Sunday, May 17, 2009

Celebration of Graduates Sermon

Sermon Texts:
John 15: 9-17
1 John 5: 1-6

Conquering the World


Five seniors, big plans.  As you look at the prospect of going out and living on your own, you no doubt feel like you can do anything!  You can “conquer the world,” as the saying goes, right? 


I remember my plans upon graduating high school: they weren’t all that grandiose.  I just wanted to be Indiana Jones.  No, this wasn’t my childhood vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up, this is what I told the announcer to say when he introduced me and some other attendees of governor’s school at a football game. 


I had a hat, a whip.  I was ready to rock.  I got to college and loaded up on history courses.  I signed up for a 2 term, 200 level “History of China” because that’s where I was interested in beginning my career as a next generation adventuring archaeologist. 


I took a music appreciation class because I figured it would be easy and I’d have more time to focus on my budding plans for world travel and intrigue.  After the first term, the music appreciation class ate my lunch, (the prof. had grown accustomed to people thinking his class was a “gimme” and had developed a series of tests and papers that would give people their just desserts for making such a presupposition.)


So, things changed, as they usually do.  Our plans take some detours that we don’t anticipate.  Things crop up that we were unaware of. 

You can have everything laid out in one grand scheme and then one unforeseen event, one minute of life, can change your whole direction.  When I worked in college ministry, I began to realize that I could almost predict with certainty which students would be having a crisis of the soul by their second year by how fixed and certain their plans for their life were in their first month of their first term on campus.  What can we do in such an uncertain world?   


John has a strategy for conquering the world that actually works: Faith. 

He says, For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?


Now,  I hope you didn’t just hear the last thing I said.  If you just heard the last thing I said, then you may think that conquering the world is a matter of belief, like there’s a secret way to “believe” something into existence, and if you just hold on to that belief, if your head just cognates the right kind of ideas, you will overcome anything. 


Belief is a powerful thing, and I know of some people who have gotten through some difficult times just by “getting their head right.”  But for most of us, I think, we might have a little less confidence in the power of “mind over matter.”  Our minds can play tricks on us, after all.  We might imagine all sorts of things. 


Fortunately God makes it easier on us.  To pull one verse from 1 John that seems to say that the world conquering faith is a matter of belief doesn’t jibe with the rest of 1 John’s message.  If we know anything from John, it is that faith is more than belief.  Look at the beginning of the passage: “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.” 


What is the chief commandment?  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Believing in this principle means enacting it.  This is how we conquer the world instead of letting the world conquer us. 


Be assured of that.  The world, and the imposter who make believes that he is the owner of the world, is actively seeking ways to conquer us.  The Tempter who offers Jesus the world and all that is in it because it belongs to him wants to fool us.  The force of evil has its own tactics of conquering the children of God by fooling them out of their inheritance as children of God. 


Sometimes it’s the bait and switch, such as when Satan takes something good and life giving, such as sex and intimacy, and we become twisted into believing that the purpose of such things are meant for nothing more than the satisfaction of an urge. 


It becomes corrupted into something we can “get” instead of something that we share.  “I want to ‘get some.’”  Such an outlook on sex and intimacy has the effect of bending the whole arc of our lives toward chasing the next fleeting gratification.  Perhaps this is why Dante portrayed the souls in Hell that had given in to lustfulness as literally being blown around by the wind: Unsubstantial and wispy in their eternal state of being.


Or, take wine and drink and merriment, which the Scriptures praise in verses like Psalm 104:15. “God makes wine for the gladdening of the heart.”  The world ensnares us with something good and life-giving, and twists our mind to believe that drunkenness is gladness.  Or we are deceived into believing that our reputation and stature are enhanced and built up in the minds of others by how drunk we might get in front of them.


 May those deceptive lies of Satan be purged from your souls like the vomit that spews from your mouth when you overindulge in something God meant for something life-giving.  Those lies can kill you.  And if they don’t kill you, they have the power to conquer you: your mind and body and soul, which Jesus commands us to offer to God, will become the slave of a substance. 


If you find yourself in the midst of such lies, put your faith into practice.  Treat others with the love and respect that you want to be treated with yourself.  Serve God through acts of service and charity toward the marginalized and oppressed, the poor and the sick.  This is what a belief in Jesus Christ entails.  This is the commandment that is no burden.  This is how we will conquer the world.  Let Love Rule


Loveis gentle as a rose
And love can conquer any war
Its time to take a stand
Brothers and sistersjoin hands

We got to let love rule
Let love rule
We got to let love rule
Let love rule

Love transcendsall space and time
And love can make a little child smile
Oh cant you see
This wont go wrong
But we got to be strong
We cant do it alone

We got to let love rule
Let love rule
We got to let love rule
Let love rule

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day Sermon

Texts: John and 1 John

My mother, like many of our mothers, spent the years that my sister and I were in the home being a home-maker.  That was her profession, and she did it well.  It wasn’t just about housework or making breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It wasn’t just about hauling my sister and me in the car to gymnastics meets, tennis practice, boy scout meetings, or youth group.  I sense, now that I have had the chance to make a home for my own children along with my own wife, that home-making was and is about creating a haven: a place where my family could rest assured, where we could “be ourselves,”  a place where we could be loved.


Wesley’s notes

8. God is love - This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.


No, it is not just the mother’s responsibility to create a home where the Divine attribute of love can be nurtured and strengthened in us.  Especially in this day and age when we find most couples sharing the responsibility of “bringing home the bacon.”  It is indeed the responsibility and the joy for both partners in a marriage to have this task of “home-making” before us. 


