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Glorification in total loss (sermon April 28, 2013)

Scripture: John 13:31-35

In our culture driven by success how do we obtain glory? This week many witnessed one of the signs of success in the world of football, while players sat waiting in anticipation to hear their names called by a team. It is like professional red rover. Send that player right over. We also saw signs of success when we witnessed the grand opening of a presidential library.

Both of these symbols of success are a witness to the accomplishments of the ones being honored. Those accomplishments are how many yards are thrown, the greatness of the blocking skills, and the leadership in and outside of the white house. These are monumental times in the lives of those involved, but are these true signs of success?

What is glorification, honor, or respect? What does one have to do to gain true honor? Today’s passage speaks of honor. “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him…” This is almost a confusing passage because it uses glorify and its derivatives several times making it a near tongue twister. There is a ton of glory being spoken about. The odd thing is Jesus is not being drafted to the Chiefs or having a library dedicated in his honor, because to God those things are not really that important. The glory being spoken of here comes immediately after He sends Judas out to betray Him to the authorities.

What is glory? What is honor? If we were to read the full chapter we would see that Jesus does not really care about the type of glory we consider. At this moment Jesus was a household name in the province of Israel, everyone was talking about Him. They were wondering if He was the messiah that they were hoping for or if they should possibly rethink their theology, or look for someone else. For the disciples, Jesus was their king. They would follow Him to the very gates of hell. They praised and honored him like a conquering hero, laying their coats on the ground before Him. This pomp did not drive Jesus. They rented a room to eat the sacred feast and Jesus removed his clothes and wrapped a towel around His waist, poured some water into a bowl and began to wash feet. Could you imagine this happening among the celebrities our culture follow?

This act of servitude was just a symbol to the true glory. The actual glory sought by Jesus was total loss, to fall from the very top to the very bottom. After he washed the feet of his disciples, the feet of the very one to sell Him out, the true glory comes. That glory is the loss of every bit of glory and honor of the world, to the benefit of others.

Have we ever really thought about that? Have we thought of the actual total loss that Jesus faced, the loss of friends, the betrayal, the giving of His life? Jesus wrapped the towel around him and looked into the eyes of his disciples knowing full well that within 24 hours each one of them would betray Him in some way. Each one would fail to live up to the words that they were professing. The glory of God comes through losing and giving.

Jesus lost everything because He loved people that could not fully understand or love Him. We confess this with our mouths, we believe it in our minds but do we fully grasp that Jesus gave everything, that He lost everything in the world for us a people that takes all that He has given for granted? I am not trying push us to guilt, but to encourage thought. Jesus gave, He invested His life knowing that in the short term He would lose. “Now the Son of Man has been glorified.” This glory began before the cross. It came at the time of betrayal. It was in the selfless giving; the total commitment to serve the people who were incapable of adequately responding that the Son of Man was glorified.

The shocked disciples were not able to understand the gravity of the situation. Jesus then gives them a command, “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There is a lot of love in this passage.

Just as with glory, the world has a different understanding of love. To many, love is an emotion that can enter and exit at any time. The Apostle Paul explains it like this, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a)

To Jesus, to God, love is not an emotion but it is a sacrifice. Love is always a sacrifice. To love means that you must invest your life and risk losing everything. Love is a risky business, to reveal the secrets of our hearts to someone opens our lives up to betrayal. To engage in the ongoing creation of life, we run the risk of bearing our soul and giving our lives only to have our children turn from all that is important to us. Even though the risk is so great the return is greater.

The glory of Jesus began in the betrayal of his disciples, but was magnified in the resurrection. He invested every ounce of life into the people that would reject him and the end result was that through that great love humanity is restored. Through Christ through his life, death and resurrection God can again walk with us in Friendship.

To gain that Friendship we must follow Christ, not in word but in life and in love. Again Love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, its not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. This is invested into people. People that may or may not respond, invested in the lives of people that may honor or betray. But it does not matter what they do in response to the love bestowed onto them what matters is if those that claim the name of Christ are obedient in extending love to them.

Our hope is found in the assurance that in the investing and losing of ourselves in the obedience of loving humanity we can receive glory. This is contrary to our culture. One side consumes and the other gives. One side benefits the other sacrifices. One side has grace offered and one side extends grace.

