Sunday, January 14, 2018

Changing The World (According To John Wesley)

Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.



Despite what some of you heard --- last Sundays sermon was not about self-loathing

I am not a bad person
          Nor am I a perfect person

I am a flawed child of God

And just like you, God has great plans for me.

HOWEVER, --- unless we recognize and combat the demons in our lives --- we will never be able to change the world ---- let alone ourselves.

I have demons to combat --- and God is helping me to defeat them so that I can do those things that God has called me to do. ---- that is all that I was saying . . .

Did you listen to the scripture that was read this morning?

Listen again to these challenging words:
Revelation 2:1a, 2a, 4-5a    (NRSV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: . . . “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. . . . But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.

The Christian Church today is suffering from exactly what the author of the Book of Revelation was writing about.

Dr. Martin Luther King may have summed up this passage best when he said:
Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.

"The church" has lost sight of its mission
          It has become --- like the old Pink Floyd song --- "Comfortably Numb"

"The church" has lost its spiritual center --- because it has gotten too busy majoring on unimportant things.

My life has often gone through ebbs and flows of spiritual vitality.
I have experienced periods that the 16th century Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross called: "The Dark Night of the Soul"

When that happens --- I find myself with a couple of choices
·         do nothing and try to wait it out
·         enjoy the wandering in the wilderness
·         throw myself into spiritual practices to try and fill the void

What I have found is when I am in that place I too, am often majoring on the things that aren't truly important

Staying focused is not always easy for me
          It is too easy to get distracted by things that just don't matter

When I get distracted I find two things that really help to bring me back

First, finding a devotional type of book for me

I don’t know if you realize it, but virtually every book I read, I read with an eye toward one of two things
          Can this make a good small group study book?

          How can I use this for preaching?

I really don't read just to read
          Although my son in law (wow not sure I have ever called Sam that before) gave me Ron Chernow's new book on Grant for Christmas and I am about half way through it.

Second, getting back to a habit that I do off and on --- and that is journaling

I picked up Anne Lamott's book GRACE EVENTUALLY, a book, that had been gathering dust beside my bed and have been reading one chapter every day and then journaling about what is going on in my life and how the spirit is nudging me through these devotions.

It has been amazing --- and it is part of the reason that you are stuck with all this self-reflection by me.

I was sharing this with a clergy friend of mine and he said to me:
"It's hard to grow ourselves spiritually when we are so busy trying to find things for others spiritual growth and neglecting our own."

And he is so right!


John Wesley is the spiritual founder of the Methodist movement.

He was born in 1703 in Epworth, England about 150 miles north of London.

He was the 15th child of Samuel and Susanna Wesley

Samuel Wesley was a graduate of the University of Oxford, and since 1696, had been parish priest of Epworth.

He had married Susanna, the twenty-fifth child of Samuel Annesley, a Dissenting minister, in 1689.

Samuel and Suzanna had nineteen children, of which nine lived beyond infancy.

When John was a child of 5, on February 9, 1709, the parsonage at Epworth burned --- some suggest that angry members of the church may have started the fire --- regardless of how it started --- young John was left sleeping in his bed on the second floor while the rest of the children were all ushered to safety.

With the stairs burning, and the roof about to collapse, John was plucked from a second story window by two men, one standing on top of the other.

Later, Susanna would describe the experience saying that John was "a brand plucked from the burning." (quoting Zachariah 3:2)

That experience, was one that shaped the rest of his life.

England in the 18th century was not all that different than today.

England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, and the middle class was shrinking --- the rich were getting richer --- while the poor were growing in larger and larger numbers --- and getting poorer and poorer.

Religion seemed to be losing influence on the culture.

The protestant revolution, which began with Martin Luther nailing his 95 thesis (attacks against Roman Catholicism) on the door to the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany --- had been raging for 200 years.

People were forced to choose who they would be loyal to: The Pope or Luther and his Protestants.

But in England the situation was even a little more interesting, and confusing.

If you know your history, you remember a man named Henry VIII ---- Henry, like all kings, needed a male heir.  But his wife kept producing girls or still born children. 

Eventually Henry would divorce his wife and begin a long string of failed marriages that always seemed to end with a dead wife.

England then suffered through Bloody Mary and the Elizabethan age.
A period of religious persecution --- that could get you dead if you belonged to the wrong group.

Because of this 200 year period of religious turmoil --- many people had grown weary of religion and the Church.

The age of enlightenment brought scientific reason and skepticism toward religion and all things supernatural.

It was into this world that John Wesley was born.

John's father Samuel was pastor of St Andrews Church in Epworth for almost 40 years. 

But as was typical in that day, John and his siblings were taught by their mother. 
          What was unusual was that she insisted that the girls too learn to read, and write. 

Education was very important in the Wesley home.

Susanna's influence on John cannot be underestimated.

She instilled in him many of the values that would come to dominate his ministry the rest of his life.

