Sunday, May 29, 2011

1 Peter 3:13-22 - “140 Characters of Hope”

6th Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 29, 2011

These are the notes/outline for my sermon. A major portion of this sermon was shaped by the answers that people gave--either by raising their hand to speak or by sending me a text during the sermon.

• 1 Peter says: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

• What if you. . .
o Had 3 minutes in an elevator to tell someone about your faith?
o Made a 30-second commercial about Jesus?
o Wrote a song about Jesus?
o Had 140 characters on Twitter to say something about your faith?
o Had as long as it takes to make your grande double shot mocha to tell the person next to you why you’re smiling on a rainy day?
o Wanted to explain your hope in one text?

• What would you want to make sure you said?
Raise your hand or text me

• That’s your 140 characters of hope.

• What does Peter make sure he says in our passage?
DIED FOR ALL: For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
BAPTISM: Baptism that now saves you also.
RESURRECTION: It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

• My Biblical Identity Statement & ReFocusing Story
I am a forgiven child of God, snatched from the fire of doubt, and given the most holy faith. (93 characters)

• According to the passage from 1 Peter, what do we need to remember when we’re sharing with someone about the hope we have?
But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

• How could you be in line for coffee and NOT be gentle or respectful as you talk about your faith?

• When you realize that you haven’t been very gentle or you’ve been disrespectful, how does the message help you?
When you get in your car, holding your coffee, and you reflect on how that conversation just went, how does the message help when you realized you could’ve handled that better?

• Those 140 characters of hope are 140 characters for you.
• That short message, that’s the hope you have. That’s where it begins. Your message gives you that hope. It’s 140 characters of hope for you.
• My Biblical Identity Statement—forgiven, snatched, given

• And those 140 characters of hope call me back to wanting to share that story in a way that others can hear.

• What do you want to share with others? What’s your story? It’s 140 characters of hope for you and hope for others.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

John 14:1-14 - “One Way Wide Open”

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 22, 2011

Last week I talked about how we can adhere strongly to these things by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Gorilla Glue that holds us to these things, helps us to be devoted to the teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.

But today I want you to see these things as also the space we inhabit, the space in which we live from day-to-day as Christians. This is where we start; this is from where we take our stand.

And take our stand, we must, because as we read passages of Scripture like today’s Gospel reading, we realize that Jesus has taken a stand, taken a stand that says He is set apart from all of the other religions of the world, all of the other things that people call gods. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Jesus is the Gate, Jesus is the One who calls us into fellowship with God the Father, Jesus calls us to go in and find pasture, go in and find truth.

And yet, it’s tempting to start outside of the gate. It’s tempting to start outside of the gate, and still say things about God, but say things that don’t require being inside the safety of the gate.

We can say things like: “A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.”

“God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible.”

“The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
“God resolves the problems in my life.”

“People go to heaven when they die.”

I can say all of these outside of the gate, because I don’t really need God’s protection to say these things. I mean, most people aren’t going to argue much with these things. The way that people generally think about God isn’t going to have much trouble with these things. As long as God seems like a kind, old man who helps out when we need Him to, well, then we’re safe, we’re safe saying those kind of things. We don’t need much protection then, because we’re not stepping on anyone’s toes.

But the more you say about Jesus (moving behind gate), the more we say about how Jesus is the One that loves us, that Jesus died and rose again, that Jesus forgives our sins, that (ducking behind gate) Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him, once we say something like that, well, then we’ve got to duck behind the gate, we need God’s protection, because that’s the kind of thing that really doesn’t sit well with people today.

(standing behind the gate) As soon as you make an exclusive claim about Christianity, as soon as you say that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, well, that’s when it gets difficult.

And frankly, I’d rather say those other things about God, I’d rather be outside the gate, rather say those happy and relaxed things about God. In my sinful, less committed side, I’d rather say those vague things about God, say things that leave open the door for all kinds of belief, say things that aren’t going to offend anyone else, say things that will keep people happy.

But like I said, that’s my sinful, less committed side, that’s the side of me that’s more concerned about pleasing other people than about pleasing God. And that’s the side that’s got to ignore what God has to say in His Word.

