Tag Archives: personhood

But Mom, Do I Have To?

I was a little all over the place, but the text has some interesting complexities. See notes below video.

 

From the earliest days of the church there have been many heresies that emphasized the deity of Jesus to the point of denying his humanity and vice versa. Some would ask why this issue of the full humanity and deity of Jesus are important to us today, so I will try to address why this is so important for us today before I begin. In denying the deity of Jesus, we call into question the authority to forgive us and atone for us. In denying the humanity of Jesus we take away the possibility that his teachings can actually be followed by normal human beings.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. John 2:1-12

  • Invited to the party.
  • A chore from Mom and a less than gracious response. HUMANITY!
  • Do whatever He tells you. Good advice for us.
  • Ceremonial washing jars – Using the Holy to aid celebration.
  • The deity of Jesus: displayed.
  • The cultural faux pas of failing to have enough. Poverty leads to ostracism.
  • When Deity and Humanity come together all those at the celebration are blessed, rich and poor alike.
  • There is nothing that compares with what God provides.
  • The disciples believed because they witnessed the full humanity and deity in action on a daily basis.
  • My response to this call to vulnerability is similar to Jesus’. Do I have to get involved in this uncomfortable situation? Yes? I am not ready!
  • I am going to say this now and I hope you believe it: With Jesus in our hearts we are made ready to love as he did, giving up all of the rights and privileges that came from being God so that he could experience what his beloved creation did and redeem us from our essential brokenness.
  • We have been shown the most excellent way, now with the power and grace of God, we can love our neighbors even when we don’t feel ready.
  • I invite you to join me in seeking God during our time of open worship and pray that each of our eyes would be open to the opportunities we have to bring God’s love to boost our neighbors’ joy.
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The Impact of Small Gestures

Sermon notes are below the video.

While preparing for this sermon I sent a question out to my facebook

friends list asking them to share a small gesture that meant a lot to them.

I will read a few of them, and will share the rest at the beginning of open

worship. We often underestimate our impact on other people, and forget

that small acts of recognition can have a much bigger impact than we

expect. In quantum physics and social science this is called the observer

effect and pretty simply put the mere act of observation impacts and

alters the state of what is observed. I will go further and say if

observation has an impact, recognition has an even deeper impact. So,

let us hear from my friends list a couple of small things with a big

impact.

hey…gestures of kindness just flow from my friend Carole

Spencer…It’s like she has a hidden reservoir of kindness…when she

was preparing to move to IN – days before she left she took out

time from her over packed schedule to have lunch with me…a nice

unrushed time together you would never have known what kind of

a time crunch she was under…that’s only one story…she continues,

through small gestures of love and caring to let me know that I am

special and loved…now I am choked up…God bless her

In reference to your small gesture. I was about 19 or 20. We were

not a huggy touchy feely kind of family. I was going through it and

Josh gave me a hug. It was a gesture of brotherly love one I have

not forgotten. Boys are always being told to toughen up. It’s a

shame. We are not allowed to feel the emotion of where we are at.

A friend here who has a small income brought me a candy bar on

my birthday. It made my day.

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip,

he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter,

was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and

told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law,

and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the

son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from

there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When

Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is

an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know

me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you

were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then

Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the

king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I

saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[i] you[j] will see ‘heaven

open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[k] the

Son of Man.” John 1:43-51

1) Finding Philip – what a huge story behind two words.

2) Like last week with Andrew, Philip’s priority was bringing those

he cared about into relationship with the Messiah.

3) Can anything good come from Nazareth? The reputation of the

“wrong side of the tracks.”

4) Where are our Nazareth’s? God intentionally chooses to work in

the places we think can’t possibly be places God could be at work.

5) The fix is: come and see. Not come and do or come and fix, but

come and witness the activity of God.

6) Recognition of what Jesus sees. The power of the words “I see

you.”

7) This small gesture of recognition was not miraculous to Jesus, but

if you are part of a marginalized people under oppressive rule,

maybe recognition feels more miraculous than we might think.

