Monday, October 29, 2012

Going with Jesus: Claimed and Owned

Preached on Sunday, October 28, 2012:

Scripture readings: Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Peter 3:18-22

You know that when kids go to camp the parents are supposed to label all their clothing. This doesn’t always help.

The only time I went to camp, it was a Y.M.C.A. camp. It was the summer when I was eight years old. The last day of camp we packed up all our things, and we piled our luggage on the road so that it could be loaded onto the buses, and we were all supposed to take showers so we would be clean enough for our moms’ inspections.

A Hazy September Day
In the process of taking my shower, I lost my underwear. It didn’t matter that it was labeled. I lost it anyway, and I couldn’t find it. I cried like a baby. And my other underwear was in my bag, which was buried under the luggage of other boys who were ready to take the buses for home. I cried with embarrassment because I was obsessed with a peculiar kind of nakedness that lurked under my clothing.

In the scriptures we have read this morning, Peter tells us about a form of embarrassment felt by God’s people. It is a peculiar kind of nakedness. Jesus, sending his people out, under his authority, into a world that is under his authority, gives to his people a permanent label that covers this nakedness and protects them from this embarrassment.

A lot of Peter’s first letter is concerned with a very peculiar form of embarrassment. It is the embarrassment that goodness feels in a fallen world. It is the embarrassment that comes from having been caught not wearing the uniform of the world.

There is a universal uniform of the heart, and the mind, and the life that does not know the grace of God. God’s people do not wear that uniform, and it sets them apart. It makes them look strange.

There is a universal style that says, “We are in charge of ourselves. We will serve ourselves.”

You can serve yourself by being a rule-breaker. To a lesser degree you can create a specialty of your own by flaunting certain rules, and a lot of people choose this way to run their own show. It is a way of being in charge.

You can also serve yourself by being a rule-keeper, and that is the uniform and style of religious people, who still manage to serve themselves instead of God. They run their own show by appointing themselves to be the chief score-keepers and the judges of others. No matter how strongly such people orient themselves to God, they still assert their own way of being in charge.

In a fallen world, human nature maintains its independence from God by any means possible, and at all costs. Whether by rule-breaking, or by rule-keeping, they wear the uniform of the world.

The people who know the God who became a human being in Jesus have seen the face of a God who pours himself out for us as a sacrifice to set us free from our isolation from him. The people who know the God who became one of us in Jesus know their need for such a sacrifice.

Old Farm Equipment
They do not live in the uniform of the world: the world’s heart, and mind, and life. They live in Christ, who died and rose for them. And so the sinners and the religious people of the world may think they are strange, and even bad; just as the world thought that Jesus was strange and bad, and crucified him for it.

So Peter, as we have just read, tells us about “those who speak maliciously about your good behavior in Christ.” (1 Peter 3:16) In the previous chapter, Peter said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)

You have to understand, here, that good lives and good deeds, as Peter speaks of them here, do not mean lives and deeds of rule-keeping. There is more than one New Testament Greek word for goodness, and this particular goodness, as Peter tells it, means the lovely goodness of lives and deeds done in the grace that comes from God.

It is a goodness of beauty. It is a goodness of attraction. It is a goodness that carries an infectious power that can that can reproduce itself in those who are on the seeing, and the hearing, and the receiving end of that goodness. It is the goodness that first came to us with the love of God in Christ that covers our sins, and changes us from the depth of our hearts. It is the goodness that God came to show us in Jesus.

It melted our hearts. It stripped us of all our self deceptions and self righteousness, and all the defenses we had built to protect us from losing our independence from God. It is the goodness that now enables us to stand before God and this world with a good conscience.

Our problem, as God’s people, is that we can have this goodness of God’s grace and yet we feel naked because we have lost the universal uniform of a fallen world. They think we are strange; and we wonder if they are still right, after all.

We inherit the uniform of the world at birth. We learn to love the uniform at a very early age. It gives us the self confidence that comes from blending in. It gives us the confidence that comes from the acceptance of others.

I was visiting cousins, years ago, and reminiscing with my cousin Don about songs our family used to sing together, and we started singing bits and pieces of them. My Cousin Candy’s son, Kevin, was in the living room with us. Kevin was seven or eight years old. Either Don or I thought of “The Leland Stanford Junior Farm” song. It’s a college drinking song and there is just a little bit of mild vulgarity in it.

Fall Colors in the Weeds
I said, “We can’t sing that. Kevin is here.” And Kevin said, “I want to hear it!” Kevin wanted to wear the uniform of the world. Now Kevin wears the uniform of a Marine Corps captain.

Think like a child again. What is it like to be a child and not know the meaning of a word that everyone else seems to know? What is it like to know that you are the only kid in your class who has not done a certain thing?

You think you must be the only person in the whole world who has not done it, and you feel ashamed and naked. You are missing an essential piece of the uniform of the world.

What if you are a grown up, and you know that other people are doing something in the way that they report their income, for taxes, and they are making more money than you are because of it? You think you are missing out on something. You feel foolish, and embarrassingly innocent.

Peter says, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17) It is better to be embarrassed by the exposure of your goodness. It is better to have others think you are different, and to have them think you are naked because you are different, than it is to have the confidence of the uniform of the world. And yet, sometimes, we feel we have let ourselves be cheated, because we have not been smart enough to put on that uniform.