The only way to take the Bible seriously and teach what it teaches, the only way to do that is to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, the only way to the Father. This is what Jesus said about Himself, and if I believe in Jesus, if I believe in Him as my Lord and Savior, if I want to follow Jesus, I need to take seriously this exclusive claim.

And so I’m back inside the gate, ducking, asking for God’s protection, as I say things like “Jesus is the only way to eternal life,” “Those who do not know Jesus are going to hell,” and “The only true religion is Christianity.”

And when I’m saying those things, I’m realizing a couple of things. First, I’m so aware of needing God’s forgiveness, needing His forgiveness for wanting to change His Word, wanting to say things that make people happy. I need His forgiveness, I need to enter into fellowship with Him through the forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes to me through what Jesus did on the cross. As I stand once again inside the gate, I realize that I didn’t get here by myself. I got here through the power of Christ, through the forgiveness of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. I stand inside the gate, awed by what God is able to do in me—a weak, sinful guy who wouldn’t be able to take a stand, shouldn’t take a stand, shouldn’t be representing Christ, but here He’s transformed me into someone who can speak the truth that Jesus is the only way to eternal life.

And you also are forgiven, you are empowered. You, too, are forgiven for the times when you’ve said things that are vague about God, said things that might make other people happy and comfortable but don’t match Scripture, you are forgiven by what Christ has done for you, you are forgiven and sent by God again to be His representative. You, too, can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak these words, to be protected by the gate, to be able to say to others that you believe Jesus is the only way. The Holy Spirit draws you inside the gate, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes it so that you adhere strongly to these things, adhere strongly to the true message of Christ. The Holy Spirit will empower you to speak the whole truth, the whole exclusive truth about Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings you inside the gate, protects you inside the gate, and gives you the word to speak from inside the gate, makes it so you can say: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Him.

So I realize the truth, the truth is that there’s one way, one way to God the Father.

But it’s one way wide open, one way that stands wide open to all people. . (turn gate around so opening faces congregation)

In all of this talk about Jesus being the only way, in all this feeling like we need to stand behind the gate in order to say these truths about God, in all of this, I don’t want you to think that we stand inside the gate laughing at the people on the outside, saying, “Ha ha! We’re inside and you’re not.” This business about Jesus being the only way and standing inside the gate, well, this doesn’t mean that we brag about being inside when other people are on the outside. I don’t want us to forget that the other message here in what Jesus says in John 14, the other message is that there are many rooms, that Jesus is preparing a place for us, that really the gate is wide open.

I mean, the gate is Jesus, there is one way to the Father, but that gate stands wide open to anyone. As much as Jesus is making an exclusive claim, claiming that He’s the only way to the Father, still Christianity is not a closed religion. It’s open to people from any background—male and female, Jew and Gentile—open to sinners of all kinds—open to people of every background, every country, every ethnicity, every race, every person you will ever meet may enter the gate of Christ. The gate stands open, wide open for anyone to come and believe in Him for eternal life.

As much as we’re offering the one way to eternal life in Christ, as much as we need God’s protection to say those words that the world may not want to hear, as much as we need to stand behind the gate, we also can rejoice that this gate stands wide open to anyone. We’re not going into the world and saying that only certain people can come to the Father, we’re not saying that the gate is only open to certain people, people who are like us, people we are selecting. No, instead we’re going with a specific message—Jesus is the way—but a message that’s available for anyone who hears the message. The message is that there’s plenty of rooms for all who will believe in Jesus. It’s one way wide open.

And if we need forgiveness for not taking a stand on God’s truth, maybe sometimes it’s almost the opposite—we need forgiveness for taking too much of a stand, giving the impression that God’s grace isn’t open to all people. We declare that Jesus is the one way, but we are reluctant to say that this way is wide open, reluctant to offer the Gospel to other people. For that, we also need God’s forgiveness, the forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness that heals our broken message, heals us and sends us out to be His servants again.

You are forgiven, you are empowered. You are forgiven for holding onto the Good News, keeping that Good News to yourself. You are empowered to share that Good News with all people, to share it as the way that’s wide open to all people, wide open so that all people can find salvation.

So therefore, you are God’s forgiven servants, His forgiven people of the mission, people with a mission to share God’s Word with others. And for us it comes together in four parts of this gate image.

