The Power to Empower

A sermon based on Genesis 2:18-24 and Ephesians 5:21-6:9 preached August 13th, 2017

Sermon audio

We’ve been immersing ourselves in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians all summer long now. We’ve tried our best, so far, to do more than that, though. If we’ve been paying attention to what Paul has to say here, if we’ve given ourselves fully to the truth about who God is, who we are in God, then there’s no way we can come to the end of this letter without a transformed and altogether renewed vision of the world, of the God who created it, who entered into it through the person of Jesus Christ, and who still to this day fills it with His mighty and grace-filled presence through the Holy Spirit.

We started big. Talking about God. Big words about the eternal and infinite. We’ve been invited into the vastness of our living God, urged to jump into the deep end of God’s presence—vast, long, wide, deep. And as we have moved further into the letter to the Ephesians, the more particular and specific the language has been.

All the sudden we realize that we are because God is. That the ins and outs of our day—all the way down to the boring and humdrum aspects of it are the way they are because God is the way God is. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in or about our lives that God does not have words to speak into. Nothing is secular or completely up to us. Everything is sacred and completely up to God. We must listen closely.

It’s quite easy for us to see God in the vast expressions of the cosmos—a sunset, the beauty of nature, the flight of a bird, the mysterious changing of Summer into Fall. It’s quite another thing to see God at work in the small parts of our lives. In our relationships, our households, in our daily encounters with neighbors and strangers, our wives and husbands, parents and grandparents, our children and grandchildren, aunts and uncles. This is far more complicated.

What does God have to do with those things? How is God speaking into those routine parts of our lives? Is God there at all? Or have we left Him here at church from one Sunday to the next? Did we leave God in the mountains of Montreat or in some other transcendent get-away, under some notion that keeping God in places like that protects God from our everyday lives, and our everyday lives from God?

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Paul isn’t done yet. The further we get along in this letter, the more specific the context gets.

Last week, we talked about how God’s presence changes our actions and attitudes when we’re in church community. This week, Paul drills down further. This week, Paul wants us reflecting upon how God’s presence changes our actions and attitudes when we’re at home. How husbands treat wives and wives treat husbands in a way that reflects the love and grace of God. How marriage changes the family dynamics. How children are a part of this. What their role is in the context of family—how they are to treat their parents and, in turn, how their parents are to treat them. There’s absolutely no part of our lives that God is not speaking in to.

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Last Monday evening, I had the honor to officiate the wedding of my Father-in-Law, Jim, and his fiancée, Katheryn. (I have to be careful how I phrase that—at first, I told some folks that I was marrying my Father-in-Law.)

It was a beautiful ceremony. We held it in our Chapel, surrounded by a dozen or so family members. Afterward, all of us went to out to dinner at Fratelli’s. We had a great time. As we were leaving the restaurant, Katheryn, the bride, gave me a hug and said to me,

Thank you for not mentioning anything about submission or obedience.

I laughed and agreed with her. I told her I hadn’t even thought about saying any words like that. And that was true. We’ve all been to plenty of weddings where passages like this one is read or at least mentioned.

Wives, obey your husbands.

Maybe, the word submit is even worse.

We end up cursing passages like this one and others like it. Why couldn’t Paul just keep his mouth shut about such matters? He wasn’t even married! So, when we hear a pastor say these words in the context of a wedding ceremony, all of us squirm about in our pews. But in these weddings, the surrounding verses are always left out. Whether we agree with it or not, we hear verse 22, but we never hear its context—all that Paul says around it.

Verse 21: Be subject to one another. Why, or for what reason? Out of reverence to Christ. And we discover in the next paragraph that husbands are not off the hook. Just like every other Godly relationship, marriage is a two-way street.

Verse 25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

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I want to encourage you to hear what’s astounding about these words from Paul. Women in his day, and in every time before, were considered property. They were not people. They were not her’s or she’s—they were its. Objects. Owned and never loved.

Enter these words from Paul: “Husbands, stop thinking you own your wives. Don’t treat them that way! Love them instead.”

It’s as if Paul is saying “You live in a culture that tells you that in order to be a strong and powerful man, you just assert ownership and dominance over your wife. No more of that for us! Reject this cultural message. Your new life in Christ calls for an entirely different way of thinking about your spouse and your marriage. Husbands, love your wives and hold them up—honor them, seek their interests and personal development.”

This was radically counter-cultural. And in quite a number of places, it’s still a radical idea. Be subject to one another.

Here’s the thing about submission that we don’t understand anymore: Submission, as it’s spoken about in this passage and others like it, is never forced. It is always voluntary. Furthermore, this submission to another is never a permanent arrangement. It’s always situational. There are moments when it’s right for you to submit to me and just as many moments when it’s right for me to submit to you. Such is the way of a healthy relationship.

Neither does Paul’s idea of submission have anything to do with hierarchy. It does not mean that one of us has the right to assert power over another. It is not that. What Paul is talking about here is a flexible, dynamic way of relating to one another that’s based upon self-giving love. We’re talking about the way of mutual servanthood. Never mandated but, in Christ—the Servant King—always encouraged. When we understand all this, it’s easier to see how these words are meant to free wives from the oppressive ways in which that ancient culture made objects out of them.

Today, these words are still here to free all of us, men and women, to empower one another—to lift each other up, asserting each other’s dignity and worth as the beloved and honored children of God we all are.

This is how to bring Christ into our homes, or more to the point, this is what it looks like when we practice Christ in our homes: in each other’s sight, our intrinsic value and worthiness takes off, has no limit. And we respond to each other’s God-given worth by becoming subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. In Christ, we have to power to empower one another, to lift each other into the light, to celebrate each other for the gifts we are to one another!

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I hope you can see how this is radically counter-cultural even today. No one may ever admit it, but we are a people who gain and assert our power and self-worth by recklessly and dismissively climbing over the backs of others.

We live in a world of unbelievers who do believe in something: they believe that the only way to practice power—to assert themselves—is to wield power over others. To these folks, self-centeredness, individualism, and independence are things to aspire to. For these people, the name of the game is that wrong kind of submission—the one Paul speaks against in this passage—the kind that says in order for me to be important and significant, you have to be unimportant and insignificant. Such is the way of the world. In the face of this ugly assertion, we who call ourselves followers of Christ shout No!

