Monday, January 19, 2015

A New Kingdom - The Partnership Restored

Preached on Sunday, January 18, 2015

Scripture readings: Numbers 11:16-18, 24-30; Matthew 3:1-17

I must have been five years old, the first time my family went camping together. It was in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My sister Kathie would have been about three, and my sister Nanci was not going to be born for a few more years.
After that, we camped for a week or two almost every summer. We always slept in a tent, because my Dad said that it wasn’t really camping unless you slept in a tent.
We carried our water (for drinking, and cooking, and washing dishes, and washing ourselves) in buckets that we filled at a faucet in whatever campground we used. Carrying water became my job fairly early on.
The buckets were heavy. The handles pinched my little hands. I didn’t mind it much because we all had our jobs; much more than we did at home.
Photos taken at Desert Aire, WA, December 2014
I liked to help putting up the tent. My help was probably more trouble than it was worth, but it made me feel important and necessary. I was a collaborator. I was a kind of partner.
I believe the Bible teaches us that this is what we are created for: to be partners with each other and even partners with God.
The God who can do anything without any help at all created us and made us his partners. Adam and Eve were going to be partners in God’s creation by working the earth and caring for it. (Genesis 2:15)
Who knows how that partnership would have grown, if they had stayed committed to it? That partnership was part of God’s image in us.
In a mysterious way it is an image of our partnership with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can see that in the story of Jesus’ baptism. The Son gets wet. The Spirit comes down. The Father praises his Son. God himself is a kind of partnership that we describe when we say that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) God is one, and God is togetherness.
In some strange way, in the original human sin, we tried to be God in the place of God, and so we broke the togetherness. We broke the partnership. The image of partnership was not completely destroyed, but it became dysfunctional. It stopped working right.
We see the dysfunction in the injuries we do to the earth in our original partnership made in the Garden of Eden, because of the separation that sin makes between us and God. I see our bad partnership in caring for the earth when I drive on the freeways through Los Angeles to visit my relatives down there.
We see the dysfunction of the partnership portion of our nature in all our human partnerships. We see it in marriages, in families, in communities, and in government.
We can even see it in the church, because we don’t stop being sinners when we start being God’s partners again. The church always has sin in it, but the love of God is stronger than our sins.
In the Old Testament, God shared himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, to recreate a partnership with his people, even though they continued to be sinners. We see this in the people called prophets. Moses was given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help him be partners with God in order to bring God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and take them to the freedom of the Promised Land.
The story we read from the Book of Numbers shows us how Moses needed human partners in order to be a good partner with God. God shared Moses’ gift of the Holy Spirit with seventy other members of God’s people. There was some confusion in the way this happened and so Moses said, “I wish that all of the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them.” (Numbers 11:29)
What God wanted to do, in order to make a new kingdom, was somehow guessed at (and wished for) by Moses. God would make a new kingdom, a new creation, by sharing his Holy Spirit with everyone who came to him, with everyone he called to himself. “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” (Joel 2:28; Isaiah 4:2-6)
John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophet-partners of God. He was the bridge into the New Testament. He was a partner with God and he would serve as God’s partner by equipping God himself, who came into our world in Jesus.
John didn’t know what he was doing. He knew only that he didn’t deserve to do it. Yet God brought him into this world in order to do what none of us deserve to do; to be partners with God and partners of the kingdom of God. John was given the gift of helping make that kingdom happen and bring us to God, in Christ.
In Christ (in Jesus) the plan of God and the guess and the wish of Moses came true. All of God’s people became prophets. All of us who meet the Lord Jesus (who is God who has come into our world as a human being) receive the Holy Spirit. (See Joel 2:28)
As John the Baptist said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11) When the disciples received the Holy Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, Peter explained it by referring to the word of the prophet Joel this way, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18) (God started the last days when he came to earth in Jesus, because he changed the way the world works. He changed the way he deals with sin.)
The Holy Spirit is the presence and the power of God. In the partnership of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (who always work together) the Holy Spirit holds us in the presence of Jesus, the Son. The Spirit holds us in the presence of the Father. The Holy Spirit safely holds within us the presence of all that God is.
We become prophets: partners with God. We speak for him and work for him; His words and his work become real in our world through the growth and the change of our character, and our lives, and our service. The love of God who recreates us as his partners through the Holy Spirit, enables us to live and act and follow him in such a way that shows God’s love for the world and all the people in it.
At his baptism, Jesus said that righteousness was at work in the way that it happened: in the way that he made John do it. Righteousness means everything working right as it should. A righteous car will be all that it is specified to be, or (even better yet) all that you have souped it up to be.
For a human to be righteous means for that person to work right toward God, toward others, toward this world, and toward himself or herself. Righteousness means that our relationships with God, and with others, and with this world, and with our selves are wholesome, healthy, faithful, solid, and right. It means that all our partnerships are in working order. This would be a huge and welcome change in this world.
Jesus said that this strange partnership, in which a human baptizes God, is what the new creation is based on. It is based on God identifying himself with us. In Jesus, God bends his knee to us in love.
Our partnership is based on God taking on the role of being a creature like us, to offer himself as a human being to God. He did this in a way that we have all failed to achieve. In his baptism, he showed the humility, the repentance, the change of heart, and the new beginning that come so hard to us.
His baptism was part of great scheme to restore us to fellowship with God, with others, with our world, and with ourselves. On the cross he would pay the price of the consequences of the separation and the injury that come from sin in all our partnerships.
Sin takes us outside of God who is the source of all life. And so sin takes us into death. God came down in Jesus and identified himself with us on the cross. On the cross he took our separation on himself. He took our death on himself. He paid the price and took the consequences in order to give us a new birth into himself; into life.
He died for us. Then he rose from the dead to give us the life we could not achieve for ourselves. He gave us life as the man who conquered death because he identified with us.
In our baptism we have become identified with the one who identifies with us. Just as what we did became a part of him, so what he has done has become a part of us and he has given us life.
Just as he has given life to us, as the beginning of his plan to give life to the world, we are now part of that same plan to give life to the world. We are called to be his prophets, his collaborators, his co-conspirators: his partners.
The place where God puts us, and the people around us, are the mission fields of our partnership with God. We are called to help things work right. Just as God put others first, including us, so we are called to put others first. He identified with others and so must we.
The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of this, to keep us on track. Here is the place where all that he is and all that he has done feeds us and quenches our thirst. Here we receive Christ by faith and we go out carrying the bread of life within ourselves.
In a sense we become the bread of life for the world because that living bread is living in us. We carry the bread of life into a world that he loved so much that he identified himself with it.
We carry the bread of life into a world for which he poured out his blood. So, for us, in a sense, the whole world is our communion cup. Going out into the world is our way of being with him. As we serve Jesus, in this world, we see what he loved and died for and our thirst is satisfied.

This is a very different way of seeing the world. This is a very different way of living in this world. It only comes from joining a new partnership with God.

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