Weekly Sermons

May 13, 2018

 Living in the Real World: What Jesus prays for,
 
Click here to downloadSermon May 13, 2018
 

April 29, 2018

Speaking in Tongues: Talking to Other Cultures
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

When I was asked to go to South East Asia this month, I was told to encourage the rural house church leaders we met with to “go and make disciples” and grow the local Christian community.
I mean that is what the Great Commission says, right?
The thinking was that we needed to get them out of their villages and into the surrounding communities to talk about Jesus.
One of my compatriots started the discussion off by asking what the barriers were that kept them from doing this.
As they talked to us, and as we met with them, I understood there to be two principal barriers.
First, they live in a tribal culture.
When you get into he rural areas, people tend to live in “villages”.
We might call them neighborhoods here in the US, but there, villages are much more socially separate, independent and distinct.
One does not just wander into a village and start preaching a new faith and an new way to live.
That is taken as pretty intrusive.
Invasive.
Aggressive.
Unwelcome.
So people are reluctant to do it.
The second barrier involves the various religious traditions of the people in general.
South East Asia has a long history of ancestor worship.
These people believe that if they venerate their deceased ancestors, these ancestors will give them some form of benefit.
Plus, there are a bunch of other religions including Buddhism, Islam, and a variety of other gods that have been worshiped for millennia.
Almost every place we went, in the city and in the rural areas, in homes and in businesses, there are alters with burning incense venerating some ancestor or some great historical figure or some deity.
If you tell someone about Jesus, they just think Jesus is some other god to add to their little alter.
Another stick of incense.
And there is no room on the alter.
And when I thought about it, it occurred to me that we have much in common with them.
When it comes to living in villages, we do that, too, though not so much geographical.
Our villages involve more of our personal space and beliefs.
To go into someone’s personal live and tell them about becoming a disciple of Jesus and living a new way is considered an intrusion.
Invasive.
Aggressive.
Unwelcome.
So we are reluctant to do it.
And then there our “other religions” in this country.
Our hobbies and activities that we elevate to the level of religion.
These are our activities that consume all of our time.
If we tell someone that they should “come to Jesus”, they think Jesus is something more they have to add to their schedule of activities.
And there is no room.
So yeah, I could see the similarity between us and them.
How do we deal with and overcome these barriers?
This is what Paul is talking about in today’s text.
Paul tells us to respect and tolerate cultural and language differences when talking to people about Jesus.
If you want someone to listen to you, you need understand their culture, their language and their belief systems.
Then you can talk to them in a way that makes sense to them.
In a way that fits into their culture and belief system.
If you don’t do that, no one will listen.
It is interpreted as intrusive, invasive, aggressive.
We like it when people understand us.
We become more receptive to a different point of view explained to us with references to our culture.
That is why Jesus taught in parables.
Cultural, economic and religious contexts that illustrated his points and were easy to understand for his listeners.
In other words, before we can communicate what we believe to someone, we need to step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective.
Walk a mile in their shoes before you tell them there is a better way to walk.
To the Jews, think like a Jew.
To the Gentiles, think like a Gentile.
To the pop culture, think like the pop culture.
To a teenager, think like a teenager.
If you want to preach Jesus to Martians, you better live on Mars for a while!
Paul goes so far as to say, you need to become a Martian.
Understand what they believe.
Then tell them how Jesus fits into their culture.
Be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel.
What does that mean, be all things to all people?
Do we change Jesus so that people will accept him?
Make Jesus like them?
No!
And that is not what Paul is saying here.
He is not saying put the culture into Jesus.
Paul is saying that we need to put Jesus into the culture.
As one church sign reads:
“We don’t change the message; the message changes us.”
But the message won’t change anyone unless the message is understood.
We help people understand Jesus by translating Jesus into their culture.
Without this translation, Jesus makes no sense.
And when something makes no sense to us, we tend to ignore it.
Paul teaches that we are called to show people that Jesus makes sense right where they are.
Then folks might listen.
This is why Paul says we must become part of their culture.
That is what Paul did in Athens.
Before he started talking about Jesus, he walked around the center of town and notices there were many, many gods.