8) In our open worship I would like you to think on small gestures

from others that had a big impact on you and if you feel led, to

share them with us. I will begin by reading off what was shared

with me.

I’ve got a story about a military chaplain who offered me the use of his office – to study or nap – when I needed to get somewhere quiet. I’m trying to figure out how to tell the nutshell version. I’m sure you understand why that’s difficult for me.

I was at my daddy’s funeral, and a man about my age came up to me, cowboy hat in hand and asked me to forgive him for his bullying me in school. How much courage this man had. He knew that he might never see me again and because he had become a Christian, he wanted to make things right. What could I do but hug him? God’s grace is a wonderful thing. Many other people bullied me in school, he is the only one who asked forgiveness.

My husband died and I was walking my dog a couple of days later (more his dog). This guy came up to me who I never met and said that God wanted him to pray for me. He asked my name and told me he would be praying for me. He told me God loves you very much. I thought it was very strange but I needed it really bad!! I never saw him before or after in my neighborhood. Do you think he was an angel? I was very suicidal at the time.

Twelve people from my small group at church showed up at my dad’s home and worked for 2 1/2 hours in 88 degree plus temperatures to help with yard work and such. His neighbors and another really good friend of mine helped out as well. The yard had gotten to the point that was beyond anything I could do by myself. Everyone did it with joy, laughter, dedication and hard work. The result was amazing! They all did it just because – no ulterior motives- they just wanted to help out and do something nice

I was thinking (again) of a small gesture from a stranger that was incredibly meaningful to me. One morning I was taking the kids to school and the youngest was shrieking non-stop (be was on a medication that caused crazy behavioral side-effects). It was so bad that I pulled over and took him out of the car to try and help him calm down. A minute later (he was still screaming), the front door of the house we were parked next to opened, and a woman came out onto the porch and, with absolutely no judgement, asked: “is there anything I can do to help?” I thanked her, and told her no, he just needed some time to collect himself. She nodded, and said “I guess we all have days like that. If you think of anything, just come on up.” Her compassion and kindness for both my 3 year old and for me in that moment were an incredible gift, and helped me to help him. Such a small thing, only words…. Yet three years later I still remember her.

Amy blessed me with flowers before my flight back yo

When I moved to CA 2 good friends came to see me off at the airport which I didn’t expect, and it made it so much better. Made me feel like a real person

I planned a fishing trip a year ago knowing it would be before hay cutting time where I live We had a warmer than usual season and the hay will now be cut while I am gone. Two people volunteered to put the hay up in the barn for me while I am gone and manage the crew needed to do it. I am greatful.

I was sixteen and had reached my full height of five foot eight inches. However I only weighed about 105 pounds, was pale as only a white Oregonian can get and half awake. I was greasy that spring morning and chose to wear baggy army surplus pants with a black sweatshirt. At the time I was attending an alternate high school at the local community college which required a ride of the city bus. Now, before we begin, it needs to be said that I come from a loving, stable, middle class home. Food was in fact available and the whole family sat down every night for home cooked dinner. I just usually opted out of eating most if any of it. As a consequence I slept for 16 hours a day and didn’t get a lot of exercise. I was also into the whole “war orphan” look and carefully cultivated a sad and lost affect. That morning I was feeling very half dead and was curled up in a ball on the bus mostly asleep. A youngish man on the bus leaned over to me and asked hesitantly “Do you…need, um, breakfast?”. This man looked to my 16 year old eyes as “too old to be potential threat” (potential threats were kids my own age who may feel entitled to pester me) which probably meant he was 25-30. I, being half awake, looked up in confusion and said “No? Um, no thank you? What?” to which he looked abashed and said “oh.” The rest of the ride and day commenced without anything interesting happening. But thinking back, I realize what an amazing amount of bravery this took. This young man had to overcome many social barriers to offer me kindness. First he had to overcome the barrier of talking to an underage girl without being thought a predator, he had to talk to a stranger, which just isn’t done in Salem, Oregon, and then he had to talk to what I’m sure appeared to be a homeless teen. Homeless people in this town are regarded as crazy meth addicts who will murder you without the slightest provocation. I really wish I had had the presence of mind to thank him profusely and encourage his future offers of help. I actually did need breakfast that morning, I’m sure I hadn’t eaten a thing in the previous 20 hours, and emotionally was sorely in need of help. So, maybe with the help of the interwebs, I can communicate this message to him, and to others who hesitate about offering food to strange children. Hey guy on the bus, thanks.