But today we lift up the feminine element of that task and we celebrate the mothers in our midst who have contributed so much to this element of our lives.  Making a home for us. 


I’m speaking so much about home-making, because it is the focus of our scriptures today.  Today we lift up God’s activity of home-making.  We hear from the letter of John that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  The Gospel of John shows Jesus comparing himself to a vine and his disciples to branches.  “Abide in me and I will abide in you, and you will bear much fruit.  Because apart from me you can do nothing.”   Abiding—Peterson translates this word in the message as “Make your home in me as I do in you.” 


Mothers show us quite literally what it means to make a home for another living being in them when they carry children in their wombs for 9 months, waiting to bring forth life.  I think this “maternal instinct” that Rob Bell speaks about in the video is created during this time.  Because once a woman brings forth a child, she “lives in them” in a very real way. 


It is this same kind of nurturing relationship that Isaiah ascribes to God.  God has a fierce maternal instinct about us as well. 


 Wesley's notes:

21. And this commandment have we from him - Both God and Christ. That he who loveth God love his brother - Every one, whatever his opinions or mode of worship be, purely because he is the child, and bears the image, of God. Bigotry is properly the want of this pure and universal love. A bigot only loves those who embrace his opinions, and receive his way of worship; and he loves them for that, and not for Christ's sake.


This is how we make a home for our God.  We make things familiar to God by reflecting God’s nature in our lives.  We love others without hesitance because God is Love.  This is how we bear fruit in the world.  It only takes Love.  All you need is Love. 



Thursday, May 07, 2009

May 3rd Sermon, Love is Real

 Sermon Texts: John 6: 1-7 and 1 John

Don’t you think the word “love” has lost some of its potency?  We use it in this day and age to mean so many things.  “I love a good steak.” 


This is why John’s advice is especially crucial for us today.  He cuts through the hollowness of language.  He says, like John Lennon later wrote in a song:


Love is Real.  It is real when we put it into action. 


Actions Speak Louder than Words:

Favorite saying of my mother. 


This is crucial for us to understand, because it is the way of Jesus. 


Book by Eugene Peterson.


This is the way of Christ—it is acting out of love for our brothers and sisters.  Just in case we think “laying down our life for our brother or sister” is too demanding, John de-literalizes it for us.  If we have the means to help someone in need, and yet we do not—it is obvious to the world and to God that we have no interest in this person called Jesus Christ.  If we profess Jesus as the truth, and yet make no attempt to follow Jesus as the way, we dishonor God\


V. 24: Mutual indwelling.  In Christ

Friday, May 01, 2009

April 19 Sermon: The Benefit of the Doubt

The Benefit of the Doubt


Thomas used as a polemic against his community. 

Importance of Xity seems to be belief/doubt.  What about action/apathy. 


1 John says it is not about what you profess, God’s focus is on whether you live in the light or in the darkness. 

What do you think it means to “walk in the light.” 

Do you live in an up front and honest way with people? 

Do you lie or gossip?

To me, the witness of Thomas is that a skeptical nature doesn’t keep a person from experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness. 

Why do we sometimes behave as though the point of all this, all this religion, is to pass along a set of beliefs, and the most heretical thing you can do is doubt the story.  If we take a fuller look at the witness of scripture, we can see that the life lived is what counts.  After all, as John says, you can say you are in fellowship with Jesus, but if your life is lived in the darkness—how can you be in the light? 

Probably one of the reasons the 12 step program is so powerful and effective is because it asks its participants to come out in the open with the fact that they have a problem, and then bring to light those instances in the past that give you shame—go to the people whom you’ve wronged and own up to it.  It is bringing a life lived in darkness into the light. 

Thomas carried the gospel the furthest and over the largest area.  Much of the world considers him the greatest apostle.  Carried gospel through Syria, Persia, Afghanistan, India.  His first converts carried the faith into China and even Japan by 70ad.  That is the same year the Temple was razed by the Romans, and before the Gospels were all composed. 

Thomas had a career many times more far-reaching than Paul. 



He is the first to address Jesus as “God.” 

Benefit of the doubt is that it engages us in theological thinking.  It deepens and enriches our faith to  IF it is an off limits place, it can get murky and stagnant.  Faith needs to be stirred up, it needs to be flowing and active. 

It needs something to prod it along.  The benefit of the doubt is that doubt and questioning makes a faith vibrant and living.  If you put faith and belief behind a locked door, you may forget to feed it and it will die of starvation and neglect. 

The experience of doubt has for me been the experience of honesty.  It is when I am most honest with myself and others that I feel as though I’m “living in the light.”  And it is when we live in the light that we find ourselves in the presence of Christ—the Light of Lights! 

I usually think of our lives lived as stained glass windows.  We all have our own colors, and God’s light, which is Pure Light, is made up of all our colors.  When we live in the light, we reveal an aspect of God to the world.  I think a reason our tradition and expression of Christianity involves stained glass windows is because of this truth.

When we let the light shine through us, God reveals Himself to the world through us.  A window displays the light, and when we participate in the community of faith through an active belief, we form a wonderful picture of God.

Imagine a person coming in to a church with beautiful stained glass windows only because it is the place where the feel the warmth and beauty and security of the love of God.

St. Jerome, another Church Father, tells us that John constantly repeated one refrain in his old age: "Little children, love one another."

So may we “live in the light,” which includes being open about our doubts and misgivings.  May our doubt activate attention to our faith life.  When we profess our faith, may it seem redundant, due to our lived life,  to the world around us.  As my mom always told me, “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”