He noticed that the Greeks had what they called an unknown god that was sort of an acknowledgment that there were deities they did not know.
So Paul praised their religiosity and spirituality!
Then Paul pointed to their unknown god.
Paul told them they were right.
There was a God unknown to them.
The one true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
This God was real and superior any other idol.
That made sense to them.
Some came to believe and worship.
But Paul entered into their culture to find an illustration that would speak to them.
He did not change Jesus.
He translated Jesus into their culture.
Let me give you a historical example:
Matteo Ricci.
He was a Jesuit Priest who went to China in 1582.
He spent his first few years learning the Chinese language and culture.
He learned to fit in.
He was criticized by many for “going native” because he lived as the Chinese lived, not like his Portuguese countrymen.
But in fact, Ricci became an extraordinary missionary because he could speak about Jesus in a way the Chinese could understand.
Ricci did not change Jesus.
He put Jesus into a Chinese context.
This is what Paul is saying.
Jesus is the same for all people and for all cultures and for all time.
And he meets them right where he finds them.
In their own particular culture.
In their own particular language.
Just as they are.
We need to do the same.
Why should someone listen to us if we are not willing to respect their identity?
Just as they are.
The way Jesus does.
If we impose a Jesus of our own context, folks who live in different contexts won’t listen to us.
We sound patronizing.
Condescending.
Aggressive.
Who wants to listen to that?
That has been the history of many mission efforts in the past.
Barbara Kingsolver’s book, The Poisonwood Bible describes how such efforts fail.
Nathan Price is a Baptist missionary who has taken his family to the Congo in 1959.
His goal is to overturn the ancient cultural traditions of the Congo and replace them with his Americanized Gospel.
His shows his lack of understanding of Africa immediately when he tries to grow a garden of vegetables from seeds he brought from Georgia.
The plants are wildly inappropriate to the environment.
The plants become unrecognizable, almost grotesque, useless, and unable to bear fruit.
The people laugh at him.
Their response is, “Why should we listen to this guy?”
Nor does Nathan listen to the Chief.
He makes no effort to understand the structure of the community.
And then he wonders why no one comes to “church”.
Why should they?
It made no sense to them.
Want to tell someone about Jesus?
Think like they do.
Talk like they do.
Understand their culture.
Put Jesus in.
It won’t always work.
But as Paul says, when we become like our audience, we save some.
So what does this have to do with JMPC?
We, like Paul, are commissioned to tell people about Jesus.
So how do we do that?
We need to understand the culture of those we want to reach.
And put Jesus in.
What might that look like?
A while back I was in a discussion about where churches should go to find “the people”.
The most common suggestion was Starbucks.
But I disagreed.
The place where you find people is the local ball field.
The kids.
The parents.
The grandparents.
We don’t need to go to South East Asia to be missionaries.
Go to the community ball field.
Or the basketball game.
Or the volleyball game.
Or the hockey game.
Or the musical.
Or the band concert.
Or the chorus concert.
OK, and yeah, Starbucks, too.
But you better understand why people what they are doing is so important.
Show some respect and tolerance.
Because Jesus loves these folks, right where they are!
Jesus loves them when they use their athletic, intellectual and artistic gifts that were given to them by God.
Jesus loves it when we have fun and enjoy the lives we were given.
Jesus loves them when they are just relaxing and having a latte.
Jesus loves them when they are at work.
Jesus just wants us to acknowledge him from time to time when we do it.
I think that is what the Westminster Shorter Catechism means when it says this:
Q: What is the chief end of humanity?
A: Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.
I think that is what Eric Liddell, Scottish missionary, made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire, meant when he said “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
Jesus loves us even when we are not in church.
We need to go and tell people that.
And he will still love you when you miss church to go be with these folks.
But we do not want to be intrusive, or invasive or aggressive, right?
So wear your “team colors”.
Wear you JMPC sportswear, or mission trip shirts, or whatever paraphernalia you might have.
Find the people you went to see and tell them that we at JMPC love them and support them wherever they are and then invite them to come to church as often as they can, because their spiritual lives should be enjoyed just as much.
It puts Jesus into their culture.
It is speaking in tongues.
It is talking to other cultures.
It breaks down the barriers to spreading the word about Jesus and living the Jesus way.
It is how we go and make disciples.

