Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Romans 5:1-5

Romans 5:1-5

One of the discussions Mike and I sometimes have is, which about which book or books of the Bible are the hardest to preach. Mike contends that anything by John is clearly the most difficult, but I disagree with him. I dis-enjoy preaching from Paul the most. It is not that I don’t like what Paul has to say, in fact I believe Paul gives us a window in the struggle of the Christian life that is both helpful and insightful.  The problem I have with Paul is that he lays out a beautifully logical argument, and at first I feel that his logic seems to negate the need for explanation. He present his thoughts and ideas in such a manner, it five the impression that these concepts and ideas at hand are nearly self-explanatory.  I almost feel presumptuous coming to these texts and trying to explain them.  But at the same time in spite the impression Paul’s writing gives, I find the logical arguments Paul is presenting to be anything but self-explanatory and not at all clearly evident.  I find Paul’s rhetoric hard to follow, his grammar and diction unclear, and the logical path, which he is presenting, to be a hard path to follow.
This little paragraph is one of those paragraphs that seem to ride the line of this juxtaposition so well.  On the surface it seems clear and easily explicable, but when you read it again you quickly realize that it most definitely is not.  Very few of us would read this paragraph and immediately walk away feeling as if we fully understand what Paul is attempting to teach here.
To make this passage all the more difficult to come to a firm grasp of its meaning, it is also riddled with a number of Christian buzz words. You know, words which we all use and just assume we all know the meaning. Words like: grace, justification, faith, hope, peace. Words that we all know but words when pressed many of us would have a hard time explaining exactly what we mean when we are using them.
In many ways coming upon this passage is like going along a well-traveled route.  When you go the same way every day, you do it without really paying attention to the things around you. In fact when you go the same way long enough you forget the names of the streets, you may even forget the definitive landmarks along the way. You may know how to get there, but you could not explain to someone unfamiliar with our city how to get there, or worse you may not be able to get to some place which you know you pass on a regular basis that way but can’t quite remember where along the route it is.
As I move through this familiar neighborhood passage, lined with these familiar words and phrases, I have heard quoted over the course of my Christian life, I find myself distracted and begin to wonder where it was it was going again and certainly loose the trail Paul has been leading me along.  It is perhaps easy to look at this passage and see it as a trail to salvation, a path leading to justification, a guideline, which if followed will lead us to being set right with God, which brings us to a place of hope.
But those of us who have read or studied Romans before have walked with Paul through the twist and turns of the path he takes us down in the book of Romans, may remember, Paul contends that we are unable to do anything , which will lead us to salvation. We can’t earn our justification. We can’t live by any set of guidelines, which will lead to righteousness in the eyes of God. Paul’s greatest argument up to this point is righteousness before God is a gift freely given by Christ to all those who will accept. There is no way to be good enough, live right enough, there is no way to earn our way into God’s good graces. We are simply loved by God. We are set right before God because God chooses to set us right. Justification, salvation, being loved by God is something that God just does, not because we have earned it, or deserve it.  God loves us simply because God chooses to love us. All God asks is for love in return; to love God with all our entire beings, all that we are and to also love those around us with the same kind of free and unmerited love, with which God loves us.  So to see the words in this passage as a path which leads us into the good graces of God would go against everything Paul has been saying throughout the first four chapters of the book of Romans.
We are loved by God, we are made right before God because we choose to accept that love, we choose to accept God’s gift of making us right, otherwise known as faith, accepting that God will love us, accepting that God will make us right, believing that God will do what God says God will do.  So if this paragraph is not about how we can be made right before God, then what is it about?
But how then are we to read, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us,” if it is not a clear path for us to follow? Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is, Paul is laying out the consequences of the love of God in our lives.  “When we are made right,” before God, “there are tangible consequences.” All our actions and choices have consequences.  We usually think about the negative consequences our actions, but there are positive consequences as well. This is something I am continually working with my girls to help them understand.  I tell them, “Your choices have consequences or results. You can choose to work diligently cleaning your room and the consequence of that are that there will be enough time to go do something fun as a family. If you choose to sit there and read, or play or whatever you might do up here, there will be no time, we will not get to go for a bike ride, or to the park or whatever it was we were going to do before dinner.” There are consequences for all of our actions.  The consequences of faith, of accepting God’s love and allowing that love to change our lives are laid out by Paul here in this passage.
