Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What about others' sin?

Sunday School
June 8, 2009
Newberg Friends Church

What about others’ sin?

This is the question that got me started thinking about the topics of perfection and sin. I have been an elder at various times, and in “eldering” positions as an administrator, and the question is a living one for me.

First, to link back to David, we have in David a person whose heart is designated as perfect before God. I can learn from his life both what that means, and what that means with regard to my own sin.

We learn that a perfect heart does not mean never straying, never erring, never sinning; instead it includes the following characteristic attitudes and actions:

To meet those who confront us with our sin contritely rather than angrily

To prefer being in the hands of God to being in any other hands, including our own

To have a consistently humble heart toward God

To seek God’s will and do it

To believe in God’s mercy

To rely on God to perform what God has promised, rather than taking things into our own hands

To leave vengeance to God

To trust God when we’re in trouble

To be wholehearted in putting God first

What if someone sins against me?

The first helpful item in thinking about how to cope with another person’s sin, and sin against me specifically, is to leave vengeance to God. But Jesus goes beyond simply abandoning vengeance to actively doing good: Love your enemies, pray for those who are spiteful toward you and use you badly; bless those who are out to get you.

So, personally, in relation to others’ sin against me, the Bible is clear; in fact, Jesus requires me to forgive those who have sinned against me and makes that the basis for being forgiven for how I have sinned against God.

I’ve been thinking that if I understood sin correctly, I would be horrified at the plight of my enemy, rather than wanting him or her to be crushed—I would beg God to have mercy on my enemy.

Christians pretend no one is their personal enemy in order to avoid doing what the Gospels prescribe for enemies; particularly no other Christian can be an “enemy”; maybe we should be more honest.

How about sin in others that is not against me?

A perfect heart will not act out of personal vengeance or a personal agenda.

Jesus experienced this every day of his life—how did he respond? He confronted, forgave, set in a different direction—offered alternatives to guilt, shame and a return to sin.

St. Paul in Galatians 5 lists the fruits of the “flesh,” namely that part of the divided self that is not given over to God: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings; these things do not characterize those who are inheriting the kingdom of God; instead, these are characteristics of those wholeheartedly following God’s Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galatians 6:1 then says, even if another person is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself lest you also be tempted. The Greek word translated “restore” is also translated elsewhere as “perfect,” the verb; it also means “mend,” or “complete,” or “set in order.” It is used of the disciples mending nets—I think it’s helpful to see this as an analogy. The perfect net is one that catches fish.

St Paul goes on to say that our main business is to examine our own work and see how perfect we are, using that as grounds for confidence, not examining our work in comparison to another’s. We are also to bear one another’s burdens—this is the law of Christ. We need to be wholehearted in doing good, because God sees to it that a person reaps what she or he sows, and we need to prioritize doing good to others, particularly those in the faith.

Romans 13:8 Love one another; loving your neighbor fulfills (perfects) the law; love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore it is the perfection of the law.

And what about societal sin?

Prophetic speech—no personal gain—is exemplified in what Jesus said to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the money-changers in the temple. It is also in what he said to individuals for the crowd’s benefit, such as Zaccheus, the woman taken in adultery, and the rich young ruler. Other examples are Nathan to David; Jesus to Peter; Job praying for his friends.

Always note the note of pity in Jesus’s voice, pity that causes him to issue a warning to those headed in the wrong way.

This describes God’s perspective on a person who sins against another person: It would be better for him if he were drowned in the ocean with a heavy rock around his neck than that he causes one of these little ones to mistrust God—death is better for the perpetrator than making life hard for another person—This is an actual statement of fact, a description of the way things are, but this is not a prescription, not the same as saying “drown the perps.”

God’s pity, like the rain, falls on victim and oppressor; God knows how completely misuse of power can destroy a person.

The first sin recorded in Genesis sent people who knew God personally scurrying to hide in the bushes, ashamed of their vulnerability and humanness and error. However, as St. Paul writes, “As in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”; what characterizes Christ is complete openness to God. Like Jesus, we can run toward God instead of away.

What if instead, in response to our own sin, we run to God and say, “Against you and you only have I sinned; create in me a clean heart; renew a right spirit, don’t take away your holy spirit from me; what do you want me to do to make things right?

What if when we see another person sinning, we come alongside and say, “Does what you’re doing make you happy? Does it bring you closer to God? How can I help carry the burden you are carrying that causes you to behave in these ways that destroy you?”

What if when we see our society perpetrating evil, we fall on our knees and repent for our part in that evil? What if we pray for God’s mercy on the wicked as well as God’s advocacy for the innocent? What if we pray for God to meet the oppressor on the way to Damascus? What if we pray for God to protect the victim in the desert? What if we examine our hearts in terms not of our sin, but of our wholehearted will to do what God tells us, and the resulting action?

What if we look at others when they stray, err, trespass, sin, as nets that need mending rather than fuel for burning? What if we actually followed the example and words of Jesus with regard to ourselves and others? How would things be different?

Installment 2 What about sin?

Sunday School
May 31, 2009
Newberg Friends Church

David after becoming King

The framing of David as perfect centers around his unswerving devotion to God; his heart was wholly given to God; complete, undivided

David’s prayer 2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17:16
Who am I?
You have brought me this far, and you have promised me great things
What more can David say to you?
You know me
You have done this because you wanted to, not because of me
There is no god like You
Do as you have promised; I have courage to pray this because of what You said
May it please you to bless my house

He is humble, reverent, grateful, praying according to what God has revealed.
He goes on to administere justice and equity to the people.

David Sins
2 Samuel 11 David commits adultery (and murder). Nathan confronts him and calls him out; prophesies woes, including the death of the baby. David says, “I have sinned against the Lord” (Psalm 51). It is also clear that his sin has terrible consequences. However, his perfect heart shows in his instant contrition on being confronted, and his acceptance of the consequences of his sin when he sees they are inevitable.

This submission to God is seen later when David flees for his life from his son Absalom’s conspiracy: he says, I submit to the judgment of God, whether it be in my favor or against me (2 Sam 15:25,26; 2 Samuel 16:11, 12)

In 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 (the timing is not clear—the psalm says “after he was delivered from Saul”, yet it is placed right before David’s last words in the narrative), he celebrates God’s majesty, power, sovereignty, he rejoices in God’s deliverance for him, and he asserts his blamelessness before God. If this is how he felt at the end of his life, it means he accepted God’s forgiveness.

It is less clear why it was a sin for David to count his people. It is clear that when the idea occurred to David, he was responsible for choosing to do it, particularly when dissuaded by Joab; maybe the sin is related to Exodus 30, which requires all those counted to pay a half-shekel to ward off plague; conducted likely for military purposes, which may signify David’s pride in his troops rather than dependence on God. Whatever the case, it is significant that when God gives David a choice of punishment, David chooses the one entirely in God’s hands, trusting in God’s mercy; David shows again that he prefers God to all others—He’d rather take his punishment directly from God, whom he knows to be gracious.

So from the life of David, he of the perfect heart, we learn that a perfect heart does not mean never straying, never erring, never sinning; instead it means

To meet those who confront us with our sin contritely rather than angrily

To prefer being in the hands of God to being in any other hands, including our own

To have a consistently humble heart toward God

To seek God’s will and do it

To believe in God’s mercy

To rely on God to perform what God has promised, rather than taking things into our own hands

To leave vengeance to God

To trust God when we’re in trouble

To be wholehearted in putting God first

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What about Sin?

May 24, 2009
Sunday School at Newberg Friends Church

The Perfection of Humans

Remember God who gives you all pleasant things; fear God, serve God, put nothing ahead of God, do what God has said to do, what is right and good, what God tells you to do every day

When suffering comes, remember God, worship God, submit to God, serve God, put nothing ahead of God, do what God says to do

Learn from suffering to be obedient, complete the work God has given you to do

This is human perfection.

