Tag Archives: St Monica’s

SERMON Lent 4 St. Monica’s 3/11/18

john316For God so Loved the World

John 3:16 is a very popular scripture reference for people who, with probably good intentions, yearn to share their faith with others. You often see professional athletes, like football players who put this verse on their eye black, or basketball players’ who write it on their headbands, or other professional athletes’ who come up with unique ways to display that scripture verse. One of the most well-known “scripture bearing” fans is the guy we see on television sitting in the sports stands, with the multi-colored permed hair, wearing a white t-shirt with “John 3:16” written on it.  You have to admit, he is motivated, committed, and he wears his evangelistic fervor with great pride.

If you carry a sign with a scripture verse on it hoping to evangelize, although it may seem like a good idea, it is not very effective. Using signs to convey a message is simply advertising. It is how businesses sell their products and services and usually, the consumer is somewhat familiar with the product. Sharing a biblical reference on a sign, in a culture that is much less religious and definitely unfamiliar with Christian scripture simply does not work. Besides, the meaning of John 3:16 is so much deeper than, “if you believe in this, you can avoid a terrible place, and in along with that you can enjoy eternal bliss.” The Good News of salvation is more than, “if you buy this face cream, you will look years younger” or, “if you drive a Lincoln town car, and sit in the back seat, you too can be as cool as Matthew McConaughey.” Conveying God’s plan for salvation requires more than a simple advertisement that it happens because of something we do.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” What if John 3:16 is not a marketing proposition to do something in order to become a Christian. What if the Good News is an announcement about the grace through which, Christ has completed the work of salvation, and all we have to do receive it and trust God’s promises.

Belief vs. TRUST

The Greek word for “believe” is πιστεύων (pis too’ own). It means “to commit one’s trust, or to put one’s trust in something or someone.” Thus, trusting in God’s grace is the key. Faith is more than a mental assent to the truth of Jesus Christ. Faith is when we put everything, every decision, every action, every thought, every desire, and every circumstance into the hands of a grace-filled God.

It is not easy for some of us to do that “trusting someone else” thing. Sometimes we “pick ourselves up from our bootstrap Americans, believe we can only trust in ourselves.” There was a time when I thought, “I built this whole life of mine all by my own doing and my own hard work.” Today, I realize that only be the grace of God and my constant reliance on Christ, have I been able to endure the difficult times that have led me to today. Theologian David Bartlett asserts, “In this Gospel, faith is above all the faith which decides for Jesus. When we believe in Christ, we choose to trust Christ, and we choose to live in the light of Christ and not the darkness. Faith chooses light.”(1)

Faith in the Light vs. Darkness: Nicodemus

The first few verses of the third chapter of John’s gospel, which we did not hear today, but are essential to understand its context.   John 3:1-15 recalls the story of a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who desired to meet Jesus. “Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus believed in Jesus as teacher, and he believed Jesus performed signs, and that God’s presence was with him, but that’s as far as his beliefs could take him.

“Nicodemus’s initial profession of faith (“Rabbi, you are a teacher come from God”), (was) not as profound perhaps as Andrew’s (“We have found the Messiah”) or Nathanael’s (“You are the Son of God. “(3) I am not sure Nicodemus really ever came to trust Jesus, but he was pretty curious about this young rabbi. I do not even think Nicodemus was like the committed, dedicated sports fan in the stands who holds the sign with John 3:16 on it.

Maybe some of us are like Nicodemus. We believe in the truth of Jesus, but do we really trust him? Many of us have not fully come to the place in our journey of faith, where we can fully trust our very lives to Jesus’ care, but hopefully we all are on the path, trying to trust Jesus. God promises us joy, peace, and grace even in the worst of times, but even if we struggle to put our trust in that truth, we have grace because faith comes from God. Paul shared this idea with church in Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Life Everlasting

Today’s Psalm states, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever.” That all sounds great doesn’t it, but what about giving thanks when we face tough times in life. If it all starts to fall apart in life, and if an unexpected disease invades our stability, or if a tragic accident changes everything, or if the safety net of financial security suddenly breaks, do we lose our trust in God and the truth he is with us in all things?

