Sunday, February 20, 2011


We're almost finished with our series on 1 Corinthians, as Epiphany winds down. This week's sermon is Part 6. The governing big idea has been that there is always a gap between the ideal and the actual. We all know what we're supposed to do, say, think, and feel, but we never actually do, say, think, and feel them. The consequence of this gap is that if we try to fill it with our own efforts is that we will shred ourselves, and likely those around us. In this passage of chapter 3, Paul is calling out those who have criticized or doubted his authority as an apostle. He says to them that he's not worried about their judgment of him, because God alone will judge him. God will bring to light that which is hidden, and thus we ask, "By what standard will we be judged?"

The answer to this is found in today's reading in Matthew 6:24-34, where Jesus points out that you and I will not be judged by all the things we aquire, NOR by how much we strive for and/or are anxious about such things. Jesus asks, which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life. All anxiety does is indicate your allegiance to worldly provision of your needs, not to God's provision of your needs. God gives the birds of the air food and clothes the flowers of the fields in beauty - how much more so, Jesus states, will God provide for us who are worth much more than birds and flowers. Now, most of us don't wake up in the morning and struggle with questions of basic subsistence, what will I eat or what will I wear, but there are absolutely people in our community who do.

But while we might not be in a day and age that is dominated by severe matters of basic subsistence, we do know all too well what it is to be anxious. We worry about the pending results of a medical exam/test, we worry about the big presentation at work, we worry about the stability of a relationship. The reason we are anxious is ultimately because we are relying on worldly answers to present themselves, because if we truly trusted in God we wouldn't be anxious. Essentially Jesus is showing us that anxiety is sin.

But is the answer then to say, "Have you tried just not being anxious?" No! Because that certainly doesn't work! Furthermore, I don't want to make light of the serious things that keep you up at night. What we do need in the face of our anxieties is not to deny its there, but assurance. If you knew the results of your pending test results, would you be anxious. No, you wouldn't. However, God' doesn't promise full disclosure of the outcome of all our anxious issues. God doesn't promise to take away the things that cause us to be anxious, but he does say, "Do you trust me?" The answer to anxiety is faith, and Jesus will give us assurance in the face of our anxiety.

The Collect for today asks that God would save us from "faithless fears and worldly anxieties" and we ask God to help us to "cast our cares on you who cares for us." There is really no simple formulaic answer to our anxieties - perhaps it would be nice if there were. All I can do is point you to Jesus Christ, tell you to trust in him and cast your cares on him, for he cares for you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mature Christians

Our ongoing series on 1 Corinthians continues with Part 5 . This sermon ties in closely with the Gospel reading for today, Matthew 5:21-37. Paul is talking about maturity: the Corinthians think they are very mature in their faith, but the reality is they are not. How are they immature, and what does true Christian maturity look like?

Paul uses the analogy of food to describe maturing. Babies drink milk, adults eat solid food. In the life of faith, there are the simple basics, the "milk" of doctrine, and there is a more sound grasp and growth in being a Christian, "solid food". Paul says that he'd love to treat them as mature, but he has to talk to them as infants.

We should note, that part of being mature Christians means that we very regularly and readily go back to the basics of our faith, of Christ and him crucified (which we talked about last week). But this is different from never getting beyond the basics, where we never go any deeper to wrestling with the deeper questions of faith and the claims of Christians.

So what does it mean to mature in Christ and our faith? We'll answer this by looking at the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Jesus says repeatedly the phrase, "You have heard it said..." and then adds, "...but I say to you...". So, for example, he says, "You have heard it not committ murder." Here he's quoting from the 10 Commandments. Most people breath a sigh of relief, thinking, well I'm OK because I've never killed anyone. "But I say to you...whoever is angry with their brother is liable to judgement." Is Jesus making the commandment to not kill easier or harder? Jesus does the same with adultery, and applies the commandment not merely to our behavior, but to the state of our hearts.

