Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Know God - Our Invisible Friend

Preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 14, 2015

Scripture readings: John 15:26-16:15; Acts 2:1-37

After worship a pastor was greeting his people, and one of the members shook his hand and she told him, “Pastor that was a very good sermon.” And he told her, “For that I will have to give the credit to the Holy Spirit.” And she said, “Well it wasn’t that good.”
But that is exactly how it works.
White Bluffs on the Columbia River
Near Hanford Reservation, WA
April 2015
The friends of Jesus were filled with grief because Jesus told them that he was going away (John 16:5-6), and they were afraid because they read, between the lines, a message they didn’t want to be true. Jesus was going away by dying on the cross and he was leaving them in charge of the mission of the kingdom of God. Their job would be to represent Jesus and to win the world for Jesus as the King of the world.
This filled them with grief. No matter how much time Jesus had spent with them, showing them who he was and teaching them what he wanted them to do and to be, Jesus was always better at everything than they were. They were only eager to represent Jesus when Jesus was right there with them (to represent himself).
But that was going to change; or that is what they thought. They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying about the Holy Spirit making Jesus present in the world in a new way; especially through them.
But they didn’t understand most things. They didn’t understand the connection Jesus was making between his going away and his purpose of dying and rising from the dead. They didn’t understand how Jesus dying and rising from the dead could be connected with him being king.
The Holy Spirit could enable them to understand Jesus, and the Spirit could empower them as the friends of Jesus. But the Spirit could only do that if Jesus actually did go away in some sense. The Spirit could only help them understand if Jesus actually died and rose from the dead.
Jesus’ dying and rising from the dead was necessary to make them into a new creation; to make it possible for them to be born into a new life from God. Jesus had to complete his mission in order to give the Holy Spirit the necessary material to build their new lives. Jesus had to complete his mission in order to give his friends everything that was his to give them.
The friends of Jesus needed to die and rise from their old life, So Jesus needed to do it first, so that they could catch it from him.
The old saying was never true. The old saying is, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” In anything that matters, this has never been true. In teaching, you can only give what is truly yours to give.
When Jesus gave his death and his resurrection to the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit could give it to the friends of Jesus, and they would have it in them. They would be able both to do and to teach
There are those powerful words about God’s motivation and purpose that we can read in the third chapter of John. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
There is a special way that God came down to live in such a world as ours. We belong to a world where it is typical not to believe him and not to receive him. This is as true now as it was when God came down in Jesus.
In Jesus we see this special way that God lived among us; and because Jesus has died for our sins, and because he has risen from the dead, we receive a new life like his. We receive his special way to live. We can love a loveless world. We can be faithful in an unfaithful world.
We can give evidence for Jesus, because the Holy Spirit enables us. The Holy Spirit takes everything that belongs to the Father and to the Son and makes it known to us.
So we can live the ways of Jesus. We can love each other, and that is the secret of success.
You know what this means. If we can truly love each other as Jesus loves us, then we can love anybody. That’s a tall order. Think of it. If we can truly love each other as Jesus loves us, then we can love anybody; and we can give evidence for Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has hovered over the creation of a whole new way of life in us.
In a way, the Father is God ruling, the Son is God serving, and the Holy Spirit is God sharing. When various translations of the Bible translate the very strange word that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit, it comes out as Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper, and Friend. The word means “one called alongside”. Who can you call to be all these things in your time of need: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper? A true friend can be all of this.
A friend will also speak up for you. The Spirit is the friend who speaks up for Jesus. We are friends of Jesus and speaking up for him is part of that.
Jesus said that the Spirit would, “testify about me.” (John 26) The Holy Spirit is the speaking part of God who speaks invisibly and inaudibly to the heart and to the conscience.
The Holy Spirit testifies, but this testimony is more than a statement. Testimony, here, means to give evidence. The word translated as “testify” can also mean to be a martyr. In fact our word “martyr” has its root in that word.
“Testifying” means “giving evidence”. It even means “being the evidence”, no matter what.
The crowd in Jerusalem (on the day of Pentecost) was focused on the behavior of the disciples more than they were on the message (even though the disciples were full of the Holy Spirit). Peter (inspired by the Holy Spirit) made the case for their strange behavior being the evidence of Jesus. “This Jesus…has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)
Ever since those days, some of the greatest work of Jesus is what others see and hear in us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We called to be the evidence that “God so loves the world”.