The point, purpose, and glory of the church is to love as Jesus loved.  What would happen if we were to actually do this? What would happen if we threw off all thoughts of worldly honor and respect and instead dove deeper into the type of love exemplified in Christ and spoken about by Paul? What would happen if we were patient, kind, and humble? What would happen if we did not insist on having things our own way and instead looked at how we could bless the lives of someone that may never return it? History proves what happens. It has proven it many times over. At first we will be betrayed but eventually we will receive Godly Glory.

This has been shown in the lives of the ancient saints of the Church, it has been shown in the lives of the early Friends. As I have been reading through the Journal of George Fox I ran across a testimony of the honest business dealing of the Quakers. At first the business owners lost a great deal by their conversion but eventually other business were fearful that the Quakers would take over the economy. This is because through their honest dealings, due to their sacrificing their short-term comfort for the benefit of others resulted in something beyond their imagination. This is just one example among many; in many cases those that made the initial sacrifices did not see the extent of their influence.

They will know that we follow Christ by our love. It is not our theology or our biblical knowledge that set us apart from every other religion and the world. It is our love. It is the sacrificial love even when the beneficiaries of that love betray our love and take us for granted. It is the love that sheds the clothing and honor of the world to bend down to wash the feet. It is the sacrificial love that makes no demand but freely shares the hope that we have through Christ who died for us even when we were enemies of his cause. Love is loss and in that loss we can join Christ in His glory. The glory of a restored humanity living in friendship with God. The glory and hope of life now amd forevermore.

Jesus the Soul Whisperer (Sermon April 21, 2013)

Scripture: John 10:22-30

Often when I get home from work, Kristy is watching a show that I never thought I would ever like, the Dog whisperer. This show, as many of you know, is filled with the craziest dogs. I love dogs but some of these dogs are so crazy that I can hardly imagine their owners held onto them. Then this one guy comes in and in the matter of moments he has them behaving like a dream pet.

I mention this because I enjoy dogs. I enjoy watching the cunning boarder collie as it maneuvers a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle. I enjoy the crazy, nearly unimaginable tricks that can be pulled off by a Jack Russell Terrier. Some of the most amazing things are to see a service dog at work. Many of us know one of these dogs, Howe, and Howe is trained to help a sight impaired person get around and stay safe in a busy city. Service animals can be trained to warn a person of seizures, dangerous blood sugar levels, and to perform tricks to assist the hearing impaired and elderly that someone is at the door. These working dogs can assist military and law enforcement agencies to smell out explosives or controlled substances. The trained and disciplined dog is an amazing animal that not only serves a purpose but can also provides a great companion. The untrained dog is one that leaves much to be desired.

This is why the dog whisperer is so amazing. This guy actually understands the way dogs think and through his encouragement he can prompt the dog to adapt into something different without altering the personality of the dog. Cesar does this by entering into the world of the dog, the pack. In many cases he can provide the adaptation on site, or in others he brings other dogs in to assist. In extreme cases he takes the dog out of the environment and introduces them to a different pack and as they adjust he then brings them back into the pack of the family. He has rehabilitated dogs that were literally walking the green mile, and has saved their lives. This pack therapy that Cesar does with the dogs is a contemporary parable of the gospel, which speaks through this passage of scripture.

The religious leaders demand answers, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Tell us plainly. Have we ever been like this? We do not like to have the run around, we have an idea of how or what things should be and if something does not seem to fit in our preconceived ideals we want an explanation. I might be hitting a bit to close to home, and I do this because guess what I’m there too. It is part of our human condition. Tell us plainly. They had listened and watched Jesus and they notice that there is something going on. They are intrigued but there is just something about him that is not quite fitting, they are in suspense. They thought that they knew everything about the messiah and God, but if Jesus were the messiah then they would have to rewrite and think everything they thought they knew. This presents a very interesting problem can we know God completely?

Going back to the dog whisperer. Most of us think we know how to handle a k-9 fairly well. We yell, swat, and command. For the most part the animals seem to react well, and then there are times where instead of being the beast masters, the dog controls us. Cesar steps in and shows us that we cannot force the dog to change, but we must facilitate an adaptation. We as humans must in some way mimic the natural instincts of a dog. The domesticated dog has a linage to the wild packs of the coyote or wolf. In these packs there is a hierarchy among the members, and which ever is dominant leads the pack. Cesar is known as a dog whisperer but what he really does is trains people to exert the leadership characteristics of the dog packs. When the humans are able to do this then the dog will respond accordingly and enter into a calm submissive state. The dog and the family become the pack they were meant to be.

