Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jesus Christ, the new imperishable Temple

John 2.13-22


His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

It can be a little hard to consider and see a Jesus who gets so worked up in an angry fit. Most of the time we like to think of Jesus in much different ways. We like to see Jesus as a kind and loving man who takes compassion on the people he meets. We like to remember Jesus as a man who gathers children in a loving and gentle way. We like to see Jesus as a man who weeps deeply for the people he cares about. But we don’t know exactly what to do with as Jesus who lashes out in anger. We don’t like to see Jesus upturning tables, whipping and driving livestock out, and yelling at people to STOP IT! At least, I don’t know exactly how to handle this scene where Jesus is running about creating chaos where some people have simply come to do their regular work and others have come to simply worship the Lord. I find myself to be much more like the disciples who gawk in amazement as it’s happening only to later realize what was going on. I suspect that if someone was to burst in here this morning and start over turning pews and throwing hymnals about, we would be flabbergasted at such behavior. Yet, this is the Jesus we are confronted with this morning – an angry Jesus consumed by zeal for his Father’s house upsetting what would have otherwise been a normal day.

Why is Jesus so angry? What have these people done that they hadn’t been doing for years upon years? You see, everything that Jesus was angry at was a vital part to how worship in the temple worked for people who were coming to worship their Lord God. Money changers were there so that people could use money that didn’t have graven images on it in the temple. The animals and the people selling them were there so that people would have the required sacrificial animals as told to them in the Torah by Moses himself. This wasn’t corruption plaguing God’s house. It was normal and necessary for worship in God’s house. So, when the temple leadership comes to Jesus asking him what’s going on, they want to know what the purpose of all this is, and simply asking Jesus, “Who do you think you are? Give us an explanation for all this mayhem!” All that Jesus has to say for himself is to point to himself and say, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

To say this to the temple leadership was to say something quite audacious. They were those in the society who studied the Torah and knew the history of the Jewish people. For one, to think that a large stone structure could built back up in three days was ludicrous to them. But, even deeper than ridiculousness of the surface of that statement, they also knew that their temple had been destroyed before. They knew that the destruction of the temple had happened before in terrible times when they were even forced to leave their homes and live as strangers in a strange land. Saying that the temple was going to be destroyed was bringing up a terrible history that shook the people of Israel to the core. No one in their right mind who was Jewish would have wished that upon them again. And yet, here this Jew named Jesus was giving the leaders of the temple and the Jewish faith that the temple was to be destroyed.

We too have built up temples for ourselves all throughout our life. We have created places, things, or even relationships that become the places in our lives where we believe we know where God is. Think about our homes. Our homes become temples quite easily when we let them represent a place where we are happy or at least where we try to secure our happiness. Home is refuge from the hectic world. Home is a warm place on a cold night. Home is sign of our hard work come or coming to fruition. Think about our church buildings. Our churches are places that hold our memories and all the memories of those who have gone before us. Our churches are places where we come to be with God on a weekly basis, or so. Think about our relationships – with our children, our spouses, or our brothers and sisters. These relationships are places we give and receive love and support. These relationships help to give us our sense of identity. These relationships are sources strength for us in hard times. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with our homes, churches, or relationships, just like there is nothing wrong with the Temple and temple worship. The thing is, these temples that we construct for ourselves whether they are our homes, churches, or friends and family are sadly all perishable either sooner or later. Each one of those examples will eventually fall down and crumble either tragically or in their due time. Yet, crumble they still do. Church buildings will eventually fall into disrepair or be torn down. Our homes will eventually do much the same. Our relationships will either sadly break apart in our lifetimes or they will end as the people eventually die. Even the temple in Jerusalem eventually fell into ruin where only a single wall still stands as evidence that it was there at all.

But Jesus knew that this must happen if the people are to truly know who God is. Jesus comes to show the people of Israel and all people that God is more than place on earth. Moreover, Jesus comes to show all the people that worship of God is more than a transaction to be made by buying the right sacrificial animal with the right kind of money. Jesus comes to show them all that he is the temple of God who comes to earth who not even death can destroy. In Jesus we are given a new temple that will never fail either in this lifetime or the lifetimes of the generations to come. In Jesus we are given the presence of God living, breathing, and walking with in our lives. This is the church that is given to us by the Holy Spirit – the church that is present wherever Jesus is proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly administered. This church is not dependant on our hopes and dreams. This church is not dependant upon our ability to make budgets or provide exciting programs to be interested in. This church is simply dependant upon presence of Christ within the people gathered to hear the Word and receive the sacraments.

This morning we will gather around the table to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this sacrament, we receive the very presence of Christ in the body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine. It is the gift given to us by God so that we might know and have Christ in our lives – so that we might know the presence of the one who forgives us deeply and abundantly. This special gift, given to us by the grace God, is given to show us and help us remember that Christ is eternal and present whenever we break bread together, laugh together, cry together, or even struggle together. This is a new temple that will be with us wherever we go, no matter where we go.