The Paragraph begins, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith. . . “  Paul is basically saying, “Therefore, since we have been made right by God”; “Therefore since we have have accepted the love of God”; “Therefore since we choose to believe that God will do what God says God will do, then . . .”  Then all that follows is true. Then these next few things stand to reason.  Paul then back tracks and tells us again what it is that brings on these consequences.  It is because Christ died for us, it is because God loves us.  We were broken, we are anything thing but good, or right.  We were sinners.  Sinning is living a life apart from loving God and a part from loving others. We were choosing our ways, our desires, what we wanted over and above God and over and above others. 
Even as we were living lives in opposition to the love of God and lives where far too often we were not showing love to those around us, God choose to love us, Jesus choose to die for us, and choose to live a life loving God and loving others, as an example for us to see.  So we can know once and for all what it looks like to live a life of radical love, which can only be lived by those who accept and are transformed by God’s love. 
God pours God’s love into our hearts, into the core of beings and that changes who we are, and how we live our lives. If we call ourselves Christians, if we have accepted the love of God, and know that God has made us righteous, when we ourselves are not righteous, we are justified, we are the people to whom Paul is speaking in this passage. Paul begins by telling us that because we know the love of God in our lives we have peace.
But the peace of which Paul speaks here is not necessarily what we immediately think of when we think about peace.  Peace is simply living without war or even conflict.  Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, no trouble, or any hard work.  It means to being in the midst of those things and still be calm in your innermost being.  ”
 Maybe we sell peace short, or perhaps it is that we expect too much of it.  We want to make peace the absence of chaos and turmoil. We want to make it the lack of noise or trouble.   Peace in these terms is something that is a void.  It is something that “is not,” it is something defined wholly on its lack of something else in this way it makes peace a negative.  The peace of God on the other hand is not a negative.  It is the love of God our hearts, at the core of our beings, which carries us through the chaos, and turmoil, it helps us make it through the noise, trouble and hard work.
And this is exactly what Paul is talking about.  The consequence of being right with God and having the love of God poured into our hearts, into the center of our very beings is peace and that peace is seen in the midst of the suffering, in the midst of the hardships and struggles of our life, does not negate our sufferings, it does not make them go away.  But the peace of God, which is given to us with God’s love, is something which not only carries us through the turmoil and trouble, but the love of God not only transforms us and our lives, but it transforms the suffering; chaos and noise of our lives, into hope. God is not in the negation business, God is in the restoration and transformation business.
Paul tells us that the suffering we have, produces endurance; we are given by God what we need to be able to endure, to make it through the suffering, but not only that the endurance produce character, it forms us and shapes us.  Because we have the peace of God taking us through the chaos, and trouble, the suffering, we endure. It does not break us, it does not misshape us, but God is instead able to take these horrible parts of our lives, these things that happen to us, the struggles we go through and use them to make us more Christ-like, use them to transform us, character . The Character Paul speaks of is not a 1950’s style, “it builds character,” kind of character, but Paul is speaking more about how we are shaped, into what we are shape, or more accurately into whose image we are shaped. As we endure struggles and hardships, God steps into our lives and can redeem even the most horrible things in our lives and use them to shape us and transform in to the very image of God, thus instilling into us hope. Hope not just for now, not just hope that will help us continue to endure, but hope that one day things will not be as they are now, one day there will be a world, without pain, a world without the pain of struggle a world without suffering.  IT is eternal hope, that is hope in an eternity where all things are right, good where all things reflect the goodness of God. Hope that one day we will be completely made over, hope that in the end all things will be restored to the way they should be, the way they would have been had there been no sin.
It is this hope, which allow us to moves from day to day.  Hope is one of the defining characteristics of Christians.  We hope for something we cannot see, something which most of us will not fully experience in our lifetimes, but as we walk through this life, through the chaos, the trouble, the turmoil, the noise and hard work which make up our lives, we know there is something better.  We know that we were not created to live broken, wrecked lives.  We were not created to lives constantly struggling with and against those with whom we share this planet.  We were created for something better and God promises something better.  God promises to change us, through us, ultimately our world.  The hope of all creation is to be transformed in this way, and this hope is the ultimate consequence, which is lived out, experienced, and infused into the life of all of us who accept the love of God, and allow that love to be poured into our lives, be lived out in our lives, transforming every part of our lives and pouring out of our lives into the world around us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Acts 2:1-21

The Resurrection is the heart of our belief.  The Resurrection defines the primary belief of the Church.  We are Christians because Christ rose from the dead.  It is the most important event in all history.  Then 50 days later is Pentecost. Pentecost is the day that defines the Church.  The Church is who the Church is BECAUSE of Pentecost.  The events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, are the events, which put in motion the very existence of the Church today.  It is true that we are not the Church without the Resurrection, but it is also true that we are not the Church without Pentecost.  So what is Pentecost?
Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast.  One of the seven major feast of the Jewish year. So when the scripture says, “When the day of Pentecost came. . .”  It is not saying, “When the day that would later be called Pentecost came. . .” The day of Pentecost was what was going on the day that Spirit came up on the disciples. The day of Pentecost was a day the disciples would have known and would have celebrated.  Pentecost takes place 50 days after Passover, which means that the events of Pentecost occurred 50 days after the Resurrection. It was a harvest festival, also known as the feast of weeks. The events that we have come to associate with Pentecost are not what the day of Pentecost was originally about, but because they occurred on this well-known Jewish holy day, we call the events that occurred that day The Pentecost.  So on the seventh Sunday after Easter; we celebrate the Christian holy day of Pentecost.
Before Jesus ascended, he promised to return, which is what we celebrated and remembered last week on ascension Sunday, but he also made another promise.  Jesus also promised that he would send the Spirit to us. In John’s gospel we are promised that the Spirit will be our advocate, but elsewhere we are told that the Spirit is sent to guide and to give us that power needed to carry on God’s work here on Earth.
The day of Pentecost marks the day that the Church became the Church. Not only is it the day that the Spirit fills believers for the first time; but the events of this day result in the first post-resurrection converts to Christianity.  This is the first time that the disciples go out and share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people who had not previously followed Jesus. The Church really truly becomes the Church when it is reaching out to the world around it and drawing others in.
The book of Act is a written record of the beginning of the work of the Church in the world.  It begins with Peter and the disciples in Jerusalem and then goes on to talk about how the early church worked as it began to organize and spread.  They begin to take the truth of Jesus Christ to other towns and cities all over Israel. Then following Paul’s conversion Paul begins to take the gospel to towns and cities outside the Jewish world, the church begins to have more and more Gentile Christians.  But all these beginnings, which are recorded throughout the book of Acts, begin with this event, which occurs on the day of Pentecost.
Right before he ascended into Heaven Jesus, tells the disciples to go to Jerusalem and to wait for him there. And they went and waited.  Waiting is not easy but sometimes we are called to wait. But they did not just wait.  Act tells us, following the Ascension; they went immediately to Jerusalem and devoted themselves to prayer.  They waited and they prayed.  But not only did they pray, but they also did the things they needed to do to make sure that they would have leaders among them.  They elected from amongst themselves someone who would serve as an apostle in Judas’ stead.   They came together, prayed, waited and prepared themselves to be ready to receive the power Jesus promised.  They did not sit around idle wondering when God would come.  They did what they knew to do, while they waited.  They prayed and prepared themselves, so they were ready when the Spirit came upon them.  They were ready to receive the power Jesus had promised.
Then as they were gathered that day, they were ready, they were waiting and they were praying and the wind came, and the tongues of fire alighted on each of them and they then went out into the streets.  They were able to speak languages they did not know and people heard them speak in languages they were not speaking and everyone no matter what language they spoke or where they were from was able to hear the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that day.
When they were ready, when they had prayed, when they had prepared themselves, the spirit came and every last one of them, who had been doing all these things, went out from that room.  They burst forth out from that room; they flooded into the streets and shared about Jesus.  They all went, not just Peter, not just Peter, James and John, not just the 12, but all of them. Acts tells us that there were about 120 of them, men and woman.  Not just the ones who were good as speaking (and come on Peter never showed any skill at this prior to this day).  Not just the ones who were trained, or whatever stipulation you could put on who might or might not have gone out.  All of them went into the streets and spoke to all who would hear.
And because they were praying, because they were ready, because they were prepared, when the spirit came all of them went out, because all of them were filled, all of them were empowered all of them. This was not a miracle for just one or two of them.  Sometimes it is easier to think about God using a special person, a person who in themselves has somehow managed to harness the true power God can give, a prayer warrior, a deeply spiritual person, a very pious priest, but this was not a miracle for Peter, or John or James, or Martha, or Mary, or Johanna. The Spirit came up each of them. Each one was empowered so that the whole could be empowered. This was a miracle for all of them.  God empowered the Church.  They were gathered faithfully, they were worshiping and celebrating a festival God had called for God’s people to celebrate, they were praying, they were ready, they were prepared and the power of the Spirit came up THEM.  This was a miracle for the whole Church, not part of it, all of it. God promises to empower not just individuals, but the Church, all those who gather.