Jesus responds to the religious leaders in a similar way. “I have told you, but you do not believe. The works that I do in my Fathers name testify…” He says. Jesus like Cesar has entered into a world unlike their own. Cesar enters into the world of a K-9 while Jesus enters the world of mankind. Cesar brings dog and man together to create a harmonious pack out of something unnatural. Of course humanity has been doing this for centuries but not quite as well as Cesar. The religious leaders were attempting to do the same thing. The realms of humanity and the divine are separate as well, but if scripture is accurate, which I believe it is, they were created to have some sort of relationship. In the earliest stories God walked with man in the beautiful harmonious garden but then mankind rebelled forcing them into a chaotic realm. From that moment on God, like the domesticators of the dogs, has been restoring order. Out of this religion develops. The problem with religion is we tend to think that we are controlling God instead of letting God lead us. Just as the rebellious dog tries to control the family with its behavior, we as humans try to take control of the world through our. Religion at its best is like a great dog show, we have various breeds running through hoops, weaving through stakes, going up and down ramps, sitting and staying, speaking on cue all for treats. We gain pleasure from the show, but the show is not the whole story. The dog show is not only a competition between the animals, but it is also a display between the animal and the trainer. If a dog fails to listen there are penalties.

Religious leaders gain status among the populous, they become more dominant in the culture and as they gain dominance over the others. They begin to study the techniques God had used and try to mimic them as they lead others. Suddenly these dominant leaders begin to construct images of God based on their understandings and those that question those understandings are driven out of the pack and disqualified from the show. It is a story that has been told throughout history. One that God had to get control of, people were being marginalized and personalities were being silenced. They fail to listen to the trainer and they begin to lose. They begin to lose their true identity as companions of God. At that moment the soul whisperer enters the realm.

Jesus comes to show us how to truly be human and how to relate to God as a human. He did this through his cycles of worship, prayer, and service. This scripture begins in worship because these religious leaders find Jesus at the temple, during the Feast of Dedication. He says that the works testify to his status, not his words. This baffles a culture built on words, law, and religion. Works or actions speak louder than any words that we may say. When we are raising children it is ridiculous for us to tell our children to abstain from things while they observe us participating in those very actions. Our words and our works do not always match.

The religious leaders had developed a system of words to justify their lifestyles, but their actions did not always seem to reflect what they said. This prompted criticism from Jesus, he began to teach his disciple a different way. This is seen in the very calling of the disciples, Jesus called them to come and see, to follow him. He did not demand obedience but calls people to observe. And in this observation of actions the disciples begin to hear the very voice of God. Jesus shows them the relational rhythm of a life with God, a rhythm of prayer, worship, and service to others. They followed Jesus into the isolated areas where he prayed.  They were lead into the synagogues to worship with their teacher. They also were directed to follow as Jesus interacted with the people where Jesus would heal, feed, and teach.

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” This is not the words of religion, but the words of relationship and companionship. Those that follow Jesus hear his voice. They hear. How often do we hear his voice?

The Religious Society of Friends has developed a worship tradition around the listening to the voice of God. But the holy silence of our worship is pointless if we are not listening to the whispers of God. The time of holy expectancy is nothing but a void if we do not only expect to hear but to put into action what we hear. That is the beauty of the earliest Friends. They would listen and follow. They followed even if they did not know what the outcome would be. They would follow even if they knew the outcome would be harmful to them personally. They would follow even if they knew the world around them would reject their ideas. But they would listen to the voice of God; they would rest on the assurance that what the Father had given Jesus was greater than all else. They would receive a vision of what could be and they would work to make it happen.

Our world is a chaotic place, but it has been chaotic for as long as humans have been able to express themselves. Yet even in this world God is building something amazing. God is working today as much as He did back in the dawning of the Friends, just as much as he did in the dawning of the protestant reformation, and the apostolic age. To be a part of the amazing work God is doing is to listen for His voice, and to follow His leading.

As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy, this time of open worship and communion with God. Let us center down, quiet the chaos around us and just listen to the voice of God. As we sit are we like the religious leaders demanding for an answer as we wait in suspense or do we sit in companionship like a sheep lounging by the shepherd? Are we willing to let go of images of God that we have created, continue to perform and put on a display of talent, like a bunch of show dogs? Or will we embrace an image that He is revealing to us as we join into a relationship with the soul whisperer?

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