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Opportunities to Change (Sermon February 26, 2012)

Scripture: Mark 1:9-15

Adam is excited to begin a new chapter in his life. He was recently promoted in his job, has more responsibility as well as greater opportunities. He has just been given the opportunity to change the world as he knows it and he is ready to jump in.

As he starts this new endeavor he quickly realizes that he might have more trouble than he thought. The very next day everyone seemed to show up to his desk demanding his attention to fix their problem. The upper level managers demanded him to address the issues of productivity of his employees. The employees voiced their concerns about work conditions and unrealistic production goals. Everyone made it sound as if their issue if not addressed was going to cause the demise of the company. So many things were coming at Adam at once that he began to think that maybe he messed up, that maybe he wasn’t ready for this responsibility.

With every change in life new opportunities present themselves. These opportunities can be seen as challenges, problems, issues, thorns in our sides, or just about any other description. Opportunities are around us everywhere we look there are opportunities to make a difference. Yet we hold the power.

This passage opens our eyes to the life of Christ. We see a brief account of the life and relationships he may have had. He was there with John the great teacher on the Jordan who proclaimed that the kingdom of God was near, that repentance was necessary to come into that kingdom, and that no one was worthy and should be washed or cleansed from their unrighteousness. A powerful message. No one is worthy, not the most religious nor the most sinful. All needed to turn from their current path and adjust their course to reflect God’s goals. Jesus was there with John. Some would even say that Jesus spent time serving with John in his ministry. Although we do not have any indication that this happened, we do know that both of these men had knowledge of each other and their lives. There came a point where Jesus and His ministry opportunities took on a different course than that of the baptizer’s. Up to this point they walked the same path but now a new trail needed to be made. So Jesus in full view of everyone was baptised by John, publicly acknowledged as joining this aspect of religious teaching and then carried that with him to meet his destiny.

We could spend time debating the reasons and implications of this baptism because there are some interesting aspects to it, but I don’t think these arguments will encourage us at this time. What I will bring up is the issue of repentance. For the vast majority of us we understand this term as confessing our sins, but that isn’t the entire meaning, repentance and confession are actually two very different activities. To confess is to say something with our mouths. To repent is to change the course of action. It literally means to stop what we are doing and going the other direction. We look at Jesus and think what did he need to repent, but when we say this we are locked into the idea of repentance as confession of sins, Jesus did not sin he was and is the only perfect expression of humanity. He did however need repentance. For thirty years he lived his life one way. He had a career, most likely in the family business of carpentry or masonry. When he engaged in ministry he did it under the direction of others, not leading but playing a supportive role. He needed to repent, stop what he was doing, and go a different direction. The time had come for Him to leave the workshop and begin His ministry. He had to do this publicly with John. He had to show the community that he was expanding on the current understanding of faith, and bringing fullness to it.

The community saw this, they could record in their reports on that day a man named Jesus aligned himself with the kingdom teaching of the baptizer. Then he immediately went out to the wilderness. He was publicly acknowledged and then disappeared. For forty day he left the public eye to prepare for what was to come.

The number forty occurs often in the Hebrew history, and it usually precedes a great change in the expression of faith and culture. The flood was initiated by forty days of rain and God hit the restart button. Moses was on the mountain for forty days when receiving the law of God and Israel became a unified culture instead of just 12 tribes. Elijah spent forty days in a cave after publicly humiliating the queen and her false priests which was followed by a renewed vigour in the worship of the one true God. The nation of Israel spent forty years wondering the desert. The span of forty days or years can be seen as a preparatory time frame, or a time of purging. The nation needed forty years to gain a new generation of people devoted to the cause of God. Moses needed forty days of intense training in the application of the law. In many cases even today there is a term of 1 to 2 months of intense training for any job before they allow you to enter production or service without supervision. So Jesus goes out to prepare for this new course of action.

During this time of preparation, this time of fasting and prayer, he was tempted by Satan. The adversary or the slanderer was there trying to deter him from this mission, because if Jesus was allowed to proceed it would be the fall of the dark kingdom and the rise of the light.

