Thursday, November 19, 2015

Terrorism - Living in a World Reserved for Fire

Preached on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Scripture readings: 1 Peter 4:7-19; 2 Peter 3:8-14

A man had just retired. He had big plans for landscaping around his house. He was out working in his yard one day, when his eighty-plus-year-old neighbor came by.
Photos at Desert Aire/Mattawa and Crab Creek WA
November 2015
The older neighbor was carrying a box of oak seedlings. He had bought the seedlings to plant in his own yard and he had some left over. He asked the new retiree if he wanted to plant some baby oak trees.
The younger man said, “No oak trees for me, thanks. I won’t live long enough to enjoy them.”
The older man gave him a sad look and said, “Son, I’m sorry to hear that. We’ll sure miss you!”
Which of those two old people was the wisest? Is it wise to say, “When you know you are approaching the end of your days, plant an oak tree”?
Is that wisdom?
The Bible has wisdom just like that. I think you could as well paraphrase what we read in Peter’s letters this way, “If you live in a world that is fit to be burned then spend your lives giving something good to that world.”
Peter said: “Love each other deeply… (1 Peter 4:8)
“Offer hospitality…” (1 Peter 4:9)
“Use whatever gift you have received to serve others faithfully…” (1 Peter 4:10)
“Be willing to suffer for doing good….” (That is: “Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (Peter 4:19)
This is how God asks us to live in a world that is fit to be burned. “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12)
“Godly” is a word that is an adjective describing the quality of an action or process. Godly living means living a way of life that can be clearly seen to come from God and to be going to God and leading to God: the God who creates, and loves, and saves, and rules, and makes all things new. Godliness means living your life along these lines.
This is how God asks us to live in a world that is fit to be burned.
Peter wrote to people whose lives had been changed by Jesus coming into their lives. They were committed to live with purpose, and love, and generosity, because of Jesus.
At the time when Peter wrote to them, it looked as if the only good this was going to accomplish for them was to get them arrested, and tortured, and killed in a horrible death. This was not an absolute certainty, but it was always a lurking possibility.
It was something worth worrying about, if you believe in the power of worry. You could never know for sure when, and where, and if the axe might fall.
They knew this. Peter knew it too.
In fact, they had been in danger from the very moment they believed. They had entered a world of danger that was especially dangerous for people who stood out because of their commitments.
They had not been tricked into this. As Christians, they had never been innocent optimists. In fact, they had found God in the face of Jesus Christ who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34)
In fact, the world had crucified their Lord, and that crucifixion was where their salvation and their new life came from. A new life was made possible by the fact that God himself became a human being, in Jesus, in order to come into this world that is so full of sin, and evil, and injustice, and violence, and hatred. God loved this world enough to die for it, as its victim, in Jesus.
Then Jesus rose from the dead. He proved that he could save us by facing this world at its worst and not being overcome by it.
The world has always worshiped power, and success, and ambition, and pride. It has always worshiped anger. It has always worshiped glory and the selfish self. That is where bitterness and hatred come from. That is where violence and victimization come from.
Some people claim that the existence of this evil contradicts the existence of God. Or, at least, it contradicts the existence of a strong God, or a good God. Since we were born collaborators with this world that so angers and scares us, we have enough of this world flowing through our veins to make us wonder about the contradictions. We are full of contradictions ourselves, and we have never fully learned how to take to heart this strange God whom we have learned to call our God.
So God wants to give you a greater experience of exactly who he is. God offers himself to you so that you may know him in a way that will contradict your doubts.
When you meet God, one of the things that will bring you to your knees is the fact that he is a God of contradiction. We see who God is because we see Jesus. Jesus is God living as a contradictory human.
In Jesus we see that God is the humble lamb who dies for the sins of the world, even though he is infinite in power and holiness. God’s ownership of the universe as it is, and God’s power of resurrection to make a new heaven and a new earth, in place of the old, is lamb power. God’s power is lamb power.
In the face of a world that is fit to be burned, the Lord Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world. The world doesn’t contradict God. God contradicts the world. We are the people who follow this God.
The Lord has called us to be a contradiction to this world. Peter said, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives….” “Holy” means set apart by God for a purpose. It means life with a purpose.
