Posts Tagged ‘Impossible’

Entered At the Wrong Time 10-6-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10 (and also referencing 1-4), I explore an odd little teaching of Jesus about faith the size of a mustard seed.  Its a strange one, but speaks to us about the idea of faith as something which is quantifiable…which is isn’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

How many people are familiar with the expression “that was the wrong time to enter into that conversation.” I have this thought a lot…because it seems like I can’t go more than a day or two without walking into a room, or simply finding myself in the proximity of a conversation that is already in process, and for whatever reason, it catches my attention just as someone is saying something…odd.

It manifests in a lot of different ways…but the lack of context is usually the contributing factor…and without it…we just hear something utterly out of place.  Take for instance…if you heard me spout off something like “I’m just a little tea pot” you’d probably give me a weird look and wonder what the heck I’m talking about…

But you know this sense right? You’ve had moments like this? Good, because it seems to me that the lectionary is giving us one of those moments with the rather abrupt beginning of our reading. (pause)

The Apostles said to the Lord…increase our faith. (long pause) On one hand…of course…Lord increase our faith. No brainer…but on the other hand, its like…what? Why? (pause)  It’s a weird place to start the reading isn’t it?  But maybe if we keep reading we’ll get some insight.

Jesus responds…If you had faith like a mustard seed you could say to this tree, uproot…be planted in the ocean.” (nod) That explains everything right?  Hmmm, maybe not…and honestly the oddball little parable about a slave working in the field and then coming in to cook dinner and wait on the master doesn’t really help either…and all I can think…we came into this conversation at the wrong time didn’t we?

Something is missing right? Why did the apostles make this request? What prompted it? What’s going on that puts them in the perspective of insufficient levels of faith? (pause)

We can’t just start right there…We’ve gotta back up don’t we? Jesus starts off this chapter warning us that moments of stumbling will happen…it’s a part of life…but we should be careful to avoid making someone else stumble.  And then he goes on to talk about forgiveness…and that seems to be the issue at hand for his followers.  Be on your guard…if another disciples sins, you must rebuke the offender…and if there is repentance, you must forgive….and maybe at this point we can picture the disciples all nodding…yah…that makes sense Jesus…I think I’m with you….

But then he goes on…and if the same person sins against you 7 times a day, and they turn back you every time in repentance, you…must….forgive. (pause) Wait a sec Jesus…let me see if I got this.  We’re called to forgive, I get that…we even pray it…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…I’m tracking there…but 7 times? Really?  Is that even possible?

Like for real? If a person actually repents, they probably aren’t going to turn right around and harm you again right? Much less 7 times in one day…I don’t buy it Jesus…I think you’re pulling my leg…this whole deal seems impossible…right?   RIGHT? (pause)

But that’s the teaching…and that reveals something I can relate to…Jesus has made this statement…not even a request…we might call it a command…an expectation…an implication of being a Christ follower that we will forgive…over and over again…even if it seems impossible.

And maybe that resonates…maybe that’s relatable to you…because you’ve experienced something SO major…So completely unforgivable that you can’t even begin to wrap you head around the idea of forgiving the person who harmed you…not even once, much less 7 times in a row.

That seems to be the quandary that the disciples are dealing with…and yet they realize that this command given by Jesus is something they need to take seriously…but it also seems that they recognize their own inability to do so…and even though we don’t hear it in the narrative…we can probably imagine what they are thinking, maybe even saying as we read between the lines.

I can’t do that. I’m not good enough for that. That makes no sense…I need help…I need to be better…and so they turn back to Jesus with the request that kicks this whole deal off today.  Lord…increase our faith…we don’t have enough…we can’t do that. (pause)

I wonder if that sounds familiar…ever found yourself in that same boat…feeling like what’s being asked of us by God…or by our church, or from our family or friends…any of that…its too much and we don’t feel like we’re adequate to accomplish it? I know that sense…and I’ve heard many of you express that same sentiment.

I can’t do that pastor.  I don’t know enough…I don’t have anything to say.  I don’t know how to do it. (pause) Now I don’t bring this up to shame anyone…we all do it…all of us…and we think Maybe if I’d studied just a little bit more…or if I believed just a little bit harder.  Or the one that seems to be on the nose today…if my faith was a little bit bigger.