This means that the Spirit empowers each of us; this means that the Spirit empowers all of us.  We are the Church.  I am not the church; you are not the church, at least not on our own. We are the Church together and it is together the real work of God happens in this world.
I have heard people tell me that, “I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to Church.” It is popular thinking to believe that you can be a lone Christian.  You can believe in God.  You can pray. You can do good things. But that you do not need to be a part of the gathered body of Christ. It is popular to believe that you go at this Christian thing alone.  The fact of the matter is you cannot. There is no such thing as a rogue Christian, out there trekking through the world alone just you and Jesus against the world.  God calls us to the Church.  God intends for us to function together. And this is most clearly and distinctly seen on the day of Pentecost.  On the day of Pentecost, we do not talk about John receiving the Spirit.  We do not talk about the Power James received.  We do not celebrate how Peter was able to single handedly was able to speak to and 3,000 people were added to their number that day because of what Peter did.
No, we celebrate how the Spirit came up the Church that day. We do not celebrate a miracle that was performed by a disciple or even a small group of them.  We celebrate the forming of the Church on that day. People call Pentecost the birthday of the Church, because it was on that the day, when the Spirit came up one them that the Church became the Church.  When we celebrate Pentecost, we are celebrating that God called the Church into existence. We are celebrating that we are empowered to come together to do the work and the will of Christ in this world.  We are celebrating that God does not call us to do this alone.  We are not called to do it alone, we are called together.  We are called to gather, we are called to worship, we are called to pray, we are called to prepare ourselves and do what we know to do to make ourselves ready because it is when we are together that God empowers us, all of us. Not just the best among us, not just the greatest among us, but all of us. That means that none of us is left out.  That means that we are in this together.  God empowers all of us.  God has called us; God has called us to work together, to live this Christian life together.  God has empowered us to BE the Church. Do work together to do the work and the will of Christ in this world. Let us come together, let us be the people God is calling us to be, let us be the people God is empowering us to be together!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Come Lord Jesus!

Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 
The book of Revelation ends in an epic way.  I cannot think of a more jubilant more hopeful way to end this book, much less serve as the final word in our Holy Scriptures. “Come, Lord Jesus,” followed a blessing of grace for all of us.  Even with the jubilance portrayed in this passage, there is also a certain amount of longing as well.  The passage seems to be filled with pine-ing, expectation, the desire that only comes from waiting and separation.
My father was in the military when I was growing up. There are many things that all military kids experiences as she is growing up. All of us military brats have a fairly long list of places we lived growing up. Along with that we have list of schools we attended.  We all have stories about the things we did to make new friends at each new place we lived.  We also all know the pain that goes with moving, not only did you leave all your friends behind when you moved, but that was usually the time when you were asked to get rid of any toys you had outgrown, stopped playing with, or were deemed for some other reason unfit (usually by an adult) to move with the family to the next location.  We never grew too attached to things because we never know what might turn up broken or missing after a move.
Another thing is that we all know what it means for Daddy to go away.  Dad was always going away, whether it was for a few days, or a few weeks, and sometimes for a month or two.  This was back when we were not constantly at war, so I never had to experience the kind of separation military kids do today, but the experience of Dad just not being around sometimes, being normal, was very much a part of my life growing up. When Dad was gone we all felt it.  We would continually ask Mom how long it would be until he returned.  We felt the separation deeply, the time was filled was the longing, and waiting.  Each day brought us closer but each day was filled with that pain that is most deeply felt in separation from someone you love. 
One thing my Dad always did, was that whenever he went away he always brought something back for each us when he returned.  When he went somewhere, where he could shop for, he would bring back that sort of thing.  I had a rice filled leather camel he picked up for me when he was in Eygpt until I was an adult and it finally just busted at the seams. But sometimes my Father would be away “in the field” (which basically means they were practicing for war) or away on actual combat missions. 
