Tag Archives: outreach

The Foolish Message

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When I was in seminary I enjoyed the deep discussions we got to have, the ways we examined the scriptures and the ways we were trained to ask questions. One concept that fascinated me is the idea of the power of stories, not just the story of God’s interaction with history in the bible, but the stories of the early church, the stories of the reformers and others who have gone before us, and the power that comes from the way we frame our own stories and align the arc of our lives with the logos word of God in Jesus. We talked about the power of our narratives and the effects of connecting ourselves to the story that God is unfolding in the world. A narrative is simply another way of saying the way a story unfolds, and the meta-narrative is the story behind the story that frames all the stories we hear. Today’s scripture is about one of the most significant Christian meta-narratives and has some very important insights for us as a way to look at the bible and how we might be called to embody the good news of redemption and true freedom in Jesus. It has been a while since we took a break from this series for advent, so let me provide a little context again for today’s text. Peter was a disciple of Jesus who tended to speak first and think second. You never had to wonder about what Peter’s opinion was because he shared it frequently. Peter was a fisherman by trade and frankly wasn’t the greatest fisherman ever. When Jesus called him to follow he did, no questions asked, he dropped everything and followed. Peter was also pretty observant. He was the first disciple to really believe that Jesus was the messiah, even though he had a ton of misconceptions about what that actually meant. Peter became one of the pillars of the early Christian community, eventually leading the church in Rome where according to the stories of the church he was crucified upside-down. It is thought that the letter of first Peter was written towards the end of his life in an attempt to pass down some of the more important lessons of faith from Peter’s experience. I will read verses 4-9 of 1 Peter chapter 2 and we will focus on verses 6-9.

4 Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. 5Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. 6For it says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, See here—I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; Whoever depends upon Him will never be disgraced.* 7To you who believe and depend on Him, He is precious; but to you who don’t, remember the words of the psalmist: The stone that the builders rejected has been laid as the cornerstone—the very stone that holds together the entire foundation,* 8and of Isaiah: A stone that blocks their way, a rock that trips them.* They stumble because they don’t follow the word of God, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. 1 Peter 2:4-9 The Voice

We speak often of God’s ways not being our ways, but we often don’t grasp how truly different his ways are. In fact it might even be more accurate to say that God’s ways are the exact opposite of the way the value systems of this world tell us to operate. In fact God’s priorities and values are foolishness to the ways the culture of this world measure value. This is why God’s message of redemption is so hard for people to accept. We don’t want to look up at the expanse of the starry sky to see how utterly insignificant we are. Quite often we don’t want to look inside and start digging through the muck that has collected in our souls to see how our vision is distorted by values not rooted in God. Today I want us to see what we can learn from the “foolishness” of God, which happens to be exponentially wiser than the highest wisdom produced by any human ever to walk this earth.

The first element of the meta-narrative is that the choice of foundation belongs to God. Jesus was born into the slave class, not the ruling class. Those whom the culture of Jesus’ time deemed more valuable were those with power and authority. That God would choose to come as the lowest class as one of the most vulnerable must inform our understanding of how God’s kingdom operates. We have to acknowledge that it does indeed seem foolish that the folks on the bottom have a special place in God’s heart. In fact throughout the scripture God most often chooses to use those who might best be described as bumbling incompetents, losers, victims, powerless, weak, and broken to advance his kingdom and hold up the standards of his kingdom. Doesn’t God know how crazy that is? But God promises that those who depend on Him will not be disgraced. In the introduction to his book Genuine Christianity, Ron Sider relates how absurd God’s plan looks to others in a fictional conversation between Jesus and the Angel Gabriel after Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

“Well, how did it go?” Gabriel asks Jesus. “Did you complete your mission and save the world?” “Well, yes and no,” Jesus replies. I modeled a godly life for about thirty years. I preached to a few thousand Jews in one corner of the Roman Empire. I died for the sins of the world and promised that those who believe in me will live forever. And I burst from the tomb on the third day to show my circle of 120 frightened followers that my life and story are God’s way to save the whole world. Then I gave the Holy Spirit to those 120 and left them to finish the task.” “You mean,” Gabriel asks in amazement, “your whole plan to save the world depends on that ragtag bunch of fishermen, ex-prostitutes and tax collectors?” “That’s right,” Jesus replies. “But what if they fail?” Gabriel persists with growing alarm. ”What’s your backup plan?” ”There is no backup plan,” Jesus says quietly. (Sider 1996)

Looking back on the last 2000 or so years, it is pretty obvious that God’s plan is working out better than anyone could have anticipated, because it brought the good news to people that didn’t have anyone to depend on. These people had no illusions about their value to the society around them, and hearing that God not only valued them but chose them as his agents to bring redemption in the world motivated a movement that outlasted the powerful empire that oppressed it from the beginning. Our narrative is not dependent on us, but instead draws us in to become part of the story of God’s interaction with humanity. To people who are not part of the faith, we are the story, the bible, we are God’s narrative of redemption.