“Those who can, do.” The Holy Spirit shares the fullness of Jesus with us; so, if we are Jesus’ friends, his fullness is always lurking somewhere in us. It’s true that Jesus always does it better, but that doesn’t matter. The fact that we are obviously not up to the quality of Jesus, but that we are people who are seeking to live the life of Jesus, anyway, may actually be very good evidence. We are learning to be what we are not, instead of pretending to be what we are not.
That is what makes a difference. That will testify.
The Holy Spirit speaks to the world on behalf of Jesus. The Spirit shows the beauty of Jesus. The Spirit asks the inner consciences of the people of this world how it can possibly be that they are able to reject such beauty. The Spirit asks the world why it doesn’t prefer the kingdom of the cross when that kingdom shows up the world, as it is, every time.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of guilt in regard to sin….because men do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) We don’t have to say much about guilt and sin in order to give the right testimony about Jesus. We can give the right testimony by talking about what we love about goodness, because we learn about goodness from Jesus.
He has taught us about goodness by dying for us to give us his goodness. If we live the goodness of Jesus and if we are not afraid to talk about it, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt and sin.
Jesus mostly talked about sin to the people who thought they had it all together: the people who thought they were better than others. When Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more,” it was only after he had saved her life, and told her that he didn’t condemn her.
Essentially Jesus testified about sin by forgiving it. This is what made people mad. This is what made people hate Jesus. The people who knew they were sinners didn’t hate Jesus or his testimony. I want to give that kind of evidence. I want my testimony to be like Jesus.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of guilt with regard to righteousness….because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer.” (John 16:8, 10) The words, “I am going to the Father” refer to his crucifixion and resurrection. These give us righteousness as grace, as forgiveness, and as a gift. If we live our lives as a response to grace, and forgiveness; and if we live our lives as if they were the gift of God (God-centered and not self-righteous); then the Holy Spirit will give evidence alongside us about the right kind of righteousness.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of guilt… in regard to judgment….because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The cross and the resurrection condemned the Devil and his influence on the selfishness and power-seeking of this world.
The cross and the resurrection judge this world because they are stronger than this world. This world and the prince of this world have never been able to overcome the cross and the resurrection, or the people whose lives have been changed by Jesus.
The people of the kingdom of Christ keep going on and on and they keep giving evidence; if they don’t lose heart or go astray. The Holy Spirit drives this home to the consciences of the people who have not seen it before.
One of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to us (in a way that keeps us from getting the message wrong) is through the Bible: the Scriptures. Jesus said, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26) The Holy Spirit guarded the memories and the thoughts of the disciples and those who listened to them. The Spirit guarded their hearts and minds so that they could record what Jesus said, and what Jesus did, and the reasons behind it.
When we read the Scriptures we read inspired messages from long ago. But the Holy Spirit keeps on working. The Spirit is with us forever, and the Spirit speaks alongside the Scriptures, and within the Scriptures, so that the message goes into our hearts, and our consciences. When the Spirit reminds us of something it becomes like a voice that we cannot ignore except at our own peril.
Most of all the Holy Spirit reminds us that the message is not about a lot of things. The message is not really about information; and it isn’t about techniques, and methods. The message is always about Jesus, and what Jesus said and did. The center of the message is the life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, and the life that comes from him.
Jesus once called the Holy Spirit “Another Counselor”. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will send you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)
Jesus was the first Counselor the disciples had known. Jesus would die and rise to send another Counselor, the Holy Spirit. The word for Counselor could be translated as “friend”.
In all his bloody and resurrected majesty, Jesus is our friend. The Holy Spirit is also our friend. Friends comfort, and counsel, and help. Friends change us.
Jesus is our servant-Lord who changes us and we become new people. The Holy Spirit is our sharing-Lord. The Holy Spirit may seem like a power that we can learn to harness: a blessing machine. But even though the Holy Spirit is called “the power from on high” (Luke 24:49) the Holy Spirit is not a power, but a person.
The Holy Spirit is a friend, and we never use our friends. We listen to them. We team up with them, but we never use them, and we never study methods to get more out of them. Maybe we could study methods to give more to them. Our friends are our partners.
This partner Spirit is a friend of Jesus: such a good friend that he never gives us anything except to serve as a living connection with Jesus. Jesus (and all that he is, and all that he has done) is present with us through the friendship of the Holy Spirit.