One of the things that Susanna did with each of her children was spend an hour with each one of them --- she asked them about their faith --- their fears --- their hopes and dreams --- she asked about the state of their souls.

This practice becomes the genesis of Wesley's small groups in which each participant shared with each other and held one another accountable.
They asked each other:  "How is your soul?"

John also was given another gift from his parents --- and that was how to preserve in the midst of conflict.

It was not an easy time to be religious in England --- people were deeply divided. 
Much like today people seemed to be separated into two camps
While they weren't
          Red and Blue
          Fundamentalist or progressives
          Liberals or conservatives
But they were divided
Tories and Whigs
conformers and dissenters
Anglicans and puritans

And that division, as we all know --- drains us of our spiritual vitality
          Sometimes we just want to throw up our hands and give up

But Wesley --- because of his upbringing --- found a different way.

Wesley once wrote:
Would to God that all the party names and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world were forgot; and that we might all agree to sit down together as humble, loving disciples, at the feet of our common Master, to hear his word, to imbibe his Spirit, and to transcribe his life in our own.

In a sermon he once said:
Though we can't think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.

Wesley offered us another way --- one in which we listen to each other --- focusing not on where we disagree --- but instead identifying our common ground.

He showed us how to build bridges and not walls.

We learn to assume the best of each other --- and not the worst!

We give people the benefit of the doubt.

We listen more and talk less.

Adam Hamilton in his book Revival writes:
We have forgotten how to listen, as individuals, as churches, and as a nation.  Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and fundamentalists find it easy to demonize others.  The mark of those early Methodists, and a key element of personal and corporate revival in the twenty-first century, is a willingness to see the good in others, hold our positions with humility, and treat others with respect.  It is a willingness to make our hearts pliable in God's hands.  It is a willingness to follow the highest calling of Christians, which is both a prerequisite and the goal of revival: love.

John Wesley's life was never easy.

But if there was one hallmark of it --- it was that he never gave up!

Even when things seemed to be crashing around him.

As his family reflected on the fire in the parsonage at Epworth --- they came to see God's hand in it.  They believed that God had spared John for a special purpose.

I, like every other pastor, have sometimes received difficult letters from parishioners.  Sometimes they have been sent to me, other times I have been copied because they were sent to the bishop.

And while I have gotten frustrated at times, and wanted to throw in the towel --- you have never set my house on fire, like they did to John's house

John never gave up.

Even when he failed --- and he often did --- he preserved.

If we want revival in our lives.
If we want revival in our church.
If we want revival in our nation ----
It must start with you

Without a humble spirit --- one willing to see growth opportunities --- we will never have the opportunity to change the world.

John Wesley changed the world --- we are products of his vision.

Let us not:
abandon the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.


Transforming Meridian Street

Ephesians 3:1-12   (NRSV)
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.



For the most of my ministry, every January I have spent a couple of weeks looking at the mission and vision of the church and doing my best to remind you of it and of its importance.

In case you have forgotten ----

Meridian Street exists for only one reason: TO MAKE DISCIPLE FOR JESUS CHRIST.

And we have defined that universal mission of the church by saying: Through Christ we seek to grow in faith as we serve, love and share God's unexpected grace

We make disciple with the goal of transforming the world with the love of Jesus.

That is our sole purpose.

The question that every church struggles with --- certainly that we struggle with --- is
          how do we do that
          and what does it look like

10 years ago or so, the leadership of Meridian Street wrestled with that question and over the last few years was able to clarify by vision with the statement:

We desire to be "Communities thriving and growing in the fruit of the Spirit".

The problem, really has been, we have often looked to prescriptions to try and do those things ---- become representatives of the fruit of the spirit, (in case you have forgotten what those fruit are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), rather than go back to the beginning.

And the beginning starts with ME --- it starts with you

Being transformed ourselves into Disciples of Jesus Christ --- before we head out to save the world

I know it is risky for me to say this --- but I guess I have to trust you --- part of my journey is trying to be honest with myself --- and that means being honest with you . . .

But during the winter of 2014 I had a breakdown
          Call it what you will ---
                   Emotional
                   Spiritual

It cut me to the core --- and for a time --- I did really good

But those demons have a strong hold on me

I believe I preached my most honest sermon that I have ever preached on February 15th, 2014. (not that I remember that date!)

But even in it --- I was careful not to be too honest

You of course didn't get to hear it --- but it is on my blog site --- if you want to go back and read it

As I was working on my sermon for today --- it really hit me
          It was a LIE
Not because what I preached wasn't true
It is probably one of the most truthful sermons I have ever preached

It was a lie because I failed to live it
I was that most horrible of persons who preaches:
          Do what I say
          Not what I do

And I have had to ask myself --- over and over again --- why didn't I practice what I preached? 

Why did I give in to temptation and make other things more important than the truly important things.

