Sermon, April 2, 2017 (c) Kathryn M. Treadway
The last Sunday before Palm Sunday
A marriage isn’t working. And why? Because he says he’s not getting the attention that he needs . . . physically or emotionally or spiritually. And when he doesn’t get what he needs, it’s obvious to him that the blame is with her. He turns inward to protect himself . . . a selfish move, he knows, but who else is going to look out for him? Not her. And lost within himself, he turns bitter and angry. And there’s no way she can ever get in to change things. The pain has been inflicted. And he has chosen not to let her in.
Meanwhile she doesn’t know how to give him what he needs. She loves him so dearly, but he’s always so withdrawn, not even giving her a chance to give him what he longs for. He’s always so closed off. So far away. Looking at her like she’s a waste of his time. And so she chooses to protect herself . . . a selfish move, she knows, but who else is going to affirm her worth? Not him. And lost within herself, she turns bitter and angry. And the only way anything is going to change is for him to tear down the walls that keep her at a distance. The pain has been inflicted. And she has chosen to protect herself rather than to vulnerably be looked at with condescension again.
In Psalm 130, the writer cries out from his own place of pain. “Out of the depths I cry to you. O Lord, please hear my call.” Or, as it is written in the common language of the Message Bible: 1-2 Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.
Such a cry echoes forth from many different contexts of our lives. We cry out when our boss tells us that it’s time for us to look for another job. And while we are crying out, we are seething inside. If only they understood what was going on in our lives, why we weren’t the best employee in the world at this moment . . . they should give us compassion before looking out for their bottom line. Everyone goes through times like these. We just need another chance!
We cry out when we are drowning in debt from accumulated medical bills when doctors asked for unnecessary and expensive tests. And while we are crying out, it is the doctors we blame . . . or the insurance companies who care nothing about the fact that we’ve already paid out more than we can afford just to have the insurance, yet they don’t even cover what we need. Our insides roil and churn. There seems to be no way out of this.
Mary and Martha cried out when their brother, Lazarus, was extremely ill. They sent for the Great Physician, Jesus himself, who, according to their story, wasn’t timely enough. And they blamed him when he finally arrived and his best friend had already been dead for four days. His words to Martha seemed only to try to placate her – “Your brother will rise.” But like most of us when told such news in the midst of our worst nightmare, Martha brushes it off – “Yes, I know that he will rise again at the last day.” But such news seems only a bandaid on the gushing wound of her heart.
Four days dead was a big deal in the Jewish tradition. The belief was held that the spirit remained in the body for the first 3 days after death, but on the fourth day, the spirit had exited the body to go and wait for the resurrection of the body at the end of time. The fourth day was also the day that the tomb would be officially closed because of the stink. Up until that point, it was a tradition to check the tomb for three days to see if the body had come back to life. Thus, as we examine the scriptures, we see that when Elijah raised the widow’s son, when Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, and when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, all were raised within the first three days of death. But Lazarus’ story is different, for it takes place on day four when, as Martha pointed out, his body had begun to decompose and stink. And so, to hear Jesus’ words, “your brother will rise” Martha had no reference point for even the consideration that his spirit would return to his body. All she knew was that he was very, very dead. And Jesus was very, very late.
Just like each one of us in our worst of times, Martha had chosen to protect herself in this instance. She made the issue about her needs — “if you had only come! You were too busy thinking about yourself! I don’t care if everyone and their mother was out to get your hide, this is your friend we are talking about! This is my brother!!!” And she turns inward, hiding herself in her pain where no one else can get in and do any more damage. And bitterness shows its ugly face.
But Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” And then Martha confesses her faith – breaking out of her bitterness and her blame, breaking out of her selfishness and anger. “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”
And as she stated her own belief that the Savior of God was standing right there with her, Martha’s world began to change.
The Psalmist had a similar awakening. As he cried out from the bitter regions of his pain, he recognized that God was a God of forgiveness and grace, allowing even the broken to hope and wait expectantly for God’s coming. And he turned from bitter anguish to hope for his people.
Martha, recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, began to remember the stories of the prophets who had been telling of the coming of the Promised One, the Savior of the World, since the days of Abraham. And if she was going to profess that Jesus was that Messiah, then she also realized that she was walking with the very one who could erase death and its pain forever and ever.
As Jesus reminds her that he is the resurrection and the life, he is reminding her and all who hear this story throughout time, that God hears. God hears our cries from the depth, but no longer hears from a distance. God hears in this moment and joins us for the purpose of offering us life.
Jesus wept tears of sorrow as he walked into that place where death had always been the final answer and his friend lay very dead in the tomb. Jesus wept tears of indignation that he would have to explain to even his closest friends yet again, that he, the Messiah, was both resurrection and life. So many emotions churned within his human body, but Jesus never turned to bitterness and selfishness. Instead, Jesus always chose the way that leads to life.
As he called Lazarus from the tomb, he was calling forth everything that had ever given itself over to death as the final and last word, and as Lazarus sat up and Jesus told others to unbind him from the grave clothes, Jesus was also declaring to every story of pain that we hold on to as the only way that LIFE and RESURRECTION are the new norm.
And so, to the man who has declared in his heart that his marriage is over, that there is no redemption, Jesus calls him to come forth out of the protective tomb he has placed himself and to unbind himself in the light of new life.
To the woman who feels she is a waste of his time, Jesus unbinds the grave clothes of shame and guilt and calls her forth from death into life, telling her a new story of her self worth.
To the individual who has turned bitter toward a boss that hasn’t taken the time to understand his full experience, Jesus says, “Come forth” from anger and tired sadness, and receive a call to new life.
To those drowning in debt and placing blame on medical workers trying to do their best and a broken system that demands more than they have to give, Jesus calls them forth from a death of stuckness into a life of gratitude for what it is they have been given, regardless of the unending monthly payments.
Jesus’ life calls each one of us to stop playing the blame game, to stop selfishly looking out for ourselves, and to, instead, step out of that tomb and live differently. He, who is the resurrection and the life, gives life when we set our vengeance aside. We embrace the very One who loved those who failed to understand him, even those who crucified him. And then, called out from our varied tombs, we are invited to live as he lived, walking back to Bethany, to the very place people were seeking his life, in order to offer life to one who had died. God was glorified as Jesus set aside his own fear for his life in order to call forth life from death.
So wherever you happen to be today, ask yourself where you have been living a story of death – where stories of blame and selfishness and anger and vengeance have replaced your story of life. And then, from your varied tombs, cry out to the God who hears. The Very One who is the resurrection and the life longs for you to believe the story of life, even when it may be easier to live in the valley of the shadow of death. Hear Jesus himself calling out into your place of pain, “Come forth!” And then choose a life that no longer hides behind blame and fear and anger and vengeance but instead loves the very ones whose oppression had heightened your understanding of death. See with resurrection eyes into a world that would rather see brokenness. Hear the voice of life calling into a world that would rather hear accusation. And then with Martha, declare from the most vulnerable place in your spirit – “OK, I believe.” This is not just a story where metaphors of life conquer metaphors of death. This is the place where Lazarus, whose very spirit had left his body, walked out of the tomb into life.
