Saturday, May 28, 2016
This Sunday, May 29th, I continue my sermon series which examines the question, “How are we to live as a Resurrection People in this interim period? By “interim period,” I mean that long period of time between Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning and the parousia, or end-time, when God’s Kingdom will be fully established. On the one hand, Christians believe that Christ’s Resurrection was a cosmic tipping point in God’s plan of love and reconciliation for the universe. And yet, on the other hand, we live in a time where God’s Reign is far from fully established.
So, as an interim people, how does God intend for us to live? We are exploring the attitudes, life-style, and practices which define what it means to live as a Resurrection People in the interim. We began by looking at two key attitudes of a Resurrection People, hope and joy. Then, we explored God’s Call to live in a community of faith, where we are safe, loved, and supported by this community. Last Sunday, we examined justice, which is one of several practices that Christ calls upon us to pursue as a Resurrection People.
This week, we will reflect on a second practice: compassion. Our scriptural guide for reflecting on compassion will be Matthew 25: 31-46. This passage is sometimes referred to as “The Great Judgment” passage because it is the only passage in the New Testament that explicitly discusses a final judgment.
In these verses, Jesus provides detailed criteria, laying out what one must do for salvation. Jesus describes the final judgment as the process of a Judge separating sheep from goats. In this case, it is far better to be a sheep because they will be invited “‘to inherit the kingdom prepared…from the foundation of the world’” and eternal life. By contrast, the goats will be sent “away into eternal punishment.”
The criteria for separating the sheep from the goats concerns whether we have cared for our fellow neighbors. Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (vv. 35-36)
I have always appreciated this passage of scripture. For me, it’s as though Jesus has provided a study-guide for the final exam. Perhaps you remember study-guides from your school days. They were guides, sometimes with practice questions, designed to help students focus their studying exclusively on the material that would be covered by the final exam. So, in essence, in this passage Jesus is telling us that what is important for our salvation is service—that is, helping others. I suppose that this is the ultimate study-guide of all time. J
Biblical scholars have pointed out that all of the criteria named by Jesus in the parable have to do with “right practice” (orthopraxy), as opposed to “right belief” (orthodoxy). It’s interesting. For literally centuries, Christian theologians have been engaged in bitter arguments about highly nuanced understandings of orthodoxy. (In the “Great Schism of 1054,” the Eastern and Western sections of the Church split in large part because of a disagreement over a single preposition in one sentence of a creed.) Yet, as important as it is to struggle with the theological implications of our faith, this passage suggests that the final judgment is all about orthopraxy. It is all about how well we live out our Christian faith through service to others.
Once I was teaching a Bible study, when one of the participants confessed that she did not really like this passage of scripture. For her, this passage seemed “guild-inducing and manipulative.” She asked, “How many works of compassion and generosity are enough to be saved?”
I think that it’s important to look at this question from a broader perspective. Living as a Resurrection People should not be about guilt, manipulation, or bare minimums. Instead, as we have seen, Resurrection People should approach life with an attitude of joy and hope in response to God’s love for us. Through faith in Christ, we experience God’s love pouring down and filling us to overflowing. Out of this overflowing love, we respond with love and concern for our neighbors who are suffering—just as the sheep in the passage. We can’t help but respond in this way because we are so filled with God’s love. All of this is through faith.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that there were two avenues for spiritual growth. The first route he called, “works of piety.” By works of piety he meant attending worship, prayer, Bible study, and especially receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The second route he called, “works of mercy.” By works of mercy he meant the works of the sheep in Matthew 25; feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, etc. While Wesley believed that both types of works were vitally important, he believed that works of mercy were primary.
Wesley makes an important point. Part of being a Resurrection People means accepting God’s invitation to become “created co-creators,” working with God to establish God’s Reign throughout this planet by becoming agents of justice, compassion, and environmental stewardship. So, as a Resurrection People, we have compassion for those who are suffering, and we reach out to care for them in response to God’s overflowing love for us. We love the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the stranger, the naked, and the sick, because God first loved us.
