Posts Tagged ‘love’

Its Not Up To Us 3-29-19 Maundy Thursday

In this Maundy Thursday Sermon, I explore the Last Supper found in John 13. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, knowing what’s coming, as an example of the way that we are called to love one another.

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 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

It never ceases to amaze me to consider the utterly outlandish stories that I come across as I read through the Old Testament narrative. There’s one in the book of Numbers that’s a great example. At this point in the Israelite history, the people have been wandering in the desert for quite a while. They’re of course, very numerous…and they’re actually approaching the borders of the Promised Land.

And as they’re traveling around, there’s this gentile king named Balak who’s getting a little freaked out…he’s seen their numbers…he’s heard reports of battles that they’ve fought with other forces…and he’s concerned.  So King Balak get’s this awesome idea to call in a prophet…a holy man…to call down a curse upon the Israelites…and this prophet’s name is Balaam.

Now maybe you recognize the name of Balaam…and maybe you know his story…at first he resists the messengers that King Balak has sent his way…figuring that if these are God’s chosen people, he better not try to curse them, even if King Balak offers him great riches…which he does…but then God tells Balaam go ahead and go…and so he saddles up his donkey and off he goes…but then an angel of the Lord shows up in the road…which only the donkey can see.

Now the donkey isn’t going anywhere near that angel…and just stops in the road…and Balaam gets so ticked off at this stubborn animal that he gets off and starts beating it…until God opens the mouth of the donkey who pretty much says “DUDE!!! Why are you beating me? There’s an angel there.” Now talking donkeys are awesome…but what is really important about the story of Balaam is the way he views God’s chosen people.  3 times, in 3 different places King Balak calls upon Balaam to curse the Israelites, but he won’t do it…because Balaam knows that God will bless whoever God choses…Its not up to us…and there’s not much that we can do about it. (pause)

Now with that in mind, let’s consider our gospel lesson for tonight…Maundy Thursday…the night of the Last Supper…the time when Jesus joins together with the 12 disciples for one last bit of fellowship…a time of teaching…a very intimate exchange between Jesus and these men that he has claimed…these followers that have been and will continue to be the closest recipients of his personal attention and his love.

We hear this from the get-go. Jesus loves his own…and he loves them till the end…regardless of what anyone else might think…regardless of how they might respond…regardless of everything…the love of Christ…the joy that he feels in the very presence of these people…this is the sense that takes shape here in the Last Supper.

After this time together…they will go out to the garden…Judas will bring along a great crowd…the disciples will flee…Peter will deny…and things only get darker from there. Tonight Jesus will be arrested…tomorrow he will be tortured and killed on the cross…and Jesus makes no secret of that. He’s told the disciples time after time what’s coming…and he even says it here with a term of beloved endearment. Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

And remember Jesus knows all this…he knows what’s coming…he knows what’s in the hearts of the men that are with him…he knows it all…and despite the utter betrayals that will come about on EVERYONE’S part…he still takes this time to literally show them what true love looks like.

During supper Jesus rises from the table, takes off his robe, wraps a towel around his waist…and then one by one, he stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples…some protest…Peter in particular…failing to understand just what it is that Jesus is really up to…but one after another, Jesus looks them in the face…knowing the failure that each will experience just minutes after this time together…and he still washes their feet.

Now you’ve maybe heard me talk about this before…that the job of washing the feet of a traveler would never fall to the master…either the individual would wash their own feet or the lowliest household slave would come along to do so.  This is a matter of hospitality…but no one would expect it go down like it did…and this is why we hear the confusion from Peter…the back and forth as he struggles to understand what’s really happening, just as I imagine the rest of the disciples were feeling as well…and then in the midst of it…in the middle of this odd back and forth which continues to reveal the perfect love of Christ in the face of Peter’s aversion to it…we hear the declaration that Jesus makes…you are clean. (pause)

Now as I think about water along with a statement about the individual on the part of Jesus…on the part of God, my mind goes to things sacramental…because of course this sounds like baptism.  Likewise, as we consider the Last Supper, perhaps we are reminded of Holy Communion…and rightly so…the other gospels tell us of Jesus’ first institution of the Holy Meal…one that we’ll share together in a few more minutes…a meal in which we are all reminded that this is for you for the forgiveness of sins…but not only that…we are also reminded that this meal is for all people.

This is the thing that seems so utterly significant tonight, as we enter once more into a mindset of remembering…of celebrating if we want to use that word…what Jesus endured…what God experienced in the event of Jesus’ life and death, which will lead to his resurrection in a few more days…the thing that is so significant, is that its not up to us.

Peter tries to control what Jesus will do, but Jesus shuts that down.  Judas has his part to play as well…and the rest of the disciples all have their failings. Likewise so do we…and yet, the promises of God, made real in Jesus Christ are still given to each and every one of us…simply because of God’s perfect love and delight found within each of us as individuals…each of us who were lovingly created bearing the divine image of God.

That’s something that we need to remember….that yes we are flawed and broken people…that’s a reality of humanity…but that’s not where our story begins.  If we go all the way back…Genesis chapter 1…we see that Humanity…each one of us was made by God from a place of delight…and God calls us good.  Brokenness doesn’t happen until chapter 3.

We don’t deny it…but we remember that the God who has chosen to redeem this world through Christ has done so because from the beginning of your existence…in the beginning of OUR…existence…we start from the place of goodness and the joy of our creator. (pause)

Now this perfect love…a love which admittedly, our brokenness hinders within each of us…this is the basis for the new commandment that Jesus leaves with his followers…to love one another. The Greeks call this agape love…perfect…sacrificial…all in love…and Jesus says that this is how the world will know that we are his followers, if we have love for one another. (pause)

But what does that look like? That’s a question that I often wrestle with…because it seems like we as a culture have gotten really good at the polar opposite. Many will argue that this is the single most divisive time in our history…and while that’s open to interpretation, I don’t think that any of us would argue that there is a sense of animosity…of division…of vitriol and anger…and dare I say, hate…that exists within the world…and all too often that’s the topic of conversation.

And rather than listening…we yell…we demonize…we throw the other side under the bus…and why? Because might makes right? Does it make us feel superior to have what we consider the better argument? Or have we just gotten really good at yelling louder than the other person?

Today…right now…it seems to be the 2nd Amendment and if its still relevant or outdated.  Or it’s the conservative right verses the liberal left. Or the president verses a porn star over who’s level of morality is better or worse. These are the big topics that everyone seems to be stuck on right now. And as we’ve all heard, maybe even participated in, its full of animosity.

And perhaps no where is this vitriol more present than right here in the church. And I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of being defined by who we hate. Jesus said love each other…so maybe just maybe its time that we as the body of Christ figure out how to start doing just that…instead of tossing logs around that look or sound a lot like judgement of who’s in and who’s out.