As we choose to believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, will we too leave our tombs and live a new life? And then, even at our most vulnerable, dare we walk back to our own Bethanys so that we might call others into a resurrection life?
“I Was Blind, but Now I See”
Blind But Now I See (click for video access)
Sermon, December 18, 2016 (c) Kathryn M. Treadway
The Sunday of Ice which is also the 4th Sunday of Advent
“Go Tell It On the Mountain”
So my little one has been looking for signs that Santa will be coming. A few weeks ago my in-laws sent a box with gifts in it and with a stocking for each member of the household. As I took each one out of the package, she got more and more excited, until finally the stocking that had her name on it was pulled out of the box. She shrieked with the joy of a child and immediately saw the Christmas bear peeking out of the top. After a few minutes of arguing with a 2 year old that you can’t open anything under the tree until Christmas, we finally gave in, letting her have the little bear. Her response was priceless. As she hugged that bear to her side, she announced all of the details of what had happened. “Santa Claus and his gnomes (she can’t quite figure out elves right now so they are gnomes) put my stocking in a box and mailed it to me and it’s my favorite!”
Forget the fact that we had started out by telling her it had come from her grandparents. As soon as she saw the stockings and the wrapped gifts, it was a sign to her that Santa had come . . . for her.
We’ve spent this whole season of Advent, waiting for the One who will bring us Hope and Peace and Joy and Love, looking for signs all around us. And I don’t mean Santa Claus. I’m talking about Jesus, the promised Messiah. The Son of God. God in human form!
And each week we’ve talked about the signs that we have been given in the holy scriptures – signs that come to encourage us to keep waiting, to keep hoping, to keep believing and telling the stories of our faith. As we’ve waited we’ve been told to expect Birth Pains as the world groans, awaiting the new life of birth. We’ve been told to expect God’s patience, as God desires that all will come to a saving knowledge of God’s love and grace – and that takes time. We’ve been told to expect godlessness, as the world chooses not to pay attention to the One who has come and will come again. And today we are told to expect spiritual growth when we do wake up and see signs of the One who has come and will come again.
Like a little child expecting to see the magic of the season, we are to open our eyes to the presence of God who has come to draw near to us in this life. We are to embrace the God who does not distance himself in the heavens but who comes to us – walking with us through the struggles of life, rejoicing with us in each of life’s celebration, and waiting with us for the moment when God’s full glory can be revealed!
But waiting and watching for signs does not come easily. It’s so much easier to ignore the signs. For to pay attention requires that we stay awake, and that takes effort and discipline.
The primary way we are asked to stay awake, watching for the return of Jesus to this world, is to practice living the very life he lived. I don’t mean working miracles and healing people, and I don’t mean standing up to preach to large crowds either, though if God gives you the gifts to do those things, by all means don’t ignore them! What I am alluding to specifically, is the way that we are to interact with others in this world. We are so used to hearing a list of “do nots” from religion, but our scripture today from Romans gives, instead, a command that is simply “do.” As we stay awake, watching for the coming Christ, we practice the very life he lived, opening ourselves to let him live through us time and time again. And the secret to doing that is that simple rule that we learned back in elementary school. Love others as you love yourself. Look out for others, as you look out for yourself. Do to others as you would have them do unto you. It’s that simple, folks. Before you act, think. Before you speak, think. How would I like to be treated in this particular situation? Be honest with yourself. And then respond with that same action toward others.
Would I like to benefit from this business transaction? So would someone else. How can I see that “they” also benefit? Would I like to enjoy Christmas dinner with my family? So would someone else. How can I see that “they” can also enjoy Christmas dinner with others who care?
While this appears to be a simple “do,” it is often harder to put into practice on a regular basis because we have this thing called an ego which demands that our needs or wants or desires are more important than another’s needs or wants or desires. Our bodies and minds are hard-wired to protect ourselves which, in a fight or flight situation, is a good thing. But on a day to day basis, we have to practice opening our eyes to the needs and desires of the other. It doesn’t matter how “right” something feels in the moment, if the action we are about to make is an act of ego, fulfilling our needs and wants above others, we’ve got to set it aside so that we can think clearly about the needs and desires of others first. Otherwise, it’s impossible to watch for Jesus.
And when we set ourselves aside, it’s much easier to “Go Tell it On the Mountain, over the hills and everywhere that Jesus Christ is born!” It’s much easier because no longer is about what people will think about us. It’s easier because the Good News that we have to share is not something we get to hoard for ourselves, but is something that demands to be shared with the world for whom it was intended.
As I have shared with you before, I had the opportunity to set myself aside last February as I stepped out of my comfort zone to shadow a doctor who believed she had good news that I needed to see. She was persistent in getting me to see this good news. She had been telling me about it for two years, and always in the back of my mind, my ego said . . . “but it’s uncomfortable to me to go to this place and to see people with whom I have no connection.” Honestly, I even thought, “What’s the point? She wants me to shadow a doctor who meets with moms who are addicts.” My guess was that she was wasting her time on yet another statistic.
And yet, as I entered the examining room with her, the statistics became human. They had names and jobs and lives and families. They had guilt for not being able to kick their habit. They had a dream of being clean and being looked at as “normal.” And all I could hear was God’s voice saying to me, “look with my eyes. Set aside your ego, your fear, the stigma . . . and see the ones I love.”
And, setting my ego aside with all the determination I could muster, I used those words we sing together when we want to follow Christ with all of our hearts. “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
Now, I knew that in declaring that I would spend my sabbatical studying the way God can change the hearts of an addict I would immediately have people whispering about me, “why is this interesting to her? Does SHE have a problem? Does a member of her family have a problem? What’s up?” And the truth of the matter is that I’ve been blessed to this point to be free of addiction to alcohol and drugs as has my family has also been blessed. But I do face my own addictions – those socially acceptable addictions like pigging out on junk food or losing myself in the world wide web. And as such, I know what it means for something to take my attention off of seeing and declaring the good news that is with me every moment of everyday thanks to the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. To love myself more than my neighbor will always, time and time again, take my attention from the places God wants to reveal God’s self. On that February day, God revealed God’s self to me in the mothers who struggled with addiction each day and with the doctors and nurses who loved them anyway. And when I saw who God loved, I couldn’t help but love them too. I want to go tell it on the mountain that I saw God in people of the same social tier as the lowly shepherds. I want to share Good News with them as God has used them to share Good News with me.