Come, join us this Sunday, May 29th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we think about the importance of compassion as a critical dimension of working with God as created co-creators to establish God’s Kingdom here on planet Earth. Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
 (We also wondered: If Paul is correct when he says in his letter to the Romans that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” then what does that mean for the goats headed to “eternal punishment”? Does that mean that even in eternal punishment the goats will still experience God’s love—and by implication some sort of relationship with God? This is a fascinating question which I cannot pursue during my message on Sunday.)
Saturday, May 21, 2016
For the past several weeks we have been exploring this question, “How are we to live as a Resurrection People in this interim period? By “interim period,” I am referring to the time between Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter morning and the parousia, or end-time when God’s Reign will be fully established. This interim period can be described as an “On the one hand…..On the other hand” period.
On the one hand, Christians believe that Christ’s Resurrection was a cosmic tipping point in God’s plan of love and reconciliation for the universe. With the Resurrection, we see that death is not our termination point, but rather a point of transformation. We can look forward to that time when we will become transformed into New Creatures, healed and redeemed through Christ’s love and God’s power. In that New Creation, God’s Reign will be fully and completely established throughout the universe.
And yet, on the other hand, we live in a time where God’s Reign is far from being fully established. Humans continue to fear pain and death. Further, we live at a time when injustice and oppression prevail throughout much of the world, a time where the environment suffers from our neglect and abuse. So, we can see through Christ’s Resurrection a glimpse of what God’s coming Reign will be, but we remain in an almost-there-yet-not-quite-there limbo. God’s Reign begins with Christ’s Resurrection, yet God’s Kingdom is not yet fully here. We are an interim people.
So, as an interim people, how does God intend for us to live? We are exploring the attitudes and life-style which define what it means to live as a Resurrection People in the interim. We began this series of sermons by looking at two key attitudes: Resurrection People live lives filled with hope and joy because we have seen a sneak peak of the end and we know that God is already working to redeem us as part of a New Creation. Last Sunday, we began exploring the distinctive life-style of a Resurrection People. I suggested that God calls Resurrection People to live in a community of faith, where we feel accepted and secure—and, where we are loved and supported by this community of faith which we call the church.
In the final three sermons in this series, I will suggest that, as a Resurrection People, God invites us into a partnership, where we become “created co-creators,” working with God to establish God’s Reign throughout this planet by becoming agents of justice, compassion, and environmental stewardship. This week, our focus is on justice.
Justice is a central theme in the Hebrew scriptures. God clearly expects that as God’s chosen people, the Hebrews will be fully committed to working for justice, not just for the marginalized and oppressed persons within the Jewish faith, but for all people, including the stranger or sojourner, living among them. For instance, in Amos 5: 21-24, the prophet proclaims to the people of Israel that God hates and despises their worship services and offerings because they lack justice. He proclaims:
“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them…
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” (Amos 5: 21-23)
It is not that God disproves of the worship style of the Hebrews. No. Instead, God rejects the hypocrisy of the Hebrews who come to worship, without caring for those who suffer in society from injustice and are marginalized to the edges of society by oppression and exploitation. The prophetic words of Amos continue:
“But let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5: 24)
For God, worship is pointless if the worshiper is not sincere and fully committed to living a faithful life, which includes working for justice on God’s behalf. Those who do not take justice seriously are hypocrites and imposters who have not earned the right to worship God. Since justice is so important to God, only those Hebrews who have worked diligently for justice have the authenticity and the right to enter into worship. This theme is central to Jewish theology and it is carried over into the life and ministry of Christ Jesus.
In popular culture, and actually even among many Christians, there is this image of Jesus as meek and mild. In this view, Jesus loves and affirms everyone, and he is basically non-confrontational. This view suggests that perhaps Jesus is not as interested in justice, as the Hebrew prophets, such as Amos. However, there is a story from Jesus' ministry that provides strong contradictory evidence against this image of Jesus as unconcerned about justice. It is a story which all four Gospels include and I believe that it gives us an insight into how important justice is for Jesus. This is John’s account of the story:
“The Passover of the Jews was near and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, Jesus drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changes and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father house a house of trade!’” (John 2: 13-16)
In their telling of this story, all four Gospels emphasize that Jesus’ actions occurred near the Jewish religious observance of Passover. Passover was one of three “pilgrimage holy days” during the year, when devout Jews were encouraged to gather in Jerusalem so that they could worship in the Temple. So, there would have been many Jews who had traveled a substantial distance from their homes to the Temple. Given the travel, many Jews would not have brought animals with them for the traditional sacrifice in the Temple. Instead, they would have tried to purchase their sacrificial animals after arriving in Jerusalem. Similarly, the mandated temple tax could only be paid with certain types of coins. Greek or Roman coinage would not be accepted because those coins contained the image of the emperor.