That is how we know God. That is how the world can know God through us.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Know God - The Way

Preached on Sunday, May 17, 2015

Scripture readings: Isaiah 57:14-21; John 13:31-14:11

White Bluffs, Columbia River, Near Hanford Reseration, WA
April 2014
A few miles west of my hometown you can find ten thousand acres of the best bird hunting country on the West Coast. Every year, the great crooner Bing Crosby would come to us to duck hunt.
He was very sneaky about this. He did his best to keep out of view, but there were still Bing Crosby sightings. One of my teachers saw him in a store nearby.
My dad was on our local Fall Festival committee for years and, for a couple of those years, my dad was determined to get Bing to be the Grand Marshall in our Fall Festival Parade. After all, Bing benefitted from us. He enjoyed coming here, so he would probably feel honored to be asked to take part in our community.
My Dad got very upset when he realized that Bing Crosby wasn’t like that at all. Bing was much too important to give us any kind of personal response: let alone ride in our parade.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6) This makes Jesus sound very exclusive and important.
It’s true that Jesus is very important. No one is more important than Jesus. But the secret of Jesus’ importance for us is the fact that Jesus isn’t exclusive at all.
Jesus doesn’t guard his dignity. He spoke about the glory that he shares with God just after he took off his clothes, and wrapped himself in a towel, and washed the disciples’ feet (and, by extension, Jesus washed our own feet).
When he spoke about his glory, he meant dying on the cross. He meant being whipped to a bloody pulp. He meant hanging from iron spikes hammered through his hands and feet. That’s what the cross is about; and doing it all for the sins of a world that didn’t know who he was.
There’s dignity for you. There’s glory for you. Jesus is not an exclusive celebrity.
Jesus said that God is just like him. God is just like Jesus. Jesus is in God, washing feet and dying on the cross. God is in Jesus, washing feet and dying on the cross. So if you want to come to God you have got to come to a foot-washer and a human being on a cross; a God who did these things for people who didn’t understand who he was.
Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:10)
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) This didn’t mean that once Jesus had died on the cross, and had risen from the dead, that he had a lot of construction work to do. It doesn’t mean that he is working on your mansion even as we speak.
“I go to prepare a place for you,” means that Jesus’ work on the cross is the work that prepares a place for you. He will come in his own time and his own way and take you there, but your place was finished long ago.
While we’re at it the old translation of the mansion is not quite right, even though I love it, and I use that phrase when I do funerals. What it means is that there is a place to live with God, and stay with God.
The place has room, but it is not a room. A room is an enclosure and you don’t want to be enclosed away from the sight of God or from all those lives that have been made beautiful and complete by his love. The place that has been prepared for you is more like a fancy banquet where there is a card at a particular setting that has your name on it, and it’s a place that never goes away, and you never go away.
But it’s not like any of our fancy banquets because, in Jesus’ time, the guests at great feasts wore comfortable clothing, and they took off their shoes before they came to the table, and everyone reached their hand into the same dish. They were bound to touch hands. That is the best we can do to describe the indescribable. There is some such place for you to be with God: a place to stay.
When Jesus said, “I am the way,” he meant, “I did the work.” It’s same kind of thing we read about in Isaiah. In Isaiah, the Lord said, “Build up, build up; prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” (Isaiah 57:14) It’s almost as if the words are spoken by God talking to himself.
