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Studying scripture and preaching the Word to draw us into deeper understanding and more faithful discipleship.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I believe in Jesus

Phil 2:5-11
Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

I believe in Jesus…

Today we are taking a look at the second main portion of the Apostle’s creed and it is thick with significance.  Last week’s single sentence about God: I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth was short and sweet and still had at least 5 levels of significance.  This week’s statement is much longer and even richer in meaning.  

I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
was crucified, suffered and died
descended into hell.
on the third day he rose again.
he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father
and will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

There’s the story of the gospel summarized into 9 simple statements. And I’ll be frank, there is NO way we could adequately break it down in a single sermon. There’s just too much.  The chapter of the book is great, and even still there are entire books that have been written about just one or two of these lines.  To take all this on in one sermon is sort of like eating a protein bar….it’s nutrient dense, may not appeal to everyone, and isn’t really a meal you savor…but it’s good for you and worth having.  

Now, for some of the statements, we’ll be focusing on what it underscores about who Jesus really is. For other statements, they’re more about who Jesus is not. They all make a specific and essential claim about his identity. And in doing that, they’ll also refute some amalgamation of the truth that was starting to spread in the first and second century churches. Now, remember I said last week, us studying the creed does not mean it’s a test for who’s a real believer and who isn’t.  Everyone in this sanctuary will struggle with at least one part of this statement.  That’s normal. It’s ok to wrestle. And even though the Creed serves as a counter voice to the heresies that doesn’t mean you’re a heretic if you struggle to be on board with all of it.  It’s ok to question. it’s ok to doubt. Pushing on what it means and doesn’t mean, hopefully allows us to grow in our faith together and individually. 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
AND
I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, Our Lord.
When we say Jesus = Yeshua = God saves, we believe he is the one God uses to save us.  
Christ = Messiah = God’s anointed, he’s the one god has chosen and blessed to be our leader. 
God’s ONLY Son = establishes part of the Trinity, there’s not another Divine Son, ONLY Jesus. 
Our Lord = establishes Lordship over us

Was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Christians claim Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine—we consider that true from conception…didn’t happen later, like at his Baptism, as some suggest. It’s true from birth.  God brought about His life through the Spirit. God didn’t bestow holiness upon Jesus later.  

A lot of people struggle with this one. It doesn’t make sense that an invisible Spirit could impregnate a young woman.  We’re in the 21st century and we understand biology. They may have missed it 2000 years ago, but you can’t put one over on us.  I get it, I’ve been in that camp before.  But as a counter voice…think about last week and our discussion of God as creator (even giving credence to the fact that maybe God used the scientific processes like evolution to create…) God still created ex nihlio = out of nothing…if God could do all that…isn’t it at least somewhat conceivable that God did this too?  

Born of the Virgin Mary
In a similar way that it’s important to say Jesus is both fully human and fully divine and that the divine part is true all along.  Over the years, Christians have found it necessary to claim Jesus’ humanity as true from birth.  It’s not just that God walked on earth…but that God did so in human form…as a human.  God didn’t just appear to be human….God was human and that humanness comes from Mary. 

Suffered under Pontius Pilate
Jesus lived and died in a particular time. He was a real man.  And his real-life death took place under Pontius Pilate.  He wasn’t mythological and made up.  The importance of his story is not just the idea that God became flesh and lived among us, but that God actually did that.  And we know his story because of those who talked and wrote about him and they place him in this historical time.  Now, you might think it was just the gospels and the Christians that wrote about Jesus and if it’s only those that followed him that believe in him then maybe there’s an issue.  And, theoretically, you might be right, but there’s also this big piece of how the gospel stories match and moved across time and the stories held true…it wasn’t like playing telephone, people stuck to the script, and that’s significant. But there were also others, outside of the Christian movement, who wrote about Jesus and told of his death under Pontius Pilate. Jesus was a real man and he was prosecuted by Pontius Pilate in the first century. 