In this new temple only one thing is required – the life centering trust in God that flows forth from what God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit has done for us, simply put faith. No longer does our relationship with God depend on the good that we try to do in our life. Rather, the good in our life and the good we do in our life flows from this gift of faith. What we do as Christians only matters in how we share this good news with everyone else around us. What we do only matters in how we continually come back to the Word and the sacraments to hear and receive yet again God’s love and zeal for us in our life. Christ is not in the things we do or the things we build. This is why Jesus was so zealous in his chaotic upsetting of temple life. His anger is show us that he is God who has come to be with us in our everyday life, in our death, and raise us up into new life.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bearing your cross as standing up for what is right...

Mark 8.31-38

What does it mean to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus? This is a question that people have been struggling with for years upon years. It has been used as a foundation for great acts of kindness and courage, yet it has also been used too many times to cause great harm for people in their lives. Don’t even start to think that serious questions over what Jesus means by saying “take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus already has an idea that his words spoken here are mightily controversial. He already knows that there are and will be those who are ashamed of Jesus and his words here. So, how are we to take this call to action that Jesus proclaims after rebuking Peter, calling him and his ideas of what Jesus should be “Satan”?

In one sense, I am ashamed of these words. I know that’s very dangerous thing to say especially since Jesus warns that those who are ashamed of these words now, will be ashamed of Jesus when comes again in glory. It’s just that I simply can’t escape the fact that this phrase or paraphrase of it has been used too many times in the past to cause people to stay in bad situations that took away life from people – sometimes literally taking life. “Take up your cross” or “you cross to bear” has been used to keep women in abusive relationships, because a woman should bear that cross so as to bear witness to the abuser in love and charity. It has even been used in the past to keep people in slavery or other forms of oppression. Let me say right now that that is NOT an okay use of these words. That is why I am ashamed of these words. I am ashamed because these words have been used too much to get people to quietly endure pain and suffering that God never intends for people to have to go through in their lives.

Yet, despite God not wanting us to quietly endure pain and suffering, we all do endure pain and suffering in our lives. Pain and suffering is a reality. There is no escaping it, yet there is a huge difference between God wanting us to suffer AND the recognition that there is pain and suffering in our lives whether or not we want it in our lives. The idea that Jesus is looking to create a society of people who seek out pain and suffering is just plain ridiculous. Rather, Jesus is looking for people in the midst of their pain and suffering to get up and follow him even in the midst of their pain and suffering. Jesus recognizes that, all too often life plainly sucks, and he is calling them to trust and follow him in the midst of that suffering – calling them to a new life lived in the hope of God’s love.

Despite of all of that, there is another answer to that question of what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus. That answer is that you recognize the reality of the suffering and still stand up for what is right. Take farming for example. Here is a profession where you are at the complete mercy of not only nature, but also the local to global economies that dictate whether or not you’re going to make money off of the crops you planted or the cows that you milk. For many farmers, this means that there will be very lean years where you live right on the edge of losing the farm and everything that you’ve put so much love and work into. In one sense, it would be smarter to get out do something else that has a regular paycheck providing steady income and maybe even benefits. But, why do farmers still farm? Why do they still go out to their cows to milk them? Why do they plant new fields every year? But despite all those questions, there is something right about making a living intimately connected to the earth and providing people with food AND providing a diverse market when there are so many large corporate operations looking to pay the absolute minimum for the labor required to bring forth food from the earth.

I’m also reminded of the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960’s. In the civil rights movement, we had people who intentionally put themselves in harm’s way as a protest to “stand up” for what. Dr. King knew that bad things were going to happen to people, especially if they stood up against the injustices that had been oppressing them for so very long. The thing is, he wasn’t seeking out pain and suffering or even resigning himself to the pain and suffering of segregation and discrimination. No, he was standing up in the midst of his pain and suffering that he shared with everyone else who stood up with him.

You see denying yourself and taking up your cross and following Jesus means striving for what is right, good and healthy for you in your lives. Sometimes that means looking for ways to end downward spirals of pain and suffering. Sometimes that means striving for what’s right even if it may be a lost cause. But, this idea of bearing your cross is at its heart loving all the people who are around you. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. The way of Jesus is looking to the needs of other people who are around you. The way of Jesus is putting to death selfish concerns and desires and living in the hope that Christ brings us through his death on the cross.

We must always remember that, when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, he goes before us to the cross to stand up for all of humanity, even in the midst of his pain and suffering. Jesus knows that his way must be a way that leads to his death, because it is only by his death that he might stand up for us even in our death and raise us to new life. Peter doesn’t want it to be this way. That’s why he pulls Jesus aside and tries to correct his idea that Jesus hasn’t come as military leader to defeat all opposition. But, Jesus will have absolutely none of this. Jesus says that there is a divine reason for he has come to earth – to be rejected and suffer, for what is right. What is right is the cross that Jesus bears is that Jesus loves us even when we reject him to suffering and death. In Jesus’ cross, in Christ’s death, we are shown the eternal depths of God’s love and forgiveness for us in the world. Jesus’ way, the way we are called to follow, is a way of incredible love, love even in the midst of pain and suffering, love that stands up for and cares for the others in our lives. We don’t do this to emulate Christ’s suffering. We don’t do this to even perfect our faith. We do this for the sake of the one who does all of that for us. We do this to emulate Christ’s infinite love for all of creation, not as we ought, but as we are able. Christ’s love is the hope for what is good, right, and healthy in the world.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lent Sermon - The Faithfulness of Christ