I want to introduce you to a man named Anthony. Anthony was a man in the second generation or era of Christians so to speak, the first era of Christianity was marked by the persecution thousands of men and women willingly gave their lives to advance the kingdom of God. The second era was one of universal acceptance. With this universal acceptance a new or different challenge. How do you express your devotion to God in a world that embraces and accepts the Triune God. Anthony determined that the only way to express his devotion was to sell all he had and withdraw from society to the wilderness to devote his life to prayer, teaching and service. We can debate the aspects of this type of expression of faith but Anthony faced challenges unique to others. In his testimonies he describes having to struggle often with demons in the form of wild beasts sent to distract him from the path he was called. Anthony is seen as the founder or father of the monastics. Yet he faced struggles. He faced these struggles and was able to teach other how to overcome the advisory. He drew his strength from Jesus and His temptations. From Anthony many movements emerged many have become quite famous in the ministry and service they provide. I would almost say Anthony and the monastic movement is in the spiritual ancestry of the Friends movement. He faced struggles and through his experience we learn. Jesus faced temptation and through this we know that if we join the ways of Jesus we to can overcome our enemies.

Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness with the wild beasts and angels. He was about to change the course of history and right in the middle of it all was a battle between the spiritual forces. The wild beasts were there to feast on his flesh to kill the fulfillment of time, to prevent the rising of the kingdom of light. The angels as ministers of light were there to encourage and promote.

We each face struggles of these forms. When we confess and repent to follow the path of Christ it seems as if out of nowhere our life suddenly gets stressful. We want to follow Jesus, but this guy in front of us won’t drive the speed we want them to so we regress to our old self and our witness seems to loses its power. We want to follow Christ and serve and then suddenly our job situation changes and we no longer have the time. A wild beast just took a bite and the adversary strikes. We want to minister to a need and sometimes the doors open, tools and funds are suddenly available for us to use, the angels are ministering to the causes of light. Jesus faced struggles and temptations. Around every turn the situation changed and He again had to adapt to continue down the road. Jesus struggled every step of the way to bring hope and redemption to our lives. We have a God that understands what we are going through.

The struggle doesn’t necessarily mean we are going the wrong way. It may actually mean we are right where we need to be. The path, the journey is more important. Are we on the path with Christ or are we deterred by the wild beasts. We have great opportunities all around us to extend the kingdom of God, opportunities to bring hope, acceptance, encouragement, and redemption to many around us. But there are forces that oppose, there are wild beasts possessed by the goals of the advisory. How do we respond, how do we survive? By staying on the pathway of Christ. To listen to the light within us and to act accordingly. The beasts did not stop Jesus, the devil did not convince Him that the goal was unobtainable. The kingdom of God was at hand. The kingdom where God and humanity could once again live in peace and love was more important than anything else. No wild beast, demon, or the devil himself could keep Jesus from bringing about the redemption of the world. The kingdom is still at hand and those with Christ, who confess with their mouths that he is lord and king, those that see that their lives and actions often miss the mark and are willing to lay them down and turn from them, are the ones who live in that kingdom and they will live with the strength of God and the assistance of his angels to bring the influence of that kingdom to others. We who are with Christ are not alone we have a God who knows what it is like and friends to walk beside us, along the path.

Today as we enter this time of holy expectancy let us repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Let us pursue his callings with the hope and assurance that he can see us through. Just as it was in the days of Christ and his apostles, just as it was with Anthony and his monks, with George Fox and the Friends of Christ, and just as it will be with Adam and all of us today in the current and future ages.

Beyond the Veil (Sermon February 19, 2012)

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

There is always someone who totally blows you away in life. They do something either at work or on the street that is totally unexpected. They seeming out of nowhere save the day. I’ve seen these people I’ve watched them in astonishment as they perform feat of almost magical quality. Leaving me looking at them in a totally different way.

Sometimes I’m that person. For some unknown reason a customer came up to me, a random customer asking me something, and telling me that they saw something different in me that they didn’t see in my coworkers. They asked me what it was that made me different, I said that I just wanted to make sure they found what they needed. They responded that that wasn’t the reason, they saw that I truly cared. This person was starting to freak me out a bit. But they went on saying, “you help everyone your coworkers as well as the customers, even the managers seem to talk to you differently.” They finally finished their observations they said, “You’re a Christian aren’t you.”

