Saturday, May 19, 2018

GOD AND PAIN


Sermon Summary, 5/6/18, “God and Pain” (John 10:10; Heb 2:14; I Cor 15 selected)

I thought I knew about the problem of pain.  I’ve preached on it.  I’ve watched others go through it.  Yet, I know that I didn’t appreciate their pain.  And I know, too, that many do not have an understanding of God and pain.  One relative, church goer all their life, said, “I don’t know why God made Rosemary suffer so.  I just don’t understand. Why would God do that?”  I’ve concluded that to begin talking about the problem of pain, we first need to talk of the nature of God.  We can’t talk about pain without first talking about God.

The loss of Rosemary of me was so terrible, I had to rethink everything.  Does God exist?  If he exists, is he a good God, the God of the New Testament revealed in Jesus Christ?  Does he care?  Did he care about Rosemary?   As we talked a few weeks ago, doubts may be the indication that God is already at work in you even before you know it.  Working through doubts can strengthen your faith, not diminish it..  We come out the other side stronger.  I did.

God exists.  It takes far more faith to NOT to believe than to believe.  The clues from the Big Bang to the accommodation of the universe to complex life, to the reliability of the world we live in, to beauty, to dozens of other clues give far, far more reason to believe that not believe. (The sermon included a much fuller discussion of clues.  Sometimes you just have to be there.)

God exists, but you knew that.  But what I want you to know, to believe, to internalize, to make part of you, is that God is the God of the New Testament who came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, as Paul said, “I teach Christ and him crucified.”  “Him crucified”—the God of sacrificial love who showed us that there were no limits to how far he would go to demonstrate his love for us. 

Jesus lived and lives.  Historians outside the bible wrote about him.  People who lived with him wrote about him in detail.  Historians  who interviewed eye-witnesses wrote about him.  And we know the resurrection is real.  Not from what the Bible says (the early Christians didn’t even have a Bible and they knew it!), but by the changed lives of the eye-witnesses.  Nobody dies for what they know to be a lie. 

So if not only God exists, but the Jesus of the New Testament is real, would the Jesus who healed the sick cause illness?  Would the Jesus who stilled the storm cause Tsunamis?  Would the Jesus who overcame death cause death?  The answer is NO!  Jesus tells us, “The thief came to steal and kill and destroy; I came that you have life and it abundantly.”  Eternal life, abundant life.  Hebrews 2:14 is more specific, “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”  And 1 Cor 15 says “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  If death is the enemy, then certainly God would not be the cause of death.

In 1971, while undergoing an operation, Rosemary had an out of body experience.  From that point she told me that she loved life and would always want to live, but that with her faith, she would never again fear death.  We teach Christ and him crucified, who loves us unconditionally and sacrificially.  The God of love, not pain.  Amen.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

EASTER 2018 WITNESSES: MARY MAGDALENE


Easter Sermon Summary, 4/1/18, “”Witnesses: Mary Magdalene, The First Christian” (John 3:16; 21:1-18)

(I recommend reading the passages from John before this summary.) I’m sure you wonder why I’m here.  I’m here because we are Easter people.  Rosemary is an Easter person.  Is, not was.  My Step-Mom is an Easter person.  Is, not was.  “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph or His foes.  He arose a victor from the dark domain; and He lives forever with his saints to reign.”  Saints, little “s.”  Rosemary is a saint.  Marian is a saint. “With His saints.”  I believe the Easter message.  Not because I want it to be true, but because I know it to be true.

When Mary Magdalene came to the garden she had no idea what to expect, least of all the resurrection.  None of them did.  If they had, they would have been camped out at the tomb with noisemakers and horns awaiting the event.  Read the passage again.  Mary didn’t.  Peter didn’t.  John didn’t (it says John believed but I don’t know what.  The next line shows he didn’t expect the resurrection.)  All the disciples waiting in hiding didn’t.  Jesus had told them “On the third day be raised.”  But they doubted.

Doubting can be good.  It causes us to wrestle with what we believe.  Doubt can be God working within us even before we know it to strengthen our faith. 

There are strong reasons to believe in the resurrection.  God raised Jesus from the dead to show that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God.  Jesus’ words, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” would have been idle words without the resurrection.  The resurrection is the event that launched Christianity.