How many times have you heard that expression…I need to grow in my faith…as if faith is some achievement level in a video game, or a muscle that grows larger with exercise…or a reservoir that can be filled up to larger capacity…or since its football season, that faith is some sort of scoreboard, and when time runs out we can look to see if our faith-score is bigger than the sin-score. (pause)

But that’s not how all this works…and I think we see that as we consider this REALLY weird response from Jesus.  “Lord, increase our faith.” And Jesus is like (embellish this) “DUDES…if you had faith the size of a MUSTARD SEED, you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea…and it would happen.” (pause)

First of all…what? That statement is not just mysterious…its flat out stupid. No one would want a mulberry tree to be planted in the ocean…it would die…no one would ever say that…and I think Jesus knows it…I think we have to read sarcasm into this…we have to look Jesus in the face and see him winking at us as he says this.

Because it seems like Jesus is saying…the TINIEST bit possible…it can accomplish utterly impossible things.  Things you would never even consider are possible…and maybe just maybe what Jesus is really telling us here is that with faith, its not about quantity…that’s not how faith works.

Maybe Jesus is telling us that its either/or.  You either have it or you don’t. But if that’s the case, then what is it? Great question…an important question…one that we should probably think about more often because we throw that word around constantly here in the church. Faith this…faith that…saved by faith. The righteous shall live by faith…faith faith faith…and we probably sound exactly like the disciples as we do it. (pause)
So what is it? Well…if we consider the various examples of faithful people that we hear about in the scriptures…it would seem that faith means believing what we hear from God.  And if God says that we’re supposed to forgive…then we forgive. If God says that we are forgiven…then we are.  If God says you are worthy and I love you and I claim you as a beloved child…then you are. Period. (pause)

But…that’s not always easy is it?  Doubt is a real thing. Questions, concerns…they’re real to…because life is messy and even though the gospel is really easy…its also really hard isn’t it? And I think that’s the issue that the disciples are acknowledging today…Lord this is hard…I feel like I am incapable of doing this.

And Jesus looks them in the eye…and says….You’re right. (pause) Wait…what? (pause) I believe with every atom of my being, that what the gospel reveals and what the gospel asks of us…is utterly…100% impossible to achieve (long pause) on our own.

Nothing we can do…nothing we can achieve will ever accomplish it for us…because if we could do it on our own…then we wouldn’t need Jesus…and he died for nothing.  But folks…the one we call Jesus…the living word of God made flesh…lived…died brutally…and then rose again in order to make the impossible…possible.

And he did it on your account…and it is finished.   You need only believe that it is true…and it is true…and not just because you chose to believe it. I don’t buy that either…the idea that we can chose to believe it…that makes salvation through Christ just another work for us to accomplish…and that my friends is the law…the idea that we are enough…that we are capable…and we aren’t.

I’ll say it again…we are not…capable on our own…So God has done it for us…God has done it for everyone here…and God has done it for everyone that you think is outside of it.  Because God loves the world…not just the ones who say the right words.  Its…finished. So believe it. That’s faith…even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. (pause)

Now…the disciples do have one thing going for them today…they go to the right place. Lord, increase our faith…Lord…Jesus…God. Give us what we cannot.  (pause) They might make the wrong request…but at least they are going to the right source.

Faith is a gift of God…it is not self-generated. And that seems to be the one aspect that the disciples do have figured out today.  Peter didn’t look at Andrew and say “hey man, can you toss me a nickel’s worth of faith for today?”  James didn’t elbow Matthew and say “hey I’m a pint low, can you spot me?”

They went to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…the one who hears us when we experience hardship…when we experience doubts or fears or questions about the circumstances that we find ourselves in…and these are not bad things. And experiencing them does not make a bad person or a bad Christian or an ineffective Christ-follower. They simply show you that you’re human…and that you are being realistic about the world that surrounds you…because this life is messy…this world good, but its also very hard. And this life we live together is anything but routine.

And so, if you find yourself wrestling with these things, know this…you are not alone…and you can bring these concerns to the one who will never leave you…that is the promise…not because of anything that you have done…but because of everything, he has done for you. Amen.

