Tag Archives: spirituality

Peace With “Them”

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

There “They” are, walking down the street in my neighborhood. Who do “They” think “They” are? Coming into my place as if “They” belonged here, coming into my faith, my country, my neighborhood, my screen, my mind! Why can’t “They” go somewhere else, be someone else, or be more normal like me? Why do “They” persist in believing, behaving, and thinking so strangely? Why do “They” have to be so strange? Why can’t “They” just accept that “They” are wrong?

I call the above sentiments the voice of anti-shalom in my head, the voice of division and wholesale devaluing of the image of God that is borne in “the stranger.” One of the key pieces of Christian theology is that every human being bears the image of God, that there is no person that does not, in some way, reflect the divine image. In other words, when I allow myself to fear the strangeness of the stranger I miss out on the way that person can uniquely usher me into the presence of God.

So, who are “They?” Really, who are those others who we find the most difficulty in seeing the divine image? I suspect that for some of you, I am part of that “They,” or maybe you are part of my “They.” For some reason, we humans feel the need to place people into categories and define them by others we have encountered or heard about in that category. We have many names for this behavior that end in “ism”, and it has become more and more convicting to me that Jesus sees something very different when he looks at this person or group for whom I feel disdain or fear.

In 2001 I began to be convicted to practice a new spiritual discipline to start building the Shalom of God in my heart. This discipline radically changed me and has been painful at times, but it has enabled me to obtain some of the peace that passes understanding. After the September 11th attacks the Holy Spirit began convicting me to pray for those involved. I wrote down a few names like Osama bin Laden and al-Queda and began to pray for God’s image to be visible to me in them. This earned me some very strange looks and the opportunity to practice the discipline a little closer to home, but I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t before.

The love of God began to drive out the fear of those “scary” others, and opportunities opened for friendships and relationships that weren’t thinkable to me before the Shalom of God’s love began to be welcomed into my heart. I would love to tell you that the work of Shalom is finished in my heart, but since I am still breathing there is quite a bit of work left to do. Now though, when I read, hear, or feel that command to welcome the stranger I think “The stranger the better. Let’s do this.”

I would love to invite you to practice this discipline with me and share how it impacts you.

  • Take some time to pray and ask God to help you discern and write down the name of someone or group that is strange to you or that you have a reflexive distaste for.
  • Now that you have this person or group in mind take some time to pray and ask God to reveal exactly how the divine image is revealed in that person or group.
  • Put a piece of paper or sticky note with the names or group somewhere you will see it every day, and whenever you do ask God to help you see how the divine image is present in those whose name or group identity you have written.
  • Whenever you encounter someone in that group or that person ask God to help you see that person or group through the lens of divine love.

I pray that this will be as transforming for you as it has been for me.

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If You Keep Picking At It…

I heard these words often growing up, and there was something about the temporary relief from the itch of healing skin that made me not care. In the healing process we often choose temporary relief over long term health, and this shows up in our mental health as well as physical. I am part of some online groups of people who are recovering from church inflicted wounds, and some of the posts I judgmentally assign into the category of scab picking. This is something I get to wrestle with in my healing journey, and it is entirely possible that the only scab being picked by those posts are mine. This post is more about my journey and recognizing that I am not so much judging as projecting my experience at “picking at it” onto others.

The “picking posts” I see are usually some egregious meme copied from Facebook or “Can you believe what this person from the tribe we left said?” My response is usually, “Yes I can believe it, which is why I left in the first place.” Part of me wants to yell  what my mom told me so long ago: “If you keep picking at it, it won’t get better.” Another part recognizes the need for some kind of relief or validation. “Please tell me I am not crazy for wanting to leave this!” I get it. I have been there. The pain and need for relief are REAL!

There is a point at which I have to stop picking, stop checking back to see if things have gotten better, and recognize that the loss is real and restoration of relationship is beyond my ability to achieve. I have to say that on my healing journey away from the fear-mongering in some evangelical subcultures I have found that repeated exposure to the fear-mongering doesn’t bring healing. Watching from the sidelines and chewing over what is happening just reopens the wounds and the bleeding starts again.