When he went away for these reasons he obviously did not have the opportunity to go pick up gifts for us, so instead he would bring back extra MREs, which were ready to eat meals they give our troops.  I can remember my Father coming through the door after having been away and I can remember that we would all run up to him and get a hug.  I remember the musty, dirty, canvas-y, smell his uniform always had, and how much I loved that smell after he had been away.  We would dance around him and bring him over to the couch were we would unlace his boots and put them away for him.  That was our ritual, the thing we did every time he came home, whether it was from a long day at work or an extended time away from us. But then, once he was settled and rested, he would open up his bag and he would pull out the MREs and he would hand one to each of us. 
Now, the old MREs (I have no idea what they are like now), they were these vacuum sealed “army” green things that held what we thought were the most mysterious and most wonderful things, dehydrated and freeze-dried stuff, but to us they were wonderful.  Some of the food they contained could be eaten as they were and some of them were just add water.  But we would each open up our MRE and see what we got.  Then, we would taste the dinners they held. They were never good, but we ate them just the same.  They always contained chicklets little triangle pieces of gum that came in white, green, orange and blue.  And each one had desert.  I can remember always hoping that mine would have chocolate or freeze dried strawberries.  Peach cobbler was never as good as it sounded.  The rewards my father brought back with him when he returned always softened the pain and the fear we experienced while he was gone.
Jesus has been gone a really long time.  Sometimes it seems that he might never return.  Thinking about it, reminds me of the feeling I had each day my Father was gone growing up, that feeling that he has been gone too long, that little feeling in the pit of my stomach that wonders maybe he is not really coming back, maybe this will be the day someone tells us that he is not really returning.  But Jesus assures, “I am coming!” Jesus does not leave it up to speculation like we had to experience growing up, Jesus is coming back.  He promises and Jesus keeps his promises.  Jesus, Like my Dad, he when he returns will have been gone longer than he would “prefer.”  But, also like my Daddy, he is not coming back empty handed so to speak.  Jesus is coming and he is coming with a reward to soften the pain that we have felt in his absence.  He comes returning with a gift, for each of us, one that we deserve as his Children, as his Church, as his followers.
He comes with a reward for all those who “wash their robes.”  This is points us back to that great Triumphal Entry celebration with the white robed people waving palm branches and singing.  Those who belong to God and to the Lamb come into the Heavenly sanctuary singing  a song of praise to the one who redeemed them.  Here they are again. Jesus says he is coming!  He is coming back for the ones who wash their robes.
Washing is very domestic word.  Coming out of a first century text, it makes me think of women all gathered at the river washing their clothes in the evening sun.  It reminds me of leaning over the tub in Romania scrubbing my jeans, vigorously rubbing the fabric together to get out the stains.  But is also reminds me of the day to day, week to work of keeping home that I go through. The idea of wash is definitely not one of those things that people in the first century understood well, that is hard for us to understand.  Laundry is still a thing 21 centuries later.
The phrasing here is interesting.  He is not coming back with a reward for the ones who are wearing white robes, he not coming to reward the ones who have had their robes washed, or been given washed robes, but for the one who does the wash. Washing is work.  It is hard work.  The passage tells us that Jesus is coming back with a reward according to each one’s work.  The work we are doing is wash.
The verb in the Greek is very specific, even.  It is not “washed” as in something that has been done, a task completed, no instead the word, John uses here is “wash”.  It is something being done.  How many of you are responsible for the wash in your home?  Tell me is your wash EVER done? What happens as soon as you “finish” doing the laundry? 
Laundry is NEVER done, really and truly done.  As soon as you put away all the clothes, there is always something else at the end of the day that is put in the basket. There is, always, more laundry that needs to be done.  I am positive that the text uses “wash” instead of “washed” because wash is not something you do once and it is done. There is always more. Living the lives Christ calls for us to live, being people who reflect Christ’s love and God’s holiness in this world is not something that is ever done.  Living a holy life is not once and done.  It holiness is not a completed task. It is something we are continually doing, like laundry.  We are always working to be holy people, we are always sharing Christ’s love, always being the presence of Christ in our world, we are always reflecting the nature God in our actions, in our words, in how we treat our fellow human beings.  Holiness is about the ways in which we continually act each day, each moment.  It is about how we interact with each person, the words we say, the kindness we show, the grace we extend to them.  Living in relationship with Christ changes how we do everything, being holy as Christ calls us to be holy, being people who wash their robes, affects every aspect of our lives, and every action, every word.  Living a holy life, being holy is never done, like the wash.  Those to whom Christ is coming with a reward are the ones who are doing their wash, all the way until the end.
