Monday, November 29, 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - Christ the King

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I. Coming to an understanding of the text
The people were disenchanted. Things did not look good. They looked to their leaders and their leaders lead them astray. Where they had been promised prosperity, they found only want. Where they had been promised peace, they found only turmoil. Where they had been promised better times to come, they found that things only seemed to get worse and worse. They had been promised so much had dared to dream of change but all they saw was more of the same or worse. They were defeated their future looked bleak. They had looked to their leaders to give them what they needed to survive and their leaders lead them astray.
It is to these disheartened, disenchanted, distraught people whom God speaks this morning and whereas the people are lost in the misery of the chaos and turmoil of their day, God is infuriated. God is livid. How dare the leaders of God’s people do this to those whom God loves! God had warned the people when they had called for a King, so they could be like all the nations around them, that having a King would be no end of heartache for them and the people, like a child who desires to eat the whole cake all at once and finds a way to eat it in spite of repeated warnings from the loving adults in her life who all told her that eating the whole thing will give her a bellyache, Israel demands to have a King. Now the King and the other leaders of the people of Israel, having not heeded the repeated warnings which God has given to them, have ensured the beginning of the end for the nation as a whole. The nation is in a mess and the people have nobody to whom they can turn. Their King has failed them, and their leaders have failed them. They are lost, they are sheep without a shepherd, actually worse they are sheep with shepherds who have lead them astray, taken them directly into harms way, have turned on the sheep and scattered them. And God pronounces judgment on them for doing so.
God will not stand by and continually allow this to happen to the people whom God loves. God stands up and says, “This will not continue to happen, not on my watch, not while I am still God around here.” And God speaks to the people and makes a promise to them. God promises that all though the flock will be scattered to the nations, God will gather them back up and bring them back to the land. Although they may go into exile, God will not allow exile to be the final word, they will be returned to the land which God had given to them.
God will bring them back. God will gather them up and bring them back to where they belong. Although, they may be few when they return they will be fruitful and multiply. “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is a phrase you may recognize from Genesis. In the beginning after God sat down in the dust of the newly formed earth, reached in to the earth and formed the first humans, looked at them, blessed them pronouncing them good, set them in the garden, the first thing God told them was to “be fruitful and multiply.” God is not merely restoring them but God is promising to restore them back to whom they were created to be. Things would not simply be better but thing would be completely, absolutely and finally set right.
But not only does God promise to set things eternally right, but God promises to give them a real shepherd, a shepherd who shepherd’s the way a shepherd should. God will not mess around with these shepherds who take the sheep into harm’s way. God will not longer allow for shepherds who instead of gathering and protecting, scatter and neglect. God will not tolerate shepherds who destroy when they should be protecting. Instead God will raise up for them new shepherds. But God will not just raise up any ole shepherds, but “the day is coming,” God says, when God will raise up a righteous Branch the stump of the grand tree which once was the house of David. This will be a new kind of King, not just a shepherd who knows how do to his job but this will be a ruler who will save the people, and allow them to live in safety. There will be peace, there will be prosperity, and things will be set right. Not merely made better, not merely made tolerable but right, once and for all truly right.
II. Applying the Text
Today as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, we are thinking about the kind of King Jesus is, we are thinking about the rule of God, about the reign of Christ, the kingdom of Heaven which is and which will one day be. Today is a big day in the yearly life of the church. Today marks the end of the church year, next week; the first week of Advent is the first Sunday of new church year. This next week is the week in between times.
It kind of reminds me of Lewis’s wood between the worlds. Many of you may be familiar with Chronicles of Narnia, especially since the first two books have already been made into movies with the third, coming out in just a few short weeks. I have read the books of this series more times than you all would care to know, that is the way I am with books I like, I read them over and over again to gaining new and deeper insight into them each time I read them (I know I am a nerd). Anyway, my favorite of the books since I was four years old and my parents read it to me for the first time, has always been The Magicians Nephew. What has always fascinated me about this book is the Wood between the Worlds. Via magical means the two children of this book find themselves in a wood which is really nowhere. It is place which is in between places, once there, if you know how, you can get from there into any world you want, but the place itself is both apart of all those worlds and not a part of any of them at the same time. It is nowhere and everywhere. It is quite simply and plainly in between everywhere. It is both here and there and at the same time neither. Not hard to figure out why such a place would capture the imagination of a four year old and continue to have a hold of that same girl’s imagination three decades later.
The week we are entering is very similar. It is the week between years. It is both part of the year which is just ending and a part of the year which is about to begin and at the same time a part of neither. We begin this week celebrating the Kingship, the lordship, the eternal reign of Jesus Christ and end the week celebrating the anticipation of the coming of Christ. So in many ways it is a week of the already and not yet, where the end of one year has come but the next has not yet really come. We celebrate the eternal kingship of Christ and anticipate a kingdom which has already come but has not yet really come. This week in so many ways is exactly where we are living. It is where we are, between the celebration of the eternal kingship of Christ and the celebration of our anticipation of Christ’s coming. Christ has come, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, yet we are waiting, longing, anticipating for Christ to come and for Christ’s kingdom to be revealed. Now is the time between times, when we have tasted who Christ is but have not yet fully tasted what it means for the kingdom to have truly come.
As Christians when we hear God speak about a king from the line of David who will come to deal wisely with God’s people, who will execute justice and righteousness in the land and hear about lives being restored to the created ordering, we can not help but think about Jesus Christ. But at the same time our attention can not help but turn to the fact that although Christ has come, we are not yet living in a world where justice and righteousness are the rule of law. We are not living a world where all things have been restored to their created goodness, we do not see peace, we do not see a world which reflects the promises made here in this passage, but we are living in a world which has seen the coming of Christ, were there are glimpses of these things. We live in world where we can see the shadows of the righteousness, peace and justice which will be; shadows which let us know what is to come, but as of yet is not.
Just as this passage causes our Christian minds to see the life, message and purpose of Christ in the promise of the shepherd King whom God promises to the people, this passage draws our minds eye to a reality which has yet to come, a reality we are not yet living. Along with a King who shepherds with justice and righteousness, a King who gathers and protects we are promised a world where all things are restored to the way they should be, a world, which is returned to the goodness and rightness, which was seen at first creation, but we do not live in that world. Instead we live in this broken twisted world, where all too often heartache and chaos reign.
We, like the people of this passage, live in a world where our leaders fail us and lead us astray. We live in a world were we are scattered, abandoned and neglected. It seems as if neither righteousness, nor justice can be found anywhere. In too many ways we are the sheep in this passage. And God promises us something. God promises us a shepherd who loves, a shepherd who protects, a shepherd who provides leads and will shepherd as a shepherd should. God promises a King who reigns, not like any earthly king for his own good, to please his own self but instead promises a king who rules justly and with righteousness.
Just as this week is the week between times, we are living in a time between times; we are living in a time when we are looking for the King who will come and at the same time rejoicing in the King who has come. Just as Christ the King Sunday is a Sunday which anticipates the anticipation celebrated in the season of Advent, we can see this passage and see how it anticipates Jesus, the King who had not yet come, but live in a world where Jesus has come, while we continue to anticipate the world which the king who has come and will come again will usher in.
III. Conclusion
So the old saying of Advent goes, “Christ has come, Christ will come again, “ we are living in this time between times, anticipating a world where all things will be set right, but even still we begin to lives which are set right. We see within our lives, as we allow ourselves to be transformed into the likeness of Christ we can in our actions, reactions and interactions bring glimpses of the kingdom which is yet to come into the reality of this world. As we attempt to live as Christ would live, love as Christ would love in our daily lives, each time we succeed we bring the justice and righteousness King of this passage to reign in this unjust and unrighteous would. Every time we reach out and right a wrong, make just what is unjust, we allow the kingdom of God, the reign of Christ the king to make shadows in this world, shadows which allow people all around us to catch glimpses of the one who will come, of the life which can be, of what it will mean when one day all things will be set right, when one day all things will be just; when one day all things will be restored to the goodness of creation.
So as we celebrate the Reign of Christ today, the Kingship of Jesus, let us live that kingship in our own lives. Let us bring the kingship of Christ to bear in how we live our lives. Let us live as if Christ reigns, let us live as if Christ is King. Let us live justly, let us live rightly. Let us allow God to use us to make right the wrongs, let us where we see unjustness make justice in this world. We do this by living as Christ would live, loving as Christ would love. We do this by speaking words of kindness where harsh words would be easier. We do this by responding with grace and forgiveness where it would be easier to respond in judgment. We do this by giving to those who are in need, by loving those who are unloved and by bringing fairness to a world which is anything but fair.
Christ the king Sunday is not just a day on which we think about what it means that Christ is king. It is not just a day one which we think about what life will be like when the Lord truly reigns in this world, is it day which calls us to live the kingship of Christ each and everyday, in every moment, each time we see another human being, each time we have a chance to interact with those around us we have a choice, we can choose to react as if business is usual, in the ways we are most inclined to act, or we can choose to act as if love was the law, as if justice was the only option, in short we can choose to act as if God’s kingdom has already come, instead of merely wishing it so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating in the Rubble Pile - Haggai 1:15-2:9

About 70 years before Haggai gave this message, the country of Israel was absolutely and utterly destroyed. The nation had been conquered. Everything of value was taken away. The sacred items were taken out of the temple and carted off as war booty. The Temple itself was completely demolished, not one stone remained upon another. The people were also carted off and taken into exile. They were forced to live out their lives as foreigner in a foreign land.