So what about sin?
Job’s perfection was not sinlessness, but was instead that he feared God and turned aside from evil, left evil undone (eschewed, KJV) and he went out of his way to do good, to do God’s will.

Job 7:21 Job asks God why God does not pardon Job’s transgressions and take away his iniquity
Job 13:23 Job asks God to show him his iniquities, sins, transgressions; he asks why God hides from him and holds him as an enemy
Job 31:33 Job said that he did not cover his transgressions, as Adam did

“transgression” also includes rebellion, trespass, sin, fault
“iniquity” also includes a depraved action, crime, sin, fault, guilt, perversity
“sin” also includes misstep, slip up

Jesus’s perfection was complete obedience to God and complete dependence on God; as a result, he was sinless, despite being tempted to take matters into his own hands

Now an interesting case study: David—First installment, after his anointing and before becoming king

Here's the case for placing David in the category of "perfect"

1 Kings 9:4 God says to Solomon, “if you will walk before me with integrity (perfection) of heart like your father David, and in uprightness do what I have commanded you, keeping my statutes and judgments, I will establish your throne. But if you quit following me, quit obeying me, and turn aside to worship other gods, Israel will be destroyed”

1 Kings 11:4 In his old age, Solomon turned away his heart after other gods (the text blames his wives), and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God as was the heart of David his father

1 Kings 15:3 Abijam walked in the sins of his father Rehoboam (idolatry), and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God as was the heart of David his father

1 Kings 15:14 Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days (he removed much of the idol worship, though not all); however, Asa bought a military alliance with Syria with gold and treasures from God’s house; this reliance on human help rather than on God was reprimanded by the prophet Hanani, whom he threw in jail (2 Chronicles 16); the writer of Chronicles also follows up by saying Asa went to doctors rather than the Lord for his diseased feet

2 Chronicles 25:2 Amaziah did what was right in the sight of the Lord but not with a perfect heart—he followed some of God’s laws, but he adopted the idols of Edom as his gods, despite the fact that the God of Israel gave him a military victory over Edom, and he did not repent when a prophet confronted him

The framing of David as perfect centers around his unswerving devotion to God; his heart was wholly given to God; complete, undivided attention to doing what God asked of him

How does this show up in his life after he is anointed as heir to the throne but is not yet king?

1 Samuel 16:13 Samuel anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord came on David from that day forward

David played his lyre for Saul to relieve his suffering from being tormented by evil spirit after the spirit of the Lord left Saul; apparently David did this somewhat anonymously

After David went out and killed Goliath, Saul discovers who his father is

Saul puts David over part of the army, and David is wildly successful at killing Philistines; the people celebrate, saying “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands” and Saul becomes angry and quits trusting David

Saul tries twice to spear David while David plays the lyre

Saul gives him a command of 1000; he is again successful, becoming beloved by the people and feared by Saul

Saul hopes David will die in battle against the Philistines; he gives David his daughter Michal in marriage, hoping this will make David a target for Philistine hostility; plus the bride price is 100 foreskins ☹; when David brings them back, Saul fears him more

Then after a battle with Philistines which David won, Saul tries again to spear him and David’s wife Michal warns him to flee for his life, which turns out to be a needed thing

Saul's son Jonathan warns David that Saul is planning to kill him again

David flees to the wilderness with about 400 (his family, everyone who was discontented, in distress, in debt, sort of like Robin Hood); he sends his parents to Moab to be safe

Saul slaughters all but one of the priests who gave David bread and the sword of Goliath; the one who escapes joins David. He has an ephod, whatever that is, and they consult it for what to do next

1 Samuel 23: David inquired of the Lord, so David and his men went and did what God said; this sort of thing happens repeatedly; the point is that David does what he is told by God to do

1 Samuel 24: This is a funny story in some ways. Saul is pursuing David in the desert, and he steps into a cave to relieve himself. In this very cave are hiding David and his merry men, who urge David to kill Saul. Instead David spares Saul’s life, only cutting off a bit of his robe to show Saul that he could have killed him. He says, "I will not touch the Lord’s anointed." This shows David's submission to God’s will and God’s timing. Unlike MacBeth, he does not let his anointing go to his head, so to speak.

David says to Saul, "May the Lord judge between us; may the Lord avenge me on you, but I will not do it for myself"; this shows David's willingness to trust God to make things right

Saul admits: you have repaid me good for evil

1 Samuel 26 David spares Saul’s life again, saying, “The Lord gave you into my hand, but I would not touch the Lord’s anointed.”

Sometime later, Saul and Jonathan die. David becomes king.

David’s prayer "Who am I? "in 2 Samuel 7 reveals him to be humble, reverent, grateful, praying according to what God has revealed.

Main thoughts about what made the anointed-but-not-yet-king David perfect in his heart: His undivided will to do what God tells him; his refusal to avenge himself when he has the opportunity to do so; his respect for God that involves not taking things into his own hands but trusting in God's sovereignty and timing

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Perfection in Humans: What Is It?

Sunday School from May 17, 2009
Perfection in Humans: What is it?

Other meanings of the words translated “perfect” from Strong’s concordance: complete, safe, peaceful, perfect, whole, full, at peace, complete, lacking nothing in strength, beauty, sound, wholesome, ordinary, quiet, complete, morally innocent, having integrity, brought to end, finished, complete, having integrity and virtue, mature, completed, mended, equipped, put in order, made ethical, Make complete, make perfect, achieve goal

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him. (NRSV)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. (KJV)

1 Kings 8:61 Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God 430, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. (KJV)

Therefore devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day (NRSV)

Matthew 5:48 Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect; be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect

Luke 6:36 Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful

Matthew 19:21 If you wish to be perfect (rich young ruler)

Luke 6:40 (blind leading blind, mote in eye)
A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. (fully qualified->perfect)

Hebrews 2:10 Jesus made perfect through suffering

“It is finished”—it is completed, it is perfect

What does perfection mean with reference to Job?

Complete, lacking nothing in strength, beauty, sound, wholesome, ordinary, quiet, complete, morally innocent, having integrity

Job 1:1, 1:8, 2:3
Job blameless and upright, feared God, turned away from evil

First response to losing everything: Job 1:20-21: Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, fell on the ground, and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Second response to personal illness: Job 2:10 “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Job humbly takes both good and bad as from God’s hand and worships God in his sorrow.

Job describes his life of integrity (sounds a lot like Sermon on the Mount, James, parable of the sheep and goats):
Chapter 29:12ff, 30:24ff, 31:1ff
governed his eyes with regard to women, not adulterous
told truth, not deceitful
did not abuse the earth
did not conceal his transgressions
made unrighteous people behave themselves
did not exercise his power to the harm of the powerless
responsive to complaints of slaves
did not rejoice when enemies failed
did not curse his enemies
Actively compassionate, generous
delivered the poor and the orphan who had no helper
gave to poor, shared with orphans, upheld the widow
eyes to blind, feet to lame
father to needy, championed cause of stranger (immigrant)
did not turn against the needy
wept for those whose days were hard
grieved for the poor
gave clothing to the needy, opened doors to the traveler
Nothing above God
did not trust in gold
did not worship sun or moon

God refers to him in 42 as “my servant Job” who has “spoken of me what is right” and says that he will have mercy on Job’s friends when Job prays for them, despite the fact that they said wrong things about God

Jesus—also referred to as perfect in the NT (see Hebrews reference above): what does perfect mean with reference to Jesus?

Obedience, God comes first

John 4:34 My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete (perfect) his work

John 5:36 the works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me

John 17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing (perfecting) the work you gave me to do

John 17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one (made perfect)

John 19:28—fulfilled (perfected) the scripture; John 19:30 “It is finished” “It is perfect, it is perfected” “Perfect” “Teleo”

Hebrews 5:9
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

The temptation of Jesus reveals where he was perfect:

He responds to the temptations with quotations from Deuteronomy. In context, these reveal important aspects of his perfection.