And so once I agreed that yes, I would make this the focus of my sabbatical, as soon as I agreed “here I am, Lord. Send me” God began to do some fantastic things in front of my eyes. My eyes were opened even further as God brought to me people who were living in recovery and giving God all glory for bringing them to this place of recovery right here in Tiffin. And people have, out of the blue, asked me if they can join me in this kind of ministry and study. It was as if God was waiting to reveal God’s self to me the whole time, but I had to set aside my ego first. I had to be ready to step into that unknown place where God was already waiting for me. And, as you will see in the next few months, God is calling people to minister with me to the people in Tiffin who can’t see beyond themselves because addictions have blinded them to their neighbor, have blinded them to the very revelation of God to and for them. And God is already calling people to this church who need to minister to and be ministered to. God is here, my friends. God is at work in the “hard places” in this world. God is calling the “lowly people” to come and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us! And we, in return, get to Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born, that God has taken on the pain and struggle of human life by entering a human body and living a human life . . . that God is here.
All we have to do is watch for the signs that God is already with us, and then open the package that has been delivered to our door – a gift so precious that it is offered freely, regardless of who we are or who we think we are. Others may think us a little crazy for wanting to peek in our stocking before Christmas and grab hold of the gift that is ours, but you and I both know that the good news is already here, my friends. The light is already shining in this dark world. And when we open that package and receive the good news of great joy that is not only for us but for the whole world, I hope we will respond just like my two year old did when she received that Christmas bear. I hope we will celebrate the gift that was delivered specifically to us, and I hope we will share that good news with others who need it to be delivered specifically to them as well.
Go tell it on the mountain, dear friends! Jesus Christ is born!!!
Love, Pastor Katie
Sermon, November 13, 2016 (c) Kathryn M. Treadway
The Sunday after the United States election of Donald Trump
“Building the Kingdom”
Based on Luke 21:5-19
The walls had seen it all. King Herod (yes, the mean King Herod) had hired 1000 priests as masons and carpenters to build a newer, better temple in Jerusalem, the city of his capital. It’s not that the old one was bad, it was just small and if it was going to stay in Herod’s Jerusalem, it was going to have to be grand. So he leveled the old one to have the more grandiose temple built as quickly as possible. It took only a year and a half for the 8100 square foot temple with 60 foot ceilings to go up. And then it took another 80 years for all of the grandiosity of the outer courts built to go up.
The walls had heard it all. They heard the conversations between the different priests as each brick was laid. Some were so excited to be living in an era where they got to build a temple that just might approach the grandiosity they had heard about back in Solomon’s days. Others took the job, not wanting to desecrate the holy places as they were prepared according to the Law, but unsure why the new structure needed to be constructed. Still others prayed and prayed and prayed for this to be God’s temple rather than Herod’s temple. But there was no doubt who was paying for this structure – it was not the priests or the Jewish people, it was Herod himself. And Herod was not trusted by all of them. He was known to have paranoid rages and to murder those who questioned his authority in any way. The walls watched as the temple was constructed of gold and white marble and blue marble, a sight that would take anyone’s breath away and turn their hearts toward the one who was in ultimate authority. And then the walls watched as Herod placed a large golden eagle above the door to the temple, offending many young students who believed that it was an idol of sorts so that they took it down and destroyed it – the walls watched as Herod had dragged away those young men who had a desire to follow God above him. The walls watched as Herod hung them until they died. (For more on Herod’s temple, click here)
The walls also saw the daily life of the Jewish people who came and went each day. They saw the look of shock as Zechariah doubted that God would give him a son and they heard the silence as Zechariah was unable to speak. They also watched as that very son was brought into the temple for his circumcision and Zechariah finally spoke with joy and amazement that his baby’s name would be John. The walls saw Mary and Joseph bring in their young baby for circumcision at the age of 8 days. They watched as old Simeon and Anna recognized something special in the tiny child. The walls saw, twelve years later, the wisdom of the young Jesus teaching rabbis when usually the teaching went the other way around. And the walls witnessed the widow who put her whole life into the temple treasury. And then, as the disciples marveled over the beauty of the temple – the beautiful stones and gifts to God that adorned the temple, the walls heard Jesus say that not one stone would be left on one another. And his prophesy placed fear in the disciples’ hearts. They wanted to know when and how. They wanted to know how to keep safe. And Jesus spoke with apocalyptic tones about wars and rumors of wars and persons falsely posing as the Messiah. Jesus spoke of earthquakes and of kingdoms rising against kingdom. Jesus spoke of persecution.
And then, in the middle of all of these frightening prophesies, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, for these things must happen before the end.”
I don’t know about you, but all week I’ve listened and watched as if I were the walls of this day and age. And, I guess if my body is the temple of the Lord, I suppose you could say that I am the walls where brick after brick has been laid to make room for Jesus to live through me, just as you too are the walls. And I’ve heard some hard stuff. I’ve heard that the very country I live in is divided to an extreme. I’ve heard from some the fear that the president-elect will put the country in a very vulnerable position, and I’ve heard from others hope that the president-elect will finally get rid of the old ways which have been damaging. I’ve heard fear from the Latino church in our own presbytery at the uncertainty of what is to come their way. And I’ve heard hatred spew as threats have been thrown at people of non-Christian religions or of people with a variety of sexual preferences. I’ve heard disregard for women and disregard for the authority of people whose skin is not white. But I’ve also heard compassion as people have stated that hatred will not rule their country. I’ve heard Christian lash out at Christian for not voting a certain way. And I’ve seen supporters of both candidates holding hands because they don’t want an election to come between them. These walls of mine have heard rumors that the president-elect didn’t expect to be elected and rumors that the Electoral College could put his rival in power. I’ve heard grief and anger and raw emotion. I’ve heard people saying that it’s all in God’s hands. I’ve heard the desire to work together and the desire to stand up for justice. My walls, I think, have been inundated with the emotions of a country who doesn’t know the future any more than the disciples could understand Jesus’ predictions. And when we live in that place of not knowing, fear tends to make us act irrationally – lashing out for no reason, trying to take up power that was never ours to take, grieving for what is out of our hands, siding with some and setting ourselves apart from others.
It is really hard to believe the words: “Do not be afraid.”
But, if we can step back ever so slightly, to see the context in which Jesus spoke of these walls coming down, we can remember the story we heard last week, that is found only a chapter behind the passage we read today. In it, Jesus told the Sadducees to let go of a construct that stated that this life and its rules define eternal life. Jesus re-claimed the power of the resurrection of the dead for a religious group who had never imagined its possibility until Jesus opened their minds to see what their precious Law had said. And Jesus said that in the resurrection, questions like who will own whose wife have no relevance, because that’s not how life in the presence of God works. The rules of this world no longer hold true.