Then, about 20 years prior to this passage, the King of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to Israel. This was cause for much rejoicing. It had been about 70 years. These people had spent their whole lives dreaming about returning home. They were exhilarated. They joyfully made the journey back to Israel. The world had been set right. They were going home. The sun was brighter, the bird songs more lovely, and the breeze smelt sweeter; well that was until they cleared that last hill which separated them from the land of beauty and bounty of which they had spent their lives dreaming and did not see the lush rolling hill country fertile and bursting with the bounty of the land and beautiful cities which would cause those of their captors to pale in comparison. Instead, they saw barren fields over grown with soil which looked as if it would refuse to yield anything. They saw the burnt out shells of what were once their grand cities and rubble piles which had once been their ancestral homes. When they returned they found their homes and their cities destroyed by war. The land was barren and desolate, burned, un-worked and practically wild from being left for nearly a century. Nothing was as it had been.
Where there had once been a rich prosperous country there was just a broken shell of a country, which had been conquered, looted and left in a state of perpetual disrepair by the invading forces.

Not only that, even though they were allowed to return to their land it was still not their land; not really. They were no longer a self governing country; they were no longer a sovereign nation. Persia had placed a governor over them to rule them. As far as the government went being home was the same as being in exile. They were still under Persian control, living by Persian law, but now instead of living like this in a far off land, as they had while in exile, save they were doing it in their own land.

They arrived and everything was much the same as it had been right before they had left, completely and utter destroyed. So they did the only thing they could do, they started to rebuild. They set to work rebuilding their homes, their cities and working to make the ground fertile again.

About a month before Haggai brought this message, the people had begun to rebuild the temple. This was a long and arduous process. First, they had to clear out all the rubble, they had to sort the useable stones from the ones which were destroyed beyond repair, then they had reshape the usable stones and finally they had to find enough new ones, only they could they set to actually rebuilding the temple. Things were slow going and they were not making very much progress. It was nearly a month into the temple rebuild project and it still looked like a gigantic rubble pile.
You may have noticed that the passage gives a very specific date as to when Haggai gave this message to the people. The scripture tells us that the Word of the Lord came to Haggai on the 21st day of the month of Tishri, which would have fallen on Oct 17th of the year 520. This date is given because the day on which Haggai was given this message to take to the people of God is important. When Haggai stands up to address the people, it is the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles. The Festival of Tabernacles is a festival which always happens in the Fall, in mid to late October, even to this day. It is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar. Festival of Tabernacles, also called the festival of booths or Sukkoth, is the one of the seven festivals which God instructs the people to celebrate. The festival of Tabernacles is the time during which the People of God celebrate how God had taken care of them in they traveled in the desert, as well as being a harvest festival thanking God for God’s provision, it occurred right after the last Harvest had been taken in. It was a time to celebrate how God had taken care of God’s people for yet another year, as well as celebrating the promise of how God would continue to take care of them for the year to come, which a bountiful harvest showed them.

I want you to imagine this scene with me. The people, they are standing in the midst of the rubble of what use to be the temple, they have started rebuilding the walls from reshaped/misshapen stones which they have collected, the walls are sad and sagging and in places they keep falling down, even as they attempt to rebuild them. Beyond the crumbling walls of the temple they can see the half built houses, which they put together in hast simply so they could have somewhere to live. These sad, sagging, structures make up the grand city of Jerusalem, which is then surrounded by a wall that is crumbling at its’ best and no-existent at it’s’ worst.

Here they are surrounded by the basically empty shell of the grand city, which once was, celebrating how God has taken care of them by providing a harvest and looking back celebrating how God had taken care of them all the years they wandered in the desert. But [pause] the problem is, there was no harvest; the crops had failed. There is no bountiful harvest for which they can celebrate God’s care and see the promise of how God will continue to care for them into the future.
Things look bleak. Here they are back in the land flowing with milk and honey and not only is there no milk and honey but there is no harvest, there is no temple and as they look at the rubble and destruction all around them they feel as if they are never going to be able to rebuild. It is hopeless.

In the midst of the destruction, in the midst of the rubble, in the midst of the hopelessness, God has a message for them. God says, “Remember the former glory of the temple?” The people look around them at the ram shackled temple all around them and it is really kind of hard to imagine the temple which had once stood in this very place. Very few, if any, of those who had been originally carted off into exile, would still be alive after being exiled for nearly 70 years. The people who stood in the ruins what was once the splendor of Solomon’s temple had merely heard about the temple and its former glory from their parents and grandparents. They had grown up on the stories of their homeland, Jerusalem, and the glory of the Temple which stood at its heart, much like many of us grew up on fairy tales.
None-the-less, God tells them to look at the temple around them. Thing is what was all around them looked like nothing. It was a rubble pile. It was not a temple. But where they saw a pile of rubble God saw a temple. God was calling them to see what God saw. To see with new eyes to catch a glimpse of the vision God had for them. Gods says to them, “I am with you – with me – there can be a temple where there is no temple.”

God is the God who made something out of nothing. God spoke the universe into existence after all. In the beginning there was nothing and God made something but here, here God at least has some stones from the former temple with which to begin.

In the midst of the hopelessness Haggai is given a message of hope, “God is with you and when God is with you can do what seems impossible. With God with you, you can rebuild this temple. Not only that, but just as the nations carted everything which had once made up the grand glory of the temple; all the gold, all the lamps, all the plates, goblets, God says those same nations would come and fill the temple again. Not only will the temple be rebuilt but it will be even better than it was before – God will take the rubble and make it even more beautiful and more spectacular than before.

Side note – Eventually they do rebuild the temple and in the end the temple which Herod would complete, which is an refurbishment of the one they were now building, was bigger, and by some estimations better and more spectacular than Solomon’s temple.

Too many times our lives can be compared to the rubble in which the Israelites were standing. And here we are, on yet another Sunday, called to rejoice in who God is and how God takes care of us. But sometimes when we look at the rubble in our lives, it is hard to see God. It is hard to see how God is taking care of us. We look around at the devastation, at the chaos, at the pain and the heartache and we cannot see how God could be a part of this at all. We look around and simply can’t see God. The bills are mounting. Our health or the health of those we love is not good. The children don’t always behave as well as we would like. No matter how often we do it, or how hard we try to stay on top of it the laundry seems to always need to be done. Things at work are not going well. Our relationships are not what we want them to be, it seems as if our spouse is slipping away from us. We are not as close to our parents or our grown children as we would like. Perhaps those relationships seem beyond repair. There is death and brokenness all around us. So many things in our lives are going wrong. Our lives are torn apart. We are surrounded by rubble, chaos and destruction. And, it is hard to celebrate God’s provision for us when it is hard to see how God is providing.

But God has a message for us this morning! God is calling for us to remember, to remember how God has provided in the past. God has a message of hope, hope for us as we find ourselves in the hopelessness of our lives, “Have you heard the stories of what I have done for other people? Do you remember how I have provided for you in the past? Can you see what I have done before? Can you see what is around you?”

Your life is not what you had hoped it to be, it is not how you wanted it to be. You had a dream of what it would be. You followed God and thought you were following God to the land flowing with milk and honey and instead you find yourself here (where ever here is). And here is not what it was crack up to be. You look around you and all you can see is chaos and destruction. Everything is a mess. It is a pile of rubble. So many things are going wrong. You feel like there is no way out. You are wondering how things can ever be good again.

God sees your life. God sees the pain, the hurt, the concerns, the rubble and the junk pile. But God wants you to know that God is a God who can take the junk and the rubble pile you feel your life is and turn it into something spectacular. God promises to be with you in the chaos, in the hurt. God promises to stand with you in the rubble, in the junk pile. God will be with you and work alongside of you as you rebuild your life. It won’t be easy. It may even collapse in on itself again. But God can assure you that someday, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow you will look around you and see your life as the glorious thing God sees.

With God with you, spectacular things will happen. With God with you, even God can make the impossible possible. You might be standing in the middle of a mess but know that even in the mess God is with you. Even when things look a bleak and bad as they can possibly be, God is with you and God promises that even though things might look insurmountable now, things will get better – take heart– God is with you, God has been with you and God will continue to be with you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

The gospels are full of teaching stories, stories which teach us important truths about God and God’s relationship with humanity. Recently we have been spending a lot of time in the teaching stories of Jesus, in the parables, Jesus used to teach the crowds, his disciples and the 12 while he was here on earth. Stories are one of the best ways to learn something. People remember a lesson they learn from a story much better than they will remember a lesson simply taught to them.

As we are looking at these stories it is important to not take them too far. Parables are teaching stories which are usually told to teach you one simple thing. They may contain some narrative details and some good story telling elements but the story as a whole is there to teach a simple truth. In many ways parables are extended similes or metaphors. If you say her eyes are like an ocean, you are probably saying that her eyes are blue or green and have the kind of depth of color that the ocean has, but you are not saying that are made of salt water and are teaming with fish and other kind of marine animals. It is very similar with this parable. Jesus is trying to say something with this parable to teach us something that he thought was important. Jesus chooses to teach this important lesson to his audience using this very colorful story, but we can not try to learn something from this parable that Jesus was not trying to teach.

This parable falls into a particular kind of parables, called “Kingdom of Heaven” parables. Gospels are full of “Kingdom of Heaven” parables. “Kingdom of Heaven” parables which usually begin with the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heave is like…” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. . .” “The kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who. . .” These parables are ones where Jesus is teaching about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. This parable is not a “Kingdom of Heaven” parable. It neither begins with the proper phrase nor is it teaching us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

Since this is not a Kingdom of Heaven parable and it is not attempting to teach us about Heaven, we really, can not conclude anything about what Heaven is like from this parable. As far as this particular parable is concerned, Heaven, Heaven’s attributes or its’ geography simply are not what Jesus is teaching about through this parable. Since it is a parable and not an historical account, the situations in the parable are not supposed to be taken literally; it is a story after all; a story teaching us an important lesson, but most defiantly not a description of the Heavenly life to come.

