Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Measure of Success: Saint Paul and Spiderman

 Preached at the Methodist Church in Kahlotus, WA, on May 27, 2012.

In the Washtucna  Community Church we had a special service honoring the High School graduates (a Baccalaureate Service) on this day and one of the members of the school staff was asked by the graduating class to be the speaker. That meant I would be preaching in only one of my two congregations. I decided to adapt a "baccalaureate" sermon that I had preached several years before, in 2007.
Scripture readings: Micah 6:6-8; Acts 27:1-44
If I can be said to have a job at all, I would say that one of the most important parts of my job is to enable other people to encounter and meet the presence of God in the words of the Scriptures, in the words of the Bible: to meet God in these words and help them to hear God speaking to them in these words. And so I would tell you that what we have read in the prophet Micah, and in Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles, is about the success for which God designed us.

These words are part of the measure of your success and mine. Micah’s words give us a definition of success, and Luke’s words about Paul’s shipwreck give us a picture, or a portrait, of success.

Micah’s words tell us that success is being what God wants you to be. It is the answer to the question, “What does God require or expect of you?”

People are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, or when they finish school. Maybe we need to be asked that question, from God’s point of view, all our lives. What does God want you to be?

Micah was talking to people who were confused and a bit afraid of what God might want them to be and to do. They had tried to be and do what they wanted. They had been far from successful, and they were confused and more than a little bit afraid of what it might take to be a real success.

Some of the nations around ancient Israel offered human sacrifices for various kinds of success from the gods and goddess they worshiped. Parents offered their young children or infants as human sacrifices: horrendous sacrifices. Yet some modern people sacrifice their children though neglect, for the sake of their own success, or for their own convenience: having things their own way.

The ancient people saw sacrifices as a religious issue. Most modern people wouldn’t describe it that way; but it still is, because today the most popular religion is the worship of one’s self.

Micah imagines a conversation where people ask God what kind of gift would please him. What is the gift that God desires before he grants success? How much does God want from us before he will give us what we desire?

The answer is that God does not want any gifts from you, but God wants you. This is what it means: “to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

What does it mean “to do justice”? Some people think it means giving other people what they deserve, and getting for yourself what you think you deserve. Well, I know there are times when I would like to see other people get what they deserve.

In the movie “Spiderman 3” there is this being from outer space that makes itself into a black suit for Peter Parker, who is Spiderman. But the suit is like a parasite (a symbiont actually, in science fiction terms). It changes Peter Parker and it feeds off of him, and yet it also feeds him.

It feeds his dark side like an addiction. Peter begins to see justice as a matter getting what he thinks he deserves, and giving others what he thinks they deserve. It makes him selfish, spiteful, and vengeful. It makes him a complete jerk and idiot.

But Peter’s Aunt May knows the real meaning of justice. It is not giving others what they deserve. It is giving them what they need.

She tells him how to deal with his troubles (although she has no idea that he is Spiderman): “You’re a good boy, Peter, and I know that you will do what you can to make things right.” This is doing justice. This is success.

The Apostle Paul almost says, “I told you so.” The winter voyage that was taking him to his trial in Rome was headed for disaster. He had warned them against sailing out of season.

But he didn’t treat the crew, and the owner, and all, as they might have deserved. He didn’t talk to them they way they might have deserved. Paul prayed for them, and kept them working together as a team. Paul encouraged them, and made them eat when they needed the energy for the final plunge.

Paul didn’t have to think about others. He had more than enough to think about for himself. Paul was a prisoner on his way to be tried by the emperor’s Supreme Court (perhaps by the emperor himself) as an imperial trouble maker. He could be headed for a death sentence.

Paul had been at the center of a riot in Jerusalem. He hadn’t caused the riot, but he could be punished as a political example. There was no reason to suppose that he would find mercy with Caesar, but Paul believed in mercy anyway. Paul loved mercy.