Let us remember that Jesus makes the declaration of who’s clean…Jesus makes the determination on who’s being blessed…not the other way around…and he is the one who reminds us that God loves the entire world and that God has sent the son into the world so that it might be saved through him. (pause)

So what does it mean? What does it look like to love one another? Maybe it starts from a place of respect and dignity for whoever it is that’s on the opposite side of the line from you…or maybe it starts from the realization that we’re all in this together, like it or not…and maybe we should act like it.

Maybe love looks like supporting a young man who’s bravely fighting cancer in our community.  Maybe it looks like crossing the street to say good morning to our neighbors. Sometimes it looks like just showing up when someone else is experiencing their own dark night of the soul…not with words of wisdom or the offer of a solution…but simply to bring your presence into their darkness so that they can see the truth that they are not alone.

We live in a world filled with darkness and brokenness and pain and suffering…that is our reality…but there’s a light that shines in the midst of it…a light that the world has tried REALLY hard to snuff out…in fact it tried so hard that it killed the source…but even death wasn’t strong enough to overcome it.

That light shines as a man named Jesus…And this same man, who looked his disciples in the eye, knowing that one by one they would somehow fail him, and he washed their feet…then he declared a blessing upon them…and he has declared the same blessing for you and for all people. Let us remember that in the end, this blessing is not up to us…for God will bless whoever God choses. Amen.

He Sees Me 3-19-17

This week’s sermon is based on John 4:3-42. Here Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and they have a rather lengthy conversation. Her perception of Jesus changes, while his perception of her never wavers. He sees her from the get-go.

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 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Most of you are probably aware that I fall under the category of second career pastor. I lived some life after college before I started seminary. Likewise, many of you know that when I started seminary, I was living up in the Okoboji area…juggling a full time job and my family…and I completed the first half of my seminary education through a distance program.  This first portion of my education took me about 2.5 years, and during that time I grew quite close with a group of fellow students that were all doing the same thing. Most of our work was done online, but a couple times a year we would gather on campus for intensive classes.  In the realm of seminary education, those people were my community.

But then, right about the halfway point, opportunity took my family to the Twin Cities, and I switched from the distance program to completing my work on-campus…and with this switch, I found myself outside of the community that I had developed. Most of the on-campus people had been in classes together, and so when I started off the spring semester that year, I felt amazingly isolated.

But it wasn’t long before one of the other guys recognized this sense of isolation that I was feeling…and he made a very solid effort to get to know me. He asked me a lot of questions. He was always intentional about asking me how my day was going when we’d bump into one another. In short…he made the effort, which meant a lot to me.

Now after that first semester, we all went off for our year of internship, but when we got back for our final year of on campus work, he picked right back up again…and pretty quickly invited me into a group of other guys…they became my community during that last year…3 or 4 of us…each of us unique in our own ways…each with a different approach towards ministry…but bonded together over one thing we all had in common…a love of having a couple beers on a Friday afternoon while playing random video games for a couple hours.

I’ve always appreciated this particular guy, not only because of his invitation into this community…but also because of our mutual respect for one another. Because while we had a lot in common, we had some very real differences as well…especially in terms of ministry. I’m very laid back in many ways, including worship…you’d call me very low-church as I don’t put a lot of stock into ritual and tradition…He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum…he loves all the pomp and circumstance of the traditional liturgy.  You’ll find him all decked out in the clergy gear…the collar, and the robe, and the decorative vestments. Me, I’d stand up here in a t-shirt and jeans if I thought I could really get away with it. (pause) Now those are just a couple differences…but they were never a problem…and I loved how our branch of the body of Christ…our denomination had room for both of us. And we were able to see past our differences to see one another as people of worth. (Pause)

Now I bring all this up, because the idea of being seen is on full display today. That was a long story…but a familiar one…as Jesus has an encounter that illustrates the truth of what he told Nicodemus a week ago…that God so loves…ALL…the world that he gave his only son.

Jesus goes hiking through Samaria…and long story short, Jews and Samaritans do not get along. Relations between the two ethnic groups are tense at best…and more often than not they just avoided each other. And yet, as Jesus is traveling back from Jerusalem in the south to Galilee in the north…he is compelled to go right straight through enemy territory…and now at noon…tuckered out from travel, Jesus has sacked out by a well in the heat of the day, while the disciples headed off to town to find lunch.

Now we could go back and forth about the intentionality of Jesus being here at this particular moment…but regardless of all that…he’s there, and the woman shows up with her bucket to grab some water. Jesus asks for a drink…and their dialogue is off and running.

Admittedly, I wish we knew a little bit more about this woman.  There’s been a lot of speculation about her over the years…most of it really bad assumptions…but all of them aimed at the question of just why she’s there alone in the midst of the day…the norm would have been to come with the other women of the nearby city when its cool, in either the morning or the evening…but never alone in the midst of the day…when we partner up this odd situation along with the realization that she’s had 5 husbands and is now living with someone who isn’t her husband…we have the tendency to think that she’s got a “past,” that she’s…sinful. But you know what we need to throw that out the window…because there’s no mention of sin or the need for repentance in this story. What’s likely going on is that the woman has been either widowed or abandoned 5 times over…which at the time…happened…they even had laws that dictated that it needed to happen in certain situations.  So whatever assumptions we want to make about her…we are probably wrong…but then we all know what happens when we assume don’t we?

All that being said…the woman arrives here…at noon…probably used to whatever stigma has been applied to her because the situation she finds herself in…and it seems that she’s accepted it…and as she walks up on this particular day…there just happens to be a man sitting there at the well…and all it takes is one look at his appearance to know…this is no local…he’s a Jew…so she thinks she’ll just ignore him. (pause)
I can’t help but think that the Samaritan woman…one who has been on the receiving end of assumptions of character…she seems to do the exact thing…and we see it in the way that she addresses Jesus once he asks for a drink.  How is that you…A JEW…asks me for a drink.

The way we address one another is telling isn’t it? The way we refer to one another…and the fascinating thing about this long back and forth encounter…is the way the woman addresses Jesus throughout the course of the narrative.

It starts off…Jew…he wants nothing to do with me and I want to do with him. But when Jesus does…well, whatever it is that Jesus seems to be so good at doing…and he engages with her in the way that only the Son of God seems to be able to do…that perception begins to change.  They start off talking about water…and being thirsty…and somehow that shifts over to something that Jesus calls living water, whatever that might be…and during this part of the conversation she calls him…sir a couple of times…no longer A JEW…but now, sir. (pause)
Now at this point, Jesus makes the random request for her to go get her husband, leading to the truthful revelation from Jesus that he knows her marital situation…in short that he knows her…and she realizes that God must be with this guy…he must be a prophet…and so, in order to impress the prophet, she starts dropping some religious knowledge as they banter about places of worship…and she starts talking about the Messiah…and what’s really interesting, is that she uses the Hebrew word. I’ll impress the prophet by speaking the old language…and its not until she finally goes into town, utterly changed by the encounter…when she’s breaking the cultural boundaries to do the inviting to everyone she encounters…that finally she calls him the Christ. (pause)

I don’t think any of us would argue that this was a long encounter…it was a long conversation with a lot of twist and turns…and amazingly, it took this long for her to begin to see Jesus for just who he really is. He went from a Jew to be ignored….to the Christ…God’s anointed one…and it didn’t happen because he shamed her in anything…it didn’t happen because the clouds opened up with heavenly proclamation.  It happened because they took the time for her to eyes to be opened to the truth about who he is….that this is God standing before her.