 

 

April 1, 2018

Not an April Fool
1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
15Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.11Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
 
Randy Bush is the Pastor at ELPC and wrote an op-ed piece today that starts out this way:
Easter sermons are harder to write than Christmas sermons. Whatever else might be said on Dec. 25, there is something universal about the birth of a child to which everyone can relate. But Easter involves an event without precedent. Its narrative is about a tomb discovered to be empty and a resurrection from the dead proclaimed by a group of religious believers.
This is not a new problem.
Easter has always been a challenge for people.
Wolfhart Pannenberg, was a 20th Century German theologian who made this observation:
“The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”
I want to take a look at that statement today.
Let’s begin with this.
Easter is on April 1 this year.
As we all know, if we hear something outrageous on April first, and believe it, we are at risk for being called April Fools.
But there is less and less risk of such things in 2018.
No one is ready to believe anything, it seems.
We live in a world where the most common response to any bit of information we don’t like is “fake news”!
But there are also folks who are ready to believe even the strangest things.
Listen to this.
On August 25, 1835, the New York Sun, a “penny paper” catering to working class New Yorkers, published the first of six articles about Sir John Herschel, a famous astronomer of the day.
It was reported that Herschel had found evidence of life forms on the moon.
Unicorns, two-legged beavers and furry, winged humanoids the Sun called “moon-bats”.
The articles were a sensation!
People bought up every edition of the Sun just to hear about the moon-bats.
Of course, the entire series was a hoax – literally “fake news”.
Despite this, the Sun’s circulation increased to such an extent it became the most popular newspaper in New York.
And now here is another story about extra-terrestrial news.
Seth Shostak is an American astronomer and currently Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute.
You know, SETI – Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.
Made famous by Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” and the movie of the same name starring Jodie Foster.
Read the book, watch the movie.
They are both excellent and raise interesting questions about faith and belief.
Shostak has spent a good portion of his life trying to find intelligent life – out there!
And he had one experience in 1997 when he thought they did.
There was a signal from “out there” that was not random.
Meaning it was likely caused by some form of intelligence.
The SETI team ultimately found out that the signal was interference from a satellite signal that was bouncing around the SETI antennae.
The folks at SETI were profoundly disappointed, needless to say, but they are still listening, 20 years later.
Shostak was recently interviewed and made an interesting comment.
He said this:
Suppose sometime in the next few dozen years we pick up a faint line that tells us we have some cosmic company. What is the effect? What’s the consequence?
And the answer absolutely is we don’t know the answer. We don’t know what that’s going to do, not in the long term, and not even very much in the short term.
Get that?
Who knows how such a discovery will impact us?
What I find funny about this event is Shostak’s initial response when he thought that “ET”, as he put it, had been found.
What I did feel was very nervous because I thought, you know, this is going to wreck up my whole week. I’ve got dinners planned and, you know, meetings and so forth, and now suddenly we found E.T.
Get that?
Finding out that intelligent alien life exists was going to ruin his plans for the week.
Maybe for the rest of his life?
Because this is what I think.
Finding ET will change the way we look at the universe.
It might change the way we live.
What does any of this have to do with Easter?
Well, we’ve heard about moon-bats and messages from supposed extra-terrestrials.
Now let’s hear the Easter story:
There was a man named Jesus who lived about 2000 years ago.
He was an itinerant preacher of something called the Good News.
That Good News was that God’s Kingdom was near.
And that people could be part of it if they lived the way Jesus told them to live.
Love God and love each other and care for those who could not take care of themselves.
And once in the Kingdom, they would live there eternally.
While this might seem like a very good message, the Romans and Jewish religious leaders were threatened by it.
They had Jesus killed.
They crucified him.
Jesus knew it was inevitable.
In fact, he predicted it.
But he also predicted he would not stay dead.
After he was crucified, some friends of his took him down from the cross and put him in a tomb and left.
The Romans posted guards at the tomb to make sure no one could steal the body and then claim Jesus was alive.
An abducted body would be the only explanation if Jesus’ body turned up missing, right?
Because dead people don’t come back to life, right?
The order of life did not work that way.
We are born.
We live for a few years.
We die.
And we stay dead.
But Jesus did not stay dead.
Remember what Mark reported?
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb.
The stone had been rolled back.
They entered the tomb and saw a young man in a white robe.
He said to them, “Jesus is not here. He has been raised.”
Wait … what?
Jesus alive?
But he was dead!
He had been crucified, struck with a spear, and sealed in a tomb.
He couldn’t be alive again.
The whole thing was inconceivable.
He was alive!
If the women at the tomb had texted the event back to Peter and the disciples, they might have used – OMG, OMG, OMG!
He is risen!
If true, this is something – world changing!
These stories raise those same two important questions Pannenberg raises.
First, did this unusual event really happen?
Is this about moon-bats or resurrection?
Second, if this unusual event did happen, how does it affect the way we live?
Does it screw up our week or does it change our lives?
Let’s talk about the first question.
To put it in 2018 terms, is this fake news?
Did Jesus really return from the dead?
According to Paul, indeed he did.
Paul’s testimony about the resurrection in today’s text, was written two decades before Mark’s Gospel!
Paul was reporting this and writing it down long before Mark.
And what does Paul say?
That Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.
That Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day.
That Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve, more than 500 others, most of whom were still alive and so could verify what Paul was saying.
That Jesus appeared to his brother James, who had thought Jesus crazy.
And then to Paul, himself.
The post resurrection appearances reported by Paul were recent historical fact!
They could be confirmed by talking to something like 500 people.
But this is the 21st Century.
This event happened over 2000 years ago.
Is that all we got?
Is there anything else?
Listen to these words from Pinchas Lapide a Jewish scholar of the New Testament.
“I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event….”
In his book The Resurrection of Jesus he says:
“…as a faithful Jew, I cannot explain a historical development which … has carried the central message of Israel from Jerusalem into the world of the nations, as the result of blind happenstance, or human error, or a materialistic determinism….. The experience of the resurrection as the foundation act of the church which has carried the whole Western world must belong to God’s plan of salvation.”
Lapide says that we have no other way to “explain the fact that the hillbillies from Galilee who, for the very real reason of the crucifixion of their master, were saddened to death, were changed within a short period of time into a jubilant community of believers.”
Jesus died virtually alone on the cross.
All his disciples deserted him.
Then, within a year, there were thousands of disciples.
The Good News swept over the ancient Middle East during the lives of the disciples.
Within two hundred years after that, it was the Roman religion.
A bunch of frightened Galilean hicks, as the Judeans would call them, changed the world.
And were willing to die for it.
Something happened that empowered them to do that.
Their testimony was that they saw the resurrected Jesus.
This event started the greatest spiritual movement the world has ever known.
Other than a resurrected Jesus, there is nothing else that can account for that.
Those who witnessed the risen Jesus could not go back.
They had to remain in this new reality of a resurrected Jesus.
And so do we.
Which brings us to the next question.
What does it mean for us?
How does it affect the way we live?
That is what Paul tells us in today’s text.
[T]he good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you ….
[T]hat Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,4and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures …
Our sins are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross.
On that we can stand.
On that we are saved.
Jesus promised, “because I live, you shall live also” is true.
And we can be certain that the promise has been kept because the promiser, Jesus, had the power and authority to bring himself back to life.
Which means we are reconciled to God.
And are citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Eternally.
This is a life changer.
The resurrection has to become the meaning – the purpose – of our lives.
To carry on what Jesus started.
The reconciliation of the world.
Loving and caring about and for each other.
Feeding the hungry.
Giving water to the thirsty.
Clothing the naked.
Welcoming the stranger.
Caring for the sick.
Visiting the prisoners.
Loving each other.
Loving God.
And like Shostak, we might not know exactly how it changes our lives, but there is no doubt it does.
It changes our lives forever.
We are not April Fools!
This is not “fake news”.
This is the Good News!
Happy Resurrection Day!