We are to live in such a way that we assert one another’s worth, to give witness to the truth that one person’s importance takes nothing away from another’s importance. That your power and significance, expressed and practiced biblically, is never had or asserted at the expense of my power and significance—or anyone else’s for that matter. Life, love, significance, and worth are not zero-sum games. And, in the same way, my expression of submission to you never means that I think myself as less important, less human, than you—just as your expression of submission to me never means you or I think you are worth anything less than me.

If we look at Jesus’ life, teaching, death, and resurrection, we would never think that submitting to each other could ever be done out of a sense of inferiority. Christ, the King of all kings, the All-Sovereign and All-Powerful Lord of all lords, came not to be served but to serve, and even give up His life for others.

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Friends, we are called to imitate Christ in all of our relationships. Each of us looking out for the interests of the other.

We are called to ditch all the worldly notions we have that tell us that submitting to each other makes us push-overs or weaklings or doormats. Far from being an expression of inferiority, our willingness to be, and witness as, servants to one another through our Servant Lord is an opportunity for us to lift up the lowly into the light of Christ. To bend down in an effort to pick others up.

We serve out of an expression of a strange kind of power—one that the world knows nothing about—the power to submit ourselves so that those we serve may be empowered.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

The Foothold of Faith

A sermon based on Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 and Ephesians 2:1-10 preached on June 11th, 2017

Sermon audio

Hobby wind-surfer, Adam Cowles, realized he was way off-course when he spotted a cargo ship. He was windsurfing the Swansea Bay, not too far from his house, but after a few hours of delightful distraction, Adam found himself in strange territory. He had unwittingly made his way into the Bristol Channel, 140 miles away from home.

The water that day was freezing cold. If he fell in, he’d be in serious trouble. If there came a lull in the wind, Adam could have found himself stranded. Opposite the cargo ship, Adam could see land, so he surfed his way to shore and walked into a nearby bar, soaking wet.

The locals must have seen sights like him before, because even though he was still dripping wet when he walked into that pub, the patrons thought and said nothing of it. They even bought him a beer.

Adam began to tell them his story.

They told him how far away from home he was. 140 miles. He was astonished. And then he was embarrassed when he had to call his wife, asking her to make the 280-mile round trip to pick him up. She was not happy.

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Wind is so prevalent inside of scripture that one could easily call it a character. A living force rather than an object or an atmospheric phenomenon.

God shows up in the beginning of the opening act, in the very first lines of our story in Genesis 1, as wind. This is the form in which the Spirit of God makes way into creation, and then helps creation take its shape out of what was before simply chaos and nonsense. The second verse in all of scripture says it this way:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is how God shows up. In a breeze. And that happens over and over again throughout God’s story—our story, too.

Consider the moment of the Exodus, when the Hebrew people, enslaved for two centuries in Egypt, make their way across the Red Sea and to the other side, outrunning Pharaoh and his army and into freedom. The Sea was split in two that day by a strong eastward wind.

And then there’s Jonah, the stubborn prophet, who tried his best to outrun God after God asked him to do something that made no sense to him. Throughout the Book of Jonah, he’s stopped, over and over again, to the point where it gets comedic, by wind and sea, by whale and wave.

We try our best but there’s no escaping the Spirit of God.

There’s at least two stories in each of the four Gospels, where fisherman disciples are out on a boat on the Galilee Sea. Terrified by brewing storms and rising waters, Jesus comes to calm the waves and the rain and brings them through. These are messages for us about how when we are caught in the scary seas of our own lives, when the water rises too high all around us, Jesus comes to us and subsides our fears and says to us the same thing he said to His disciples in those moments:

Peace be with you.

Last and certainly not least is the story we have in the Book of Acts where Luke gives us a glimpse of Paul’s travelogue. To get to the churches he has planted, Paul and his own team of disciples, servants, doctors, and scribes cross the Mediterranean Sea and sail up the Aegean between present-dayPaul Turkey and Greece, and north into the Sea of Marmara. Some of these voyages brought disaster. Pirates, shipwreck. Loss of cargo and loss of life. Throughout scripture, water and wind give life but they also take it away.

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dSo when Paul writes from a prison in Rome to the young believers in Ephesus—and by extension, to us—he has been wind-tossed, beat up, lost at sea, and then found again. Paul knows a thing or two about what it is to be blown about by wind. And he warns us, right at the get-go, here at the very beginning of Chapter 2,

Do not be blown about by the wind. Once you lived your entire lives wandering off-course in this perverse world….You were the offspring of the prince of the power of the air. He once owned you and controlled you.

I don’t know what kind of devil you believe in. We talk so little about evil and its personifications. Certainly, the personification of evil into some being with the proper name, Satan, is not as much a creature found in scripture as it is one that has been imagined in the tales of subsequent works of fiction: Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. We need to keep our stories straight.

We’ll talk more about this when we reach Chapter 4 of Ephesians, but for now, suffice it to say, here Paul describes some sort of evil or persuasive power, but he doesn’t give it a name or a form. It’s as if Paul is describing that thing mentioned in the first two verses of Genesis 1, a sort of earthly chaos, life and creation without shape, or meaning, or form. Life without God. That is a sort of evil in and of itself.

Paul is warning us against living in a way that’s uncritical, where we get swept up by the power of the air, picked up by every breeze that comes our way. Life lived empty and persuadable, easily manipulated by anything and everything around us. We can get picked up and pushed around wherever the breeze takes us, like that empty plastic bag at the beginning of the movie American Beauty. This is the prince of the power of the air. This is an opportunistic presence that will sweep us off our feet any chance it gets.

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We live in a culture full of wind-blown people. Too often, we get caught up in the prevailing winds of our day, and before we know it we’re like that empty plastic bag that gets knocked around by forces both visible and invisible. We get taken anywhere it pushes us.

What Paul is inviting all of us to see is a new way to live and move. Paul’s words here are a sort of prelude to the important and biblical idea of living in but not of the world. We cannot be blown about. Persuadable. Pushed about. We must find our footing. We must be discerning, keen, wise, sharp, perceptive, insightful, critical. You’ve heard the phrase,

If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for everything.

This is God’s way of saying a similar thing. Find your footing.

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Paul knew something about wind. He was a tentmaker.