But on the flip side…this entire conversation happened because Jesus sees her from the get go. He doesn’t see Samaritan…he doesn’t see woman…he doesn’t see stigma…he sees someone of value…someone of worth…he sees an individual lovely made in the divine image of the Father…and she realizes this when he speaks the truth about her existence…not condemning her, simply SEEING…her.

Now you’ve often heard me speak of how God uses the unexpected person…and this woman is a perfect example…but her story lines up perfectly with the encounters that Jesus has with the first disciples.  Andrew asks where he’s staying…Jesus invites him to come and see…which Andrew does…and then he goes off to find Peter, inviting him to come and experience the Messiah for himself.

The woman does the very same…she spends time with this man…and gradually her eyes are opened to the truth of his identity…and she issues the very same invitation…come and see. This woman…who so many, including us, have labeled according to our assumptions about her…she’s an apostle…she is one sent by Christ with a message.

But perhaps most wonderful of all…whatever stigmas had blocked her from community prior to this encounter…we hear at the end of the story that those stigmas are gone and the gift that Christ has given her is relationship with her community.

Now I think that’s significant for us to recognize…that Christ makes it possible for broken people to look past the things that separate and to join together over what we have in common…we are all broken people…each one of us…and because of that brokenness we are really good about demonizing the same brokenness in others…we are really good at seeing only that which separates us…and hating each other because it…and that is a truth that has dominated our society, and even though I fully recognize my own part in that…I am sick of it….I’m sick of it in our regular day to day lives and I’m sick of it here in the church.

I’m tired of the church only being known for what we hate…when Christ has called to be his body here on earth…He has looked past our brokenness to see each of us…he sees me…he sees you…and he loves you…and that is what we need to focus on.

We come together today…and in just a few moments we will gather around this meal…broken people gathered around the table of Christ to hear a word of forgiveness…a word of love…a word of acceptance…and it is my hope that the church…Christ’s church…not just our congregation or our community or our denomination…but the entirety of CHRIST’S body will realize that there is room at that table for all us…and may we all be united in the knowledge that we are broken people…and yet because of what Christ has done…because God has come among us as one of us…we are no longer separate by that brokenness…we are no longer defined by it…because each and every one of us are a beloved child of God…each of us. Even those that look different, or think different, or talk different…everyone is made good, bearing the divine image of God, whether we want to believe it or not.

And so as we walk out of these doors today, having heard the proclamation that the body and blood of Christ has been broken and poured out not only for us as individuals but for all people…will we hold to the truth that we have a God who sees past all the junk that we get stuck on to see the person…and will we recognize that this table that we gather around is big enough for everyone? Because if we truly believe that, then maybe we’ll walk outside these 4 walls and invite those that we encounter to come and see that they have a place here as well…and if we can that, then maybe, just maybe all people will begin to see the truth, that when it comes to God…HE…SEES…ME. Amen.

Vaya Con Dios 5-22-16

In this sermon for Holy Trinity Sunday, I explore Romans 5:1-5. God has chosen to be revealed to the world in many different ways, but all because of the love that God has for us and the rest of creation.

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 in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ever since last week, which of course was the day of Pentecost, I’ve been thinking about how the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, and at least in that moment, gives them the ability to speak in different languages…I’ve been thinking about it, because I think that particular Spirit-given gift would be a really great one to receive…but if my own linguistic abilities are any indication…the Spirit passed me with that particular gift.

Because I am pretty much the poster boy for being mono-linguistic…aka, I know one language. Anything beyond my knowledge of the English language is minimal at best.  I can insult someone in German, which I learned from an exchange student…and I know just enough Spanish to survive…and barely at that…What little I know is all based on the same phrase…so see if you recognize any of these.
Donde esta es el banjo….Where is the bathroom? How about this one…Donde esta es agua…Yep, where is water? Then there’s this one that would have possibly been helpful in my days of being single…Donde esta es la senioritas…yep, where are the girls?  And finally, my personal favorite. Donde esta es el cervesas?  Some of you recognize that one…and if you don’t know, ask the people laughing now…they’ll tip you off. (pause)

Now beyond that, there is one more phrase in Spanish that I do know and I think its pretty cool. Vaya con dios…Now this phrase serves as a farewell…and actually means “go with God.” It’s a way for individuals who are parting from one another to offer a brief blessing in their departure…as you go, may God be with you…that’s really the basic gist of this phrase.
I bring it up because today it seems sorta fitting. Today is Holy Trinity Sunday…which always falls the first Sunday after Pentecost…Today serves as a time when we focus on the Trinity…one God in three persons…and its fitting to do so now because as we move through the church year, we have now reached the point where all three members of the trinity have really been on display. We’ve encountered the God of creation…we’ve been through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our Pascal Lamb…and now following Pentecost, we celebrated the arrival of the Holy Spirit which empowers us as the church…as the body of Christ here on Earth until such time as Jesus returns. (pause)
This is where we find ourselves today…kicking off the long season of Pentecost as we continue to recall and remember the ongoing growth of the church throughout the centuries which ultimately will culminate in the return of Christ in the last days…and over the course of our history, we have come to an understanding of the Trinity…or the Triune God…this notion of One God in Three persons…one God who has been revealed to humanity in three specific ways.

But admittedly, as I’ve said before…the notion of the trinity is really hard to wrap our heads around. It tends to be one of those teachings here in the church that we accept to be true but can’t really put into words…and yet, year after year, in countless settings, pastors stand in pulpits in front of their congregations, and many attempt to offer insight and descriptions to shed some light on the truth of the trinity.

And most of them…in fact probably all them…fail. Because the trinity is not something that we can describe…its not something that we can explain…it is only evidence of the truth that we have a God who has chosen different ways to be revealed to us.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken a close look at the three stain glassed windows that are out in the narthex…they were placed there during the last building expansion but used to be at the back end of this sanctuary…but if you think about it, take a look when you walk out today…because at the center of each window is an image that represents one of the trinity…there’s the all seeing eye that depicts our all seeing God overlooking all of creation…and then there’s the image of a lamb representing Christ who is the ultimate Passover sacrifice…and finally the image of the dove representing the Spirit descending at Jesus’ baptism. (pause)

These are simply 3 images…and yet they remind us of the truth that we have a God who WILL be revealed to us…and there is no limit and nothing that hinders God from being revealed…Have you ever noticed how different individuals share their vastly different ways of having experienced the presence of God? Each one is vastly different than the one that came before, but if they have anything in common, it’s the notion that the presence of God is revealed to the person in some way that is personal and meaningful to them…a way that reminds them that God is with them in that moment, and every moment…that regardless of what goes on they go with God…they vaya con dios. (pause)

Now perhaps this raises the question of why? Why does God do this? Or what is God’s motivation for being revealed to us? And if we refer back to Paul’s words from Romans that we heard earlier, we see that in all things, God works to reveal his divine love for us…because we are a part of his creation…God made it…and God takes delight in it…joy, love for all that he has made…including us…but since the powers of sin and death have entered this world, creating a rift that our Good God cannot tolerate…God continued to reveal his love for us…his desire to be with us…by taking on flesh and dwelling among us as one of us…and in the end, through the death and resurrection of Christ…our price is paid…and whatever sense of justice needed to be filled…we hear that we are justified through our faith in Christ…and we have peace with our Creator…and what is faith? Well, its simply believing that God will do what God promises…and we receive the promise that God claims us as his own, drawing us to himself through the power of the Holy Spirit…and why? For the exact same reason…simply because he loves us. Not because of anything that we do, or say or think…but simply because of who we are…his beloved creation.