And then the scriptures take us to the temple where the widow is putting her whole life into the treasury and Jesus implies that just because she is following what she believes is the religious law does not mean that the temple leaders shouldn’t step in on the widow’s behalf and give her a way to financially support herself after this gift is made. In the Kingdom of God, the rules of this world are no longer binding.
In other words, time after time leading up to our scripture passage today, Jesus is urging his followers to break down the walls where religion or the law of the land enslaves people – where we find ourselves stuck believing that this is the only reality – and instead begin to live in a way that sets people free. Jesus is talking about bringing about the kingdom of God, the reign of God, where rules don’t apply as they have in the past. We read a few of these ways when we heard the words of Isaiah 65 this morning:
17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. (NRSV)
It is this new life, this new Kingdom that Jesus is referring to as he says that no stone will be left on any stone. The temple will be destroyed, but there is life in God beyond the temple. “Build it,” Jesus said. Build it not with stones and walls, but with the firmness to which you hold to your testimony. And trust, Jesus said, that “every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.” (MSG)
It’s easy to lose heart in this world, but Jesus says that that is the way of history – it’s the way we humans seem to exist, in a world that hurts and hates and groans, in a world with earthquakes and famines and fires, in a world that fears and lashes out. As followers of Jesus, we are asked to build a kingdom that defies the way things have always been. And that kingdom can be built only when we let go of the way things seem to be and trust in the way of the God who re-writes history in our hearts.
We build the kingdom of God when we change reality for people who are stuck in their current reality. We build the kingdom of God when we tell a person who cannot afford a house, that they can help build their own home, as Habitat for Humanity does every day. They change what feels like “the way it will always be” to a new way of life that defies the common law of the land which says you must have impeccable credit or you must make x number of dollars before you can own your own home.
This is what we are called to do for others. We are called to break down the walls that tie us down to an unrelenting reality so that people can see differently and believe a reality where their hearts are free to love and hope and dream.
Most of you know that I love Mr. Rogers. And aside from the fact that I grew up with his stories each day, as an adult I have come to know him as one who breaks down walls and builds the kingdom of God. To children who are afraid, he says, “always look for the helpers” – breaking through their reality of fear to a reality of compassion.
As the nation fought over the civil rights of African American people in the 60s, Mr. Rogers approached an African American man names Francois Clemmons to see if he would be willing to play the part of a police man on his children’s show. Mr. Clemmons wasn’t too excited about taking that part because he grew up in a time and place where police seldom acted on his behalf. But he took it, breaking open his own heart to a world that was possible.
And then, four months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Rogers broke down even more walls. On his public TV show, Mr. Rogers invited Mr. Clemmons to share his pool with him. Mr. Rogers very pale feet were enjoying the cool water in a backyard pail and Mr. Clemmons placed his dark feet right next to those white feet. In one act of compassion, Mr. Rogers showed the world that life in the Kingdom of God did not have to follow the same rules that applied everywhere else. (for more on this story, click here)
So don’t be afraid when you hear of wars or rumors of wars . . . don’t be afraid if you believe the wrong candidate has been elected or if you are appalled that a fellow Christian voted differently than you did; don’t be afraid when you are faced with the impossible in your own life . . . for in each of these situations we are limiting our reality to what we can see and what we have seen. As kingdom builders, it is our job to live into a new reality, God’s reality, and to build it for those who can’t see.
So may we have the courage and perseverance to build God’s kingdom even as we look into an uncertain future. May the walls of God’s temple living in us hear and believe the promise of God’s provision that goes with us each day: “every detail of your body and soul—even the hairs of your head!—is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.” “Do not be afraid.” And finally may we ourselves set aside what appears to be a limiting reality so that we may embrace the kingdom of God that sets us free to live with compassion and believe with hope regardless of the situation. In so doing, we will set others free as well.
Sermon: August 28, 2016
Week 6 of 6 studying the book of Job
A New Beginning
This is it, folks. The end of the story. Our sixth and final week of getting to know Job. And while it’s covered some pretty heavy stuff, I have to also admit it’s deeply challenged me. After all, as a human, I’m not immune to bad stuff happening in my own life. The story I would have written for myself or for those I love would not have had as much brokenness as life seems to have. Honestly, had I written the story of my own life, I probably would have stuck with the beginning of the prologue in Job – you know, the part where he was the richest man around and his life was full and wonderful and he gave thanks to God in all things. When I dream about the life I would love to have, that’s the dream I typically have. Wealth. Stability. Respect. Love. Family. And an outpouring of gratitude to God. Yeah, that’s what I would choose for myself.
But Job’s story challenges my dream.
… Because Job’s life becomes our worst nightmare. And God is responsible for it. And as a Christian woman, I have a tough time going there. I like to hold on to the God of all good things who blesses us, not the God of all power who breaks us. Job’s story enlarges my story of God as God becomes unpredictable and mighty and sovereign to the point where I can’t control what God will do next. And yet, Job’s story also suggests that I’m not merely a cog in this machine that is life. I have the freedom to speak directly to this God that I can never grasp. I can argue and yell and complain and rant and whine and call God out with the hope that God will show me God’s face, will explain to me the rationale behind everything that has happened in my life that is different than the dream I once had. And God can take it.
But Job’s story also reminds me that when I ask for a rationale, I must be ready to see God in all God’s glory, a glory that humbles me and puts me in my place . . . a glory that astounds me and brings me to my knees.
Today’s reading picks up after Job has been humbled before God. Remember, last week we end as Job speaks the words:
My ears had heard about you,
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore, I relent[a] and find comfort
on dust and ashes.
Some call this next part the Epilogue and believe that it may have been a second ending to the Job story, just as the Prologue that we discussed earlier in the summer was not the only beginning to Job’s story. The Epilogue returns our attention to the question that the satan, the Chief Prosecutor in the Divine realm, asks God in the prologue. And this question was: Is Job your closest follower because he loves you or because you have done good things in his life? The stories of Job’s brokenness were God’s answers to the satan, that Job loves God despite what may happen in his life. But I hope you can also recognize that Job’s brokenness also changed him and his relationship with God. So as you listen for the Word of the Lord in today’s reading, I invite you to also listen for ways that Job may have changed through this ordeal, and how he relates to God differently than he did before:
7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, he said to Eliphaz from Teman, “I’m angry at you and your two friends because you haven’t spoken about me correctly as did my servant Job. 8 So now, take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and prepare an entirely burned offering for yourselves. Job my servant will pray for you, and I will act favorably by not making fools of you because you didn’t speak correctly, as did my servant Job.”