First, from last week, it’s the Gorilla Glue, it’s the Holy Spirit that holds us to the truth, holds us to these things that keep us strong in the faith, the Holy Spirit makes it so that we adhere strongly to the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and prayer.

Secondly, as we share God’s Word with the world, the exclusive claim that Jesus is the one way, we stand inside the protection of the gate, we stand inside the gate of Jesus, stand in His protection.

Third, we see that the gate is one way wide open, the gate stands wide open to all people, all people may come to Jesus Christ and believe in Him.

Finally, this is a portable gate, this is portable protection that goes with us everywhere we go. We take God’s Word out into the world with us. We still have His protection. We still offer Him as the one way, but as we go, we’re offering this one way wide open, we offer Him wherever we are.

So go. You are God’s forgiven servants, forgiven when you don’t want to take a stand for Christ and forgiven when you don’t offer the Good News to all people. You are God’s forgiven servants, so go. Go with the gate of protection, go with the gate open, go with the portable protection, the portable Good News. Go with the one way wide open.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Acts 2:42-47 - “Gorilla Glue”

4th Sunday of Easter (Confirmation) (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 15, 2011

(Holding up a set of boards) Gorilla Glue. That’s what’s holding these boards together. Gorilla Glue is great. As their logo says, “Incredibly strong. 100% Tough.”

And I thought of Gorilla Glue this week, because of today’s reading from Acts chapter 2, the passage that describes the beginning of the church, describes the fellowship of believers after Pentecost. Our version that we read today says that the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Devoted themselves. Another way to translate that from the Greek is to say that they adhered strongly. They adhered strongly to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Adhered strongly. Gorilla Glue.

And I didn’t just put these boards together to demonstrate the power of Gorilla Glue. I put them together to help us remember what the believers were adhering strongly to. (Flip over boards to show words). The disciples—meaning the all of the believers, the followers of Jesus—the disciples adhered strongly to the TEACHING, FELLOWSHIP, LORD’S SUPPER, and WORSHIP. This is what brought them together, this is what was central to their life as believers, this is what encouraged them in the faith.

And this is what we adhere strongly to as disciples, as followers of Jesus. We devote ourselves to teaching and fellowship and the Lord’s Supper and worship. Those are the things that are central to our lives as believers in Jesus. These boards create a picture of us, too. We’re disciples, we’re lifelong learners, we’re followers of Jesus.

And that’s what the confirmands are, too—disciples, lifelong learners. They’ve learned the apostles’ teaching—the teachings about Christ that have been passed down through the generations beginning with the apostles and the Scriptures. They’ve been encouraged through the fellowship of believers that they’re a part of. They’ve participated in the Lord’s Supper for encouragement of their faith, for the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. They’ve worshipped Jesus, they’ve prayed, they’ve seen what it means that we worship the Lord.

These boards are a picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus—whether one of the followers described in Acts or a follower today.

But what holds this all together? What holds all of these boards together? Gorilla Glue, right? What’s the Gorilla Glue in the lives of the disciples? What do you think made it so that they could adhere strongly to these things?

The Gorilla Glue is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who holds us to the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and worship. The Holy Spirit is the One who works faith in our hearts so that we adhere strongly to what we’ve been given in the Gospel.

What holds our confirmands to their faith and what will enable them to continue to believe in Jesus beyond today? Gorilla Glue. The Holy Spirit.

Today my message for the confirmands is this: Don’t ever stop adhering to these things. It’s not like there’s a time in your life when you won’t need the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and worship. These things are central to your life as believers in Christ.

But that’s the first error that may come up for you—and it may have come up for some of us, too. We start to think: I learned it all; I don’t need to hold to these things. I did Confirmation and now I’m done.

Forgive us, Lord, for trying to get unstuck. Forgive us, Lord, for wanting to walk away from these things that you have put in our lives. Forgive us, Lord, for thinking that we can do life on our own. Forgive us, Lord, for thinking that we’ve got it all figured out, and that we don’t need to be lifelong learners.

And the Lord does forgive you. The Lord forgives you for every time you try to get unstuck, every time you try to leave these things behind. The Lord forgives you, brings you back, puts some more Gorilla Glue there, the Holy Spirit keeps working in your life, and draws you to the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and worship, draws you to the things that give life to your faith. The Lord forgives you, and His Holy Spirit works in your life to keep you faithful to these things.

