the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: February, 2016

how often

a sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:31-35

Jesus was not here to play games. The Pharisees, if not the enemy up to this point, were at the very least the “home team” when it came to the Jewish religious authority of the day to Jesus’ controversial upstart underdog movement. That fact notwithstanding, the Pharisees do inform Jesus of Herod’s supposed plan. Jesus however, is not interested in playing their games. Jesus sees through the Pharisees, sees through Herod, and grounds himself in the knowledge that God’s plan will trump any moves by the authorities of man until the time is right.

This is a strong move by Jesus. Jesus has and will continue to engage in open dialogue with not just the Pharisees but religious and legal authorities the like, throughout his ministry. But here today, Jesus is not playing into the fear, into the temptation to take the bait and play into the political game that is being waged. Jesus should rightfully be afraid of Herod. Herod (albeit perhaps somewhat unintentionally) has already had the head of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, served up on a silver platter. Jesus could have taken this warning from the the Pharisees today and moved on. Instead, Jesus stands his ground, declares that the political machinations at play in this world will not impact his work, and that he will die when he is ready to do so, as is destined, as is his right as a prophet, to preach the Good News in Jerusalem, be betrayed, and in dying, fulfill the greatest promise to creation that has ever been offered.

Jesus declares today that he is not done yet. He directs the Pharisees to listen, listen to me, I AM God’s son, I AM the savior, I AM, and because I AM, I will do what I have been sent to do, without interference, without playing into the preconceived notions of what is expected of me, without playing into the political games that you want to trap me into, without acknowledging power that was never yours to begin with. Jesus is not done because he has the work of casting out demons and curing those who are ill. Jesus is not done because his Good News is not yet shared. Jesus is not done because the work of Christ is never done. Even in his death, Jesus was not done.

And, the work of Christ cannot be done, because the city of Jerusalem, the seat of God’s chosen people, has yet to be touched by the physical grace of God for this final time. The city of Jerusalem has had its chances. God’s chosen people have gone back and forth with God since the creation. God and the creation have learned and grown from each other, but, the creation has consistently turned away, relying instead on our own ability to reason and make judgment, relying instead on our own ability to create peace and justice without a reliance on God. And, they have been failing miserably. Jesus Christ himself is a symbol of this continued utter failure by the creation to understand that the presence of God in their life is a necessity to co-creating with God. For it is only through co-creating with God that we can create the peace and justice we want to see in this world.

Jesus takes this opportunity in declaring that his work is incomplete, that he has no worry of games of the Pharisees and Herod, to call out to Jerusalem on behalf of God once more. Jesus speaks to Jerusalem directly, a way of speaking to all of God’s creation and God’s chosen people quite specifically. Jesus laments: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

“How often have I desired…”

“How Often…”

There is a definite sense of frustration bubbling underneath the words of Jesus. There is also a sense of desperation, exasperation that the people of God have not yet grasped the foundational concepts that God has been trying to instill since the beginning of creation. This is a sense that we are all familiar with. Who here has never had their point gotten? Explaining once, twice, thrice, and received blank stares in return? I do not have children yet, but adopting a puppy this week, I can confirm that she has absolutely no idea what I want her to do half the time. There is a sense under the surface of this message from Jesus today that reflects a very real human reality, that sometime the work, the very hard work, of spreading a message, particularly one that is countercultural can be taxing, tiring, exhausting when the intended party has no interest in listening (or in the case of our puppy, simply doesn’t get it). This is a very real reality, a very real human experience that shows the humanity of God through Christ, that shows the somewhat desperate measure that is being undertaken by Jesus Christ, knowing that death is certain, and trudging on to it anyways.

And, this is where Jesus departs from what many of us are able to accomplish, because, even with the prospect of death looming on the horizon, Jesus does not let the frustration, the desperation and exasperation, stop him from continuing to spread the Good News with passion and fire. We however often face the very real danger of burning out. When we become frustrated, tired, done, we allow that to win over. When we burn out, it affects us deeply. we lose our motivation. We lose our ability to follow through. We lose our purpose. Burn out takes away something that was life-giving. Whether it be from constantly running up against roadblocks, being caught in a situation where your ability to perform is taken away, or simply never making the head way that you thought possible, burn out takes us from once promising, to another crushed spirit.

