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.