In the Collect for today, we prayed that God would enable us to follow his commandments in will and in deed. It's good that you haven't actually killed someone, it's good that you haven't cheated on your wife, but in your sinful heart and mind you have. We need God to change and heal our hearts and wills to bridge the gap between the ideal and the actual. The law can not change our hearts, only the grace of Jesus Christ can.

So what does Paul mean by 'maturity'? If the Sermon on the Mount does anything it shows us the chasm in our lives between the ideal and the actual, and that a truly mature Christian is more aware, and not less, of this gap. As time goes on and our relationship goes deeper, we become more aware of our need for Jesus, not less.

The longer you are married to someone, are you more or less aware of their faults? More! Since it's St. Valentine's day, we note that when you first meet someone and fall in love, it's very hard to notice or imagine their faults. But as time goes on that changes. What a mature, healthy relationship requires is grace and forgiveness as a couple deals with those faults that are always being exposed. It is the same with us and the Lord. God will show to us our shortcomings, but will also point us again and again to the One who fills that gap. Grace causes the facade to come down.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Christ And Him Crucified...

This sermon from Feb. 6th is Part 4 in our series on 1 Corinthians. We've been using the concept of the gap between the ideal and the actual as we walk through this remarkable letter. The key verse we'll be looking at is verse 2, where Paul states, "I desired to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified." Paul reminds the Corinthian church that when he first arrived and began teaching them, not many of them were wealthy, or wise, or powerful according to the standards of the world. And he did not visit with a slick, polished, "wise" message intended to wow them, but rather he came with a message, i.e. the Gospel, had a power that actually did something to them and for them. And they had forgotten that.

Paul is chipping away at their misperceptions to expose the root problem, so that he would then show them the truth. If someone can't or won't acknowledge that they have a problem (be it an addiction, or an abusive relationship, or whatever), then there's really not much you can do for them. So Paul reminds them of their weakness when he first came to them, and their need to get back to basics. Let's unpack this powerful verse.

"I desired to know nothing among you..." There's something that is extremely simple about the Christian Gospel. This simplicity is very attractive, and part of what draws us back to church week in and week out. Very few people visit with me an complain that their lives are too simple. Quite the opposite: our lives are so often way to complex and busy, and what we long for is periods of rest, refreshment, and simplicity. Paul is bringing these Christians back to the very plain and simple truth of the Gospel.

"...except Jesus Christ..." And this Gospel is not a philosophy, not a method of living, nor an system of emotional highs and lows, but it is all about a Person. Simple. What you and I need week in and week out is not to reconnect with an emotion, not an idea, but with a real, live, Person. Jesus is alive today, do you know him? Or more appropriately, does he know you? If the verse ended here, then we would have a very simple message, rooted and grounded in a Person. But it doesn't end there. The difinitive part of knowing Jesus Christ is 'him crucified.'

"...and him crucified." Why make this such a central point to Jesus. He was such a nice guy, can't we just remember his teachings, why the cross? If all we have to the Gospel is the Person of Christ and the need to be like him, then we must ask, "Just how much like him are we?" There's that gap between the ideal and actual again!

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, I'm a big Steelers fan, and here's something a good friend of mine wrote in his blog abou the Steelers. He said he's looking forward to the game, but is reluctant to watch it at the church with his congregation becasue he doesn't want them to see what he's really like when he's in front of a Steeler's game.
We all wrestle with the idea that if peopel really know what I'm like then they wouldn't love me. And so we long to cover up what we're really like. If the Gosepl were simply, "Be like Jesus" then all we would do is be forced to further cover up what we're really like. But because the Gospel is "Jesus Christ and him crucified", it is intended for you to be laid bare to be healed. Jesus didn't come to be an example to follow, he came to be a propitiation for my sins! And by doing so I am enabled to be real with my sins, not cover them up.