What does it mean to love mercy? Paul had a violent past: a past (before he became a Christian) when he had Christians arrested, and imprisoned, and killed for their faith. Paul had blood on his hands.

Since then, Paul had learned to love mercy (I know it sounds selfish), because he knew he needed mercy. Paul knew that he had received mercy from God. But, even more than that, Paul knew that he had received mercy from the Christians he had tried to destroy. From that time on, Paul tried to give mercy to others. This was his success.

Spiderman found out, in the middle of the final battle of the movie, that the man who actually had killed his Uncle Ben had done so unintentionally. He realized how much this man had already paid for what he did.

Spiderman remembered the things that he, himself, had done, in the name of vengeance, when he was obsessed with giving other people what he thought they deserved. He made his confession to the man he had tried to kill. “I have done terrible things myself. I forgive you.”  This is success.

One of the things Peter Parker was raised to believe, from his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, was that he was not here, in this world, just for himself. “With great gifts come great responsibilities.”

This world can be a very confusing, scary, and disturbing place. But this is nothing new. It was the same in the days when our scriptures were written. The people who wrote the ancient words we have read were not able to find safe places from the storms and the dangers that surrounded them.

They believed firmly that this world is loved, even as it is. They believed that God finds this world loveable. That is why God does his own kind of justice, and loves mercy, and walks humbly with us.

We believe the strangest of all beliefs; that God himself loved this world so much that he became a part of it, as one living thing among the many. God became human in Jesus, to become one with us in the joys, and the challenges, and the sufferings of life.

In Jesus, God became one with us to meet, head on, all the enemies of life. He met with misunderstanding, with injustice, with hatred, with prejudice, with betrayal, with scorn, with every kind of sin and evil.

We believe that this strange mission came out of his desire to walk with us humbly as our friend. This is why he faced our most real enemies as his own, on the cross; along with the enemy we call death.

We believe that (when he died) he seemed to go under, in defeat; but that was only a move (like a wrestling trick) in which he became the champion. Jesus died and rose from the dead, to be one with us and to make us one with him; to be with us in our struggles, and to be with us in his strength.

God walked humbly with us, and this is his success and ours. To know this, and to be thankful for it, is to walk humbly with our God.

This is a great gift, and with it comes great responsibility.

But it can be a scary thing to seek to be what God wants you to be. The world around us, our peers, our friends, maybe our own family, may have a different idea of success. They may have a different standard and try to hold us to it, or judge us by it.

There are different measures of success that will be applied or recommended to you, or forced on you (whether you want it or not). You will be tempted to evaluate yourself by the standards of people who do not know the standard of success for which God created all of us. Surely this is both the strangest and the best measure of success of all: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Gift of Room

Preached Sunday, May 20, 2012
Scripture readings: Psalm 4:1-8; John 8:31-59

There was a minister’s cartoon that I still think about. It shows a preacher in the pulpit; and you can tell he is very serious. He is shaking his fist in the air and saying, “This is not just my idea. This is the idea of someone who knows what he is talking about!” If you want to know, I think about this a lot.

In light of this I noticed this farming illustration in Psalm Four. I think it opens up our understanding of this psalm. It is the illustration of the grain and the wine. “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (Psalm 4:7)

It’s about the harvest. It would be like saying, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their wheat and potatoes abound.” Or maybe it would be like when someone’s cattle and alfalfa abounded.

When I was growing up, I daydreamed all the time. One of my many daydreams was about being a farmer. Farming was all around me where I lived, and I had friends whose families farmed, and I worked for farmers.

Of course I daydreamed about a lot about doing a lot of other things too. I daydreamed about being an archeologist, and about being in the service, because there was a war going on, in those days, in Vietnam.

In my farming daydreams, I would think about the farms around Live Oak, the ones I particularly liked; and I thought about diversification. What would I grow to balance my farm’s operation? My friend David Crane’s family farm grew walnuts and prunes. In any given year they might say that it was a bad year for prunes but not so bad for walnuts, or vice versa. To have a good year for both would be exceptional. It would be an almost impossibly happy harvest.