These days, if a person calls him- or herself a tentmaker, there’s a good chance they’re a Pastor who specializes in creating new churches. Paul did that, but before he ever entered into the ministry he actually made tents. This is how he made a living, even while he sailed the seas, planting churches.

So, Paul knew a thing of two about wind. How to shelter oneself against it. How to build a structure that can withstand it. Build them strong, resilient, and with a big footprint so they hold up to the power of the air and the elements. Everything thrown at it.

As we mature in our faith, as we walk forward slowly in the Way of Jesus, following in His footsteps, we too become strong against the breezes that try to blow us off course.

It is with rope and ground pegs, poles and stakes that a tent becomes secure even in the most chaotic of climates. It’s the power of God’s grace that does the same thing for our minds, our hearts, our spirits. God’s grace pins us to solid ground, can keep us from being blown off course. Grace is the foothold of our faith.

I mentioned a few weeks ago when we began our look into Ephesians, that God’s grace given to us is not an end in itself. Grace is not the end of any conversation, as in, “but for the grace of God go I.” Grace is always the beginning of the conversation. Grace was in the wind that blew the disciples out of their tiny house on Pentecost, and it’s the power we have been given by God to walk out of here and do God’s work—in and for the world.

Grace is the fuel, the power source God gives us to start something—to go out from here, or wherever else we are, as agents of God’s love, as keepers of God’s Message, as sharers of God’s mercy. Grace is designed and given to us by God to take us places. It is first unmerited benefit, yes; but it’s also Divine enablement. Grace is given to us to get us going!

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Through grace, we gain a foothold in our faith, stand up tall in Christ, and then become agents of grace—taking it and using it. Paul writes,

For it is by grace you have been saved. You have received it through faith. It was not our plan or effort, it’s God’s gift. Pure and simple. You didn’t earn it.

That’s verse 8. It’s one of the most beloved in all of scripture, but I’m afraid it’s too often misunderstood. People use it to convince themselves that works—doing stuff with and because our faith—isn’t important. But what Paul says is, Take God’s gift of grace, freely given to you—yes, it’s never earned, it’s always a gift—but then do something with it. Use it. Pay it forward. Grace is never the end of the conversation; it’s always the beginning of one. God’s grace is given to us in order to be put to work through us. Grace is God’s enabling power for growth.

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If you feel like you’re trudging through life right now under your own power, if you’ve lost your footing, if you’ve exhausted yourself that way, let me re-introduce you to grace. Author Anne Lamott says,

When you’re out of good ideas, what you’re left with is God.

She describes grace as spiritual WD-40 or water wings, if that works better. And all you have to do to find grace is to say “Help,” preferably out loud. Shout it into the heavens if you have to. The heavens will hear you. “But watch out!” Anne Lamott says. The moment you say that word, “Help!”, the moment you find grace, buckle up! Because, powered by the Holy Wind of God as it always is, God’s grace will take you places you never intended to go!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Cross-Alive, God-Alive

A Holy Monday meditation on John 3:1-21 preached on April 10th, 2017

The holy city of Jerusalem came alive for a week. It was Passover. And even though the Palm Sunday parade was over, the festival was just getting started. They say that Jerusalem grew by 150,000 people at Passover. It was a city whose walls bulged at the seams. Inside those walls, people packed in shoulder to shoulder. Imagine Disney World, but with a Temple at the center instead of a castle. The place was teeming, loud, chaotic.

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The Jerusalem Temple stood tall and mighty in those days. It was a huge structure, Herod’s Temple was the central symbol in a city full of God-symbols. And that week, somewhere in that Temple complex was a Pharisee—a very important man—whose name was Nicodemus.

Most of our gospels make no mention of the Nicodemus. He’s nowhere to be found. But he is mentioned three times in John’s gospel. Here in his most well-known place in John chapter 3, but he surfaces again in chapter 7, and then one more time near the very end of John’s gospel, in chapter 19.This is interesting. Captivating, really. John, the one who wrote the fourth gospel, must have thought so, too.

Three mentions of this man, Nicodemus—once at the beginning, then in the middle, and another at end of his gospel. We should be curious. Could it be that Nicodemus—this Pharisee—is doing something quite like what we’re doing here at the beginning of Holy Week? Is Nicodemus chasing his way to Jesus?

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In our passage for today, we have an account of Nicodemus’ first—and most likely, only—conversation with Jesus. And it doesn’t go well. For the whole conversation, from verse 1 all the way to 21, Jesus and Nicodemus seem to talk past each other.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, curious about who He is, but scared to death He’ll get caught being curious about Him.So he slinks to Jesus. He tip-toes up to Him at night. And for the whole conversation, Jesus talks way over Nicodemus’ head. Being a Pharisee, Nicodemus lives a life built out of rules, facts, head-knowledge. It’s a very cerebral existence. Nicodemus makes a living inside of moral and religious law. So, when Jesus starts in with a metaphor—this talk about being born again—poor Nicodemus gets lost real fast. He has no clue what Jesus is saying. Nicodemus slinks back into the cover of darkness, completely confused by his cryptic conversation with Jesus. Whatever questions he had of Jesus were never answered. His curiosity was left unsatisfied. If we were to guess, we might say, “Well, that’s the last we’ll hear of that guy!” Who would ever come back for more after such a frustrating conversation?! But Nicodemus keeps popping up.

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The next time he’s mentioned, is at the end of chapter 7. Just a brief cameo.

The Pharisees send temple guards to go arrest Jesus and bring Him in for questioning. The temple guards don’t do their job. They supposed to take Jesus captive, but instead they get captivated by Jesus’ teaching, and they find no reason to carry through with their orders. They come back without Jesus in hand-cuffs and get chewed out for their insolence. It was right then that Nicodemus speaks up and says,

Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?

Very interesting. In some round-about way, Nicodemus seems to be sticking up for Jesus.

Makes you wonder what sort of spiritual journey he’s been on between John 3 and John 7. This sounds like a man whose heart is changing. Do we sense a glimmer of discipleship, a hint of faith in this question he asks? Is Nicodemus slowly but surely coming out of the dark? Were Jesus’ former words about being born again starting to make some sense to Him? All that talk about being born again—Nicodemus thought then that Jesus was talking biology, but could it be that those words have been working on Nicodemus, coaxing him to grow, to come to life, to be born just like Jesus said?