So the parable begins by telling us about an unnamed rich man. Names are important in Jewish culture, so it is very telling that Jesus gives Lazarus a name in this story but does not give the Rich Man a name. Jesus does tell us that he is dressed in fine purple cloth. Purple was a very costly dye, so only the very rich could afford to wear garments which were dyed purple. We are also told that this rich man feasted sumptuously everyday. In other ways he dressed and lived in a very extravagant manner. His clothing and lifestyle were actually way over the top, even for a rich person.

And then we have Lazarus, who by comparison is dressed only in sores and would like nothing more than to eat the scraps from the rich mans table. Lazarus is the poorest of the poor. And he lived outside the gates of the rich man. One man lived in extravagant wealth why the other lived in absolute poverty. One man lived in absolute ignorance of the other in spite of the fact that the other man was dieing on his doorstep. The other man lived in constant awareness of what the one man had which he did not and that the mere scraps which the one man threw away would have, if offered, sustained the other man.

The parable is about what happened to these two men. Lazarus dies and he is taken way by angels to be with Abraham. This might not be what we usually think of what will happen when we die. This was a very Jewish understanding of the best the afterlife could offer, being taken away by messengers of God and placed in the care of the Abraham the father of the Jewish people. On the other hand we have the rich man. He also dies. He is taken to the place of the dead, Hades and is tormented. Jesus tells us that from his place of torment he sees Lazarus and recognizes him as the man who used to sit at his gates and beg. And Rich Man wants Lazarus to dip his own finger in some water and bring that drop to him cool his tongue. He basically wants Lazarus to fetch him some water. After ignoring him and being completely unaware of this man and his plight in life, the Rich man now that Lazarus should be his servant in the after life; he wants Lazarus to run errands for him. Even though Lazarus is with Abraham and the Rich Man is being tormented, the Rich Man sees Lazarus as being less than him. In fact he sees himself so much above Lazarus that he does not even ask Lazarus, but asks Abraham to send Lazarus. He sees himself as a peer of Abraham, one who can call out to a friend and ask a favor of him. He asks Abraham to send his servant, Lazarus, to him so Lazarus can do a service for him. Abraham says, “No.”
The rich man, not to be thwarted and seeing that things are not going so well for him here in the afterlife once again calls out as if he were an equal and asks Abraham to send Lazarus on a different errand for him. Can Abraham send Lazarus to go and warn his brothers? Abraham “Says they already have a warning.” They know what is required of them in the Law God gave to them through Moses, if they do not heed the warning given to them by Moses and the Prophets, basically the Old -Testament, then they will not heed one come back from the dead.

So the question at this point is, “What is Jesus talking about?” We have already discussed that he is not talking about the geography of Heaven. This does not definitively tell us that all those who live in torment can see Heaven from where they are. It does not even tell us that al those who please God in this life go to live Abraham and all those who do not will be tormented. What Jesus is really talking about is our treatment of other people, our treatment of the people who live all around us, with whom we come in contact every day.

The parable tells us that the rich man was not a righteous person and he ended up in torment. Why? Because of the way he treated Lazarus. Here he was living an extra-extravagant lifestyle and Lazarus would have died (and probably did die from lack of) for the crumbs off the rich man’s table. Here was one man living wastefully all the while another is dieing of starvation on his doorstep. He was living in ignorance of this man dieing at his feet. He lived ignoring and in doing so mistreating this other man. One man is rich and the other is poor living in proximity to one another and the former does nothing to help, or ease the situation of the latter. This makes this rich man an unrighteous person. Now hear me correctly our treatment of the poor is not the only thing that denotes a righteous person. But our, kind, caring, compassionate treatment of all the other people around us is the good fruits which a righteous person bears. And Paul tells us that good trees produce good fruit. There are lots of things a righteous person should naturally do because they are righteous and their treatment of other people especially those less fortunate of them, is just one of them.

The topic of care for the needy is something which is not an unfamiliar topic in the Old Testament, Moses and the prophets talk about all the time. O. T. is full of instructions for the people of God to make sure the poor and the widows are taken care of and are not taken advantage of. These were the needy in the land. Taking them was part of the system God set up by which the people of God were to live. Often times when God is pronouncing Judgment on Israel in the Old Testament and is listing the sins of the people, the sin of not taking care of the needy or taking advantage of them is almost always listed. Jesus believes everyone should do what they can to take care of those who are less fortunate than themselves.
At the heart of taking care of the needy is Jesus’ call for us to love God and to love one another. Taking care of those who must struggle to make it day to day, or who are daily going without basic needs is just one way in which we show our love for one another. It is just one way we can take that love which God gives to us so freely and share it with those around us in just as free of a way which God shares God’s love with us.

So I can hear you, “Pastor I am not Rich like the rich man. I do not wear expensive clothing and eat expensive food. I am not what anyone would consider rich. But the “Rich Man” is not unrighteous because he wears purple clothes, he is unrighteous because he wears extravagant clothes while those around him are dieing of exposure. He is not unrighteous because he eats expensive food but because he does so while those around him are dieing of starvation. The “Rich Man” is not unrighteous because he is rich. The “Rich Man” is unrighteous because he does not treat those around them with kindness, caring or respect. The Rich Man is unrighteous because he does not live by the most basic thing Jesus calls for those who follow him to do, that is to love God and to love others.

So the question is not whether or not we are rich or poor. The question is not whether we adorn ourselves with fine clothes or eat good food. The question is, “How do we live?” not matter what our station in life is. The question is not, “How much money do we have?” Or, “Do we have more money than others?” But the question is not matter where ever we are in the social structure of our world, however much money we have or do not have, “Are we showing love for those around us?” “Are we living the love of Jesus Christ to those who are sitting on the doorsteps of our lives?” Or are there “Lazaruses” populating our lives, dieing on our doorstep from lack of things we have in abundance without our even knowing or acknowledging their existence? This parable is about living righteously before other. This parable is about living righteously toward others. This parable is about living righteously in relationship with others. Jesus to us this morning is to look around our lives. Open our eyes, step outside the safety and comfort of our lives and look at those who live around us. Are we loving them? Are we sharing the love of Jesus Christ with them, in our words, in our deeds, and in our actions? Living as Christ calls us to live, is not only about loving God. It not only about living right and good lives which are pleasing to God, but it is also about loving the people in our world; taking care of the needy; taking care of those who are struggling; showing the love of Jesus Christ by living the love, by acting the love, by allowing our hands, our feet, as well as our resources to speak the love of Jesus Christ into people’s lives. We are the only Jesus Christ many people see, what kind of Jesus Christ are they seeing if we walk by them everyday and allow them to suffer on our doorsteps?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Parable of Lost Things

Luke 15:1-32

Did you all know that is my one of my top two favorite passages in the Bible? I know it is one of those passages that some of you have heard over and over again, and so have I. But still, it is one of my favorites. There is so much hidden in this passage, so many things to look at, so many things to think about, many things that can help us grow and encourage us in our relationships with God. It is about stubbornness and self-centeredness, and it is about the forgiveness and steadfast love of God almighty. It is truly one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible, well in my opinion at least.
So here we have Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. They are all gathered around. Perhaps they are reclining after the delicious meal provided by their host and as they lean back in their seats, Jesus begins to teach. Now these are tax collectors and sinners Jesus is hanging out with here, they are not the kind of people one would expect to sit around and listen to a sermon. But since they are there, well fed and in good spirits, they decided to listen, to see what this radical new teacher had to say.
You and I might think this is great. A bunch of sinners have decided to sit around after dinner and listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees, the self appointed maintainers of all that is good and right in Jewish society don’t think this is such a good idea. They knew that bad company corrupts good character; their Mama’s told them that, just like yours and mine told us. They also knew that birds of a feather flock together. Jesus is keeping bad company. One of two things can happen. First of all Jesus could be a bad bird. He could be hanging out with this undesirable crowd because he like them is undesirable. It would not be good if this new teacher whom everyone seems so keen on following was the bad sort. But even if Jesus is not a bad bird, if he continues to hang around with this bad sort, sooner or later their character is going to rub off on him and even if he is not so bad now, pretty soon he will be just like those with whom he is associating.
And as all this is going on; the sinners hanging out listening to him teach and the Pharisees upset because Jesus is spending all this time with these sinners, Jesus decides to tell a parable. But the scripture does not tell us to whom he is telling the parable. Is he telling it to the sinners with whom he is spending his time, or the Pharisees who are all up in arms over the company he is keeping? Knowing to whom a parable is directed really does help us when we are trying to really come to an understanding of what the parable is truly about. And usually the text is pretty clear, whether Jesus told a parable to the 12, or the great number of disciples who followed him, or to the crowds in general. But with this parable we are not told to whom Jesus is directing it. Can we assume he is talking to the sinners? Should we assume he is talking to the Pharisees? Perhaps, he is talking to both.
It tells us that Jesus tells them a parable. The Bible does not tell us that Jesus told them three parables; it says that he told them a parable, just one. But this is a really complex parable that has three parts, three episodes, so to speak. The first two are really short and sound really similar, but tell us two slightly different things, the third is much longer and sums up the points of the first two parables in one of the most well known stories in all of the New Testament. If someone knows only two parables, I would bet that they know the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the (so called) Parable of the Prodigal Son. Although this is one parable with three episodes, let us begin by looking at each episode separately.