Was crucified, died and was buried
And his suffering resulted in his death.  He hung on a cross on the hill of Golgatha and he died.  This matters, both for what’s to come in the story and the creed, but also because many have argued that God could not die, so Jesus did not die, or maybe Jesus the man did die but God left Jesus’ body while he suffered and died.  How could God be God and also die on a cross? The Creed pushes back and says, he was fully human, and fully divine….from birth….to death….both a man and God….the whole time. If Jesus died, then the part of God that was within him also died.  God experienced all of life….birth and death….nothing is excluded.  Which also becomes the counter argument to those who say God the Father is a sadistic jerk who somehow needed to make his son suffer so we could be forgiven.  No, God is God who lived in Jesus who suffered as God, sacrificing and offering everything so we could be redeemed.  God didn’t hurt someone else so we could be saved, God gave of God’s self so we could be saved.  And that happens, in part, through his death on the cross.  

He descended into Hell
Over and over again, the creed points to the pieces of Jesus’ story that resonate with ours.  Early Christians wanted to be very careful not to intimate that Jesus was somehow exempt from what we experience.  That includes that he died and experienced death like we do, and he overcame death…telling us death doesn’t have the final word, God, does. 

On the Third Day he rose again
Jesus resurrected from the dead.  That’s a pretty key piece to his story.  Some might say that, too, is mythology.  Yet he was seen by his disciples, and over 500 others.  They saw him, they heard him speak, they touched him, and they ate with him. He wasn’t just a spirit moving among them…a ghost of one who had died.  He was resurrected….raised from the dead….not resuscitated, but given life after 3 days of death.  He overcame death, and all the darkness that comes with it.  And he walked among us, in the flesh, on the third day.  

He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father
After he rose from the dead, he spent 40 days with his disciples and others, and then he ascended into heaven…he didn’t die again.  His resurrected earthly body went to heaven, where he lives eternally with God the Father…two people…one nature…one God, together forever.  

He will come again to judge the living and the dead
We believe Jesus’ work isn’t done.  He will come back to finish the restoration of humanity with and to God. And it will be by him and through him that we are judged, which isn’t something to fear, but something to embrace since Jesus always treats us with grace.  

transition to communion: 
Jesus was  and is an incredible expression of God among us.  The things we’ve talked about today aren’t “church light”….they are thoughtful and powerful examples of what Jesus can mean to us.  I hope you don't leave the ideas here. I hope you take them home, mull them over, check them out, push on them a bit to see what your own thoughts are….Who was Jesus? What did he do? And what difference does it make in your life?  
I believe that he who was matters, even now.  And I believe that it should change who we are, how we live, and how we love.  I believe it affects what we will do next as we share in holy communion. As Christians, we believe communion is a means of grace…..a way God conveys grace to us. That doesn’t happen because we eat bread or drink juice, but because of who Jesus was and what he did for us.  The bread and the juice simply become a symbol for what he did.  In a way, when we come to the table, we are saying:  
  • If I eat this,  I'm eating more than bread
  • If I drink this I can experience forgiveness because Jesus was more than a man
  • If I do this it's about more than hunger
  • If I do this God might do something special in my life
  • That something special is possible because of Jesus and all that he was and is and will be



Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Believe in God the Creator

Children’s time: cake ingredients to make cake from scratch
What are these for? (baking)  
what might we make with these? (brownies, cookies, cake)
Do we need anything else? (a pan, a spoon) 
Can these ingredients make themselves into a cake?  (no)
What else do we need? (a baker)
That’s right! Even with all the right supplies, we still need a maker…a baker…someone to create the cake and make it come out right.  In a way, God is the great baker…or creator. God is the one who took all the separate ingredients and make the land and the oceans and lakes. God make the plants and the animals and then God made people.  God had to put it all together in just the right way so that we could be here on earth like we are.  
Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

History of the Creeds
  • We will be taking the next few weeks to study the Apostles’ creed and talk about what we believe as Christians.  (Creed Slide)
creed: noun \’kred\ 
a statement of the basic beliefs of a religion; an idea or set of beliefs that guides the actions for a person or group
(Not “Apollo Creed”—slide of Apollo)—back to Creed Slide