Who else could God be talking to? Who builds the road? Who does the work? Read it, and see that the Lord does the talking and the Lord does the work. The Lord prepares the way. Apparently, no one else can do what he does.
The Lord is found at the beginning and at the end of the road. “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit (the humble and repentant), to revive the spirit of the lowly (the humble) and to revive the heart of the contrite (the repentant).” (Isaiah 57:15)
We see the Lord deeply angry at sin. And what is the result of this anger? The result is that Lord heals that sin. “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.” (Isaiah 57:18)
The Lord is the way that this happens; because this is what the Lord is like. Jesus is the way that it happens because, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one comes to God, no one comes to the Father, except through Jesus because there is no other God. No other God, and no other concept of God, has ever done what this God has done, in the flesh, in Jesus. The highest has become the lowest.
Jesus stands at the beginning and at the end of the road to God because he is the way. Jesus is the road and the road-maker.
The Lord: the Lord Jesus made the way by means of forgiveness, and that forgiveness comes at the price of death on the cross. He made the way because he lives with those who are humble and repentant. He lives as a foot-washer and as a crucified human being who rises from the dead. We ourselves don’t know the half of who he is.
Imagine walking around the downtown of some big city and getting lost. If you’re like me you’ll be lost for quite a long time: because you keep on thinking that you can figure it out on your own. But, when you finally stop to ask for directions to the place where you want to go, the God you meet in Jesus won’t give you directions. The only God in existence will say to you, “Come with me, I’ll take you there myself.” The route by which this God will guide you will bring you to the foot of a cross, and to an empty tomb, and to a basin of water where your guide will stoop down to wash your feet.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christians are tempted to use these words of Jesus in the wrong way. We are tempted to make them into a measuring stick for measuring the faith of other people. We use them to measure their qualifications for a room in the Father’s house.
The fact is that, if anything, these words are a measuring stick to show us the love of God in Jesus (which cannot be measured). The way is not a “what”, or a “how”. The way is a “who”.
The way, and the truth, and the life are not parts of a bargain or a contract between two parties (you and God). The way is not a standard that you meet. The way is not the content of your faith, and it’s not even about your faith at all. That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. The way of Jesus is all about the faithfulness of God, and the greatness of God’s faithfulness in Jesus.
The way, and the truth, and the life are part of the promise that Jesus makes with anyone who is troubled, or afraid, or worried, or upset. Do you know anyone like that? If you do, then the promise is simply for them. He says that we can be sure of this. We can be sure of him. Nothing else matters.
We should say one more thing. Jesus said these words right after he washed the disciples’ feet and right before he headed for the cross. That is the way, and the truth, and the life from God.
This is what we find in God, and he did this for the disciples who hardly understood anything that he was doing. They didn’t understand at all who he was.
So I would ask whether we have this God in us. Is there a foot-washing servant inside us, and how do we know? How do others know? Is there a cross-bearer inside us, and how do we know? How do others know?
The foot-washing servant and the cross-bearer can be inside us. That is who God is. That is who Jesus is. There is no other way. There is no other place to go.