So Psalm Four tells us that there is a certain kind of happiness, and joy, and gladness that you have when everything is going well; when everything abounds. And the psalm tells us that there are some people who are really looking for this kind of happiness. This is a very conditional kind of happiness. It’s very rare.

I know that there are people who live in the expectation of this kind of rare and conditional happiness. Such people have talked to me; not about their happiness, but about their unhappiness. I know what would make them happy, but I suspect that it mostly won’t happen to them.

Even if that conditional happiness came their way, I almost doubt that they would recognize it when they saw it. I think they would manage to find something wrong with it.

The psalm tells us about these people with the unhappy expectations. “Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’” These are the people who can’t see any good even when it falls into their lap. The psalm writer says that he has more gladness than they have, even when everything abounds for them; when everything goes their way.

The writer of this psalm shouldn’t have more gladness than others, because this person knows that there is something wrong. Things are not abounding for him. This psalm is a cry for help. We don’t know what kind of help the writer needs or wants because he doesn’t tell us, but he does say, “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God.”

David, or some member of the David family, asks for “relief” (as the New International Version translates it). But the original Hebrew allows us to translate it with a more vivid word; a word you can tell stories about. “You have given me room when I was in distress.” What our translation calls “relief” is really the Old Testament concept of “room” or “largeness”.

For several years, when I was growing up, we lived in an old farmhouse on a few acres of what had once been part of a small farm. I could look out my bedroom window and (looking across our yard) I could see down the long rows of an old walnut orchard. Through our front windows I could see some of the acres we owned, and then there was a big prune orchard.

Beyond that there were more and more orchards. The orchards ran almost a mile north, on that side of our house. I learned to love the feeling of having plenty of room.

When I was in my first church, as a pastor, my housing was the mobile home that my church owned in a mobile home park. When I looked out my windows I saw other mobile homes only a few feet away. I could even look into their windows, and they could look into mine. I closed the curtains with the worst views, as much to keep from looking at them as to keep them from looking at me.

It drove me crazy. I had no room. I had learned, in life, to love having lots of room.

In the Old Testament, and in the Book of Psalms, having room is the opposite of being trapped in a small space. It is the opposite of being in a cage. It gives you room to maneuver. It probably has to do with combat, because there was almost always a war, or some battle or fight, going on. The room to maneuver means that you can face a problem by going forward, or by backing up, or by going around it. Having room is the same thing as having options.

The writer of the psalm doesn’t tell us what his trouble was, but it may have been a lack of room, a lack of options. God had answered his prayers, before, by simply giving him room to maneuver. That had been good enough. Even the room to maneuver is a kind of abounding.

Sometimes I find myself talking to younger people who have had a serious injury, or an illness, or lost a job, and they feel that everything is impossible. They have nowhere to go. Usually, because they have family, and friends, and abilities, I can see that they will be OK. They will be able to find options if they keep looking; even if they don’t see this all at once for themselves.

Even being young is an option. The problem is that the young don’t realize how young they are.

There is a positive twist to this. Once, when Kim Schafer was using the gas barbeque in back of the church, I confessed that I had never used a gas barbeque before. And Kim told me this. He said, “Then you can’t learn to do this any younger.” It was his dad Vernon’s saying.

It’s a good saying. It says, you have room right now. You have options. You can learn something new; something different.

This psalm is a prayer of faith. Faith is the ability to see the room that God has given you now; or being ready to see that room when it opens up for you.

There is not always room there right now. Sometimes all the doors do close, and God has not opened the window yet. But there are times when faith is the willingness to stop saying “no” to every option that God sends your way.

The writer of this psalm was a person of hope, and part of his problem was that he was surrounded by people who resisted hope. His hope was God. God was his glory and honor. God was his possibility; his room giver. He was surrounded by people who worshiped another kind of god.