I don’t know if I shared this one or not at CPFC, but an incident on a MAX train had a huge impact on me. There was a young homeless couple a couple seats ahead of where I was standing as we crossed the steel bridge into Portland. They were discussing where they would spend the night and where they might find something to eat. I was standing there trying to decide if I should pull some cash out of my wallet and give it to them when a young man, also homeless but a little better equipped, stepped up and acted. He put his duffel bag down on the floor and zipped it open to reveal a couple dozen cans and other packages of food. He said to them, “Here! Take what you need. It’s not mine. It belongs to Jesus.” He didn’t hesitate and wonder about the right thing to do. He just acted on what was in his heart. And what was obviously there was Jesus Christ’s admonition to love God and love your neighbor. I’ve since come to understand this lesson biblically. Jeremiah 31:31-34 has this to say: “31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]” declares the Lord. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.” This says to me that after the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant God has put His law on our hearts. He has informed our consciences as to what is right and what is not. Many people now use the letter of the Law to justify ignoring what their consciences tell them is right. They argue that the Holy Spirit cannot contradict the Law. What they are really trying to say is that they can ignore the Holy Spirit if it contradicts their comfortable, human interpretation of the law. In the incident above, I should have simply obeyed my conscience without thinking through all of the ramifications and possible requirements. When I hesitated, a homeless young man stepped up and taught me a lesson.

 

First Things First

This sermon was inspired by the following notes.

In our lives, we have many things surrounding us attempting to claim a higher position on our priority list. The hardest decisions in our lives tend to not be between good and evil, but between competing “good” things. Often we make choices and wonder if we chose the right good thing to take precedence. The difficulty for us is compounded by the messages and advertisements around us that each tout themselves as “the best thing”. We have foods that claim to be “superfoods”, insurance companies with “superhero” mascots, politicians claiming to be saviors, and all kinds of products with words designed to make us prioritize that product over everything else. In today’s scripture we see what Jesus’ coming does to our priority structures and what we have to gain from the change.

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:35-42

  • A relationship with someone who knows.
  • The responsibility to point to Jesus when we see him at work.
  • Jesus is inviting of people right where they are. He had no entrance exam for following. You start where you are.
  • When we welcome people to be in relationship right where they are with no conditions that is incredibly inviting and when that invitation is accepted Jesus begins to teach.
  • Andrew could have gone back to John, back to work, etc, but he found his brother first and told him about the Messiah. When people encounter the God who loves them Just as they are it changes priority structures. Priority one becomes sharing that love, that good news with loved ones.
  • What would have happened if Andrew had gone back to life as usual? No Peter. A different set of disciples. A different story. A story with a huge missing piece.
  • Andrew’s priorities were not to make Peter acceptable than to bring him, but to drag him exactly as he was, with all of the flaws we have come to know and love, the cowardice, the rashness, the temper, the fear, and all that sheer impulsive open mouth insert footedness that made Peter what he was, directly to Jesus to meet the Messiah.
  • Jesus didn’t give Peter the fifth degree over his theology or lifestyle, but gave him a new name and an invitation.
  • The “Bounded Set” mentality vs. the “Centered Set” mentality.

Bounded Set: Do you believe like me? Concerned with enforcing conformity to a norm. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Easily defined boundary. Easy to determine who “belongs”. How about the Cons? Cons: Who controls the measuring stick? Not welcoming if not ready to 100% conform.

 

Centered Set: Where are you in relation to Jesus? Concerned with relationship building. What would you say the pros are to this kind of setup? Pros: Welcoming to all. Focused on drawing closer to Jesus. How about the Cons? Cons: Can become relativistic rather than relational. Requires more work.

 

 

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.    Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001), 208-209.