I know in my own life, I have cried out to God when real tragedy struck unexpectedly, and in those moments, my faith was challenged and my trust shaken. Theologian Thomas Long says, “To see (the promises of God) as applicable to us, to swallow even one ounce of this claim, we must admit … that we are captive to cultural and spiritual forces over which we have no control, that they have drained the life out of us, that we are unable to think or feel or crawl our way free, (and thus, we) are in urgent need of a God who comes to rescue.” (2) Trusting in Christ means we acknowledge and rely on the God who comes to the rescue, when all around us points to the absurdity of faith.

In a few weeks we will gather on Palm Sunday to move from the “Hallelujahs of Palm Sunday,” to the tragic scandal of the cross, to the glorious resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Please remember that as we walk this journey with Jesus, we Christians must trust the One, who never strayed from the path of trusting his very life to the grace of the Father, even at the point of death.  (John 3:16) For God loved the world so much, that he literally gave himself to us, to show us the way, and to save us from the fear of tragedy and the sting of death. God promises God’s people life everlasting, grace, peace, and joy both at this moment, and on this day, and on every day, for the rest of our earthly lives. God promises us life everlasting now, and when we join the blessed company of all the saints in the life to come. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the living and eternal sign of that truth, and that is one sign in which, you can without a doubt put your TRUST!

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

(1) Bartlett, David L. “Inclusive or Exclusive Grace.” The Christian Century, vol. 108, no. 7, 27 Feb. 1991, p. 227

 

(2) Long, Thomas G. “Just as I Am.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 6, 21 Mar. 2006, p. 18.

 

 

SERMON Lent 3 3-4-18 St. Monica’s Naples, FL

spring-cleaning            Terri and I purchased our first home back in the Chicago suburbs in 1998 (20 years ago). With our pending move to Naples, we will have bought, lived in, and sold seven homes, but we are done moving.  With each move we had to do the difficult work of “spring cleaning.” It was not always easy to let go of the things that often weighed down the moving truck or required us to pack more boxes. It was critical though that we toss out a few things, in order to make room for the new things, experiences, and treasures God had in store for us.

Have you ever noticed that when we became a little too complacent as a follower of Jesus that we accumulate spiritual junk?  Maybe we kind of get into a soul funk, because we no longer take time to listen for God in silence, or we fail to pray, or we just muddle through our discipleship like it is a secondary to job, family, of recreation.   Maybe that is a sign that it is time to do some self-examination and allow God to enter into the hidden, broken, frightening places of our lives, and let God do a little spiritual “spring cleaning?”

Jesus’ “Spring Cleaning” in the Temple

The scene in today’s gospel reading is the well-known story of Jesus’ “Clearing the Temple” of Jerusalem.  The temple was the place where the people of Israel believed God dwelt and where their communal identity was centered. Over time the temple changed from a place of prayer and worship, to become a mere marketplace of monetary exchange and social interaction. “Part of the festival worship (of the temple) involved the sacrifice of an unblemished animal, (and) the availability of animals for people travelling from a distance was important.  (Likewise) one could only pay the annual “temple tax” in Tyrian coinage, so money-changers provided an essential service.” (1) So, the central icon of a people built as a place of prayer and worship, became a location of social and economic activities, for which it was never intended.

Jesus was appalled at the scene of animals being sold, and moneychangers doing their work in God’s Temple. Jesus said, with whip in hand, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Many of us have heard this story, and we are dismayed that Jesus, the meek and mild obedient Savior, would actually display public anger and frustration. This story has been used as an excuse for what some call “righteous anger,” but it has been used as an excuse for unimaginable human violence. Some have said, even Jesus got mad and beat the people and animals in the temple. Many scholars assert, and I agree, there was something more than mere Godly anger happening, when Jesus cleared out the Temple. 

Violence in the Temple or Something Else?

I believe that the “Clearing of the Temple” was an act of love. “But Eric,” you may say, “He beat the people and the animals.” I disagree because that is not what scripture says. Additionally, I grew up on my Dad’s farm, and I know first hand that the only way to get cattle out of the barn, in order to clean it and make it a better shelter is to firmly prod the cattle with a stick and coax them out. My dad and I often moved stubborn Angus cows and bulls out of the barn, so by cleaning it up, their lives were better.