  • I understand that some may struggle with certain parts of the creed. That’s ok. This isn’t a litmus test. You don’t have to say you believe each line before you can be a United Methodist or a Christian. But it is important to know our common core and to push on it a little bit. Why do we believe it? What are the alternatives?  And how might our beliefs affect our daily lives and actions.  (Black slide)
  • In studying the creed, it’s important to understand why it was written in the first place.  The Christian movement was spreading all over the mediterranean and into Africa and as word spread, so did a variety of nuances about the Christian message. Some of the leadership felt like some groups/churches were getting too far afield and so they had to find a way to bring them back to a common center.  They had the Gospels, and some of the epistles, but they were free to interpret them however they wanted.  So, the church leaders began holding council meetings to try and decide on Creeds. The Creeds served as a keel…a center…a core of beliefs to which each church should be held accountable.  
  • The councils deciding the creeds were a big deal.  They were contentious and people died.  Heretics were not tolerated.  These statements weren’t decided on easily.  The process was arduous and people staked their lives on the statements we will study.  So, we should take the time to study them and learn the centerpiece of our heritage. The most common creeds spoken in the church around the world are the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed and for most of us, they are so common, it hardly seems like an issue. Even if we don’t fully agree with every statement…we understand, to some degree, why it says what it says. 
  • In the coming weeks, we’re going to dig deeper and connect with the most respected beliefs in our faith. 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth (statement slide)


This is the first statement in the Apostles’ Creed.  I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.  In it, there are multiple truths that we maintain as Christians. 
  1. We believe in God (slide)
  2. We believe God is Father (slide)
  3. We believe God is Almighty (slide)
  4. We believe God is Creator (slide)
  5. We believe in heaven and earth.  (slide)

We believe in God.  (Slide)  That’s our starting point.  We believe in God.  We’re here because we believe in God…we may not all know what exactly we believe, or if what we believe is right…but God is a given in Christianity.  But God isn’t necessarily a given for everyone, right? There are plenty of people who don’t believe in God.  I don’t want to try to prove that there’s a God.  We could debate around that all day, probably all week, if not longer.  But we do need to identify that the things we look at may be seen or interpreted differently by other people.  Some of us look at the stars in the sky and stand in awe.  (stars slide) We see the hand of God stretched across the sky.  Others see the grandeur of the mountains and can only imagine there is someone greater even beyond the size of the mountains.  (mountains slide)  Others look at the tiny details and wonder how even the minutia could matter so much.  (flower slides) But there is beauty and intricacy, not just once, but over (flower slide 2) and over (flower slide 3) again.  We, as Christians, believe there is a God and that we can see God at work in a myriad of ways.  

Maybe we inherited that belief from our parents or grandparents, or maybe we’ve had experiences that confirm the existence of God for us.  But this much is true. We believe in God.  

God is Father.  God is in relationship to us. God is personable. God is knowable. God is relatable.  And while we’re all inclined to lay the identity of our own father over top our view of God the father, it’s important to know that God as father had a particular connotation in the biblical times, which may or may not line up with our notion of father.  God as father meant:
  • provider
  • protector
  • authority
  • the father passed on his trade, so he was also:
    • teacher
    • mentor
    • role model
  • As a son, you learned your father’s trade and worked with him until you could continue that work on your own to provide for your own family and in turn, teach your own son.  
God as Father means God is one we know, love, and spend time with. God as Father means provider and teacher.  God as father means One we mold our lives after—in all the best ways. God is not distant and removed—beyond us or our experience. God is family—known and loved—within our reach.  And if God is father, then we are children—all of us—we are the Father’s beloved children and that becomes a defining factor in our relationship.  

God is Almighty. God is powerful.  If we look in the scriptures we see God has the strength to move mountains.  God can calm the storms of the sea. (slide of storm) God can count the hairs on your head.  God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones.  (black slide) God is not weak, incompetent or impotent.  In the face of the world, our problems, and our failures, God is infinitely able.  God is powerful and able to intervene and act on our behalf.  Obviously, we haven’t mastered how to invoke that power, but the truth we fall back on is that God is capable of action—not limited in the ways we are.  

God is creator. Now, we get to the most contentious piece of today’s statement. God is creator.  That’s a judeo-Christian belief.  It comes right out of the chapter from Genesis that _________ read this morning.  God is creator.  Well, ok…but if we claim that…if we believe that…do we have to believe that God did that creating in the time frame described in Genesis?  Were they 24 hour days?  If so, is the world really younger than 10,000 years?  Or did God do God’s creative work over billions of years using the means described by science?  
United Methodists, as a denomination, lean toward the latter.  We claim God is creator and that the sequence of the creation story falls in line with the order outlined in science.  And while we hold to the scripture view of God as Creator…that’s not to refute science but to highlight that if God is creator, then we are created—intentionally designed and made by God.  And that, too, defines our relationship with God and with each other.  We are created beings connected to all of creation and responsible for its care.  