But there’s another error that can come up. We can start to think: It’s up to me to adhere strongly. We can start to think that if we’re able to reject these things, then it must also be up to us to stay strong in them, to adhere strongly is about what we can do ourselves.

Forgive us, Lord, for forgetting the Holy Spirit’s role. Forgive us for thinking that we can do this by ourselves. Forgive us for thinking it’s all up to us and not remembering that faith is a gift from You, a gift worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

It’s all about the Gorilla Glue; it’s all about the Holy Spirit. It’s about God working that faith in our hearts.

If I reject these things, if I reject Christ, that’s to my own damnation, that’s my sin, that’s something I desperately need forgiveness for. But if I adhere strongly to these things, if I believe in Jesus and follow Him, that’s to God’s credit, God gets the glory, God is the One who did that in my life, God is the Gorilla Glue that holds me to these teachings.

So I need His forgiveness when I start to take credit for my faith, start to think that it’s my actions that keep me in the faith, that it’s my actions that will keep me strong, when really it’s all about the Gorilla Glue, I’m dependent on the Gorilla Glue, I’m dependent on the Holy Spirit to work faith in my heart.

And God does forgive you, forgives you when you try to take credit for your faith, forgives you and renews your faith in Him. Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins, including our sins of spiritual pride, which is really what this is. He died for all of our sins, so that we can be forgiven, so that we can eternal life, so that we can be renewed by His action.

You know, when I first put these boards together, I was just thinking about Gorilla Glue and how to show that the Holy Spirit adheres us strongly to the teaching, fellowship, Holy Spirit, and worship. But after I made this, I realized it also really works well with today’s Gospel reading. Jesus said, “I am the gate.” We enter into the kingdom of God through Him.

Besides looking like a gate, there’s another connection: these things that make up this gate are Jesus. We enter into the kingdom of God through Jesus, and the way we have Jesus in our lives is through the teaching, fellowship, Lord’s Supper, and worship. We enter into life with God through the teaching that tells us about the Good News of forgiveness. We enter into life with God through the fellowship of believers, surrounded by God’s people who call us to His Word. We enter into life with God through the Lord’s Supper, through the offer of the body and blood of Christ for forgiveness of our sins. We enter into life with God through worship, worship where God gives us His gifts of Word and Sacrament and we respond with prayer and praise.

These things are the gate, because these things are where we find Jesus. So enter today through these things. Enter through these things into the kingdom of God.

But always remember what holds you fast to the gate, what makes it so that you adhere strongly to these things, what makes you disciples is the Holy Spirit working in your life. It’s all about the Gorilla Glue.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

1 Peter 1:13-25 - “Indicative – Therefore - Imperative”

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 8, 2011

Therefore, prepare your minds for action. Therefore, be self-controlled. Therefore, set your hope fully on the grace that’s been revealed in Christ Jesus. Therefore, live your lives as strangers here. Therefore, love one another deeply.

When we hear today’s passage from 1 Peter, it’s like we’re starting in the middle of the story, the part of the story where something has already happened. It makes us want to know what already happened, why is Peter saying “therefore.” In fact, that’s how great stories often start, they start somewhere already in the action, so that you’re curious about what already happened to get you to this place.

Therefore, I left the party early.
Therefore, he walked proudly across the stage to get his diploma.
Therefore, Mom cried when they gave her the flowers on Mother’s Day.

The story starts in the middle, and we’re hoping that the novel is going to tell us what already happened, that the novel will explain why the character left the party early or why he was able to be proud about graduation or why the mom cried.

Starting our Epistle reading for today from 1 Peter chapter 1, starting at verse 13, well, we’re starting in the middle of the story. We’re starting at the “Therefore” which looks back at something that’s already taken place, looks back at something that’s already been said.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action. . .why can we prepare our minds for actions?
Therefore, be self-controlled. . .why can we be self-controlled?
Therefore, set your hope fully on grace. . .why can we set our hope on grace?
Therefore, live your lives as strangers. . .why can we live this way?
Therefore, love one another deeply. . .why can we love deeply?

Why can we prepare, be self-controlled, set our hope on grace, live as strangers, love deeply? Why? Well, we have to look back. “Therefore” is a word that first sends us looking backward.