God raised Jesus to show that he had overcome death.  “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  He raised Him to show us that Jesus is worthy to be our Savior.  “He is the firstborn of the dead so that he has supremacy over everything.”  He is Lord.

God raised him from the dead to show us that for all of us, there is life after death. There is eternal life.  “shall not perish, but have eternal life.

If all these things are true, it changes everything!  Jesus is God.  Jesus has overcome death.  We have the promise of eternal life.  We reign as saints with him in glory.  It changes everything.  We are people of hope.

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb without hope and returns saying, “I have seen the Lord!”  Resurrection Joy!

All of the witnesses.  All of the apostles lived with joy.  And as witnesses to the resurrection, they died with joy.  And folks, nobody dies for what they know to be a lie.  Nobody dies for a lie.  And here’s the great news folks, the resurrection means that Jesus will work backwards to turn all the agony into glory.  He will give us the life we always wanted, free from sorrow, free from pain, filled with glory.  Amen.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

WHAT DOES LOVE REQUIRE OF US?


Sermon Summary, 3/4/18, “”What Does Love Require of Us?” (Mt 25:31; Gal 5:6)

We’re closing out the “Brand New” series, today, “Brand New Love.”  The premise of the entire series is that the arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the Temple Model (ancient religious practices) and ushered in something “Brand New.”  A Brand New Covenant in his sacrifice; a New Command (Love one another); a New Ethic (which begs the question “What does love require of us?”); and a New Movement of the Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, we have reestablished much of the old and just sprinkled a little Jesus on top (See previous sermon summaries). 

One of the key aspects of the old is that the Temple Model is “Me-Centered.”  Me, about me.  We looked previously as Sacred Places and used St. Peter’s Basilica as an example.  Marvelous place.  But did you know it was commissioned because Pope Julius II wanted a burial place?  Me-Centered.  And we have made Sacred Texts about “Me,” interpreted by Sacred Men, controlled by Sacred Men; and the Reformation weaponized Sacred Texts to be used against one another.  Again, all about “Me.”

Jesus changed all that.  He signaled an end to the “Me” model.  It is no longer about “you,” but about the “you beside you.”  The “You beside You!”  It is based on a new command: “Love one another.” (John 13:34)  And it begs the question, “What does love require of us?” 

Interesting to me the way Jesus presented the “Great Commandment.”  (Mt 22:34-40)  He was asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus answered with the verses that every Jew prayed twice daily. (Deut 6:4-5)  Can’t you see their heads nodding in agreement?  Jesus creates authority with his answer.  Then and only then does he say, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Do you suppose he wanted to say the greatest commandment is all about the “You beside you” all along?  Could very well be.

We find “Loving your neighbor” throughout the NT.  James calls it the “Royal Law.” I like the way Paul puts it best of all: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6)

“What does love require of you?”  First, love is not a feeling.  Love is something we do.  I’ve come to make a Lenten Tradition of re-reading the classic, In His Steps, written is 1896 with 30 million sold around the world.  It is the source of the question, “What would Jesus do?”  Maybe that’s 19th Century language.  Maybe in the 21st Century, in everything we think, say, and do, we ask the question, “What does love require of us?”  If we do, it will change us.  It will change our families.  It will change our communities.  It will change the world.   Proactively, ask the question in everything we think say or do, “What does love require of me?’  You will become ‘Brand New.”  Amen.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

NEW WINE SKINS


Sermon Summary, 2/4/18, “New Wine Skins” (Mk 2:22; Jn 13 selected)

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins. (Mark 2:22)

In Earnest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (a biblical title), the lost generation travels from Paris to Spain to see the running of the bulls and there celebrates the week passing wine skins among themselves squirting wine into one another’s mouths.

Not the wine skins Jesus was talking about.  In Jesus’ time, skins were used to ferment the wine.  Pressed in a vat, maybe a little yeast added, the new wine was poured into fresh skins pouches and sealed.  The new skins expanded as the wine gave off gases as part of the fermentation process.  But if old, used skins were used, they would burst instead of expanding and both the new wine and the old skin would be lost.