  • Today we bear that same trust, to seek God’s face, live for him and reflect the light of his love around us. When this happens we see people coming to God just as they are, with all their flaws and we get to witness the transforming power of God at work in them over the years.
  • Sometimes we allow things about ourselves or others to get in the way of the light we are called to shine, and that light grows dim, we forget to put first things first because our eyes have strayed from the love of Jesus.
  • I am sure that I am not the only one here that is guilty of allowing myself to turn away from God’s light, and I invite all of you to join me in praying that we could have the obstructions and false priorities cleared that we might reflect the unconditional love of God on each person around us, welcoming them into relationship with the Messiah, Jesus. Let us pray. Our Open worship will end with the Keith Green song Oh Lord You’re Beautiful.
  • Open Worship

Truth in the Wilderness

(Sorry about the lateness, I have spent most of the last 3 weeks with a nasty head cold and chest infection.)

Sermon notes are below the video.

Finding the truth can be a very difficult thing sometimes. Often we are blinded by the images around us, are tainted by the various forms of groupthink that try to set our identity. When we start living out the truth, the guardians of the groupthink will come after us with questions, especially when we step away from the power centers. John the Baptist preached from the outskirts and when the political leaders of his people came to see if he could be used, they found instead the truth.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”[g] 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah,[h] nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

  • Who are the “Jews” in John?
  • Questioning identity from power. Underlying questions.
  • The kingmakers had come to see if John could be manipulated.
  • I am not the one that can save. Important truth for us to remember. People want someone else to take responsibility.
  • I am not someone from the past. John was fully engaged in the present and wasn’t going to let those in power pigeonhole him into the mold of someone who came before.
  • I am not the prophet. Nuance: “a” vs. “the” Flattery and manipulation are a tool of those in the center of societal power.
  • The voice in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
  • John’s locating himself in the wilderness kept him from the temptation to go along with the status quo.
  • If you don’t have the qualifications that come from our understanding, by what authority do you do x?
  • Truth is found in a humble place, away from the centers of human power and greatness.
  • In the centers of human power and greatness authority, power, truth, etc is used to promote self over others.
  • John points to the one true God and doesn’t exalt himself but shares the truth with humility.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point to Jesus, to clear the path so that others can approach the Lord. As we enter into open worship…

 

The Mark Of Perfection

Today we look at what I consider to be extremely high difficulty level Christianity. In our pursuit of perfection the hardest part of ourselves to overcome is that piece within that desires to lash out when we are hurt. I think every one of us in this room can tell stories of the times in which we lashed out, and the long term negative consequences that had, but today I want us to think about what happens when we keep our eye on the end game and don’t get distracted by the pains of the moment. Jesus does something amazing in this passage and defines Godly perfection in a way that went completely beyond the Jewish understanding of perfection to God’s heart for all of humanity.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38-48

All of our common sense and societal training screams at us that this can’t possibly work. Let’s be honest here, every criminal justice system in human history is based on retributive justice, the idea that the punishment must fit the crime and that justice is fully served when offenders are punished. Punishment is the focus in that sphere of life and those ideas seep their way into our understanding of what God’s justice is all about. However, Jesus is sharing that the purpose of God’s justice is not punishment but restoration and redemption. Retributive justice leads to full prisons and the continuation of suffering, while redemptive justice leads to restoration of the person and a society that better reflects God’s heart. This is one of the reasons that I so deeply appreciate the ministry that Chuck Colson founded and its work in bringing victims and offenders together which has an amazing record in terms of preventing repeat offenses. I highly recommend checking out their site at https://www.prisonfellowship.org/ and their Restorative Justice project at http://restorativejustice.org.

Each of Jesus’ examples in today’s text has at its core a concern for the ways we look at ourselves and other people, for the ways we judge those with more or less power than we ourselves have. Jesus is saying here that the categories we make to define people, and which we use to justify our passing of judgment on the motives of others, are unjust. We must make our starting point for determining the value of any human being, including that jerk in the mirror, the image of God that each person is stamped with. Do we through our actions and attitudes distract ourselves and others from that image we bear? Of course, but nothing we can do will ever take that image away. Jesus’ teaching in the first part of our text is an important reminder that we have a responsibility to not only affirm the dignity of others, but also to behave in ways that affirm our own dignity and value.

When Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek, he wasn’t telling them to passively take abuse. It was a mark of contempt to backhand someone on the right cheek, by turning the other cheek you were forcing the person striking you to do so as an equal. By turning the left cheek towards them you prevented them from backhanding you again and instead of rising to the provocation of the violent you take the moral high ground and force your assailant to acknowledge your humanity. In this situation Jesus takes the idea of lashing out in response to hurt and instead confronts an aggressor with the humanity of the person being attacked. We are being called not to take revenge or retribution, but instead are being called to extend the truth that every person has value in God’s sight and must be seen as our equal, and that we will not accept anything less than an affirmation of the dignity and value of every human being. When we are focusing on God, it becomes much easier to see the value of the image of God stamped on every person. Turning the other cheek then is an affirmation of human dignity and a challenge to attitudes that treat others as “less than.”

This next example involves another act of protest which is designed to graphically remind someone taking advantage of the legal system of Jesus’ day that the person they are taking advantage of is a human being. It was a common practice to sue people for their clothing to cover minor debts that were outstanding, and the moneylenders in Jesus’ day who were using Jewish law to collect were also violating Jewish law through the rates of interest that they charged. This put the people who borrowed from them in a situation that ultimately led to losing everything so that the moneylender would profit. Jesus again is reminding those around him that they could get creative in their reminders to others of their humanity. When people begin to take advantage of others, and treat them as means to ends, for the sake of their own souls they need to be confronted with the humanity of those they are taking advantage of. It is the same with the carrying of burdens. The Roman legions would force people to carry their packs and were legally limited to one mile. The Romans used people as beasts of burden, and by carrying that pack beyond the mile you lovingly forced that soldier to confront the fact that you were a person with dignity. Even in oppressive circumstances there are ways we can remind each other of the value and inherent dignity of every human life. The first step towards perfection is recognizing God’s love for every created person.

That first step is the easier one, and now Jesus raises the bar to the highest possible mark. Godliness. Perfection. God’s love is not exclusive. He loves every human being exactly as they are, right now. There is nothing required of us to be loved by God, every human being is loved. This gets tricky, because we don’t necessarily see ourselves or each other as loveable and there are plenty of messages out there which point out our flaws. There are plenty of statements that say you can be loved if you just change this one thing and we will provide it for the low, low price of $49.95. There are messages that tell us that because we do this one thing it makes us unlovable, and not worth anybody’s time or effort. Jesus tells us that the mark of God’s perfection is the love that he extends not just to those who deserve it, but to those who have chosen to be his enemies. Perfection is a tough mark to aim for, and keeping our eyes on God and allowing him to set our course means that we are going to have to love people who are not our friends. It means that we are going to have to love incredibly broken people.

God’s love doesn’t require anything of us, but somehow when we receive it we can’t remain the same. It is being loved by God that gives us the power to step away from the ways we miss the mark, and Jesus is teaching his disciples that being Godly means loving those you completely, utterly and totally see as your or God’s enemy. God welcomes us as we are and pours his love into lives as we are and we must do the same for others. Now we could come up with a whole list of others, but the reality is that Jesus is confronting the Jews with a major failure on their part to live up to the mission God gave them. The purpose of Israel and the reason they were chosen was not so that they could sit back and say “We are chosen so that makes us better than you.” No God called Israel for the purpose of leading the world into the paths of righteousness. God called Israel to be the means through which the world could be reconciled to God. All Jesus could see around him was a people that instead separated themselves from the world as a way to keep themselves pure and unstained. They had lost sight of their purpose.