Once Jesus has announced his ultimate return, the Church and the Spirit join together and call for him to come.  Come!  It is the cry of Christ children, “Please return!” The cry of Christ’s Church is, “Come, Lord, Jesus!” We all cry out for Jesus to, “Come!”
Then Jesus responds by inviting us to come to him. All who hear – that is all those who have listened to the words of this book, all those whose minds have been filled with the words and the depictions John vision brings to us, all of us are invited to come.  But then all of us who thirst; those of us who long for Christ; those of us who desire the things of God; those of us whose spirits are not quenched by anything less than communion;  relationship with our Lord,  are invited, like the woman Jesus met at the well, to drink from the water only Christ can provide. The water, which will forever quench our deep thirst, our longing our desire for all things, which only God can provide. We are told like the hearers of Isaiah, “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” What Christ has to offer is given freely and abundantly, it will fill us, it will quench even our deepest thirst.  The reward Christ brings when he comes, is the fulfillment of our longing, the satisfying of our overwhelming desire, the quenching of the thirst we have for relationship, for communion with God. Remember we are bride and God is coming to dwell with us.
  We are invited to join in the celebration of Christ’s homecoming. Let us be among those who wash their robes.  Let us be among those who gather around our beloved when he returns and share in the joy and jubilation his homecoming brings. 
And our response to this invitation, our response to Christ, is to cry out once again for Christ to come, “Come Lord, Jesus!”  Christ promises to come.  Christs promises to bring a reward when he comes, he promises to bring with him all that will satisfy, all that will fill us and make us whole, he promises to bring to us the water that will forever quench our thirst, that is eternal relationship with our God, that is God dwelling with us, Christ is our groom, he is coming to live with us, he is returning with us.  Amen! Come Lord, Jesus come!
Our lives should be lived in this expectation.  We should be continually be making ourselves ready. We should never be in a place where we are afraid Jesus might just come right now.  No, we should always be joyfully crying out, “Come,” knowing that we are continually making ourselves ready.  We are all living as washer women (so to speak).  Our lives are robes continually washed clean, the work we are doing is the work Christ calls us to.  Living each day in the same way Christ lived his when he was here on Earth. We are to continually living each day like it is laundry day, doing what needs to be done, to let Christ’s love shine through us; reaching out to those around us who are in pain; loving those who are unloved, touching those who our world deems untouchable, welcoming in those who are rejected and turned away; gathering in where others cast out; speaking words of kindness even when all we hear are words of hatred and contempt.  We are to work through our lives, through our actions, through our words to make right the wrongs our world creates, we are to bring healing to those who are broken and work to bring wholeness to the fragmented systems in our society.  Live our lives doing the wash for our world, for our lives.  So that with each breath, in each moment our hearts sing, “Come, Lord Jesus Come!”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Psalm 29 - How Great is our God?

Ascribe to the Lord, the glory, the honor, the praise.  Speak of God's wonder and splendor.  Say the words.  Seems like such a small thing.  How often do we actually speak the words that tell of how amazing God truly is.  The greatness of God is vast as the sky, as briliant as the stars, as inexplicabile as the entirety of the universe. 

But when we stop to think about the greatness of God, we think about it on a personal level.  When we pause give praise and honor, we think about how great God has been to me.  We want to give God honor for the ways God has affected us.  How has God's greatness worked to better me and my life?  God has provided healing for me.  God has given me the job I wanted.  In what ways have I experience the splendor of God in in my day?  We see the splendor in the bird outside our window, in the rainbow seen on the way to work.  We think of how God's power has afftect our life.  We see it at work when we are shared from immenant danger.  

We may extend our gratitude to the things that God does for those around us, how those for whom we care have seen the work of God in their lives, how we see the hand of God reach out and affect them and their concerns. The extension might go to world event of which we are aware, of concerns that we face because the news has made us aware, but that extension is usually shallow and fleeting.  But generally when we think of giving God praise, we think and honor, we think about me, and mine.  My life and the lives of those I know.

The wonders of creation, the laws that hold the universe together, these are the great works of God. The power of God is the force which holds atoms together and the spark from which all things exploded.  The voice of God was the impetace for all things coming into being.  God is more powerful than the most powerful force of which we can think.  God can break the mighty Sequoia.  God is more powerful than the forces of nature, that bring fear and awe; more powerful than thunder and lighting; than the tornado or the hurricane.