When the Christ who is in God and the God who is in Christ wash your feet and die for you….when you see this; what else can you do but let him in and do his work? Then his way, and his truth, and his life will show themselves in you. Then you will know what his promises truly mean.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Mystery of Parenthood

Preached on Mothers' Day, Sunday, May 10, 2015
Scripture readings: Isaiah 49:14-16: Luke 2:40-52

A Sunday school class was performing a program during worship, and one little boy forgot his line. Well, his mother was the prompter, and she was sitting right there in the front row. At first she tried using gestures. Then she tried to mouth the words silently to give him a clue. He wasn’t getting it, so she whispered the words to him, “I am the light of the world”.
Walking along the Columbia River Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA
May 2015
The little boy lit up, and he said, in a loud voice, “My Mom is the light of the world!” (From Eculaugh, from Ray Kerley, note # 7251)
Mary asked Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this?” There was more than astonishment in her voice. Her voice came from her gut; and there was fear, and desperation, and a loving-anger in her voice.
Jesus was the one who was astonished at this point. What on earth was wrong with his mom? The twelve-year-old wondered if she was crazy. “Why were you searching for me?”
We see, in this story, the holiness and the mystery of parenthood.
Luke is the only gospel that tells us anything about the childhood of Jesus, and Luke only tells us this one story, right on the edge of adolescence, right on the edge of becoming a teenager.
Actually Jesus was right on the edge of manhood, according to the customs of the people of Israel in his day. The age of twelve was the doorway and thirteen was the indoors where a Jewish boy carried an adult responsibility for his choices and actions.
Some people would like to know more about Jesus’ childhood and younger years, and so would I. But I believe that this one story, which Luke chose for us, tells us everything we need to know.
At first glance Luke seems to shows us that Jesus was no ordinary child, just as he grew up to be no ordinary grownup. At the same time, Luke shows us that even the ones who should have known better thought of Jesus as being perfectly ordinary and perfectly normal. Luke shows us that this was a complete misunderstanding. It was a mistake, but it was the normal mistake to make.
I don’t want to read too much into just a few words, but this picture of Jesus intrigues me. Here we see what the goodness of Jesus looked like in a classic children’s story.
Do you know that there is a kind of goodness that sucks the joy out of the room. There is a kind of goodness that is full of expectations and requirements for the behavior of others. The goodness of Jesus is not like that.
The boy in the temple was eager, and brave, and passionate, and wholehearted; and his kind of goodness says this to those who worry too much and have too many expectations: lighten up.
Jesus was the kind of kid that good parents want their kids to be. Jesus was the sort of grown-up that God intends us all to be. Jesus was and is what God favors and finds beautiful.
There is nothing smothering or life-sucking about the perfection of Jesus. The perfection of Jesus was, and is, liberating.
Luke tells us that the typical thing about Jesus, when he was growing up, was not that people were in awe of Jesus, or afraid of him. Luke tells us that people simply liked him. The more Jesus matured, the more he grew “in favor with God and with his fellow humans.”
The word favor, here, is actually the word for grace. But here grace is used in its humblest way. It means that there is something appealing here, there is an attraction going on. Jesus was appealing even when he was driving his parents crazy.
This story in Luke doesn’t tell us the mystery of problem children or problem parents. It does tell us good things about parents and children that should not seem strange to us. It tells us some things we need to know about being children and parents.
There is something in God that we call Father. A girl named Jenny went away to college and, after a few weeks, her father called her on the phone, her roommate answered the phone and the father asked to speak to Jenny. While he waited, the father overheard his daughter’s voice as she asked her roommate who was on the phone. He heard the roommate said, “I don’t know who he is, but he sounds parental.” There is something in God that is parental. God loves us with a father’s and a mother’s love.
God created us in his image, and the two most important things God has done have required parents. When God created the world, he created parents. When God set up his plan to save us and bring us back into his peace and wholeness, that plan included parents: Mary and Joseph (even though Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father).
When God became human he did it with parents. The best child in the world needed parents. It is also interesting to notice that the best child, the most trustworthy child in the world, was not understood or fully appreciated by his parents, but Jesus was loved by them with the best and the highest love they could give. We can trust that Mary and Joseph wanted to do their best, and that they did it.
And Jesus obeyed them. He was subject to them. He recognized their authority. They were his parents and he was their child. But Jesus was the best kid and one of the best things about kids is that they are learners. Jesus was learning.
The perfect child could just as easily have said, “But you never told me that I couldn’t stay behind.” And he would have been right. I’m sure that they hadn’t thought of telling him not to stay behind. The perfect kid could have thought this way.
The truth is that the kid Jesus actually saw the right thing for him to do, and so he did it. I doubt if he ever stayed behind again, without telling his parents, because that was also the right thing to do.
Mary and Joseph learned the hazards of being the parents of a child who might do the right thing in an instant, without asking for permission, and without giving any warning.