The Trinity exists in such a way that we can begins to see that we have a God who exists to be in relationship…and already was before our reality became reality…and likewise, as we are created in the image of God, we also exist to be in relationship with one another and with the one that created us in the first place….and nothing, not even our foul ups are going to hinder God from that relationship. (pause)

Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of an elevator pitch…the notion that if you had the amount of time it takes to go a few floors in an elevator, what would you say to another individual to peak their interest…and I’ve shared it before…my elevator pitch for the gospel…God made it, we messed it up, Christ redeemed it, and through the Spirit we are invited to join with God in the work of reconciliation.

What a blessing to be invited into this work…and even more so to realize that God intends that we join in this work in the midst of our day to day lives…we don’t need special training…we don’t need to go around the world…we simply recognize that we are empowered to share our story of what God has done…of what we have seen and heard.

But all that being said…we also know that this life as believers…this life that we live, having already been justified in the eyes of God through Jesus Christ…this life is not easy. We are not excused from suffering, or hardships, or troubles…and in fact if the Apostle Paul is to be believed…our life as believers tends to ramp up the troubles that we experience.

But the blessing of all of this…of knowing that our Triune God has many ways to reveal to us the simple fact that we are not alone…then we realize that there is something that we can cling to in the midst of these hardships…and in the long run…as difficult as it may be…God can and does use the hardships of our past to work in the future.

No one knows better than you what hardships lie in your life…in your existence…but rest assured that you are not alone in it…and God will find a way to reveal himself to you…may our eyes be opened to recognize His presence in whatever way we need to…whether its in the peaceful feeling of the sun shining on our face…or the joy in hearing just the right song and just the right time…or the presence of a caring person who is willing to sit there in silence with you in the midst of your pain…not trying to take it away…but just to sit there with you while it is experienced…God is present in the pain.

And so may you know today that no matter where you go when you walk outside of this room today, you will go with God…because God is already with you, whether you are looking for him or not…Vaya con dios my friends…Amen.

The Human Condition 4-24-16

In this sermon, based on John 13:31-35, I explore Jesus commandment for us to love perfectly, and the way that our human condition gets in the way of that.

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 are times when the Holy Spirit works very clearly and very plainly, and by the time I sit down to write my sermon on Friday, I know exactly what to talk about. Other times though, not so much…and that was the situation this time around. Today’s gospel is quite brief…and its setting in the Last Supper makes it an odd choice to be the assigned text here three-quarters of the way through the season of Easter.

And so, Friday morning I stood in the kitchen over at the parsonage and made the comment to my wife “I’ve got zero clue what I’m going to do with this one.” (pause) Its funny though…because sometimes life has this funny way of revealing just what the spirit it up to…and so…today…a modern day parable…

The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who goes to the store and places an order for a new dryer…the salesman is quite helpful, and after a few moments, the sale is complete…with the expected delivery and setup scheduled for the following Friday, as well as the plan to haul away the old dryer…and when the day of arrival occurs, the delivery team shows up, as expected, and everything seemingly goes well…until the team leaves, having said “you’re good to go” and then the man walks down into his basement to discover that the power cord now installed is simply hanging off the new dryer, as it was the wrong style of cord.

The man calls customer service and explains the issue, but is told that they can’t get someone back out to fix the problem until Monday…and so, irritated with the inability to get the problem resolved on their end…the man takes it upon himself to overcome the problem…and so he grabs his tools, disconnects the incorrect cord, drives 30 miles each way to exchange it…and then installs the correct cord himself…leaving himself greatly inconvenienced…and yet with a functional dryer. (pause)

Now, if this was actually happening in the gospels…we would likely see the same sort of result…when Jesus’ audience, whether it’s the crowds or religious opposition, or possibly even Jesus’ disciples asking the question, “Lord, we don’t understand…what does this mean?”

That question right there…as well as the parable itself, reveal a lot about the human condition…our inability to understand just what God is up to in the world…as well as our shortcomings which caused God to take action in the world in the first place. (pause)

And now, to explain the parable…the man had expectations of what would happen…that the store and the delivery would hold up their end of those expectations…but they didn’t…and when presented with a way to overcome the issue, they reveal that they are unable to do so in a way that’s acceptable…and so the man takes matters into his own hands to overcome the problem, despite the personal cost of time and effort.

Now I could connect that, in general to the overarching story of the gospel…in that God created humanity, and gave us a single expectation…which we messed up…and then God gave the Law, intended as a way to overcome and atone for the foul up…but we were unable to successfully fulfill it…and so God took matters into his own hands, at great personal cost to rectify the situation…and so long story short…the man buying the dryer is God…the furniture store is humanity, the dryer itself seems to be the functioning relationship between God and humanity…and that cord…well that seems to represent sin, or our brokenness…because as it originally was…well, it just didn’t work.

But despite all that going on…and despite the surface value of using this whole dryer delivery as a metaphor for THE GOSPEL…perhaps you’re wondering just where this fits in with TODAY’S gospel…and that’s a pretty good question.

Now as I mentioned earlier, this is a bit of an odd snippet to cover…but if we think about it…perhaps it starts to make a little more sense if we consider Jesus’ statement to the disciples that “I will be with you only a little longer.” If we think Last Supper, then that points towards his death which was literally right around the corner. But on the other hand, if we consider it in light of our current season and timing…we begin to think of Jesus’ pending ascension…40 days after Easter…and coming right up in about another week and a half.

And so, in that light, we see the importance of Jesus’ teaching here towards the end of his earthly life…but even more than that…we see the importance of this new commandment that he issues to the disciples…as they look towards the pending reality of Jesus’ absence…when they will look for him and will not find him, because where he is about to go…they…and we for that matter…cannot follow.