The Lost Sheep
Shepherd – 100 sheep; Losses 1 – goes and searches for it; Find it and rejoices; Calls friends together to rejoice with him; Joy in Heaven over one lost sheep, not over the ones that are found.
Retelling: The Lost Coin
Woman – 10 coins; Losses 1 – searches for it; Lights a lamp; Sweeps the house; Keeps looking until it is found; Calls together her friends to rejoice with her; There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
Retelling: The Two Lost Sons
The Younger Son
Asks for his inheritance – “I wish you were dead pops!”; Squanders his entire inheritance; Famine in the land and he takes a job feeding pigs – highly disgraceful for a Jew; Comes to himself and decided to go home – a slave in his Father’s house is better off than he is; as he goes home he practices his sheep; Father is waiting for him – runs to greet his son and hugs and kisses him – not a respectful thing for a grown man to do; Takes his son back and throws a party for him.
The Elder Son
Is out in the field when his brother comes home; Gets angry when he hears what is going on; Father leaves his guest to go plead with his son; Father simply wants the son to rejoice with him; We do not know what the son does in the end, Jesus does not tell us.

As I look at the three parts of this parable I am drawn to the similarities between them. It seems to me that there for each of the characters in the third episode that there is someone or something that it can be matched up with in one or both of the first two episodes.

So there it is one parable in three parts. When you lay them side by side the three parts are actually very similar. Each one is slightly different one from another.
But they have many similarities. You have the Shepherd, the Woman, and the Father, who are all looking for something which has been lost. Then there is the sheep, the coin, the younger son and the older son, who are all lost. And in each of the sections there are friends who will celebrate with the one who finds what has been lost.
One of the things about parables is that they are simple stories which serve as mirrors to real life, not just the real life of the people to whom Jesus speaking to back then, but parable show us reflections of our lives as well. When Jesus told this parable he intended for the people who were listening to see themselves in the parable just as one would see oneself in a mirror. So as we continue to look at this parable the question is in what way do we see ourselves reflected?
Let us look at our cast of characters. Are we the shepherd, the woman, the father?
Although, I think we all can stand to be more like the shepherd, the woman or the father, I would say, “no.” When we look at scripture and passages in the Old Testament, the shepherd is an image reserved for God. Both the Psalmist and Isaiah speak of God as a shepherd who is good and kind and caring. Therefore, in this parable the, shepherd, the woman, and the father are also representative of God. (The woman is God! How cool is that?) God is the one who has lost something precious which is beloved. And last time I checked neither of you nor me, were God.
So, we are not God, who else can we be? Are we the Sheep, or the Younger son? The sheep and the son are people who have wandered far from the place where God wants them to be. They have chosen their own path over that which God would have them choose and they are now living life far differently than they were created to live life. So, the answer to the question of whether you and I are the sheep or the younger son, is not as clear cut, but my guess is, if you are a good church going Christian who is currently striving to live the way Jesus has called you to live.
Then, although at some point in your life you might have been, we are most likely not one of these two characters. Both of these characters have wandered away, they are living lives that are full of sin and disrespect for God. My guess is that if you are in a pew here this morning, you are not wandering.
This leaves two other characters with whom we might find similarities in ourselves, the coin and the younger son. Are we the coin or the elder son? Hmmm….The interesting thing about both the coin and the elder son is that they have not left home. They are lost but they do not know they are lost. Elder sons live by the rules. He is doing everything right. He does all the right things. He works hard to further the kingdom. He works hard at church. He tries his best. But the elder son has completely lost sight of the love of the father. People who are the elder son do what they are supposed to do. From the outside in they look like they have what it means to be a Christian under control. They appear to be the prime example of everything someone who is striving to be the person God calls them to be, but do not do it out of love. They are not living the way God wants them to live, out of obligation, because it is a chore. They do not strive to love God and then allow that love to bath the way they live in every aspect of their lives. Their lives are not marked by love of God and neighbor their lives are marked by obligation to God and then all other aspects flow out of that obligation instead of flowing out of their love of God. They are caught up in the how of Christianity but have forgotten the “why?” The, “why,” is because we love God and God loves us.
Too often that is who we are as Christians. We are the ones striving and trying to please God. Working to be the people God wants us to be. We set about making life as God calls us to live it and obligation a chore which must be completely and completed with due diligence. But God does not call us to live diligently, God calls us to love.
The elder son in the parable is just as lost, perhaps even more so than the younger son. He is so lost that he has forgotten he is a son at all, but has come to see himself as a slave who works for his father to do what needs to be done. He has completely lost sight of the father and the love the father has for him. At the end of the parable the father is reaching out to the lost elder son, calling for the son to return to him, to once again accept his place as a beloved son. And the parable ends there. We don’t know what the elder son decides. Jesus walks away from the story at that point. We know from the parable of the lost coin what would happen if the elder son is found but we do not know if the elder son is ever found. We are left with the father’s plea to his son. God’s call to the elder son is to leave all that behind and rejoice with him. If we are the elder son this morning and I suspect many of us might be, this is the call God is putting before us. God is calling those of us who find ourselves seeing ourselves as slaves in God’s home to remember that we are beloved Sons. God is calling us out of relationships with God which is based on drudgery and obligation back into glorious, joyful relationships of love. We are lost this morning and God wants us to be found. What will we do? What will we say? How will we respond to God’s love today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hating the Jesus Way

Luke 14:25-33
Jesus is walking through the countryside from place to place teaching, and preaching where ever he goes. As he walks people begin to follow him. At first there is just a handful of stragglers furtively following him, and then a couple dozen, but soon there are crowds of hangers-on following him where ever he goes. Jesus must feel like a rock star who can’t step foot out of his trailer without a sea of people greeting him or turning around with out a loud cheer erupting from a crowd of near swooning people just hoping to catch a glimpse of the new famous teacher who just might heal you with a word or a touch of his robe. So here Jesus is walking along with this unwieldy crowd of people following in his wake. You can almost see him stop take a deep calming breath and attempt to continue on his way, but where ever he goes, what ever he does, they are there. He gets up in the morning, they are there. He brushes his teeth, they are there. They watch him eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. He tries to get alone, to pray and they are there. It seems they will not be hindered no matter how fast, no matter how far, or no matter where he walks they are right there, just like a large, loud 3-demensional shadow. It seems there is nothing he can do to shake them. Even the son of God is getting a little impatient with this kind of following. So he stops and he turns to them. And he tells them that it is “O.K.” if they want to follow him. He won’t stop them but they need to understand what it means to follow him. They are more than welcome to become his followers but he going to be sure they completely understand exactly what it will cost them should they choose to continue in this reckless behavior.

In order to follow Jesus they must first understand that they need to hate their father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters. If you are not willing to hate all theses people and even your own life, well then you might as well turn around and go home. In my imagination the entire crowd gave a sigh of exacerbation at this point, Jesus is taking it a little far this time. Sure his teachings have been a little controversial but he has never said anything like this before. You must hate your family in order to follow him. Seriously? Come on!
I have to say as a preacher passages like this are just a mite bit frustrating to run across. This goes against everything I have ever learned about Jesus and it kind of wrecks something I have worked really hard to teach you all this past summer. I have spent quite a bit of time laying out the foundational nature of the greatest commandment, that it that everything who we are as Christians is summed up in Jesus’ call for us to love God and to love to love each other, and then Jesus has to go off and say that in order to follow him we must all hate all the members of our families and then just to be sure we got it, he has to go off and list them all, every last one of them.
Of course though, Jesus is not really calling for us to hate the members of our family. Jesus is using a little bit of hyperbole to make his point here. Jesus does not call for us to hate anybody, not in the way we would think about it anyways. Jesus is calling for these people to not blindly and undiscerningly follow him, Jesus wants them to truly understand what it costs to give up everything and follow him.
Not to long ago I explained to you that the primary unit of first century society was the family. Family was supposed to be the most important thing in your life. You were not to ever do anything to go against your family. Even as an adult it was considered not merely rude but delinquent of you to openly and publicly disagree with your parents much less leave them and what they stood for to follow some new teacher who claimed to be the Messiah.
Jesus says that choosing to become one of his followers is not something to be taken lightly. It is not an endeavor we should do on a whim so to speak. He wants us to know and understand the cost of discipleship. A builder carefully examines the projected costs of building a building before he sets out to build a building. A king examines what his armies are capable of doing before he sets out to war. Otherwise they will get halfway through and the cost will be even greater than had they not set out at all. Likewise, if you are going to follow Jesus you need to be completely aware of the endeavor on which you are about to embark.
We all know that God’s forgiveness and God’s grace is free, but that does not mean that nothing is asked of us when we choose to follow God. As preacher’s we like to emphasize the free nature of the gifts which God gives to us but although the gifts are free the cost of discipleship is most definitely not free. Giving up our lives, giving up what we want to do, how we want to act, speaking the words we want to speak, for doing, acting and speaking in the ways God chooses for us is quite costly. There is nothing which is harder to give up, nothing which is harder to let go of than the control we have over ourselves. In fact it is so hard to give up that even when we say we want to let go and allow God to be in control we often find that we have retaken that control back from God and have to let go all over again.
Jesus at this point is turning to crowds who have decided to wholesale follow him but do not truly understand what exactly they are giving up when they are choosing to follow him. They think they are going for a stroll, listening to the new preacher in town, going with the crowd, doing something new and exciting but what they are buying into is a new way of life, a new way of ordering everything we do, a whole new way of looking at the world.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are choosing Jesus above all else. We are choosing Gods ways over our ways. We are choosing the hard path over the smooth one. We are choosing a culture of total abandonment to all that come naturally to us and instead choosing a culture of being renewed, reformed, transformed and remade to be people we can not and will not ever be on our own, but we are choosing to be better than we are, truer than we are. By choosing to follow Jesus we are giving up who we are and life as we know it, so we can become who we were created to be, and enter into life as it is meant to be lived.
Everything in this world is around us is broken beyond recognition. The lives we live, the choices which come naturally to us, the way we are accustomed to living, moving, acting and speaking are fallen, bent, broken ways to be in this world. Sin has twisted who are. Evil has bent and broken all creation beyond all semblance of what it should have been. When we choose Christ we are giving up life as we know it and exchanging it for life as God knows it can be. We have only known life, broken. We have only known ourselves stained, twisted and tarnished. Life this way is wrong. It is incorrect, but it feels right because it is all we have ever known. The cost of discipleship is giving it all up, all we own all we know, all of who we are, giving it to God so we can become who we could be, who we can be, who we were created to be. When we follow Jesus we give up seeing the world the way it is so we can catch glimpses of God’s kingdom come, what the world would be like if the created order was restored; what life could be if it was the way God desires for it to be. We get to give up life broken, and experience life transformed. We get to begin to see the world in the same way, broken waiting to be remade by the one who crafted it in the first place.
As amazing as this sounds it is not easy. Giving up who we are, our very life, to God is big stuff. It is scary stuff. It means going against everything and perhaps everybody in your life. It means denying what the world around us tells us is good and exchanging that broken idea of good for what is truly good.
Jesus may be exaggerating a little bit when he tells those following him around that they must hate their family members and even their own lives in order to truly follow him, but he is not exaggerating all that much. Jesus was literally asking them to decide could they turn from their families to follow him, would they be willing to give up life as they knew it and go where he called them to go, do what he called them to do, no matter who they had to leave behind or what that meant for their own safety, security or sense of self?
In Jesus’ day following Jesus could really mean leaving your family or having your family leave you? Truly following Jesus and what he stood for would eventually mean choosing the truth of the gospel, the truth of Jesus over your familial commitments. Following Jesus when your parents called for you not to was not merely about going against your father and mother’s wishes, it was not merely about creating tension in the family unit, but it meant going against a time honored societal norm, being labeled as a rebellious child, a delinquent, and a societal menus. Following Jesus was not about pleasing your parents. It was not about pleasing your family. It was about pleasing God and Jesus wanted them to know that pleasing God might just put them at odds with the most basic understandings of their culture and put them at odds with those whom they cared about the most. Following Jesus would mean giving up life as they knew it.
You can not be too attached to the life you have, because God is not about upholding the status quo. God is not about propping up that which makes us feel good and causes us to feel comfy and cozy, God is about radically transforming us, changing us, reforming us into the people we would be, we could be, if sin had not bent and twisted us beyond recognition. And sometimes that means that we have to choose God over and above things which are important to us. Sometimes that means we have to choose God over and above things which our society tells us should be important to us. Sometimes that means giving up everything we have ever known to be true and realize it is false and be willing to learn a new truth and a completely new, radically different way to look at the world. We have to be willing to give everything up, our families, our loved ones, the things we hold most dear to us, even the lives which we have so carefully built and put together, in order to live life the way God is calling for us to live it. We have to be willing to put our belief in Jesus Christ and living the kind of life he calls for us to live over and above all things.