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The third and final time Nicodemus is mentioned, He’s standing next to his friend, Joseph of Arimathea, at the base of the cross—Jesus still hanging from it, his dead body limp. Nicodemus is holding 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes and spices in his arms. The two men take Jesus’ body down from his cross, they embalm it, they wrap it in strips of linen, and then they bury Jesus in a garden tomb.

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Here in John chapter 3, Jesus wasn’t trying to confound Nicodemus’ mind; He was trying to jumpstart his heart.

We see no immediate signs of it here, but it happened. Gradually. Slowly but surely, Nicodemus woke up to God alive. He woke up from the darkness of that covered his tracks back and forth to Jesus that first night. He woke up slowly but surely from the slumber of his dead, Pharisaical, crusty religion—the one that diluted God down to facts and rules, religious laws and head-knowledge. His heart had been jumpstarted—coaxed alive by Jesus. It took some time, but it happened.

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Friends, could the same be true for us? Can we spend this week—this Holy Week—walking closer and closer to Jesus? Just like Nicodemus can we move from out of the darkness that keeps our life with Jesus a secret we thing we keep to ourselves, and take the same steps Nicodemus took: steps out of the dark and toward the Cross of Christ?

Can we too, walk out into the daylight where everyone can see us as He walks His way toward the cross this week? Can we also tend to Jesus as he hangs there on that tree? Can we, just like Nicodemus, wake up to Jesus this Holy Week—can we become cross-alive? God-alive?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

A Christian’s Footing

A sermon based on Psalm 31 and Matthew 7:21-29 preached on April 2nd, 2017

Sermon audio

Throughout Lent, we’ve been traveling our way through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s sketch of the countercultural ways of discipleship. Jesus himself teaches His people how to follow Him.

All of the Sermon on the Mount adds up to create one picture, one snapshot. This is our value-system, our rule of life, our compass pointing the way in a world that wants to give us a million different ways to walk. All these words add up to a direction-giving, disciple-making manifesto. If you want to know what Jesus is up to, come back to these words. If you’re ever unsure what the heart of God looks like, cares about, is filled with, what God yearns for, come back here to these 3 chapters of Matthew’s gospel. But don’t simply read them. The Sermon on the Mount is not a constitution, it’s not a set of guidelines; it’s not a rulebook or an owner’s manual. It is a Way to walk. A way to talk, and live, and breathe. A way to hear and see. Watch and discern everything. If we treat what we’ve heard over the course of this Lenten season as merely sound advice that we may or may not take, depending upon our circumstances, then we’ve misheard Jesus. Jesus doesn’t come to us as just another voice among many other voices, with suggestions about how to get along day by day. Discipleship is a take it or leave it affair. It’s all or nothing. Jesus is the Way, and with Him, there is no halfway.

We should confess that many of us get really uncomfortable with that idea. That “all or nothing, take it or leave it” language from the Gospel. Jesus saves the hardest part of His message for last. This idea that maybe one day we might call Jesus Lord and His reply will be,

I’m sorry, do I know you?

That’s terrifying.

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All the way through this Lenten season, coming back again and again to the next parts of this Sermon on the Mount, I tried to keep in mind who Jesus is teaching these words to. He’s talking to His disciples. These words are for them. For us.

I imagine that as Jesus made his way through this 8-minute long sermon, folks gathered around Him and His circle of 12. Maybe they were interested to some degree or another in the ideas that He had about the way the world works. Maybe they stood within earshot of Jesus and leaned in a bit to hear Him a little better.

I can picture a crowd slowly gathering around. Maybe some of them paced along the periphery, too scared to come any closer. The closer an onlooker came, the easier others might mistake them as one of His disciples, so, for the timid, it was best to keep some distance, to appear nonchalant; yes, interested and curious, but not too interested or curious. Let’s just play the casual observer. One can hear or even consider what Jesus has to say and still walk away. One can even agree with what Jesus has to say, ponder all these things in their minds, thinking He makes some good points, but still remain uncommitted.

Good ideas, Jesus! Maybe you should write an opinion piece with all these ideas of yours and put it in the local section of tomorrow’s Galilee Times.

But the disciples weren’t listening from the periphery. The disciples were gathered in a tight bunch, circled around Jesus as he told them all of these things.

Try to put yourself in their position. Try to imagine Jesus staring straight into your eyes as He talks to you about murder, adultery, divorce, loving your enemies, judging others, asking, seeking, knocking. What would you be thinking? How would you feel by the end of it all? Would you wonder if Jesus was giving you advice or simply passing along some new ideas that came to Him. Was He expecting you to take all of this on and live in these ways? No, that can’t be. It all sounds too hard! Would you think it was all too much?

Slow down, Jesus, I need time to digest some of this!

What if being one of Jesus’ disciples meant you and I had to accomplish all of this—to stick to this narrow path that we heard about last week? Imagine how glazed over the disciples’ eyes were getting. They had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. Do we even? And if all these things He’s had to say wasn’t enough to knock you over with a feather, certainly the ending is:

Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a man who builds his life on unsteady ground.

How high is this hurdle, Jesus! And who could ever jump over it! Who stands a chance here?!

I wonder if the disciples were thinking something like that.

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Two wonderful families build two houses. They build them out of the same material. Good solid wood. Only the best will do. They go down the local Home Depot: Galilee’s Home Improvement Warehouse. Then they go down to the local blacksmith and with the same exact amount of money, they buy all the nails they need—really solid ones. They draw up plans, they learn them inside and out—pored over the blueprints more times than they can count.

Their houses are going to be the best on the block! These two families, they’re all really hard workers. They’re ready to pour their blood, sweat, and tears into this project. Both see their houses as lifetime investments, and they have made all the right choices along the way. But, no matter how costly or well-built a house may be, it can never out-last its foundation. If the foundation gives way, the house will give way right along with it.

One family takes that into consideration; sadly, the other does not. That’s the parable Jesus tells. It doesn’t matter how well you have it together. All of it will crumble into a pile of splinters if it’s not founded upon something solid underneath. Something sound. Strong. Storm-proof.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes said of the Sermon on the Mount:

Most people are willing to take these words as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.