9 Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuah, and Zophar from Naamah did what the Lord told them; and the Lord acted favorably toward Job.10 Then the Lord changed Job’s fortune when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord doubled all Job’s earlier possessions. 11 All his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances came to him and ate food with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him concerning all the disaster theLord had brought on him, and each one gave him a qesitah[a] and a gold ring. 12 Then the Lord blessed Job’s latter days more than his former ones. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named one Jemimah,[b] a second Keziah,[c] and the third Keren-happuch.[d] 15 No women in all the land were as beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave an inheritance to them along with their brothers. 16 After this, Job lived 140 years and saw four generations of his children. 17 Then Job died, old and satisfied.
So, what did you hear?
Did you hear that Job considered himself as one who was loved and blessed more than his friends?
After all, Job’s friends were the ones who insisted that the horrible things that happened in Job’s life must be punishment for something that he had done wrong, and God certainly disagreed with their diagnosis, applauding Job for not inciting karma as the reason for his tragedies. It would make sense that Job would also roll his eyes at his friends as if they could never understand God the way that he did.
But Job did not do that. There was no sense of superiority. Instead, having lived his own experience of misunderstanding God’s ways, Job was humbled to love his friends who also failed to understand the complexity of God’s ways.
And let’s stop right there for a minute and name the change we see in Job. Job recognized that before God, he was no different than his friends. God was willing to forgive them as much as God was willing to forgive Job. Sure, he may have gotten it right this time because God asked him to pray on his friends’ behalf, but Job seemed to understand that things very well could have worked out in reverse. God’s people always need each other, because there’s always someone who gets it and someone who doesn’t. And it’s not always the same person in the same role. And that’s why Job was willing to pray on behalf of his friends, that God would receive their sacrifice and hear their own repentance . . . Remember, in just the few verses prior, Job was the one who had repented. Before God, Job recognized that there was much they didn’t understand. But Job also had gained great respect for this God of the universe who didn’t have to answer to his every whim. The humility that Job expressed by interceding for his friends was the sign that his experience had changed him.
It was also the answer to the satan’s question in the prologue. Will Job love God even when things don’t go his way? The answer Job’s life gives is a resounding yes. As Job prayed on behalf of his friends, his relationship with God was no longer restricted to what God could do for him. Rather, he responded with obedience to the God of the universe because he had respect for the unexplainable ways of God. Job prays for those who have abused him. Job does not return evil for evil. Job recognizes that what God is asking him to do matters more than what his ignorant friends have done to him.
So we discover here a Job who approaches God and life with humility and respect.
And as soon as God sees that Job is willing to place his friends’ renewed relationships with God before Job’s own need for cosmic justice where his so-called friends should receive what was coming to them, the prologue tells us that Job receives a new beginning.
Note that he is not rewarded for his own repentance. Rather he is rewarded when he prays on behalf of his ignorant friends, recognizing that before God they are all equal.
And let’s not kid ourselves into believing that what Job did was easy. It’s one thing to pray on behalf of people that have supported you through a struggle. It’s another thing altogether to pray for people who felt the need to tell you that you must have ticked God off and who most likely have not learned their lesson yet.
And yet Job prays on their behalf. Why? Because in the presence of an almighty God, he is no different from these guys. Romans 8 in the New Testament reminds us that “all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” Job’s actions are a reflection of this knowledge.
As we hear about the return of Job’s health and wealth and the gift of more children, we often read this like the end of a good fairy tale. And Job lived happily ever after. The End.
But to read things so simply is to miss that things were not returned completely to normal. He still had to live with the reality that he could never get his first seven children back. He still had to live with the anxiety that things could be taken from him again.
Job’s new beginning is different than the original.
If you want to look at the hidden gems in the epilogue of the story, you’ll see that he was given double what he began with, a metaphor for inheritance. Job’s new life, was an inheritance from the living God, and true to the nature of God, in the Kingdom of God things are always given abundantly.
But even with such lavish gifts, there are a few considerations we must look at.
First, consider how differently Job would see the world. (explain) deep gratitude for each moment? Appreciation? Thanksgiving? A different relationship with those who worked for him?
Second, consider how differently Job views his new life in relationship to God. (explain) he had seen God face to face. Live with humility. And reverence.
And finally, consider how difficult it must have been to open himself up to a new beginning. (explain) possibility of loss. Pure vulnerability. For some of us that might mean depression or anxiety or constant fear. It could mean holding on even tighter (those who lived through The Depression still wash aluminum foil and hide cash). But Job and his wife apparently opened themselves up to the possibility of having more children. Doesn’t replace what was lost, but they were willing to trust the God who gives and the God who takes away. They returned to the affirmation Job proclaimed in chapter 1 – Blessed be the name of the Lord . . . no matter what! And they returned as changed people, touched by the living God, who would never, ever see the world the same way again.
When we are changed by life’s circumstances and offered a new beginning – whether our cancer is in remission or we are given a chance at love or we are offered a new job or things just begin to go right after a season of struggle, we have the capacity to see with new eyes.
There is a reason that testimonies where people stand in front of us and tell us about a horrible trial that they’ve overcome inspire us. THEY are no longer the same person as they once were. Their experience has changed them. And we find in ourselves a longing to see differently as well. That longing is from God and it is what calls us to face our own trials, tasting and seeing with our own hearts and eyes that God is, in fact, good, and all-knowing in every situation. Dare we place our vulnerabilities at God’s feet and experience God for ourselves?
“Job has a new sense of God’s reality. It is more than intellectual or speculative knowledge. It is the knowledge of the heart. He has tasted. And now he sees. And the result is a broken and changed man.” (J. Piper)
“Before Job saw God in this way, he had esteemed himself somewhat highly and had not hesitated to assert his righteousness. Now he sees himself more clearly. And what he sees drives him to repentance.” (J. Piper)
“If we don’t feel grieved for our sin, and deeply unworthy of God’s goodness, then we need to pray earnestly that God would show us himself—that he would cease to be a mere doctrine that we hear with our ear, and instead would become an awesome, infinitely holy, dreadful, and wonderful Sovereign that we taste and see with our hearts.” (J. Piper)
And Job’s new life is the result of tasting and seeing for himself that God is real, that God is awesome, infinitely holy, dreadful and sovereign.
Every day, we are offered the chance to receive a new beginning. Whether we are in the middle of a long term struggle or simply facing the challenge of receiving all God has for us on a daily basis, we are constantly offered the chance to receive a new beginning.