It seems as though he was surrounded by people who mocked him for what he knew about God. “How long will you turn my glory into shame?” They made fun of his sense of the glory of God and the faithfulness of God.

The psalm writer called God, “my righteous God”. He meant the God who was righteous for him, whether he deserved it or not. If David or another member of his family had run out of room even through their own fault, God was still righteous and ready to give them new room, when the time was right. Saying “my righteous God” is a lot like saying “my faithful God”.

The voices that say, “Who can show us any good?” are the voices of those who are in love with the god of the pessimists. There are such people. There are those who love to say “no” to every open door and window. You can count on their ability to find reasons why there is not enough room to do anything. You can count on their ability to find reasons why there is not enough room for you to do anything. They will love to give you their wonderful reasons for saying “no”. They will love to see that outlook take root in your life.

There is not much room to maneuver in the world of saying “no”, but maybe, for that reason, it is a strangely cozy world. It is a world that has comforts of its own; but it is a kind of dream world. In a universe where God, in his love, gave everything for us, their world of saying “no” is a world of lies. There is even a presence of hell and devilry in that world, and I want no part of it, at least not in my better moments. “How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2)

When God has so much hope and room to offer us, choosing anything less is like choosing lies and delusions. The actual phrase “false gods” (as it is in the New International Version) is not in the psalm; but there is a word there that the people of Israel used when they talked about the false gods. It was a word that meant the emptiness that some people chose to worship.

Those are the false gods the psalm warns against. It’s as much of a lie as thinking that you can only be happy when everything abounds. It’s a false god that ruins many lives.

Jesus came to die for our sins on the cross and to be, for us, the God who gives us room. Jesus grew up singing this song about a kind of freedom that that can be joyful even when nothing abounds for you except that faithful and righteous love of God; as if God smiles when he thinks of you. Jesus grew up singing about a freedom that comes from the love of God; a freedom which we can refuse; or a freedom to which we can say “yes”.

Psalm Four told the growing Jesus to bring this freedom and this joy to others. He grew up to tell his people this. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) And he offered them the ultimate freedom: “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (John 8:51)

The psalm prepared Jesus because it taught him to expect that he would find many people who were dead set against believing him; people who could never accept his offer. Those who resisted Jesus show us that there are people who will think, and say, and do anything (absolutely anything) to avoid the freedom that Jesus came to give. They even accused him of being demon possessed. (John 8:48) In the end, they crucified him for what he offered to give them.

Jesus is the God who has come into our world to give us room in our distress; a heart and mind that do not live in a cage. This is what it means for God to be our righteous God who gives us room in our distress.

This freedom and this life begin when we say yes to the God who comes to us in Jesus. He denied himself room on the cross, so that he could give it to us when we seek his peace. Then, no matter what happens, we can have more joy in our heart than the ones who seem to have everything go their way.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: The Rising Warrior

Preached on Sunday, May 13, 2012.
Scripture readings: Psalm 3:1-8; John 10:11-18

It is said that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord!” Then there are those who wake up and say, “Good Lord it’s morning!”

Psalm Three was written by one of those who could go to bed at night thinking, “O Lord, how many are my foes!” and wake up saying, “Good morning, Lord!” It doesn’t seem possible. It doesn’t even seem normal. According to this Psalm, it is the gift of God, to wake up well rested and well prepared in the morning, when life in this world seems to have you surrounded, and out numbered, and out gunned.

We are listening to God speak to us through this Psalm on Mother’s Day and, in a way, we shouldn’t. This Psalm is a warrior Psalm and we don’t usually think of mother’s as warriors, but they are.

Mother’s are mama-bears or she-tigers. Their children and their husbands know this. This Psalm applies to them and to any warrior, and all the people of God are warriors.