We feel guilty of a kind of failure to measure up to the values of the world around us: a peculiar kind of nakedness. But this is the peculiar kind of nakedness that forms the uniform of Jesus.

Jesus was crucified for his goodness, and for the goodness of his mission. He was stripped nearly naked for our salvation on the cross. “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:17-18)

Bird on a Wire Fence
The soldiers at the cross took Jesus’ clothes, as the gospels tell us, but the ultimate nakedness is the emptiness with which we leave this world. Jesus put on that nakedness when he died for us. Death is a peculiar kind of failure; a sort of nakedness that shows we are not in control.

The cross seemed like a kind of failure; the failure of goodness to succeed in this world; the failure of goodness to thrive. It was the righteous one who died, and only two unrighteous people died with Jesus; one on each side of him, on crosses of their own. The rest of the fallen world crowded around the foot of the cross, and they mocked and heckled Jesus in his nakedness.

Who looks more successful when you look at a picture of Jesus on the cross? And yet Jesus rose from the dead and has the final word on everything in this world. The nakedness of Jesus and his people always has the final word over the uniform of the world.

When our goodness is not the goodness of the grace of God at work in us; when our goodness comes from our selves, and from our own competence, and from our standing up to the world on the ladder of our self righteousness; this world will pull our pants down and show that we have nothing underneath. (I really saw something like this happen to someone when I was in high school.) Then we have something to be embarrassed about. But, if we stand up to the world by standing in Jesus, and in his cross, and in his resurrection, and in his righteousness, then we will have nothing to be ashamed of.

That is the good conscience, the clear conscience that Peter is talking about. He is telling us about the difference in the kind of success offered to us by the uniform of the world as opposed to the better success of the promise and the goodness that do not come from ourselves.

It is the promise and the goodness of life, coming from the resurrection of Jesus, that overcomes this world. The victory of Jesus has the final word, and Jesus is the place where we can stand with confidence.

Baptism, as Peter puts it, tells us of the resurrection power of God in Christ to stand over all other powers of this world, and to bring us through this world knowing that we can hold up our heads when the world tells us we are naked, and empty, and foolish. The power of the resurrection of Jesus carries us to safety out of a fallen world.

The flood, in Noah’s time, as Peter puts it, was the proof of the power of God to carry his people to safety, out of a fallen world. Jesus spoke to that ancient world of Noah’s time by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus offered that world a safety that only Noah and his family accepted. Whatever we imagine seems more successful and more powerful than we are, Jesus is able to speak to it, and overcome it, and have the final word, and bring us through it.

Pretty Fall Weeds
In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the good news was still brand new. Jesus was dead, killed on the cross. Now Jesus was alive. Jesus proved that he had the final word over a world of evil, and sin, and death. He conquered them all, when he conquered death.

He proved that “all authority in heaven and on earth” was his. He proved that he was the king of heaven and earth. He sent out his people with the promise of his presence to give them the power to serve him. He sent out his people telling them to bring his lost world to him. He gave them the authority to baptize people everywhere “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

The words of Jesus that tell his disciples and us to make new disciples “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” are not about a ceremony or a formula of the right words to use. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are the fullness of God. They are everything about God who creates, and saves, and empowers us with the fullness of his presence, and his life, and his work.

Jesus was saying, “Go out and claim people for the fullness of God; which includes me, the Son. Label them with the ownership of God. Put the name of the completeness of God upon them.”

This world with all its false promises tries to own us, and but its label on us, and make us wear its uniform. God puts the stamp of his ownership upon us in a way that cannot be lost.

You see, we do not put the label on ourselves. These words tell us that Jesus sets a pattern for us. We are authorized to claim others and not ourselves. Once upon a time, in our own turn, we were claimed by God. And so the claim placed upon us gives us the authority to claim others. Grace is always given and received. No one comes into the kingdom of God any other way.

Think about children. Children learn confidence by being claimed, in love, over, and over, and over again.

Even if the children who seem unclaimed have to battle their way to adulthood by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, and by claiming themselves, that kind of success is naked without the humbling success of first being claimed and owned by someone else.

You cannot learn the art of love without learning to be loved, without letting yourself be loved and claimed beyond your control. Nothing else works. We can hold onto Christ, and claim the love of Christ in our great need, but we do not truly know him, as he is, until we know that it is his nature to claim us first, without our having any claim of our own, on our part.

Washtucna on that Hazy September Day
Once we know this, we have the authority of Jesus to claim, for him and for his kingdom, anyone like us who has no dream of a claim on the kingdom of God. That means anybody and everybody. The kingdoms of this world have become his kingdom. (Revelations 11:15)

He authorizes us to establish his authority over this world and over all the people in it. We claim them for the grace, and the love, and the goodness of God that they cannot claim for themselves.

God, in Christ, is our Lord and Savior. Standing up with a good and clear conscience, against all that this world throws at us, comes from no other place than the nature of God himself, and we only know who God is through Jesus his only Son.

That is the authority that rules heaven and earth and gives us our message. And we need to hear that message for ourselves. We need to hear the message of the resurrection power of Jesus, and find that it has the final word for us.

1 comment:

  1. Claimed and Owned.
    This is a wonderful sermon, as always.
    So much to think about here, I must ponder it for a while.