 

March 25, 2018

The Man Who Would Not Be King
Mark 11: 1-11
11When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Author Henry Miller describes celebrity pretty well:
“Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.
Yep!
We humans are certainly a fickle bunch.
We know what we want, the way we want to get it, and we want it right now.
And if we don’t get it, things can get ugly pretty quick.
Every time I read Mark’s description of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, I think of Miller’s quote.
And it goes without saying that Miller’s words are timeless.
Which brings us to today’s text.
It’s what we call Palm Sunday.
Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
He has come a long way, timewise at least, to this day.
Born, baptized and anointed by God as God’s Messiah.
He has accumulated disciples and many followers.
He has performed many miracles and preached that the Kingdom of God has arrived.
For centuries the people were expecting God to send them a such a king.
All the prophecies pointed to Jesus.
He had the power to heal and the authority to speak.
So well-known that his arrival in Jerusalem is anticipated and bound to generate large crowds who just want a look at him.
And he has become famous.
A celebrity.
And now here he came, down from the Mount of Olives, on a donkey.
Just like the prophet Zechariah had said the new David-like king would.
Fame, celebrity, authority, power.
The people were prepared to follow.
But Jesus was the man who would not be king.
At least not that kind of king.
And every time I read this text, I think of Kipling’s story, “The Man Who Would Be King”.
Kipling’s story is about two former British soldiers on an adventure.
Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan have decided to become kings.
They have cache of modern rifles and plan to find a king or chief in some remote location, help him defeat his enemies, and then take over.
That is exactly what they do.
They find Kafiristan.
The tribal chief is having a dispute with a neighboring community.
Danny and Peachy offer their support.
They have some background on local rituals that make them seem a bit mystical.
They have unusually fair skin.
They are brave warriors.
And they have rifles.
Danny and Peachy are considered virtually god-like by the Kafiristanis.
With the rifles, the conflict ends quickly.
Danny and Peachy then use their mystique and authority to become the kings of Kafiristan.
But when they are found out – that they are neither gods nor devils but only men – their subjects revolt.
They are denounced as frauds, despite all they have done for the people.
Daniel is killed and Peachy is driven insane carrying Daniel’s head around in a burlap sack for the rest of his life.
People actually did this sort of thing in Kipling’s day.
Go to places and try to become a king.
It rarely lasts.
Kipling’s story is based, in part, on the life of James Brooke, a name well known in Malaysia.
I learned this story when I was in Malaysia in 2010.
In 1833, Brooke inherited £30,000, which he used to purchase a merchant ship.
Brooke sailed for Borneo in 1838.
He arrived on Borneo in August to find an Iban and Bidayuh uprising against the ruling Sultan of Brunei.
Perfect!
Brooke and his crew were well armed.
They joined the Sultan and crushed the revolt.
Brooke then did an about face and turned his guns on the Sultan.
In return for not deposing the him, the Sultan granted Brook the title of Rajah of Sarawak.
Basically king of the northern part of Borneo.
Brook’s family remained in power about only about 100 years.
Then they were gone.
Just history.
Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow.
The pinnacle of approval today and into oblivion tomorrow.
Both stories, the fictionalized and real, depict the manor by which people often acquire – or are given – power in this world.
A place has a need for governmental change.
Someone makes promises, gains a following and demonstrates authority and power.
And so, they are selected to take charge.
At the time of Jesus arrival, Jerusalem was such a place.
The people wanted a change in government.
They were tired of the Romans and their puppet Herod.
Someone who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the Davidic line.
They wanted a return to the days of David and Solomon when Israel was a world power.
After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the Temple.
His first task was to go in and tear up the Temple courts.
Throwing out the money changers.
The people are delighted!
This was the guy alright!
The man who would be king!
But then … nothing.
Sure, Jesus tormented the Scribes and Pharisees for a few days.
Sure, he told a couple of parables that drove the Temple folks into a murderous rage.
But …
He did not lead a rebellion against Rome and Herod.
He did not use his power to make himself king.
He kept talking about the Kingdom of God.
You see, the people wanted him to be talking about the Kingdom of Israel.
He was not what they expected.
He was not what they wanted.
He was … disappointing.
And that meant trouble … for Jesus.
That is what happened to Daniel and Peachy.
That is what happened to Brooks’ family.
It would have happened to King Jesus.
“Fame is an elusive thing / here today, gone tomorrow. The fickle, shallow mob raises its heroes to the pinnacle of approval today and hurls them into oblivion tomorrow at the slightest whim; cheers today, hisses tomorrow; utter forgetfulness in a few months.
And it is the same with us today.
On many levels.
Soon our children will be on summer break.
