Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Golden Tablet

My friend and classmate, Rev. Kevin Golden, has starting blogging.

He's a real smarty-pants and an all around good guy, and I've really been enjoying his blog lately. Check it out, "The Golden Tablet".

As someone quipped, "A much better name than the Golden Calf".

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 16 - Mark 9:30-37

Pentecost 16 – September 20th, 2009
Mark 9:30-37
“It's for the Children”

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

The Christian faith is full of surprises. God does things and says things that are exactly opposite of how we would do - or say they should be.

Our reading from James today is full of these contrasts – between the wisdom of the world, and the “wisdom from heaven”. Jesus knew such wisdom well. And it's perhaps one of the most striking aspects of his teaching. He honestly shocked people when he said, “turn the other cheek”, and “wash each other's feet” and “the first shall be last – whoever would be great among you must be slave of all”.

Today our reading from Mark unfolds these surprises even more. In a great reversal, Jesus takes these disciples who were increasingly impressed with their own rock-star status and he teaches them a lesson in humility. That true greatness is found in lowliness, and last-ness.

Remember, these disciples were witness to many amazing things. The fame and glory Jesus was generating must have rubbed off on them, at least in their own minds. They themselves had been given authority to heal and cast out demons. They saw the crowds thronging around Jesus, and surely felt a little puffed up themselves by all the attention. So one day on the road they began to discuss their own greatness – and even argue which of them was the greatest. “I'm better than you are. I'm the most important. I'm the best”

Sounds pretty childish, doesn't it? And when Jesus asks what they were arguing about, he surely knew. But they kept silent. No one wanted to admit to what they were doing – they too must have known it was wrong.

Yes, the guilty silence. It reminds me of the way a child acts when they are caught being naughty. “What were you doing that was naughty?” The parent asks. “I don't want to say” the child replies. The disciples were acting like children.... rebellious and bickering children who were caught in the act of sin.

We are no better. We are just the same. We argue amongst ourselves. We get puffed up with pride in ourselves. We set ourselves against each other. We are selfish and willful and petulant and full of all the same sins that made the disciples act like children.

Funny then, that Jesus takes a child to teach the disciples a lesson in humility. Receiving children – regarding them, acknowledging them, well it wasn't considered a top priority for adults. Especially for self-important disciples of the great rabbai! But Jesus shows special care and concern for children. He says, “let them come to me and do not hinder them”. He touches them. He blesses them. He commends their faith.

Perhaps this is a key – there's a difference between being childish and child-like. In sin, our actions are childish. Everything that we adults try to correct in our children – all that misbehavior that comes naturally to them – is also in us. The childishness, selfishness, and obstinate rebellion – all the worst things we see in them, God could say the same and worse of us.

But Jesus commends those whose faith is child-like. All the best characteristics of children, like trustfulness, humility, openness to being taught. Through Jesus we become children – children of God and heirs of eternal life.

To receive a child, we must stoop down from our pedestal of pride. And only in such humility can we receive Christ. Only confessing our sins do we receive his forgiveness. Only in denying our own powers do we rely on his power, his Spirit. Only in lowliness are we exalted.

And now another surprise, another reversal, another opposite-of-how-we-think-it-should-be. The disciples were too caught up in their petty squabbling and childish pride to hear and digest what Jesus had just said – that he would be betrayed, die, and rise again.

This is the second time Mark records Jesus telling what his future holds. The first time, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for all that suffering and dying talk. Jesus called him Satan. Well now Jesus is bringing it up again and rather than rebuke him they just ignore it all. They've got better things to talk about, like which of them is best.

But there is no better thing to talk about than the work Jesus does for us. His suffering, death and resurrection. There is no more childlike faith than the one who says, “Jesus died for me, to forgive my sins, and rose from the dead for me, so that I get to go to heaven”.

Such child-like faith receives the Christ joyfully. And in receiving Christ, we receive the Father. And if we receive the Father, that makes us his children.

And we express our faith in God by serving our neighbor, yes, even children. Our own children, first of all – those whom God has placed in our care. We bring them to the font to receive their Savior in the Water and the Word of promise. We bring them to His huse to hear his word, and learn and grow.

And we care for all God's children – young and old – as we show our love in acts of mercy and kindness. And whatsoever we do to the least of these, even for the children, we do it for Christ.