Jesus sees us here this morning. He knows we want to follow him. Arriving at church this morning, choosing to be here over and above the many other places we could choose to be doing this morning says something about the choices we have already begun to make. And as we are here in this sanctuary this morning Jesus is turning to us this morning and saying, “Following me is serious stuff.” This is live changing, life altering. You need to know what you are getting into. You need to be ready to pay the price it might cost. You need to know what you might be giving up if you continue down the path you are walking. It means choosing God’s ways over and above the ways of the world around you. It means that many times people in the world around you will tell you, you are wrong, that you are choosing something that is crazy, something which is not good, and something which is causing you to break up the things which our culture holds dear. Choosing God and choosing to follow Jesus could mean going against those you are closest to. It means giving up everything you thought was good and right. It means giving up what you believe to be the right way to go, the right way to live and instead going and living in the ways God is calling you to live. I am not saying that God’s way is not better. I am not saying God’s way is not good. I am not even saying that God’s way is not the way we are meant to live, because God’s way is better, it is right and living God’s way means living the was were created to live, but it might not feel better at first. I may not fee good and it will feel as if it goes against your very nature. It means giving up control.
It means allowing God to reshape, remake and re-create you back into who God created you to be. It means giving up your life, as you are living it now, giving up life as you know it so that you can live life God’s way.
The cost of discipleship is great. We are all here this morning following Jesus, and Jesus is telling us what it means and he is going to turn back around and go on his way and we have to decide whether or not we are going to choose to continue to follow him or to stop, turn around and make our ways back home. What will you do this morning?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Luke 14:1-2; 7-14 - Parties with Jesus

We all love parties: Birthday Parties, Anniversary Parties, Christmas Parties, Easter Parties, New Years Eve Parties, End of the School year, Beginning of the School year, Graduation Parties, Retirement Parties, House warming parties. If there is something going on, for which we might possibly think of throwing a party for, there is a party. We seriously need very little excuse to throw a party.
I have to say I love throwing parties. I love everything about throwing a party: Cooking, Decorating, having the house all sparkly and clean; simply having everybody over and having a good time. I think it is all great. I love having people over and enjoying being together. And I know I am not the only the here, who can say that.
Here in this passage, not only is Jesus at a party, but he tells two parables that talk about parties, in an attempt to teach his listeners about how we should live our lives and act toward other people. Jesus told these parables because of actions he was seeing among the party members which he did not believe were appropriate for people who were his followers, unfortunately it was perfectly acceptable behavior for party guests living in that day.

At parties during the time of Jesus, seating was important. Most of the time when we set up parties we don’t give much thought about who sits where, unless it is a wedding and we are trying to make sure that everyone at any given table gets along with and will have something in common with all the other people at their table, so that everyone will enjoy who they are sitting with during the reception. Otherwise we don’t give that much thought to it.
But in Jesus’ day, where you sat at the table was VERY important. At that time where you were seated in respect to the host was determined by your social status. The higher social status you had the closer you sat to the host. People cared a lot about where they sat at the table and would be very put out if the order was incorrect. Where you sat said something about how important you were in the community. It indicated how important the host thought you were, as well as dictated to others at the party how they were to perceive your social status. So when people arrived at a party everyone was trying to sit in the very best seats closest to the host so that others would see that they were important.
Not only was it important where you sat at a party but it was important for you to be invited to the right people’s houses. When people were invited people to come to a party at your house, the only people who were invited were those who were of the same social status and perhaps those who were of a slightly higher status. You only went to parties where the host was on the similar social status to you. Whenever you were invited to a party you were expected to throw a party in return and invite your host. In order to go to a party you therefore had to be able to throw a party for the host which would be on par with the party you attended at their house. So because of this, whose house you went to and who invited you to their house determined your social status.
Jesus believed that there was a better way to act as both a guest and a host. He did not see this constant jockeying for position and honor, that was so prevalent in his society, as proper way for anybody, much less someone who claimed to be one of his followers.
Jesus thought that that we should not try to bring honor to yourself by claiming your social status by sitting closer to the host than you should, it might end up shaming yourself and caused you to play a social game which Jesus felt was better left un-played.
Jesus also thought that instead of only inviting people of your own economic class to your parties, only inviting your friends, relatives and the neighbors you wanted see and with whom you wanted to be seen, you should invite the poor. Why? “For all those that exalt themselves will be humbled and all those that humbles themselves will be exalted” and “and you will be blessed because they can not repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Jesus saw that it was better to invite people over to your house who might not have enough to eat or be struggling to make it everyday, than to invite people over for a dinner party so that all your friends and neighbors would know exactly where you stood in the social pecking order. Jesus saw that giving of yourself to those who had less than you as a way of humbling yourself.
This passage begins with Jesus and the Pharisees at a party and Jesus is noticing how they are all jockeying for position so that they can sit in the place of honor. Jesus was commonly seen amongst the Pharisees, they were the “good Christian people” of his day. You know people like most of us. People who go to church on Sundays, read their Bible during the week, try to live the way God called them to live. They did everything that they were suppose to do, so that they could be the best followers of God that they could possible be and tried to do things to encourage everyone else to do so as well.
The Pharisees, as the “good church people” of their day, they were drawn to Jesus. Often times he taught things which resonated with them, that encouraged them and made them feel justified their way of life, but they were also leery of him. Sometimes, he said things they were not so sure about, you know like that thing he said about the Sabbath being made for man and not man for the Sabbath; they were not so sure about that. So they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would do anything that would let them know just where he stood. They were watching him to see if they thought was up to snuff. You see they thought pretty highly of themselves and had kind of designated themselves as the keepers of what was right and wrong when it came to religious stuff and they wanted to see if they could put their stamp of approval on Jesus.
But while they were watching him trying to see what kind of person he was, Jesus was watching them and saw exactly what kind of people they were. Here they were all gathered together at this party and they were trying to exalt themselves in everything they did. Not only did they see themselves as the religious authorities but they wanted to do everything they could to exalt themselves when they were among people, so people would look up to them and respect them and give them honor. Here they were worried about what Jesus was doing to see if he was up to snuff and all the while they were spending much time, worry and energy trying to sit in the seat of most honor at a dinner party.
Jesus does not think that how high you are on the social ladder is at all important. Jesus does not think that we should do things to show how great we are as far as social standing goes. All this does is to allow other people to give us honor and move us “closer to the host.” Jesus does not see this as a worth while endeavor at all. Jesus does not think we should spend our time with certain people so that those around us will be impressed with the kind of people with whom we associate.
So as we look at this passage we might ask ourselves, Does Jesus really never want us to invite our friends and relatives to our house for a dinner party? Should we instead always invite people who are needy and struggling? Does Jesus think it is wrong to hang out with your friends? That instead of spending time with people you like and get along with you, should go find the poorest people you can find and spend time with them instead? No, not really.
Of course it is good for us to share from our bounty with those who are struggling and who have less than us, but this passage is not so much about who we are inviting to our parties and where we are sitting as much as it is about humility. Jesus is concerned with us exalting ourselves, with us thinking to highly of ourselves; thinking that we are better than other people for whatever reason.
The Pharisees thought they were better than other people because they were such good Jews. They also then struggled with each other to be seen as the most honored, and to sit nearest the seat of the host. They saw themselves as above others and better than other people.
As Christians it is easy to think that we are better than everyone else –After all we ARE Christians. We live our lives by a different better standard. We love God; we strive to serve God with all we do. Due to all these things we generally are better people than most people.
I don’t know about you but I have fallen into this trap. In middle school I was teased a lot. I am sure most of us were. The only people who enjoyed middle school were the ones who made it a horrible set of years for the rest of us. In spite of the horrible teasing or perhaps because of it, I needed to feel superior to my tormentors in some way, so I thought I was better than everyone, because I was a Christian. I tended to lookdown on everyone else. I was a better person. I believed in Jesus. You can make fun of me but it does not matter because I am going to heaven and you are going to Hell. I have to admit it was kind of very Christianized version snooty. What I did not think about was what my actions said about Jesus Christ and what it meant to be a Christian in reaction to and toward my fellow students.
I was not a very good example of Christ-likeness. I was doing an alright job at the loving God part of being a Christian, but I was not doing a good job at the loving others part. I was actually fairly unloving in my response and attitudes toward my peers. I was doing quite a lot to honor myself, to lift myself up in my own eyes and I did kind of lord it over my peers. It really must have given then a warped view of who God is.
When we honor ourselves and lift ourselves above those around us and then call ourselves Christians, we are saying something about God which simply not true. When Christians act superior toward other people and are openly calling themselves Christians, those people will assume that we are representing the God we say we serve. And they will assume that our God is just like us. Jesus calls for us to not exalt ourselves, but to instead humble ourselves so that God may be honored through us and through our actions.