With this background, it is easy to see how the selling of animals and changing of money got started in the Temple. Initially, these practices began for the convenience of the worshippers. However, what began innocently enough soon morphed into very lucrative businesses. When Jesus drives out the livestock and turns over the tables of the moneychangers, he is prophetically challenging the Jewish religious authorities and their worship because they have made profit-making more important than worshiping God; they have taken the Temple which was intended to be a house of prayer and made it into a commodities market.
Shifting our attention to the contemporary world, it is clear that God’s Reign will not ever be fully established, until justice is fully established and racism, sexism, xenophobia, hatred, exploitation, oppression, and bigotry are eradicated. Therefore, working for justice must be a central component of living as a Resurrection People. God expects the followers of Christ, both individually and collectively as communities of faith to join with God as created co-creators to work for justice so that God’s Reign may come.
Come, join us this Sunday, May 22nd, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we explore justice-making as a critical dimension of working with God as created co-creators to establish God’s Reign here on planet Earth. Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
We celebrate Pentecost Sunday this weekend, which Christians recognize as the birthdate of the Christian Church. In the latter stages of his earthly ministry, Jesus promised his followers that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, after Jesus himself had ascended into heaven: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26). This Holy Spirit will be present to the first Christians—both individually and collectively as the new Christian community of faith.
Following his post-Resurrection appearances to the disciples, at the time of his Ascension into heaven, Jesus tells his followers to remain in Jerusalem until they receive the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 4-5). Then, Jesus explains: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“Pentecost” simply means the “fiftieth day." For Christians the 50 days refers to 50 days following the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Within Judaism, 50 days refers to 50 days following the high holy day of Passover, and it occasioned another high holy day, the festival known as the “Feast of Weeks” (also known as Shavuot) which celebrated the wheat harvest during this historical period. Shavuot was one of three pilgrimage holy days, when diaspora Jews living in other countries made every attempt to return to Jerusalem and worship in the Temple. As a result, Jerusalem was filled with visitors at that time, literally representing every nation in the ancient world.
The disciples and other followers of Christ were also in Jerusalem, all united together in one place. Then, according to Acts 2: 1-4, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
As he describes this event in his history of the “Acts of the Apostles,” Luke (who was the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts) wants to create a vivid impression of how significant the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first Christians was. So, Luke resorts to three familiar symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures that were used to convey the Presence of the Divine: fire, sound, and speech.
Ø Fire. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and an individual tongue rested on each of them.
Ø Sound. Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, which filled where they were.
Ø Speech. All of them began speaking in other languages to the great diversity of people who gathered to see what was happening. Since it was the time of the Shavuot, many people from different countries, speaking different languages were in Jerusalem at that moment. When they gathered outside the house where the Christians had been staying, they each heard someone telling them about Jesus in their own, native language.
(Note that Luke does not describe the Holy Spirit as a wind or fire. Instead, the sounds of the event are described “as a fire” and “like the rush of a violent wind.”) When the assembled crowd saw what was happening, they were perplexed and some tried to make a joke by claiming the first Christians were all drunk from wine. This prompted Peter to stand up and deliver the first Christian sermon; see Acts 2: 14-40. As a result of Peter’s sermon, 3,000 of the bystanders became Christians that day (Acts 2:41).
But, what happened after the day of Pentecost was over?