Not Just Difficult But Impossible 10-11-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:17-31, I explore the story of the rich man’s encounter with Jesus. This leads to the impossible nature of salvation based on anything that we do, as well as the impossible nature of the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ.

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

There is a franchise in Hollywood that I’m a pretty big fan of. It goes all the way back to 1966. Mission Impossible. The original tv series ran until 1973. A rebooted tv series ran from 1988 to 1990. This finally led into a series of movies starring Tom Cruise starting back in 1996 that is still going on as the 5th film in the series hit theatres earlier this year.

The whole premise of Mission Impossible is right there in the title. During each episode or movie, the team facing seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles to accomplish the given mission…but given enough training and know-how…throw in enough techno-gadgets…and in the end…they always seem to accomplish what they set out to do. However crazy their objectives are…they always manage to do the impossible. The name of their organization is even a wink at this…the IMF, or Impossible Mission Force.

There’s actually a pretty telling moment in the second film, which came out back in 2000…when Tom Cruise sits in a meeting with the director, who is outlining the mission at hand…part of which is to find and convince a wanted jewel thief to join the team and help with the mission. The director asks “Can you do it?” Cruise responds… “It will be…difficult.” And then in a nod to the audience, the director says “Well this isn’t Mission Difficult…its Mission Impossible…Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.” (pause)
As cheesy or silly as the tv shows and movies can be, there is a nugget of truth here. As a species, we humans are pretty good at overcoming some pretty insurmountable odds aren’t we? Look at some of the things that we have accomplished…simply because we set our minds to it…accomplishments that at first glance seem like they would be utterly impossible. (pause)
We have figured out how to leave the earth behind and fly…in an airplane anyway. We decided to explore space…worked at it, launched satellites and eventually people into orbit…we even sent people to the moon, simply because we decided to go there.

We’ve built 100+ story skyscrapers, we’ve explored the rainforests, and climbed mount Everest…simply because we as a species decided to work hard enough to figure out how to do it. We’ve done it as a species…and we do the same sort of thing as individuals…I remember October 17th 2011…It was my wife’s birthday and I decided that day I was going to go to the gym with her…and that day I ran 1 mile…and I thought I was gonna die. But I kept working at it…with an eventual goal in mind…and in February of 2014, I spent 5 hours and 5 minutes on a treadmill in my basement covering 26.2 miles…accomplishing a marathon…simply because I decided to do the work, to do the training and preparing that it would take to pull it off.

Its true…we as humans seem to be able to accomplish anything that we put our minds too…so much that we have a common phrase “you’ve done the impossible.” (pause) But I find myself wondering…is that…well, for lack of a better word…possible? (pause)

The definition of “impossible” is this…not able to occur, exist, or be done. (pause) Not just difficult, but not able. And so to say that we have accomplished the impossible, by definition…must be a lie. Certainly we can and do accomplish amazing things…things that take extraordinary amounts of effort…but if we do it…then it isn’t impossible. (pause)

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this…for in today’s gospel lesson we hear an astonished, likely exasperated question from the disciples asking the important question…Who can be saved? And the honest, if daunting reply from Jesus…for mortals it is…impossible.

But before we explore that any further, we need to back up and take a look at the situation that prompted this exchange in the first place…the encounter between Jesus and the rich man who asks the familiar question…what must I do to inherit eternal life? (pause)

I think many of us are familiar with this story…I even referenced it last week…this random man comes up to Jesus…kneels before him, which is worth noting…this guy pays the proper respect to Jesus and so his question seems to be quite sincere…It seems that his heart is heavy because despite all that he has done throughout his life…he lacks the assurance that eternal life has been given to him…and so the question to Jesus…what must I do?

Jesus response…well, it’s a bit odd this time around isn’t it…You know the commandments…and he lists off a batch of them…and the man’s response…I have done all these things since I was young…which is likely true…we have no reason to think that this man has failed to follow the listed commandments to the letter.