Jesus completely redefines for the Jews and us what it means to be pure and holy. This more than anything else puts him at odds with the systems of this world, that the mark of purity is not conformity, but is instead hospitality. God extends his love to every human being regardless of whether they are trying to live up to God’s love or not. God loves us so much that he even gives us the power to accept or reject the relationship that comes from accepting God’s love. When Jesus calls us to perfection after the manner of God we have some soul searching to do, because I know for sure that when I read this and I prayed over this I was squirming in my seat a bit. I had to ask myself if I was setting conditions on people being welcomed into the kingdom, if I was placing conformity to my ideals or my community’s ideals ahead of God’s love. This teaching of Jesus is not an easy one and challenges us to love people who not only don’t look like us, but also people who don’t think like us. In Jesus’ disciples we see a slice of Jewish societal conflicts and how God’s love can bring people with completely opposite agendas and philosophies of life together to follow him. Jesus could bring Matthew the tax collector profiting from the oppression of his people and Simon the violent revolutionary anti-Roman Zealot under the same banner of God’s love. God keeps challenging me and his church to consider who I might be neglecting or cutting myself off from because I see them as my or God’s enemies.

We are facing into some difficult questions as a society and we Christians are being called to perfection in the ways we address those questions, and it is so easy to miss that mark. The perfection of God’s love for humanity embodied in the cross and resurrection is the mark we aim at and it will require us to seek out those stray arrows that we might pick them up, aim and try again to match God’s love. Jesus loved us when we were his enemies, and laid down his life in demonstration of the depth of God’s love for us. The mark we aim at is not an easy one to face into. Quite often we take our eyes off that mark and I know that I have some repenting to do on this one and some growing, so as we enter into our time of open worship, let us all seek the throne of grace together. Let us all turn our eyes upon Jesus so that we might better love those who bear his image. After five minutes of silence someone will stand with the microphone. If you are led to speak in the silence I ask that you stand and wait for the microphone to be brought to you. We will try to give some space to others’ words, so the microphone may not come right away.

Let us seek God together.

 

Who Am I Really?

Identity is such a tricky thing. Up until August of last year, I spent a good portion of my life being obese, the last 10 years being morbidly obese. What I hadn’t realized before I started losing weight was how much of my identity as a person had been shaped by my weight. In my mind, I went from being “the fat kid” to being “the fat guy.” There was no conscious thought put into this label, it was just an assumption about who I was that shaped the cornerstone of my identity. I didn’t realize how much it was a part of me until I had lost 70 pounds and had to go clothes shopping as things weren’t fitting anymore. Looking at a pair of size 40 pants, my mind said “Those are too small. They are made for someone else.” I went into the fitting room to try them on and was shocked to find they fit perfectly.

I felt lost. Who was this person fitting into smaller clothes? My mind still thinks I am the fat guy, and I no longer want to be, but who am I now? Who am I going to be when I have lost 60 more pounds? I don’t know. Oh crap, I don’t know. As a pastor, I know what the answer to that question is supposed to be on an intellectual level, but the deepest parts of me still haven’t accepted I am worth loving today — weighing 234 pounds — or that I was worth loving at 305 pounds. I enjoyed playing the likeable, earnest, fat guy role and played it well, and that role became my identity. But that identity now has to change as it is no longer true. I need to forge a new identity based on the truth of who I am, not what I am. I’ll be up front and admit I don’t have the tools at my disposal to do this well. I now know the consequences of confusing my “who” and “what” and I don’t want to trade one mask for another.

I am still mourning the loss of me. Even though I know intellectually I am healthier, even though I physically feel better, I have still lost a core piece of my identity. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t good for me or healthy for me to take on that role, there is still a loss to my picture of who I am, and I worry this loss will plunge me back into the same habits that got me 140 pounds heavier than is healthy for me. Dealing with this has actually been more difficult than making the habit changes needed to lose weight in the first place. One of my sources of difficulty is thinking I had myself figured out; I had no expectation of needing to change the way I saw myself and how that self negotiates daily life. Now, on top of the work I am already doing in terms of my relationship with food, I also have to do this unexpected internal work. The mental four letter words are now flowing and I am getting mad.