No school for two plus months.
They come running out of the building on the last day, expecting a two-month party.
Most of their plans will not turn out the way they want.
And they are disappointed … probably by the next morning.
They get bored.
Things get ugly.
Adults are the same.
As soon as you get a new phone, you see another that looks really cool and you are ready to throw out the new one for a newer one!
We are always searching for newer, bigger, better, bolder.
Our satisfaction interval is brief indeed.
Look at our relationships.
Elected officials, athletes, employers, family, friends.
When our needs are not met, we turn on those who disappoint us.
Time to get rid of our favorite player.
Time to get rid of the politician we voted for just last election.
Time to get a new job.
Time to get a divorce.
Time to join a new club.
We set expectations and when our expectations are not met, we cast aside those who disappoint us.
So, it was with Jesus.
He enters Jerusalem as a conquering hero.
He is here to become king and to oust the Romans.
At least that is what many expected.
So, he was hailed.
They cried Hosanna!
“Save us”.
Can you imagine the excited anticipation?
God was going to act like he did in the days of Moses and Joshua and David!
The world was about to change.
Here was the man who would do it.
Here is the man who would be king.
But the adulation does not last!
His poll numbers dropped like a stone.
It took only 4 days.
The miracle worker and prophet?
He’s a fraud!
We need to be rid of him as quickly as we accepted him.
No one complains when he is arrested by the Sanhedrin.
No one complains when he is hauled before Pilate.
Those “hosanna” people?
Nowhere to be found.
Those disciples?
Scattered!
His closest friend?
Denies him!
Some of those palm wavers were now screaming: “Crucify him!”
How could such a thing happen?
Because Jesus was not what they expected.
He was not what they wanted.
But why wasn’t he?
Why didn’t God just give the people what they wanted?
A new King David?
Maybe because had Jesus done what the people wanted, the way they wanted it done, he would have been considered perhaps a great king, like David.
But only for a time.
Then he would be lost to history, like David.
Or Brooks.
But that was not God’s plan.
Jesus came not to exercise political power.
Jesus was here to exercise divine power.
He did come to save, just not the way the people wanted.
Just not the way people expected.
And the people did not like it.
Their response?
“This is not what we want.
Crucify him.”
Now this was no surprise to Jesus.
He knew of their expectations.
He knew they would turn on him.
But he also knew what they needed.
They needed an eternal Kingdom.
The Kingdom of God.
And to do that, he had come to Jerusalem, not to take over, but to die.
And so that is what he did.
Jesus saved his way, not our way.
We have changed not at all since those days in Jerusalem, really.
We are a still fickle bunch when it comes to what we believe.
We struggle to understand what God is doing in our lives and what God is doing in the world.
We have troubles at home, at work, at school, in the community, in the nation, in the world.
We know how we expect it to be resolved.
We know how we expect it to work.
We know what we expect God to do.
But God does things differently.
And we get angry when God does not fix our problems.
When God does not do what we expect of him.
Or when God does not do it the way we expect him to.
When God does not become king!
A king who tells everyone to do what we want them to do.
And so, we turn away.
We find something, or someone, else to worship.
We are a really fickle bunch.
But thankfully, God knows it.
God has always known it.
And yet he still loves us enough to fight for us, die for us and defeat death for us.
Even when we don’t appreciate it.
He invites us into his kingdom anyway.
He does not become king in our world, but rather invites us into a world where he is already king.
Where things are as God wants them.
And if we think about it, it’s better that way.
Hosanna in the highest heaven.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. AMEN
 

March 4, 2018

Zacchaeus

Luke 19: 1-10
19He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

As is our usual practice at the staff meeting this week, we talked about today’s text.
And when we did, Carolyn started hummin the Zacchaeus song.

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
And a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in the tree and he said,
Zacchaeus you come down,
For I’m going to your house today!
For I’m going to your house today!
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
But a happy man was he,
For he had seen the Lord that day
And a happy man was he;
And a very happy man was he.”

If your understanding of our text is based on that song, you would believe that this little guy had to climb a tree to see Jesus, that Jesus saw him there, called him down and invited himself to dinner, and that as a result Zacchaeus was a happy guy.
That understanding would not be far from the truth.
But it reminds me of the old Paul Harvey radio program, “The Rest of the Story”.
Harvey would tell a well-known story and then would fill in some unknown or unexpected gap in the facts to the surprise of his listening audience.
He would conclude by saying, “And now you know the rest of the story”.
So today we start out with the well-known Zacchaeus story set forth in the song.
Someone who wanted to see Jesus, was rewarded for his efforts by having Jesus to dinner and was happy about it.