“It's for the children”. Jesus could have said that on his way to the cross. It's for the children – the children of God's creation who had become children of destruction in their sin. What a great reversal – what a great surprise. That by his lowly suffering and humble service, even his death on the cross – he makes us children of God once again – restored, renewed, and one day resurrected to eternity.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Issues Etc. Roundtable - Free Will

I participated, yesterday, in a "Pastors' Roundtable" on Issues Etc. You can listen to the entire hour for free here: http://www.issuesetc.org/podcast/314091009H1p.mp3

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 14 - Mark 7:37

Sermon – Pentecost 14
September 6th, 2009
Mark 7:37
“Well Done”

Today we see crowds of people becoming more and more impressed with Jesus. His travels in the northern region of the holy land, and the healings and miracles done there attract and amaze many people. They earn him praise and glory. “He has done all things well” they say. Let's use that phrase as our focus today.

Ask my wife about my home improvement and repair skills, and she will tell you what kind of job I do. “Good enough” is good enough for me, but usually not to her standards. It's not perfect, but hey I'm a pastor not a carpenter. I can't do all things well.

And lots of things in life are like that. We do something in life, whether it's a job or a project, or whether it's living up to a moral standard or law. We think we do a pretty good job. I don't gossip too much. I'm not THAT materialistic. I don't lose control of my temper very often. I'm pretty good. I'm certainly better than that guy over there. We may not do all things well, but we do most pretty well, don't we?

When God looks at me he probably sees I'm a little rough around the edges, but let's face it, I should get pretty good marks. After all, I come to church and give my offering. I go to work and pay my taxes. I take care of my family. What more can God want from me?

The conversations we have in our heads are really amazing. The things we tell ourselves, even when we know better. Even when Scripture clearly teaches otherwise. James knocks down our delusions of grandeur today, “whoever breaks even one law is guilty of breaking it all”. There is no “pretty good” when it comes to righteousness. God does not grade on a sliding scale. It's pass or fail, and if you sin, you fail. Even if we think we're “good enough”, it's a lie – a wicked, evil lie that leads us to a false sense of security.

Pretty good is not good enough for God. His standard is always perfection, and the only one every to meet it was Jesus. The people were right when they said, “he has done all things well”. More right than they knew. They likely meant to compliment him for his wonders and signs. And surely he deserves our praise for all that too. But he has done ALL things well.

God would agree. He said so much about his own Son at Jesus' baptism. “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased”. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness – not because he needed it himself. He already was righteous. He was fulfilling it for us. He was beginning his public work of doing all things well, for you and me.

And his healings and miracles, astounding as they were, served as signs. They fulfilled the prophecies. Amazing how Jesus took great care to cross every t and dot every i from the prophets – even to the words he spoke on the cross. He did all things well.

Then the cross. What looked to many like a failure. What Peter and the disciples tried to talk him out of – what ancient Jews considered a cursed way to die – the shame, the humility, the agony, the defeat of Calvary. He did it all well. He did not lash out in anger, but called for his tormentors' forgiveness. He did not answer the mocking and jeering, he did not come down from the cross as he surely could. He didn't deaden the pain appointed for himself by drinking the anesthetic they offered. He didn't think of himself, but of his mother and his friend and the thief beside him. He did the cross well. And there he even suffered the wrath of God – he was forsaken by his Father – the ultimate anguish of the soul – he endured it in our place.

Jesus doing all this, and doing it well is not simply as an example for us to follow. As we've already seen, we aren't so good at following. But his work IS work done for us – perfect righteousness that makes us righteous, and a perfect death which pays the price of our ransom. Even his resurrection is not for his own sake, but for ours – to show us God's approval of his sacrifice, to promise us a resurrection like his own, and the prove his words and vindicate his actions as THE messiah for all people of all time.

Jesus has done all things well. His good work fixes our bad work. His good work purifies our tainted work. His good work wins us the blessings of salvation, and the power of his Spirit moves us to – good works!

Yes, the Christian does good works. We don't do them to earn our salvation. We do them because we're already saved. We don't do good works to merit blessings, we do them because we've been blessed. And even though our good works are never good enough on our own, Christ's forgiveness makes them complete and perfect and righteous. After all, they're not really our good works, but his. Works that he has prepared beforehand for us to do.

Works that we may not even know we do! “When did we feed you, clothe you, Lord. When did we visit you in prison?” The sheep don't know what good we do, because our focus is not on ourselves. We look to Christ, the one who has done all things well for us and our salvation. Our hand is always on the plow, but our eye is on the horizon – and the fulfillment of his promises to us.

We sinners don't really do anything all that well. But Jesus has done all things well, and he has done them for us. In the strength and faith that he gives, we strive to do our best in service to others and to his glory. Empowered by His Spirit, emboldened by our faith, and always focused on Him. In his holy name, amen.