Even the perfect child can be scary and this was true of Jesus. Telling us this, Luke has told us enough.
We can see that Jesus’ mother Mary, and his foster father Joseph, were not perfect parents. They didn’t know what their son was capable of.
They didn’t know that he was capable of holding his own in conversation with learned theologians. They didn’t know how much their son was capable of identifying with God as his Father. They didn’t know that Jesus, as a twelve-year-old, was capable of leaving them, as if he was ready to live on his own, almost a hundred miles from home (which was a very long way from home).
Mary and Joseph were proud of Jesus. It wasn’t easy to be his parents. He was special to them, and yet he was ordinary too, and he was twelve.
Mary and Joseph were not perfect parents, they made mistakes, but they were safe parents, they were faithful and caring. In the gospel, God gives his blessing to such parents by making sure we have their story.
What children need are not perfect parents, but parents who are safe, and faithfully consistent, and caring. Being able to depend on our parents is God’s first strategy for teaching us to depend on him. Without that first lesson God has to resort to other ways that are not so simple.
I think this is part of the grace of God to parents. It is the fact that what he looks for, even in his own family, is not perfection but faithfulness. This is part of the mystery of parenthood.
They used to call the birth of a baby a “blessed event” and it must be, in part because it teaches the necessity of faith. It takes faith to hold that little life in your arms for the first time without fearing that you will break it. It takes faith when you realize that you are responsible for caring for this young life even though it seems to require much more strength and wisdom than you think you have to give.
There was a pet owner who prayed, “Dear Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am.”  The parent of a baby, or a four year old, or a ten year old must pray, “Lord make me the person my child thinks I am.” 
When the kids are older, I guess you have to pray, “Dear Lord help me not to be as embarrassing and irrational as my teenager thinks I am.” Even when the twelve-year-old thought his parents were being irrational, he still depended on them. He still needed something from them. He needed their faithfulness, and he was as obedient to them as much as the best twelve year old could be.
There is this connection that never entirely goes away, no matter how capable we may be of taking care of ourselves. While memory lives, a parent will always be a parent, and a child will always be a child. The relationship of parent and child has existed beyond time and space in the relationship between the Father and the Son.  When our lives move beyond time and space we will find those relationships there. It is a mystery.
One of the mysteries of parenthood is that it is not a right, it is a trust. God entrusts you with the care and nurture of a life, of an immortal soul that is not yours, except to be cared for in trust.
Here is a life that you will do a lot to shape, and yet that life has a mind of its own. Even in the mother’s womb your child has certain qualities. An experienced child bearer probably knows, deep within, when she is going to give birth to a hyperactive child. You have to begin with the child you have been given.
Parents and their children both play their part in a story whose author is God. The plot is God’s plot.
In God’s story, the children are working for God. They have no strength, but they have been given authority by God to change their parents’ lives; if only their parents will listen. A dad once told me that, the moment he held his first baby in his arms, he decided to the father that baby needed him to be.
In God’s story, the parents (just like their children) are working for God. They have the authority to make something happen, but they don’t know exactly what that will turn out to be.
God wants them to use their heads, and their authority, with faith. But God is in charge, and faith means entrusting your children to the Lord who knows what we do not know, and who can do what we can’t do. That is part of the plan and it belongs to the mystery of parenthood.
The Lord’s Supper is a reminder that we are all part of a family. Besides our own family circle, we all sit at a table where the Lord is the host, and the parent, and all of us are the children.
The Lord knows that grownups and children all need to be fed. We all need a place where we can come home to be refreshed and find rest, so that we can follow the Lord within our own families.
The Lord wants you to sit with him, whether you are a parent or a child, or whether you think you are neither. He wants to give you grace in your family as you learn to be part of his family.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Mothers and fathers lay down their lives for their children every day. They say goodbye to the lives they knew before they became parents. In that sense, parenthood is like marriage.
Jesus wants us to know that he is our friend, but of course he is much more. Mary held what Jesus said and did in her heart. By telling us this, Luke is warning us that this story points to the future. It points to something that Mary will see in the future that will explain everything.
The story points to the good news of the gospel. The story of the perfect kid leaving everything behind for the sake of a mission points to the cross.
Even as a kid, Jesus was willing to go places, and to leave things behind out of love for his Father: out of love for this world and for us. Jesus left his home in heaven, and he left life itself, on the cross.
In his life and his death, Jesus was willing to become something that he had not been before. He deliberately walked into the territory of experiences that were hell for him to go through. He became the carrier of the burden of sin for us on the cross. He became the carrier of the burden of death for us on the cross.
The people who lay themselves down for others, the people who carry such burdens for others, don’t just create friends. They create families.