Ok they had me wondering now, so I was honest saying yes. They continue and finally asked if I would pray with them about an issue which I did. Something was different, something that they could see that maybe others couldn’t. They saw something at that particular moment that made them discern that I was the one to speak with. They returned a few times to ask for prayed. In the middle of Walmart they found a sanctuary. Another time a woman buying paint broke out in tears after I spoke with her and suggested that she should start painting tomorrow, and buy chicken from the deli for super so she could rest. She told me after a few moments that she was very appreciative because I was the only one who realized she was overwhelmed. She returned the next day thanking me again saying she was so wore out she forgot half of her list. But was grateful to have a light evening.

I tell you these things not to set myself up as a saint, because for every story like this there are others who say I’m pretty twisted. I just want us to be aware of who we are and who is observing us. Little thing things we think are insignificant become the source of hope in others. One event can bring about a Change that ripples for generations.

Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth that the god of this world has us veiled. Blinded from seeing the truth. When I worked in Hutchinson there was a community that drove horse-drawn carriages around, the horses had blinders on their heads to keep them from being sopped by the cars passing them. This is often the image that comes to my mind when I think of being veiled. Only being able to see the things right in front of us. The world hasn’t changed too much. If the world was veiled in Paul’s day it is still veiled today. Today we are caught in a religious political debate, we are caught in debates in science. Each side has a one tract mind on the issues. which is right? Could it be that neither are, that the both are veiled. Let’s just consider evolution vs. Creation, science says one thing religion another who is right? I say both. If you were to read scripture there is a process a building up in complexity from light, to earth, to plants, and finally to mankind. When I read a biology text I also read about a progression. Both state similar stories except in one area. Yes, I do believe God was involved. But so much of our culture is blinded and are kept blind not because of truth, but if the other is right power and funding may go elsewhere.

The world is veiled kept in the dark by they advisory. The turth of the gospel is hidden because what would happen if…

What would happen if the veil was lifted and we could clearly see the intention of those around us as instead of what was presented before our eyes. Would we vote for that candidate, would we go to that worship community, or participate in that organization? What would happen if we were able to fully see. I think John Lenin would have been singing a different version of imagine.

For a brief amount of time the closet friends of Jesus saw beyond the veil, they saw the truth in all the glory. For a brief moment Jesus was transfigured into something beyond their comprehension. They already knew there was something about Jesus, but they just couldn’t place it. Even though he wasn’t fully meeting their ideas of what the messiah should be they still followed, yet did not fully realize why. That day they saw Jesus without the veil, they saw him in a thin place where heaven and earth seemed to meet, and they didn’t quite know what to do but they liked it. They realized there before their eyes were the hero’s of their faith and they were talking with Jesus. For a brief amount of time they saw for sure that everything in history and the future was found in this one man before them.

Yet again the veil came over their eyes. They were left to wonder if they really saw what happened. They walked back down into the world wondering the same things we wonder, what if. What if Jesus is the one, what will my discipleship mean? What if He isn’t. What if we told this story, would this bring in the kingdom?

The veil is around us. We live in a cloud of unknowing. We only know so much because that is all we are allowed to see or know. Yet we can see some. I have made reference to a book a few times called Father Arseny. This man was a priest in the Soviet Union, and was sent to prison in Siberia for his faith.  There was one story in this book that kept coming to me this week. Arseny and another man were being punished for some reason, sent to spend 3 days in a metal box in the dead of winter. It was in subzero temperatures cold enough the kill a person within hours if not sooner. The man with the priest was scared frantically trying to get out the priest said we are given a blessing, we can pray undisturbed for 3 days. So he calmed the man and began to pray. And the priest urged the man to pray with him. The man described the event to others saying, “the priest began to pray and as he continued I observed his worn prison clothes turn into his priestly vestments, and the cell became a church, the darkness turned into light and he turned to me saying you must pray with me so we began to praise God.” (this is my paraphrase) For three days they survived in a cell distended to kill them, yet both lived many years. The veil was lifted. This one priest saw a opertunity to worship without fear and the man with him saw the truth surrounding him.