A new commandment I give to you…love one another, just as I have loved you…so you must love on another…by this all will know that you are my disciples…if you love one another. (pause) Now, by itself…perhaps this isn’t surprising…one of our most basic tenants of the faith is that God is love…it shows up all over the place…particulary in the writing of John…and specifically in two different spots which I’m guessing you’ll recognize. Who among us doesn’t know the song (sing) “Beloved…let us love one another, for love is of God and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God…he who loveth not…knoweth not God for God is love…beloved, let us love one another 1st John 4, 7 & 8.”

And then the second one is equally well known…maybe even a little bit better when we hear “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (pause) Love…it’s a pretty major point isn’t it…and so coming back around to this new commandment that Jesus gives during his final hurrah…maybe it seems like a bit of a no brainer…at least until we take a closer look…and realize that Jesus says “As I have loved you.” (pause)
Jesus is throwing out an expectation here…a benchmark for us to attain…but it’s a little trickier than it seems at face value…because of the way that Jesus says it…now in the original language, there are bunch of different words that we call love…and they reveal slightly different situations…but the word that Jesus uses here is Agape…perfect love…the perfect love that God has for all of creation including us…PERFECT…all encompassing love…and so let’s plug that back into the commandment…Agape one another…just as I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

But here’s the kicker…can we pull that off? Can we achieve…perfect love, even for a moment…if we think about it and answer that question honestly…well then I think we all come to the conclusion of no. We may feel love for one another…we may show it…and perhaps with a fair bit of regularity…but each and every day, somehow some way our selfish nature takes over and we fall short of that perfect love that Jesus commands…the presence of which reveals us to be his followers. (pause) That blasted human condition…this flawed nature that we possess, this messed up life that we live…it wins every time…which I guess doesn’t bode very well for us does it?

No wonder Jesus tells us that where he is going, we are unable to follow. We’re unable to follow his perfect example of love…just as we are unable to follow him beyond the borders created by the presence of sin and death in our reality. (pause)

But…there’s more to the story…remember back to our modern day parable…did the man simply accept that the situation was a lost cause? No…he did something about it…and took steps to fix it…and that’s why Jesus is here in the first place…we can’t do it…we can’t love perfectly as God loves us…but God has taken steps to overcome the breach…because of his perfect love for each of us. (pause)

Now if I had continued reading a few more verses beyond the end of today’s lesson…we would have heard Jesus tell us “Do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe in God, believe also in me…In my father’s house are many dwelling places…if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, SO THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YOU MAY BE ALSO.”

This is the promise of the gospel…flawed and broken as the world may be…and as such we are cut off from the life intended for us by the Father…but despite that God, fixes what we are incapable of fixing…God meets the expectation for us since we are unable…and Jesus promises, that he comes back for us to bring us where we cannot follow on our own.

This is the promise of the gospel…that God claims us, even though we don’t deserve it…and in this regard, the gospel is the polar opposition of what we like to call Karma…instead of getting what we deserve, the gospel promises us that we get precisely that which we do not deserve and it is all predicated on this perfect love of God expressed in Christ Jesus…and the amazing thing about all of this is that it is offered to each and every one of us…and we receive this promise in a tangible way, through the waters of our baptism when God uses ordinary water to wash away our sinful self and we emerge as a new creation, claimed by God as his beloved child…and today, its Jett Taylor’s turn…today God claims him when he is brought up to this font by his parents and sponsors and by this congregation.

Together we are expressing love for him…not the perfect love that God commands, but yet we are expressing love in the best way that we can…by sharing the promises of God’s perfect love in the way that he is has commanded us to…this is how we share God’s perfect love, by proclaiming God’s promises for us…because despite our failings, despite our human condition, God’s love is still perfect, and his promise is for you. Amen.

So Simple and Yet Not 5-10-15

In this sermon based on John 15:9-17 I explore Jesus commandment to love one another and that this is how we abide in the love of God.