I want you to think, for a moment, about what your particular struggle or challenge is right now . . . or maybe think about what it was yesterday . . . or a year ago . . . or 20 years ago. How have you tasted and seen that God is good? How has your life changed because you experienced God for yourself in the middle of your struggle? It doesn’t mean that things got better. It does mean that you were changed . . . that YOU got better. And in that moment where you were changed, God offered YOU a new beginning, not because you have earned it through your good works, but because, upon tasting and seeing that God ALONE is good, you chose to turn your life over to be directed by the God of the universe. It’s a tentative place to be. There’s no certainty that things will always work the way you want them too. As we mentioned earlier, in accepting his new beginning, Job and his wife opened themselves up to the possibility of being hurt again. They lived with hope even after they had known heartache. And that place of vulnerability is where we might not choose to live our lives. But we must go there . . . trusting God to meet us there and to change us as we need to be changed. In turning to God in hope, even in our vulnerability, we are offering the control of our lives to God who is Sovereign. And it is there that God meets us, God loves us, and God takes over. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Sermon: August 21, 2016
Week 5 of 6 studying the book of Job
A New Vision
Job 38:25-30; Job 41:1-11; and Job 42:1-6
Where are you today? You may turn to me and say, “Pastor Katie, I’m in a bad place” and start listing off everything that has gone wrong in your life this week. I feel you, dear friend. There were a few days this past week that I had quite a list going myself. It started when the water heater stopped working and the tension just built from there. Like you, I’m a real live person with real life situations, and some days are just a struggle.
Or maybe you are one of the more positively-focused Jesus-followers in the room and you are more likely to tell me, “Pastor Katie, I’m alive! And nothing else matters when I realize how blessed I am just to be here.” If you can say that, you are pure awesomeness, because I don’t as easily get to that place even though I know I could if I would just let go of my worries. But letting go of control of my life and trusting God with it is not something I do on a regular basis.
This week is “back to school” week in Tiffin, and even though I am not heading back to school this week, there is something about this time of year that always tells me that it’s time to buckle down and get myself together. Perhaps it is that I was in school for 22 years of my life and so the rhythm of back to school is a part of my biological clock. But every year, around the end of August/beginning of September, I realize that I can’t continue in Summer mode. It’s time to set down the novels and break out the study books. It’s time for a clear bedtime and wake up time. It’s time to pack up the play clothes and get out the work clothes. You’ll even notice in a few weeks that I’ll move my podium back up to the chancel area and wear my robe again. As we leave summer behind, we step into a more disciplined time not only in our lives, but also in the church. And that means that our lives require some sort of change.
In the story of Job, the change was in his vision – how he saw the world and his place in it. As long as he had everything that he needed, it was easy to follow God. And that’s just it, when things are going well, we can bless the name of the Lord every day of our lives with heartfelt thanks! But it took Job’s suffering to help him see that there was more to God than just what God could do for him. And that’s the trick in this life as a Christian. Gratitude comes so easily when life is good, but when the tests start coming every Friday, when the teacher calls us out for not understanding what we have read, when we can’t keep up with the homework because mom is sick and we have to take care of our little brother, when we are sent to the principal’s office to tattle on our best of friends even though we could lose our friend – we realize just how difficult it can be to give God gratitude.
And so, as we head back to school this week, I want to give you an A, B, C, list of what Job learned that might help us when we are faced with the tough stuff that may come up.
A – When things began to go wrong in Job’s life, he was ANGRY. And when our vision for our life and the world’s life is full of anger, we can’t see clearly. All we see is who is right and what is wrong. Don’t believe me? Now that the Olympics are over, let’s watch politics again. Within minutes we will discover that we are deeply angry about something. So what’s the new vision? The new vision requires that we Acknowledge (there’s the other A) that God is bigger than our storm. In today’s reading, we heard God talking about how Job had absolutely no control over any element of the weather, and yet managing the weather was very much a part of God’s daily work.
Story of my two year old and the Storm – She firmly believes that Jesus will take care of her through a thunderstorm. Do we believe it?
In our own storms, we can choose to be Angry about our situation or we can choose to Acknowledge that God really is bigger than our storm.
B – Stop Babbling and Start Believing.
When God finally stopped pointing the finger at Job asking – can YOU do all of this? Who do you think is managing this situation? Job responded: (in chapter 42)
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
made small talk about wonders way over my head.
And we do that too. We act like we have all of the answers, babbling on about what we do not know. The perfect example of this for me is 7th grade girls. I’ve been one so I can speak to this. In seventh grade you are either in the popular crowd or you are not. I was not. And I quickly learned that those who are “in” pretend to know much more than they really do. There is a confidence, an arrogance, that often comes forth from those who are popular and reaches the ears of those of us who see the world much differently. But it wasn’t until I was in HS that I began to learn that they had spoken about things they did not know. A lot of times the confidence and arrogance was simply a cover up for struggling in other ways. They were actually lonely. Or they had a hard time in school. Or they made fun of people who exhibited the same qualities that they hated in themselves. They babbled on about things far beyond themselves. They made things up. And so did Job.
But the alternative is to believe in a different vision – a vision that doesn’t state that one person needs to be better than another in order to be right and good and happy. And this new vision comes from God who created all of us equally and loves all of us generously. As Job set aside his babbling, he began to believe in the God who knew far more than he did. Job was humbled. And Job’s vision of what was mattered and what didn’t matter changed dramatically in that moment.
So when we are faced with challenges in life, we can babble on about what we do not know or we can choose to believe in God’s greater vision.
C – Complaining vs. Confession
Job spent countless chapters complaining to God about what God had done wrong. But when Job finally confessed the extent of God’s greatness – that God was in charge and was trustworthy – Job finally got the clarity he needed. His vision was no longer restricted to his own ideas, but was instead open to ideas that were much greater than his own.
We read 11 verses today about the Leviathan – the name given to a Sea Monster back in ancient days. It actually makes an appearance in multiple religions and is one of the strongest yielders of power on the earth. It’s scales resisted harpoons. It could not be harmed and yet it was dangerous and chaotic to anything that entered the sea. Culture after culture complained about this mythical monster! And as God speaks to Job, he speaks in a way that reminds Job that the Leviathan answers to God and God alone! And then God reminds him . . . and reminds us . . . “I alone run this universe!” It is not the things that we FEAR that run the universe, it is God!!! And if I were in a Pentecostal church right now, I’d probably ask for an Amen, because that is really good news!!!
As we enter this school year, may we stop complaining about what may happen as dictated by our fears or even about what HAS happened and instead confess God’s greatness in EVERY situation, and then stand back and watch what will happen!