How great, how amazing, with glory, and power and strength is our God? Take a moment, think of the truly awesome works of God.  Think about how vast God's power truly is.  Speak it, say it, give honor and praise for who God truly is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Wipe Every Tear

Rev: 21:1-6
As I have worked through these passages in Revelation these past weeks, I have been surprised.  There was an element of trepidation felt as I approached this series.  The idea of reading the book is somewhat scary, the idea of spending sermon series in it was intimidating.  There is so much confusion and misunderstanding that can come from the pages of this one book.   I re-read a book on Revelation by Eugene Peterson (you the know the pastor who did the Message version of the Bible) which I had read when I was ENC which works to de-mystify the book.  I knew that I wanted to lean on his down to earth approach as to the angle from which I would approach the book. I knew the passages I would be working with, but I now that I am most the way through I find that I am still surprised by how amazing this book, is. The glory of the Almighty-One, the worship of the Lamb, the excitement of the resurrection to come, it is all so amazing, so surprising, and wonderful.  And the passage we have before us this morning is no different.
Like the passages we have studied thus far, there is so much going here. It begins with two visions; one of a new Heaven and a New Earth and one of the City of Jerusalem coming down from Heaven. It then is followed by several oracles, one given by a “loud voice,” and two which come from the One seated on the throne; a flurry of sight and sound, all full of vivid imagery to grasp.
It begins with a new Heaven and a New Earth.  I can hear the voice of Paul from 2 Corinthians, “Everything old has passed away; See, everything has become new (2 Cor 5:17).” Everything is made new, perfected, washed clean.  All that is broken is removed; sin and evil have been cast off, all things are new.  Heaven and Earth are as they should be. The creator re-created, renews creation in a way that makes it new again.
When my cell phone stopped charging, I took it to the Verizon store. I went fully expecting them to tell me that I needed new one. Instead, they told me that I could simply send my old one back to the company and they would send me a “new” one, just like my old one.  But it was not “new” per se, it was made new.  Someone else just like me, had sent in their phone and they had taken that phone, took out what was broken, put in new parts, made it new again and they would send that phone to me (they were gonna do the same to mine and send it off to someone else).  It was new, it worked like, everything that was wrong with it was fixed, it was made new.  Heaven and Earth will not be a brand new thing.  God is not scraping all of creation and making a new one.  God recycles, God is going to remove all that is broken and wrong with this world and renew it, make it new.  It will essentially be the same world, just better, made perfect; a new Heaven and a new Earth as they should be.
The second vision is that of the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven, dressed like a bride.  The city of Jerusalem is the Church.  God’s Church, dressed for her wedding day.  We will be holy, made holy and made ready for our groom. The symbol of the wedding day, is a symbol of who we are in relation to Christ, we are a bride, new fresh clean, dressed in finery, our best. Christ loves us, cares for us and desires to be with us for all eternity.    
Two visions of how eternity will begin for us.  It will be a world made new.  The world will be as is should be, as it was intended to be, as it was originally created to be, without blemish, without sin, without evil without the brokenness that currently mars all of creation. It will also be like a wedding.  We will be the bride and Christ the groom.  The joy the excitement of a wedding day; the pleasure of the moment; the joy in the event; all that makes a wedding day good and beautiful wrapped up in an eternal moment of joy and happiness.  Our eternity will be that forever. 
But really that is not the exciting part, the exciting part comes next in the oracles.  When we see the great Sanctuary of Heaven , we see all things centered around God.  At the center of Heaven, at the center of the eternal sanctuary is the throne, where God is seated.  But the first oracle takes that center and moves it, it takes God and brings God to earth.  I cannot help but think of that old hymn, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.” God will dwell among us, Emmanuel – God with US for all eternity.  We are not just a symbolically a bride, we are bride in that the groom will live with us, we will live together. I know that is not a new thought, I mean is that not what we look forward to when we think of living in Heaven, living with God.  But for some reason it is different when I think about God coming to live with us.  It not God scoping us up and taking us away to someplace else. It is God changing addresses.  It is God picking up and coming to where we are. God is not expecting us to move, God does the moving, God comes to dwell with us.  New heaven, new earth and a God who comes to live with us as groom lives with a bride.