In addition to commemorating Pentecost this Sunday, I will also be continuing my series of sermons, entitled: “Living as a Resurrection People.” This sermon series is grounded in the observation that the Resurrection of Christ represents a tipping point in cosmic history for Christians. With the Resurrection, God’s work of healing, redeeming, and transforming the cosmos into a New Creation has been revealed. Yet, with the prevalence of sickness, pain, injustice, hatred, conflict, skepticism, and death, God’s Reign has clearly not yet been fully established. We live in something of an interim period, between the revelation of the Resurrection and the consummation of God’s Reign at the end time.
So, the series explores what should be the characteristics, the attitudes, life-style, and core values which define what it means to live as a Resurrection People in the interim. Over the course of the series, we will look at six attributes: (1) joy; (2) hope; (3) community; (4) justice; (5) compassion; and (6) valuing the old Creation while looking forward to its healing and redemption as a New Creation at the end-time.
This coming Sunday, I will focus on the third attribute, community. I will suggest that our thinking about the attribute of community should be grounded by examining what happened after the day of Pentecost was over. At the end of Acts 2, Luke tells:
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2: 44-47)
The model of community depicted at the end of Acts 2 is one defined by four core characteristics:
1. They took care of one another. Luke writes that they “had all things in common…and distributed…to all, as any had need.” Luke’s words focus more on how the first Christian took care of another’s physical needs, such as having sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. However, it seems implicitly clear that the first Christians cared for one another’s other dimensions as well; they cared for each other spiritually, emotionally, and socially. In other words, they were fully focused on caring for each other’s complete wellbeing.
2. They sought to worship God and grow spiritually, together. Luke records that the first Christians “spent much time together in the temple.” For the Jewish community, the temple was the place to worship God, but it was also a place to engage in study of the Tanakh (scriptures) and other sacred texts. So, the first Christians spent much time worshipping God and seeking to grow in their understanding of faith.
3. They shared friendship and fellowship with one another. Luke observes that the first Christians shared common meals and fellowship in each other’s homes, savoring this time together with great joy and gratitude.
4. They helped non-Christians and shared the good news about Christ. I’m inferring that they helped even those who were not Christians because they earned the goodwill of those around them. They also shared the story—the Gospel—of Jesus Christ resulting in more and more persons deciding to join their community and become Christians.
I will suggest that this example of the first Christians in Jerusalem provides a model of the type of communities which we are called to as Resurrection People in the twenty-first century.
Come, join us this Sunday, May 15th, at Christ United Methodist Church, as we celebrate Pentecost and reflect on what it means to be a community of Christians, living in this interim period between Christ’s Resurrection and the consummation of God’s Reign in the New Creation. Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
This Sunday, May 8th, I will be exploring the role of Hope in Christian life. Each of us frequently uses the word, “hope.” For instance, we may say that we hope the weather on Mother’s Day will be beautiful. Or, we are hopeful that the Kansas City Royals baseball team will begin winning games, even though they have lost eight out of the last ten. However, when we are asked to describe what hope is, most of us have difficulty.
For the purposes of my proclamation on Sunday, I will suggest that hope is a positive mental outlook—or, attitude—which trusts that positive, desired outcomes and conditions will occur, even though they are not yet certain. Hope is fundamentally a positive, confident framework, despite sometimes overwhelming odds or evidence to the contrary.
If we define faith as trust that there is more at play than simply what can be currently known or seen, then faith is a huge component of hope. When we invoke faith, it is important to observe that faith is not just blind optimism that things will work out. Instead, I understand faith to be based upon some evidence that provides a grounding for our hope. This faith may be a religious faith, such as Christian faith. That is, a Christian may be hopeful because of their faith that God loves us and will ultimately provide for us. Or, this faith, which is a component of hope, may be non-religious. For instance, our Royals baseball fan may have hope that his team will start winning because last year they won the World Series.
While some persons may have personalities that tend to be positive and upbeat, while others may be more negative, I want to suggest that the quality of hope is not a personality trait. Instead, I think hope is an attitude which is cultivated and developed by the company we keep. In other words, our ability to hope is nurtured or undermined by our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities. We can only develop hope when we are accepted, forgiven, affirmed, and inspired by those persons around us, who know us and whom we believe.
This makes perfect sense because hope is not just a blind optimism, but rather an attitude or outlook that is grounded. Hope is grounded in affirmation from those around us, our communities. The family is our first and basic community. So, hope is developed or undermined by our families.