Humility, dependence on God, obedience to God, focused attention on what God wants
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

God comes first, no attempt to coerce or manipulate God, obedience to God
Deuteronomy 6:14, 16-18
Do not follow other gods because God who is present with you is a jealous God
Do not put the Lord your God to the test
You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees
Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you

God comes first, God isthe source of all
Deuteronomy 6:12-14
God gives good things you did not earn, take care you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of slavery; The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear

The Perfection of Humans
Remember God who gives you all pleasant things; fear God, serve God, put nothing ahead of God, do what God has said to do, what is right and good, what God tells you to do every day

When suffering comes, remember God, worship God, submit to God, serve God, put nothing ahead of God, do what God says to do

Learn from suffering to be obedient, complete the work God has given you to do

This is human perfection

Thursday, May 14, 2009

God is Perfect: what does that mean

Sunday School on Perfection and Sin, May 10-June 7 2009

Week 1—What does it mean when we say that God is perfect?

What emerges is that Perfection is Mystery

These came out of class discussion and the scriptures: Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 103, Job

Aspects of God humans view as (potentially) positive:
Not devious
No mistakes
Faithful—keeps faith

Aspects of God humans view as (potentially) negative:
Wants to win
Inescapable—no deliverance is possible from God
Responsible for everything
God cannot be accused by a human, is not accountable to humans
God does not immediately or necessarily set oppression right
Not deceivable

Aspects of God humans cannot really understand:
Not separated, not divided from God’s self or not self divided against self
Different from creation, different from creatures
Infinite and unending
With and in creation and creatures
Not bound by time

God creates, sustains, destroys, renews
God kills, makes alive, wounds, heals wounds
God holds in God’s hand the life of every living thing
God makes God’s self known to humans
God creates wonders, causes natural disasters
God is on the side of the oppressed

My notes from the scriptures:

Moses’s poem about God Deuteronomy 32
His work is perfect, his ways are just, a faithful God without deceit, just and upright

He is father, creator, maker, establisher

He divided the nations, fixed their boundaries

For Israel, sustained, guarded, shielded, cared for, guided (eagle and young), set up, fed, nursed,

God’s response to Israel’s idolatry: jealous, hidden from them, provoked, angry, punishing; however, God will not blot Israel out for God’s own sake because onlookers will think their gods have conquered. God will be avenged, and God’s people will be vindicated.

“There is no god beside me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; no one can deliver from my hand.”

David’s poem about God Psalm 103
Forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, works vindication and justice for oppressed, makes God’s self known, has mercy, is gracious, is slow to anger, abounds in steadfast love, does not accuse forever, will not be angry forever, does not deal with us as our sins deserve, removes our transgressions, has fatherly compassion on us, remembers we are dust

(Psalm 104—Creator, provider, destroyer, renewer)

The Book of Job—one main theme is perfection

Job 42:7—God says, “What Job has said about me is right.” So we do well to see what Job says about God.

Job 7:17—God makes much of human beings, watches humanity

Job 9:4—God is wise in heart, mighty in strength, cannot be successfully resisted
Removes mountains, shakes the earth, prevents the sunrise, seals up the stars, stretched out heaven, trampled the sea, made the constellations, does great things beyond understanding; snatches away, who can stop him

Will not turn back his anger—he crushes me without cause; he destroys both the wicked and the blameless; he will not hold Job innocent, he is not a mortal, no one can be delivered from his hand

Job 10 God is responsible for Job’s condition
Job 12;10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being

Wisdom, strength, counsel, understanding, sovereign, strong and wise, brings prosperity and takes it away

Job 13 Majestic, dreadful
Job 19 God will be on my side eventually, God will redeem me

Job 24 Oppression of the poor occurs, and God does not set things right
Job 28 Only God is wise; 28:23-28

In Job 38. God shows up to talk with Job. God does not answer Job’s specific questions about why Job is suffering.

Instead, what we see is that God takes pride in the creation—look at what I have made and keep making

Look at the monsters I have created—aren’t they cool

Job’s response 42: 2
God can do all things, God’s purpose cannot be thwarted

Matthew 5:48 be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect—immediate context: makes sun rise on evil and good, sends rain on righteous and unrighteous, loves those who love him, loves those who hate him

Hebrews 11:3 worlds were framed (were perfected) by the word of God

Perfection with regard to God:

God is completely God
God is complete in God’s self
God is complete in knowledge
God’s perfection includes creator, provider, destroyer, renewer
God’s perfection includes creation of monsters, free will, natural upheavals
God’s perfection includes care for humans, interest in them, and care for all creation, including prey and predator
God is above, God is within; God loves the wicked; God loves the good; God takes it badly when humans revere anything above God; God is sovereign

This is the perfection of God

Next week: the perfect human(s)

Job and Jesus

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Wind Blows Where It Wishes

Preached at Newberg Friends Church
March 8, 2009
Rebecca Ankeny

I’m here to tell you that God is sovereign. To God, nothing comes as a surprise. To us, however, many things are surprising, and some of those surprises are not welcome, are in fact disruptive and disconcerting. Our scripture today talks about how the Spirit of God can surprise us, and how it is self-destructive for us to attribute those surprises to the devil.

I grew up (and old) loving Bob Dylan’s song, Blowing in the Wind. How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man; how many seas must the white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand; how many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned; how many times must a man look up before he can see the sky; how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry; how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people—particularly children—have died; how many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea; how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free; how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see. Where is that answer? It’s blowing in the wind.

At first, that might seem like a hopeless answer—we don’t trust the wind, it isn’t predictable, and it isn’t visible. However, the wind is used throughout scripture to illustrate the sovereignty and the intervention of God in human history and human lives.

We’ll frame this using John 3:8—The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. In other words: Everyone born of the spirit goes where the Spirit goes and speaks what the Spirit says to speak, but outsiders cannot understand, predict, or control these things. This is not mysterious. Jesus said repeatedly, I do only what my Father tells me to do, therefore, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father in action. And it is not “unsafe” since Jesus also said that we know people by their fruits, and Paul spelled out numerous fruits of the Spirit, against which there is no law, and Jesus described some of the ways the Spirit moves people in the Beatitudes.

In Genesis 1, the Spirit moved over the waters. The Hebrew word for spirit is the same as the word for breath or wind. God’s breath moved over the waters—God breathed over the waters—and the result was creation, variety, beauty, companionship, surprise, and it was all good.

Throughout the OT, the wind is seen as under God’s control—the east wind brings destruction and the west wind brings restoration.

We can see this in the plague of locusts visited on Egypt, Exodus 10: The Lord brought an east wind upon the land for a day and a night, and the east wind brought the locusts, who ate Egyptian vegetation down to the ground. Pharaoh admitted his sin, “Do forgive my sin just this once, and pray to the Lord your God that at the least he remove this deadly thing from me.” So Moses prayed, and the Lord changed the wind into a west wind that blew the locusts into the Red Sea. And Pharaoh went back to his oppressive ways.

Today in our disbelieving modern way, we talk about air pressure differences and temperature differences as if they explained the wind’s behavior, and we are skeptical about whether God controls the weather.

I will direct your attention to the several storms on the Sea of Galilee and I will ask you, who made them stop? And what was the response of the onlookers? And what did Jesus say, “Oh, you folks with such small faith—such tiny understanding of the character of God and such tiny confidence in God’s good will toward you.”

Not only is the physical wind under God’s control, but so is the Spirit. This is sort of silly to say, but God’s Holy Spirit does only what God the Father and God the Son do, did, will do.

