Monday, September 14, 2015

Telling It - Son of God

Preached on Sunday, September 13, 2015

Scripture readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Mark 1:1-15

In high school I took solid geometry and trigonometry from Mrs. Dewey. She was also my Sunday school teacher for one year (at least for those Sundays when I was at church).
Pictures from a Walk East of Live Oak, CA to the Feather River
June 2015
I really liked her and saw her as a good teacher. At least she gave me good grades and a lot of encouragement. I also thought of Mrs. Dewey as being very proper and conservative.
So it came as a complete surprise when I heard that (as a joke) she had poured a bowl of ice water on her son Alan, one school morning, when he was slow getting out of bed. Even for her own kids (who knew her well), this came as a surprise.
When God came to earth in Jesus, the way in which he came was a complete surprise to everyone: even to those who thought they knew him best.
The old scriptures of God’s people warned them that they should expect him to come this way: as a complete surprise. Malachi gives an example of this. “’Suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1) Jesus came as a complete surprise to his people even though they were told to expect a surprise. But how can it be any other way?
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t stand before him, and neither could the Roman governor and his soldiers, even though they succeeded in crucifying him. With all their authority, they could not stand before him because Jesus came with a different kind of authority from theirs.
Jesus is the Son of God. The Father is the sender. The Son is the sent. And the Holy Spirit is the power and love that the Father and the Son share together and send together. We see them all together at the baptism of Jesus. They all came as a surprise to do a great thing together.
They came to make a surprising kingdom begin and, in the work they did with Jesus, we see the surprise that gives us a new life. It was the mission of the Son to make a demonstration of the power and love of the kingdom in a completely unexpected way.
By demonstrating this power on the cross and in the resurrection, Jesus made the kingdom of God happen. Dying on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus gave birth to the kingdom. He made his kingdom possible in us.
Mark called his little piece of writing a gospel. Well, really, he called it the good news. Gospel is just a word that comes from the Greek word for good news. It was a word was often used for the special purpose of describing great events. It was the word for the report of a decisive victory in a crucial war. It was the word for the report of a royal birth.
And so it is for us. What we call the gospels are the reports of the good news of a battle that has been won. In Jesus, God defeated the world as we know it: the world that often angers and frightens us, the world that destroys innocence, and justice, and decency. In Jesus, God defeated the devil who tells us the lies that we find so easy to buy into. He defeated the devil who offers us satisfactions, and distractions, and security, and money, and influence. In Jesus, God defeated the thing called sin that separates us from harmony with God, and others, and puts us at war with ourselves. In Jesus, God even defeated death.
The gospels report the good news of many royal births. They report the birth of the sons and daughters of God. They report your birth and mine as sons and daughters of God as the death and life of Jesus take authority, and comes into us and rules in us.
The good news tells us the message of what we believe, when we put our faith and hope in Jesus. Jesus is the sent one whom we call the Son of God. He came into this world as a surprise and Jesus has never changed.
Our own life story is the story of how the Son of God has come as a surprise to us and we have not been able to stand up to that surprise. We have had to surrender to the Son of God who has surprising authority over everything.
The good news tells us that Jesus comes as a surprise to be alongside of people who know they need to change; just as he came to be baptized along with us. The good news tells us that Jesus came as a surprise to the wilderness of our temptations and defeats, our hungers and our thirsts, and Jesus shares what exhausts us and wears us down. The good news tells us that Jesus calms storms and fights the devilish powers that try to seize us. The good news tells us that Jesus heals. Jesus has the surprising power and love to forgive us and make us into forgiven people who have his forgiving power in them to share with others. The good news tells us that Jesus has the authority to surprise the good people by exposing their fallenness, and to surprise the rejected people by exposing their blessedness.
In the first verse of his good news, Mark told us what he was giving us: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Since we all have eternity ahead of us, perhaps each one of us can wear the same label. We can all be, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Our lives should tell that story. I want each of us to learn how to tell that story. What difference does Jesus make in your life? How is Jesus your good news? How can you report to others, when they might be aware of their own need, how your experience shows the difference that Jesus can make for them?
Over most of the next several Sundays, I will try to share a story or two about how the Son of God came with a surprising authority into my life: how he took charge, how his cross and his resurrection influenced me, and some of the other ways that he has changed me. I would invite you to volunteer to do the same over next several Sundays.
First let me tell you what other people don’t need from you. They don’t need to be impressed by wonderful things that have happened to you, or the amazing things you have been a part of.
Let me give you an example. When I was nineteen years old, I was on my college campus and just getting out of a science class and I needed to cross the campus for an English class. Suddenly it began to pour down rain. It had started out as a beautiful Sacramento Valley spring day, and this surprise storm came up. Right as class was out, the storm broke and rain poured like crazy. The air seemed like solid water. I had a hundred yards to run to get to class. Everyone was soaked except me. I just had a couple drops of water here and there.