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
We all have things in life that we are good at…things that take little to no effort to achieve…things where we excel…and for me, all the way through school…math was one of those things for me. I had a knack for it…I could pick up a lesson easily…and complete the daily assignment while others in the class were still listening to the teacher explaining the process for solving whatever type of problem it was that we were working on.
And one thing that I always enjoyed was how the process of learning math was cumulative…one thing pretty much always relied on the previous lessons that we had learned…going all the way back to the simple equation that pretty much any kindergarten student can solve…that 1 + 1 = 2. This notion that if you have 1 thing…and you put it together with another thing…then you have 2 things…Simple right?
And yet as the years went by and the lessons continued…things got more complicated…additional and subtraction of single digits leads to multiplication…and then long division…and then onto to things like fractions…and least common denominators…and conversions of measurements…and we keep going into algebraic expressions…solving for the unknown…and then onto geometry…and writing out complex proofs using concepts like the prothagorian theorm…and while that was about the extent of where my mathematical education ended…I know that it goes far beyond my understanding to things like quantum mechanics…used to calculate the behavior of things as big as the universe and as tiny as sub-atomic particles.
And I’ve been thinking about this type of thing lately…this notion that in mathematics, everything continues to build on the lessons that have come before…because there are many days when I sit at the table with my son, helping him work through his math homework…and its been a good reminder for me to see how one lesson builds on the previous lesson…to remember why its so important to learn these various ideas and notions and processes…because understanding the next one is going to depend on you first understanding this one…and all of it…every single bit of it all the way up to that super complex stuff that we catch glimpses within the conversations on Big Bang Theory…trickles all the way back to that simple expression that I mentioned earlier…that if you have one thing…and you put it together with another thing…you have two things… 1+1=2.
Simple right…absolutely…until I drop the bomb that even between these two incredible simple numbers…1 and 2, there is an infinite amount of values…and infinite amount of numbers that lie between 1 and 2. (pause) So simple…and yet…not (pause) Mind blown? Yah…mine too. (pause)
Now I bring all this up for two reasons…First off…this idea that in math, one thing builds on the thing before…and even though they might seem very similar, you have to go through one before you can get to the other…and this is where I’m going to connect into the gospel lesson for today…John 15:9-17…which if you were here last week…probably sounds extremely familiar…and it should…because last week’s gospel was John 15:1-8…and pretty much everything about these two different lessons is pretty similar….same setting…same person talking…same audience…(pause) same subject matter.
Jesus talking to the disciples at the last supper…just before his arrest and death…talking about the notion of abiding. (pause) And so if you were sitting there a moment ago as I read the gospel thinking man this sounds familiar…it should…because there was no break in the action…Jesus was sitting there at supper with the disciples talking…and he probably didn’t even pause for a breathe between verse 8 and verse 9, even though for us today, a week has gone by between hearing “my father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” and “as the father has loved me, so I loved you.”
But here’s the big connection…last week we heard about abiding…about being in relationship…about remaining with God…being connected to God just as the branches of a grape are connected to the vine and to the roots…last week we talked a lot about that…about just what it means to be connected…to remain…why its important…and how we do it. (pause)
And now this week, Jesus moves forward…building on what we heard before and adding to it just a little bit more…for Jesus tells us to abide…in his love…the love that originated from the Father…that moves through the relationship between the father and the son…and likewise from the son to each one of us…abide in his love. (pause)
At first glance…it sounds pretty simple right? So simple that someone much smarter than me wrote a song that pretty much every preschool student in Sunday School can likely sing for you. (sing) Jesus loves me this I know…for the Bible tells me so…
And so we rest in the love of Jesus…the love of God that offered freely to each and one of us…easy right? Its so simple…except…not. (pause)
And here’s the second reason that I started off today by talking about math…because abiding in the love of God is both super easy…and super complicated all at the same time…just like math. (pause)
Because just what it mean? This statement…this order…this commandment of Jesus to abide in the love of God? What does it really mean? To be loved by the creator of the universe…to be the object of love and affection…to be the object of delight in the eyes of the one that made us? And how do we LIVE in that love? Is it simple enough to profess it…that yes, I am a beloved child of God?
Or does it go beyond that? To the point that we have to understand it…that we have to know where it comes from…or why? Or How? Is that a requirement…a prerequisite to abiding in the love of God expressed through Jesus Christ? (pause)
Or on the flip side…is it really as easy as it sounds? Yes Jesus loves me. (pause) It can’t be that simple can it? It has to be way more complicated than that right? (pause) I’ve posed that question before…and actually many times downstairs during education time as we’ve explored the scriptures together…can it really be that simple…can it really boil all the way down to that simple notion that God loves me? (pause)
Because if that’s really the case…then why the heck is this book (hold up the Bible) so darn thick? (pause) Why are there so many stories…and rules…and prophecies…why are there so many examples of God’s judgement…and of people going to war…of oppression and pain and suffering all within this one big thing often times called “The Good Book.” How can that be? (pause) And can we really boil it all down to the simple notion of God loves me? (pause)
And here’s the kicker…here’s how I answer that question whenever I encounter it…either from someone else…or when it pops up within my own head…yes and no. (pause) And yes you heard correctly…can we boil down all of scripture and faith and the church and the questions and answers and theology and dogma and liturgy and sacraments and everything in between to God loves me…yes…and…no.
Because faith is both incredibly easy….while simultaneously being the most mind blowingly complicated thing that I have ever encountered. (pause) But I think Jesus knew that…when he was addressing the disciples…because as he starts talking about abiding in the love of God, he gives us something that actually seems to serve as a pretty straightforward command…instructions that aren’t really that difficult to understand…and in true Jesus fashion…he repeats himself a couple times. Keep my commandments…and you will abide in my love…and this is the commandment…love each other. Period. (pause)
Simple right…and yet…not. (pause) Simple because at first glance love seems easy…and when we are in a situation where there is mutual love…well then it is simple…because its easy to return love for love…but Jesus talks about more than that…and Jesus tells us that we are to love everyone…even those that hate us…and the amazing thing about it is that we see Jesus boil down all of that stuff…theology and doctrine and rules and regulations in one simple statement…Lord, what is the most important commandment…Love God…and then love your neighbor as yourself…period. (pause)
Its not conditional…its not contingent…Jesus simply instructs us to love each other…that’s how we abide…and that is how the world will see that we are something different…that we are something new…that the love of God expressed in Christ Jesus within our lives as believers has made us into something other than what we were before…that we love where the world hates and schemes and plots…that the light of Christ does shine in our lives…in and through the darkness that we all experience and at times…embody.
And in the midst of all this…that our joy…that joy we find in knowing that there is more than what we can see now…that there is hope for the life to come…that we are not alone in the midst of the pain and sorrow that we experience in this life…that this joy is just another sign that we are abiding in the love of God…and finally this joy in knowing that all of this…is not up to us in the first place.
Jesus tells us that we do NOT choose him…but he has chosen us…he has loved US first…and asks only that we mirror that love outwards…that we reflect the love of God for us…so that this world of darkness may see His light…may witness His love…and one glorious day ALL the world may come to know that this love we reflect…this love we abide in…this love of God that we claim…is intended for all the world…each and every one individual…because we are each fearfully and wonderfully made by the one that delights in us…
That’s faith…that’s abiding…both incredibly easy and incredibly difficult all at the same time…but praise be to God that we don’t have to understand it to make it true…we just have to live in it…regardless of if we think its simple…or not…Amen.

See the Need, Meet the Need 3-15-15

This sermon is based on John 3:14-21. It features the “mini-gospel” found in verse 16. In the sermon I focus on the unconditional love of God that is expressed in Jesus Christ, and what it really means.