The next oracle then tells us more; God will be our comfort and our protection.  God will personally wipe away our tears.  Not just a declaration, “there will be no tears.” But God moving and acting in loving, comforting, caring ways to remove the tears.  This is a loving, caring God, who will come to us in our pain, in our sorrow and will make the pain go away, will remove the sorrow, will wipe the tears dry.  God is a mother here.  We are a child, hurt, bruised, battered by life.  We look up with tear stained cheeks and god reaches down, pulls up into the divine lap, comforts us, speaks softly into our ear and with a kind, gentle finger wipes the tears from our faces.
Heaven is so much more than some distant, indescribable, unfathomable place where we spend eternity with a far off God.  No heaven comes down, earth is remade, all things are new, the old things, the pain, the hurt, the sorrow, the mourning are gone, they are removed when all things are made new. And God comes down and lives with us, dwells among us. Comes to each of us and does what needs to be done to make things right for us.
I am very much a communal salvation kind of thinker.  I think God came to save individuals, but I truly believe that God came to bring salvation to us, to redeem the world.  Not just individual lives, that is the level of the atom, that is where God begins, but in truth God came to save the world, to redeem creation, to make all things new.  You and me, US, the Church, this congregation as well as the Church universal, but through me, through you, through US, God is redeeming the world, the brokenness in each of us And the brokenness in our world.  God through us is redeeming the broken systems that surround us.  Our salvation is the beginning, but in us and through us God reaches out to make right the systemic wrongs in our city our culture, our country and our world.  We are called to be God’s elements of righteousness, of holiness, of change in our world. That is our call as Christians.
But this passage reminds me that it begins with you and me.  It begins with God reaching down and bringing comfort on a very personal level.  That my salvation is important, your salvation is important.  That God cares about the things that bring tears to my eyes. The promise of Heaven is that ALL things, all the big picture things, systemic things are made new, made right, but it is also so very much about my pain and your pain passing away. I know I matter and the comically small things in my life matter, but sometimes it is nice to hear God say so.
This is not just about the Comos being made new.  This is not just about creation being restored to the newness of Genesis.  This is not just about the Church universal being bright and beautiful like a blushing bride.  This is about the God of creation coming to you, to me.  Looking us in the eye and making things right, not just cosmically, not just universally, not just eternally, but making my things right, taking my pain, taking my darkness, the sin, the hurt, the pain, the sorrow in my life away.  Wiping my tears and then going and doing the same for you, and you, and you, each and everyone of us.  All things right is big, it is broad but this is personal, God will wipe YOUR tears, my tears, each of our tears. It is nice to remember that we as individuals, each one of us are important to eternity.  The oracle we hear in this passage,  tells us that my tears, your tears, matter and God will do what is necessary to make that right, to heal your brokenness, to relieve my pain. 
God will dwell with me, with you.  Our God is personal and present and very much with you and with me.  God will dwell among the peoples.  We will all be Gods people, all of us and God will be our God and we will be God’s children, God’s people. The Covenant of heaven is universal, but it is also very personal (intimate if you will).  It is OUR covenant with God, but it is a covenant God makes with you, with me. 
It is amazing to think, here in the middle of this book, which speaks of comic events, of things that are happening on a macro level, that gives us glimpses of events that happen beyond time, and outside of history; that hustle and the bustle of eternal events; all zero in on a face, that everything stops for a moment while the Eternal One reaches down and wipes away the tears of humans. It is really awesome to think that when Christ said, “It is done,” not only did he mean that salvation had come, not only did he mean that all creation is redeemed but he meant that all tears would be carefully and lovingly removed from each face; that God, in God’s infinite mercy would personally come sit down next to you, and next to me and be everything we need, do all the things that need to be done, say all the things we need to be said, to, make it right, to fix the wrongs, to heal the hurts, to bring comfort. 
Our God doesn’t just love us from a far, eternity is not impersonal, it is not being one among a crowd, it is not being lost in a multitude, it is being loved more personally and more intimately than we can ever imagine, it means that God is with us in a way that cannot be comprehended.  How can God be there for me and for you and you and you, and each person in all eternity, comforting, healing, making it right, but God will not with a wave of an impersonal magic wand, not with a grandiose declaration, but with a intimate act that will be just the healing I need, just the comfort you need.  Exactly what each of us needs.  Eternity will be personal, real intimacy, we will be a bride, loved and cared for, forsaking all others, to be there for me and me alone, BUT also for you and for you alone.  How amazing, how wonderful, is our God?  I cannot imagine how beautiful and fulfilling a heaven filled with personal attention from God will be but that is what we are seeing here.  Personal attention, side-by-side dwelling with God!