We believe in Heaven and Earth.  We believe there is a dwelling place for God called Heaven and a dwelling place for us called Earth.  (Heaven Slide) And we believe that Heaven is the place we go after death…that there is hope for the future. But beyond that, Heaven is the place that is the fulfillment of all that God desires. Heaven is peaceful, it is just, it is joyful, loving and grace-filled.  Heaven is the standard to which we aspire for our life on earth.  (earth slide) And Earth is the place God gifted us, where we are invited to grow in grace and fulfill all that God has dreamed for us.  (black slide)




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Who Me?

Luke 1:30-38Living Bible (TLB)
30 “Don’t be frightened, Mary,” the angel told her, “for God has decided to wonderfully bless you! 31 Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him ‘Jesus.’ 32 He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he shall reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom shall never end!”
34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”
35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you; so the baby born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God. 36 Furthermore, six months ago your Aunt[a] Elizabeth—‘the barren one,’ they called her—became pregnant in her old age! 37 For every promise from God shall surely come true.”
38 Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever he wants. May everything you said come true.” And then the angel disappeared.
The last couple of nights have been rough for our son, Steven. He’s been restless and fussy and mostly just wants to be held…all night.  Those aren’t my favorite nights as a mom. I love my kids but I love sleep and my own space in the middle of the night.  Lucky for my kids, I love them more, so when they struggle, or can’t sleep, or are sick, they win out.  So, Steven and I have snuggled a lot.  Like all the time.  Which sounds lovely if you think you’re just holding a sweet sleeping baby….but it’s not like that, he’s squirmy and fussy and wants to keep eating and eating—mostly for comfort, I think.  And while they’re not the nights I love or the nights I thought I was signing up for when I became a mom, they are part and parcel of the mom-job.  

Every mom deals with sleepless nights, sick kids, interrupted meals, constant chatter, boogers, spit up, diapers, throw up, tantrums and the like. It’s part of the gig. 

But then there are moms who are forced out of the norm and into the unimaginable.  There are far too many moms who have to face something terrible or tragic or tremendous—far beyond the normal… What about when you have a child who can only eat through a g-tube? or who spends countless days in the hospital? or must undergo chemo or radiation?  or is hurt in a major accident?  or battles more than every day bullying? What about when you face the sleepless nights not because they can’t sleep but because their day to day reality is harder than it should be, worse than anyone should have to deal with?  What about when you’re the mom who doesn’t make enough to put food on the table? or confronts sleeping on the street rather than living with an abusive partner? What about when you’re a mom in a war torn country? stuck in a part of the city that’s overrun with terrorists who won’t even let you out when help is available simply because of hate and spite?  What about if you’re the mom who carries her child on her back for days simply to reach a doctor who might (or might not) be able to tell you what’s wrong and causing his illness.  What do you do when you’re one of those moms?  Or maybe worst of all, what about when you’re the mom who has to lay her baby to rest, not comfortably in a bed, but in the earth? These aren’t the “normal mom things” and yet, sadly, there are so many mommas facing the abnormal that we might begin to believe that it is normal. 

There are countless moms who face the extra-ordinary, not because they want to, or because they chose to, but simply because they have to—-it’s what life handed them. (Please don’t mistake me for saying God dishes out all those things. I think there are sicknesses and circumstances that happen outside of God’s desire—things I often summarize as “life”—part of being human, but not part of what God wills for us.) 

All too often, when we watch the news or hear about the unimaginable realities parents are facing, we think, “I just couldn't do it.”

And we may not want to. We certainly wouldn’t choose to, but we could do it.  No, we wouldn’t sign up for it. No one does. But the reality is you do what you have to do and if you had to do it, you would.  Not just the moms, but the dads too, if you had to do it, you would…whatever it is.  

I think all of us deal with the unexpected.  We may have an idea of what motherhood is, or parenting is, but there’s so much more…the unanticipated…sometimes the tragic, terrible and tremendous.  There’s all the things that would have given us pause. Had we known ahead of time, we may not have signed up at all.  But once you’re in, once you’ve held your child and loved them, your threshold goes up…you’re willing to do all kinds of things that were unthinkable in your single days.  