This is the love of Jesus. We see a real glimpse of this love in the perfect kid. We see, in the boy Jesus, the mystery of parenthood. This love is the foundation of what the new life and the new creation will be, in the kingdom of God. The mysterious love that you find in parenthood is the foundation of the family called the church. This love is what we receive at the Lord’s Table.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Know God - The Glory

Preached on Sunday, May 3, 2015

Scripture readings: Exodus 33:12-34:9; 2 Corinthians 3:16-4:15

Moses said to the Lord, “Show me your glory.” (Exodus 33:18)
Have you ever thought about what Moses really wanted from God; what he meant by God showing his glory?
Walking & Driving near Mattawa/Desert Aire, WA
March 2015
You don’t have to read much in the Bible before you find lots of places where the Lord shows someone something about himself. The person who is learning about God sees God, and it’s generally pretty strange. There seems to be light, and lightning, and color, and wings, and choirs singing, and trumpets blaring, and fire, and clouds, and wheels, and people throwing crowns on the ground, and people having trouble standing on their feet without fainting or their ankles buckling. If this is the glory of God, it seems very complicated, and strange, and foreign to us.
Make a different kind of list, though, and it may seem simpler. There is something wonderful. There is something powerful: something almost unbearably intense. There is a fearful joy, and a joyful fear. There is amazement, and anticipation, and encouragement, and transformation, and understanding. And it is always because of something wonderful. This is better. This is a part of glory.
What is there in our world that shows us glory? There are sunrises and sunsets. There are rainbows. Every day I see that this valley where we live shows us glory.
What shows us glory in the world of human beings? If you are a music lover of any kind, then you have some glory music. You know what I mean. There is Beethoven. Or there is “The Star Spangled Banner” played smartly, or sung straight. There is another piece of music: “Here Comes the Bride”. There’s glory for you. But that doesn’t even touch the surface.
There’s a touch. There’s a pair of eyes, looking at you while you are looking back into those eyes. There’s a hand in yours. There is a baby in your arms. It may be your baby; or your son’s or daughter’s baby.
There’s a harvest. There’s a job well done. There is a mission accomplished.
There is a gift or a miracle in such things. The greatest miracle is that these are a part of you. They are who you are and they are what you have done, with God’s help. This is glory.
What is God’s glory? What is the Lord’s glory; and what does that glory mean for us, in our lives?
First I’m going to complicate it in order to make it simple. When it comes to the Lord, there are a lot of words that refer to his glory. The presence of the Lord, the name of the Lord, the honor of the Lord, the angel of the Lord, the goodness of the Lord, the face of the Lord, the image of the Lord: all of these refer back to the glory of the Lord. There are lots of glory words. We don’t have to separate each of these from the others and give them separate, fancy definitions in order to understand that they are telling us about glory.
God is big, great, high, strong, mighty, and almighty: these all mean the same thing, there’s no need to get fancy if you simply want to get to the heart of it.
Glory is a good word to make the key word (the central word) of all the other glory words, if we want to understand who God is and what that means for our lives.
The foundation of the word glory, in the Bible, is weight; as in “carrying a lot of weight”. Well, not all the time. Glory comes from the concept of weight. Some weight doesn’t weigh very much. A feather has weight; but not very much. Human beings have glory, but not so much when compared with God. In his first letter, Peter summarized the prophet Isaiah when he wrote this: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (1 Peter 1:24; Isaiah 40:6-8)
We are all lightweights compared with God. The amazing thing is that (in some real sense) God does not intend for us to stay that way. Paul wrote this: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
If we read later in the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians we would read this: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” We could call this “an eternal weight of glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
What is God’s glory and what does it mean for our lives?
Moses asked God: “Show me your glory.” Moses didn’t say to God: “Dazzle me, Lord.” Moses didn’t want a display of special effects. Moses had already seen what we would call the glory of special effects, without asking or even wanting to see it.
This time it was different, and God respected that and God responded accordingly. This time, there were not any special effects that we are told about. More than that, the glory that we are told about, in this story, is not something that we could possibly see. The glory we hear about is the glory of what God said and Moses heard.
This is what the Lord said that Moses could expect as his answer. The Lord said, “I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” (Exodus 33:19) What we get is a description. The glory is that God describes his true self to a human being.
What we get is the chance to hear God tell Moses (and us) who he is. We should say, first: remember that the real Hebrew behind the name LORD, which is spelled in most English Bibles in four capital letters, is not a name like Henrietta, or Gregory. The Lord’s name is a verb of being. The LORD, as a name, is based on a strange phrase that can be both present tense and future tense. The LORD means: “I Am”. The LORD means: “I Will Be”.
Here is what we hear the LORD say: “The LORD, the LORD (“I am; I will be”) the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands (or maintaining love to thousands of generations) and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
There’s more, but that’s enough.
Moses asked to be shown the glory of the Lord, and the Lord showed it to him in these words. The glory of the Lord is not razzle-dazzle. The glory of the Lord is not the ability to show himself in special effects.
The glory of the Lord consists of who God is and what God does. The glory of the Lord is compassion, grace, slowness to anger, and abundant love and faithfulness. God’s glory is a love that reaches out to crowds of people and goes on, and on, and on. The glory of the Lord is that he forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. This is God’s glory. If we could properly see and hear it, it would shine and thunder.