But, it does not have to be that way. Burn out happens because we lose sight of what we were working so hard for in the first place. Burn out happens because we never were working hard for something that mattered deeply to us. Burn out happens because we try to take it all on, and forget that without a deep, strong foundation, we cannot succeed. Jesus knew this. Jesus drew deeply on his relationship with God to not only avoid burn out, that common human ailment, but thrive under a situation where he faced opposition at every turn, to thrive in a place and time that had already received every chance imaginable and refused to listen. When we recognize the signs of burn out in our life we have to ask ourselves why? Why am I allowing myself to get beat down by the world? Why am I at a dead end? What am I missing?

If you ask yourself those questions I think you will find the answer lies in your relationship to God and how you are living into that relationship in your life. It is true that sometimes we may be stuck in a place where it seems that everyone around us can’t get their stuff together, and you may wonder how your relationship with God can help then, but remember the why to the what you are doing. Remembering the why, the purpose for what you do, recenters our focus on God. If we find that the why itself is not centered on God, on living into our life as faithful Christians, then perhaps it’s time to rediscover how it is we are called to share the Good News of Christ in this world through the example of our life and actions.

Jesus declares today that he is not done. Jesus declares today that the work of spreading the Good News that is the love of God, that is the forgiveness that awaits our seeking repentance, is so important that the political games of the Pharisees and Herod are not worth his time, that he is so confident in this work that he will not ever face death from Herod for that work is reserved to the city of Jerusalem, and even then, he is still committed to sharing the Good News once more with them. It puts our own frustrations into perspective a bit. We are only human, we will face frustration, desperation, exasperation, and we will be tempted to give into those emotions and burn out, allow the head bashing to win out, allow our reliance on only ourselves to dictate whether or not we are successful.

But, we must look to Jesus in these times. We must see that when we put our faith into God. When we put our reliance on the work of God in this world, we cannot burn out and we cannot be defeated. Rather, in reflecting our understanding of God, of the Good News of Christ, through our life, through our work, we can never burn out because we are sharing a fundamental truth with the world: that God loves, no matter how broken we are. This fundamental truth can only serve as motivation. This fundamental truth carries us through, and if we are committed to sharing it with the world, then however we go about doing that, we will do so with the same passion and fire of Christ, because this fundamental truth is something which cannot be challenged, it is the truth of the Good News, it is the truth that is our right as the creation of God.

Amen.

the devil is real

a sermon for the first sunday of Lent, preached at the 5:30pm and 8am services

The devil is real. The devil is not fiction or fantasy. The devil is also not a red demon with forked tongue and pitchfork. The devil is a very real part of our existence and the devil is not shy to make an appearance. The devil has the audacity to challenge Jesus Christ, so it’s no wonder that we are viewed as easy prey. But, the devil winning is never a foregone conclusion. The devil winning is never a permanent state. The devil winning is not really winning at all but a loss of self, a loss that is recoverable, redeemable, forgivable. When we meet Jesus in the wilderness today we have great empathy for him because we know what it is like to go through the wilderness. We know what it is like to be tempted by the devil. We know what it is like to want what the devil has on offer. And, we know how easy it is, we know what it means to give into the temptations of the devil, to turn from God, to get lost in the wilderness. Jesus does not get lost in the wilderness. Jesus does not give into the devil. It is in this moment that we must draw our strength, it is in this moment that we must acknowledge the reality of the devil and turn the game on its head, so that the devil cannot win.

The season of Lent affords us a time to experience rebirth, resurrection. But, the season of Lent can also lead to our wallowing in self-pity, self-doubt, losing our faith, losing our hope. This happens because, as is oftentimes the case, when we take a moment to take stock during lent, it is quite possible that what we discover about ourselves, we do not like. And, when we find something about ourselves that we do not like, it is hard to see the love, the hope that is the community around, which is the real presence of God in our lives. When we give into self-hatred, when we give into self-judgment, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not…we are not only giving into a false reality of ourselves, we are giving into the forces of darkness that are present in this world. There is a reason why our negative impressions of ourself seem to compound upon each other, steamrolling away, leaving us feeling hopeless, leaving us feeling pathetic and alone. The darkness that is active in this world latches onto us and drags us down, feeding our self-loathing, encouraging our self-doubt. It is really hard to listen to other people trying to raise you up when the opinion of yourself keeps you from recognizing the true love that is extended to you.