Even Jesus was a warrior. Jesus could be really scary; invading the Temple in Jerusalem with his disciples, making whips out of cords, attacking the merchants, whose businesses were based in the Temple to supply animals for sacrifice and the proper currency and coinage for purchases and offerings, turning over their tables and counters, and driving them out. (John 2:13-16; Mark 11:15-17)

When Jesus and his disciples did this they were hopelessly outnumbered. Jesus succeeded because he could be scary. He was scary because he knew he was doing the right thing for people he loved. Jesus showed a passion for this.

He was claiming the people of Israel, and all those who came from other lands to worship God, as his children. He shouted, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of robbers’.  (Mark 11:17)

Papa-bears and he-tigers sometimes don’t show the same level of commitment that the mama-bears and she-tigers do to defend their young, and Jesus was completely committed. He held nothing back. And yet Jesus was someone whom children and their parents would never fear. (Mark 9:36-37; 10:13-16)

Jesus grew up singing this warrior Psalm until he knew it by heart. It shaped him, as all the Psalms did. It shaped Jesus’ own awareness of who he was, and what his mission was, and how he would accomplish it.

It was a song of the warrior King David. It sang about his fight to bring order to his kingdom when it was tearing itself apart. There was corruption, and deception, and hypocrisy, and bitterness tearing the kingdom apart, and David’s own family was at the heart of that. David knew this, and he hated it, and it devastated him.

David had actually played along with what he hated. He had made his own contribution to it. You can read about this in Second Samuel, chapters fourteen through nineteen.

It was David’s failure as a father that caused the crisis, and surrounded him with enemies. But although David had failed, he still trusted God to help him do his best to set things right.

Part of the song said “Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’” David himself was aware that he had made too many mistakes and failed too many times to be “delivered”.

David knew that he should be beyond help and beyond redemption. The amazing miracle, the contradiction that seemed too good to believe, was the truth that, “From the Lord comes deliverance.” (Psalm 3:8) This is who God is.

When Jesus learned this song, as a boy, he knew where it came from. He knew that horrible and tragic story behind David’s battle. Jesus knew that David’s own life had laid him low and left him prostrate, belly and face in the dust, unable to stand in his guilt and blame, in the presence of the greatest king who is God himself.

“From the Lord comes deliverance.” God was David’s shield when David had no defenses left. God was David’s glory when David had nothing to show but his shame. When David felt too weak and unworthy to do more than lie down in the dirt, God lifted up his head.

This was something that a king did, when he was faced with a subject, or a servant, or a surrendered enemy, who came to him and groveled before him, face down, in the dust. A king (if he decided to do so), in mercy and grace, would put his fingers under the chin of the person on the ground and lift his head. It was the king’s permission for the person to rise, to get up, to stand, and to know he was accepted, and free, and that would receive an answer from the king that was better than anything he could ask for.

David found this grace from God. It gave him hope and, in spite of all his troubles and all his enemies, he could rest and wake up, prepared to meet the day.

Jesus learned this song as a child and grew up to claim the song for himself, as no one else could. Jesus saw that he had come into this world to have more enemies than anyone could count.

Every sin, and evil, and injustice in this world is his enemy. Every action of ours, and every motive of our heart that works at cross purposes to Jesus, is his enemy. We are his enemies, and Jesus faces us without fear.

Jesus was willing to have no defense or shield against us. He was willing to have no glory that we could see. He was willing to have no pride or weapon except for the nails in his hands and feet, and the thorns on his head. He was willing to have no shield or glory except for his death on the cross for our sin and for the sin of the world. He knew that, giving himself up to all of this, he would be able to lift up his head, and stand up for us as our king.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.” (John 10:11, 17)

Jesus knew that, after carrying our sins on the cross, he could lie down in death and wake up again. He could go into the world of death that seems to swallow up everything that is dear to us, and finally to swallow us up as well. He could sleep that sleep and wake again because the Lord sustained him. (Psalm 3:5) Then he could offer us grace, and abundant life, and everlasting life.