Inside me is a flood of growing anger. I am angry at myself for letting things get so out of hand, angry at the way I now see how I was treated before as a fat person. Angry at how my own mistreatment of myself and others strengthened this misidentification. Angry that now I’m being treated differently based on the way I look. I am broken in my inmost being and I am angry I don’t have the tools to put it all back together. My anger gets misdirected and occasionally I lash out at my wife and two daughters and then I get angry at myself for lashing out, and what a crummy broken mess this all is. I called my doctor for help and told him, “I am having self-identity and anger issues around losing all this weight, does this make sense to you?” To which he replied, “Oh yeah, we see this all the time.” The doctor referred me to a mental health provider and I’m hoping they will be able to give me some tools and language to process this inner change of self and my understanding of who I am. It’s scary to have to reconstruct my identity but this is part of growing into the beauty of being made in the image and likeness of God. I don’t feel beautiful or worthy of love right now, but maybe at some point in this journey I can make a start.

 

Authority Among Equals

(Click here to listen.)

In my last few sermons we talked about how the ways we interact with others affect our witness to the gospel. Peter started out at a macro level in talking about how we relate to the government, then narrowed it down to how we relate at work, and now we get to dissect Peter’s words about the home. The way we relate to our family members definitely impacts our witness, since it is the people who share our lives that get to see the best and worst of us. If you want to know just how big a hypocrite you are, have kids and wait for them to become teenagers, they will break it all down for you. Our kids see our inconsistencies on a daily basis, and that has an impact on our witness to them. It is in our families that some of the hardest work of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and patience happens. In our home life we also have the place to practice and hone our gifts to build each other up. Peter asked us some tough questions over the last few sermons like “Is Jesus the Lord of your interactions with the government?” and “Is Jesus the Lord of your interactions at work?” Today we look at the tough question “Is Jesus the Lord of your home?”

There are some dynamics going on here behind the scenes of our text that are vital for us to understand if we are going to grasp what Peter is teaching. In every instance of interaction that Peter has given us, it is assumed that Christians are not the ones with power in the situation. The Christians Peter addressed in the last two sermons were subject peoples under a conquering governmental authority and slaves who were the property of a master. It is only in this week’s text that Peter addresses someone with any kind of power, and he addresses them last, almost as an afterthought. During the first century worldly power was, for the most part, inaccessible to Christians, and the writings of the very early church reflect that context and assumption. Another thing we need to note here is how radical it was for Peter to address women directly and not through their husbands/owners. We take for granted that women are autonomous human beings who are capable of moral agency, but this was not the common belief in non-Quaker Western Society as recently as 60 years ago let alone in Peter’s day. So try to realize as we read today’s text just how radical this had to be for the listeners of the mid to late first century.

1-2In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; 4let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights. 5This is how, long ago, holy women who put their hope in God made themselves beautiful: by respecting the authority of their husbands. 6Consider how Sarah, our mother, obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him “lord,” and you will be her daughters as long as you boldly do what is right without fear and without anxiety. 7In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers. 1 Peter 3:1-7

Keeping in mind the cultural context here, Peter just told the women he is addressing that they have the ability to accept authority and that they have a responsibility to do it in a way that imitates Christ. Women had a witness in a society that declared them to be voiceless. There is a power in actions that goes beyond the spoken word, and I think that applies to men as well as women. When our actions themselves point to God, we witness to the truth of the good news. That Peter is giving this instruction to women is a remarkable understanding of the vision of Jesus for the world. Jesus’ desire as expressed in his teaching was that all might come to know him and his saving grace. It should then be no surprise that we as Christians are given instruction in our various conditions in how to do that well in the circumstances we find ourselves in.

I am going to take a liberty here and try to interpret the next section into the modern context. Which I am going to guess by the content of the passage may not be too different from some of the attitudes about women in Peter’s time. Everything around us tells women that their primary value is in the way they look, from the Photoshopped covers of “beauty” magazines, to advertisements for just about every product imaginable, we are bludgeoned with the lie that a woman’s worth is derived from the exterior of her body and the way it is decorated or displayed. Peter is calling that out as a dark lie. That lie is destroying people in every school, church, and workplace and we can stand for the truth that the source of a person’s beauty is in the whole person, not just the visible parts. When we get caught up in judging ourselves by externals we step out of love and we say that something God created is not beautiful. It then becomes a very short step to judging others by those same standards, especially since that is an easy way to get the focus off of our shortcomings. If you want to be truly beautiful don’t let concern with physical appearances let you neglect the development of good character and dedication to the God who sees you through the eyes of love. The material centered systems of our society depend on us allowing our bodies to be seen as objects. The underlying message in this passage is that you must fight against being made into an object to be lusted after and instead work on accepting that you are a person who is beloved.

