Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Matthew 7:21-29 words of authority

Jesus preached a sermon on a mountain that, according to Matthew, left the crowds "...amazed/ astounded/ frightened ἐξεπλήσσοντο at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority/ power/ jurisdiction ἐξουσίαν, and not as the scribes." Matthew 7:28-29

Jesus words opened up the kingdom of God for everyone to hear and experience. Even at the very
tail end of this earth re-visioning sermon we hear him speak both law and promise. The crowd who gathered wanted to hear Jesus teach and they heard him declare a vision of God at work in the world like no one else could. He spoke provocatively inviting hearers to imagine the kingdom that was coming into being.

Some of Jesus' words leave me (and I suspect others) unsettled. Jesus named differences between a life built on sand and a life built on rock. The crowd knew what he meant; we know too whether we like it or not. He named the reality that we are free to choose our own destruction and often do. He spoke a word that makes me even more uncomfortable:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ Matthew 7:21-23 NRSV
Jesus spoke the whole Word of God. He spoke the promise of eternal life and still named the reality that we can choose to walk away from God in the same sermon. He wasn't running for election or earthly approval. He didn't need our endorsement to be Son of God and son of man. He spoke directing, challenging, even needling his hearers to examine their lives and their relationship to God and their neighbors.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Live in worry live in trust: Matthew 6:24-34

Its funny to hear people talk about what makes a good sermon and then to read one of Jesus sermons. People talk about how important it is to hear the word of God and to hear about real life. Imagine Jesus' sermons as models for preaching.

Jesus' preaching was never one dimensional: He talked about everyday life, scripture, prayer, theology, heaven, hell, and God's mercy often in just one sermon. The snippet of a sermon we read from this week was given on a Mountain to a crowd who gathered to listen to Jesus teach and who heard him declare a vision of God at work in the world..

Jesus' words challenged his hearers not to worry; but to be open to God's work in the world. He reminded them about God's care for his creatures, especially for us humans who were created in the Father's image. He offered a challenge: not to worry about the things we need in this world . He made a promise that God who cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field would care for us too.

The people who came to listen to Jesus were searching for a leader, a hero, who would set them free. They'd heard about healing, miracles, and daemons who'd been caste out. They didn't want to intellectually understand God's will. They wanted to know their place in the world what God wanted them to know and to experience. They wanted to experience it; and from what they'd heard and some had seen Jesus was the one. They were looking for a deliverer who would set them free from Roman Imperial power to be God's chosen nation. Jesus came to set the world free from sin and death.

Jesus offered his hearers then and today a freedom that this world can't give; a freedom from striving for things and an opportunity to live in the Kingdom of God right now instead.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

what lasts is God Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus sends us out to make disciples in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we do we connect new believers to the one who will remain after every thing else has slipped away.

Everything in this world can turn to dust. Psalm 103 says that we humans are made from dust and like a flower in the field we will just drift away. Things that we count on as hard and permanent drift away, little by little. My 1987 Chrysler LeBaron was well on its way to rusting away when I sold it with 215,000 miles on it. Instead of solid fenders it had swiss cheese fenders, you might know the kind. We could see right through the holes. When I took the confirmation kids from my first church in Minnesota on a service afternoon two of the moms slipped cell phones in their kid’s backpacks just to be on the safe side. They thought the wheels might just fall off at any time. I saw that old Chrysler running every so often a few years after I traded it in, I wonder if the wheels have fallen off, yet.

Scripture teaches us that everything fades away. Instead of staying stable even that old car that never quit running is just drifting away little by little. A little bit more washes away with every sand and salt covered road.

People who live in big central cities and out in the country have experienced this same kind of thing first hand. Something that used to be permanent is now simply disappearing in the rain and the wind. Old houses in forgotten city neighborhoods and old farm places that are falling into the ground have a lot to teach us about our impermanence. Moss replaces shingles, rock solid wall plaster walls just give way over time, and dust remains behind. A few generations ago people came home to what's now pile of rotting wood; it was the safe haven from winter, snow, rain, and winds and now its turning back into the dust and the earth.

Things that we think are permanent aren’t. Things that we can see, things that we count on everyday, turn to dust. And into this world comes something that you can’t even see that will not turn to dust: the Spirit of the living God. Jesus gave the Spirit to all who follow him. It is the Spirit who will help you see God. But you can’t see the Spirit. Just like you can’t see the wind. Billy Graham used to say that you see the effect of the wind just like you can see the effect that God has in our world. He said it’s a mystery. Even worse is that we don’t always see God’s activity either in this world.

Jesus said go and make disciples in the name of the 3 in 1 God who will never fade away. Go and share a promise that in him we have life after everything else has turned to dust.

Monday, May 5, 2008

God gives away the Spirit Acts 2:1-21 John 20:19-23

Jesus is up to something big by passing the Holy Spirit on to us; but there's more to this gift than might be first expected. God's Spirit isn't given in a neatly wrapped package (with gift receipt) at one point or time in history.

Our readings this Sunday tell us two distinct occasions when the Spirit came into believers' lives.

  • The risen Jesus breathed out and told his friends receive the Holy Spirit. They gathered in a locked room fearing the same people who had killed Jesus. They'd heard the first reports of the resurrection and still feared for their lives. Jesus came and stood among them breathing out and telling them "peace be with you" and "receive the holy spirit (John 20).
  • The Spirit was seen as fire in tongues on the Apostles' heads in Jerusalem. The believers gathered together in Jerusalem praying and praising God together. Beyond human explanation they began to speak, each one in their own native tongue, and understand one another regardless of where they came from or what language they spoke (Acts 2).
God's on the loose. We can impose no limits on where the Spirit moves in flame, breath, wind, or whatever other form God might choose. In Religion After 2000 Andrew Greeley offers a helpful challenge to the church asking two questions that are great for Pentecost.

Why, I wonder, are we so afraid of mystery?

Or to put it another way why are so eager to budget the Holy Spirit's time for Her when on the record She is determined to blow whither she will?

The gift of the Spirit is a promise of future relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God comes to this relationship freely and unfettered by our judgments and ideas about what God can or can't do. Jesus' gift of the Spirit is a mystery that we don't solve or resolve; instead the Spirit is the very real presence of God meeting us together with God's Word over and over. The Holy Spirit meets us not as we humans would choose; but as God would choose. The Spirit comes freely to comfort, chastise, enliven, and move us.

A comment from Nancy, in response to last week's post about Jesus' prayer in John 17, has really gotten me thinking about God's gift of the Spirit. What Nancy wrestled with so beautifully is the idea of Jesus giving away a part of the divine in Pentecost. What happens at Pentecost isn't the grand finale; God's promises to be with us from here on into the future; and as we go into whatever future might be in store we know that we don't go alone.