I love the song, “Mary Did You know?”  I think it speaks to the interconnectedness of Jesus’ birth and his death. You really can’t tell the story of either one without somehow relating to the other.  But the reality is Mary had no idea. Can you imagine if she’d known? As she held her precious baby boy that one day he’d be murdered for crimes he didn’t commit.  Chosen to suffer on a cross instead of a known criminal. You think she had any idea of those things and didn’t do more to stop it?  

I mean, I’m not Mary, and I’m not the chosen one—but you can bet that if I thought my son was going to be murdered, I’d get the heck out of dodge—-I don’t really care what the justifications might have been.  

Mary didn’t know everything that lay before her or her son, but she still said yes.  It wasn’t all spelled out with a bow on top, but she still said yes.  She agreed to do what God asked even though she had no idea what on earth that would entail.  

Mary wasn’t extraordinary. She wasn’t better than any other woman. But she became extraordinary through baby steps of faith that allowed her to ultimately stand at the foot of the cross and watch the horror of her son dying. But that came from 33 years of watching him become the Man of God he was.  If you’d asked her on day one, there’s no way she would have consented.  She simply trusted God  and kept on trusting God one day at a time.  I’d bet good money she questioned and doubted and wondered what God was thinking along the way.  

Think about it. The first part of this story leaves her pregnant by someone other than her husband, Joseph, which left her as a good candidate for stoning. Joseph was led to act with grace, but what about her family? her parents? siblings? friends? neighbors?  She stood to lose a lot as she sought to be faithful to her calling. And so her best bet was to head out of town for months to avoid the gossip, threats, and ugliness.  Being God’s chosen one wasn’t easy—not even on day one—and yet Mary stuck with it.  Maybe because the good days outweighed the bad, or maybe because she had to choose faith or she would have wound up with despair.  Or maybe a mix of both. The gifts of a baby…the sweet smell, the tiny fingers and toes, the adorable little sounds, the love and snuggles can overpower the greatest trials.  There’s something about a precious baby that softens the blows of evil.  There’s something redemptive just in their presence.  And maybe that’s what kept Mary holding on, despite the unknown, despite the early threats from Herod and the need to flee, as a refugee, into Egypt.  There’s something about a child, your child, that will make you say yes to all kinds of crazy things.  They inspire you to hope for better times, to persevere through devastating trials, and to laugh when all you wish to do is cry.  

Mommas around the world hold something sacred in common—they hold love…deep abiding love that is beyond all reason.  And they hold hope…for a better tomorrow, for their children, for the world.  And that hope will give you the courage to stand in the face of unspeakable evil.  And it will give you the faith to keep saying yes to God, one step at a time.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Not Who You Might Think

Zaccheus is a tax collector.  We’ve heard about them before…it was 4 weeks ago when we heard about another tax collector, Levi,…they’re sinners.  They’re liars and thieves…they take from their own, skimming off the top before they pay Rome….or rather, inflating the amount due, before they hand anything over to Rome.  These guys are bad.  Do you remember Levi?  The one who was supposed to be a priest?  The family failure who not only didn’t become a priest, but became a crook?  Well, it’s another one of him.  And we all know about them.  

We really don’t need much more explanation at this point…Zaccheus was a tax collector… that means, he was a sinner of the worst kind. (sigh) another one of those people that Jesus decides to go hang around with.  And not surprisingly when it happens, everyone around them, balks saying, “seriously?!?  A sinner?!”  Three years into Jesus’ ministry and it still doesn’t make any sense…why would this guy, this rabbi, this man of God, insist on wasting his time with the sinners.

Now, while the crowd might not get it…we do.  We understand who Jesus is…he’s the one who forces us out of our comfort zone to deal with people we normally leave out of our inner circle.  We might not like it, but we get it.  But, if we dig a little deeper into the text, I think we might find something all together different.  

The scripture tells us that after Jesus calls him from the tree and invites himself over for dinner, Zaccheus tells Jesus he’ll give half of what he has to the poor and pay back anyone he’s cheated 4x’s the amount.  Now, that seems appropriate seeing as how he’s a lying scumbag.  But, there’s actually another way to look at it…2 ways actually.  