I have wrestled many sleepless nights over this:
And I have come to the conclusion that I had been telling myself a lie

It is a lie that many of us, unfortunately, live by

One that is so extremely dangerous, because we don't even know that we believe it
          It least not consciously

And the lie that I kept telling myself was:
          I can't change

I didn't believe that I could actually change --- and if I didn't believe I could change --- there was no reason to even try!
          And so I didn't

The demons inside continued to whisper to me --- “you can't”
          And I BELIEVED IT

And believing that was a LIE

What I am starting to realize is that every healthy thing that God creates changes

Nothing that is truly alive stays stagnant

If it doesn't change --- it is dead (or at least dying)

And I was (am?) dying

I love to quote John Maxwell --- I have shared this with you before
          Change is inevitable
          Growth is optional

Instead of changing forward --- instead of growing --- instead of becoming the man God wants me to be --- I gave in to my demons and started dying

And the saddest part about it all
          God gave me many warning signs that I often ignored
·         I was hospitalization that year with severe case of of vertigo
·         My need to go back on the sleep apnea machine (which Nancy has been telling me over and over)  And that I will do for a week or two and then stop . . .

My body calls out to me and too often I refuse to listen

I closed my ears and let the demons fill my head and soil my heart

I created a soundtrack to blot out the opportunities to grow healthy and instead chose to die slowly

So what does one do?

My first step in healthy transformation is REALIZING THAT I CAN GROW

I can change --- I can change
(it is a mantra that I must repeat)

In the greater scheme of things --- coming to that realization may be the easiest step of all --- but without it --- nothing will change

I must believe --- that I CAN CHANGE

The really hard part is looking inside and asking yourself the really tough questions --- the questions we all want to avoid
          WHY --- Why do I refuse to change?

And the answer for me came in the most unlikely spot

As Nancy and I were preparing to go to New Zealand a few years ago we re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  YES, it is long!!!!  But well worth the effort.

In watching the videos, I realized something about me --- this is hard for me to confess . . .

I am very driven by other people's approval of me.

I crave it

What I mean by that is that if somebody doesn't think I am doing a good job, or challenges my motives --- or even quite simply just doesn't like me
          I take it personally
                   (I don’t image any of you have that problem)

I do my best not to let you know that I take it personally --- to let anybody know --- but I do --- it eats me up inside.

And it is crazy some of the ways that it manifests itself.
·         those of you who haven't turned in your pledge cards --- yep, I take it personally
So lots of times I try to not know who that is, so I won't be hurt
·         When somebody quits the church --- even though I KNOW it’s not about me --- I take it personally

Crazy --- I know --- but that doesn't mean it's not real

When this happens, I become hurt, and angry and defensive

I don't like to admit that people affect me that way

But they do

Unfortunately, other people's opinions seem to matter a great deal to me (even if I pretend otherwise . . .)

I let them tell me who I am
          It's crazy --- I know
          But true

Don Miller on his blog wrote:
As I’ve grown older and read more and more about psychology, I’ve realized that, in part, this is by design. We really do shape our opinions about ourselves, in large part, through the opinions of others. It’s as though we wear certain clothes and act a certain way and try to succeed at things so other people will tell us we are good or valuable. And when they do, we feel a little better about ourselves and when they don’t, we start thinking we are losers

I am kind of slow
          I have to say things over and over to myself to get them to sink in

This past fall I had the opportunity to hear Bob Goff.

The more I read his stuff --- the more I wish I could be like him

He is a lover!
          A faithful lover!
         
He has extraordinary passion --- extraordinary love

Gosh, I wish I could have it . . .

But one thing that he constantly says is:
Don't let the past define you

Don't let others tell you who you are

I have told you that many times --- but I haven't believed it myself!

I have let my past
          my fears
          my insecurities
                   control me

They are demons who rejoice in me making the same mistakes over and over again.

I have to learn to listen to the RIGHT PEOPLE
And, maybe most importantly, I have to remember why I was created
·         to love Jesus
·         to love Nancy
·         to be faithful to Nancy, Jessica, Lindsey and Haley

When I do those things --- the rest is pretty easy

But it all starts with ME

I have been seeking the love and adoration of YOU
          And you have loved me more than I deserve

But when I have failed you --- and I have failed all of you somewhere along the way --- your hurt at my failure becomes magnified in my life in a crazy sort of way.

I have made the mistake in believing that your love --- that, other's love is what I need in my life to validate my worth.
          So when I disappoint or let someone down --- I feel like a looser

And because I have been chasing approval from others --- I have failed to do the most important thing --- I have failed to love myself!

I have to learn --- we all have to learn --- how to really love ourselves!

Because, if we want to make a difference in the world we must first change ourselves!

Over the next few weeks we are going to look at how John Wesley transformed the world by changing himself.

If you haven't read Adam Hamilton's book REVIVAL --- which is all about Wesley and the transformation that took place in his life (and in the world) --- I encourage you to do so.

Paul in our text this morning reminds us that we have all be called

Called to change the world with the love of Jesus
          It starts with ME
          It starts with you.


