Archive for June, 2008

Sermon – Saints Peter and Paul: June 29, 2008

S

omeone once said,

“A man without God is like a teenager with a powerful car.”

I like the simile.

Sometimes a teenager, full of his own possibility,

can see only that possibility,

sees the power of the car as an extension of his own identity.

The power of the car is used to attract attention

and increase the freedom of the owner.

No respect is given to the power of the car to injure, to wound, to kill.

 

When I consider Peter and Paul

I see two men who could have easily been

people who lived lives full of their own possibilities.

With their strong personalities,

their incredible energy,

their magnetism,

they could have easily gone through life like teenagers with powerful cars,

heedless of the destruction and fear they would have left in their wake.

They could have become tyrants,

they could have become cult leaders,

and of course in some people’s minds, they were.

What made them different,

what made them not teenagers with powerful cars?

What made them people who, like Paul in 1st Corinthians,

called the weak people of the Church “God’s temple?”

 

If there ever was a symbol of religious power

it was the Jerusalem Temple.

If God lived in heaven,

The Temple was God’s home on earth,

You could go to the Temple to communicate with God.

You had to go to the Temple to sacrifice to God.

And what does Paul say?

To the weak, sinning, foolish, wounded people of the 1st Christian Church in Corinth?

He says,

“You are God’s temple – God’s Spirit lives in you.”

In other words,

“You are the place where God lives on earth.”

Not an impressive building,

constructed upon the backs of slave laborers,

erected by Herod the Great to cement his kingship over Judea,

but a bunch of ordinaries like you and like me,

the place where God decides to camp on earth.

 

In order to say such a thing,

in order even to conceive of such a thing,

Paul has to have such a respect for others,

such an insight into  God and others,

as to seemingly defy understanding.

It’s still a problem today, isn’t it –

no matter how many times we sing “We are the church together,”

no matter how many times some well-meaning preacher mentions it,

we still are captive to this idea

that the church is the building and not the people

and we think that God lives here somewhere in this space

and not in us.

 

And yet Paul got it.

Paul understood that God meant to live on earth in people,

in the Person of his Son, Jesus and in all who were built upon him.

Peter says very much the same thing in his first letter,

where he writes,

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals

yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and

5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,

to be a holy priesthood,

to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 

Whenever I think of St. Peter,

I think of watching a mini-series called “A.D.” about the lives of the apostles

back in the days when there were both mini-series

and actual biblical dramas on television.

I didn’t watch the whole thing,

but I remember the moment when Peter was told he was to be crucified,

and he said, “I don’t deserve to die in the same way that He did.”

And so they crucified him head down,

honoring his last wish.

Ever since, one of the symbols of Peter has been the cross turned upside-down.

Legend?  Perhaps.

But it seems to cohere well with Peter’s giving pre-eminence to Jesus.

For it was Jesus who himself set Peter on the way to the cross,

it was Peter who would have done everything and did everything to avoid the cross

had it not been for Jesus embracing it with him and for him.

 

Peter,

the Great Denier,

and Paul,

the Great Persecutor.

How would it be if we called today

the Festival of the Great Denier and the Great Persecutor?

Peter,

who denied the cross and Jesus himself in the courtyard of Pilate,

out of fear for his life,

Paul,

who stood by as Stephen was stoned to death,

who with the zeal of a J. Edgar Hoover

found followers of  Jesus and had them carried them off to prison

where they would face charges of blasphemy and heresy,

But the Great Denier and the Great Persecutor

both were brought to their knees by Christ’s redemptive love.

Their faith in this merciful God brought them likewise up from their knees

and got them walking and talking of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Their own lives led to their deaths and so too, to their resurrections.

 

Pastor, professor and teacher Harry Wendt

is fond of saying

that the Bible is a book with only one hero.

Who was it?

Not Adam – listening to your wife is usually a good thing, but not in this case.

Not Noah – he was a drunkard.

Not Abraham – he was an idol-worshiper before God met him.

Not Jacob – he stole his inheritance from his brother.

Not Moses – he said, “Send someone else.”

Not King David – he was a murderer and an adulterer.

Not King Solomon – he worshiped foreign gods.

Not Jonah – he fled to Tarshish and later sulked under a bush.

Not Peter – he denied –

not Paul – he persecuted –

not Thomas – he doubted –

not James and John – they wanted glory for themselves.

The only hero in the Bible is God.