Luke 13:10-17 - Freedom

She was bent, hunched over. Nobody really paid much heed to her. She could tell that people purposely avoided her by the wide path they around her as they passed by. She was not so much a person; she was a thing, something to be avoided. She could tell when someone noticed her, she could tell by how their feet stopped and then shuffled this way and that as they tried to figure out which way they were going to retreat to get by her. They would stop and then they would first try the left and then try to escape to the right, if that way did not work they would stop again and then quickly and nimbly find widest path of avoidance back to the left. She was always amazed at how nimbly other people’s feet moved. Her feet never moved that nimbly. Perhaps when you did not have to strain your neck in order to see the path which lay before you instead of always seeing what was on the ground directly in front of you, it was easier to move quickly and easily from side to side like that.
She looked at her feet. She had bared feet. It had been quite a lot of years since they had had any type of shoe to protect them from weather and from wear. They were dirty and they were worn. She could tell by looking at them just as much by feeling them that they were tired feet. The first thing she noticed about other people was there feet. She could tell how far someone had come by how dirty they were. She could also tell a little bit about their status in society by their sandals, the quality of the leather or the lack of sandals all together could tell you a lot about a person.
She had seen him walk by, the new teacher who had come to town. She had liked him the moment she had seen his feet. They looked like they did quite a bit of walking. But they also did not look like the kind of feet which shuffled or hesitated, she could not quite put her finger on what it was about them but she liked them. She nodded to herself when saw them; they were good feet, probably belonged to a good man.
She had heard the buzz about this new teacher, who had come to town and she had been interested to see him and hear what he had to say. She had come to the synagogue this morning specifically to hear what he had to say. She was standing there, listening to him speak now. She could see a small bug as it made its way across the floor, it was about to crawl up on some lady’s foot when we was caught utterly by surprise. There were the teacher’s feet right there in front of her. When did she loose track of what he was saying. She had not noticed him move over to her. Nobody purposefully moved over to her. Most of the feet she saw did their best to move away from her, but here were his feet right there, purposefully and steadfastly planted right in front of her. Not only had he moved over to her, not only had he stopped right in front of her, but he was talking to her. He was telling her that she was being set free from her ailment. He was touching her and her back was straightening. She saw his feet, then she saw his robe where his knees would be, his chest and then his face, gently, kindly looking at her. The first face she had truly seen in 18 years and it was the most beautiful face she had ever seen.

Chronic illness in Jesus’ day was seen a little differently than it is seen today. Today friends and neighbors would do what they could to help and support a person who was hindered in day to day life. In Jesus’ day a person who had a chronic condition such as the one this lady suffered from would cause that person to ostracized and avoided. Their illness would effectively render them invisible to the greater society. They would pass through life alone and unseen. It would almost be as if they were not a person at all but another part of the scenery, an object which needed to be gotten around in order to go about your day.
This woman went to the synagogue that day as she would have on any other Sabbath. Perhaps she was coming especially to hear the new rabbi who had come to town. Jesus’ presence would have caused quite a stir and nobody would have wanted to miss being a synagogue that Saturday, since it was his practice to speak in the synagogues on the Sabbath.
This woman would have come to the synagogue that day with little more expectations than to hear the new teacher who was in town and participate in the weekly worship service. But this turns out to be far from a normal Sabbath for this woman. Not only did she get to hear the new rabbi speak, but she got to have a life altering encounter with Jesus. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue that day. She was not coming to the synagogue that day with any thought about getting healed; one could expect that this was completely outside her expectations at this point in her life, after spending nearly two decades suffering from this problem.
While Jesus was there he saw her. Not only did he actually see her, but he walked over to her and spoke to her. You can only imagine how amazed she must have been at that point which of course would then pale at her amazement when Jesus reached out touched, declared to her that she was healed and she was. For the first time in 18 years she could stand properly. She came that morning to worship and leave, unnoticed and ignored as she always was, but instead she encountered the Son of God and here life was changed, forever in an instant.
Most people, who saw her that day, if they saw her at all, saw an undesirable. Someone to be avoided and ignored but Jesus, Jesus was different, when Jesus saw her he saw someone who was in need of his touch, in need of his healing. He saw a person who was suffering and he reached out and alleviated her suffering. He saw a woman who was bound and enslaved by something completely beyond her control and he acted to release her from that bondage and set her free from that slavery.

As soon as we think we understand what this passage is about it takes a turn. The passage begins by looking at this woman, her suffering and how Jesus stepped into her life and set her free. But then in steps the leader of the synagogue to make sure everyone understands the place of the Sabbath in their lives.
So lets’ do that real quick, let’s take a look at the purpose of the Sabbath. First of all we must remember God set up the Sabbath. In the very beginning of Genesis the author explains to his readers that, “On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation.”(Gen 2:2-3) It was suppose to be a day which was different in all others in that on all the other days you worked to live and to survive. On this one day you were suppose to lay all that in the hands of your creator and rely on God to sustain you. To stop all work, to trust God that even if you rested all that needed to get done would still get done. It was about relying on God and it was about stopping all that you did, taking a break from all that you did and allowing yourself to slow down and enjoy the life God had given to you and creation which God created. Part of the though process was if God needed to rest surely we humans who are not God, are far less than God and therefore do not have the eternal stamina of God must also need to rest.
The Sabbath was a day given by God and was suppose to be a day given over to God. Not only was it a day pointed to in the creation narrative but it was a part of the covenant which the Israelites had made with God. “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six day you shall labor and do all your work. But the Seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Ex. 20:8-10a) It was a day to remember that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. That it was God who heard them cry, that it was God who came to rescue them when they were enslaved; that it was God who said, “My people will suffer no more!” Therefore, they were called to, “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work-you, or your son or your daughter, or your male for female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female salve may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord you God brought you out from there with mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord you God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:12-15)
The Sabbath was about resting, it was about respecting God and it was about trusting the creator to take care of creation. It was a day which called for people to rely on God. It was a day which allowed people to rest and rejuvenate. It was a day during which all the other cares of living were stripped from the people and they could focus on what they were created for, that is relationship with God and with each other. It was a day where nothing which HAD to be done could stand between you and your God. Traditionally it was also a day during which nothing which HAD to be done could stand between you and spending time with the people God had placed in your life, your family and those closest to you.