Broken People

Broken People

(Matthew 1:1-17 NRSV)  An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. {2} Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, {3} and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, {4} and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, {5} and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, {6} and Jesse the father of King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, {7} and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, {8} and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, {9} and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, {10} and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, {11} and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. {12} And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, {13} and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, {14} and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, {15} and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, {16} and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. {17} So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.


I think I should begin this morning by apologizing to Nancy & Dan who had to read all those difficult names.

And I am sure you are wondering why --- why in the world would anyone make somebody read all those names out loud.  I hope before this morning is over, you will have a new appreciation for the genealogy that Matthew shares with us.

Part of Christmas for me is watching some of the classic Christmas shows.

I think that the classic ones are the best, (I think that may be is a sign of getting older), but certainly one of my all time favorites is Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

There is a great scene early in the movie where a young Rudolph is trying to hide his nose while playing games with all the other young reindeer, but is discovered and immediately humiliated and sent home.
For me, the real shocking thing about this scene is Santa’s reaction
--- even Santa is in on this bullying, this intolerance and unfairness shown to Rudolph.

Most of us really don’t need to watch a kid's movie to be reminded that we are all broken.
          We are either the one who is humiliated or the one doing the humiliation
Brokenness is hard for most of us to deal with
We don’t want others to see our (perceived) weakness so we puff up and get defensive.

But it is a reality of life.

Immediately after creation, the Bible wants to tell us why we are the way that we are.
          Angry
          Hurt
          Selfish
          Disappointed

The description is one of being broken.

And the author explains this reality by giving us the story of the fall.

A couple of millennium later, Paul is still trying to put this condition into words.

Using phrases that would have connected with the people of his day, Paul tells us that we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).

What Paul seems to be saying to us is that despite our desire to do good, we have a propensity that is inherent within us to do evil.

In his letter to the fledgling church at Rome he wrote:
(Romans 7:19 NRSV)  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

Despite ourselves, Paul says, we cannot do good on our own.

Our lives are fractured ---- broken

Some people have gone so far as to compare this malady that we all suffer with to a computer virus.

I don’t know if any of you have ever had a computer virus.
          It is not fun

The problem with computer viruses is that they stay lurking in the background but all the while, doing damage to our computer.

Brokenness is the same way.

If we are not careful, our brokenness can rob us of our joy, our hope and our dreams!

But while I say all this, I want to remind you --- that this is not a condition that you alone have.
          We all have this affliction

It is the human condition.

Yet despite that --- God wants a relationship with us.

What is so amazing about our scripture this morning is who is named in this list.

This is reported to be a list of the family of Joseph according to Matthew.

What is fascinating is when you study it carefully --- a number of things become evident.

First, the list was developed to show that Jesus is an authentic king. 

It is clear from the genealogy that Jesus is from the family tree of David.  And David, of course, it the ideal king in Jewish understanding, and the one whom the prophets claimed would rule for ever.

Furthermore, the list is divided into three groupings of 14 names each.  The list is clearly contrived as some kings are omitted.

By why? 
          Why 3 lists of 14?

Two reasons seem evident.

First, the three groupings correspond to the three great periods of Jewish history.

·         From Abraham to David
This stage moves from the call of faith to the period in which David brought together Israel as a nation

·         From the nation of Israel to the exile
This stage deals with the interplay between humanity and God --- exposing our unfaithfulness and consequent captivity.
Intermixed within this period is the prophetic word of judgment and hope

·         From the Babylonian captivity to Jesus
This period shows how salvation history continues through a remnant of the faithful and how God decided to enter the world in the incarnation of Jesus.

This use of generations in 3 groupings of 14 was used as a teaching method on the part of Matthew to help persons grasp and memorize this sweep of history.

The purpose of this genealogy is to show how all history is in God’s hands and that ever since God chose Abraham, history has been moving toward Jesus.

Second, the list was developed to show that Jesus was an authentic Jew.

This is evident, of course, in Matthew’s proclamation that Jesus is “son of David”.  But in case we didn’t get it --- he also wants us to know that Jesus is a son of Abraham.

For Matthew, Jesus was not some disembodied bearer of a divine message; Jesus was the ultimate Jew --- a Jew in whom Israel could find all of its hopes fulfilled.

When we go back and look carefully at the genealogy what is so interesting about it is who is included in the genealogy.

I know that it is very hard to pay attention to the genealogy when somebody is reading it because it is name after name after name.

But if you listen carefully to the names there are a number of very interesting people mentioned in this list of the family of Jesus.

So listen once again to the genealogy of Jesus as found in Matthew's gospel.  And see if it doesn't startle you and invite you in a new way.


The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, (YEAH) the son of David, (YEAH) the son of Abraham, (YEAH), ABRAHAM WHO PRETENDED THAT SARAH WAS JUST HIS SISTER, AND GAVE HIS WIFE TO THE PHARAOH TO SAVE HIS OWN NECK AND AT THE SAME TIME GOT MUCH CATTLE (BOO).