God always seeking, always searching,

always calling to people to turn away from sin

and towards the people that they can be –

temples of his Spirit,

members of his Son’s body,

children of the heavenly Father.

These two, Peter and Paul, were saved by God from themselves to be for others.

Saved from is to be saved for.

That is why we remember them in Christ this day,

and pray that we might become like them,

saved by God from ourselves to be for others,

temples of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism,

messengers of the Good News to a world still in need of it.

 

 

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June 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

Church Photo Site Now Online!

You can keep up with what we’re doing in our ministries at the following website:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/messiahlutheran

I have been able to put up some Vacation Church School photos so far.

June 23, 2008 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Sermon 6/22/08

Proper 7A

Messiah Lutheran Church

June 22, 2008

 

There is a story about a little boy

who wouldn’t eat his brussel sprouts when they were served.

Eventually his mother got used to this

and he didn’t get any brussel sprouts on his plate when they were on the menu.

But one night this little boy’s grandmother was over,

and what was on the table but brussel sprouts.

“Danny,” said Grandma, “aren’t you going to eat any brussel sprouts?”

“No, Grandma, I don’t get brussel sprouts.”

“And why not, Danny?”

“Because I can’t eat them.”

“Oh, Danny, you know you can.”

            “No, Grandma, I can’t.”

“I bet you can.  I bet you this ten-dollar bill you can.”

And just like that, Danny had grabbed the dish

and tipped a heap of brussel sprouts onto his plate

and ate them all up.

He got his ten dollars.

 

The next time they sat down to dinner

and brussel sprouts were on the table,

Danny passed them around as usual without taking any.

But his mother passed him back the bowl.

“Take a helping,” she said, a little more short than usual.

“But Mom, I don’t get brussel sprouts.”

“You do now,” she said.  “You can eat them.”

            “But Mom, I only ate them because…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish,

because his mother said to him,

“You did it for money…Now do it for love.”

 

Remember the little verse we heard last week in the sermon?

We love because God loved us first.

Seven – seven – simple words.

1 John 4:19.

As soon as Paul says something similar,

his people misunderstand him with almost blinding speed.

He says, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,”

to speak of the inexpressible love of God for people,

to speak of God’s rescuing heart for people.

And immediately Paul’s audience assumes that he is encouraging sin,

so that God can be gracious.

Such a reasoning might be found in a child

who has known the joy of forgiveness with a parent

and therefore she begins to act out and cause conflict,

so that there can be again a reconciliation.

Or even worse, a child who sows dissension

because he is sure that there are never any consequences;

because he is sure that he is secure in the parent’s love.

 

Two of the best comic strips of the past fifty years,

Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes,

repeatedly explored this theme of grace and good works

around the holidays every year.

“I’ve got this Santa Claus thing licked, Charlie Brown!”

announces Shermy one year.

“If there IS a Santa Claus, he’s going to be too good not to give me presents,

no matter how I behave, right?  Right!

“And, if there ISN’T a Santa Claus, then I haven’t really lost anything.  Right?”

And Shermy walks away, satisfied,

leaving Charlie Brown to answer into thin air:

“WRONG!  But I don’t know where!”

 

It is one of the most immediate challenges to the doctrine of God’s grace.

If our acceptance by God is out of God’s own great love and is God’s own work,

if “God loves us first,”

then what incentive is there for human beings to abandon the life of sin,

to act towards God and others in the way God wants for them?

What motivation does a human being have then to change his/her behavior?

When Grandma’s not around to slip a ten to little Danny,

what motivation does he have to eat those yucky brussel sprouts?

 

You have to read the whole sentence:

We love because God loves us first.

Or, one could change it around.

Because God loves us first, therefore we love.

Our love is always a response to the love with which God loves us.

Shermy has it wrong.

All people who try to bribe Santa Claus, or a parent, or a god,

with good behavior,

and that’s all of us sometimes and some of us all the time,

have it wrong.

All people who assume that because God loves us first,

we are free to be satisfied with our brokenness,

and that’s some of us all of the time and all of us some of the time,

have it wrong.

You see, it’s not about behavior at all.

Danny behaves in a certain way

because he thinks it will get him money,

but doesn’t want to behave that way for free.

It has nothing to do with behavior at all.

It has everything to do with the love that motivates behavior.

 

For Paul, who died on the cross?

It wasn’t just Jesus that died,

it was him that was killed there,

the sinful self, the old self,

the one more concerned with Paul than with God.

For Paul, who was raised from the tomb on the third day?