This was how Jesus claimed this song as his own. David had written a song that was far better than he realized. It was a song that only Jesus could fully claim. Jesus claimed this song for himself so that he could give it to us; to shape our faith in him.

When I was child there were times when I would get the chance to see puppies. There is a stage where puppies, just like babies, don’t have any teeth. You can put your finger in their mouth and they will chew your finger. They will chew, and chew, and chew; but they can’t bite you. They can’t hurt you. My dad would say, “Watch out, that puppy will gum you to death!”

Psalm Three tells us of God breaking the teeth of the enemy, as if our enemies could bite us and tear us apart. Our enemies are our life’s hurts and injustices. Our enemies are our own sins, and failures, and foolishness.

These have teeth. The teeth do the worst damage, but God can break the teeth of our enemies. We are hurt, but we are not torn. We are crushed, but we can mend. We have consequences to pay, but this does not kill us. They bring us down, prone in the dust, but we can rise, and stand, and fight again.

In Jesus, God lifts us up. God breaks the teeth of our enemies because the humility and suffering of Jesus give us mercy, and strength, and healing.

Mothers and fathers have many enemies because they have children. They fear for their children. They pray for their children. They know their children will make mistakes. The parents are aware of their own mistakes, and pray that God will break the teeth of their own failures and regrets, for their children’s sakes.

They pray that the world will only gum their children, and leave them unhurt. But the world is old, and it has long teeth. They pray that the world’s teeth will be broken and that their children will rise again, and again; and that they will be strong, and brave; and that they will be able to rest and wake up prepared for the next day.

The power of Jesus who lay down in death and rose from the dead is our power to rise. Parents receive that power from Jesus in the fellowship of the cross. Parents often feel crucified for their children. And the parents who know Jesus pray for their children to have that power of Jesus in them.

Jesus came to make that warrior song come true for all of us. Jesus came to make us warriors who can rise again.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: Two Kingdoms

Preached on Sunday, May 6, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 2:1-12; Matthew 5:1-12

There are plenty of people who will tell us that we live in a nation in crisis. During the presidential campaign of 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a third party candidate, spoke of the issues facing our nation at that time, and he said, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!”

The truth is that our entire world is in crisis. More than that, this world has been in crisis all my life; and I have to admit I get tired of people trying to tell me that we are facing something new and unprecedented.

This world, in all of its splendor, is an ancient battlefield. This world, full of people made in the image of God, is an endless war. This war has been going on since the first humans rebelled against God.

The primary war of this world is a war of rebellion. This war explains all other wars. This war of rebellion is at the heart of the never-ending crisis.

Psalm number two is about this war. Jesus sang this war-song all his life. So did his family, and friends, and neighbors. They sang about what it is like to be caught in the middle of a world at a war. When Jesus sang this song, he knew that he had a role to play at the very center of it all. He knew that he must be the answer to the problem of this war.

It is the war of two kingdoms; two forces in the world. They are far from equal in power, but they often create an equal fear.

What are the two kingdoms? The first kingdom in the psalm is the world. There is a kingdom or power made of everyone on earth: nations, peoples, kings, rulers. This includes presidents, and dictators. It includes bankers and investment companies. It includes bureaucracies. It includes industries and corporate executives. It includes the people who make television shows, and movies, and computer games, and social networks. It includes all the peoples of the all the nations: all races, and cultures, and creeds. It includes all communities; the biggest cities and the smallest towns. It includes churches. It includes families. It includes you and me. We are the first kingdom.

When the prophets spoke for God against the powers of this world they also spoke against their own leaders and people. We have to remember this.

God’s people, or the people who think of themselves as God’s people, can be afraid of the whole world because they think the whole world is against them, and they are right. The more focused we are on the other kingdom (God’s kingdom) the more the whole world is against us. But, in this world, we, as God’s people, are often our own worst enemy. We can even be God’s enemy. This fact is as scary as anything we may read in the Bible.