In Ezekiel 37, the famous valley of dry bones, what brings those bones to life? Ezekiel speaks God’s word to them, they rattle together, stand up, gain organs, muscle, and skin, and God says to the prophet: “Prophesy to the wind, the breath, the spirit, O mortal, and say: Thus says the Lord God—come from the four winds, O spirit, wind, breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” And as he prophesies, the breath, wind, spirit, comes into them and they live, and the word of the Lord is: “Thus says the Lord God, I am going to open your graves, o my people, and return you to your home, and I will put my spirit within you and you shall live, and you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and will act.”

In the book of Jonah, what makes sure that Jonah obeys the will of God? The Lord hurls a great wind upon the sea, the Bible says. Jonah fesses up, he is tossed overboard, the wind dies down, a fish swallows him and he spends 3 nights meditating on the folly of a prophet running from God’s Spirit, he makes promises to God, and then the fish spits him out and he goes off to Nineveh to preach God’s message there. And what happens? Repentance and redemption, much to the dismay of God’s prophet, for these were Israel’s enemies.

I will also remind you that at Pentecost a mighty wind filled the house, and the Spirit of God swept over and into people, and they did things they would not have thought possible. The fact that the first sign was speaking in languages they didn’t know helped teach them about God’s power and sovereignty. God used that miracle of languages several other times when they were challenged to accept certain people, namely Gentiles, as equal with them before God. See, God said, I’m in this also—do you recognize me?

Recognizing God at work is the key to understanding this passage on what God does not excuse—frequently referred to as the unpardonable sin. When the scribes said about Jesus, he does these wonders by the devil’s power, what were they talking about?

He set a man free from an unclean spirit on the Sabbath, 1:25
He healed Simon’s mother-in-law of fever on the Sabbath, 1:30
After sundown, after Sabbath, he healed many who were sick and cast out demons from many 1:34
He preached the good news of God’s kingdom come through Galilee
He healed a leper
He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, which the scribes called blasphemy
He healed that paralyzed man
He got a tax collector to follow him and went to a party at his house
He refused to fast when the Pharisees and John’s disciples did
He protected his disciples when they harvested grain on the Sabbath, and he asserted that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath—in other words, God makes laws to help humans; he doesn’t make humans in order to have someone to obey laws

He healed a man’s useless hand on the Sabbath
He preached to mixed crowds of Jews and Gentiles
He healed many and cast out the evil from them

These are the things which his critics attributed to the power of the devil, of Beelzebub
And, Jesus says quite honestly, if when you see these things you do not recognize God at work, there is no hope for you.

We cannot grow towards Christlikeness if we insist that God work with us only in the ways we prescribe and in the forms we are comfortable with. God’s spirit may sweep over our lives from the east and eat everything we depend on down to the ground, so that we will recognize God’s sovereignty and bow our hearts in obedience. If we attribute that work to the devil, we will learn nothing about what God wants from us.

Suppose my besetting sin is pride? The wind of the Spirit sweeps over my life and blows away what I take pride in. Suppose I say—This is the work of the devil. So I work really hard—defend myself and what’s mine, do whatever it takes to stay in a place that I can be proud of, including back-stabbing and kissing up to powerful people. Because I’ve defined the disaster as the work of the devil, all the wrong I do to combat it can be justified.

But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this—I take some time to embrace the loss—I say faithfully, God has something for me in this that will make me more like Jesus. I remember that Jesus is in my boat. I will embrace God’s efforts to help me to be humble, so that, like Jesus, I can honestly say, it isn’t me—I just do what God tells me to do.

Suppose my besetting sin is lust? The wind of the Spirit sweeps over my life and I get caught in sexual sin. We’ve seen this drama several times with highly visible Christians. Do I say—this terrible thing happened to me (getting caught), the devil wants to destroy my ministry, people are out to get me. So I hide the full extent of my sin, deny the importance or even the fact of what I did, and force those who love me most to cover up for me.

But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this? I embrace the public shame— I say, full of faith in God, God has something in this that will make me more like Jesus. I embrace God’s efforts to help me to be self-controlled. I let God show me the holes in my heart I am trying to fill, and I say to God, “These empty spaces are driving me and I absolutely need your help to let them stay empty if you want, or fill them up with something good if you want.”

Suppose my besetting sin is a sour spirit? God’s spirit sweeps through my life and I am left wallowing alone in my sourness. Do I say, “God has abandoned me; I was right not to trust God?” And I become more and more a bitter person, trusting no one and hating myself. I become an emotional cripple sitting beside a pool where healing happens, but where it hasn’t happened for me, and I say to God almighty working through the Son, no one helps me?

But what if I say, where is God’s voice in this? What if I say to the Son of God, “Yes, I want what you want. Bring it on.” And I hear God say, “Pick up your bed and walk.”

I could go on with the other deadly sins, but you get the point. The Old Testament clearly teaches that God is sovereign over the natural and spiritual worlds, and that God’s spirit comes over those worlds to bring disruption, recreation, creativity, and restoration. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus, as the Son of God who did only what he saw his Father doing, only what his Father told him to do, is sovereign over the natural and spiritual worlds, and that his work was to bring disruption, recreation, creativity, and restoration. The Holy Spirit blows across our lives like wind, clearing away the dead limbs and loosening our shingles, threatening to fill our boats with water in order to get our attention so that we will listen to God, and like Jesus, do what we see God doing, do what we hear God saying to do.

How can we end war? How can we look on others’ sorrow and confess that we have caused it? How can we care for the earth? How can we set people free? The answer is blowing in the wind of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of God.

If you recognize yourself in anything I’ve said—if you see the ways you have been avoiding the work of the Holy Spirit to blow your life into the Kingdom, take this moment to lay down your defenses and let God loose.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Working for the Future When It Might Be End Times

Preached in Spring 2008 at Eugene Friends and Fall 2008 at Vancouver First Friends
Matthew 23, 24 and 25

When I was a university administrator, I was on the Crisis incident response team—talking about how to deal with avian flu pandemic, potential violence on campus—how to respond to these things. The flu predictions are pretty dire, and our security person at the time, a sweet guy who spent his time off working with youth in trouble, said, “When this sort of disaster occurs, there will be looting.” We looked at him in disbelief; he said, “People will come to get the food in the kitchens; they’ll raid the offices; we may need to secure the perimeter and we may need to be armed.” This is a funny story, really.

It is no slam on security—when your whole life is given to protecting a population and a property, you just think differently. You’ll be glad to know that we decided we would give the food away, we would open the dorms to the Red Cross, and we would not arm our security personnel. For one thing, if the halls are filled with flu sufferers, it keeps the looters away.

Driving home from work shortly after we began dropping bombs on Baghdad, I felt deeply the fragility of the earth and the human life on it and I prayed, Please God, don’t let us destroy what you have made so beautifully.

I grew up under the shadow of the cold war in America and civil war in Burundi, Africa. No one could predict in either case who would die and who would survive and what would be destroyed if things went very wrong.

And here we are in the middle of a global financial crisis greater than anything most of us have ever seen. We know people who are losing jobs, losing homes, losing health insurance, asking for help, angry at government, angry at their neighbors, turning political rallies into mob scenes, hiding their money under the mattress.

Someone called me a pessimist the other day, and that may be a correct assessment. I think I come by that honestly, both from genetics and experience. So it was no wonder that as a young adult I took seriously the evangelical prophets’ prediction that the world would end a generation after the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. At first that was 1968, then you may remember 1988, and now here it is 2008, and we’re still here and wondering what it meant.

I don’t have that answer to the question of when will we face the end of time and what will the experience be like. The question that interests me is the “so what” question. How does Jesus expect me to live when the world can end today or in millennia?

It’s useful to place Jesus’s comments on the “end of the age” into their context. Matthew 24, the apocalyptic chapter, comes after Matthew 23, where Jesus told people to do away with the hierarchies that identified some as rabbi, father, teacher; to serve all if they wanted to be great; to stop shutting the door against those who were entering the kingdom of Heaven; to stop venerating religious traditions above God; to stop trying to buy their way out of being just, merciful, and faithful. Then in the next chapter, the disciples come to Jesus and ask, “what will be the signal for your coming and the end of the age?”