There’s something interesting that we need to notice though…even before Jesus jumps in to point out the one thing lacking for this guy…we need to stop and think about the commandments and who they are aimed at. Commandments 4-10 are aimed at how we treat other people…and each commandment that Jesus listed off to the guy falls in that category…but what Jesus did not list off for this guy are #1-3, which are aimed at our relationship with God. (pause)

Now remember that Jesus didn’t dispute the man saying he’s followed the listed commandments…but he does point out something pretty specific…that the man needs to go off, sell everything he has and give it to the poor before finally coming to follow Jesus.

And we see…in this instant, that the man can’t do it…he goes away crestfallen…saddened…downright gloomy…and then, only then do we hear that he has many possessions…Possessions which he places all value upon…possessions and wealth that he places his trust in…so much so that he can do what Jesus asks…and this makes me think that this man’s wealth is the idol that is standing in the way of his relationship with God.

Remember that command that I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me? (pause) For this guy…its his wealth…and as we see in the story today, its too much for him to give up at this point…and Jesus’ call to discipleship for this guy…the invitation to come and follow me…goes unanswered. (pause)
I kept coming around to this part of the story this week…over and over again…wrestling with the question of if Jesus is taking a pot-shot at wealth in general…or if it is simply the specific hurdle that makes this specific guy fail in his relationship with God…and there’s a lot of debate about that…perhaps because we as individuals are pretty attracted to the ever present dollar sign in our lives as well. (pause)

But in the end…Jesus seems to point out the important point here…he actually says it twice to his disciples after this guy walks away. How hard it is to enter the kingdom of heaven…how hard it is…children…to enter into the kingdom. (pause)

Well now wait a second…Jesus just called the disciples…those who are following him despite their flaws and shortcomings…children…haven’t we heard lately…from Jesus himself…that it is children who receive the kingdom? (pause) Well now that’s interesting isn’t it?

To be a follower of Christ is to be called a child…and that’s not all bad…because children are loved despite their flaws…despite their shortcomings…and we see this in Jesus’ call to the rich man today. Even before pointing out the insurmountable hurdle in this man’s existence, Jesus looks at him…and loves him…

The love of God in Christ Jesus for all of humanity exists long before we recognize our sin…long before we recognize the futility of our attempts to earn out own salvation…and long before we realize just how impossible it is for us to inherit eternal life.

That was the man’s question way back at the beginning of the story…what must I do to inherit eternal life…and now think about how you inherit anything…do you do anything? Or do you wait for someone to die? (pause)
Jesus assures each of us, that we are incapable of fulfilling the law…and as such the law can never bring us salvation…this is what he calls impossible for mortals…yet his love for us is already present…and he proved it by going to Jerusalem…and taking on that cross…dying…so that the inheritance of eternal life might be possible…

In order to inherit anything the owner of it must die…and wouldn’t you know it…the one who holds eternal life in his hands has already done so…and not only that…but knowing us fully…all that which is good and all that which is lacking within us…he loves us enough to offer it to us freely. (pause)
Now all that being said I need to come back around to the disciples…those 12 poor schmucks following Jesus around and seemingly failing at every possible opportunity to show what they are learning…for as Jesus talks about this situation…explaining it to them, all they can say is “Who then can be saved?”

Perhaps we hear that and think they are throwing their hands up in disgust…Jeepers Jesus, we’ve been following you around and we have no idea how to do it…how can anyone else? Or maybe they were exasperated at the fact that, once again…Jesus is showing love to someone that they think is unworthy of it…someone unwilling to give up everything as they have…in order to follow along behind.

Either way…I think it speaks to the impossible nature of the Gospel…on both sides of the coin. Its impossible for anyone to ever do enough or be enough or say enough to earn salvation…just as its impossible to ever love another person enough to offer them freely that which they cannot provide.

Our sin stands it the way of our relationship with God because we constantly put something else in front of Him. We have idols everywhere…whether we realize it or not and so perhaps as we cry out about the impossible nature of all this maybe we’re being honest with our selves thinking that its impossible that anyone could love ME…that much.

And yet…God does…for what is impossible with mortals is possible for God. (pause)

God knows us…and despite that which stands in the way, he loves us…and he loves us so much that he has died in order for us to inherit that which we cannot achieve on our own…eternal life in the age to come…whatever that looks like…and in the meantime…he extends us the invitation to come and follow…where ever that might take us. Amen.