What is this war, this crisis, all about? The world says, “Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.” The kingdom of the world is passionate about freedom from the chains of God and the chains of the Son. What are those chains? How does God tie up human life and take away human freedom and opportunities?

God’s “laws” do it. God’s laws are God’s ways for us, and they also are God’s own ways of dealing with us. They are the ways that come from the depth of his heart and define who God is.

One set of God’s laws can be seen in the Ten Commandments. We can sample these.

One of God’s horrible chains is the chain of thankfulness. The commandments begin with a reminder of who God is. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) The people of Israel had been slaves for more than four hundred years in Egypt, and God had set them free.

We are all slaves in our own way who have been set free by God for a life with him. Without this freedom, we are part of a rebellion against the life that comes from God. Our rebellion comes from the human nature we have inherited from Adam and Eve; the first humans and the first rebels. We want to be independent from God who gives us life and puts us in his world.

We want to be in charge of ourselves and in charge of the people who affect our lives. We would rather hurt them than let them get in the way of our wants and desires. We sometimes resist this, but we do not win. The world’s war of rebellion goes on inside us, and we lose our own war with ourselves.

God’s faithful love leads him to use his power to fight the war within us, and give us a new life. To Israel, he gave freedom from slavery by making a path through the Red Sea.

In Jesus God offers all people the gift of freedom from the slavery that chains them to themselves and to this warring world, by making a path through sin and death by means of the cross and the resurrection. God came down in Jesus to carry the sins of the world on the cross. His death, as the sin-bearer, offers us freedom from our sins.

When we trust in what Jesus has done for us we die, with Jesus, to our sins. Through the death of Jesus we leave the power of sin behind us, just as Christ left the grave wrappings behind him, in the empty tomb.

The power of the new life of God is thankfulness. This is the law, and it is the gospel. It is God’s chain on us, but it is more like the chain on a winch that lifts us out of a well-shaft of darkness in which we cannot live. We could never live without it.

There is a commandment that says, “You shall not covet.” (Exodus 20:17) This law is like saying, “You shall learn a life of contentment.” What a horrible chain to bear!

If the world wants anything it is the gift of freedom from contentment. Everyone wants the freedom to have what other people have, and to be unhappy because other people have what we don’t have.

We are sometimes crazy enough to think that the freedom to hate other people’s happiness is the key to a happy life. God, to us, is like the parent of a crying child. The child wants to cry, and all the parent’s attempts to make them smile only make them more miserable. What can a parent do, in the face of this determined unhappiness? The only sane way to respond is to laugh; just as God laughs at the world that is gathered against him.

Sometimes, when we laugh at other people, we rob them of their value as people created in the image of God. But there is another way to laugh at others. There is a way to laugh at other people when they are so set on ruining the image of God within them. We only laugh at what they need to lose.

The laughter of God does us nothing but good; but what about the anger of God? We worry about the anger of God in this psalm; but the truth is that God is only angry at anger. The world is angry toward a God who will not allow himself to be rejected; a God who won’t go away when his presence is inconvenient. God, upon whom all life depends, is right to be angry at such a misguided anger.

One of the reasons for God’s laughter, in this song, is that God knows that the world which gathers for battle against him cannot win. God laughs because he knows he is in charge. The song that Jesus sang empowered him with the laughter of a God who is in charge.

I think Jesus was hiding his laughter when he gave us what we call the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Jesus knew that no normal human being would find it easy to be poor in spirit. No normal human being would think that this poverty was what he had always wanted.

When we are poor in spirit, it means being so full of love for God, and so full of love for others, that we stop being full of our selves. But we want to be full of ourselves. There is a saying, “If you don’t toot your own horn, nobody else will.”

Blessed means being happy; and so Jesus is saying that we become happy when we become small to ourselves compared with everything else. When Jesus talked about happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, one of his examples was to point us to the big things. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6:25-34) We can be happy with a bird in a cage, or a lily in a pot, but the real happiness comes from a whole field in blossom and a sky full of birds. Being a small person at the foot of a big mountain is the source of a big happiness.