I am also reminded of the prophets Elijah and Elisha who were surrounded by their enemies yet when Elijah prayed the younger man saw the vast army of God protecting them. There is a reason for the veil. If we saw everything it would overwhelm us. If we were to fully see the spiritual battles raging around us we would be petrified with fear. But what if we were to see just a little more. What if we were to pray for our eyes to be opened for just a bit. Would we respond as we always do? Elisha went on to be an even greater prophet than his mentor, yet it was only after he saw the truth just for an instant. The man sent to the cell with the priest also saw the truth for just a moment and after his eventual release he too joined the church in Russia. The disciples of Jesus saw the truth for a moment and they later witnessed God himself becoming the sacrifice and redemption of the nations, they carried that message to the ends of the known world.

What would we do if the veil were lifted from our eyes? I have said often that we are living in an exciting point in history. We live in an era where people are hungry for spirituality. They seek it all over. The veil is lifting. They are discussed with church as they know it because people in positions of power have abused that power, yet they seek god somewhere. What if a group of devoted followers of Christ saw past the veil and began to shine? I believe that we are on the verge of a great reawakening. A time of great renewal. They are looking but what are we showing. They are reaching out grasping for something to give them hope, but are they seeing the light of the gospel penetrating through their veils.

The truth is here, God loved the world so much that he sent his son not to condemn the world but by through him the world would be saved. That salvation was determined from the beginning of time spoke about by Moses and the prophets and fulfilled in the live, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Through Him all things were made and through him all things are redeemed. We join Him in that life if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that he is Lord now and to ages to come.

That is just the beginning, he then calls us to share the hope we have in our towns, and nation, and to the ends of the earth. What if we became bearers of this light, this gospel. What if we were willing to risk turning our heads to see what is not only in front of us but around us. Would we find people loved by God? Or would we only see fog.

The world is watching us they are anxious for us to give them a reason to hope. They see us at work,  in our cars, shopping in the store and going to meeting houses. When they look at us what are they seeing? Are they seeing broken prisoners of the world or strong shining ministers of Christ? Let us consider these thing as were enter open worship on this transfiguration Sunday.


Zombies (Sermon February 12, 2012)

Scripture: Mark 1:40-45

This week I have really struggled with knowing what to say. This passage is one that can speak volumes to us if we let it. It can also be left with little or no spiritual enrichment. My first intention was to go into the various aspects of the disease known as leprosy. To speak on how this disease we rarely hear about today was often lumped into any skin disease that caused discoloration. And how because of it people were shunned from society.

But I find no pathway or clearness to this line of teaching. Well little clearness. Instead I am struck by the social and community aspects of leprosy. The people who happened to be plagued with this disease were literally treated as zombies. They were the living dead. Dead to the family and to the community. They were run out-of-town to the chorus of everyone screaming unclean and tossing stones in their direction. My heart actually aches when I consider the torment they received for a disease they had no control over. In Jesus’ day those with this disease often gathered in the valley and caves outside of town left to scavenge through the trash to scrap out their livelihood. These very same valleys were the illustration Jesus used to describe hell. These valleys were filled with garbage and set on fire, an unquenchable fire because there was a constant source of fuel.

These walking dead, these children rejected by the community, were once loved, they were once cherished but not now. They were seen as the very source of condemnation. They were seen as the curse of the nation, the unclean in a culture dedicated to hygiene.

These zombies were forced to walk around the nation with bells on their clothes and whenever they met another anywhere they were to scream as loud as they could “unclean”. The closest they could come to society was to spend the night in a graveyard because no clean person would spend too much time in a cemetery. It is easy to see that many of the fears and urban legend of old were actually stories of encounters with these lepers just trying to survive in a world bent on their destruction.

This man came to Jesus. This man risked everything just to meet with a man he thought just might be able to help him. He risked meeting a crowd of people on a road who had every legal right to stone him to death with no consequences. He risked over exerting himself and dying of exposure. He risked starvation, and great bodily harm for the mere hope that the man who could heal the blind might be able to give him life and free him from his death.