Not just Jesus who was raised from the dead,

but he himself was raised,

to live a new life,

to now truly love because God loved him first,

to be less concerned with behaving and more with acting,

to live confident in the love of God.

 

How is this symbolized in Paul’s life?

Because he has a new identity, he gets a new name.

He was Saul.

Saul is dead.

He is now Paul.

One of our confirmation students asked me why it was

that she didn’t get to choose a new confirmation name, like her Roman Catholic friends.

It might not be a bad idea,

although I would want to say that we all receive a new name

when we are baptized.

It is the name “Christian.”

We bear Christ’s name, and we may then live in the love

with which Christ first loved us.

Doing things, even hard things,

like eating brussel sprouts for our mom’s sake

or even enduring shame and oppression because of our faith

because of the love which Christ had for us,

enduring our life for us.

 

June 23, 2008 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

Sermon 6/15/08: We love because God loved us first!

I always look forward to Vacation Church School.

Sometimes I say I always look forward to Vacation Church School being over.

It’s always chaotic and busy, but it’s always good.

It’s always good to have everyone around for a week.

This week was very hot towards the beginning

and got tolerable about mid-week.

We only had one notable accident,

a little boy who got a pretty good goose-egg

after falling on the asphalt outside.

Some of you may have seen how we had Shaheen Hall decorated like a rainforest.

It all came together Sunday night and I had almost nothing to do with it.

You can look at the slide show in the narthex on your way out

and see the kinds of things we did.

As usual, some of the songs are stuck in my head.

One of them in particular stands out.

“First!  God loved us first!

We love because God loved us first!”

And then it repeats about a bazillion times.

It’s 1st John 4:19.

It’s a good way to teach Scripture, right?

Our organist Carol is fond of the following couplet:

Scripture learned in verse and song

is Scripture remembered the whole life long.

 

But it struck me in looking over today’s readings

that in that little song we have a six-word summary

of what is going on in all three readings and the psalm.

We love because God loved us first.

Or, to be more wordy about it:

The priority of God’s action is primary and paramount

in the lectionary texts we are considering.

Nah, let’s stick with the first summary.

We love because God loved us first.

It pretty much says it all.

 

In the first reading,

this is just before the Ten Commandments are given to the people of Israel

on Mount Sinai.

That’s very important to remember.

God did all these things for the people of Israel,

rescuing them from Egypt, bringing them out of bondage,

leading them through the Red Sea,

before they were given the Commandments,

before they obeyed or disobeyed them,

before they had proved themselves

unworthy or worthy of God’s love.

We love because God loved us first.

 

In the Gospel reading,

we see Jesus looking at the crowds,

the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren

of those who had listened to Moses in the desert.

Matthew describes them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Other people looked at them and only saw people who didn’t go to synagogue,

didn’t keep the commandments,

didn’t love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind.

didn’t appreciate what God had already done for them.

Jesus looked at them and saw people who were under attack by sin,

who were helpless against the forces in their lives.

And so before they shaped up, before they wised up,

while they were still helpless and harassed,

he had compassion on them – and the word compassion means he suffered with them.

He loved them first – before they loved him.

 

St. Paul says something very odd in his letter to the Romans.

He says that “at the right time” Christ died, “while we were still weak.”

Why is that the right time?

He goes on to explain that this proves God’s love,

that while we were sinners, before we loved God,

God loved us enough in Christ to die for us.

To him, this proves that God’s love for us is not first dependent upon our love for him.

As I said before, the priority of God’s action is primary and paramount in this reading.

Or, to put it another way,

We love because God loved us first.

 

Now many times we have to resist the temptation to make these Sunday’s texts

all about what we are supposed to do.

Especially focusing on the Gospel lesson,

where Jesus sends the disciples out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,

to proclaim the Good News that God is here with people

and to cure, cleanse, cast out demons, and raise the dead.

We have a to-do list, and so often we focus on the to-do list

rather than on the overall picture.

The overall picture is that God has loved us first.

The things that the disciples are supposed to do

are the very things that Jesus has been doing all along.

The reason they do them for other people

is because Jesus has done it for them.

You see this in the first reading as well.

Remember the great-great-great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers,

the Israelites out in the desert waiting for the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai?

God tells them through Moses,

You have seen what I have done for you,

in rescuing you from slavery.

Now because I have done this,

you are to be like me in rescuing other people.

God rescues Israel so that they may be part of his rescue mission –

to bring the whole world into relationship with him.