This phrase, “the end of the age” is translated variously, but it does indeed carry with it the idea of apocalypse. Jesus says some mysterious things about the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place, and Matthew advises the reader to be sure they understand this. To the listeners, this likely referred to some form of idol worship in the place that was holy, namely the temple. They lived to see the temple destroyed, just as Jesus predicted, and the holy place desecrated. And yet, the messianic return of Jesus to set up his throne among us did not happen as they thought it would.

Thayer’s lexicon talks about the period of instability, weakness, impiety, wickedness, calamity, and misery that precedes the appointed return of Christ. Isn’t that a great list? And which age from Jesus to now hasn’t seen this as characteristic of some part of our world? Where is that golden age in the past? Frequently, we think from our own lives particularly—I remember when I felt safe, comforted, strong, good, godly and happy—and we think a change to our surroundings means that the world is about to end. So it is possible for someone in the US to talk about tribulation as if it were a future event and someone in Zimbabwe or Myanmar to think it is already here.
Or for someone watching the stock market fall to think this is the end and someone in the 14th century watching half of Europe die from the Black Plague to think that the end was surely near. The Black Plague may have begun in Asia and spread to Europe during the 1340s. The total number of deaths worldwide is estimated at 75-100 million people, 25-50 million of them in Europe—between 30-60% of Europe’s population.

Jesus says that even he did not know when the end would be, even though he knew hard times were coming for Jerusalem and the Jews. What he did know is that it would be in the midst of things. The lesson is Matthew 24:44, “Be ready because I will show up when you are not expecting me.”

And here’s the so what: What does it mean to be ready?

1) parable of the misbehaving servant: a delay is not an excuse to do whatever you want; do what you know is right in your job and relationships (45-51)

2) parable of the 10 virgins: be prepared for the return, be prepared for a long wait.

3) parable of the talents: invest what God has given you so that there is a return on it; don’t hoard it or try to protect it in hard times.

4) parable of the sheep and the goats: make your neighbor’s life easier not harder; give food and drink to the hungry and thirsty; a home and clothing to the homeless and naked; comfort and presence to the sick and imprisoned.

Whatever you do for another, you do for Jesus, he says. That’s how close he is to us.

So, when we hear of wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, global financial meltdown, how are we to respond?

Do NOT buy duct tape and plastic and lay in a supply of water.
Do NOT buy more guns and set up survival caves.
Do NOT hoard.
Do NOT take advantage of those in need.
Do NOT panic.

What Jesus teaches us to do in response to misery, war, famine, crisis—global, local, or personal:

Say YES to generosity
Say YES to responsibility
Say YES to hospitality
Say YES to loving the world around us
Say YES to loving our neighbor
Say YES to confidence in God’s love and goodness

Stay alive while we live—give it our best effort—work to make the world better—Jesus is always near, Jesus is also coming.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fear of the Overwhelming Enemy

Fear of the Overwhelming Enemy
Preached 2/1/09 at Vancouver First Friends

One hot and windy August night, my husband Mark and I were awakened at 11:30 p.m. Our neighbor drove up our driveway, honked his horn, and, shouted, “There’s a car on fire across the road.” Then he left. We went into the living room and looked across the road by our mailbox. There was indeed a fire. The summer had been dry in the Northwest, marked by forest and brush fires. Our new puppy had chewed up every hose we owned but one. Mark went outside. I stayed inside with our sleeping children and called 9-1-1.

While I watched, I saw the fire suddenly flare up. The pine tree at the end of our driveway seemed in imminent danger. All the vegetation was dry. The wind was blowing sparks onto the road, where Mark and neighbors were directing the little water that came through our 5/8-inch hose. In the interval before the fire trucks arrived, I felt panic rise in my throat. I knelt and prayed for the safety of our children, for the preservation of our property, and for protection for Mark.

It was a reasonable fear. It took hours to completely extinguish the fire, but no one was hurt and, except for our mailbox and the car, no property was lost. I do not believe that God was grieved over the fact that I was afraid in an emergency.

But that moment of panic was nearly immobilizing for me. And I think that my more chronic fears are similarly immobilizing. One spring when I was afraid at a fairly low but constant level, I suffered from a burning esophagus and hid out in my house.

Because our fears inhibit our ability to live the abundant life Jesus promised, we do well to examine them in the light of Scripture, which is filled with God’s instruction to us: “fear not.” This command runs throughout the Old and New Testaments, showing the recurring need of God’s people to be reminded not to be afraid. The Psalms show the various psalmists’ need to remind themselves that they will not fear. Psalm 46: 1, 2 “God is our refuge and strength, a well proved help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change …”

The word fear includes the meaning of “reverence”; what we chronically fear, we bow down to. In fact, what we fear becomes a rival to God in our lives. We let our fear take from us our gifts, our callings, our health, our children, and our principles. At the same time, the Bible is full of reassurances that we need not feel panic, paralysis, or self-hatred in response to God: “Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus tells us, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Central to our understanding of our relationship to God should be this principle out of Zechariah’s hymn of praise on the birth of his son John: “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1, 74-75).

The Bible shows us one way to deal with fear in the story of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, 2 Chron. 20:

Jehoshaphat is one of the good kings. He has destroyed idols, instituted a system of justice, and set his heart to seek God.

One day messengers come and tell him that a large army is coming against Judah from Edom. Jehoshaphat is afraid. He prepares himself to seek the Lord and proclaims a fast throughout his country of Judah. Israelites come to Jerusalem from all over to seek the Lord. Jehoshaphat leads them in this prayer:

“O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you. Did you not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? They have lived in it, and in it have built you a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house, and before you, for your name is in this house, and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and save.’ See now, the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy--they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession that you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

The Lord responds through one of the people there: “Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s . . . This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

The next morning, Jehoshaphat encourages his people to believe God, and he leads them in the chorus, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Perhaps this is the tile of Psalm 136, which begins that way.)

When they arrive at the battlefield, all the army coming against them lies dead already. Two groups had attacked and destroyed the third, and then they turned on each other. It takes Jehoshaphat and his people more than three days to salvage the usable items these armies left behind them.

The fear of God comes on all the kingdoms of the countries when they hear that the Lord has fought against the enemies of Israel. And the realm of Jehoshaphat is quiet, for God gives him rest all around.

What we can learn:
1. Jehoshaphat’s fear is reasonable--the army coming is overwhelming.
2. Jehoshaphat reminds himself and God of God’s previous intervention on behalf of Israel; he does not go into a lot of detail about how big the army is or how well-armed. It is not helpful to repeat to ourselves the horrible, gruesome, painful details about the person or event we fear. In other words, he concentrates on God, not on the enemy.
3. His response is to believe the word of God. He seeks God’s will, fasts and prays, admits his own powerlessness, and goes into danger singing about God’s love.

I think in these times about the economic downturn and how it is too big for us to fix as individuals, how it will change our lives. What do we do? Apparently, we can profitably learn from Jehoshaphat’s example:

We choose to believe the word of God.
We rehearse how God has helped us before.
We seek God’s will.
We fast and pray.
We admit our own powerlessness.
We go on our way singing about God’s love.

Fasting here can be a symbol to us of choosing to depend on God to sustain us, rather than working to sustain ourselves. I don’t like giving up meals, but it’s much harder for me to give up trying to control outcomes. That is a true fast for me.

