights in our gifts. Any act of giving is an act of worship. A big gift, in the right spirit, is a big act of worship.

Many of us want to give but feel we can’t. Or we don’t really get around to doing it. I recently spoke with a retiring doctor on his way the Caribbean. “Are you going to do relief work after the hurricanes?” “Not this time, but I do want to. I’m keeping my license active so I can do something like that someday.”

Well, nothing was going to stop Mary. She was convinced God deserves our gifts and delights in them. Nothing else mattered. Not Martha’s opinion. Not Judas’ criticism. Not even Lazarus’ need. Remember Lazarus had died not too much earlier. His body needed anointing. But Mary waited to anoint Jesus.

How did Mary get something so valuable? Today we would have to work extra hours. Or save a long time. Or maybe we would receive it as a gift. What matters is not how she got it, but that she gave—extravagantly and unreservedly.

How can we give to God when it seems we can’t? How can we be sure when the time is right that we can give to God like Mary did?

Every life is like an empty pitcher which we fill up with things important to us, things like school, sports, music, friends, work, games, TV, movies, car, furniture, gadgets, clothes, books, food, and activities. The whole time, God is right next to us also wanting to fill our lives.

Isaiah forty-three gives us a picture of God’s desire. Right there in the desert of our lives, God promises to make a river, providing water for the animals and drink for the people. But how can God do this if our lives are already full with other things?

The Apostle Paul answers with another picture. Paul was an exceptional religious individual, the admiration of everyone. Then he met Jesus, and he decided that all his religious observance and righteousness weren’t as valuable as knowing Christ. So he poured some of his life out, and what he discovered is that God filled him. This dynamic continued for Paul: The more he poured himself out, the more God filled him. Paul found he could give himself to God the way Mary gave to God.

This is something we can do, too. We can make room for God by giving less room to other things. We can “pour out” something valuable to us to God, then be filled by God so we can give again.

It’s important to give like Paul and Mary. “Giving generously reprioritizes lives and helps people distinguish what is lasting, eternal, and of infinite value from what is temporary, illusory, and untrustworthy.” (Bishop Robert Schnase)

Mary gave us a picture of giving to God. But Mary’s wasn’t the only gift that day. We’re told that Martha served the meal. Martha gave us another picture of giving. And just as Jesus praised Mary’s gift, so he praised Martha’s gift by imitation, as later that week he served a meal himself. This is the meal he still serves today, as we gather at the Lord’s Table.

God has created us as vessels of his grace. God’s grace never runs out. The more room we create to receive it, and the more we give it away, the more it will flow through us. May we seek and find grace in our life this week. Amen.