It’s not what’s over your head that counts. What matters most is what’s under you. The exact wrong way to respond to Jesus’s words in Matthew chapters 5 through 7 is to lift them up and worship them. To gaze up at them once in a while, to make some sort of symbol out of them by which we define ourselves. That’s not discipleship; that’s mere observance. It might even be idolatry. Jesus’ words frozen into a collection of principles we simply align ourselves with, gather ourselves under, pledge our allegiance to with hands over our hearts as we do so. Jesus, as well as His sermon, is no emblem.

The only right way to respond to the Sermon on the Mount is to live into it. To jump inside of it. To let it carry you. Animate you.  Jesus as well as all the words He says are the Word of the living, breathing God who is here to steer you and I in all our directions. The right response to Jesus isn’t observance; it’s movement. Let Jesus be the power underneath your feet. Allow Jesus as well as His words to take you places.

If we approach the Sermon on the Mount the first way Holmes suggests: as our flag, we assume control over Jesus, continuing to live our lives in first place, in all the ways we would like. But, if we let Jesus’ words become the rudder by which to steer, then we give up control.  The power won’t be ours anymore, it will come instead from something underneath us, something bigger that moves us. Jesus, our direction-giver. Someone who guides us. The One under us that carries us in the Jesus Way.

If we look at the Sermon on the Mount as a list of things to pay attention to, Jesus remains an icon like a flag; some self-righteous statement we make; some personal slogan of ours. But Jesus doesn’t belong on top of a flag pole, as a word on a bumper sticker or as something shouted into a megaphone. Jesus isn’t a position we take. We don’t use Jesus. Jesus uses us. Jesus is a moving, living breathing person who has the power to breathe new life into us.  And discipleship is a choice we make each and everyday to have Jesus be the very bedrock that upholds, giving shape and integrity to everything we are, do, and say. That’s the life of discipleship. It’s a life where we come in second place, because Jesus always claims first place.

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The word obedience comes to us from three different languages: Middle English, old French, and Latin. It literally means to hear in the direction of. By now, we’ve figured out that the Sermon on the Mount is a direction-giving message from a direction-giving Messiah.

Having faith in Jesus isn’t about standing in one position and declaring it as the right place to establish ourselves. It’s a movement forward. If we think being Christian is a place to plant ourselves, we will quickly find ourselves alone. Jesus is a mover, and the Way of Jesus is a chasing after Him in every aspect of our lives. As Presbyterian Pastor, Eugene Peterson, puts it, discipleship isn’t about building monuments. It’s about leaving footprints. Discipleship is a travel song we sing to give witness to our God along our way.

Poet William Faulker once said something like that. The way of Jesus, he said, is not filled with monuments but with footprints. A monument says, “At least I got this far,” while a footprint says, “This is where I was when I moved again.”

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All foundations sink after a while. All ground gives way. That’s why we build our traveling faith upon Jesus—the Rock that’s never in one place but also never fails, never gives way.

May we build ourselves upon this Jesus, so that our journey will be carved along pathways made strong and sure by the One who always goes before us. And because this pathway is steep and demanding, because it asks us to hand over every bit of who we are, may God be gracious and merciful as we stumble along. And when our legs shake and the ground gives way, may God become our help. May God be our solid footing.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

A Christian’s Way

A sermon based on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Matthew 7:13-20 preached March 26th, 2017

Sermon audio

I learned a new word yesterday: Funambulist.

A man named Jean-Francios Gravelet, born in 1825, was perhaps the greatest of them: he was a tight-rope walker. His most spectacular feat was walking a three-inch thick tightrope across a 1,000-foot chasm over Niagara Falls.

Newspapers from all across the country followed him to the Falls that day—most of them speculating how bad his inevitable plunge into the raging water would be. It was a vertical drop of 165 feet. Right before he began his 1,000-foot dare-devil walk, he offered to carry a volunteer over on his back. Surprisingly, no one took him up on it.

He made it across. The walk took him a little over 17 minutes. He stopped to rest at one point. He also decided it would be fun to stand on one leg for a bit, which drew cheers from the gathered crowd. It was almost as if he was playing around out there. Loving every minute of it. Like what he was doing wasn’t a matter of life and death, but more like child’s play. As he was planning his walk, he said once that he considered it an easy task. By all accounts, he made it look easy, too.

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As we make our way through Matthew chapter 7, the final chapter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, let’s not forget where we started.

That first step we took, those first words we heard from Jesus. The Beatitudes, that series of blesseds, spell out a decisively new way of walking. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is a fleshing out of the bones that are the Beatitudes. Since we’re weeks and weeks along now, with only the closing words left to go, it would be very easy for us to divorce these words about wide and narrow gates, false prophets, and good and bad fruit from good and bad trees, from the very first words of the Sermon, the ones about meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and how we should be glad when the rest of the world persecutes and insults us for not living in the world’s ways.

We started our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount on a fifth Sunday. We were gathered in the Chapel that morning, and we went from one Beatitude to the next. And when we got to that last one: Blessed are you who are insulted and persecuted, I said that this last beatitude doesn’t really apply to us because we don’t suffer persecution for our faith. But, I think I might want to change my mind. Or at least respond to it in a more nuanced way.

It’s easy being Christian in America. The word not only doesn’t get any of us in trouble. It actually makes our way easier. We trust a Christian. All a politician needs to do is call them self a Christian, and all the sudden we stop asking hard questions about what they believe and how and why it matters to them. Being a Christian is easy. But following Jesus—that another matter entirely.

We live in a time when being a Christian and following Jesus are two different things. Anybody can call themselves whatever they want, but like Jesus declares in another translation of this passage, even wolves can dress themselves up in sheep costumes. You can dress yourself up as a healthy tree, but it’s the quality of the fruit you bear that will give you away. Calling ourselves Christians—that’s easy. Following Jesus is hard.

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Some people talk about a flash moment in their lives when all the sudden they were saved. A moment when time split into two—before Christ and after Christ. There’s nothing particularly wrong with a conversion like this. I have a story that goes a bit like that. Maybe you do, too. But if these words from Jesus have anything to do with it, a moment is not what matters. There may or may not be a moment in your life when you became Christian, but these words from the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount put much more emphasis on what happens after that. How we follow is much more important to Jesus than anything we call ourselves.