And what do we find when we look back into what Peter already said? We find indicatives. We find statements that indicate who we are. We find that Peter lays out truths from God about who we are in Christ.

“Therefore” sends us back to verses 3-4: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.

Indicative: You have been given new birth in Christ. That’s who you are.
Indicative: You have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. That’s what you have.
Indicative: You have an eternal, lasting inheritance. That’s what you’ve been given.

That’s who you are. That’s what you have. That’s what you’ve been given. Therefore. . .therefore. . .now go and be God’s people. Therefore, imperative. Imperative as in command. Therefore, go and be God’s people.

Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.

The Christian imperatives come after the indicatives. The commands to live as Christians come after declaring you to be God’s children. Don’t get the order reversed.

We’re not God’s children BECAUSE we prepared our minds for actions or BECAUSE we love others deeply. We didn’t make ourselves into God’s children BECAUSE we acted and followed the commands of Christ. We’re God’s children because of what He did, because of what He did in Jesus, because He made us to be His children, because He has given us new birth in Jesus Christ. That’s indicative. That indicates who you are. That declares you to be His child. That’s the fact. That’s what we look back at. That’s what we base our actions on, but it’s already sure and steady, it’s already true.

Think of it like Mother’s Day. You’re not your mother’s child because you did something to make it happen. You are your mother’s child. That’s an indicative statement. That’s a statement that indicates who you are. God gave you the gift of a mother, made you to be her child. That’s an indicative. That’s God’s action. That’s all gift to you.

Therefore, love your mother. Therefore, do things for your mother. Therefore, celebrate your mother, grandmother today, celebrate the mother figures in your life.

Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.

Why is this important? Why is it important to keep this order straight? Because I don’t ever want you to lose hope, I don’t want you to start to feel like you’re not a child of God. Yes, God calls on us to live our lives for Him. Yes, we are to prepare our minds for acting for Christ, yes, we are to be self-controlled in our actions, yes, we are to set our hope fully on grace, yes, we are to live as strangers here, yes, we are to love one another deeply, but those are all responses, those are all imperatives after the indicatives, those are actions that grow out of our faith in Jesus, grow out of the fact that we have been made to be God’s children.

If we get the order wrong, and there are Christian churches and preachers and teachers and books and music that get this order wrong, if we get the order wrong, we end up coming to catastrophic conclusions when we read a passage like this one from 1 Peter.

For instance, we hear Peter say that we should live as strangers here, live differently than the world around us, live in such a way that’s different than the people we see around us, we hear this passage, and we start to realize that a lot of times we just go with the flow. A lot of times our lives look a lot like the Joneses. We’re trying to keep up with the neighbors, and we’re not doing life much differently than they are.

And if the order is wrong, if imperative comes before indicative, if action comes before being made God’s child, well, then I’ve just realized that my actions aren’t making me a child of God. My actions aren’t getting me there. If my actions make me a child of God, I’m not going to be there, and maybe I’m not a Christian after all. That’s catastrophic thinking. That’s thinking of the worst possibility. That’s coming to a conclusion that I’ve been closed out of God’s family.

And why? Why did it come to such a catastrophic conclusion? Because the order was wrong. The order was imperative therefore indicative. The order was action therefore being a child of God. The order was backwards, and it leads to a dangerously wrong conclusion, leads to despair, leads to feeling as if you’re outside of God’s love.

Thank God that the order isn’t like that. Thank God that He’s given us a true hope, a true faith based on grace, based on gift, based on Him making us His children first. Indicative – Therefore – Imperative. That’s the order. That’s the order of grace. We are God’s children; therefore, go and live as His children.

But you’re gonna meet people who are trying to follow Christ, who believe in Jesus, but they’ve been taught the order backwards, they’ve been taught that they make themselves into Christians by their actions, and when you meet friends like this, at first, it’ll sound good. They’ll be focused on changing their lives for Christ, their lives may look very good. But when you hear them talk, when you listen to what they say about their faith, you realize that a lot of it is about what they need to do, what they have to do in order to be God’s people, and you realize that they’re without hope, without true hope, without confidence.