 

Like all of us would have, Israel misunderstands him.

They think that God has rescued them because they were especially obedient,

or God has rescued them in order to make them powerful in the world.

Don’t we think the same things often?

That God’s feelings towards us are determined by our behavior?

That is why it is so important to remember the priority of God’s action.

We love because God loved us first.

And, along with the priority of God’s action,

the content of God’s action is important as well.

God’s whole being is love,

and he rescues us in order to catch us up in that love,

so that in our lives we may imitate that love of Christ which loves first.

 

In Holy Baptism,

whether we are a screaming baby or a shy teenager or an adult,

we cannot understand the depths of what God does for us,

but God takes us and washes us and cleanses us to stand before him.

In Holy Communion,

Christ’s own body and blood are given while we are still sinners,

because he has compassion on us, harassed and helpless ones.

 

We love because God loved us first.

Many things become clear to us when we hold to this truth.

If we are asked to give of ourselves, whether financially, or with our efforts, or simply with our support,

to the church, or to those in need,

we don’t ask first if the people are worthy,

or whether we will gain anything from the transaction,

instead we focus on how God has given to us,

and upon our need to give as he gives:

to imitate God in every way,

so that the life God lives might be ours as well.

We love because God loved us first.

If a neighbor or family member or another church member

or if someone on the street wrongs us,

we don’t need to seek revenge or restitution, or first look for an abject apology,

because our whole mind is focused upon the love of God

who forgave our sins before we asked for forgiveness,

and so we are free to imitate God’s grace.

We love because God loved us first.

If we are confronted with a choice,

about whether to use another person for our own ends,

or sacrifice our own desires and felt needs,

we don’t ask first about our own desires or needs

but about the good of the other,

as Christ did when he was facing the sacrifice of his own life for others.

We love because God loved us first.

And so knowing who we are,

the ones God has loved,

we know who we are to be,

the ones who show God’s love to others.

Seven little words –

seven very, very simple words –

and yet how very difficult to live them!

So let us repeat them often until our hearts learn them as well as our ears and our lips.

We love because God loved us first.

June 17, 2008 at 6:45 am Leave a comment

How to Nap

No, it’s not instructions for sleeping during my sermon – it’s an instructional graphic from the Boston Globe.

I have found that those twenty-minutes naps are good – especially if I’m taking a long car trip and am feeling sleepy on the road.  But I’ve also gone too long and had nap grogginess. 

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/naps/

June 17, 2008 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

Sermon 6/8/08

Proper 5A

June 8, 2008

 

The subject of today’s sermon is laughter.

Who was it that said “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints?”

Some of you know.

That was a line from Billy Joel’s song “Only The Good Die Young”

where he sings about how Virginia should be out having a good time with him

rather than shut away, living the cloistered life her elders want for her.

According to the story line of this song,

hilarity and holiness don’t mix.

One either goes around with a long face, a disapproving look,

hanging out with the right people and doing “the right” things,

or one whoops it up, has a good time, shows a little rebellion, has some fun.

No wonder faith has been falling on hard times of late,

as this story line has been sold well and long.

It’s still making a lot of money for Billy Joel,

every time someone snaps it up on I-tunes

or buys his “Greatest-Hits” album in a record store.  Cha-ching.

Would it be too Pharisee-like, too much of a kill-joy,

too much of that grim disapproving look,

to ask how many lives this very profitable story-line has impacted in a negative way?

How many people have innocently fallen for the story

that a little fun won’t hurt no one?

If we are honest, if we are truthful,

if we are aware of the pain in our lives and the pain in our neighbor’s lives,

we cannot be so cavalier about the choices we make.

A little laughter, a little fun, a little bit of relinquishing responsibility

and letting the chips fall where they may,

can lead some to ruin and desolation

and others to laughing about it later.

 

And yet, here we have Jesus sitting with the sinners and tax collectors,

eating with them.

Now when we say, eating with them, we need to clarify something.

It’s not that he was there giving them a lecture on moral responsibility,

he was not warning them of the dangers of their way of life.

When you ate with someone at that time and place,

you were saying, “This person is part of my family.”

Some cultural traditions still have that saying, “When you’re here, you’re family.”

And so for the tax collectors and sinners to be eating in the house with Jesus as host,

he was saying “you’re family.”

No doubt they were laughing together.

No wonder the Pharisees couldn’t make head or tail of it.

The famous rabbi was laughing with the sinners rather than crying with the saints.