But now for the rest of the story.
First, we need to understand when this story appears in Jesus ministry.
This is Jesus last stop on his journey to Jerusalem.
His next move is to enter Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday.
The week of his death on the cross.
What do we know about Zacchaeus?
Well … he is short.
Zacchaeus is also a tax collector.
The chief tax collector to boot.
Which means he is not a popular guy.
I love this quote from Laura Sugg I read this week:
[A]s the chief tax collector, he is particularly despised by his fellow Jews. The chief collectors were known for colluding with Rome and for taking advantage of others to make a good profit for themselves – think corrupt subprime mortgage agents on steroids.
Wee Zacchaeus indeed!
Bernie Madoff comes to mind.
And then there is this:
Zacchaeus is rich.
Really rich.
And rich people are dealt with rather severely by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.
When Jesus blesses the poor, but says to the rich, “Woe to you!”
The rich man who builds big barns for all his stuff is called a fool by God.
Poor Lazarus is in heaven while his rich friend suffers in hell.
The rich young man walks away from Jesus sad.
Being rich is not something Luke’s Gospel finds attractive.
Why is that?
Because rich folks have tended to think of themselves as sort of better than the rest.
That the rules do not apply to them.
It was like that then.
It’s like that now.
I listen to a podcast called “Hidden Brain”.
This week, the show was called:
What’s It Like to Be Rich?
One of the people interviewed was Brooke Harrington who is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany and who wrote a book called “Capital Without Borders”.
The book is about her research I what it was like to be filthy rich.
Rich beyond what anyone here can imagine.
Harrington met with many wealth managers who worked for such people..
She summarized their comments this way:
“The lives of the richest people in the world are so different from those of the rest of us, it’s almost literally unimaginable. National borders are nothing to them. They might as well not exist. The laws are nothing to them. They might as well not exist.”
Zacchaeus, at least in Jericho, was one of those.
So, we might anticipate, if we are hearing this story for the first time, that it will not end well for Zacchaeus.
Woe to him.
He is a fool.
He is condemned.
He is miserable.
But we would be wrong.
Let’s take the story a scene at a time.

Scene 1.
Jesus is coming.
Certainly people have been hearing about Jesus but now he is coming to Jericho.
Crowds are following him, and crowds are gathering to get a glimpse of Jesus.
Zacchaeus might be rich and powerful, but he also wants to see this celebrity, and maybe even meet this Jesus.
So off he goes to town.
Probably dressed in a way that makes his wealth and power obvious.
But he is too late.
The crowd has gathered, lining the street, and he can’t see.
He gets a flustered.
Hi might miss his chance to see Jesus.
He needs to hurry.
He looks around.
There!
The sycamore tree!
He begins to run.
Two things about running in Jesus’ time.
First, men of position, if any at all, did not run.
It was undignified.
Second, even if they wanted to run, their clothing was a hindrance.
Running in long cloaks and coats is hard.
In order to free up the legs, the cloak and coat had to be hiked up and tucked into the underclothes.
Bare legs exposed.
Kind of humiliating.
Then, Zacchaeus did something … well … unheard of.
He climbed the tree.
All tucked up clothing and bare legs.
Everyone in town could see him.
More than humiliating.
Shameful.
The kind of thing that would make people look away – mortified!
So, it took a lot of work and some self-effacement, but Zacchaeus can now see Jesus.
When we think about it, what has Zacchaeus done?
He had humbled himself in front of everyone for one purpose.
To get himself in the presence of Jesus.

Scene 2.
Jesus is in Jericho.
He has just healed a blind beggar, who obviously could not see Jesus, either.
He cried out to Jesus asking for Jesus to help him.
The crowd around this blind man did not want him to bother Jesus, but Jesus heard him cry out for mercy, had the man brought to him and gave him sight.
The crowd is now praising God for Jesus.
A bit later, Jesus is walking through town and turns to sees a most fascinating sight.
A man in a tree, clothing all tucked up, looking back at Jesus.
He is obviously rich, and no doubt wore whatever tax collectors wore so people would know they were tax collectors.
I have this image of Jesus turning to someone in the crowd.
“Who is that?”
“That’s Zacchaeus, Lord!”
“Wow!
He must really want to see me!
Look at him.
Clothes all tucked up.
Bare legs.
Hanging in the tree.
Don’t see that every day!
It almost looks like a cry for help.
Yo!
Zacchaeus come down here!
I need some shelter today and I want to stay with you!”
Zacchaeus, is overjoyed that he has been noticed.
He will actually get to meet this Jesus.
He shinnies down the tree, straightens out his clothing, walks through the crowd (who are snickering, hands over mouths, eyes rolling) with what self-respect he has left and comes to Jesus.
Zacchaeus has cried out to Jesus and Jesus has responded.
Zacchaeus is called to share a meal with Jesus.
And he, like all disciples called by Jesus, immediately agrees.
The crowd is not happy.
Again, Jesus has offended by welcoming even this corrupt tax collector into his presence.