In the Gospel this morning, the synagogue leader calls Jesus out for misusing the Sabbath for doing something which had been forbidden by God to do on this day. He tells the crowd that God allows for these things to be done on all the other days of the week but they were not to be done on the Sabbath. But Jesus did not see things this way. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus says the Sabbath is made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. That is to say the Sabbath was set up for the Good and for Benefit of humankind. Humankind was not set up to serve the Sabbath. The rest we are to take on the Sabbath was not a rest we were to take for the benefit of God. God does not need a day dedicated solely to worship. God does not need for us to rest. We need the Sabbath. We need a day which says, “STOP!” Everyone needs a day during which we can set aside all that worries and presses in on us. God knows that unless we are ordered to stop, to rest to take a break, our inclination is to go and go and go and never stop. God knows this is not good for us. God also knows that in our go, go, go nature we tend to begin to rely on ourselves, we tend to begin to believe that it is us who are making things happen that it is our work, our labor which keep the work spinning. God knows that we fear that if we stop everything will come tumbling down. God knows that we, whether we admit it or not believe that the just might stop spinning if we do not work to keep it going. God knows that we need the reminder that God is God. God knows that we need acts of faith to help us rely on God. God knows that our relationships with each other and with our God suffer when we are not practically ordered to take time, to rest, rely on God, and focus on our relationships with on another and with our God. The Sabbath was created for us, for our good, for our benefit and not the other way around.
But before we all gang up on the leader of the synagogue, shake our heads disapprovingly and scorn him because he is yet another Jewish, scribe, Pharisee, teacher of the law, who was wrong and against Jesus, let me stand up and speak on his behalf. After all I don’t like it when anybody gangs up on anybody, especially if that person probably does not deserve to be tried and executed (so to speak) by a group of people who did not know him and lived some 20 centuries after his death.
You see I think the leader of the synagogue although misguided has a very good point here. Sabbath was not a day during which people where suppose to seek healing. If someone was actively seeking healing on the Sabbath, this would require the “healer” to do work on the Sabbath. It simply was not fair to tell some people they needed to let go, relax, take the day off and rely on God and then tell other people this does not apply to you. You don’t get to rest, you don’t get to let go, you don’t special time to rely on God. But there were some things which could be done on the Sabbath; in fact they were things which really could not be put off for another day. God made a list of these things and guess what, healing people was not something which God had seen as something which could not wait until the Sabbath was over.
So when the leader stepped in he was actually upholding what God had said. The leader wanted to protect the Sabbath and by doing so was in fact protecting people. The leader did not want people to start coming to the Sabbath worship service expecting to be healed, thus imposing on another person’s Sabbath and not allowing, healers to have this one day when they could set that aside, rest, worship and rely on God.
But Jesus was not so concerned about what might happen. Jesus was not concerned about someone imposing on his Sabbath. This woman had not come seeking to be healed but Jesus had chosen to heal her and he would have done it whether it was the Sabbath or the fourth of July. Jesus was not concerned about what day of the week it was; Jesus was concerned for the freedom of this woman. Jesus saw a woman who was enslaved to an illness and he desired to set her free and this was something which, in his mind, was completely in line with the spirit of what the Sabbath was all about.
Jesus argues his case by looking at the acts which God had allowed people to do on the Sabbath. God made allowances for animals to be set free to be able to get to the watering trough on the Sabbath, if God felt it important for an animal to be set free then how much more was God concerned about the freedom of those whom God created and loved. Basically Jesus was asking, “isn’t the freedom of this woman from the bonds of this illness, so that she may able to move freely more important than releasing the bonds of an animal so that it may be free to move to get water and food as it so choose?”
The Sabbath was not merely about sanctity and rest. It was also a day about being set free. It was a day which reminded the people about how God had set them free when they were slaves in Israel. It was a day in which a person was set free from the day to day grind, a day which was free, free of work free of worry; a day to be free to rest, worship and reunite yourself with your creator and with those around you. When you think about it that way, healing this woman is apart of the spirit of the Sabbath

Now I don’t want you to walk away from here today saying, that the pastor does not believe in taking a Sabbath; a “Sabbath” being a day set aside to rest, rejuvenate, worship God and focus on our relationships with each other and with God. I firmly and whole heartedly believe that God calls us to take one day, just one day out of each week to, STOP; to stop our normal routine, to take a break from that which drives us and causes us to go, go, go and rest, relax, take a day long deep breath, rejuvenate, focus on our relationships with one another and focus on our relationships with each other. I firmly believe that the call to Sabbath is just as strong as a call on the people of God today as it ever was.
The point of this passage it not that Jesus does not think that it is important that we have a day set aside for worshiping God and for rest, as commanded in Gen, Ex, and Deut. This passage is not here to show us how legalistic the Jews in Jesus’ day were and get down on them for it. The point of this passage is freedom, that God desires freedom for all those who are called by Christ’s name, that God desires freedom for all humanity, that God desires freedom for all creation.
The key words in this passage are “set free” and “bound.” Jesus tell the leader, as well as us, that this woman was bound by her illness, just like the animals God made provisions for in the OT law, just like the Israelites in slavery. Jesus tells the woman that she is set free, just like the animals, just like the Israelites. Jesus is concerned about setting the captives free, Jesus himself tells us this when he read from the scroll of Isaiah when he taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. Setting the captive free is one of the things we are told the Messiah would come and do. And here we have Jesus doing just that. Christianity and Freedom
People often think about Jesus in the do’s and do not’s. When we think about what it means to become a Christian we think about how when we become a Christian we have to give up what we want to do. We have to give up our Sunday mornings and spend that time at church. We have to give up our time, so we can spend time reading God’s word and praying. We have to give up getting to act in the ways we want to and give up simply saying whatever we want to say and instead we need to allow God to work in us and through us, acting as Jesus would act and saying the things Jesus would have us say. When we think not merely becoming a Christian and we think about becoming a Nazarene it gets even more complicated. We have to think about giving up drinking, smoking, participating in types of entertainments which would not glorify God, and being careful that our manner of dress reflects our belief in holiness of heart and life. I am sure many of us remember the days when as Nazarenes we were not allowed to, to dance (in fact I resigned my position as NYI vice president so I could go to my senior prom), go to theaters, wear earrings, wear weddings bands, wear hats which drew attention to one self, and of course the strict guidelines as to what made up a broach of modest size. It seems as if there can always be something added to the list of what a “good Christian” does and does not do. As Christians it is easy to get caught up in all these rules. And at their heart they have our best interest in mind. They are there to help us have a concrete understanding of what someone who is living and acting in Christ-like ways may act. But when we start focusing on the rules for the rules sake and not looking to the heart of the matter or to the real purpose such guidelines were laid down, we can be just like the leader, worried that rules have been broken and that the breaking of the rule this one time will lead to eternal rule breaking and soon utter chaos. So often, we are trying to do the right thing and are trying to simply encourage others to do the right thing, just like the synagogue leader. But too many times, we have our focus on the wrong thing. Our hearts are in the right places, we want what is right for God and for those around us, but our focus is not on God, our focus is not on the heart of the issues our focus is on the rules and the breaching of the rules, as if the rules themselves are an entity which need to be protected and shielded lest they be harmed in any way shape or from.
This passage is here to show us that Jesus did not come to bind us up with a set of rules, but came to set us free. The “rules” that we get so focused on are not and should not be the focus of our lives as Christians. In fact they can not be the focus. Least we loose who Jesus is and what Jesus came to this earth to do. Jesus is freedom focused; focused on our freedom to love God, our freedom to live in relationship with him, our freedom to live lives that are worthy of the God that we love so much. Living life as a Christian, not a set of rules, it is that ability to live life the way it was created to be lived.
Being free is about allowing yourself to be free, as well as about allowing others to be free. It is easy to not only judge ourselves, but it is all too easy to begin to judge others by a set of standards and rules. We inhibit not only our own freedom but we try to enslave others in the same bounds in which we bind ourselves. Not only do we beat ourselves up but we make sure others know when they have done things wrong. Jesus simply did not come so that we could live our lives bound by a set of rules, no matter how right those rules may be. Jesus came so that we can know the freedom of living life for Jesus, the freedom of living life the way we were created to live, reunited in relationship with one another and reunited in relationship with our God. Living like as Christian may mean that the way in which we live our life will align with a list or a set of guidelines but that is not because we live by that set of rules or guidelines but because when we are living life reunited with our God, loving God and neighbor the way we were created to love it just so happens to align with that list or set of guidelines. We differently because we are compelled to live differently because we are living lives marked by love; marked by love of God and love of neighbor. We live differently, but we live this way freely out of love not obligation and living life this way results in a life marked by joy. Luke tells us that the lady and the crowd rejoiced afterward the healing and this whole discussion, because they were truly free to love, to worship God and to honor the Sabbath, not because God commanded them to do so but because these things are also a part of living life the way God calls for us to live life.
Following the commands of Jesus should be a freedom which we embrace because we love him, not a chore that we do because we must, because we are commanded to do so, or because it is on a set of rules or a set of guideline which tell us what it looks like to love Jesus. So allow yourself to rejoice in your freedom, allow yourself to follow Jesus, allow yourself to love the way God calls you to love. You are free to live, you are free to love you are fee to be the people God called you to be to be the people you were created to be and now THAT is something to rejoice because about because YOU, like this woman, have been set free.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Luke 12:49-56 - Looking to the signs