This Sunday, May 8th, is “Mother’s Day” in the United States, and we will be acknowledging our mothers as part of the Sunday service. Mothers can be instrumental in helping their children develop attitudes of hope through their love, forgiveness, affirmation, and inspiration. However, mothers will be the first to note that they need help in developing the quality of hope within their child. Each of us needs love and forgiveness and affirmation and inspiration from many, many sources, if we are to develop strong, resilient hope. Thus, even though only some women are privileged to be biological mothers, all of us—male and female, alike—can be like a mother to the children around us, by helping them to develop a strong, insurmountable grounding for hope, regardless of what happens in their lives.
For Christians, the church provides an important incubator for hope. As the gathered community of faith, the church should be a safe, secure place where individuals are helped to feel secure and comfortable, regardless of what they have done or left undone in the past. Christ’s community of faith should also be a safe and secure place for persons to share their questions and doubts, without fear of judgment or condemnation. Reflecting Christ’s love for each of us, the church should also be that supportive, “mothering” community which loves, affirms, forgives, and inspires each of us, thereby encouraging us so that we develop resilient hope.
But, there is more.
Christian communities of faith are not just support groups. There are other, important non-Christian support groups in our society. Rather, as Christians, God calls us to live as a Resurrection People. For Christians, the Resurrection of Christ represents a tipping point in cosmic history. With the Resurrection, God’s work of healing and transforming the cosmos into a New Creation has begun. Yet, at the same time, God’s Reign has not yet been fully established. We still live in the old world of sin and death, even though we have confidence that in the end God will prevail and establish the Kingdom of Heaven. During this interim period, Christ invites his disciples to join him as junior partners in working to establish God’s full Reign on earth.
During his ministry on earth, Jesus described how the Kingdom of God would grow in his parable of the mustard seed:
“Jesus said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’” (Luke 13: 18-19)
To fully appreciate Jesus’ mustard seed parable, it is important to remember that mustard seeds were infinitesimally small. It has been calculated that it would take 328,855 to 344,730 individual mustard seeds to make one American pound of seeds. When a mustard seed is planted and begins to grow, the resulting mustard tree can reach 8-9 feet in heighth. As Jesus reminds his followers in the parable, despite beginning as a tiny, tiny seed, the adult mustard tree becomes a safe haven for birds to make nests and grow their young.
Following the implications of Christ’s parable, Christians look forward to the “parousia,” the return of Jesus Christ at that time when God’s Kingdom will be completed and fully established on earth. It is the consummation of God’s Reign which provides the ultimate grounding for a hope that informs and fills us as a Resurrection People.
Come, join us this Sunday at Christ United Methodist Church, as we honor our mothers and celebrate Mother’s Day, while also reflecting on the attitude of hope, which is grounded in our conviction that Christ’s Resurrection is just the beginning of God’s ultimate Reign. Christ United Methodist Church is located at 4530 A Street in Lincoln, Nebraska. Our classic worship services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings.
Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.
Friday, May 6, 2016
I have launched a new proclamation series, entitled: “Living as a Resurrection People.” For Christians, the Resurrection of Christ represents a tipping point in cosmic history. With the Resurrection, God’s work of healing, redeeming, and transforming the cosmos into a New Creation has been refealed. At the same time, God’s Reign has not yet been fully established. We still live in the old world of sin and death. So, we live in an interim period, between the Resurrection and the consummation of God’s Reign.
As followers of Christ, how are we to live in this awkward interim period between the Resurrection and the New Creation? That is, how are we to live as Resurrection people?
Over the next weeks, we will explore these questions. We will examine the attitudes, life-style, and core values which define what it means to live as a Resurrection People in the interim. To live as a resurrection people means that God invites us into a partnership, where we become “created co-creators,” working with God to establish God’s Reign throughout this planet by becoming agents of justice, compassion, and environmental stewardship.
This is the schedule of proclamations for the series:
May 1 Joy
May 8 Hope (Mother’s Day)
May 15 Community (Pentecost Sunday)
May 22 Justice
May 29 Compassion
June 5 Old Creation/New Creation