Let’s link this to a New Testament story from Mark 4.
After spectacular miracles and several parables, Jesus says to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

1. It is reasonable to fear the overwhelming power of natural forces, just as it is reasonable to fear an overwhelming army.
2. This is a picture of our lives: we are a boat crossing the sea; when a storm, a crisis, a potential disaster arises, we are afraid. Though our fear is reasonable, it shows the limits of our faith. After all, Jesus is in us, in our boat, and we cannot be destroyed.
3. Like the disciples, we need to fear (revere) the one who can calm the storm, instead of fearing the storm.

When we are called to let God fight for us, we may discover that God solves our problems so spectacularly that we live in peace because no one wants to mess with our God. Or we may find that, like Jesus, we are crucified with criminals on the way to resurrection.

Being called to let God do the fighting is not the same as setting ourselves up to be victims. In fact, it is fear that turns us into victims: inside we bow down before the overwhelming enemy. When God calls us to let God fight for us, and we are obedient, we are able to go into danger singing. We understand why Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. When someone hits me on one side of my face, I can choose to respond fearlessly--I neither run nor fight. I can stand up before my enemy and turn to that enemy the other side of my face. This is a sign of courage, not of compliance. When I don’t respond to danger with fear, I get to keep my dignity.

“Happy are those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 112:1). “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). “We are being rescued from the hands of our enemies, so that we might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before God all our days” (Luke 1, 74-75). God wants to preoccupy us to a greater extent than anything else in the world. “Happy are those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 112:1).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Judgment Day, Part 2

Freedom in the Son

Framing Scriptures
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

Christmas represents our chance to reflect on the astonishing gift Jesus is to us—fully God and fully human, Jesus brought us the truth about God—Jesus is what God is and God is what Jesus is. Jesus is also what we are so that we can be what Jesus is—people who pay attention to our father in heaven and do what we see our father doing. Jesus completely understands what it means to be human—the Bible says he was tempted in all ways as we are—in all ways—yet was never enslaved by sin. He loved the earth and the people in it, and he loved them so much that their refusal to see God in him frustrated him, particularly because they hid behind religious law in order to avoid real relationship with God. That real relationship is where human beings are really free—paradoxically, we are God’s slaves in order to be completely free.

Suppose you are living in a dark jail cell awaiting your trial. Your worst fear is of the day when someone will show up at your cell and haul you before the judge. Deep in your heart you know there are countless offenses that have given the judge the right to have you imprisoned for life or even executed. Yet you complain about the cell and your cellmates and insist you did nothing to merit this imprisonment.

Then one day, a guard shows up and calls your name. Trembling, you follow the guard down the long hall. Your hands are manacled, and you are wearing prison orange. You enter the courtroom. The judge is all you feared—imposing, high above you; you cannot meet his eyes. Your guilt is written all over you. The judge says to the prosecutor: “What are the charges?”

The prosecutor begins a long list of all the things you thought were secret, all the things you did to get ahead of other people, every time you lied, every time you acted out of malice, every time you hoarded your stuff rather than sharing, the ways you dismissed and disrespected others. And it goes on and on. Before the list can end, you drop to your knees and cry out, “Have mercy on me. I’ll do better, I promise. I’m a different person now. I’ll be good.”

Unbelievably, you hear the judge say, “It’s obvious this person will never be able to pay for these wrongs. Let’s try this: freedom.”

You cannot believe it, and you still don’t dare look up from the ground. You leave the courtroom; you are given civilian clothes. You step out onto the street, your own voice ringing in your ears. “I’ll be good.” You get in line at the burger bar to buy a meal, and someone pushes ahead of you. Without a thought, you throw that person to the ground and start kicking. No one is going to take what’s yours, including your place in line.

The girl behind the counter dials 911, and when the police show up, you have your hands around the neck of the person who cut in front of you, and you are closing your fingers as tightly together as you can. The police yank your hands off and behind you, handcuff you, and take you back to the courtroom you just left.

The judge says, “Didn’t I just set you free? Why are you enforcing all the rules I let you out of? You don’t understand freedom, so you will remain in prison.” As you walk down the hallway, you are weeping and grinding your teeth together. Even as messed up as you made it, you loved being out of jail. But you had never really been free.

This is my version of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18. I want to be sure that this point comes across: The freed prisoner didn’t get thrown back into jail because she wasn’t good enough. She ended up in jail because she didn’t listen. The judge had set her free. Nothing she had done was held against her. But she didn’t live as if she were free of those crimes and laws and rules. She was still insisting that she would pay for her crimes by being good

When Jesus came, Jesus brought freedom for us poor sinners. Jesus said to so many people: you are free. Be alive in that freedom. Let’s pay attention to scriptures that describe what Jesus means to us:

God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son; whoever has confidence in Jesus will not perish but have life that never ends. I am come that you might have life, and not just a pinched little life, but one filled with abundance, where you understand finally the overwhelming generosity of God. I saw Satan fall from heaven—but this isn’t why you rejoice; instead, rejoice that your names are written in the book of life. I do not condemn you—go and live freed from sin. Adam brought death into the world, and now all die; Jesus brought life in order to make everyone completely alive. You have not received a spirit of fear and slavery and imprisonment, but a spirit of adoption into God’s own family as God’s children; you are free to think of God as your own “papa” or “daddy” no matter what your earthly father was like. You have the freedom of a son or daughter. When you realize you have been set free, don’t be entangled again in a net of rules and don’t let sin tell you what to do. Don’t use freedom as license to do wrong, but live free. If Jesus, God’s Son, has set you free, you are in fact free. Who is your judge? The same one who gave himself to set you free. Confess everything you are ashamed of to him, and he will erase your record and you will be innocent. Walk in love toward others, love that is embodied in action, and you do not need to fear a guilty conscience.

Be abundant.

Abide in Jesus, let fruit happen, accept the pruning of God which increases the amount and quality of fruit, the fruit that grows naturally from being connected to Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit access to your whole self. Obeying God’s Holy Spirit results in a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. No one makes laws against these things. You can tell if you’re slipping if you start becoming conceited, competing with other people, or envying someone else. Get out of that jail as soon as you can by confessing and having confidence in God’s love for you.

Bear with one another. Bear each other’s burdens. If you see someone slipping out of God’s freedom, gently approach that person with the truth, always remembering you too are likely to slip on occasion. Anyone who says he or she doesn’t slip into conceit, competition, or envy is likely to be self-deceiving, so be merciful to each other, just as God has been merciful to you. Don’t judge, so you won’t be judged. Don’t be like the folks who missed the freedom Jesus brought in his life on earth, who said to him, “You should be more careful to observe Sabbath, you should fast, you should pay temple tax, you should accept our authority”; he said about them that they tied burdens on other people they were too good to help carry.

Jesus is not too good to help us carry our burdens. He says, “I will be yoked with you—come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden; be my partner, my yoke-fellow, and learn from me, for I am tenderhearted; you will find that your souls have rest.”

Suppose a different end to the parable: Suppose that you looked into the judge’s face and saw his eyes. After that encounter with love, you walk out of the courtroom a free soul, and you notice a new holy light on everyone and everything you see. You sense that love is at the heart of things. You are standing in line at the burger bar, and someone pushes in front of you, and you are filled with light and love, and you say to that person, “I see you are hungrier than I am—do you have enough money for what you want to eat? I have a little extra because the judge was so generous when he let me go this morning.”

You live free, you live abundantly, you share yourself and your God-given abilities with everyone, never once worrying about whether you are getting it right, meeting expectations, following the rules adequately. When you get even a hint of measuring yourself against others, you say, “O God, I am so prone to do this. I confess that for a moment I lost sight of your eyes and your love, and I was wrong. I will never be able to keep from this unless you help me, and I want that help.” Then you go on your way rejoicing.

And when you die, and you come before the last judgment, you look up, and whose face do you see? You see the face of Jesus, God’s Son and your own brother. When he speaks, you hear the same voice you have been listening for and obeying for your whole lifetime.