The more we pick, the greater the chance that there will be scars.While there are some people who I love and care for still in the old tribe, I will ruthlessly cull them and everything from the tribe they are attached to from my social media feeds when their posts reopen wounds. This is the hard part of the healing process: cutting myself off from the source of my wounds. There are strained relationships, but saying to these friends and loved ones: “Sorry, I only want to be connected to you in real life, not social media.” sets an important boundary. Setting this boundary gives me the opportunity to be in relationship with them and to not have the daggers of fear and misplaced rage surface in my daily life.

I can’t tell you that you are picking at scabs, (Unless I actually see you do that. Then: Ew! Gross!), but sometimes what I see in groups and ex-evangelical writing feels like scab picking to me, so maybe it is worthwhile to raise the question: Are we applying healing balm or picking at scabs? For me the answer can vary by the hour, but maybe asking the question is what’s important?

 

The Paradox of Humility

See the notes that inspired this sermon below the You Tube video. This is my final sermon at Clackamas Park Friends Church. See previous post for text of resignation.

Today we look at two difficult concepts that are necessary for holding to the Christian faith: humility, which is difficult because we are trained in pride from the cradle, and paradox which is difficult because it is an expression of an unresolvable tension. One of the great disservices modernity has inflicted on our faith is the pressure to resolve all mysteries or dynamic tensions within our understandings of God. This attempt to define God has led to conflicts and controversies over ultimately non-provable speculations that can lead to false senses of certainty about faith. While we must be leery of the “pat” answers that seek to do away with questioning we must also be equally wary of the fatalism that comes from saying that there are no answers. The 20th century theologian Roger Hazelton defines paradox as “A statement which asserts the truth of two contradictory but necessary propositions having equal rational force.”[i]. Some of the most commonly argued paradoxes in our faith are the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the sovereignty of God and human free-will, and of course the paradox of being saved and yet still a sinner. In order to be faithful, we must allow these paradoxes to stand and live in the tension, knowing that we will not see their resolution this side of heaven. Today’s scripture is filled with paradoxes, and the key ingredient to accepting paradox, humility.

43 After the two days he left for Galilee. 44 (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there. 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 49 The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. 54 This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. John 4:43-54

  • Paradox 1 – Prophet has no honor among their own. The Galileans welcomed him.
  • They saw the honor given elsewhere then believed. When we are seen outside the familiar context.
  • Background on Capernaum and the change from subsistence fishing to export overfishing.
  • Paradox 2 – The begging official.
  • Paradox 3 – Justice and mercy
  • The power and necessity of dynamic tensions in faith.
  • Paradoxes can only be held in humility. They are an acknowledgement of our finite nature.

Mystery as it relates to the things of God in the Christian realms is our contemplation of the infinite using our finite minds and languages. Mystery can only be expressed in ambiguous terms because of our lack of knowledge about the extent of our lack of knowledge. In an attempt to express these mysteries we turn to the devices of metaphor and paradox so that we can communicate with each other about the God we love.

Paradox then becomes the tool we use to express the mysteries of God as we experience their presence in our lives. As a tool it is important for us not only to see paradox’s usefulness, but also its limitations. Hazelton cautions us that “A paradox is a statement, not a situation. Situations may indeed be paradoxical, but we can know this only when some attempt at considered statement has been made.”[ii] We must be careful then to not confuse our statements about apparent paradoxes in our perception and understanding of God with the reality of God. The gap between the limits of our perception and expression and the reality of God then leads us to attempt to resolve the paradox instead of fully exploring all aspects of the paradox. With humility we must instead admit to the need and place for faith. At some level we have to trust the God we serve or else give up on the religious journey entirely.