D — Doubt vs. Definiteness
Job spent countless chapters ranting at God because he was beginning to Doubt what God was capable of. He never doubted God’s existence, but he did doubt that God was in charge of his very specific situation. He basically assumed that God had allowed some really awful stuff to happen to him and had then left him alone. And when we are in some really awful places – when divorce or separation stares us in the face, when the balance in our checkbooks read $0, when we can’t get into the class we want to get into, when the principal has assigned us the terrible horrible class(!) for the year, when the doctor says “cancer” and our name in the same breath, when we get the call that someone we love has passed away, it is really easy to doubt that God is in charge of our very specific situation. But when we doubt, we forget to believe in what God is definitely capable of. Our doubt doesn’t limit what God is capable of doing, but it does limit what we are willing to see God doing. Believe it or not, miracles happen every single day. We got to the church safely today. The sun came up this morning. The rains watered our lawns yesterday. How did that happen? It was a miracle! When we can see through the lens of what God is capable of, our vision widens, and as we see the miracles God reveals each and every moment of our lives, our doubts disappear. Will we choose doubt or the definiteness of what God does in our midst every single day? How wide will our vision be this school year?
And finally E – Exclusion vs. Exaltation It was a little tougher to find E words. W also works here. While we choose to whine or to worship?
School years, like lives, are full of so much that is unknown. We begin with hope that this year will be different — that this situation will be better than the last. But we forget that we have a choice in each situation that comes our way. Like Job, we can choose whether to Exclude the belief that God participates in each and every little thing that happens in our daily lives or we can Exalt God as the one who orchestrates each breath that comes out of our mouths. We can choose to whine about the fact that God isn’t doing things to our liking or we can worship the God who knows and understands so much more than we do. Job spoke these words to God, after hearing God’s power over and in this universe:
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
Will we exclude or exalt? Will we whine or worship? We have to let go of the rumors that suggest that God just can’t step into our particular situation. We have to trust that God truly does care about us and our school year as much as God cares about the lilies of the field or the birds of the air. And as we live into such trust, worship will erupt from our hearts in mighty and powerful, life-giving and vision-changing ways!
My prayer for this new school year is that, like Job, no matter where we are starting from or where we’ve been in the past, we can enlarge our vision of the world and God’s work in it. I pray we can move from a vision limited to anger, babbling, complaining, doubt and exclusion and move into a vision where we Acknowledge God in all things, Believe in what is possible, Confess God’s greatness over all situations, Claim the definiteness of what God is capable of doing (miracles are more than just possible!) and finally exalt and worship the One who runs this universe!!! With a vision like this, we can truly embrace what is possible in the Kingdom of God!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Sermon: February 15, 2015
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Most of you know that in addition to being your pastor, I am also a consultant for the denomination, working with the New Beginnings program. After our church went through the initial stages of New Beginnings four years ago, I was asked to assess a few churches a year who were looking for that New Beginning that God was giving to them. It is my job to take a day out of my life (usually my “day off”) to hear their whole story – to hear when and how their church started, to listen to its ministry highlights throughout the years, and to pay attention to the current ministry passions of the church members and the ministry needs of the community surrounding the church. And then I write a report, telling the church what I observed in my brief 7 hours with them, and I invite them to pay attention to specific areas to which God may be calling them.
I love doing this because it helps me grow as a pastor. I get ideas from churches who are in the midst of exciting ministries; I have compassion for those churches who are struggling to figure out how to follow Jesus where they are; and I give thanks for my own congregation entering our own New Beginning, especially when I go to those churches where it feels as if the gospel is veiled and they will never understand that God is calling them to minister to their community.
The small snippet of 2 Corinthians that we get to read and hear today is Paul’s response to a whole church that wasn’t growing . . . a whole church that wanted a New Beginning but wasn’t getting one . . . and was blaming that fact on Paul, their pastor.
A lot of the New Beginnings churches I enter do the exact same thing. I frequently enter a church where they immediately tell me – if we just had a more (insert word here) “spirited,” “evangelistic,” “approachable,” pastor, then our church would grow. And it’s true, the match between a pastor and a congregation is one factor that can contribute to the congregation’s growing spiritual life and outreach. But Paul, as he wrote the letter to the Corinthians, reminded them that there is more at work in the church than simply a good or a bad preacher. The glory of God is also at work – the glory of God which is unveiled in the face of Jesus Christ. And, Paul reminds the church, not all of us are able to see this glory. No pastor can make someone see the glory of God, no matter how charismatic they are. The only one who can reveal this glory is God, the Unveiler.
That’s a comfort for any of us who have tried to share the Gospel with a friend or a family member only to have them look at us as if we are crazy, as if we completely missed the boat. Because it is truly disheartening to believe in Jesus Christ with all of our hearts and to be filled with the joy of having seen God’s glory, only to have people look at us with a blank stare when we finally get up the courage to entrust them with our joy.
It IS a comfort that the sharing of the Gospel is always about more than us. But it IS a frustration when we would prefer to be in charge of our own “success” in sharing the gospel. It IS a frustration when we just want them to understand why it’s important to us to follow the Way of Jesus only to have them laugh at us, or simply think we’re irrelevant. Because our tendency, at that point, is to blame ourselves for not being relevant enough, for not letting Jesus live through us enough for someone else to be transformed, for not growing in our own faith in a way that can open someone else’s eyes to such a loving God. Our tendency is to shut down and give up.
When I enter New Beginnings churches, I am reminded that the only way growth and transformation will ever happen is when God unveils God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
But let’s not think that this means that we have no responsibility here. Rather we – pastors and parishioners alike – have a responsibility to share the glory of God that has been revealed to us.
We come to this place week after week, even on cold, blustery days, because we have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
We have seen God’s glory in the cross – in that place of suffering where God said to each one of us, “I love you so much that I will suffer for you – that I will understand you – that I will feel the deep pangs of grief when a friend dies – that I will take upon myself the pain of rejection when people don’t understand. I love you so much that I will understand everything about you . . . everything . . . and I will love you still.”
And when we have caught a glimpse of such love, such glory fills us, and God begins the unveiling of our hearts to embody such love to and for others.
5For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The church exists to gather together to be reminded of that glory . . . because it would be really easy to give up the memory of that glory when we are told that we are irrelevant and unnecessary. But when we come together, it is like being on that mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John (Mark 9:2-9) and the truth comes out . . . the unveiling continues – that which is the true story comes out – oh yeah, I remember now, the glory! And in that moment we can sing praises to God with all of our hearts – we can pray fervently for the unveiling of God to the world, we can hear the stories of others who forgot and were reminded of such a glory. And then we can go back out – ready to share the Gospel, the good news, the glory again . . . praying that this time God will reveal God’s glory through us . . . that the unveiling that has begun in us might begin in the hearts of others.
I love my work as a New Beginnings consultant because I love my work as your pastor, as we continue to ask God to unveil the Gospel of Jesus Christ through us to our world. Currently we are asking God how to share our gifts in mission, and we pray that as young and old respond to our survey of how to share in mission that God will show us God’s New Beginning for us. It’s an exciting time for me, as your pastor, because it’s as if I am at an Art Exhibit where the newest Work of Art is about to be unveiled! I do not lose heart because I see that God is doing something new through us, and I believe that God’s glory will be revealed to Tiffin even as God reveals God’s glory and vision in our own hearts.