It is just possible that people reading this have not yet understood or lived into the love of God. If you want to, you can start today. What is God saying to you?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Judgment Day, Part 1

Preached 11/30/2008
Parable of the Investments

Advent calls us to remember the historical birth of Jesus, the incarnate God, who taught us by example what God is like, and who reconciled the world to God through his death and resurrection. We now know for sure that God’s intention toward human beings is love and relationship, and that all humans need to do is turn around and look into God’s loving eyes and let that love start healing them from the inside out. Advent also calls us to think solemnly about the second advent of Jesus, when Jesus comes in glory and power to gather his people from one end of heaven to another.

No one knows when the second advent of Jesus will be, but many of Jesus’s parables tell what we can expect when we face the person that we Christians call our Lord and Master. Here’s one of those parables, the parable of the talents. This story is in Matthew 25 (also Luke 19).

Here’s an updated version of it:

An employer was leaving on a journey of indefinite length, and he summoned three employees and entrusted the business to them. He was well aware they all did not have the same talent for business, so he divided up the capital accordingly. To one he gave $500,000 and said, “See what you can do with this.” To the second, he gave $200,000, and said, “See what you can do with this.” And to the third, he gave $100,000, with the same instruction.

The first employee took the $500,000 and invested it in trade and made another $500,000. The second took the $200,000 and invested it in trade and made another $200,000. The third took the $100,000 and invested it in a hole in the back yard to keep it safe.

When the employer came back, he called the three employees in; the first brought in the records of how the $500,000 had become $1,000,000 for the business; the second showed how the $200,000 had become $400,000; and the third came in brushing away the dirt from the $100,000 that had been hidden in the ground.

Let’s see some other stories about investments that paid off in the Bible:

Blessed are the humble, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are the mournful, for they will be comforted
Blessed are those who put others’ interests first, for they will inherit the earth
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
Blessed are the peacemaking, for they will be called God’s children
Blessed are those who take abuse for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are you when people curse you and abuse you and lie about you because you are following Jesus, for your reward is great in heaven

These describe the return on investments: put your efforts into identifying with the poor and lowly and sorrowful; put your efforts into putting others’ interests first, into working for justice and peace, into being merciful and singly focused on knowing God and obeying God. Invest your energy in becoming more and more like Jesus—namely in listening more closely to what God says to you through the example of Jesus, through the Bible, through God’s
Spirit within you, and in obeying what you hear God saying. Invest in loving those who do not love you. Invest in generosity that doesn’t call attention to itself, in prayer that is content to be secret, in forgiveness that frees God’s forgiveness to work in the world, in doing without what you think you need in order to be more open to relationship with God. Invest your energy in accumulating these kinds of treasure that last—not in accumulating money, which so easily replaces God as the master.

And what about the third employee, who hid the money in a hole in the ground? What can we learn not to do?

First, that employee was afraid. He says, “I knew that you were harsh and would take all the profits of my work for yourself.” Luke makes this more specific, “I was afraid of you.”

Remember the three things that come between us and being completely God’s person: Wanting to be the greatest, wanting to be recognized, and wanting to be rewarded, and remember what Jesus has to give us—relationship with a loving God who through Jesus poured out himself for us and is committed to our healing and our growth. This love for us is infinite, and it will satisfy us when we understand it rightly and know God personally.

At times I’ve thought that this parable encourages Christians to take risks and be radically obedient, knowing that they have nothing to fear from God or from the world around, and that’s not a bad interpretation.

But there is something dire at the heart of this employee’s statement. He says, “I didn’t want to work for you to profit from. I didn’t take what you gave me into the public marketplace. Why would I do that? Why would I try to make someone else wealthier? What’s in it for me? The rewards you’ve given these other employees—more power and clout—you didn’t say anything about this to begin with, so I just made sure I could give you back what you gave to me.”

It was to people with this attitude that Jesus said, “You think that what God wants is a sparkly surface, so that if you don’t kill anyone, if you don’t commit adultery, if you don’t walk away from your vows of marriage, if you don’t break your promises, if you don’t lie in court, if you limit your revenge to an eye for an eye, if you love those who are like you, if you give public donations, if you pray in public, if you fast in public, if you enforce the rules, if you keep the unworthy out, if you tithe, you are keeping God’s stuff safe; what you’re really doing is keeping yourself safe from God. All I have ever wanted is to gather you into my arms, and you were not willing. There is no way you can ever see me until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

C.S. Lewis said that his whole attitude toward God before his conversion could be summed up as wanting God to leave him alone, wanting not to be interfered with. That’s just not God’s style. God reaps where we sow, and God profits where we invest. This is our joy and pleasure in life—to plant everywhere we can the good news of God’s love and the mercy God has shown to us, and to invest the time and energy we have into making God’s kingdom more visible on earth—walking cheerfully over the earth with humility, tenderness, a pure focus on God, doing justice, loving mercy, and making peace.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Servers and the Rewards

Preached 11/23/2008

Framing Scripture
Ephesians 4:1-6 (NRSV throughout, except as noted)
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

The topic of being a servant brings to mind the time my two-year-old (or maybe three-year-old) daughter came home singing the chorus “Learn To Be the Servant of All” for the benefit and education of her parents. We tenderly and gently explained that it applied to her also, and was not the magic formula to get parents to do whatever the child wants. And I have to say that this sermon is challenging to me. I have to be reminded by Jesus on nearly a daily basis to check my motivations—Who (or what) am I a slave to?

I’m not a Greek scholar, so I use Strong’s Concordance to look up words that interest me. The great thing is that I can then see where else that word is used and how it is variously translated. The words I investigated were servant and slave, and I found these two words: diakonos—one who carries out the commands of another, a runner; and doulos—a slave, captured, advancing another’s interests above one’s own. Just for good measure I also looked up Lord/Master and discovered it means “owner.” So right away I can see the flaw in translating Jesus’s parables into employer/employee relationships. Those are way too flexible and dependent on employee choice. And in the words for slave/servant, I discover a sense of urgency (runner) to do what someone else (or some compelling desire) wants done.

“People are slaves to whatever masters them” (2 Peter 3:19 ).

Greatness/Importance: The desire to be the greatest—the most important—what if we are enslaved to this?

Several times, Jesus discovered his disciples arguing about who was the greatest, the most important.

“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35)

“A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the unbelievers lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’”(Luke 22:24-27).

The prescription for those of us who want to be important is to become the slave of everyone else: Radical surgery for the ego. In this, as in so much else, it is necessary to pay close attention to how Jesus served others and what informed his actions. Jesus first listened to God and did what he saw God doing and what God told him to do. And one of the clear ways God is active in the world is serving us. Give us this day our daily bread, we ask.

Celebrity/Recognition: The desire to be have a position recognized as special—to be the favorites, in the innermost circle—what if we are enslaved to this?

“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? ‘They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ When the ten heard this they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the unbelievers those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you: but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:35-45; see also Matthew 20 where their mother asks for this favor).

“He called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross [daily, Luke 9:23] and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life [Luke forfeit themselves]? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?’” (Mark 8:34-37). “’For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done’” (Matthew 16:27 ; see also Matthew 10:38, Luke 17)

The prescription for those of us who long to be insiders, one of the chosen few, is to follow Jesus to the cross and pour out our lives for others. Follow the example Jesus set.

Fair Treatment/Reward: The desire to be rewarded for hard work—God owes us something for all we’ve done for the church or for God—what if we are enslaved to this?

In this story, the word for laborers is not the word for slaves, but for day-laborers, people who hired themselves out for a fixed term, negotiating for their wages. The opportunistic treatment of such people is often the subject of prophetic ire and a cause for God’s judgment, but when God goes looking for laborers, how does it work?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them out into his vineyard. When he went out about one o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came the owner said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last’ (Matthew 20:1-16).

The prescription for those of us who demand to be treated fairly, to get as much reward as others who have worked comparably, is to be grateful for having our needs met and to celebrate God’s generosity to others.