#1  Think about what Zaccheus is offering to do.  He’s going to give HALF of what he has to the poor.  AND THEN he’s going to give 4x’s what he owes to anyone he owes anything to.  Now, either he’s an incredible investor and grew the money he took from people in some incredible ways…all before the stock market or flipping real estate.  OR…he’s actually been a reasonably decent guy such that he hasn’t defrauded many people…so he’s willing to take the risk of offering 4x’s what he does owe.  MAYBE Zaccheus isn’t as bad as we thought.

or #2  there’s a translation issue from the Greek to the English.  Most of our translations say he “will give and will payback”. But the way the Greek is, there’s actually the possibility that it says “I’ve been giving half of what I have to the poor and have been giving 4x’s what I owe to anyone I’ve defrauded.”  He has been  doing these things…and, by translation, will continue to do these things…

So, it’s not that he’s some marvelous convert who has a big come to Jesus moment and his life is changed (and we all scoff under our breath doubting that anything will really change for him).  But instead, it’s this guy that we’ve known  was a sinner…a liar and a thief who doesn’t turn out to be any of those things.  We’re forced to immediately re-evaluate him for all the things we thought we knew…but really, then we have to re-evaluate us…because now we have to admit we are prejudiced.  And that recognition hurts.  We judged him based on superficial things…things we thought defined his character.  

I’m sure none of you have ever made assumptions about someone, believing you knew them, or at least knew enough, because you knew a certain something.  Well, since I’m normally one of the lead sinners in a congregation, I’ll just own it.  I’ve dealt with racism, sexism, homophobia, size-ism, classism, and age-ism…and that was just last week!  I’d like to laugh and say no, but, honestly, if I were to think about it, I’m sure I’ve pre-judged someone in each of those categories in the last 7 days and that does not make me proud.  I’ve worked for years to deal with my prejudice that you’d think I’d be a lot further along than I am, but what can I say? I’m a work in progress. 
We all learn to make these quick superficial judgments very early on in life.  In elementary school the kids make judgements based on gender. The girls think the boys couldn’t possibly be fun to play with and the boys make the same assumption.  Hopefully after a few years in class they start to see a little differently but then they adopt other judgements and classifications for one another.  
In high school we had about 550 students. And there were 4 main buildings that sat around the quad.  During break time you could find certain crowds of people in certain areas.  There were the preppy people, the nerds, the indians, the druggies, the cowboys, and the Mexicans.  Our titles were about as sophisticated as our judgements.  And most of us thought we knew people based on where they stood around the quad and the title that gave them.  And, sadly, for us, no one really tried to challenge the titles or the assumptions. I had to wait until college to be challenged on what I thought I knew about people.  
I am not proud of my prejudice, but I share about it to let you know you’re not alone, and to say that it’s worth confronting, every time it comes up.  When we make superficial judgments based on limited facts, we’re setting ourselves up for prejudice.  Before I started at UCLA, we had an on-campus orientation and were placed in various groups.  I don’t remember a lot of people from my group, but I do remember Miguel.  He was a Mexican with long dark hair in a pony tail, thick glasses, and what cholo clothes…he was a gang member from East LA.  At least that’s what I surmised from my 30 second assessment of his outfit and his hair.  To be fair, he was actually from East LA, but he wasn’t a gang member.  Now, it took me awhile to learn that since I was automatically fearful since I thought he was in a gang.  But eventually we started talking and got to one another.  Turns out Miguel had never been in a gang.  His dad was a chef and his mom was a housekeeper.  Miguel was smart and caring and one of the most tender-hearted people I had ever met.  Apparently my snap judgment was a little amiss.  
And, to highlight the irony of my prejudice, after we graduated, Miguel went to work for the Mayor of LA on his gang reduction task force.  Miguel finds creative and fun ways to engage area youth to find connection and value before they get into the gangs.  They’ve shown incredible success with their program…so much that he’s been sent around the country to train others and now he is in Honduras, where there is one of the worst gang problems world wide, training people and beginning to bring peace, and hope, and light into those communities.  