Jesus had to be hiding his laughter when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He thought with hidden laughter about the song where the world says, “Let us break their chains,” because he knew that the happiness of being poor in spirit would completely confuse those who wanted the power of being in charge; even when it meant being unhappy.

Song number two in Jesus’ songbook is scary because it sings about the anger of God. I hate anger, and I hate myself when I see my own anger. I know there is such a thing as righteous anger, but I don’t know how to be righteous when I am angry. James says, “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Human anger often fails to do what God tells us is right.

But I know there are issues deserving our anger. Evil, and injustice, and falsehood deserve anger, and they teach us the meaning of good anger. The anger of God can be trusted to be good anger.

Everything that God is, God is all the time. God is always angry at evil and injustice and falsehood, even when he sees it in you and me. This is good. But it is also good that God is always much more than angry.

When we get angry we forget to be just, we forget to be wise, we forget to love. When God is angry, none of the good things in him are forgotten. He does not stop being just, and wise, and loving. His anger is as safe as it is good and faithful.

Song number two, in the songbook of Jesus, tells us something we have trouble remembering when we think about the anger of God. When God is angry, how does he show his anger? He shows his anger by showing us his Son. God shows his anger by giving us Jesus and saying, “You need to kiss Jesus. You need to kiss the Son.” (Psalm 2:12)

How did God and his Son deal with the rebellion of the world? How did they deal with the war and the unending crisis?

Their answer was to get more deeply involved than ever in the world that gathered against them. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1-2) “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (John 1:14)

The Son came down from heaven to earth to be our king, but his idea of kingship was to come as one plain, simple human being. He became a baby in the feed trough of a stable in Bethlehem. He became a carpenter, working in Joseph’s shop, or on the rafters of a neighbor’s house, or under the axle of a neighbor’s wagon.

The angel told his mother Mary this about the baby she would bear: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and be called Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32) The humanity of Jesus, the humanness of God, the true God becoming truly human, is wrapped up in his greatness. It is part of his plan; part of what makes us call him the Son of God, the Son of the Most High.

When Jesus grew up he identified with our need to be cleansed from sin. He identified with his people when they were going to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River for a new heart and mind. When he was baptized along with them a voice from heaven echoed the war-song that he had grown up singing, “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22)

When Jesus took his disciples up on a mountaintop, where they could be with him while he prayed, his appearance changed while they watched. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:1-8) The voice of the Father echoed the war-song that Jesus had grown up singing.

After Jesus was crucified, and rose from the dead, the disciples started talking to people about Jesus and this is what Paul said, “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father.” (Acts 13:32-33) The message of the gospel echoed the war-song of Jesus, where the Son brings an ancient war to an end.

Everything Jesus did was part of who he is. It was all a part of his being the Son of the Father, and the solution for the war. Everything in his heart was an answer to the crisis of our world and the rebellion that has gone on since the creation went astray.

Our solution to the war of the two kingdoms is to kiss the Son. The song teaches to receive God by receiving his Son. It teaches us to surrender our lives, to give ourselves up to God, by giving ourselves up to the Son.

A kiss did that. A kiss was a covenant. It was a promise. It brought the kisser and the one being kissed together. It made peace. It was the gesture that said, “You are my Lord; I take refuge in you.” (Psalm 2:12)

Song number two in the songbook of Jesus tells us to not be afraid of the latest version of an ancient war. The song tells us that Jesus is the one who teaches us to be angry without forgetting to be just, and wise, and loving. The weapon of the good news is the redemptive love of God in Christ. Jesus is how God fights. Jesus is how God has won us.

We come to Jesus who teaches us that good and happy fight, and we leave the selfish anger of the world. Then we take our place in the kingdom that knows how to laugh because we know that God is in charge.