The second element in this foolish meta-narrative is that following Christ’s values will be a stumbling block to systems that operate according to other values. Following Jesus will mean that everyone from religious systems that are operating as commercial enterprises to governments that deny the dignity and value of human life to businesses that view people in terms of financial ability will find us to be a stumbling block. They won’t have any idea how such a ragtag bunch of people could possibly cause them so much difficulty, but as we listen to and obey God’s message we will very simply and quietly find ourselves in the way of business as usual.  This world thrives on treating people as resources to be exploited for personal or corporate profit and we can show people a better way. We can show people that they are valuable not for what they can give or what they can do, or even for having access to the halls of power, but that true worth can only be found in the love of God. The world is constantly trying to manipulate us by telling us how worthless we are unless we fit their mold. For me the message was “You are worthless because you are fat. Why bother to deny it, you just go ahead and eat another bag of Doritos, wash it down with a pint of Haagen Dasz and call it a day.” But that message wasn’t true, and until I could see the lies behind it and depend on God and my community I couldn’t fight it. Jesus embodied that message of value and freedom from lies and his words and example in the scriptures can guide us, but Jesus didn’t only give us words on a page, he gave us the Holy Spirit that we might have the power we need to obey his words and a community of others to hold us accountable to our call.

Let me tell you, I need the Holy Spirit and my faith community in order to follow Jesus. I need to be reminded by my family that I am a living message from God to the world around me. Left to my own devices I fall right in with the value systems of this world, and I bet I am not the only one. This is truly a weak point in our congregation, and it is holding us back from all that God can do through us. Last Sunday I gave the elders a goal. This goal came from careful prayer and consideration of the gifts and talents and most importantly the call found at the end of today’s passage “you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light.” The goal is to grow so deeply as a body that in five years we will need to plant another church. I have set aside time to put together a plan and will have that ready to share with the elders by our next meeting and will soon be approaching some of you to consider leading a home meeting as a place to foster Christian growth and welcome people who might be a little intimidated by coming to a church building into God’s story of redemption. Most importantly I think we are ready. I have heard many people express a desire to commit themselves more deeply to Jesus and spread his word, but aren’t sure quite where to start. I want to let you all know that this questioning and desire has been heard and that I am working diligently to put a plan together to help us live into the mission God has given us to live out and share his message of redemption. At our business meeting next week I will be bringing a slightly different mission statement than the ones I had brought before it says simply that “We are called to live and serve as priests proclaiming the wondrous acts of the One who called us out of inky darkness into shimmering light.” As we enter into our time of open worship remember that this is not the time for announcements or prayer requests, but is a time to listen for the voice of God and share how God is speaking to us, to get God’s input on the message he is calling us to share. In the blue pamphlet in the pews is a flowchart that can help as we discern our leadings to speak in this time. Let us seek God together.

Sider, Ronald J. Genuine Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.

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The Holy Spirit Among Us

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A few years back there was a guy named George who had a problem. George desperately wanted the presence of God in his life and wasn’t sure what was holding him back. He talked to Pastors, Ministers, and Priests. He heard words of judgment that seemed to echo the counsel of Job’s “friends”. He heard words of absolution, saying that it was alright because all were fallen and none were righteous. What he didn’t hear were words that spoke to him, or the condition he found himself in. The words he heard were of no comfort or challenge and eventually he felt that he had to give up on the church. When he finally gave up and cast himself before God in his lament he heard a voice that said to him “There is one, even Christ Jesus who can speak to thy condition.” OK, it was more than a few years ago, that guy named George was George Fox, one of the founders of the Friends movement, and that voice that spoke to him which guided him to Jesus was the Holy Spirit. Very quickly he was drawn to today’s passage, and his understanding of the nature of our relationship with God was molded and formed by the words of Joel as repeated by Peter. Every single human being on Earth has access to the voice of the Holy Spirit pointing them to the truth and to righteousness. Some choose to obey that voice and others do not, but all have access if only they would listen and obey.

When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on Pentecost instruction was given to each on what to say, and everyone who heard the words of the disciples that day heard them in their native tongue, simply because the disciples listened and obeyed.  They were no longer a bunch of people in hiding, coming together to remember their departed friend. They became bold and energized, and they began to speak out. They told the crowds of the resurrection of the Messiah and that God’s kingdom had come. They told the crowds that they can be part of this kingdom if they would turn from the priorities of the world around them, and obey the instruction of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Those who heard probably did a quick look around to see just how many Roman soldiers might be in earshot and were probably thinking something like “If the messiah has come with the kingdom, why are those Romans still here? I don’t see anything different other than a bunch of guys yelling in different languages. Even if they aren’t drunk they must be crazy.” Some others were wondering why a bunch of hicks from the sticks could suddenly speak in all these languages. The mix of confusion and scorn was getting near the boiling point, and at this point some in the crowd were probably edging towards an exit in case the Romans did show up to see what was causing a disturbance.