Abraham was the father of Isaac, WHOSE VERY NAME MEANS LAUGHTER (YEAH), and Isaac was the father Jacob, WHO STOLE HIS BROTHER'S BIRTHRIGHT (BOO) Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers, WHO SOLD JOSEPH INTO SLAVERY  (HISS)  and Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah  (HUH?) whose mother was Tamar (YEAH) WHO ONCE PLAYED THE PROSTITUTE (BOO) FOR THE SAKE OF JUSTICE (YEAH)      Perez was the father of Hezron (HUH? )  and Hezron the father of Ram, (HUH?)  and Ram the father of Amminadab (HUH?)  Amminadab the father of Nahshon, A FINE CAPTAIN OF ISRAEL (YEAH)  and Nahshon the father of Salmon, (HUH?) and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, THE PROSTITUTE (BOO) WHO ONCE SAVED GOD'S PEOPLE (YEAH) and Boaz the
father of Obed by Ruth, YOU REMEMBER RUTH (CLAP)  and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king (YEAH)
And David was the father of Solomon  (YEAH-CLAP) by the wife of Uriah, WHO HE SET UP TO BE KILLED (BOO)  MOVING RIGHT ALONG
Solomon the father of Rehoboam, WHO WAS FAITHFUL TO GOD FOR MUCH OF HIS REIGN (YEAH) BUT 1HEN ABANDONED GOD FOR FIVE YEARS (BOO) and Rehoboam the father of Abijah WHO HAD 14 WIVES ( YEAH  BOO YEAH)  and Abijah the father of Asa WHO ABANDONED GOD AT THE END OF HIS LIFE AND HE DIED OF GANGREEN OF THE FEET (BOO)  and Asa the father of Jehosaphat, the father of Joram, the father of Uzziah, WHOSE PRIDE BROUGHT HIS FALL (BOO) and Uzzaih the father of Jotham, A VERY GOOD KING IN EVERY WAY (YEAH) and Jotham the father of Ahaz, A VERY BAD KING IN EVERY WAY (BOO) and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, WHO RESTORED THE KINGDOM TO JUSTICE AND GODLINESS (YEAH) and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, WHO RULED AS KING FOR 55 YEARS (YEAH) AND WAS EVIL FOR ALL 55 YEARS (BOO) and Manasseh the father of

Amos, the father of Josiah, the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, WHO WERE ALL FAITHFUL TO GOD THROUGHOUT THEIR ENTIRE LIVES (YEAH)  AND THEY WERE ALL DEPORTED TO BABYLON (HUH?}
After the deportation to Babylon: Jachoniah was the father of Shealtiel (HUH? who was the father of Zerubbabel A WISE GOVERNOR CHOSEN OF GOD (YEAH) Zerubbabel was the fther of Adiud, (HUH?) the father of Eliakim, (HUH?)   the father of Azor (HUH?) the father of Zadok (HUH?) the father of Achim (HUH?) the father Eliud (HUH?) the father of Eleazar (HUH?) the father of Matthan (HUH?) the father of Jacob (HUH?) the father of Joseph, YOU REMEMBER JOSEPH (YEAH) the husband of Mary (CLAP) of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (CLAP_YEAH)


Did you notice the craziness of this list ----

A number of the kings that are mentioned were losers.
          No that’s not the right word for it.
They weren’t just losers, they were downright evil.
                   Asaph
                   Uzziah
                   Ahaz
                   Manasseh
All were considered very evil kings!

But also mentioned in this list are four women.

William Barclay said: “It is not normal to find the name of women in Jewish pedigrees as all.  Women had no legal rights; she was not regarded as a person but as a thing.”

And yet, four of them are mentioned here.  And each of them are rather interesting characters.

Tamar:
          Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law, and the twin sons that are mentioned in the list were actually conceived in an immoral relationship.  The whole story is found in Genesis 38

Rahab
          Rahab was the prostitute that is mentioned in Joshua 2.  She is the one who protected the spies when they entered Jericho.  Tradition tells us that she later became the wife of Joshua.

Ruth
          We all know about Ruth, but remember, she was not a Jew, she was a Moabitess.
          In Deuteronomy we are told: (Deuteronomy 23:3 NRSV) 
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD”

Wife of Uriah   
          That of course is Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, who is the woman that David seduced when she was married to Uriah.  David, after seducing her, has Uriah killed in an attempt to cover up his sin.

Four women are mentioned --- each of them of some questionable virtue.
Yet despite all of their flaws --- God still chose to use them.

Three are sexually impure
One is a foreigner
          Yet all are included in the genealogy of Jesus.

God often chooses to use broken people for great purposes
          And that means that God can choose use!

Paul tells us in his letter to the church at Corinth:
 (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NRSV)  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; {28} God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, {29} so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

When we read all these stories, they can easily be stumbling blocks to us and the rest of the world.

While the world may only see brokenness, God sees people who --- when they partner with God --- can literally bring about wholeness and restoration to those who need healing and forgiveness.