I had a friend in college who started coming to our Bible study. Everything seemed to be going along OK, but then he started making some different choices with his life, stopped coming to Bible study, started getting caught up in the party scene. When our Bible study leader finally got a chance to talk to him, this friend had convinced himself that he had never really been a Christian, that a Christian wouldn’t have made the choices he made, so he must not have ever really been a Christian.

How did he come to such a conclusion? Somewhere along the line he had been taught that the imperatives comes first, imperative – therefore – indicative, follow God’s ways therefore you are a child of God. With everything backward, this friend was left without hope, and unfortunately, my Bible study leader wasn’t able to convince him otherwise. This friend drifted away from the faith, because he had been taught that his actions made him a Christian, instead of seeing that it is God who makes us children of God.

So when we hear Peter today with the commands of Christ, the commands to live for God, to be self-controlled and love one another deeply, when we hear these commands, don’t forget the order of things here. Don’t forget the Therefore. Don’t forget that we’re starting in the middle of the novel, we’re starting in the middle of what God has come to teach us. We’ve got to go back to the beginning, got to go back to the indicatives, got to go back to remembering that God has made us His children by what Christ has done. Celebrate that you are a child of God, celebrate that you have been forgiven. Indicatives indicate who you are. Indicative – therefore – imperative. You are a child of God, therefore, respond as a child of God. All of these commands in Peter, they’re all responses to what God has done in us.

And actually, Peter throws in reminders of the indicatives in these verses that we have today. Get out your bulletins and open to the passage from Peter. Can you spot the indicatives in between all of the imperatives? Can you spot where Peter is reminding us of who we are, reminding us of what we look back at, reminding us of the basis for our confidence and hope? Where are the indicatives in verses 13-25?

(Solicit responses)

Verses 18-21, that’s all about the indicatives. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”

Then again in verse 23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Those are places where Peter keeps reminding us of the indicatives, even as he is passing on the commands of Christ, the commands to live as God’s children, still he’s reminding us: God has done this, God has made you to be His children, God has redeemed you, chosen you, given you faith and hope, made you to be born again.

But what happens when we realize that we fail to keep those imperatives? For instance, there’s going to be those times when we realize we don’t live as strangers here, when we don’t live differently than the rest of the world, we don’t live out the Christian life. What then? Where do we go then? Do we go back to the imperative and try harder?

No, first we go back to the indicative. When we realize that we’ve failed, when we realize that we’ve sinned, we go back to the indicative that tells us that God has made us to be His children by the new birth in Jesus Christ. We go back to what God has done for us in Jesus. We go back to the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the resurrection. When we fail, it’s not that we start with trying harder. We start with remembering who God has made us to be, we remember what God has done for us. When we fail, we stick with the order: Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.

So when you fail, when you sin? Go back to the indicatives, go back to the passages that indicate who you are in Christ, go back to the places that tell you how Jesus has saved you.

When someone in your life sins, when they fail to live up to God’s way, send them back to the indicatives. When they’re aware of their sin, when they realize they need God’s forgiveness, don’t just send them out with more imperatives—go and do better. Send them first to the indicatives, send them to the passages that declare that we have been forgiven and redeemed and saved and given new birth and are God’s children.

Indicative – Therefore – Imperative

You are God’s child, therefore, go and be His child.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Psalm 148 - “This is an Easter World”

Second Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 1, 2011

This sermon was in part inspired by H. Paul Santmire’s article titled “A Reformation Theology of Nature Transfigured: Joseph Sittler’s Invitation to See as Well as to Hear” where Santmire says: “Having shut our eyes in order to hear the Word in a time of crisis, . . .we can then cautiously open them again to behold glimpses of a new cosmos, reconfigured in the Image of God.”

Earth and all stars!
Loud rushing planets!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Oh, victory!
Loud shouting army!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
refrain He has done marvelous things.
I too will praise Him with a new song!

Classrooms and labs!
Loud boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band!
Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song! Refrain

I once had trouble hearing the Word of God in that hymn. I liked the tune, but I wondered about the words and whether it wasn’t a stretch to say all of these things are praising the Lord. I wondered whether “loud boiling test tubes” could really sing praise to God.

But all this week, I’ve been pondering this hymn again, pondering it because I kept reading others who said that this hymn is a great paraphrase of Psalm 148, a reflection of how Psalm 148 calls on every part of Creation to praise the Lord.