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.
Its funny how certain things stick with you…there are many different times when some random fact or thought or memory that I’ve had stored back in the deep recesses of my brain will come swimming up to the surface…sometimes after years without ever thinking about it.
I never know what it will be, and I don’t know what triggers certain things…but it certainly does happen…now this week, as I was reading through the various scripture passages for the day, I was taken right back to my days working at camp…specifically by our second lesson out of Ephesians.
You see, this reading out of Ephesians features what we called a theme verse. We had different theme verses at camp…one over arching one that covered the entire week…as well as daily theme verses. If you’ve ever been to our summer Bible school program, you’ve heard the kids recite these verses…because the staff members teach them…each and every time.
And now I’ve heard it said that setting something to music is a great way to really engrain it in our memory…and that must be true…because I can still rattle off that theme verse…even after 17 years.
(sing Ephesians 2:8) For it is by grace…you have been saved…through faith…not of ourselves…it is a gift…a gift of God…Ephesians 2….verse 8 chachacha.
And you know what…there must be something about the camp setting that engrains other things in your head as well…and another one that I remember quite vividly described how we as staff members approached our day to day activities…See the need…meet the need.
At first that sounds pretty simple…as well it should…and it basically means that if you spot something that needs to get cleaned up, or fixed…or thrown away…or whatever…you did it…period…there’s a need there and you meet it…call it whatever you want…responsibility, hospitality…whatever…see the need…meet the need. (pause)
And this is where I shift gears and connect into the gospel for the day…admittedly…a little grudgingly…because as I thought about this particular gospel story through the course of this week, I found myself getting a little annoyed by it from a preaching perspective…what to do with? What can I unpack…discuss…highlight?
That’s often the question that I wrestle with as I work with each week’s gospel text…and this week, I sorta had a little bit of a revelation…I really struggle with gospel text’s when there’s no action…perhaps you recall last fall when we went through a series of parables…simple stories without a great deal of action…and all a preacher can do with it is try to puzzle out the theological implications of the passage.
Well, as you may have figured out, I tend to be more reactive in nature…and so for me personally, it’s a little easier to gain insight when there’s actual story with actual action…in short…its easier for me to preach on a passage when something happens…but, unfortunately…today that’s not the case…today…Jesus is talking…and that’s it. There’s no interaction…no back and forth bantering…just Jesus talking…and so…the million dollar question this week…what do we talk about? (pause)
And the crazy part about this is that it shouldn’t be difficult…because this week our gospel features what is likely the single most quoted New Testament verse in existence…John 3:16…for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish…but have eternal life.
We’ve all heard it right? We’re all familiar with it…and so perhaps this should be the week that I constant joke about when I say “Did you hear that? So did I….Amen” and go sit down. But as you know…I’m not gonna do that…I’m not going to just highlight that one well known passage and stop…because the scripture doesn’t stop…it goes on doesn’t it? Even if we really don’t it to.
Because what comes next? (pause) What follows this famous feel good passage? (pause) Discussion about condemnation…judgment…how we hate the light, and cling to the darkness…and that’s the stuff that tends to make us squirm just a little bit.
And why? Well, maybe because we’re Lutherans…and we put so much stock in that notion of grace…that notion of the free gift that frees us from judgment and wrath and destruction…that makes us feel better…so we just focus on that and ignore the tough stuff.
But here’s the kicker…Jesus doesn’t. As he’s speaking in today’s lesson…laying down some important truth…Jesus sees the need to be honest about the state of the world…and he meets it. He doesn’t sugar coat it…but he speaks with the truth as only God can know it…as only God can understand it. (pause)
And the truth that Jesus is speaking…the truth that is being revealed…it has more to do with the state of the world than the nature of judgment and condemnation…but I fear that sometimes we have the tendency to look at this whole deal from the wrong perspective…and I also fear that many people living in our world today do the same. (pause)
As I was reading through this passage, over and over again this week…my focus kept landing on those words about judgment and condemnation…each and every time…and I don’t really know why that is…maybe its just human nature to focus on the negative…perhaps I’m a closet pessimist…who knows. (pause)
But in many of the conversations that I have with individuals who don’t attend church…who don’t claim any religious affiliation…this very topic seems to be a tripping point…that all Christianity…or religion in general cares about is judging everyone and telling them they’re going to hell. (pause) And how often do we fall into that same trap? Of starting up that mental checklist of our good stuff that we did…or the bad stuff that we avoided just so that we’ve done enough…earned enough brownie points…so that we can avoid our own condemnation? (pause)
It really seems to me…that the human perspective gets caught up on the judging…especially in this set of verses. (pause) Or maybe…that’s just me.
About 2 or 3 weeks ago, I was downstairs with the adult forum during education time…and we were in the midst of discussing the featured gospel lesson for that week. Honestly the passage itself escapes me at the moment, but as we were discussing things…I got overtly analytical…talking through the process of understanding the passage in its context…and the theological implications…and the connections with other passages…in short…I was over thinking it. (pause)
But in the midst of that conversation…two different individuals made comments that really kinda stopped me in my tracks…First off was Judy Pingel who commented that my brain is trained to think along those lines…it’s the pastor thing…and I kind of chuckled at that thought…but then the second person kicked in their opinion…Phil Spencer…who has one of the longest tenures as a member here at Underwood…and when Phil makes a comment in that setting, which he doesn’t always do…I find that it’s a good idea to pay attention. And Phil said this… “I don’t know about all that other stuff…but I do know this. God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And then he crossed his arms…and just kinda sat back in his chair.
That moment serves a good reminder for me that when we are talking about the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…it can be REALLY complicated…while at the same time being EXTREMELY easy. (pause) Many people call this particular verse the mini-gospel, and they do so because this really lines of the truth of the situation. God loves us…so God sent his son…who was God in flesh…so that we can live in eternal relationship with God.
But the million dollar question on a lot of people’s minds…perhaps some of you here today, but more importantly for many people out there…can it really be that simple? It can’t be that simple right? There has to be more to it than that…but what if it really is that simple? What if we have a God who really does love us so much that he’ll sacrifice everything for us? A God who loves us even when we hurt Him…or when we hate Him…or even worse yet…a God who loves us when we flat out ignore him?
Any parent out there knows this cycle…we have moments when our child loves us unconditionally…but at the drop of a hat we hear the words “I HATE YOU!” And I don’t know about you, but the most frustrating thing in the world that my kids can do is ignore me when I know full well they heard what I said. (pause)
And this is what humanity has done…and continues to do with God. At times we show our love and gratitude…usually when things are going pretty well for us…but when things start to get rocky we’re quick to throw blame God’s way…either that or we pretty much forget He’s there…turning our backs and acting like God doesn’t even exist.
That was the state of the world 2000 years ago…and in many ways is still the state of the world today…and why? Well, because as the scripture says…we love our darkness don’t we? But the amazing thing about all this…is not that we have a judgmental God, but rather that we have a God who wanted to do something about it. (pause)
As I mentioned earlier I kept getting caught up on the whole condemnation thing this week…and how it seems at first glance that God’s going to condemn…but the crazy thing is, because of the power of sin in this world…the world stands in a state of already being condemned and we see this because of the presence of death in this world…the Apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death…sin is present…the darkness is present…pain and suffering is present…and that is all evidence of the state the world is in.
And here’s where the love of God comes in…here’s where God sees the need…and meets the need…God didn’t send the son into the world to condemn it…nor the people in it…because they already are…God sent Jesus to free us from it…not because we’ve earned it or because we deserve it…but simply because he loves us that much…and the humbling thing about it…about that crazy love of God…is that there is nothing we can do about it.
God loves us, even when we don’t want him to…the love of God in Christ Jesus is present…and its for you…like it or not. He loves you enough to go to any length for you…even to death on a cross and beyond it…simply so you will begin to understand those three simple words. I…Love…You…and there’s nothing you can do about it. Amen.

Just Get Behind Me 3-1-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 8:31-38. I explore the famous exchange between Jesus and Peter where we hear “Get behind me Satan.”