Jesus came not just to give us wine, but Brand New Wine which could never be placed in the old skins of the ancient religion.  Jesus gave us something brand new based on a New Covenant in his sacrifice, a New Command to love one another, a New Ethic, and created a New Movement.

How are we doing with Jesus’ Brand New thing?  Unfortunately, we have reverted to the old form, sprinkling a little Jesus on top.  We are all about Sacred Places instead of sacred people.  We hold fast to sacred texts and use them against one another, interpreting and guarding them by sacred men (almost always men), and use them to control special people instead of freeing them with the gift of salvation.

We say, “How far can I go without sinning?” (Old thinking)  We say, “I feel guiltier about missing church than how I might have treated someone.”  (Old thinking)  We say when we fail morally (and we all fail morally), “I am more concerned about what God will do than what I might have done to another.” (Old thinking)

Andy Stanley imagines heaven as a great balcony with Jesus, Paul and Peter watching from heaven, Jesus saying, “Can you believe what’s going on down there?  Love has been lost.  And you know, on the night before I died I showed them what love looked like.  I got down on my hands and knees and washed their feet, their stinking feet!  Then I made it simple for them, I told them “to love one another.””

Paul said, “I told them too; I even wrote it down.  I said, “The only thing that counts in faith expressing itself in love.”” (Gal 5:6b)  Peter said, “I wrote it down, too; “Love one another deeply from the heart.”” (1 Ptr 1:22b)

We all agree, we don’t want love lost.  We don’t want to put the new wine into old skins and lose both.  We need to understand “What does love require of us?”  That waits until Next time.


BRAND NEW


Sermon Summary, 1/21/18, “Brand New” (Mt 5”:21-24’ John 13:34-35; Gal 5:6, 14)

In 2015, Andy Stanley presented a “Brand New” series, the premise of which asked if Jesus be happy with Christianity’s 1000s of denominations, huge cathedrals, personalities, and divisive interpretation of the Scripture of today?  Would he believe that’s what he intended when in fact he gave us a way of living that was “Brand New”? 

To understand “Brand New” we need to understand the old, what Andy Stanley calls the Temple Model, which always had Sacred Places, and Sacred Texts, and Sacred Men (almost always men) to interpret the Sacred Texts and control the Sacred Places, and then there were the Sincere (or superstitious or scared) People. 

It was to be the old model, but unfortunately, it has crept back into our faith today.  We see it don’t we?  So Jesus came along with something “Brand New” based on a New Covenant (“this is my blood of the New Covenant poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”), a new command (not hundreds but one, “to love one another”), a New Ethic based on the new command, and a new movement of people who lived out the new ethic to transform the world.

For 400 years Christianity lived the “Brand New” life that Jesus called us to.  Rather than a men, Jesus was the focus.  Rather than places, people were sacred (“love your enemies, pray for those that persecute you.”). Rather than a church, the New Movement was to “Go.”

In the fourth century, Constantine made Christianity the religion of he realm.  He built places that became sacred, the Bible was codified but could only be read by sacred men who thought the Bible too dangerous for the masses, and the sincere people became subject to the sacred men who interpreted the sacred texts and controlled the sacred places.

Even after the Reformation, when Luther and Calvin believed everyone should be able to read the Bible, we have weaponized our interpretations of the Text and used it against one another.  We seem to like the old way, but Jesus warned us that we can’t put new wine in old skins (next week), but maybe it was Paul who said it best when addressing the Galatians who had been told by others after Paujl, they had to follow all the old Jewish laws before they could become a Christian, including circumcision.  He said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6)  The only thing that counts, the only thing is faith expressing itself through love!  Paul wraps it us with verse 14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in one commandment, that you love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus said everything hangs on it!  It was a “Brand New” thing.


AUTHORITY



Sermon Summary, 1/14/18, “Authority” (Mark 1:16-22)

This year the Church emphasizes the Gospel of Mark. I love the traditions of the church about Mark, some biblical, some traditional. Tradition that he was the young man, boy really, in Mark 14:51-52 in the Garden with Jesus, an eye-witness to the events of Holy Week. Biblical that he was the cousin of Barnabas and companion on the First Missionary Journey. Tradition that he was the secretary to Peter and author of the first Gospel written (yes, Matthew comes first in order, but Mark the first written). It is an urgent Gospel, using the word immediately 27 times! At Peter’s death, Mark felt an urgent need to tell the story.