Here is a very famous example of how Jesus acted out the principle of service: “After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, slaves are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them’”(John 13:12-19).

Listen also to the advice of Paul: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil… Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:25-5:2).

What Jesus has to offer us for all our desires is himself—companionship with Jesus, working with Jesus, learning from Jesus—Jesus is our master, we are his slaves, and he says, “’From now on, I will not call you slaves, for slaves don’t know what their master is doing; but I will call you my friends, because I’ve told you everything God has told me. . . . You are my friends if you do what I command you . . . This is my command, that you love one another’” (John 15: 14, 15, 17).

“As slaves of God, live as free people.”(1 Peter 2:16).

Jesus says: “’Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Healing and Freedom

Preached 11/16/2008

Framing Scripture:
Isaiah 42: 5-7; 49:9-10 Thus says God, the Lord who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it. I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness, saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.
The church is to be about prayer, and every Christian is a “house of prayer” inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus promised us. The church is also like fishers using all types of bait and equipment and learning where fish hang out in order to haul them in, leaving it to God to sort out the good from the bad. The church is also like sowers of seed—preaching the good news Jesus came to tell us about God and the good news Jesus showed us about God, planting the good news like grass seed. The church is also a healing, freeing force for good in the world, and Jesus made that clear by both word and deed, over and over.

In Matthew 11, a message came from John the Baptist in prison: are you the promised Messiah? Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” In Matthew 8:14, When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “he took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” In Luke 4:18-20, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Then for disciples:
In Matthew 9:35, Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for the, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned the twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. . . . “as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven is right here.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” In Luke 9:1-2, Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

So Jesus set people free from disease as well as sin, and his disciples were also empowered to do these things. And then there is this incident, recorded in 3 gospels:

“Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer [and fasting]” (Mark 9:14-29). “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them “because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:18-20). In Luke 9:37-43, no explanation is given.

And here’s where we are today, wondering about how we are involved in the healing and freeing ministry of Jesus Christ when sometimes the results aren’t what we expect.

First: this kind can come out only through prayer [and fasting]. Remember that prayer is both talking and listening, and the point of listening is to hear the will of God in the matter. Fasting is also a way of disciplining the mind and body to be open to hearing the will of God. So it is absolutely essential to be in prayer and for part of prayer to be listening. At the very most basic, prayer is one of the most important ways we bear each other’s burdens.

Second: Because of your little faith. Faith, remember, is obeying what we hear from God. It isn’t believing things about God. It requires listening and then doing what we hear, trusting that God is good and loving and generous. I can imagine that the disciples had begun to trust in their ability to work miracles, rather than in God. I can imagine the father thinking only the head magician could do this miracle. Moving mountains by faith requires first that God wants the mountain moved and has enlisted us to move it. When we are doing what we know God wants, God gives us permission, freedom, authority to act as Jesus did, the agent of God on earth.

Third: No explanation. God is not a vending machine. It isn’t about getting the right words in the right order, or beating God about the head and shoulders with promises from scripture, or making sure no one in the crowd has any doubts about God’s ability to heal. God is God. God points this out occasionally throughout scripture. The fact that the power to heal comes from God is made absolutely clear when it is not “on tap.” These are the disciples Jesus himself empowered and gave authority to; even they had experiences that challenged their faith in God.

So when we come into situations where there are people who need healing, how do we proceed? My thoughts: pray, listen to God, trust God, do what you can that is not miraculous but is clearly taught in scripture.

“Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . . just as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 31-46). And the most beautiful picture of healing love is in Luke 10:1-20 in the story of the Good Samaritan. Love your neighbor as yourself.

When you hear from God, be obedient.

Recognize that healing may have to start way deeper than physical symptoms of disease. Forgiveness, restoration, redemption—these may be the real needs. Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man before he told him to stand up and walk. And Jesus told his followers that it was better to get into the kingdom than to be physically whole, if they had to choose between the two.

Recognize that God’s priorities are that we and others allow the kingdom of God to take root, that we allow God to pull us through the needle’s eye, that we allow God to do whatever it takes to make us after the pattern of Jesus Christ, who always did the will of God.

Recognize also that miracles do not make people into disciples, neither doing them, nor seeing them done. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name? Then I will declare to them, I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:21).

Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Who is my mother and my brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven—those are my mother, my brothers and my sister. Obedience is first, and everything else is God’s.

Planting Seeds

Preached 11-9-2008

The church is to be Jesus’s hands and feet in our world. Every believer is a part of this body of Jesus, and receives from Jesus instructions on what to do, and is responsible to demonstrate faith by being obedient to Jesus. One of the things Jesus said to do was to make public the good news of God’s kingdom to everyone. This good news is that the kingdom is here, God is here, turn around (repent) and look into God’s loving eyes, and know that Jesus came to tell and show us that God has forgiven us. Why would we want to keep this secret from others who are running from God?

Remember that we started together in September by talking about how Jesus reveals to us the character of God by doing God’s will all the time. One of the effects of Jesus’s daily decision to obey God is that Jesus had God’s permission to act for God on earth. And what did Jesus do with that permission? He published the good news, he healed the sick, and he cast out demons.

There are several places in Mark where Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders because of his preaching—his making public the good news—his announcing the presence of God’s kingdom.

Remember that Jesus spent plenty of his time listening to God and doing what God said. This is where “authority” resides. It doesn’t reside in position or title.

We want to talk a bit about a word often translated as “authority”—the Greek word, “exousia.” Exousia—delegated authority, permission, freedom to choose what to do, influence, power as an agent of someone else

Mark 1:22
They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Mark 1:27
They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

Mark 2:10
“But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”

Mark 11: 27-29 As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?—they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Read these again substituting “permission” and “freedom”—see how it changes how we understand authority? God gave Jesus permission to teach about the kingdom of God; God gave Jesus freedom on earth to forgive sins and to heal diseases. Jesus was acting as God’s agent, doing on earth what God wanted done.

Now we move on to those who followed Jesus at that time:
Mark 3:14-15 And he appointed (KJV ordained) twelve to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message and to have authority to cast out demons.

Mark 6:7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

One of the problems with our picture of church is that we have special names for things that are very ordinary and applicable to all believers:

Preach means publish, proclaim openly, announce (like a herald);
Ordained means made ready, prepared;
Apostle means messenger, delegate, one sent forth with orders;

The same Greek word as “preach” is used in Mark 1:45 and 5:20; in both cases people Jesus has healed and freed are telling their friends how much the Lord has done for them and what mercy he has shown to them. All believers can be preachers.

Mark 16:14-15 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith (lack of obedience) and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.

Mark 13:33-37 “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge (gives authority to his slaves), each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Here is a picture of a proclaimer of the good news:

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” . . . The sower sows the word.

What is “the word”? It can legitimately be a number of things: a story, an event, a doctrine, an instruction, an explanation; for a follower of Jesus, it is speaking what God tells that follower to speak.

Some forget the word they hear instantly; some receive it with joy but lose interest when times are hard; some are so busy with the cares of the world, the lure of money, the desire for other things, that they don’t really pay attention; some are open and ready and take it seriously and act on it.

Jesus says to his disciples then, and to us now, pay attention to what you hear. The more you listen and act on what you hear, the more you will hear; if you don’t act on what God tells you, you’ll lose the little ability to hear that you have. God doesn’t whisper things to you so that you’ll keep them secret, but so you can disclose them to others.

And be encouraged: the kingdom of heaven grows quietly under the surface—your obedience will have results in due time. Trust God to tend the seeds you’ve sown. And the little seed you have sown will grow into a tree. Trust God to make this happen. In other words, make public to people what God has done for you, and then trust God with the results. God has set you free, has given you permission, to tell what you know of God’s love and mercy and to bring healing and freedom and forgiveness to others, just as Jesus did.