It was a miracle. It shouldn’t have happened. I never asked God to keep me from getting wet. It wouldn’t have been fair. All I could do was laugh. I really laughed at something God had done; something that no one would ever believe and that was so completely useless and unnecessary. I know it sounds completely crazy.
It’s a true story, but I would never dream of telling it to someone if I wanted them to know what difference God can make in their life.
People don’t need to know that God can do a miracle, even though this is true. He can do it. But they don’t need this, because they need something else that is much more important.
People need to know that their lives can be changed by the power of God’s love. People need to know that their life can change; that they are loved infinitely even before they experience one single atom of change. People need to know that their lives have purpose and that the love of God can make them agents of change in the people and in the world around them.
I know I have shared with you some verses from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. They mean so much me that I live by them.
God gave the apostle Paul a special weakness that we don’t understand very well. I’m not going to explain it now, but it was very upsetting to Paul. It seems to have kept him from serving God on the level Paul thought was needed. Paul prayed and prayed the perfect and sufficient number of times for “the Lord to take it away.” “But he (the Lord) said to me (said Paul) ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Let me tell you a childhood story. Although my spiritual upbringing was really pretty sloppy and haphazard I had some good input, probably, mostly thanks to my Grandma Evans. She took me to Sunday school when I was very little. That was where I learned to sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
When we moved too far for her to take me to church she probably nagged my parents and we went sometimes. I knew who Jesus was. I knew something about God creating me and loving me.
By the time I was in the middle of elementary school I knew that I needed help, because my life wasn’t working very well. I wasn’t connecting with other kids the way I should. I wasn’t connecting with my dad very well. I knew I could be a much better older brother than I was. Even then, I had a concept of sin as something I couldn’t really fix.
In my trouble with other kids, my dad told me I had to defend myself. In the fourth grade I got in my only fight, and I won, but I felt guilty about it and I never fought again.
My dad also told me “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) That’s called the golden rule. Jesus was the one who said it.
I tried as hard as I could to follow that rule but it didn’t help. I thought that if I was nice to other kids then they would be nice to me. Even though Jesus told us to do this, his reason was not to give us a way to make other people treat us the way we want to be treated. I was absolutely confused by this and I didn’t know what to do.
I loved Jesus. I knew something about the fact that he had died for me on the cross. I made a commitment of my life to Jesus watching Billy Graham on the television. It was on an old black and white television and I was all by my self in the den.
Then, one of our times in church, we were singing the old hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”. There was large black cross hanging from the church ceiling, and during this song I suddenly felt as though that cross were going inside me. I felt as if ocean waves were going over me and it was very scary and it almost hurt.
I decided that it might hurt to follow Jesus, but that Jesus had been hurt to help me and to love me. So I found ways to not give in to bullies without fighting them. I also started to stop fights. The other kids were cheering the fighters and I would be right there beside them, telling them that they didn’t need to fight. Sometimes they stopped. Otherwise not much changed for me. They just got worse.
Seventh grade was a living hell. I was constantly getting shoved around and pushed on the ground. I was called names. It all came from one big group of kids who ran the halls of that school. It was an old school with lots of nooks and crannies and places for stuff like that to happen. I wasn’t their only victim. I didn’t fight, but I didn’t give in.
Sometime it made me sick to my stomach, going to school every day. In a strange way (I suppose) it also became an adventure.
One day I realized that my seventh period classroom had a third door we never used that led to a long narrow space between the building and the chain link fence that closed in the school property. I could see that it went to the street where the school buses parked to bring us to school and take us home. I realized that I could slip through that unused door and escape to the bus without that gang of kids getting me.
When the bell rang, they saw me run for the unused door and they yelled “Get him!” The teacher was standing right there at the head of the class. I made it safe to the bus that day, and a half a dozen boys got sent to the office. Next day, I got asked what was going on, and things got better for me (a little bit). What I had done was not to run away from them, but to run around them.
The bullies still ruled the school. In their hands, some kids cried. Some kids begged for mercy. When the bullies got hold of me, I just stood there and took it silently.
That spring one boy came up to me and he said, “I really admire you for the way you stand up to them. You don’t fight them, but you stand up to them anyway.”
I’m sure that story isn’t for everybody. I do think that, sometimes, I might find someone who is in a place in their life where fighting will do no good, but standing your ground will do some good. A kid’s story might even be good for grown-ups. It was one way that Jesus made a difference in my life.
It was the best way I could figure out as a kid of nine, ten, eleven, and twelve to follow Jesus, even when it hurt. I think I still do that. I’m not consistent enough, but there are times when that is my job. I try to stand up for the truth, and for others, and for the gospel way of doing things. And, that way, I try to stand up for Jesus, because he is the Son of God.

1 comment:

  1. Stand up,, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross...I know you know that song!
    Your last photo looks a lot like the Yellow Daisies blooming on our mountains just now.
    And it saddens me to read of boys being bullied in school, and we know it still happens today too.