Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’

Can You Picture It 1-24-16

This sermon, based on Luke 4:14-21, explores the great work of reversal that God is up to in the world through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This same spirit empowers us to join together in this important work.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

You’ve all heard the old saying, “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement…As a person who values detailed descriptions, the added value of a picture is huge…specifically in how it can instantly show the details that it would take countless words to describe.

But that being said, I’ve found that there are two sides to this coin. Sometimes, a picture, detailed though it may be, only creates more questions. (pause)

As you walked into the sanctuary, most of you likely saw this picture (hold up picture). My sister in law took this picture years ago. Honestly I have no idea how I ever ended up with it, but now it sits on my desk. A random elderly man, walking slowing through a park with his dog. Other than this detail, we know nothing about him…we can only imagine his story and what may have been going in his mind on that sunny afternoon as he walked through a random east coast park. (pause)

But on the flip side, sometimes a picture can reveal something specific…something that we can all share in…and we have examples of this here in this room as well. Around this sanctuary are several sets of stained-glass windows…and the center pane of each holds images that likely reveal a specific Biblical instance in your mind when you see them. One is loaves and fish at the feeding of the 5000. Another is 3 crosses for the crucifixion of Jesus…another shows the birth and another the resurrection…but one…this one right up here behind the organ…well it seems particularly fitting today.

Most of you likely can’t see it from where you’re sitting due to the angle, but the picture in this window shows a white dove and tongues of fire…pointing to the two instances in the scriptures when the holy spirit takes on some sort of physical form…and its fitting today, because as we heard, the Holy Spirit is active in leading Jesus through into Galilee to begin the first portion of his ministry.

Now this is something of an important theme here in Luke…particularly in the opening few chapters as we hear over and over again of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding and empowering individuals to participate in the work that God is up to in the world.

The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary to conceive Jesus in the first place. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, are filled with the spirit. John himself is filled with the spirit even before he’s born. Two prophets are led into the temple by the spirit to witness the baby Jesus. Jesus himself is anointed with the spirit in his baptism. The spirit leads him into the wilderness just before today’s story…and once that time is over, we hear today that the same spirit leads him into the Galilee where he begins to preach…and everyone is amazed at this local boy…and they all speak highly of him…and then…the Spirit leads him home…and since it’s the Sabbath day, Jesus heads into the synagogue where he is the featured preacher for the day…and we hear once more about the Spirit of the Lord…and we realize that this is nothing new. (pause)

For Jesus takes the scroll of the prophet Isaiah…writings that originated centuries before Jesus came on the scene…and we hear these words. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (pause)
As I pondered on this text this week, I was struck by the realization that this notion, proclaimed by Jesus has being fulfilled, is in fact a very old notion. Not only that Isaiah proclaimed it some 500 odd years before Jesus was around…but its even older than that. I’m reminded of the ongoing discussion that we’ve been having in Bible Study as we explore the Story, that God’s intention for the Jewish people…for this great nation…God’s chosen people…was for them to serve as an example for the whole world, what God desires for relationship, both between individuals as well as between God and humanity.

This was the purpose of the 10 commandments…this was the purpose of God’s promises to Abraham all the way back…that God would bring about a great reversal of everything that society and power dictates should be…Good news to the poor, release of the captives, sight to the blind…we are reminded as Jesus reads from Isaiah…that even in Jesus’ time, this was nothing new…but it represents a vital reminder of just what God is up to in the world. (pause)
But that being said…there is something else at work…for we are reminded that in Jesus…in the life of Christ, God in human form…this work that God is up to in our reality takes an important step forward…for while this was God’s intention for his chosen people…and while the word of God came upon the prophet Isaiah in order to proclaim this good news…in Christ…this work takes another important step forward…and the great reversal takes action.

Christ tells us that it has been fulfilled…and it is because of the power of the Holy Spirit, which first gave the power of proclamation…but goes so far beyond that. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the major power player behind the scenes here in Luke’s writings…something that we see center around Jesus in the gospel…and then in the book of Acts, at Pentecost when the Spirit comes upon the disciples…this work of Christ…this work of God in our reality is taken up by humanity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

And here’s the thing…Isaiah was anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim this good news…Jesus was empowered by the same Spirit in the waters of his baptism…and likewise…so…were…we. (pause) Just as the disciples received the Holy Spirit and got to work, likewise we are empowered by that same spirit to get to work as well…we are empowered and united through the spirit into the one body of Christ here on Earth. (pause)
There’s another picture in this church that displays this notion…its out in the narthex…and from a distance when you look at it…it simply looks like a picture of Christ…and the caption even says “The body of Christ.” But then as you get closer to it…the image gets grainy…and the closer you get, the more you can see that this single large image of the body is made up of tiny images of our members, taken from a collection of family pictures for a directory…reminding us that we are one body with many members, united by the Spirit.