Following Jesus isn’t a one-time choice. It isn’t an event. It’s a movement along a path. It’s a step forward, and then another, and then a million more after that. And each step is a choice—a choice about how we will walk through this world, this life, this hour, this minute. It’s a call to look at the right things while we take this journey. A choice about what we will carry in our hearts, in our minds, in our mouths along the way. The words we use, we direction we move. And at the heart of this journey, this constant following after Jesus, step by step, is holy discernment. This is what separates followers of Jesus from those who merely call themselves Christians and leave it at that.

Being Christian takes a decal for the back of your car. Following Jesus takes discernment. The way of discipleship—the Jesus Way—is narrow. It’s a 1,000 foot walk across a tightrope. Every step a measured one, a prayer-filled one. According to Jesus, the Way isn’t safe. It’ll be treacherous, and hard, and confounding. You might lose your balance and fall down and have to get back up again, but maybe falling is exactly how you know you’re on it—because walking this Way is not easy.

If Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as He calls Himself in another part of scripture, and if the Way is narrow, then it cannot be up to us to walk it. If we choose to give ourselves to the Way—a way of speaking and thinking, imagining and praying—we cannot follow Jesus any which way we like. There are many ways to walk these days. Lots of paths to give ourselves to. Is the route we take, the way we talk, the way we treat each other—the way we do everything—is it congruent with the Way of Jesus?

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Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the bible. All thirty chapters of it is Moses, Israel’s leader, preaching his last sermon to his people.

Moses brought them out from the way of slavery in Egypt and then through the desert, and now to the Promised Land. Their way had been difficult. At many moments, the Israelites—thirsty, hungry, and tired—wanted to give up, go back to Egypt, willingly give themselves back to the way of slavery. If it hadn’t been for Moses, they might have done so. Deuteronomy is Moses’s last moments with his people. His time has come to an end. He will ascend a mountain, look out at the vista of the Land God has promised, and die. But before that, Moses reiterates the Way. He says to the Israelites,

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. Choose.

Choose not once, but over and over again. If your hearts turn away, if you leave the narrow Way, destruction is certain. So, pick your way carefully.

The wide way, according to Moses, is a way filled with death and curses, but it’s more enticing, and it’s certainly easier to walk. But don’t do it. You might not get lost, but you’ll certainly lose yourselves in it. Instead, hold fast to God. Love the Lord your God. Listen to His voice. Hold on for dear life to the narrow way. Prayerfully discern each and every step forward.

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Friends, we can find salvation anywhere. It’s offered to us a million times a day in a million different ways. One thousand new religions bloom every day. But all of them are a part of the wide way—the way leading to destruction. If we give ourselves to those ways, those voices, we will quickly get lost, but the dangerous thing is we’ll never know we’re lost. We might even think we’re found. That we’ve figured out salvation. But really, we’ll be far from it.

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So, how do we know where we are? Which way is the right way—the narrow way—and how do we find it? For that, we should turn to 1 John chapter 4.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and even now is already in the world.

The author of 1 John goes on to say that most people speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them, and they listen to the world. This is the wide way.

Test each and every spirit, discern everything you hear, everything you say, everything others say and do—compare it to the Way of Jesus. Hold it up to the Way of Jesus, and if it doesn’t fit, if it isn’t cross-shaped, reject it. Run far away from it. Do not give yourselves to it. Not only will it be a waste of your time; it will also lie to you, unravel you, bully you into conforming to its ways. And its ways may be far different than the Way of Jesus.

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The way of Jesus has certain qualities to it. We need to know those qualities in order to discern our way—to test the spirits.

The litmus test to it all is the Cross. The cross is the way of Jesus We are to walk the way of the cross. This is the Way of death that leads to real life. Death to self leads to life in Christ. It’s completely counter-cultural and lop-sided, but the Way of Jesus is the way of servanthood and humility, that will lead us to true freedom. Freedom in Christ.

Try convincing your next-door neighbor of that one!

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The truth is we will constantly mistake the wide way for the narrow way—life on our terms is much easier than life on God’s terms.

But for every one of our missteps on this high wire act of walking the Way, may God’s grace be there like a net below us to catch us, make the landing a soft one, and set us back on the Jesus Way.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Who Are You Expecting?

A sermon based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11 preached on December 11th, 2016

On the cover of our bulletin this morning, there is a collage of many different renderings of Jesus that have come from many different countries and many different times.

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You might recognize some of these renderings. There’s a few from 8th Century Coptic artists, some from the European Renaissance (those are the ones with a pasty-white Jesus). There are some from Africa.

The most recent of renderings comes from the movie Dogma, that’s the one on the top line, second in from the right. The movie refers to that depiction as Buddy Jesus. The rendering on the bottom left corner is a white English Jesus from the movie Jesus of Nazareth. And in the middle row, second in from the right, is an archeologist’s computer rendering of the historical Jesus—what he most likely looked like: dark olive skin, black hair with tight curls, a prominent jaw line and bulbous nose. Certainly, for every one of these depictions of Jesus, we could find thousands more that imagine someone completely different looking. I bet we all could take a guess about where in the world each of these interpretations of Jesus came from—what the artist looked like.

See, whether we’re artists or not, we all like to paint Jesus in our own image. We all have a notion of who He was and is now—and that notion is an amalgamation of many different things: the Jesus our parents prayed to, what we’ve heard in church from one Sunday to the next and one year to the next, those in our lives who have taught us about Jesus and reflected His care through their presence in our lives. The images thrown at us about Jesus by voices in our culture—and it doesn’t much matter whether those images are accurate or completely off the mark, they still stick. Sometimes we’d be much happier with a version of Jesus that was something other than the Christ we encounter in the Gospel.

There’s a statue of Jesus on the cross in South Korea that’s become quite the internet sensation.

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He’s got muscles for miles. Twenty-four-pack abs, colossal shoulders. His upper arms are bigger than my waist.

This version of Jesus drank a protein shake at the Last Supper. His face is distorted in a wince—not one that portrays the pain of crucifixion, but one that makes it seem like he’s about to break the cross He’s hung on into splinters by just the sheer force of his strength. Why portray Jesus in such an absurd way? What was this South Korean sculptor thinking? I wonder if that’s the sort of Jesus that gains his attention and adoration: Jesus as Mr. Universe?