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ Acts 2:14-21

 

Peter, the fisherman, the guy nicknamed “Rock”, stands up and addresses the crowd with a previously uncharacteristic eloquence. He shares straight from scripture one of the fulfilled promises of what was to come. All flesh now had access to the Spirit of God, without priests, rituals, sacrifices or temples. This would lead to people speaking the words of God and spreading the good news of the kingdom. Before we go on, I want to make sure that a common misconception is cleared up. Throughout the Bible there are many people who are called prophets and for the most part they are not forecasting the future. The future can be an element of prophecy, but from a biblical perspective a prophet is someone who speaks words that come from God. A prophet’s focus is not usually to speak about future events, but to let people know God’s perspective on what is going on now. Everything in the list that Peter runs down are things that have already happened, Peter is reminding the Jews of everything that has happened as a result of the Roman conquest, the Roman suppression of rebellions and the results of Jesus’ death. Now the Holy Spirit had come and those who repent, literally turn away from the direction they were going, and submitted the direction of their lives to obeying the words of Jesus that come from the Holy Spirit they would be saved. Through Jesus work and in obedience to the promised Spirit all people could enter into the promised kingdom of God. Then Peter proclaimed the truth of who Jesus is. One of the truest signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not speaking in tongues, or any of the other gifts, but is a change of agenda for one’s life. If we look at what is going on here in this text and don’t worry about the mechanism that was used, we see a bunch of people suddenly through word and deed proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God. Before Pentecost these guys had repented and accepted Jesus, but they still kept themselves hidden and lived like everyone else, with the same priorities as those around them. Then the Holy Spirit came in and lives began to change. These incredibly ordinary people began to hear what God’s priorities for their lives were and they began to speak and act in accordance with those priorities. Let us not forget that salvation is not the end goal, it is only the starting point. Staying focused on the starting point would be like deciding to go to Multnomah Falls, driving to the parking lot, going to the tunnel entrance that leads you under the highway, looking around and staying right there, and then going home. You could technically say that you had been to Multnomah Falls, but you would have never experienced them.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on all flesh people began to call others to pay attention to and obey that Spirit. When people obeyed, the Good News of the kingdom of God was proclaimed. Lives were saved from the self-centered paths of destruction that direct us when we ignore God’s Spirit. My starting point was a little more than 35 years ago, and I have found that when I am listening to the voice of the Spirit, my life and my priorities are changed. I talk a lot more about the God who calls me out of the priorities of the world, and I grow in my ability to listen and obey. God still changes my priorities and my values, and as I grow in my ability and desire to listen for God’s voice through the Spirit, I change and am transformed even more. The more I am changed and transformed, the more God opens my eyes to the ways He is at work in the world around me, and as I see God at work in people’s lives I can, like Peter and the others that day, speak words that go directly to the heart of who people are and point them to Jesus. Our goal is to continually point to Jesus through our actions and words. Then Jesus can do the hard work of salvation and transformation.

Like my fictional traveler to Multnomah Falls, it is much easier to hang around the entrance, not walk through the unlit tunnel, climb the stairs and see the two falls, follow the path to the bridge, cross the bridge while admiring the awesomeness of God’s creation, then take the steep path with its switchbacks to the top where we can look out from above. The journey we are called to is much harder that the climb to the top of the falls, and it requires us to let go of the priorities of the world around us, to submit to the directions of our king, and to spread the good news of the kingdom all around us. We have a mission, and that mission is not only to get people to the beginning of their journey with God, but to walk beside each other as we journey together, to provide encouragement and resources as needed to help each other take the next step. Jesus says it in this way: “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 To have every part our lives pointing to, representing, and in relationship with the person and character of Jesus can only be done through listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit with humility and an obedient spirit. When Peter quoted this passage from Joel, he was reminding people that God’s desire is that all flesh have immediate and unmediated access to His voice, to experience the presence of God in our lives every hour of every day, and to know God’s will for every situation we encounter. The disciples met in that upper room to come together around God’s will, and that faithfulness was rewarded with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we have that same access to. I hope that we are gathering together with that same motive in mind, to listen to God’s Spirit and obey His voice as we work together to spread His kingdom and His way of being and doing what is right.

During our time of communion in open worship we practice listening together so that we can better hear the voice of the Holy Spirit as we minister through our lives. Take this time to invite the Holy Spirit to speak into your life, and if you do hear something, obey those words and those promptings to point your life towards Jesus.

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This afternoon we have a business meeting and the way we do business is based on this promise that Peter says has been fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit. If during our meeting we are actively listening with an attitude of obedience, we will hear God’s words spoken through us, we will make decisions that come from the desire to spread God’s kingdom, and when we in good conscience obey what we hear, God will work things out for the good of his purposes in our church and in the community God has called it to serve.