That's we like to be around good friends. Because we feel like we can 'be ourselves' around them. We like to be with people who know and love us because they know our shortcomings and such grace causes us to be free, not to be bound and covered. How many of us can open up and be real with the people we are sitting with in church? How readily can you let the facade drop and be vulnerable, and confess and be healed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Truth & Wisdom

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Last week we looked at the church and the Gospel with the concept of Foolishness & Power. In this sermon from Jan. 30th, Part 3 of our series on 1 Corinthians we build on the immortal verse: "for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for us who are being saved it is the power of God"(1Cor 1:18) . In this sermon we'll take a look at truth and the gap/disparity between what is true and what we think is wise. Or, to be more specific, wrestling with the question, "How do you know that the things you take to be true in life, are actually true?" (FYI, the fancy-schmancy word for wrestling with this question is 'episitimology'). We make decisions and declare words or actions to be wise base on what we know to be true. In the biblical world, the Israelites determined things to be true by miracles and power - the Greeks used wisdom, i.e. philosophical wisdom, as the plumb line for truth. In Paul's letter he challenges the Corinthians on what they know and take to be true. The question sticks for us today: what plumb lines do we use to determine truth. Success is very often our plumb line today. If something is successful then the things that drive its success must be true. What are some other plumb lines for truth in our culture today? Here's some food for thought. If an astronomer tells you about some new planet in a far off galaxy that has just been discovered, you believe them, don't you. But when you go to a park and see a bench with a sign on it that says "Wet Paint", what do you do? You walk over and have to touch it, just to make sure! We don't believe the sign that simply says Wet Paint, but we do believe the astronomer who tells us something that most people have absolutely no way of evaluating/testing whether it is legit or not. Is this not a bit topsy turvey? It is, because it challenges what we know to be true. Here's another illustration of the odd and interesting ways we determine truth. Mike Brown, an astronomer, discovered in the '90s what was thought to be the 10th planet in the solar system, outside the orbit of Pluto. For years astronomers have wrestled with the definition of what is actually a planet, and at a huge international astronomers convention in Prague, the topic was to be on the table to settle the definition once for all. If the finalized definition was such that Pluto was axed from the list, then by default Brown's new planet would also be axed. Naturally, folks thought Brown would be in favor of a traditional definiting which would keep Pluto, and consequently his planet, in the list. But he supprised the international community when he published a book called "How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming" in which he argues against Pluto's planethood on the basis that scientifically it is not a planet! What is really telling about this whole story (don't worry, there's a reason homing in here!) is that at the astronomer summit they passed a resolution that in fact affirmed there are only 8 planets, but then passed a sub-resolution stating that this was based on the classical definition of planets - then they put the whole thing to a vote! There's a gap here between truth (Pluto is not a planet) and the sentiment of intelligent, able scientists who like Pluto and don't want to axe it from the list. If international scientists can do that, then we certainly can do the same in our own lives. The point is this - that knowing something to be true is ultimately dependent on faith. How do you know someone loves you? Surely there are signs and actions, like buying gifts, romantic dinners, taking care of household duties, but people can also fake it. How do you really know that they love you? Ultimately, you have to simply trust that they do. If you doubt the love of your spouse, taking them to a lab to be tested is a very bad idea - it will backfire on you! So this is sound wisdom: that knowing things are true isnot ultimately based on scientific inquirey, 'touching the wet paint', but on faith. Paul points out to the Corinthian church, that when most of them came to know Jesus Christ, very few of them fit the world's "wisdom" in terms of their success, status in life, their intelligence, etc. Did they fit the world's categories of truth? No. But this is good, because if a relationship with God depended on the wisdom of the world we'd all be sunk. It is to the meek that the world will be given (Matthew 5:5). Worldly wisdom says that humble people don't get anything, they become doormats, but God says that those who don't fit the world's plumb lines are the one's that he comforts. That is why the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, those who strive to fit the world's models of wisdom, but for those who are being saved, who trust in Jesus, the Cross is the power of God.