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Maybe if we had our way, we’d all worship the Jesus that we want rather than the Jesus we were given. That’s where we find John the Baptist in our passage this morning—at a crisis of faith, really. A cross roads. In this moment, behind the bars of a prison cell, John paces back and forth with anxiety—his mind full of questions. John has been arrested for treason—for preaching a doctrine that threatens the reign and power of both the Jewish and the Roman empires.

John is used to being in trouble. From the very first moment he began baptizing in the Jordan River, he’s been in confrontation with the powerbrokers of his day. This may not even be the first time he’s been thrown in jail. But this time—this imprisonment is different. John has always been a fireball of a prophet. A leader the people flocked to because there was never an ounce of doubt or uncertainty in him. His voice never shook. He always stood tall and confident, and that’s what drew the thousands to his side. But prison does funny things to a man. The silence of a cell haunted John the Baptist. Thoughts arose inside of his head that began to plague him with doubts. The metal of those bars not only held his body, it also held captive his Spirit.

John’s followers came often to visit. They reported to him all that was happening on the outside. They must have brought a few reports about Jesus—what he was up to, what he was saying, doing. And John was concerned. This Jesus was supposed to be the Long-Awaited One—the Messiah who would rise up against the powerful people of the day.

Jesus, if He is indeed the kind of Messiah John expected him to be, was to confront the Empires in place, to raise up a rebellion among His people—the forgotten and dismissed among Him, and topple all of it with the power of God. That’s what everyone expected out of the coming Messiah. A big, broad-shouldered fighter who would gather an army of discontents together. They would depose every Emperor and every King in their wake until the government belonged not to the rich and haughty, but to the commoner. So far, Jesus wasn’t fitting the bill.

John was a wrecking ball of a man; Jesus… well, He just wasn’t. The words Jesus preached were much too soft. His eyes too compassionate. His physical presence not dominating enough. He didn’t intimidate. Left to his own thoughts, John wondered—did he get this wrong? He was so sure Jesus was the One that he gave his entire life to clearing a way for Him. Was it all a waste? A hoax? Is this the way a Savior acts?!

John sends word by his disciples a question for Jesus. And it’s the most anxious and heartbreaking question in all of scripture:

Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect another?

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Friends. this is the question that haunts all of us. John was the first to ask it, but how many thousands or millions throughout history have had the same question, maybe not ever asked aloud, but rattling like a pinball way down in the depths of their hearts and minds.

Are you the One who is to come, or should we expected another? Is this a Messiah I can live with?

And let’s look at how Jesus responds. Verses 4-6:

The blind see, the crippled walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised to life. The poor are comforted with Good News.

What kind of answer is that?! Those are all excellent things, Jesus, but what do they have to do with anything! John the Baptist, in the cold and echo of his prison cell, must answer his own question because Jesus refuses to. Jesus, in his trademark clever way, turns John’s question right back at him, forcing him to discern all these things for himself.

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We know the feeling. Advent is a time packed tight with these sorts of questions, these longing, searching, soul-shaking questions. Jesus, who are you really? Why have you come? What did you accomplish, Jesus? Anything? What are you still accomplishing? Isn’t the world just as dark as it’s ever been? Maybe even getting darker by the day?What gives!?

And who am I, Jesus? We ask that, too, don’t we? Just like John the Baptist must have. What am I for? What’s my purpose? All these questions, you see, are tied together. If we don’t know who Jesus is, we don’t know who we are.

Whether he knew it or not, all those times when John the Baptist looked Jesus in the eyes, he was staring into the very face of God his Creator—the One who shaped him and every one of us into our being. Advent is a time of Divine encounter. A time to search our identity, every aspect of our lives, inside and out. To ask these questions and search for these answers.

God, who are you, really? And, who am I? The answer to that second question depends on the answer to the first. We do not look to ourselves to find out who God is. That’s backwards. We don’t get to shape Jesus in our own image! That’s the mistake John the Baptist made. It’s the mistake we all make, and we make it all the time. If we want to do this right, we start with Jesus, and from careful focus on who He is, we find out who we are!

God, who are you, really? And in light of who you are, who am I?

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There was another man thrown behind bars who asked himself such questions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. Hitler’s dictatorship demanded the public’s unconditional obedience, and it tolerated no criticism or dissent. All organizations and individuals refusing to conform with Nazi ideologies were destroyed. Even Christian churches openly supported Hitler’s regime. But not Bonhoeffer. He took to the radio and spoke against the rise of the Nazi Party. He was arrested and held captive for his public dissent. It was in prison where he, like John the Baptist, was forced to look deeply inside of himself. Ask all those haunting questions the busyness of our lives does a great job of distracting us from.

Bonhoeffer kept a diary while he was imprisoned. He wrote letters to his wife. Prayers and papers and poems. One of his poems, entitled Who Am I? is regarded his best, certainly his most famous. He wrote it late in his imprisonment, knowing he would be executed by the Nazis.

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectations of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

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Bonhoeffer achieved a strange victory, one not easily recognized by the world’s standards. John the Baptist would not escape death either. Jesus did not, either through brute force or the through the power God within Him, reduce the cross to a pile of splinters. In his own strange victory, he died upon it instead. Jesus refuses to be whoever we want him to be. Instead, this Advent, we ready ourselves to be reshaped by Him.

Who are you expecting this Christmas?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Touchdown Jesus

A sermon based on Psalm 25:1-10 and Philippians 2:1-13 preached on October 16th, 2016

Sermon audio

There’s a reason why today’s Super Bowls have been played either in warm weather climates or indoor stadiums. Perhaps the best reason took place on December 31st, 1967. That was the day of the NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The temperature in Green Bay, Wisconsin that New Year’s Eve was 16 degrees below zero. The wind chill made it feel like minus 57. It’s still the coldest football game on record. Players said it felt like they were playing in a meat locker.

After the first play, a recovered fumble, the referee blew his whistle and the metal stuck to his lip. He had to rip it off his mouth. His lip started bleeding and the blood immediately froze. From that moment, not another whistle was used in that game. If you care to, you can watch video of the game on YouTube. You’ll see players sliding out of bounds, skidding 20 feet over top of icy grass and rock solid earth. Players were dropping to the ground like the game was being played on a hockey rink.

