Monday, January 22, 2007

Sermon for Jan 21, Epiphany 3: Preaching What Jesus Preached

Psalm 19
Luke 4: 14-21

We like to hear nice things, don’t we? We love to hear that Jesus loves us no matter who we are or what we’ve done. We prefer our Jesus smiling and courteous and compassionate. Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear, we sing. What about the stories of Jesus getting thrown out of his hometown? What about the stories of Jesus saying things that when we really think about it, well, they’re pretty revolutionary?
Now, I’m not doubting that everyone in this church building loves Jesus—that is clear by the ministry that this church does in this community. That is clear by how we work and play and pray and study the Bible together. Please don’t get me wrong! But while I’m not doubting that we all love Jesus, I’m betting that we also love something called the status quo. The status quo is “the way things are,” and its generally loved and fiercely protected by those who have things relatively good—who are relatively comfortable.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that—we want to preserve things when they are going well—if I’ve got a way of preparing a sermon through the week that works and it allows me plenty of time to address the other needs of being a minister to this church, I’m probably going to stick with it—it works after all! Likewise, if we’ve got a system of orienting our place in the world that has generally been good for us thus far in life, who’s going to blame us for sticking with it?
But when it comes to Jesus and when it comes to faith and when it comes to being the church—the status quo is sometimes not good enough. You see—we are adaptive creatures of habit. When we get comfortable, we tend to settle in and focus on what’s in front of us. We’re like horses with those blinders on that only allow us to see strait forward—you know the kind that pull carriages through the park or the kind that police ride through the city. You know why they wear those blinders, right? Because if they see all the activity and goings on all around them, they’ll get kind of freaked out! No, better keep their focus straight ahead so that the policeman on the horse’s back or the guy driving the carriage can retain control of the horse.
Yes—we get in a nice spot, a status quo, and we may not realize it, we probably don’t make the choice to do it ourselves, but some way or another we get the blinders put on and we don’t see the ugly things in the world around us that might cause us to get freaked out!
In our faith life, we might just say something like—“Well, just focus on Jesus, just put your mind on him and everything will be okay!” We might say, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Hmmm……
Now, once again, don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to get thrown out of town, like Jesus did! But I do want to speak what I hear the Spirit stirring me to speak! Focusing on Jesus while the world around us fades is a great remedy for us to deal with hardship and struggle that may face us in life—it takes a lot of faith to put the world aside and “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” I don’t want you to think I am criticizing that aspect of faith. But I want you to know how this same resource for strength can also be a sedative if used inappropriately.
A pastor I’ve been reading from over the past few weeks said the following, and it was convicting to me. “Like a lot of mainline preachers, I’m so mindful of the bottom line that I have hedged the prophetic voice. It has been easier, more acceptable, to preach Jesus rather than what Jesus preached.” To preach Jesus rather than what Jesus preached—did you hear that?
It is easier for us to hear about Jesus and his unequivocal promise of love for us than for us to hear what Jesus preached, which was not only his love for us, but his love for the least of us. He also preached peace, and economic justice, and forgiveness. It is easier for us to hear “come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest—for my burden is easy and my yoke is light” than “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We can imagine what release to the captives might look like, right? What would that mean in our society? Good news to the poor—what would that good news be? Letting the oppressed go free—I that would upset the status quo, don’t you?
The year of the Lord’s favor—sounds like a nice year, right? What Jesus is there referring to is the year of the Jubilee, when all debts were periodically forgiven and the slate was wiped clean. Some of us got really excited around the turn of the millennium and tried to encourage our government and other rich nations to proclaim a jubilee for the poorest nations who owe insurmountable debts to the governments of nations which are currently keeping our national boots on their necks. The idea was that many of these countries would be able to divert money owed to foreign governments like ours and Britain into health and education programs. Some of the campaigning worked, some if it lost momentum by 2001.
If anything disrupted a status quo, it would be the year of the Jubilee! I imagine we like the way things are because it’s safe—it’s what we know! We accept our blinders and move in the direction we are guided in. But let me ask you a question—when we so willingly wear those blinders, when we just shuffle in the way our reigns are guiding us, do we ever stop to think of who it is on our back? Who, or what is guiding us when we put on those blinders to the reality that the world around us isn’t all warm and lovable and ordered.
If we took off those blinders, if I began to preach what Jesus preached, I’d probably be reminding us each week that of the estimated 3.5 homeless people in America today, 40% are children. And that is in America, where children in homelessness is fairly low! If I had the courage to preach what Jesus preached and not just preach Jesus loves me, this I know, I’d probably frequently ask us to remember the victims of the AIDs pandemic—the 36.2 million people living with AIDS in the world today, the 15.2 million AIDS orphans, I might ask us to at least question the policymakers and elected officials who apply 50 cents of every tax dollar I spend to the military budgets that keep climbing and climbing, and yet can’t seem to provide adequate health insurance for the families of servicemen and women.
Fifty cents for every tax dollar goes for the current military budget and back pay for past wars and military engagements! And that doesn’t even include what is budgeted for the CIA, the NSA or any other of our secret agencies—their budget amounts are classified! That also doesn’t include the $380 billion dollars in unbudgeted requests by the military that have been repeatedly approved year after year because none of our elected officials want to come across to all of us as being “unpatriotic!”
So why did I get off on this tangent? Because I want you to hear that holiness is not just personal spirituality—it is social spirituality. It is an ethic of living in the world without blinders on! It is about believing not just in Jesus but in what Jesus preached! Jesus preached a devout personal holiness, the good news of God’s love for the individual person—and he also preached social holiness, the good news of God’s plan for God’s kingdom and our role in that kingdom. The awakening to our adoption by God is a part of the fulfillment of that kingdom—but so is release to the captives, so is recovery of sight to the blind, so is freedom for the oppressed.
Look at your hymnals—go to your table of contents. You see there on page ix, under Sanctifying and Perfecting grace? That is the third part of our threefold Wesleyan understanding of grace. You see some hymns are related to personal holiness and some hymns are related to social holiness? That’s because Wesley, the founder of Methodism believed and our heritage is that there is no personal holiness without a social expression of that holiness, and there is no social holiness without a personal holiness! Holiness means right living, it is the experience of sanctifying grace—that grace that leads us toward our intended natures.
“Preaching Jesus” could be translated as “personal holiness” while preaching what Jesus preached could be translated as “social holiness.” We have to be mindful of both—we must celebrate both in order to live up to the great example that has been set for us in the life of Jesus.
Lawrence Wood concludes his article about today’s scriptures by referencing the Psalm that we heard—he writes, “Maybe the ‘heavens are telling the glory of God’ because they are above mere politics and can put truth and justice in something other than a partisan perspective. Or perhaps they have resolved not to wait. In any event, the heavens are doing their part; they ask us to join in the telling.”
Yes! Taking off the blinders is saying loud and clear that we believe God can and must be glorified even in the face of the darkness in this world. We mirror the magnificent expansive circuit of the sun when our view of our surroundings is not narrowed by what we choose and choose not to pay attention to. The harsh realities we may discover are not evidence for hopelessness, they are promptings share God’s good news! Put your trust in the truth of God’s presence, and the darkness of the world will come to light, in the “light of his glory and grace.” Amen

1 comment:

  1. AMEN PREACHER!!!!!!!!!!!!