Scene 3.
Now we have a private conversation apparently in Zacchaeus’ home.
Zacchaeus is overwhelmed.
Like the restoration of the blind man’s sight, there is a virtual miraculous change in Zacchaeus.
He is changed.
Renewed.
Reborn.
He decides to give ½ of what he owns to care for the poor.
That it is ½ — and not all — is not the issue.
It means that Zacchaeus has placed his wealth at God’s disposal.
He next tells Jesus that “if” he has defrauded anyone, which he knows he has done, perhaps to everyone, he will pay them back 4 times over.
He responds to Jesus’ presence with repentance.
He confesses and freely, declares he will make amends for his past conduct and vows to change the way he lives.
Zacchaeus does all this, not at the request of Jesus, but on his own to show his gratitude for Jesus’ presence in his life, even of just for that moment.
It is then that Jesus declares Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham” and tells him that salvation has come to his house.
Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
Even the filthy rich tax collector Zacchaeus.
I see Jesus grinning, if not laughing, because he knows this might be the last lost sheep found before he goes to the cross.

Scene 4.
Jesus walks off to Jerusalem.
What do we learn from this text?
What makes Zacchaeus different from the rest of the rich in Luke’s Gospel?
First, Zacchaeus responded to Jesus by putting his position and wealth in God’s hands.
Second, Jesus takes all comers who welcome him and repent.
Third, faith calls us to respond with gratitude.
It’s not thank you Jesus and getting on with your life.
It’s thank you Jesus and changing the way you live your life.
Those who have these encounters with Jesus are renewed.
Changed.
Reborn.

So, today, I want us all to think of ourselves as Zacchaeus.
We are all hanging from the branches of our individual trees, exposed to everyone around us, trying to see Jesus.
Seeing Jesus is more important to us than any indignity we might suffer.
And then, we hear his voice.
He sees us.
And he calls us.
Come here and eat with me!
Come share this meal with me!
All of you who have been here often, and all who have not been here for a long time.
All of you who have much faith and all who would like to have more faith.
All of you who have tried to follow me, and all of you who have not,
Come.
Be renewed.
Changed.
Reborn.

February 25, 2018

That Woman
 
John 4: 5-26; 28-30

5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
 
Our passage today is a familiar one.
Jesus meets a woman at a well in Samaria.
The passage is packed with sermon possibilities.
Living water.
Jesus as Messiah.
Worshiping in spirit and in truth.
Evangelism.
I could preach on this text for a month.
But as I read it over and over this week, I began to take notice of that woman.
How must this private, personal encounter with Jesus affected her?
Who was she?
What do we know?
Here are some things we get from the passage.
She is nobody.
John does not even tell us her name.
She was a woman.
In Jesus’ time women were second class citizens.
Little better than property to be used as long as desired then sent away.
This had happened to her five times.
We don’t know why she had five husbands, maybe some died, but the tenor of Jesus’ statement to her implies that she might have been five times divorced.
And divorce in those days was mainly a sign of disapproval on the part of the husband.
A simple piece of paper from the husband and the woman is no longer his wife.
She has been discarded.
She was also a Samaritan.
As a Samaritan, she was part of a community that was shunned by their religious cousins the Jews in Judea.
They hated each other, these Jews and Samaritans.
So when she shows up at the well and there is this Jew sitting there, what did she expect?
“Oh, boy …
What’s he going to do?
Probably be rude.
Maybe he’ll just ignore me.
Like I am unworthy of his attention.”
And we notice that she is alone at the well.
In Jesus’ time, going to get water from the well was a social event for women.
It was where they gathered and talked.
It was their coffee shop.
Their hair salon.
It was an essential opportunity for community and fellowship.

Some years back, I attended a series of lectures on mission work.
There was a story about a group that went to an African village to dig a water well in the village and install a pump to bring up the water.
The missionaries were trying to make the lives of the village women easier because they were walking a mile to the nearest water hole for water every day.
Two years later the missionaries returned and found the pump disconnected and the well covered over.
The women were walking to the water hole.
Why?
Because the women liked their walks to the water hole.
That was essentially their social life.
The well and pump took that away, so they stopped using them.

That is how important the walk to the well was.
Yet our Samaritan woman was alone at the well.
There is only one reason for that.
She was being shunned.
We don’t know why, but it might have something to do with her marriage history.
Whatever … she is truly alone.
Samaritan, woman, many marriages, alone at the water well.
It does not get any lonelier than that.

Mother Teresa described loneliness this way:
Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
A hard life.
Psychiatrist Frieda Fromm-Reichmann studied loneliness in the mid 20th Century and she said this:
[L]loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world.
But it is actually worse than that.
According to a 2013New Republic article:
Over the past half-century, academic psychologists have … delve[d] deeper into the workings of cells and nerves, they are confirming that loneliness is as monstrous as Fromm-Reichmann said it was. It has now been linked with a wide array of bodily ailments as well as the old mental ones. …
They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.
Loneliness has even been used as a punishment.
It was called banishment.
The Romans often employed banishment as an alternative to capital punishment, a fate nearly as terrible as death.
Loneliness is actually painful.
Really.