Luke 12:49-56

The passage we have before us this morning begins with fire and ends with the weather, two powerful forces in the ancient world as well as today. Both the weather and fire can be forces which bring us health and well being as well as forces which can bring utter destruction to our lives in mere moments.
Jesus begins this section by declaring the he came to bring fire to the earth and then goes on to say how he wishes for the fire to have already begun. At first glance this sounds pretty harsh. Most of us when we hear this probably immediately go to the destructive nature of fire. It makes me think of the song we use to sing as children which was about the Chicago fire. “Old lady Leary. . .” All it took to reduce a large portion of old Chicago to ruble was the misstep of Old Lady’s Leary’s milk cow. When we think of fire we often think about the destruction it can cause. Fire when, let go, can reduce a house or even a whole city to ruin right before our eyes. This cause us to look at this passage with an understanding of destruction, perhaps fire as judgment. Thinking about fire in this way causes us to come to this passage thinking about destruction and it makes it sound as if Jesus is telling us that he came here to burn and destroy, to decimate and to bring ruin the earth. Yet, we know from other places in scripture that Christ came to bring love, salvation, redemption, to draw all humanity back to God. So the idea of Jesus coming to lay the earth to waste with fire seems to be completely contradictory to what we know from other places in scripture. When our understanding of one verse seems to contradict what we know to be true from other places in scripture, this usually means we have missed something in the passage at hand.
Perhaps we are looking at fire in the wrong way. The fact of the matter is that fire is not simply known for its destructive nature. Fire can also be a very good thing. Fire was what cooked food. Fire was something which brought light during the night and gave warmth to a home when it was cold. Fire was that which held the wild animals at bay in the wilderness. It was also used to refine metal, it was used to burn out the impurities, make the metal stronger and to make it malleable so it could be shaped and formed into the properly.
In this light fire is a good thing, something which can form and shape, something, which can purify and cleanse. If we see this not as Jesus calling for fire to come to the earth to destroy but as fire coming to purify and cleanse, it makes sense why Jesus is desiring for that fire to already be kindled, for the fire to begin its work as soon as possible. Jesus desires for us all to be cleansed and purified, he desires for the work he came to this earth to be completed, for every heart to be turned toward God and for all creation to be living the way God created creation to live.
The image of fire can then be directly linked to the cleansing purifying fire of Pentecost. The believers were gathered together in the upper room as they were instructed by Jesus to do and suddenly a mighty rushing wind came and tongues of fire rested on all of them and they were filled with the Spirit of God. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is often referred to as a second baptism. The first baptism is a baptism with water and the second being a baptism of fire. Jesus, then, desires for the Spirit of God to fall up on all creation, to cleanse and to purify as the Spirit would do following his death and resurrection on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus points forward to the purifying, cleansing fire of Pentecost and the second baptism, and then almost immediately says that he himself still has a baptism to undergo. The death and resurrection pointed to in baptism was yet to come, therefore Jesus still has a baptism before him. Before the fire can come, before humanity can be reunited to their creator, Jesus must first be laid beneath the earth and rise up out of it again, as symbolized in the going under the water and rising back up out of it again which took takes place whenever someone is baptized. Not only is Jesus waiting with much anticipation for all this to come to pass but before the fire can come, before the Spirit can fall on believer, first Jesus must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead, and his passion and death is something to which Jesus is not looking forward, it brings him distress. It is much like a mother to be, who looks forward to holding her baby in her arms but does not necessarily look forward to whole actually giving birth part. Although she may be greatly anticipating the moment when she will hold her brand new baby in her arms, the idea of the reality of what it will take to actually give birth can cause great distress. Likewise as Jesus looks forward to the baptism of death which lies before him this causes him great stress, although it will ultimately lead to that which he desires most for the world.
But then Jesus tells us that even though the coming of the refining fire of the Spirit which is to come, is good thing, the good that is to come might not be what we want it to be. It might not be what we expect it to be. Many people expected the messiah to be a great military leader who would come and make all things right for Israel, who would restore the political fortunes of Israel and restore their national identity and set himself on the throne of David to peacefully rule the nation as God intended. But this is not exactly what Jesus came to do. Jesus did not come to bring military and political peace to a nation which had been in turmoil for hundreds of years. In fact restoring the nation of Israel not at all on Jesus’ agenda, in fact any kind of peace as they knew it was also not on his agenda.
Jesus was there to restore relationship with God. Jesus was there to restore life to the way God created it to be, but as the saying goes, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” Before all things can be truly set right all the things which are wrong have to be up ended and thrown to the wayside. Societal norms will be cast to the side. The things which you are told to value may not have any value at all. These are the eggs which are broken as the omelet of restoring all creation is made.
In that day and age the family was the center of society, even more so than we would like to think it is today. The family and familial relations were of the utmost importance. A son, no matter how old was not under any circumstance to stand against his father. This was also true for a daughter and her mother. And when a young woman left her house and went to live in the house of her husband her Mother-in-law stood in the place where her mother once stood in her life. These were sacred relationships, relationships which you respected at all costs. You did not under any circumstances turn against or stand against these most important people in your life. These relationships were to be protected and preserved above all other things and should be prize above anything else in one’s life.
Jesus is saying not only is he to not bring peace as they would see it, but ultimately choosing to live the way God was calling people to live should come above the most important relationships in your life. Jesus was not there to protect and up hold the norm of that society but Jesus was there to restore relationship with God and that relationship would stand over and above all other relationships and could very well break up that which would normally be considered sacred. God was there to be the top, to be the most important, to be the most sacred. If you were willing to follow God you must be willing to set aside all other things, no matter how important or sacred you might believe them to be.
Society might tell you this relationship CAN NOT be breached. The world may tell you, that you can not at any cost cross this line but if that relationship stands in the way of your relationship with God or that line is blocking your way to living the life God has called you to live that relationship must be cast to the wayside and that line must be crossed.
Jesus did not come to bring peace, Jesus did not come to up hold the status quo and become a pillar to support the systems protected and revered by any particular society. Jesus came to stand over and above these things. God is more important than social structures. Relationship with the creator of the universe is to be valued more than any relationship you may have on this earth. The standard which Jesus calls us to should be sought after over and above, and even to the contrary of, any standards which the world around us might call us to live by.
Jesus ends this discussion by talking about the weather. Now I have to say growing up this part of the passage never really made sense to me. How can a person “see” the weather coming? I thought it must be something that ancient people could do that we can no longer do, kind of like navigating across country by night using the stars. But, living in Kansas gave me a whole new perspective on looking to the skies to see the weather and understanding from which direction the wind is blowing to understand what will happen with the weather. In Kansas you could see a storm 50-60 miles off. You could see the rain falling miles and miles away across the plain. It did not take much thought to then notice which way the wind was blowing and which direction the clouds were moving and how fast, to understand whether that rain was coming your way and if so how quickly it would arrive.
Like wise the people in Jesus’ day knew that most storm systems moved from west to east and therefore if they saw a storm in the sky off to the west they knew it was going to rain. They also knew that the desert was to their South so if the wind was blowing in from the South, they knew that it was going to be hot. This was common knowledge; these were things that everyone knew. It took no special training. Understanding the weather just took living in the land and understanding the world around them.
Jesus was calling for his disciples to have that same kind of understanding of the world around them and about the gospel. They needed to stop being ignorant of the things which were all around them, that is the truth of the gospel. They needed to stop expecting Jesus to be who they wanted him to be. They needed to look to the signs, look at the horizon and see what was going on all around them. Jesus was here to cleanse them, to bring a baptism of fire which would purify them and make them into the people God created them to be. They needed to open their eyes to the signs around them and see that Jesus was not there to prop up the status quo of their society and live up to expectations which the world around them had set up for them. Jesus was there to go against the norm, to break up the failures of the sinful status quo and set things right, not bring peace for Israel but to set things right for all creation, to bring all humanity back into relationship with God. Jesus was not there to be the person they wanted him to be but Jesus was there to allow all of humanity to be the people God created them to be.
Jesus is calling us to be the people God created us to be. We were created to live in unhampered relationship with God. We were created to be pure and holy. We were created to love God and love each other with unfettered and inexhaustible love but sin and the separation which sin caused between us and God as well as with one another (let us not fool ourselves into thinking that sin merely affects our relationship with God and is not extended to all our other relationships). Jesus came to this earth to restore us to be the people God created us to be. He came to this earth to allow us to live the way we were meant to live. While he was here on earth his greatest desire was to usher in the coming of the refining fire of the Spirit which would allow this to begin to happen in the hearts and lives all those who choose to accept him as their Lord, savoir and restorer of their lives.
As Christians our deepest desire it to be who Jesus calls us to be, to be the people God created us to be, to be cleansed from all that disconnects us from God, to be freed from all that hinders us from being who we were meant to be, to be restored in relationship not only with one another, loving each other purely and wholly but to be restored in our relationship with God.
But this may not look the way you or I would hope for it to look. It may not follow the form or the pattern we want it to follow. Jesus did not come to up hold our expectations. He did not come to be who we think he should be. He did not come to prop up the societal norms or to bolster the inadequacies of any individual culture. Jesus came to shatter the norms, to tear away the inadequacies and restore things to their proper created order. Jesus did not simply come to make our lives better, he did not come to simply make our society the best society it can be, he did not come to make things perfect as we would see perfection, but Jesus came to set things right once and for all. Jesus came to shatter our understanding of perfection and show us what perfection truly is.
Jesus came to do all these things for us, for our community and for our world, but you and I have no control over the world, we have no control over our community but we do have control of ourselves. Jesus came to make things right beginning with me, beginning with you. Jesus came to shatter all expectations, I have, you have of him. Jesus came so that you might live, so that you may live abundantly, that is to live in pure unhampered, uninhibited relationship with God and so that you can learn to live same way that as you do in relationship with God in all your relationships in this world. Jesus came to call you to be the person God created you to be.
Jesus is calling for us to look around us to see the signs of this world, to see the truth of the Gospel to know and understand where the truth lies, to know and understand the expectations and the ways of our society and to know and understand how they measure up to the truth of who Jesus is and who it is God is calling us to be and to discern accordingly, what in this world is of value and what needs to be ignored. We need to be able to see the signs of the gospel and see where our society falls short in what it expects of us and then to refuse listen to the voices of our society in those areas of our lives, to not follow that line but to instead to live in the ways which God is calling for us to live.
Jesus also is calling for us to look to the horizon of our own lives, to be honest with ourselves about which way the wind is blowing in our lives and to understand how that stands up to what it means to be the people God wants to shape us and form us into being. Living in right relationship with God; living lives which are cleansed, purified by the fire of the Spirit of God, means living the way God created us to live; that is loving God with all our hearts, strength and mind and to love one another with and through the love we have for God and the love which God gives to us. Holy lives, lives pure and refined by God are lives of love.
In order for us to these kinds of lives, to live lives marked by the love of God, the lives Jesus is calling us to live, Jesus must be first in our life. In order for us to be the people God is calling us to be, we must live the way God created us to live, that is in relationship with the creator and that relationship must be the most important thing in our life. All other expectations, all other priorities must be rearranged around this primary priority. Anything that hinders, anything that stands in the way, anything which goes against God and against God’s call on your life must suffer, must be tossed to the wayside. Nothing is as important, nothing is more important than allowing the cleansing, fire of God to purify you, make you holy and bring you to a point where you are living the way God is calling for you to live.