Lots of times we make snap judgements, and Jesus challenges us to see people diffferently. He is always drawing us into the deeper story and helping us see that what we know on the surface isn’t actually the whole story.  If we want to know people…we have to spend time with them, we have to get to know their story.  People are surprising.  They’re rarely everything we think they are…whether that’s kind and prim and proper because we see them well dressed and well spoken, or whether that’s rough and mean and aggressive because they look dangerous, or whether that’s lazy and a drunk because they’re dissolved and spent the night on the street.  People are more than they appear and Jesus wants us to know that.  He models what it looks like to spend time with people…even the people everyone else scoffs at, because he knows that time together is the key to relationships that change us and grow us into better people all around.  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Spirit of the Law

Sermon Notes

  • teaching on the sabbath in the synagogue
  • woman who has been ailing 18 years (much like the bleeding woman who suffered for 12 years)
    • She didn’t do anything more than “appear” and Jesus told her should would be healed
      • too often we get hung up thinking we have to do so much in order to earn Jesus’ healing, but instead he simply offers it….it is a gift of grace. It’s free.  It’s unmerited. Unearned.  And his gift comes before any action on her part.  
      • He heals her, touches her, and she is able to stand up and the only thing that came to mind for her to do was to praise God and worship.  18 years of staring at the floor and dirty feet and finally she can stand up and move….of course she praised God.  And there in the middle of her worship, interrupts the synagogue leader
  • Hey, wait a minute, you can’t heal on the sabbath, that’s work! you’re breaking the law!  
    • explain Sabbath Law
        • Exodus 20: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
      • this is a big deal and by all accounts Jesus did work and thus broke the law…but he clarifies something…which for me sheds light on sabbath law as a whole.  
        • He pushes back on the synagogue leader and says don’t you take your animals to get water…you do the work of untying and retying them?  So, you work, in order to preserve life?  
        • So, when I “worked” to preserve this woman’s life, I wasn’t really breaking the sabbath law…I was fulfilling it…I was giving life, restoring life to someone…which is the whole intent of sabbath law in the first place. Right?  
        • and the leaders while maybe humbled a little, were not willing to admit they were wrong. Instead they turned to the people…the other sick people who were ready to be blessed, touched, and restored to health by Jesus and he says, “all of you, get out of here. there are 6 other days of the week that you can be healed and fixed…pick one of those!”  
        • Clearly this guy has missed Jesus’ point. He’s so hung up on what’s “right” on what’s “lawful” that he misses the opportunity to see God at work in Jesus, redeeming, healing and restoring.  
    • UNFORTUNATELY, he’s not the only one who gets hung up on such things.  in the midst of witnessing grace, we often like to argue too.  
      • not when it’s for us of course, but when it’s for others and it breaks our rules or challenges our beliefs 
        • What about when we’re asked to serve a meal to the homeless on our family day?
        • or when a pedophile is allowed to worship?  
        • or
      • Grace interrupts the norms, it breaks the rules.  We like to think of it as sweet and beautiful and something we would all accept willingly. But the reality is, grace is something given freely to those who don’t deserve it.  a gift given freely to those who don’t deserve it.  
        • we tend to be ok with good things coming to good people, but what about when good things happen to “bad” people?  to people we think don’t deserve it?  or worse yet, to people we KNOW don’t deserve it?  
        • when blessings fall on the mean-spirited and the unkind, what do we say?  
          • THAT’S NOT FAIR!!! That’s not right.  
      • you’re likely sitting there wondering, “does she think good things should happen to bad people?”  Are you saying we supposed to go out of our way for people who don’t deserve it?  
        • well, yes and no.  It’s not exactly me speaking…but that is Jesus’ way.  He is regularly looking for the outsiders…the “bad” ones, the rule breakers and doing good things for them…even though they don’t deserve it. And if we’re supposed to be imitators of Christ, then logic would follow that we are supposed to do that same thing.  
        • It’s counter intuitive, I know.  And it doesn’t mean we don’t do good things for those who do deserve it.  But the call to offer grace isn’t about simple and sweet for the people we love, it’s about stepping out to bless someone who is an outsider (to us or to others).  
          • in practical terms it can mean stopping on the side of the road when we’re on our way to our thing to help someone in need
          • it can be helping to cover the groceries in the check out line 
          • it can be inviting the co-worker who’s always a pain to the bbq at our house
          • it can mean offering shelter to a refuge
          • it can mean sharing a meal with a hard-hearted family member
          • it can mean giving up our special coffee to buy someone a meal
          • —> sometimes we’ll know how deserving (or not) the person is, and sometimes it’s all left in God’s hands.  But it’s not about us knowing “hey, you’re not worthy, I’ll pick you to bless”.  But it is about being open and receptive to the movement of the Spirit so we can be about God’s kingdom creating work of offering grace—even when it’s inconvenient, even when it breaks our rules, even when the person doesn’t deserve it…probably most especially when they don’t deserve it.