God will take the very thing that points to your brokenness and use it bear fruit, building the family and kingdom of God.

I encourage you to make room in your life for the Christ Child, and as you do ---let God use your brokenness to make a difference in the world.



(Genealogy comes from Douglas Adams: Prostitutes in the Family Tree)


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Names For The Messiah: Everlasting Father

During this season of Advent --- this season of expectation and preparation we are looking at the four names that the oracle in Isaiah 9 gives describing a future king.  This king that Isaiah was referring to was most likely Hezekiah, but the early church, familiar with this oracle saw in it reflected their expectations for the Messiah Jesus.

They adapted these four names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace; to their expectations for Jesus.  Most of these names easily fit with what we have come to believe about Jesus.

·         Wonderful Counselor
Jesus is a new type of King that will bring wonderful, compassionate governance to all parts of God's Kingdom
·         Mighty God
We all recognize the power of Jesus.
Power to perform miracles
Power to stand up to the Empire
·         Prince of Peace
This is the easiest one and Matt will tackle this on the morning of the 24th.

But then there is Everlasting Father. 
How can Jesus be seen as the Everlasting Father?

For me there are a lot of difficult problems with this one. 
And I will just share with you a few.

First, the doctrine of the Trinity would seem to suggest that claiming Jesus as Father might be seen as a heresy.
                   God is Father
                   Jesus is Son
                   Jesus is NOT the Father
There is no doubt, but the early church struggled with this title as well, but eventually they were able to come up with a way that they could see Jesus as the Everlasting Father without calling into question the doctrine we have come to articulate as the Trinity

Second issue is one more specific to our time. 

There are many people who struggle with the idea as God as Father at all.  Their experiences of earthy fathers make the connotation of God as father problematic.
          They grew up with NO father
Or a father that was terrible and mean
They may have been abused by a male power figure

Before you pooh pooh this --- and tell those that struggle with it to grow up . . .

We need to be careful that we don't continue using a metaphor for God to drive someone away.  We all know that God is not LITERALLY our father.  It is just a way to explain or express who God is.  God is as much our mother as God is our father.  So please, before you judge someone be careful. Because when that happens --- we all loose

We don’t want to be responsible for driving someone away from God all because we are stuck with a metaphor for God

So let's take a moment and look at how the early church came to understand Jesus as Everlasting Father.

When Isaiah wrote this oracle in the 8th century BCE, Israel was an extremely patriarchal society.

The father was the head of the tribe, clan or family
The father had the most power and responsibility
The father was the protector and guarantor of life

So it is not surprising that they would understand God in those same terms.

God as Father was seen by the Israelites as creator of all

We adopted that same understanding when we created the Apostles Creed in which we proclaim that: "We believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth."

The Psalmist writes: (Psalm 24:1)
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;

God created it all.

God was also seen as a potter --- one who would mold and shape Israel
(Isaiah 64:8)
O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

In Psalm 68, God is praised because God protects the most vulnerable in society: orphans and widows. (Psalm 68:5-6)
Father of orphans and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
    he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,

Brueggemann writes:
the father God is attentive to the vulnerable and unproductive a theological claim that is reflected in the Torah provision for windows, orphans, and immigrants.  Ancient Israel is to care for and protect precisely those God is attentive to.

The responsibilities that Israel believed fell to God was seen to be carried out on earth by God's chosen kings

Even the Psalmist proclaimed that the earthly, God chosen king was charged with the duty of justice to the poor and needy. 

Since God was responsible for the protection of the whole family --- the king was seen to have that responsibility as well.

Thus Isaiah's call for the new king that was to be born to be the Everlasting Father, the king who would restore justice and guarantee the wellbeing of the whole nation.

When the kings failed to live up to this responsibility --- everyone suffered.

And because the kings had failed throughout Israel’s history --- the early Christians saw in Jesus the one who could redeem the nation and once again be the protector of God’s people.

Jesus was the one who would once again provide life for all people.

And in chapter 14 of John's Gospel (one of the most beautiful sections in this Gospel) Jesus is addressing the disciples

Jesus is preparing them because soon he is to be arrested and ultimately murdered.
And in the midst of that, Jesus makes this promise. (John 14:1-4,18)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you."

The early church felt like they lived in an orphaned world when Jesus was killed and taken from them.  But Jesus promised that he will never abandoned them, and that he will take up God's mantle of caring for all orphans.

Jesus was seen in the role of:
          family making
          family protecting
          family generating

And the early church recognized that this role, this responsibility was not temporary, like the kings of old --- but rather that Jesus would be our "father" forever, our Everlasting Father.

The end of Matthew's gospel certainly affirms this idea, when Jesus commands us: (Matthew 28:19-20)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Brueggemann concludes this chapter with these words:
Jesus is in such close identity with the Father that he shares these functions.  His love commandment is to enact the solidarity of Father, Son, and community.  The "everlasting" part of it is that the church, over generations, has found the abiding presence of this fatherly God to be grounds for joy, for assurance, and for missional energy.