May our prayer continue – God, use us to bear the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!
I conclude with the prayer offered by the Wesleyan Tradition. It is a prayer that reminds us that all that we do, that every “success” in the church is not our own but belongs to God who unveils glory before us. As we enter this week, filled with God’s glory, may we be unafraid to pray these words together.
I am no longer my own, but Thine.
Put me to what Thou wilt, rank me with whom Thou wilt
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by Thee or laid aside for Thee
Exalted for Thee or brought low for Thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to Thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and gracious God, I am Thine and Thou art mine.
So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Sermon: February 1, 2015
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NRSV
8Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Up front it appears to be a very culturally-bound piece of scripture that has nothing to do with those of us living in 2015 in the USA. We don’t sacrifice food to idols here. We just don’t. Head to other countries and this is a “thing” but not here. So why can’t we just skip over this one and read something else? Because, as you might remember, Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law, meaning that how we interpret the Law changed once Jesus came. Jesus re-interpreted the law so that it was no longer about holding to the letter of God’s law, but about following the heart of God’s law. That being said, if we take a close look at what the apostle Paul is saying in I Corinthians today, you will find that he isn’t simply talking about eating food served to idols. He’s talking about our relationships with other Christians. And that message is still applicable in 2015 here in the USA.
Paul begins by talking about the fact that since he doesn’t believe that idols are actually gods, he has no problem eating the fine meat that has been served to them because they aren’t real. He doesn’t fear being struck down by a lesser god or being voodoo’d because he ate someone else’s food because he doesn’t believe in such things. Paul believes in one God. Period.
But, he says, some of the newer Christians are struggling to believe that there is only one God. In these new Christians’ minds, the idols still hold power. And eating the food offered to these idols is irreverent and sacrilegious and disrespectful – not to mention they are afraid of what might happen to the people who eat such meat because they still give the idols some supreme power. Eating such meat is taboo.
And so, as the early church is struggling to know what to do – Do we eat this meat or not? Does it hold power or not? and while we are hearing the ever-present question by the established Christian, “Why is this even an issue?” – Paul addresses the church and invites them to stop thinking of this in terms of whether it is or is not “right.” In so doing, there will always be two sides – those who are certain that this is not going to offend God and those who aren’t so sure about it. Instead, Paul asks the church to be sensitive to the fact that this is tough for the newer Christians. The reason we share this scripture in worship today is as a reminder that following Jesus is less about holding tightly to what is most certainly and morally right and more about being sensitive to others.
Look at verses 2 and 3: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.
The Church with a capital “C” is notorious for this – claiming to have all knowledge and condemning those who do not agree with “Us” or “Them”. The Church with a capital “C” (along with most humans) like to make things black and white and find themselves on the side of the absolutely-right-no-matter-what side. Having knowledge puffs us up, making us think that we are better than someone else. And this, Paul says, is a useless endeavor. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Paul invites the Church with a capital C to start building one another up in love.
Paul himself does this by choosing to walk alongside these new Christians and, with them, avoid eating the meat sacrificed to idols. In so doing he gains their respect and acknowledges that it’s not about the moral answers or always being on the side of what is “right” (as if everything could be boiled down to morally right and wrong with just the snap of fingers) – it’s about something else entirely – it’s about our responsibility to one another — it’s about growing in faith together, about learning to respect one another’s differences, and ultimately it’s about loving one another.
How often do Christians take sides only to forget that we are all children of God? that we are all loved by God? Let’s strengthen the context of that “love” word a bit so you can hear what Paul was talking about. How often do Christians take sides only to forget that that we are all adored by God?
As a woman in ministry, I have, at many times in my life, received warnings from the morality police. After I preached my first sermon, a woman in the congregation came up to me to tell me that she would never join a church where I was the pastor because women are not allowed to preach. In my first call, I received hate mail listing the scriptures that tell me I should not be doing what I am doing because I am a woman who needs to be subservient to a man. Even my father and my several dear friends, when I told them that I felt called by God to pursue ordination, told me that I wasn’t allowed to do this. It was wrong.
I’m not here to argue the morality of being a woman in leadership in the church because, for many, I understand that it is truly a tough theological issue still. I will tell you, however, that I had no desire to do this with my life. God just called . . . and persisted . . . and I couldn’t deny that this is what God wanted me to do. God and I still argue about it on a regular basis. But to my father, and my friend, and the woman who didn’t want to join a church where I was the pastor I can only say – when God calls I have to answer. I could say “no” and follow Jonah as far away from where I am called as I dare, but God is a loving God and will pursue me in that love until I agree to follow. It took awhile, but my father, who also adores me, finally realized that my call to ministry was not a chance to take sides. And, unlike my dear friends and that lady who approached me after my first sermon and the guy who sent me the list of scriptures, my dad chose not to be puffed up in knowledge but to build me up in love.
Every day, every year, will have its issues. There will always be “something” that holds the attention of the church, begging us to boil it down to an easy “right” or “wrong” decision. But as soon as we have determined that we have full ownership of the knowledge of what is right and who is wrong, I hope that Paul’s words will bring our egos back down to size. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. It’s not our job to police sin. Nor is it our job to point out what is a non-issue and roll our eyes when other Christians just can’t see what a non-issue it is. It is our job to live in relationship with one another and to build one another up in love. In so doing we nurture one another in our faith so that no one is held back.
This is one of those passages where there is some serious teaching going on. And sometimes when a passage is a teachable passage, it also seems to convict in a way that is uncomfortable because it challenges us to see things in a different light. But I still don’t claim to have knowledge. I encourage you to read the scriptures as well, to see what it means for you that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Share your thoughts on the church’s FB page (FPC Tiffin) or on our twitter account @fpctiffin.
The good news in all of this is that we are called to embody Christ’s love to and for one another. We aren’t called to ostracize each other or to hold each other to standards that get tougher and tougher and tougher as we clamp down tighter and tighter on what is right and wrong. Rather, there is freedom for us all in Jesus Christ – to examine ourselves before God and to hold to one another in that same love that has been given for us. We are responsible to one another, not for the sake of pointing fingers, but for the sake of making room for others to grow closer to God. We must ask ourselves and God, “What can I do to help someone else grow in their faith?” and then act on that. Love builds up.
And so, dear friends, live in the love of God that has set you free from the burden of many laws that suffocate. Live in the love of God that is never as black and white as human “love” can often be. Live in the love of God that cares deeply for you and for others who may or may not always agree with you. Live in the love of God . . . and be changed.
SERMON – AUG 3rd, 2014
SERMON – March 30, 2014