Divine mystery is then a tool that God uses to exercise our faith. In Hebrews faith is defined as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1b NRSV) The exercise of this faith then consists of being certain of our uncertainty. I am not saying that “everything is up for grabs” just that we must be very cautious in our theological expressions to start from a place of understanding our limitations. In Romans, Paul also reminds us of the uncertain character of hope and the need for faith “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25 NRSV) It is along this unseen path then that an orthodox faith lies. Kenneth Arnold explains that “a primary characteristic of orthodoxy is a capacity for paradox. Heresies tend to round off the edges and eliminate what does not fit. Faith that demands certainty is probably no longer faith but some form of science.”[iii] This statement brings us to the core of our discomfort with paradox: we as a race don’t like the loss of control implied by a lack of knowledge.

One of the ways God is growing me is in my ability to accept that I do not have the capacity for full knowledge. When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. As I gained experience in the real world I made the common mistakes that lead us to a greater understanding of our limitations. If I am to be honest in my self-examination, my discomfort with paradox stemmed from my fear of not controlling my life. That fear led to a distrust of paradoxical statements because they highlighted how outside of my control God is. My reflections on paradox and the mysteries of God over the years has humbled me and led me to a place in which my faith relies less and less on my understanding of God and more and more on my relationship with God. Every answer that I found about the things of God only served to raise more questions. I have finally come to the place at which I realize that the easy answers that I am looking for don’t exist, and that for me to grow in my faith I don’t need better answers, I need the humility to seek out better questions.

As we enter into Open worship let us take this first five minutes to bask in the presence of the God who is beyond us, allow yourself to experience the reverential awe that comes from being in relationship with the infinite God. After 5 minutes someone will stand with the mike and if your communion with God and the rest of us here demands it, rise and speak and the microphone will be brought to you.

 

[i] Roger Hazelton, :The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[ii] Roger Hazelton, “The Nature of Christian Paradox,” Theology Today 6, no. 3 (October 1949): 325.

[iii] Kenneth Arnold, “Living With Paradox,” Cross Currents 50, no. 1-2 (March 2000): 3

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 Living Word

Was inspired from the following notes:

Today I want to talk about the word of God, the divine logos that teaches us how to live the most excellent way. There are a lot of messages about what the good life looks like, and they even refer to the Bible to back up their claims. Creflo Dollar taught that God wanted him to have a private jet and quoted chapter and verse to justify it. Televangelists taught that God wanted you rich, fat, and happy and that if you gave them your money God would bless you with money. The church in America taught that it was just fine to enslave other human beings for personal profit using passages from scripture to back up their position. We now look at those things as abhorrent, and rightly so. The misuse of scripture has definitely caused many hurts, trials, and ills in the world. I myself must say that I misused scripture to self-justify bad behavior a few times. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one in this room to have done that, and when I lose sight of the important truth in today’s scripture I will again. What I forget sometimes is that the Divine Word existed before the first human writers chiseled pictograms into rock.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:1-18

  • The Word of God is not separate from God. The Word is God himself.
  • Through the Word creation happens. The Word is the source of life.
  • The Word is light and there is no darkness to be found in it. Darkness has no chance.
  • Clearing up confusion between the messenger and the message.
  • The world’s priority structure is based on darkness, so cannot recognize the light.
  • Even God’s people did not accept the light of God.
  • Those who did come to accept him became God’s children, superseding all previous arrangements.
  • The Word became flesh. God accepted all of the limitations of humanity in order to demonstrate the truth and show the way of grace.
  • Without the Living Word we cannot rightly understand the written Word. Our interpretation must come through Jesus.
  • God’s agenda is grace and restoration, not judgment and destruction. Grace and grace – unmerited favor.
  • Law of Moses is interpreted into God’s heart for humanity in Jesus.
  • To know God we must look to Jesus. To understand the scripture we have to look at Jesus.
  • We, like John the Baptist, are called to point our lives to Jesus, and as we enter into open worship let us focus on the example our savior set for us and ask that God help each of us to seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the teaching that flows from Jesus, and the heart of the Father who loves us.