In other words --- Jesus promises to be with us --- but the responsibility that had been given to the kings, and taken by Jesus --- that responsibility is now ours.

It is not up to big government
          or small government
It is up to you and me to live our lives in such a way that all know that they are loved by God and that justice (God's justice) is what shapes our lives.

Mary Ann Bird was a weekly columnist for The Foxboro Reporter, writing “A Bird’s Eye View”, which was a human interest story about family, town’s people and events.  At some point she wrote a piece called "The Whisper Test".

Mary Ann was born with a cleft palate before the time when reparative surgery was easily available. She was also deaf in one ear. In school, her classmates teased her without mercy. She couldn’t blow up a balloon without holding her nose or drink from a water fountain successfully.

She wrote:
“I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.

“Oh Mary Ann,” her classmates would say, “What happened to your lip?”

“I cut it on a piece of glass,” she would lie.

Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.

One of the worst experiences at school, she reported, was the day of the annual hearing test.  The teacher would call each child to her desk, and the child would cover first one ear, and then the other.  The teacher would whisper something to the child like “the sky is blue” or “you have new shoes.”  This was “the whisper test.”  If the teacher’s phrase was heard and repeated, the child passed the test.  To avoid the humiliation of failure, Mary Ann would always cheat on the test, secretly cupping her hand over her one good ear so that she could still hear what the teacher said.

One year Mary Ann was in the class of Miss Leonard, one of the most beloved teachers in the school.  Every student, including Mary Ann, wanted to be noticed by her, wanted to be her pet. 

Then came the day of the dreaded hearing test.  When her turn came, Mary Ann was called to the teacher’s desk.  As Mary Ann cupped her hand over her good ear, Miss Leonard leaned forward to whisper.  “I waited for those words,” Mary Ann wrote, “which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life.”  Miss Leonard did not say, “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.”  No, Miss Leonard carefully leaned over to get as close as possible and whispered, “I wish you were my little girl.”

Those words changed Mary Ann's life.

She knew that she was loved.
This beautiful little girl, who felt rejected and orphaned by the world was loved.

These four royal titles that the early church found in the oracle of Isaiah came to help us interpret who Jesus is for us.

Wonderful Councilor
Might God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

We have been invited to join King Jesus in whispering into the ear of every child; that they are loved.

Not rejected, not orphaned, not forgotten but loved with an everlasting love by an everlasting father and mother. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Names for The Messiah: Wonderful Counselor

Luke 2:39-52   (NRSV)

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.




While today is not the first Sunday in the season of Advent, Matt and I are beginning our look at some of the names given to Jesus the Messiah by the early Christian community.

The names that we are going to focus on are the ones found in the prophet Isaiah's text that the early church came to understand as referring to Jesus.

But those are not the only names that were ascribed to Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels titles are given to Jesus to help the early followers (and us as well) to understand just who Jesus was and is.

The author of Matthew composed the gospel with a Jewish audience in mind, so he goes to great lengths to "prove" who Jesus is by linking him up to the Hebrew Bible.

If you have never read Matthew carefully you may want to take another look.

It is written in five sections --- Just like the Torah of the Hebrew Bible
and the purpose of the book is to demonstrate that Jesus is the NEW lawgiver --- where the Torah showed Moses as the lawgiver.
In Matthew's birth story just like Moses, Jesus has to be hidden because the Empire wants to kill him   
                   Pharaoh slaughters all the children
                   Herod does the same
          Jesus must go to Egypt so that he can return (like Israel did in Hebrew Bible)

Matthew goes to great lengths to prove to his readers that Jesus is the Messiah that was predicted in the Jewish scriptures --- what we often call the Old Testament

Luke, in his birth stories, is not as interested in demonstrating that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah --- but rather that Jesus is the Messiah that has been anticipated since the beginning of time.

Again --- a quick look both Matthew and Luke illustrate this

Mathew's genealogy wants to prove that Jesus is of the lineage of David --- thus it goes back to Abraham (the father of the Jews) and includes King David.

But where does Luke's genealogy take us back to?
          Luke want to show that Jesus is a son of Adam

Luke's Jesus is not just the Jewish Messiah --- Jesus is the Messiah for all.

But both are influenced by the oracle that is found in Isaiah chapter 9 that will be the focal point for our preaching this advent season.

Isaiah writes
The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
. . .
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.

These words are familiar because we read them each and every Advent Season, but more than that we know these words from George Frideric Handel's famous MESSIAH.

In the summer of 1741, George Frideric Handel was a 56-year old composer and suffering from poor health following a stroke and in considerable financial difficulty, he was at the low point of his musical career.

Charles Jennens had sent a copy of his libretto to Handel and twenty-four days later, George Frideric Handel had finished the Messiah, the most famous oratorio ever written.

We all know the majesty and triumph of The Hallelujah Chorus that concludes this masterwork.

It is in the twelfth song of the first movement that Handel captures the exuberant, joy of Isaiah 9:2-7. 