This is the answer to what Moses wanted and needed. Moses was ashamed of his own people. There was so much that God’s people had to be ashamed of, in the light of God leading them out of slavery in Egypt. They were constantly doubting, constantly complaining, constantly angry. After all that they had seen along the way, when Moses was on the mountain top with God, and it took so, so, so long, they gave up and made a statue of God in a form that pleased them: a golden calf.
In light of this, Moses saw nothing but failure ahead. When he said, “Show me your glory,” he meant to say, “Show me that I can trust you to not give up on us. Show me that you are a God who will see this through to the finish, no matter what it takes.”
What is the heaviest and weightiest part of God and his actions: is it righteous anger, or is it faithfulness, forgiveness, and grace? Is the glory of God a love that goes on, and on, and on, and does what needs to be done, no matter what it takes? The weightiest part of God (the center of gravity of God) is faithfulness and steadfast love.
There is more than one word for love in both the Old and New Testaments. In this case, the center of gravity of God is the love that is redemptive and saving. That is what Moses needed to know, before he took one more step. The glory of God is that his identity, his face, his honor, his name, and his very image find their center in saving love. It is love as an unbreakable vow. That is where it meets the test.
So, when we ask what the glory of God is, and what it means for our lives: there it is. It is saving love and, if we could only see it as it is, the sight of that saving love would be like a pillar of fire and a blaring of trumpets. That seems to answer our question. We can live with that. In fact, if saving love were not the glory of God, what’s the use?
There is much more we need to know about God’s glory. We humans were created in God’s image. (Genesis 1:27)
We are commanded not to make an image of God. One reason for this is that God took the initiative to make the only acceptable image of himself. He made that image when he made us.
We were created to be the image and glory of God. We were created to be (on the level of created beings in this world) what God is (in his eternal being beyond all time and space).
Sometimes it was hard for Moses and for God’s people in the wilderness to see beyond the special effects of glory. They didn’t see the heart of God: the face of God. They didn’t see the compassion of God or the forgiveness of God very well. They were too angry to see the heart of God. They were angry all the time, and so they only saw the anger of God.
If we had started just a few verses earlier in the Book of Exodus we would have read this: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” But, somehow, this “face to face” showed Moses less of God’s face than he wanted to see.
Moses saw what God called his back. Maybe it’s clearer if we say that, whatever God promised to show Moses, it would have to be whatever it was that could be seen when God had passed by. In a sense, Moses was able to see where God had been. Moses saw God’s trail.
It’s the same with us. We often don’t see God in the present. We don’t see what God is doing. We don’t see what God will do. We often don’t see God until we see what he has done. We see where God has been. We see his tracks in the sand. We see that God has been with us. That is like seeing only the back of God.
The Bible tells us that Christ is the face of God: “The glory of Christ, who is the image of God”; “The knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
In a way, Moses couldn’t see the true face of God until God became human in Jesus: and neither can we.
We are lightweights because we are rebels who are descended from rebels. Adam and Eve chose to be like God and they asserted their choice independently. They were creatures making their own glory instead of receiving it by faith from God. Their version of glory was light as a feather. They made it without God, and it had very little of God in it. It had pride, and envy, and rivalry in it.
Our self-made glory has sin in it. God’s glory, as an identity of compassion, and forgiveness, and love, doesn’t carry nearly enough weight with us. Compassion, and forgiveness, and love don’t serve to put us at the center of things; and so we want more. We want more, but we get less. Paul said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Jesus died for us, and for our sins. As he lived those hours on the cross, under the burden of our sins, he was unable to see the glory of his Father. So he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46) Our sins made Jesus unable to see the heart and glory of God.
In Jesus, God adopted our identity so that he could adopt us into our lost identity, and into a new identity. Paul wrote: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
The truth is that when we look into the depths of the face of God in Christ we do truly die. To look God in the face, on the cross, in Christ, we cannot truly see him and stay the same. We die to ourselves. We die with Christ on the cross, and we live from that moment, and forever, in the resurrection of Christ. In Galatians Paul wrote this: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
In Christ we die, and we rise from the dead, and so we become Christ every day. We become the image of God, in our creation and in our salvation.
John Calvin wrote, “For it is certain that Adam, the father of us all, was created in the image and likeness of God. By that is shown that he was made a participant in the divine wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness, and truth.” (“Institutes of the Christian Religion” 1541)
God’s glory is his true identity and what he does comes from that center of gravity. It’s very important to know his glory. It’s very important to be able to live by faith in the weight of his glory.
It’s very important for us to be what God has saved us to be, through Christ, and to live out what we are in Christ. So where will anyone in this world find compassion? If we are the glory of God, the world will find compassion with us. Where will anyone in this world find forgiveness? If we are in Christ, the glory of God, then they will find forgiveness in us. And all the rest is true.

What is the glory of God, and what does it mean for our lives? It means that God can be counted on to help us live for his glory. God will help us to be (to the core of our being) what he himself is, in this world.