The hymn “Earth and All Stars” was written by Herbert Brokering for the 90th anniversary of St. Olaf College in Minnesota. It’s written to reflect the idea that everything can praise God, including everything on campus like sports and music and science.

The more I read about this hymn, the more I finally had to admit: I hadn’t been seeing what God was doing. I had closed my eyes, was listening to the Word of God, but I hadn’t opened my eyes again to see what God is doing. This hymn was opening my eyes.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when I had my eyes closed, I was listening well, I was listening to the right thing, I was listening to the Word of God and its message of grace, love, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the message of salvation that comes to us through the cross and resurrection, I was listening to the message of God.

But I wasn’t letting that message, that hearing, that listening change my seeing, my vision of the world. I wasn’t seeing how radically God had transformed the entire Creation, transformed the entire world through what Christ had done. I wasn’t seeing that this is an Easter world. This is a world that has a radical promise of being renewed because of Easter. I was hearing the Word of God, but I wasn’t seeing God’s Easter world.

Think about it this way: I stopped birdwatching awhile ago. While I was still in the Seminary, I became an avid birdwatcher, spending time with binoculars glued to my face, watching birds, searching for birds, keeping lists of what birds I had seen, driving and hiking far and wide to find birds. I marveled at the beauty of birds. I loved watching them doing the mundane things like eating and preening; I loved watching them do the glorious things that we can’t do like flying and gliding.

But then somewhere along the line in recent years, I stopped watching birds. I started concentrating on other things, other hobbies which are just as good, I suppose, but in the process, I lost the art of watching, the art of seeing the world and everything God is doing in it. I lost the art of seeing that this is an Easter world.

Recently, we put up a birdfeeder in our front yard, and let me tell you, my fascination with birds is coming back. I got out the binoculars again, studying the birds in our yard, watching them eat and fly and squabble. I have been seeing the birds in the trees, really seeing them as they flit about. Instead of ignoring things, I am starting to see the world around me again—alive with life, alive with God’s Creation, alive with. . .praise. The birds in the yard are praising God. The whole Creation is praising God.

Reading Psalm 148 this week was like God put up the birdfeeder in my soul. Here I had been so focused on myself, so focused on my relationship with Jesus, so focused on how Jesus saves us as individuals, and then this Word of God in Psalm 148 comes along that isn’t just about me, isn’t just me and Jesus, isn’t just about individual salvation. Psalm 148 is about the whole Creation praising God, the whole Creation saved and renewed through the work of God, the whole Creation praising God for how He has done the work of redemption. This is an Easter world.

That’s the thing with God’s Word. We close our eyes, we listen to God’s Word, but then we open our eyes again and our vision has changed. We see God working in the world. We see the tremendous things He’s doing around us.

Close your eyes. Just for a moment. Close your eyes and hear the Word of God: (1 Peter 1:3, 8-9) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Now open your eyes and see the world around you—see the world through the lens of the redemption, the salvation won for us by Christ on the cross. See the people around you. See the world around you. These people you see, this world you see has been given new birth in Jesus Christ, given an joy that is beyond words, a joy that is glorious and wonderful and majestic, a joy of knowing that we will live again with Christ for eternity, a joy that this world will be renewed forever. It’s the joy of the resurrection of the body, living again with God on a new Earth.

Close your eyes again, and hear the Word of God: (Psalm 148:7-10) Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds.

Now open your eyes again. See the world around you. This is an Easter world. This world praises the Father in heaven. This world is singing Easter praises to God every day, singing Easter praises because He has renewed this world. I wish I could tear down these walls, just for the moment, so that you could truly appreciate the beauty of this world, the world that itself has been transformed and redeemed and renewed by the cross and resurrection of Christ, the world that awaits His Second Coming, that world that waits to be new again, the world that waits to be freed from the effects of our sinfulness, the world that responds in such praise, designed to give praise to the Father in heaven, designed to lift up praise to the highest heaven.

I realize this is something that we don’t talk about very often, and so maybe this is sounding a bit strange. We usually focus on our relationship with Jesus, and we don’t think so much about the relationship that God has with the Earth. But remember this: when God made the Earth, He saw that it was good and He called it good. He called it good before He made man and woman. He called the Earth good and delighted in what He had made.