I wonder if I would risk that much? Would I be willing to pull myself out of the pit of hell just for the chance to meet the one I call Lord. Would I risk being vulnerable to the entire community, would I risk revealing all just for the hope that the one called Jesus could deliver me?

Tough questions. The truth is not so easy to reveal. We too live in a culture that pounces on weakness like it is a disease that must be eradicated. We hang posters on the walls of our locker rooms saying pain is just weakness leaving our bodies. We shun weakness because we would rather live in a lie that were are strong in ourselves. This strength is only a facade. Even the most atheistic cultures realize that when faced with death at every step the human being is weak. And in times of war those cultures would allow greater religious freedom because they realized there was something beyond their control offering a source of strength they could never humanly give.

Vulnerability, weakness, disease. We do not wish to reveal these to the community because we do not know how they will react. If we were to reveal weakness or uncertainty would we to be declared unfit and ran out-of-town with the hum of stone whizzing past our heads. Yet this man against all odds, against the councils of society made a journey to fall at the feet of Jesus, just to cry out to him, “If you choose you can make me clean.”

There comes a time in our lives where we must be open and honestly come to grips with our own reality. We are weak, we are unclean, we are not able to do everything we thought we could on our own. The old testament laws left provision for the lepers to be reinstated into the society. This can only mean that with proper care these people could be healed. God never intended that they be left in total exile forever, but that there was a way to be reinstated as members of the community. If this disease was so bad and untreatable then wouldn’t God have had mercy on them and command their destruction as He did with mildew on clothing or mold in a house? He did not command their death but only quarantine. This was and still is a disease of great importance it can be detrimental to anyone who contracts it. But it does not have to be.

Jesus was willing. He became the way to free this man from living death and hell on earth. He a Rabbi, an upstanding member of the Hebrew society disregarded the rules of the culture and he stretched out His hand and physically touched this man. A man whose skin was literally in a state of decay, was touched by a teacher in the community that pushed him out into the garbage heap. To touch a leper could seal your own fate. To touch the unclean could condemn your own life to the state of uncleanness. Yet Jesus reached out his hand of mercy saying, “I do choose.”

He chose. He chose to meet this man in his state of disease, he reached out his own hand to take the other’s, and he released him from his bondage. He chose to accept the unacceptable. He met the most rejected and lifted him up into a new life.

Jesus is willing. I asked if I would be willing to risk everything for hope, the next question is would I risk everything to bear hope? Jesus was willing, he put everything on the line just to talk with this zombie of a man, he took it all a step further by touching him and showing compassion. Am I as one healed, cleansed, and freed by Christ willing to do the same for the people our culture rejects? Am I willing to lay my time out to meet the needs of another, will I be willing to part with the money I rightfully earned to give to someone who hasn’t earned anything? It is a hard question. I don’t even want to think about it let alone ask. Yet that is what Jesus is calling us to do. He is willing. If he is willing to take this man by the hand, shouldn’t we too be willing to embrace those who are unfit in our culture. He told his disciples what we do for the least among us, we do to Him. If He is in the least then he is the leper seeking cleansing, he is the lame seeking to walk, he is the blind one sitting at the gate, he is the man or woman standing with a sign at the end of the exit ramp. He is the child shivering in the cold. He is the one asking for a job. Are we willing to be His hand reaching out to the rejected, are we willing to say to them, “I do choose.”

leprosy scares me not because it is an illness, but because it leaves those that contract it without feeling. It leaves them unable to feel if an activity is causing harm. They can be burned or cut without their knowledge which can lead to massive infection. Leprosy is contagious but the worst form is not one that can be cured in a hospital because it is the leprosy of the heart, one that leaves those that have it unable to feel compassion or mercy. Those that have it are more than willing to chase those around them off with stones and screams, unwilling to reach out a hand to help or encourage. I pray we do not become a culture of lepers, but a community in love with God, embracing the leading of the Holy Spirit, and willing to live Christ’s love with other. As we enter this time of open worship let us reflect on what that lifestyle means to us.



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