In the past women who sought to be holy did so through the practice of accepting the authority their society gave their husbands, treating them with the respect those societies called for. Now, things have changed and our society is no longer structured in the same ways, so what can we make of this passage. It seems to me that Peter is saying that there is a new requirement that goes beyond the old blind obedience to authority. If you would be part of God’s people you have the responsibility to do what is right and not succumb to fear, worry, and anxiety about how doing the right things will make you look to others. We are still called to treat people with respect, but we must go beyond respect and truly love. Let me stand with Peter to say that the women of this church have a voice, and not only that but you have the same moral agency and responsibility as men to pattern the use of your voice after the model of Jesus.

(Important side note here: Using violence against your spouse is a form of marital infidelity, and in that situation boldly doing what is right is taking yourself and the children and fleeing. If you find yourself, woman or man, in a situation at home that is physically unsafe we will help you get to safety. Call a pastor, or the police if the situation is immediately dangerous, and tell them what is going on and where you can be picked up.)

Now we get to Peter’s “Oh, right! There might actually be husbands in the church,” and try to translate it to today as well. Men, the women around us are treated as objects every day. As soon as they look at their first media: the TV, internet, magazine, or newspaper (Those still exist right?) they are hit with the messages I mentioned earlier. We can make sure that our homes are places where women are valued and cherished for the gifts God has bestowed upon them and not just for what they can give us. We can make sure that our church is a place where women’s gifts are welcomed and valued, in which ministers like Rosie and Kathy can find a space to use their gifts and our future ministers like Hailee, Madison, or Amy can see examples of respect shown for everyone’s gifts. Let’s take the time to listen to what the women in our lives have to experience and make our homes and church places of safety and shelter in which women and girls are valued as equal heirs of salvation not as objects to be possessed. Peter gives us men a warning here as well, if we want God to listen to us we need to listen to, respect, and value the women in our lives.

Friends, each one of us is under the authority of Jesus, and that means that regardless of external circumstances or abilities we all answer to him. We must respect each person’s responsibility before God and place nothing in each other’s way that could distract us from the voice of God. We all have the responsibility to listen for the voice of Jesus and to respect the calling that Jesus has placed on others’ lives. My calling as a pastor is to point each of you to Jesus to the best of my ability, to listen with you, to respect your gifts, to value each member of this community as incredibly beautiful bearers of the image of God. We have been given the greatest gift of a savior who died because he looked at us in our brokenness and imperfection and saw someone to love. Authority works differently for us as followers of Jesus, since he modeled a different way than the way of the world. Jesus had access to absolute power and he gave that up so that he might truly experience humanity. In order to be fully human he did not grasp at power, instead he served. Authority that models itself after Jesus is not the dominating control the world craves, but is instead loving service dedicated to those who it serves. As fellow slaves with Jesus what authority we do have has a much different priority structure than any other authority operating in this world. We are equally slaves of God, equally called to serve each other and spread the kingdom of God. True authority that derives from the saving grace of Jesus follows Jesus by taking up crosses of our own that others might be saved. Authority among equal slaves comes not from power but from sacrifice. I sacrifice for you and you sacrifice for me. Wives sacrifice for their husbands and husbands sacrifice for their wives. We all sacrifice for each other because Jesus thinks we are worth sacrificing for. Let us pray.

(During our open worship one of our youth shared about their experience growing up with unrealistic dolls that taught her a distorted view of beauty. She went on to share about a new realistic doll called the Lammily Doll. Here is a link to go support a doll that teaches “Average is Beautiful.”