Whooping it up with Billy and Virginia and all of those folk.

What are we to do then with laughter?

Is it good or is it bad?

Actually, the only explicit mention of laughter in today’s readings is this one line

toward the end of the Gospel lesson:

“And they laughed at him.”

This is the crowd of mourners outside the house of the girl who has died.

One can imagine their laughter –

bitter, contemptuous, perhaps pitying,

at the man of God who was giving false hope of a miracle,

the one who didn’t know when it was time to give up.

You may have heard people say, “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry.”

This kind of laughter has no mirth behind it.

It is neither the chuckling Jesus enjoyed in the house at table-fellowship,

nor is it the guffaws of the sinners full of themselves.

It is the laughter of despair, of resignation, of unfaith.

Notice what Jesus does with such people.

He puts them outside and they do not witness what he does,

because they cannot believe.

Isn’t that odd.

Most of the time we would say that if people only witnessed a miracle,

they would believe.

In this case, it is those who do not believe who cannot, indeed are not permitted,

to witness a miracle.

 

This laughter is connected to lack of faith.

In our second lesson, Paul extols Abraham’s faith in God’s promises.

But remember what his wife Sarah did in Genesis 18 when the visitors announced

that she was going to have a son?

She laughed.

Actually, if you go back just a little farther in Genesis,

to Genesis 17, you see that Abraham laughed as well,

the first time that God mentioned it to him.

This laughter is still the laughter of unbelief,

or perhaps it is not outright unbelief but not-quite-yet belief

that God does what God promises.

You know how sometimes you can believe something with most of your brain,

and yet in your gut you’ve got this nagging doubt,

or your actions in a time of stress reveal what you really believe

is opposite from what you want to believe?

That’s Abraham’s laughter when God tells him that Sarah will have a son,

that’s Sarah’s laughter when the mysterious visitors proclaim that she will bear a child.

The laughter of wanting to believe, but not being able to.

 

But Paul proclaims that Abraham did have faith.

Despite his laughter, or perhaps because of it,

he did not despair of God’s promise,

but instead began to live as if it were just so.

And when Abraham and Sarah’s son was born,

when Abraham took him from Sarah’s arms

and held the fulfillment of God’s promise to him,

he and Sarah gave him the name that God had revealed to them:

Isaac – laughter.

Not the laughter of despair,

not the laughter of not-yet-faith,

not a cruel or vicious laughter,

but a laughter born out of joy that God indeed is faithful,

that God indeed keeps his promises.

This indeed is hilarious holiness –

hilarion, after all, is a Greek word for joy.

 

It is the same hilarious holiness of faith and trust in God

that the sinners and tax collectors knew

in the house with Jesus, the family all together again.

Just like later in the Gospel,

the people who were stuck outside

were the people who didn’t believe in miracles,

who thought that laughter was always laughter at God

rather than laughter with God,

who thought that God couldn’t work with sinners,

that they were beyond his reach.

A more powerful God,

a more merciful God,

they could not comprehend.

And so while the Pharisees – the saints of their day –

cried and whined outside,

Jesus was laughing with the sinners –

or was it that the sinners were laughing with Jesus?

Let’s be clear on this last point –

that it is not the laughter of rebellion or despair that Jesus was adopting,

but rather Jesus’ own laughter, God’s own laughter,

that sinners could join in –

the holy hilarity that though we have been faithless,

God is faithful,

and can make us sinners into saints.

 

June 10, 2008 at 3:46 am Leave a comment

Sermon – June 1, 2008

Traffic makes me really angry.

You know?

It just makes me really mad that I should be driving over here

on a nice sunny day

and there’s a line of cars ahead of me

trying to get to where I want to go

when I want to go there.

It makes me angry when there is road construction

and I need to wait and dodge orange cones and people in hard hats

who should be working.

Makes my face and neck tense up

and my mouth say things, you know “that you shouldn’t say in church”

and it makes me want to honk my horn.

You know where I’m coming from?

 

Actually, traffic doesn’t make me angry.

A good psychologist or a good preacher will remind me that there is very little

that can make me angry.

Of course, when they say that it may make me want to slap them.

But the truth is, for me, and perhaps for you,

that frustration does not so much make me do anything out of character

but it reveals what is already in my heart.

What is already there is that I’m angry,

what is already there is that I’m selfish and want my own way,

I want the world to part for me and move for me,

and I do not wish to wait for anyone or upon anyone.

When things are going well,

those parts of my life are hidden and do not show.