So God still wants to delight in the world He has made. The picture of salvation is a picture of Christ bringing us to a new Earth. Salvation is about restoring Creation, salvation is the Creation of a new Garden of Eden with Jesus at its center.

Psalm 148 could be about looking back at Genesis, calling on everything in Creation to praise God because He made the world and everything in it. It could look back to the beginning of the world.

But now that we live in the time of Christ, I think Psalm 148 can also be looking forward, looking forward with anticipation, looking forward to see the promise of Christ, the promise that He will come again, the promise that He will bring about the renewal of the whole Earth.

As Paul says in Romans chapter 8, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Groaning and waiting for Christ to return, waiting as we are, waiting for the new Earth. The whole Creation groans, waiting to be renewed, waiting for the ravages of sin to pass away and for the new life to begin with Christ as our Lord and King. The whole Creation groans, waiting for a time when it truly can sing out and praise the Lord, praise the Lord with its full voice, praise the Lord for all that He has done, praise the Lord with beauty and majesty and wonder and music and art.

When you think about Psalm 148 looking forward, well then calling on Creation to praise the Lord, that call begins in earnest, that call begins with full gusto on Easter. Easter is the day that God’s victory was announced to all of Creation, that God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil meant that the Earth would radically change and be transformed, that there was the promise of something different than what we have in this sinful, broken world. Easter announced that Creation’s groaning would be answered by God’s care and love and rejoicing over His Creation again. Easter announced that God had done something about devastation in the world, God had done something to bring about an everlasting change. This is now an Easter world.

Now hear me clearly: I’m not saying that we worship Creation or that Creation is made up of a bunch of gods. I’m not saying that we can learn about salvation just by being out in the woods. We can’t begin in nature and expect to come to a knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

So hear me clearly: we start in the Word of God. We start with the revelation from God about Jesus Christ, about His cross and resurrection, about how He has given us forgiveness for our sins, about how He has redeemed the world through His blood, about His promise to come and take us to the new Earth for eternity. We start there, we start with the Word of God. We close our eyes and listen to the Word of God.

But then we open our eyes again, we open our eyes to see the world around us, we open our eyes to see the Creation, the way Creation praises God, the way Creation’s beauty and majesty bring glory to God, point to God as the One who is over all things, the way Creation cries out for redemption, for salvation, cries out to be renewed by God.

We open our eyes again, we see the world around us, and we hear the Easter hymn that rings out from Earth and all stars, loud rushing planets; hail, wind, and rain, flowers and trees, wild animals and birds. We open our eyes and see that this world is boiling over with praise for God, this world is full of praise for our Creator and Redeemer, this world is full of Easter alleluias.

And this new vision changes how we view the world around us. This isn’t just a disposable world. Our actions have an impact on God’s Creation, God’s Creation that is designed to sing praise to God. So if we’re careless and wasteful with the Earth, we’re not honoring what God has made, not honoring the Creation that waits with us for Christ to return. So instead, we reduce, reuse, and recycle, we care for the Earth, we take care of this glorious Earth that God has made and said is good, we care for the Earth that waits with us for the Second Coming of Christ.

But this new vision also helps us to see that our true hope for eternity, our true hope is living with Christ forever on the renewed Earth. We will live with Him forever on a physical Earth that God will renew. We believe in the resurrection of the body; that’s what we wait for. We wait for that day when we will be with Christ forever, living on a renewed, beautiful Earth. We wait for the day when the whole Creation can truly praise the Lord like Psalm 148 says, a day when the chorus of Creation isn’t hamstrung by the devastation of sin, isn’t corrupted into destructive forces like this week’s deadly storms in the South. We wait for that day when Christ will come again and all of Creation will break out in tremendous, beautiful, wonderful, peaceful praise of God.

Close your eyes one more time, close your eyes, and hear the Word of God that gives you this hope: (1 Peter) In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus Christ has given you the hope of rising from the dead, because He has forgiven you and destroyed sin, death, and the devil.

Now open your eyes. Your vision has been transformed. You no longer see people as disposable; you no longer see the world as disposable. This is an Easter world. This is a world saved by Jesus. This is a world of people that God wants to save; this is an Earth that God promises to restore when Christ comes again. This is an Easter world.