You can listen to 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
Friday dawned as one of those perfect late winter days. It was cold to be sure, but there was no wind and the sky was clear. As the morning went on the sun got up in the air I found myself standing at various windows…just soaking up the sunshine.
Most of you have heard me express my extreme dislike for the winter season, but days like that almost make it okay…and the sunshine helps give me hope for spring which is right around the corner. (pause)
But…in what seems to be a trend…those beautiful sunny days always seem like they get interrupted by bad news…and the darkness of the world creeps into the glorious brightness of the day. (pause)
That happened Friday…right at lunch time…when social media broke the news that rocked the world for every single science fiction fan out there…Leonard Nimoy…the actor best known for playing the Vulcan Spock in Star Trek…was dead. (pause) Its weird…that the death of someone that I’ve never met…someone that I didn’t really know at all…would smack me like it did…and as I sat there thinking about the fact that Spock is dead…I admittedly starting thinking about the storyline of the character through the original television series as well as the 6 movies that featured the original cast.
And anyone out there that is a Star Trek fan knows that Spock is truly the Christ figure…both figuratively as well as literally in one case…for at the end of Star Trek 2, Spock makes a decision to sacrifice himself in order to repair the Enterprise and allow it to escape destruction…therefore saving all of his friends at the expense of his own life…but then, in order to complete the Christ comparison…in Star Trek 3…Spock is resurrected…alive once more. (pause)
But that’s a character…a fictitious alien in a popular, but equally fictitious story. Spock is not dead…because he was never real…the reality of this situation…saddening though it was for the science fiction realm…is that an actor lived a full life…and at the age of 83 died of complications resulting from COPD. A loss to be sure…but certainly not unexpected…and certainly not tragic. (pause)
And in a personal note…what gives me pause in this whole situation…was that I was more effected by this news than I was by some actual tragic news that broke earlier that morning…the news that an unidentified individual went on a killing spree across several communities in southern Missouri, before turning the gun on himself…resulting in the deaths of 9 people. (pause) Sure I was saddened when I read that news…and I said a quick prayer for those that were affected by it…but then I put that in the back of my mind and went on about my day…only to feel a stronger feeling of loss and sadness at the death of an actor a few hours later. (pause)
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my personal reaction to these two different bits of news that center around death was misguided. I pretty much disregarded the important one…and I dwelled on the understandable one…and the only sense I can make of my misguided reaction is to embrace the fact that I’m human…and I’m not perfect. (pause) And I share that trait with a certain character in today’s gospel lesson…Peter…ever the impulsive one…ever the one opening his mouth and promptly sticking his foot in it…ever the one making the bonehead comment.
And today is no different…in our story, which is a direct continuation of the story when Peter makes the ultimate confession of Jesus’ identity as messiah…he proceeds to spout off yet again. (pause) Now we don’t hear what Peter has to say…only that he’s listening to Jesus explain just what it truly means to be the Messiah…and Peter…is apparently flabbergasted.
It would seem that Peter’s got some preconceived notions about the Messiah…and understandably so. Because his perception is shaped by his history and by his culture…and there have been messiahs before…because in the Jewish culture…Messiah in the Hebrew, or Christ in the Greek simply means the anointed one of God…and they’ve got at least two major ones in their history…the first two kings of Israel…Saul and then David…both of these men were anointed…and the ongoing expectation for the people…Peter included…was that the long awaited Messiah was going to follow that same line…
They thought he’d come on the scene…and kick out whatever oppressive culture was in charge at the time…reestablish the throne of David and everything would be good to go. That’s what they thought…but now things are a little different…because Peter’s been following Jesus around for awhile.
And in the midst of this…Peter has seen just what old JC is capable of…he’s seen the miracles…he’s seen the healings…he’s seen the exorcisms…and Peter knows that Jesus has the power of God on his side…and so it would seem that Peter’s got this notion in his head that Jesus is gonna use that supernatural power and throw his proverbial beat down on the Romans…miraculously kicking their keisters right on outa here. (pause)
And now Jesus is teaching them something that seems to blow Peter’s expectations right out the window…and Peter’s not having it…period, end of story…and he thinks he justified to pull Jesus aside and set him straight…Peter…tries to tell Jesus what’s gonna happen…Peter…tries to take control of the situation…Peter, even though he means well…is trying to take over. (pause)
And now its Jesus who’s not having it… “Get…behind me Satan.” (pause) Woah. That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Calling the one that would eventually take over as the head guy Satan…that seems a little extreme doesn’t it? (pause) Or is it precisely what needs to happen? (pause)
Because Peter’s got human ideas in mind…human notions that can be…and in all likelihood were shaped by selfish human desires…desires that can be…and in all likelihood were twisted by the lies of Satan to trip up Peter…and maybe…just maybe if Satan got really lucky…it would even trip up Jesus as well.
But Jesus doesn’t let that happen…because he’s got a bigger picture in mind…Jesus knows the truth of what it means to be God’s Messiah…he’s no ordinary king or prophet…he’s not just some great military leader that’s eventually going to throw a Biblical beat down on the Romans…the Messiah is here to establish something entirely different.
And so with this harsh statement to get behind me…Jesus isn’t just shutting down the lies of the enemy…but he’s also saving Peter from his error…he’s saving him from himself…and in the end…isn’t that really what he was here to do in the first place? (pause) Isn’t that where all of this is going? As we move through this dark season, we know where it ends…it ends with Jesus hanging on a cross…utterly forsaken…and ultimately…dead.
But here’s the difference between us and Peter…we know that there’s more to the story…we’ve got the benefit of hindsight…Peter didn’t…and so perhaps it comes as no great shock that as Jesus shares just what it truly means that he IS the Messiah…that this truth utterly blows Peter’s mind. (pause)
This truth, begins to show Peter just a little bit about the work that God was actually up to…the saving work through Jesus Christ…that ultimately will serve to save us from ourselves…and this is where we once again recognize our connection to Peter and the rest of the disciples…when we recognize our own limited understanding of just what’s really going on in the world…much less our understanding of what God is up to as he seeks to rectify it. (pause)
So maybe that statement…Get behind me…which at first glance seems so harsh…and so negative…maybe just maybe that statement is actually one uttered out of love…love for one that Jesus is trying to protect. This is the man that will take the cross for Peter…This is the man who will step out of the garden and be arrested in order to protect his followers…This is the man who calls himself the good shepherd…the one who will protect his flock…even from themselves.
This is the man who makes the ultimate sacrifice for someone else…even though we can’t begin to fathom what he’s really up to in the midst of it.
The world is a messed up place…there can be doubt of that…and on almost a daily occurrence we hear bad news…disasters…sickness…death…storms and earthquakes, tension and battles…bad news followed by bad news followed by bad news. We hear so much of it that perhaps, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re becoming immune to it…just as I was hardly effected by the horrific news in Missouri on Friday…and I listened to the lie in the back of my mind that it didn’t affect me and so it didn’t really matter…well maybe, just maybe God wanted to save us from those lies too…to save us from ourselves.
And that’s what Jesus was really up to…that’s what being the Messiah really means…not that we should be subject to him…or that we need to get behind him out of some ambition on Jesus’ part…but we get behind him so that he can protect us…so that he can protect us from everything…even from ourselves…even, from those lies that we tell ourselves…those lies that say that death doesn’t matter…that suffering doesn’t matter…that the darkness in the world doesn’t matter as long as we’re okay at the moment.
And I believe that Jesus saves us from this because God knows that all that stuff does matter…and throughout all the darkness in the world, that which we recognize and that which we gloss over and forget about…the first being to mourn this reality is God…and through Jesus, God…is truly…doing something about it. (pause)
But…it doesn’t come without cost…and its going to cost Jesus his life…and as we see today…Peter is offended by this…he’s offended by the notion that the Lord would have to die…and maybe just maybe he’s offended by the idea that our perfect Lord would willingly die for someone that’s unworthy…but the remarkable thing about the gospel is that this is exactly what God choses to do…to die for the unworthy…because we’re unworthy, and yet in the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God proves that he is will to do that which we find offensive in order to repair the breach between God and all of humankind…and it IS freely offered to EVERYONE, whether we like it or not…the remarkable yet utterly offensive nature of the gospel is that everyone gets it…even that troubled man that took lives on Friday…Jesus was willing to die for him…so that he could be protected from the darkness inside of him…
And if Jesus was willing to die for him…well then maybe…just maybe…he was willing to die for me…in order to protect me too. Amen.