When things get a little bit frustrating,

then you see that come to the surface.

 

It’s like the foundation of a house.

A foundation is hidden.

You never know it’s there except during a storm.

When the storm comes,

the foundation is laid bare,

and it either stands the test or it fails it.

 

For our high school graduates, they will hear many speeches over the next few days

about the limitless horizons which are before them.

Much the same as we did when we were dressed in robes

and paraded into stadiums and auditoriums.

They may hear that this is their time,

that the future is now,

and that they are the leaders of tomorrow.

All very well and good, and perhaps true in many ways.

But in the midst of all of these accolades,

with us our high school graduates can hear from God

a word of challenge and a word of blessing.

 

The word of challenge for all of us

is to build our foundations well.

Not just the foundations of our health

or our financial picture

or our education

or our job skills

but the foundation of the trust of our heart.

Jesus in his metaphor speaks of the house built upon sand –

this is the life built upon pretense and appearances.

Note that this life of pretense and appearances can be quite a good-looking life.

It can really be a life that makes a difference in the world,

a life that makes sense according to the world’s standards.

In the case of the many that Jesus mentions in his gospel lesson,

it was a life of spiritual accomplishment as well,

prophecy – making predictions about the future,

mighty works and deeds of power – perhaps miraculous healings

or leading people to God.

Yet Jesus does not commend these lives.

 

You may have seen the episode of “Friends”

where Phoebe and Joey get into an argument

about whether it is possible to do a truly unselfish good deed.

It’s “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.”

The reason she doesn’t like PBS is that she once wrote to Sesame Street

and all they sent her back was a keychain.

So when Joey volunteers to take pledges for public television

because he thinks he’ll get on TV,

Phoebe says that it’s not a good deed because it’s done for selfish reasons.

Joey says that there are no unselfish good deeds,

and Phoebe sets out to prove him wrong.

 

She tries to secretly rake the neighbor’s front yard,

but then the neighbor catches her and gives her cider and cookies

and she feels really good about that.  Darn it!

Then she calls Joey and says that she let a bee sting her

so that the bee can look tough in front of all his bee friends.

Joey reminds her that the bee probably died from stinging her.

Finally, she calls Joey on the pledge drive

and donates $200, even though she hates PBS.

Is this a truly unselfish good deed?

Or does she do this just to win the argument with Joey?

 

Phoebe is having the same problem that all of us have,

which is that we do things for the return it will get us.

It’s difficult to tell, sometimes, if we are doing things for the right reasons or not.

The problem with these people that Jesus talks about,

the ones who are full of mighty works and prophecy and deeds of power,

is that they did them out of selfish ambition.

While they did them in the name of Jesus,

they were not done for the sake of Jesus.

 

It is because our lives are so full of ambiguity,

that all of us do things from a mixture of motives,

and none of us are free from self-interest,

that we need to seek a more solid foundation than this –

a better foundation than a good deed for the day

or a diploma or certificate or even accolades for service.

We who are selfish need the foundation of God’s selflessness –

we who are sinful need the foundation of God’s righteousness –

we whose good deeds may earn us a diploma or a scholarship or a certificate

need a gracious God to give us our relationship with him as a gift.

 

Jesus’ words are recorded for us at the end of Matthew chapter 7

“Those who hear these words of mine and do them are like the wise man

who built his house upon the rock.” 

Which words?

“Forgive others their sins,”

“Love your enemies,”

“Judge not, so that you may not be judged,”

“Do not worry about your life,”

“Do not do your good deeds to be seen by others.”

Unlike prophecy, mighty works, or deeds of power,

such things cannot be done for the sake of ambition.

We cannot do these things except from the foundation of trust in Jesus Christ.

If we are building upon another foundation,

we cannot forgive others, we must judge others,

and our good deeds must be praised by all.

But if we believe what Paul writes in Romans,

that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift,

that not because of who we are but because of who God is

God restores us into relationship with him,

then we are free to give glory to God

and begin to be anonymous ourselves.

 

You see, Joey was wrong and Phoebe was right.

An unselfish good deed is hard to find,

but we find such a deed when Jesus of Nazareth,

God made human,

knelt at the feet of his disciples and washed them,

taking the position of a slave,

and then went to the cross to demonstrate his Father’s love for all.

In a week of speeches, prayers, and praises,

my prayer for you graduates is that wherever you go,

you will continue to live together with us in this firm foundation

of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

June 2, 2008 at 11:07 am Leave a comment


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