And not only are we united, but we…are…empowered…first to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ…to proclaim this great reversal…and this incredible notion that we have a God who desires to be in relationship with us…and not only with us, but with everyone…the poor…the outcast…the disabled…those that we have the tendency to miss. (pause)
I was struck by that notion as well this week…that the Holy Spirit anoints us to reach out and embrace those that society has deemed unacceptable…as unworthy…as worthless…to proclaim…to share the truth that they are of worth…that they are loved…not only by the one who made them…but also by the ones who make up the body here on Earth.

We are called by God…we are anointed by the Spirit…and that’s a pretty big deal…for we are called to be different…we are called to live out this great reversal…recognizing that at times, we are the ones who need to hear the good news…that at times we are the outcast…the unacceptable…and we find great joy in knowing that our maker loves us and claims us as his beloved children.

But there are other times that we are called and anointed to do something with that knowledge and that hope and that gift. (pause) There is another sign in our narthex that caught my attention this week. I’ve seen it countless times, but something about it made me wake up and pay attention this week…it hangs over the sink next to the bathroom and reads, quite simply…its in the giving, we receive.

This simple statement speaks volumes of what we are called to do as the body of Christ…not only to proclaim the good news…but do go outside these walls to embody the love of God in Christ Jesus…to stand with the oppressed…to lift up the stranger and the outcast…to live out the love of God in Christ Jesus first shown to us. (pause)
Last Sunday, we took some important steps in this direction within the annual meeting…pledging to give $5000 to a program that provides food for children in many different communities who lack this simple resource…children who leave school on Friday with a backpack full of food so that they don’t have to go hungry until Monday…this is a huge step…and one of many different opportunities right here in our community, that we can support, not only with our dollars, but with our time and energy as well. (pause)

This serves as a good reminder for us…that doing the work of God in the world doesn’t mean we have to pack up and move to a foreign country on the other side of the world to proclaim the gospel…sometimes…many times in fact…the work of God is literally in our backyard…something that we are reminded of in today’s lesson…for Jesus…filled with the Holy Spirit…filled with the power player in Luke’s gospel…the one behind the scenes…Jesus…returns home…and gets to work. (pause)

Likewise we’re called to do the same…we are empowered by the same spirit to follow the example of our Savior…and get to work…remembering the overarching story of what God is up to in the world…God made it, humanity messed it up, Jesus redeemed it…and now we are invited into the work of reconciliation…and what might that look like when all of God’s people begin to stand with the oppressed…with the marginalized…with the powerless…Can you picture it? (pause) Now let’s work together to not only picture it…but empowered by the Spirit…to go out there and do it. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 4-13-14

The sermon from Sunday was based on Philippians 2:1-11 along with a smattering of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. You can find that sermon here.

The confirmation students posed some excellent questions on their sermon notes, and I will attempt to address them here.

-How can you (or in this case Jesus) be human yet still be God? Is it a 50/50 situation or something else?
This is an absolutely spectacular question, and one that has been hotly debated in scholarly circles since the first century. In fact, it was even being debated while Jesus was still alive. This is why the religious leaders of the day took such offense with Jesus, because he claimed to be God (particularly in John’s Gospel where Jesus repeatedly called himself “I am,” or often translated in English as “I am he.” This is the name of God given to Moses in Exodus).  To answer the second question, it is not a 50/50 situation. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Now just how this works is a great question. Admittedly, I’ll claim the divine mystery answer here. But this passage from Philippians does offer us a glimpse of an explanation. Jesus himself, who was equal with God…fully divine…chose to empty himself of that equality and become human. So during his time on Earth, we could possibly say that Jesus was less than God, because he was obedient to the Father…but I believe this is a mistake to say. I’ve heard it explained that Jesus was fully human “in time” (or while in our present reality) and he is fully God “outside of time” (meaning in the realm where God exists). That being said, I don’t really like that explanation.  I find it most helpful to consider the notion that as a human, Jesus suffered from self preservation and did not want to experience his passion (trial and death on the cross). We see this in the anguish he feels while praying in the garden. Yet, Jesus was obedient to the will of God the Father…a will that Jesus shared…and so he put aside his own desire for self preservation in order to accomplish the will of the Father, which reconciled mankind to God.

-What causes God to love us so much, because He doesn’t have to?
This is another great question…and honestly I don’t have a good answer for it. I can only say that I am humbled by God’s love for me…because He certainly doesn’t have to. Nothing that I (or anyone else) does can earn God’s love…that’s why His gift of forgiveness is grace, its a free gift. But while acknowledging that, I also recognize the incredible blessing that is God’s unconditional love offered to us anyway.