Galatians 3:23-29
Midweek Lent 2009

I recently had the pleasure of seeing all of my very good friends who I went to seminary with. We all had met together at the annual Rural Ministry Conference hosted by my seminary that I recently graduated from, Wartburg, and the Center for Theology and Land. And while it was great to see the people I forged such great relationships in the place that holds so many wonderful memories of those friendships, I also got see my Godson, Martin. I first got to know Martin when he just an infant totally dependant on his mom and dad. I even got to see him grow in his first year of life during my last year at seminary. But, since we all graduated last May and went to our respective first I’ve only gotten to see a grand total of three times. So, when I saw him for the first time in almost six months, I was surprised by how much he has become a little boy who runs around with great energy, exploring his entire world around him. No longer was he an infant who was totally dependant upon the people who took care of him.

Now, he’s a little boy who climbs up and down stairs. Now, he’s a little boy who plays racks of greeting cards on display in the bookstore at my old seminary. Now, he’s a little boy who wanders to and fro getting into things exploring every nook and cranny he can find. Now instead of trying to get him to do things like play with toys with me, I found myself telling to be careful as he went down the hard steps in chapel. I found myself telling him to stay in the bookstore while his mommy was away making a phone call, even running to get him as he started to wander off into the hall. In a way, I was holding him and guarding him from dangers in his life. I’m going to go ahead and guess on this, and I suspect that it is a pretty good guess even though I don’t have children of my own: every parent has had to do this for their children throughout their lives. Every parent has had to guide, protect, and hold their children from danger. Every parent has had to set boundaries for their children to help protect them and raise them in their lives. Every parent has had to discipline their children when those boundaries were tested and broken. And every parent has had to eventually let that go as their children grow up and lead their lives for themselves.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that that was much the same relationship that God had with humanity and the rest of creation. “Before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law.” I think that when one hears the word “imprisoned,” one thinks that someone must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment of being thrown into prison; yet even though we have rebelled and crossed the boundaries that God has set before us, the imprisonment here is the rules and the bounds that God had set for us so that we might be safe. And, it’s not simply imprisonment that Paul is talking about. He’s also uses the language of guarded like a parent guards a child from dangers and cares for us. But, all of this was before faith came. We are no longer under a law that protects and guides us.

So, what is faith? Paul implies here that, now that faith has come, the old system of guidance and care under the law is no longer for us. How is faith then setting us free from imprisonment under the law? The key is to recognize from where faith comes. Faith comes to us when Christ comes to us. Faith is revealed in who Christ is and what Christ does. Rules we can follow. Laws we can obey. Or, at least laws and rules can in theory be followed and obeyed. Sadly, in all these laws and rules we all too often forsake them and turn away from how they want us to live our lives as we cross the boundaries that God has set before us in our lives. We hurt others. We grab for only ourselves. We worship upon other idols have no ability to give us life. We even let other things control whether or not we see the worth in ourselves.

But faith comes to us. Faith seeks us out in our inability to follow all the rules and laws set before us in our lives. And this faith comes to us through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus who comes to us in our sin and brokenness. This faith is the life centering trust in God who is the sole source of life for us. In this faith, we become the children of God. We are the children of a God who cares for and loves us with an unending faithfulness that follows us wherever we might stray. Our faith, our trust is in a God who never failing comes to us in every part of our lives. Our faith, our trust is in a God who comes to us even when break rules and laws and cross the boundaries that have been set up for us. Our faith, our trust is in a God who gives a new identity that changes the very core of who we are. Our faith, our trust is in a God who becomes our sin and death by going to the cross faithfully, loving us too much to abandon us in our sin and death.

No longer are we defined by our nationality as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our social status as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our gender differences as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our deaths, for in Jesus’ death on the cross, we are united with Christ raised into new life. All of this is because of God’s self-giving love who comes to us, not because we can ever give it back perfectly to God, but because God’s chooses us. All the other things that separate us from God and each other no longer should separate us, because Jesus loves us equally, dies for us equally, and raises us to new life equally.

Jesus’ faith is not a trust in that we can become something better ourselves. Jesus’ faith is not like a parent learning to trust a child to make decisions for him or herself. Jesus’ faith is the constant promise that he will always come to us even in our failings no matter what we might do or where we might go. I look at my relationship with my Godson, Martin, and I see that my perception of him will have to change as he grows older. I will have to trust him more and more. But, I will have to trust that God is there in his life just as much as God is in my life. Martin is a child of God. I’m a Child of God. You all are children of God. This is revelation of faith. This is what Christ brings to us in our lives. This is the never-ending faithful promise of God for all of creation.