It begins, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (1:1) Good News. What is the Good News? Not what taught or what he said, but who he is, the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection, and the Spirit of Christ. That is the Good News. In just 14 verses, Mark urgently declares the Good News, introduces John the Baptist and the baptism, drives him into the wilderness, and begins Jesus’ ministry. Then here comes Jesus!

He calls his disciples, first Peter and Andrew, the James and John. Peter first because of the primacy of Peter among the disciples, but also because he was the source of Mark’s gospel. He calls them, then begins teaching. Verse 16 tells us that they were astounded at his teaching because he taught them as one with authority. Not because of what he said, but because of who he was! Yet until his resurrection, his divinity was hidden from them. But he had authority!

Do you remember the old radio show, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”? You can google it. It would tell the stories, the parables, the miracles, the signs; but listening to it, I couldn’t wait until Jesus spoke. Not because of what he said, but because he was Jesus There was something about the voice of Jesus. Not his words, but Jesus had authority.

And then he calls: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” I have often wondered if I would have answered the call. How about you. Yet we are all called, every day. I think the point of it all is that Jesus didn’t ask us to get ready, to go to seminary, to become perfect. No, he said, “Follow me.” Now is the time. We may not fully understand God, but know he exists, understand sin but know we are imperfect, understand salvation but know we need it. Now is the time; “Follow me.”

What we need to do is to ask what is it that I need to do, or not do, or stop doing right now to follow Jesus. And maybe that is a daily question. Jesus has the authority to call. What must we do to follow?



THE WORLD SEES ITS SAVIOR


Sermon Summary, 1/7/18, “The World Sees Its Savior” (Matthew 2)

The Herods have always fascinated me.  I was a teenager when the movie “Salome” came out.  Fascinating.  In my 40s I found a book with a long narrative about Herod and his family tree.  He was paranoid and viscous, killing his favorite wife Marriamne and her two sons fearing they had a claim on his throne. 

Yet we love Christmas stories, don’t we?  What then do we do with the “slaughter of the innocents”?  I mean, where does it fit into the tranquility of the angels and the shepherds and the baby Jesus?  If we had our choice we would end the narrative where Mary and Joseph and the baby escape to Egypt.  But the Bible doesn’t.  What are we to take away?  What does it teach us about God?  About us?  About the relationship between God and us?

First, the Wise Men, astrologers, learned men from Persia.  Gentiles who knew the Jewish prophesies of the star and the Messiah.  Gentiles who represented the “world.”  Jesus, the Savior, introduced to the world.  The world sees its Savior. We call it “Epiphany.”

Herod.  Viscous, paranoid.  No wonder “all of Jerusalem was frightened with him.”  He also looked for approval and became the greatest builder of his time, building cities to gain approval of Rome and the Temple to gain the approval of the Jewish people.  But he was mostly great because of the great fear he instilled in his people.

What does the story tell us about God?  It is a theme of the bible that God created us to love and to love him in return.  In the OT he pursued the children of Israel but they ran from him.  Now there is a new kind of pursuit.  He has become like us.  He has become the Savior of the World.

About us.  If the baby Jesus is the counterpart of God in the story, then Herod is our counterpart.  Whoa you say.  I’m not evil like Herodl  There is no Herod in me.  But the Bible teaches us from Cain and Abel to the Pharisees and Sadducees that handed Jesus over to be murdered that there is evil in each one of us.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn says “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”  We seek power, we seek control, we let pride and arrogance steer our actions.  Evil slips out.  When power and pride and fear control our personality, that line dividing good and evil, if left unguarded, evil wins out.  We become “Little Herods.”

We need a Savior.  That’s the relationship between God and us.  And we have a Savior.  When we imitate him, when we take on the humility of Christ, we become “Little Christs,” and the Little Herod within us is overwhelmed.

We have a Savior that was reveled to the world through the Wise Men.  Let us imitate him.  Let us become “Little Christs.”  Amen.