In temperatures like that that, every hit stings. Your hands and your feet don’t even feel like they’re yours, but for those players that day, they had to work anyway. So they dug down deep and gave it everything they had. With time running out, the Packers put together a drive that ended with quarterback Bart Starr diving headfirst into a pile of Cowboys and over the goal line to score the game-ending winning touchdown.

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In the fullness of time, God took His first careful steps upon the earth. This is the mystery and the miracle that we profess: That in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s bare feet touched ground, that He dove headfirst into the pile of humanity.

In all other religions, God is that Holy Other, the One who is entirely well past anything anyone could ever think of or imagine. Completely unknowable and incomprehensible. But we who call ourselves Christians believe something different. We believe that God was one of us. We believe that God has a face. Eyes we could peer into. A voice we could hear with our own ears as easily as you and I can hear one another. That, in Jesus Christ, God came close and became acquainted with the muck and the mire of our everyday, earthbound existence. This is what Paul declares, when he shares with the believers in Philippi that Jesus emptied himself. What he means is that Jesus forsook his safe position at the right side of God—the one he’s had since the very beginning of creation—that Jesus chose for our sake to abandon His throne and touch down to earth—to become one of us. To share in this dirty, earthbound existence of ours.

Touchdown Jesus.

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But the story of Jesus’ incarnation is really not so much about what God gave up to become one of us. It’s really more about what He took on. He took on flesh. He took on sin. He took on humanity. True humanity. When we look at Jesus, we see the face of God, but not only that. We also see what true humanity looks like. God is the most human of us all—and Jesus, who is God with skin on, is the most human being who has ever lived.

According to God, human beings are at their best when they reflect Him, and Jesus spent every second of His earthly existence reflecting God because by His perfect human nature, Jesus gave Himself over to a life of service, truth, humility. By His every word and action, Jesus reflected the glory of God to us by showing how big God’s love really is, and how far God is willing to go to show us how fully we are loved. With who He is and all of what He does, Jesus is the Imago Dei, the very image of God, and therefore the truest human, the most humane of all. And from the moment of his first touch-down in a manger in Bethlehem 2,020 years ago right on up to now, Jesus has invited all of us to reflect the Imago Dei, the image of Christ in our own lives—to slowly but surely become human, to practice kindness and compassion. To take up a life of service and truth and humility that mirrors (however dimly) the image of Christ, who is the most human being who has ever lived.

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In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, he encourages that community to practice being church. If we take Paul at his word, being church happens when people come together and are of the same mind, have the same love, and are in full accord with one another. Now, this doesn’t mean that Paul is suggesting that Christians should all believe the same things, agree on every issue out there, or that every church should strive to be ideologically identical. Far from it. This isn’t a plea for cookie-cutter Christianity. Rather, Paul coaxes us all to adopt a similar attitude, the attitude of Christ. To orient ourselves in the same direction. To face towards Jesus, and to nurture within our community a willingness to bear one another’s burdens, encourage each other, journey along the way beside each other, share in mutual love and heartfelt affection, and to live in right relationship. In short, to practice being church with and for one another, by reflecting Jesus in everything we say, think, and do. And the hope is, if we’re all willing to take up that burden, to give ourselves fully to that project, God will be at work here and we will see our salvation being worked out day by day, week by week, year by year. Because a community that shows Christ to each other has Christ at its center.

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All this, I hope you know, is called stewardship. Stewardship is ultimately about adopting a Christlike attitude. It’s about living our way into the Way of Jesus. Just as Jesus did nothing from selfish ambition, we who are His church live our way into the right practice of stewardship by taking up that same selfless attitude. God’s idea of good stewardship happens when each and every one of us make it our primary vocation to reflect the Imago Dei, the image of Christ, with, for and to one another, and then out into the world.

We often think of stewardship in private ways, especially when it comes to time and money. We’re not accustomed to other folks telling us how we should spend our time and our money. And anybody who challenges our choices in these matters is rude, and more than likely, crossing a boundary. If we had our way, we’d like to keep both how we spend our money and how we spend our time private matters. That’s at least what the world says. It’s no business of yours. But we who gather as Church believe something different.

To paraphrase Martin Luther, our nature is so deeply curved in on ourselves that it not only bends the gifts of God inward toward ourselves, but also it fails to realize that we seek all things, even God, for own sake. As we gather together as Church, part of what we do is admit to one another and to God how deeply curved in toward ourselves we are, how reluctant we are to share these inward parts of ourselves with each other. We’re here as church to encourage one another, to help each other regain and reclaim our human shape—to take on the shape of Christ, the most human being there ever was. And that happens when we take the chance to curve our lives outward, so that we can begin reflecting and projecting the Good News of the Gospel out into the world. Mirrors curved inward reflect their images upside down. Paul writes,

Do nothing from selfish ambition…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Mirrors curved outward reflect their images right-side up. That’s the character of Christ and the shape of stewardship! Curved outward. How we spend our time and our money are biblical issues.

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We best reflect the image of the God whose feet touched down to earth by hitting the turf ourselves. Lives curved outward in stewardship are lives given in service to one another, to neighbors, and to community. That’s why we group Stewardship and Mission together into one committee here at Kuhn Memorial. A Church curved outward in stewardship is a church sent outward in mission!

When we give ourselves in mission to our neighbors and to our community, we make footprints upon the earth just like God has done in Jesus Christ. We’re taking the ever-outward lunge forward that our forever-outward-lunging God takes. When we are faithful, we make our way headfirst into humanity. When we do that we reflect the image of our touchdown Jesus. Whenever we lunge forward like that, putting foot to pavement; whenever we walk closer to be with and assist our neighbors in mission, our presence with them and care for them thaws out the frozen ground beneath their feet, so when a brother or sister among us falls down on hard times, the fall doesn’t hurt so bad.

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This Stewardship season, one question to ask ourselves is “Can the world see Jesus is us?” How can we better practice mutual love, heartfelt affection, and right relationship? We do it by projecting and reflecting the Imago Dei, the image of Christ, into each and every one of our relationships. We do it by trading in selfish ambition for the interests of others. We do it by encouraging one another in the faith and regarding others as better than ourselves. We do it by celebrating and paying attention to how God is at work in each and every one of us. In short, we do it by dedicating ourselves to the task of stewardship.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.