Listen to this:
Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans showed that the experience of being snubbed lit up a part of the subjects’ brains … that also lights up when the body feels physical pain.
That is loneliness.
Emotional distress.
Physically harmful.
Punishing.
Painful.

That is the that woman when she meets Jesus.
Then Jesus speaks.
“Can you give me some water?”
I can see her head whip around.
“Wait, what?
Are you talking to me?
A woman?
You want me to give you some water?
A Samaritan?
You don’t share with people like me.
I’m not worthy!”
This is a sarcastic response.
But Jesus presses on.
“I am not like those people who have shunned you.
I have something you might want.
Living water.”
More sarcasm from the that woman.
“What?
You have no bucket so you have no water from this well, and anyway, is the water you have better than the water that comes from this well dug by Jacob – you know – that Jacob?”
Jesus says, “You bet!
Drink water from this well and you will get thirsty again.
Drink my living water and you will never thirst again.
Ever.
Eternally.”
More sarcasm from that woman.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?
If I get some of that water, I never have to come to the well again, alone.
Give me some of that!”
Jesus moves on.
He knows all about her marital history.
She takes this as a sign that Jesus is a prophet.
Jesus has her attention now.
That woman starts to realize that this guy is actually interested in her.
In her!
They are having a conversation.
At the well!
When was the last time that happened?
She warms to the occasion.
No more sarcasm.
A real question.
Keep the conversation going.
“Why Jerusalem and not Gerizim?”
And then Jesus says something that stuns here.
“It doesn’t matter.
It is not where we worship.
It’s who we worship and how we worship.
Who we are and where we come from does not make a difference.
We are all part of God’s community.”
That woman has heard something like this before.
“The Messiah is someone who knows such things and says such things.”
And Jesus tells her that he is that Messiah.
A Messiah who welcomes her to his living water, to his acceptance of her despite her history, to his community, the community of all who worship God.
She is no longer alone.
She has a community.
Now her response is enthusiastic.
She has news to tell everyone.
Even those who confined her to isolation.
There must be some kind of change in her because the listen to her and follow her to Jesus.
She is renewed.
She is changed.
Reborn.

What does that woman look like today?
Here is a story that was in the news this week.
Aaron Stark was a high school student in Denver in 1996.
After the Parkland shooting he wrote a letter to a Denver TV station about how he almost became a school shooter.
He was then interviewed on TV.
Stark describes having a rough childhood.
He was abused and neglected at home.
He was bullied relentlessly at school for his weight, intelligence, and often unwashed clothes.
Stark said that he felt completely unloved.
He was depressed and suicidal.
That was when he considered buying a gun to shoot up his school.
His real hope was that he would be killed himself.
Then this happened, Stark said.
“I was extremely suicidal one evening, and a friend of mine, without having any idea what was going on and what state I was in, invited me over for a party that I didn’t know was existing. She had baked me a blueberry-peach pie, and I got there, and everybody had the pie, and it was all for me.”
Stark said that moment changed him.
He felt loved.
Just for a moment.
Stark said, “That literally saved my life that night. I wasn’t going to survive that night if that hadn’t happened.”
He was renewed.
He was changed.
Reborn.
Stark concluded the interview with this.
“If you see someone who looks like they need love, give it to them. Even a small hug, a word, or a smile could actually save lives. Compassion is the only real way we can stop this. Love people even when they don’t deserve it.”

I think this is what Jesus was doing in our text.
Stark and that woman were unloved outcasts.
Lonely and rejected.
Then they experienced love, even for a moment.
Their lives were changed.
To the benefit of many.
The Samaritan woman took many to Jesus.
Stark decided not to buy a gun.
Both saved lives.
What does this mean for us?
Jesus teaches us to visit the lonely.
Give them a moment of love.
Who are the lonely in today’s world?
They’re the outsiders:
The elderly.
The sick.
The poor.
The bullied.
The disfavored.
The unemployed.
The different.
The strangers.
The homeless.
The hopeless.
The people who have little to live for.
So what does Jesus want us to do?
To encounter the lonely the way he did with that woman and give them a taste of love.

How?
Visit them.
Befriend them.
Welcome them.
Spend time with them.
Include them.
Even those who are different from us.
Who disagree with us or are just disagreeable.
It is like the “Halvorson” benediction we hear every week:
We are to go from this place as a people who are sent.
Wherever we go this week, we are to consider that God is sending us there.
And wherever we find yourselves this week, we are to consider that God is placing us there.
To tell people that the love of Christ rests on all of us and can reach out, touch and include everyone.
We are to go in Christ’s love and peace and power.
And if you do, maybe you will make something good happen.
Like that woman’s evangelism.
Or maybe you will prevent something awful from happening.
Like Stark’s change of plan.

Do you know someone who is lonely?
Do you know the Samaritan woman?
Tell them they are loved.
Are you lonely?
Are you the Samaritan woman?
You are loved.
The God of all creation loves you and invites you to be part of God’s community.
Feel the love.
And be renewed.
Changed.
Reborn.
And know you are not alone.