John’s gospel “narrative does not depict Jesus beating the animals; but instead he (actually) saves their lives from sacrificial slaughter in a monetary and religious system.” (2) Jesus’ “spring cleaning” in the temple was not an act of Godly violence or godly anger, it was an act of love, which required the firm hand of grace, in order to save the lives of the animals and in a spiritual sense, the lives of the people who were defiling the temple.

Jesus is always saving our lives by clearing out the spiritual junk in our souls, the temple of God that is, if we allow it. Jesus will upend the worldly idols, self-focused altars, and un-reconciled relationship tables of our lives, which blind us from the way of grace. In a strange way, we are like the precious animals that were readied for slaughter, and by grace Jesus’ firmly “saves our lives.” 

We are the Body of Christ.

I know you heard that the church is the Body of Christ. Theologian Joel Wohlgemut says, “(the Temple of God is) the community, which draws its identity from the death and resurrection of Jesus.”(1) He says that the church today is like “the (early) community (that) . . . sees itself as the dwelling-place of God in the present context.” (1) The church is the Temple of God, the dwelling place of Christ, in us. At our baptism, we were marked with chrism oil, and “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever,” but baptism is much more than a water bath and a rite of passage.

At baptism, and at occasions throughout the liturgical year appropriate for baptism, we make specific promises to God and each other. We promise “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” “to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,” and “o strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Lent is a season for us to take pause, to reflect, and to take stock of how are we doing with those baptismal promises and in a way, that practice is a part of our spiritual spring cleaning.

Spring Cleaning for Mission

When Terri and I sold the home we lived in while in seminary, we spent weeks getting ready to move to our first parish in Englewood, Florida. We owned a huge storage building that was filled with boxes of “stuff” that we had carried with us from Chicago to Birmingham, AL, to Florida and back to Tennessee. In boxes long forgotten, hidden in darkness from the light of the sun, we found things we had not seen in years. There were items covered with muck and dust that no longer represented the value they had in the past. There were cards, letters, trinkets, and memories that we needed to toss out and never see again. As a result of this process of cleaning out the old stuff, our moving truck was lighter, our burdens were less, and we traveled to our new home with much less stuff, junk, and clutter.

Each one of us needs to allow Christ to clear out the temple of our lives, the old storage buildings of our souls, the place where we hide things we would rather not have light shine upon. We need to allow Christ to enter into those dark places, and sweep out those bad memories, regretful actions, and broken relationships, which need to be examined and sorted out. We need to constantly evaluate how we treat others, (yes, even in the church) and on the golf course, or in our homes, or in our workplaces. All of that must come under the light of the Christ that dwells in us. As the Temple of the Living and Resurrected Christ, Lent is a time to clean out the caverns of our souls, so grace may become visible and discernable again.

As we move through remaining weeks of Lent, I encourage us all to pray, meditate, read scripture, and practice a daily evaluation of asking this question, “how am I living up to the promises I made at baptism?” If you take on a discipline of daily examination, God will make a way to clear out the spiritual junk. When we come to God with an open, repentant, contrite heart, new life will emerge in our souls. Be advised though, this spiritual “spring cleaning” may be hard to bear, because it will include some overturned tables of worldly idols, and it may include a whip of God’s prodding and coaxing of some unruly animals of sin and broken relationships.

Ready your heart these next few weeks of Lent. Intentionally invite Our Lord to clear out the boxes of hurts and pains, to remove the containers of broken relationships, and to toss out the baskets of forgotten things done and left undone. It is a good time to clear out the junk that weighs us down and holds us back, from accepting the truth that we are joyful, abundantly grace-filled, forgiven, redeemed, and reconciled disciples, God assures us that we are already so named because of his grace, mercy, and love.

REFERENCES

(1) Wohlgemut, Joel R. “Where Does God Dwell? A Commentary on John 2:13-22.” Direction, vol. 22, no. 2, Sept. 1993, pp. 87-93.

(2) Alexis-Baker, Andy. “Violence, Nonviolence and the Temple Incident in John 2:13-15.” Biblical Interpretation, vol. 20, no. 1-2, 2012, pp. 73-96.