This sucks. This is a terrible place to be. This is not the type of life any of us want for ourselves, and yet, it can seem like the only way to go about our daily routine. This is our personal time in the wilderness. Whether it is 40 days or 40 years we have all experienced in our lives periods of wilderness. Some of us have experienced cycles of wilderness and grounding and some of us experienced wilderness once and never want to return to that place. I experienced the wilderness in my life, a time when I felt so distant from the person I wanted to be. It’s surprising when you catch yourself and realize that you are not happy. I remember that moment 6 years ago as if it were yesterday. I remember it so vividly both because of how down I was, how much I had let the powers of darkness drag me down, allowing me to pity myself, allowing me to not see the joy that was right in front of me. And, I remember it so vividly because of how quickly I was able to turn it around when I looked for the one thing that was truly missing in my life and found God waiting to welcome me back into the fold with the open arms I had always said were there but not needed by me.

Jesus serves as a guide for us today and always to help us come out of the darkness. To stand up to the devil that tempts us each and every day. To know that the power of the devil is not unbeatable. Each time the devil tempts Jesus, puts before him a question, a test, challenges Jesus’ power and authority as much as the devil is challenging God, Jesus responds. Jesus responds in a way that helps guide us in our own struggles with darkness. Jesus is getting at the deeper issue put forth with each temptation. Jesus is answering in a manner that places the power of his resistance not in himself, nor does it allow room for the devil to continue pressuring, because Jesus has put his faith into the power of God. The power of God which cannot be defeated by the devil, especially when we look past the surface of what is on offer and connect to the deeper reality that is presented.

Jesus serves as a guide in our own personal struggles with the devil. Jesus also serves as a guide for us when we are called to help others in their struggles with the darkness pressing in on them. This season of Lent is a space when we are uniquely called to serve as guides. To serve in the “the intense work of acting as midwife for those the Spirit is calling us to accompany through Lent toward baptism at Easter.” We are called to be guides, to be these holy midwives for those the Spirit is calling us to accompany, because the season of Lent is not so much about our terribleness and brokenness as it is about the fact that despite our terribleness and brokenness God loves us anyways. And, when we recognize this fact, we realize that our terribleness and brokenness are not what defines us. Our terribleness and brokenness are our burden of being of creation, but we are redeemable, we are capable of seeking forgiveness, we are capable of standing up to the devil and saying no thank you, not today, not ever.

When we acknowledge this reality, an earth-shattering, reality-shifting realization, then we can be the guides that we are called to be in this season because we know that Lent is ultimately about hope. We cannot share the Good News without sharing hope. We cannot come to worship each week without knowing hope exists, that hope is present, that hope is attainable, that through hope we can be loved again. We could not make it through this season of penitence, fasting, reconciliation if we did not have the hope that is the promise of forgiveness that comes from God. Knowing this, knowing that Lent is about hope, now we can become the guides, the midwives for those who seek, those whom the Holy Spirit sends to us and us to them. The experience of Jesus in the wilderness should fill us with immeasurable hope. Here is our savior, going toe to toe with the devil, and winning convincingly. If Jesus can so handedly defeat the devil, than, particularly with a little help from the community of believers, the devil can be just as easily defeated by those who claim the hope of Christ, driving out the darkness, replacing it with the reality of hope, love that is being of the community of believers, that is being of Christ.

The devil is real. The powers of darkness in this world are not unknown, they are present every day. We all know what they look like. We all know that this reality is present, even if we try and tell ourselves that the devil is a silly little myth told to scare children. But, even though the devil is real, it does not mean that we are bound to it. Even though the devil is real, it does not mean that we are destined to the darkness. Instead, through our faith in Jesus Christ, we can defeat the devil. And, when we defeat the devil, when we take away the power of the devil in our own lives, then we can in turn serve as guides, as holy midwives, agents of the Holy Spirit, to guide others who find themselves lost in the wilderness. Lent is a season of hope. Lent is a season that requires us to reflect on self, and in reflecting we may find things we don’t like, but through hope, through seeking forgiveness, we can find hope again. And, we can reflect that hope, reflect the very love of God to those who find in their reflection something or someone to dislike, to put down, to wallow in.

Christ is our guide. Christ is our champion and victor over not just the devil but death itself. And, Christ does this through spreading a Good News of hope, of love, of redemption. Christ does this through spreading a Good News that says no matter how down and out, no matter how outcast, depressed, self-hating, self-doubtful we may be, we can always turn to God and find the forgiveness, find the love, find the hope that we seek. Lent provides us a season to find this for ourselves. Lent provides us a season to guide others to find it for themselves. Take the devil, the darkness seriously and overcome. Take Lent seriously and find the hope in your own life. Take Lent seriously and discover the depth of faith, the strength of relationship that one can have with God. Take Lent seriously and be a holy midwife for those whom the Spirit brings to you. Take Lent seriously and know that God is with you always, even when the devil shows up to tempt you.

Amen.