Holiness also means to be set apart in a way that makes you different from everything else around you. Holiness makes you the contradiction that you are called to be: not weird in a weird way, but beautifully weird. In godliness you live your life along a line that intersects with God and his contradictory work. In Jesus, God himself lived a godly life in order to hold your life close to his, as friend to friend.
Jesus told his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9) What had they seen? They had seen a person who cared about a poor couple running out of wine for the refreshments at their wedding. (John 2:1-11) They had seen a person who protected a woman in danger of being killed for her sins. (John 8:1-11) They had seen a person who cared about the hunger of thousands. (John 6:1-15)
Looking at Jesus, they had seen a person who cared about sickness, and grief. He cared about the poor, and those who were outcasts and hated by others. And he did something about it, and what he said and did about it pointed to his Father. It was all godly, because it pointed to God. God, in Jesus, contradicted the way the world worked around him.
Most people would probably have to be almost twenty years old now to clearly remember the most shocking day of terrorism in modern times: September 11, 2001. Those who are able can remember the volunteers who went to Ground Zero to dig through the rubble of the World Trade Center with their bare hands. Those people contradicted this world and the world’s evil.
In this sense, what they did was very godly. So was the work of the firefighters and the police who climbed the stairs of the towers before they fell, or waited at the bottom for their work to begin.
In the last thirty days we have heard of the airliner full of vacationers that exploded over the Egyptian desert. We have heard that funerals in Bagdad were bombed, and that another neighborhood in Beirut was bombed. We have heard that well over a hundred people have been exploded or shot in Paris: over a hundred dead and hundreds more wounded. Our own country is on alert because of what happened in Paris.
Tomorrow people will work in office buildings, and they will go to airports and fly in jets, and they will work as police and fire-fighters and other first responders, and they will put on uniforms as members of our armed forces at a time when one of our NATO allies has declared the attack upon Paris as an act of war. And everyone here has some connection to these people, or we are one of these people, or we have been, or we could be.
We shop in shopping centers. We go to theaters and eat in restaurants. We drive on bridges. We live downstream from great dams and reservoirs. We go to work, or we know people who do.
And we listen, and we watch, and we talk about our lives in this world. Even in our own homes we shape this world we live in. We make this world less godly. Or we make it more godly.
We are people who live in a world that God came to contradict. We are all called to join together with God and contradict this world.
To live as free, and loving, and generous people in a world of fear and hatred is a contradiction against this world and all its evil. Can we be people who are not motivated by fear or hatred? This is the holy and godly way to live, even in a world that will only be purified by fire.
The God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus calls us to contradict this world together, and to live holy and godly lives together.
Peter wrote, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)
Sometimes God’s call for us to contradict the world makes me think of that dream I had, toward the end of 1964, right after my thirteenth birthday.
That angel came in the night and showed me some things. There was a pall, or a shadow, over everything I saw. There was a black cloud that was coming over the world.
I felt that war was in the cloud; and fear. It was raining on the world, and the rain seemed to bring misery on everyone. Some people were running from the cloud. Some people were walking. Some were too exhausted, too afraid, too confused to move. Some had made tents to shelter themselves from the cloud and the rain, but they were no real shelter, and I knew that they were all going to be swept away.
A voice told me that people would be in great fear, and confusion, and anger, and despair, and I was to speak to them for God.
I don’t know when the great cloud I saw will come. Maybe I have misunderstood its meaning. Maybe we are in it now. You might be surprised to know that I don’t think about it all the time, but times like the past few days makes me think about it.
The dream I had has nothing to do with a calling for me or for you to say or do great things, or to do things very well. My calling is not a call that requires me or you to make a good impression or to receive anyone’s special recognition.
The calling is just to be a contradiction to what you and I find around us. Even God’s own people don’t always understand what it means to live in contradiction to this world. To be a contradiction is my calling and it is yours.
This world needs more wisdom and more help than any human is able to give. But Peter wrote that you can be a simple person who speaks to this world for God, and you can be a person who serves others in this world with the strength that God supplies.

This strength comes when you have experienced the most miraculous contradiction of all: that the designer and creator of all things (the Lord of heaven and earth) has died for you, and that he lives in you, and that he loves this world, and that he wants to love this world through you. This is how you and I are to live in such a world as ours.

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