Titled "for unto us a child is born" Handel lays out for us our four titles for Jesus.

While the early church came to understand that Isaiah was predicting the future Messiah --- Jesus --- it is clear that the author did not intend it that way.

Isaiah, in the 8th century (BCE), was writing most likely to celebrate the birth of a new royal prince in Jerusalem --- or the coronation of a new king.

Isaiah was filled with hope that this new king would usher in a new age --- an age filled with peace and prosperity.

The people had been living in a difficult time --- they were as Isaiah wrote --- a people who lived in deep darkness.

But with this new king --- light would shine upon them.

And he gives this new king four rather lofty titles
          Wonderful Counselor
          Mighty God
          Everlasting Father
          Prince of Peace

We will look at each of these titles and how they have shaped how we understand Jesus and our expectations for him

WONDERFUL COUNSELOR
Handel misunderstood the Hebrew and he put a comma between wonderful and counselor thus creating two titles.
But in the Hebrew it is meant as one

This new king will be a Wonderful Counselor
          A counselor of great wonders

This word counselor refers to governance or the ability to execute policy

Isaiah is rejoicing that God has raised up a new king who will initiate policies and practices that will dazzle in effectiveness and benefit the entire kingdom.

This morning is Christ the King Sunday --- a relatively new addition to our liturgical calendar.  This is the last Sunday of the ecclesiastical year --- Advent begins a new cycle.

We celebrate Christ the King to remind us that Jesus is the king of our lives and the universe

It seems very appropriate that we begin this series today since all these titles given by Isaiah are filled with royal imagery.

Just as Isaiah wrote during a time of distress for the Jewish people --- the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger and stronger
Jesus entered the world that was controlled by the Roman Empire and their oppressive practices

Luke clearly identifies this issue in the opening of his Gospel:
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Walter Brueggemann in his book "Names for the Messiah" writes:
The larger drama of the Gospel exhibits the way in which King Jesus takes issue with the royal power of Rome and subsequently with every regime of power that imagines it is ultimate and absolute.  The power of King Jesus is intrinsically revolutionary and subversive against every repressive regime.

So in Isaiah, the early church got a glimpse of what this promised king should look like and how he would oppose the evil empirical power of Rome.

The early church believed that Jesus will bring about a new regime of peace and well-being that will displace the Roman order of violence and extortion.

The saw in King Jesus the manifestation of these four royal titles that the oracle of Isaiah had announced.
          Wonderful Counselor
          Mighty God
          Everlasting Father
          Prince of Peace

Jesus, as a wonderful counselor, will bring about extraordinary plans and policies.
          And he will do this by re-ordering the life of the Jewish people

Brueggemann suggest that the early church saw five things in Jesus that helped them identify him as the Wonderful Counselor of Isaiah chapter 9

Jesus was wise.

Throughout the Gospels people are asking where Jesus gets his wisdom from.

He is proclaimed for his wisdom as a child
          The familiar story of the visit to the temple
As well as an adult

Roman power was seen as foolishness but the authority and the path of Jesus was seen as wise and extraordinary

Jesus was extraordinary

Jesus displayed an authority that was unlike anyone else's
Mark 1:22    (NRSV)
They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

His teaching was presenting a totally different world-view --- a new way to look at the world.

Jesus' teaching and actions were full of wisdom

His healings demonstrated his wisdom and power

Jesus, when John the Baptist's disciples come to ask on behalf of John, Jesus says to them:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.

What Jesus was doing was never seen before and could not be explained

Jesus challenged the empire

All that Jesus was doing was a huge threat to the Empire.
          He was seen as dangerous and subversive

If you are not sure about this go and read the beatitudes found in Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus turns the world upside down and offers a whole new paradigm

Jesus is not killed because he was a nice guy who went around healing people --- he was executed because he was threatening a revolution.

Mary anticipated this when in her song she proclaimed:
Luke 1:51-53    (NRSV)
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

But maybe the most important thing this Wonderful Counselor did was: Jesus invited us to join him on his mission

Before Jesus is executed by Rome, this wise, transformative King invited his followers to continue his way of subversive astonishment and transformation of the world.

And we are invited to do the same.

We have been called to a new vocation.

We are invited to be a part of this new Kingdom --- one that wants to turn the world upside down.

The words of Isaiah held out hope for his generation.
          And hope for ours.

God was not abandoning Israel to invasion and disaster, but was promising that in spite of the prospect of war there was a glorious future ahead.

Jesus also entered into a difficult and dark world.

But like this promised King from Isaiah, Jesus offers a new path.

The question remains --- are we willing to follow the wonderful counsel of King Jesus?
Are we willing to challenge the status quo and seek God's kingdom rather than our own?
If we are to do that --- we must take up the light of Jesus and use it to dispel the darkness that surrounds us


May Jesus be the Wonderful Counselor for your life --- and may you have the courage to follow the plan and counsel that he gives to you.  Amen.