Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Morphing: The Goal of the Spiritual Live

Romans 12:2
New Revised Standard Version
Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Phillips Translation
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

The Message
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Many of you know that Marcia, Sydney and I took Sarah – our oldest to college this week.  Like some of you, we unloaded a pile of belongings, decorated a dorm room, and left her on a strange and beautiful college campus – Samford University in Birmingham, AL.  One benefit of college is that now that Sarah is 18 and on her own – I no longer is obligated to pay her $1 every time I use her name in a sermon illustration.  We just ring it up to the cost of growing up in a preacher’s home.

On the way home yesterday, my mind began creating montages of her growing up years. I thought of the many good things I had done as her dad – picking her up at school, coaching a little league softball team, and traveling to every out of town Raider football game. 

There were other images, too, though, darker images.  I remembered the moments I failed as her dad:  The nights I lost my temper, yelled too loud and made her cry and the days I let being a pastor come before being a dad.

If I allow myself to be honest – I realize I had a pretty high expectation of being her dad and most days – reality never caught up.  Even in the great joy of being a dad, this discrepancy creates disappointment.  I call it the disappointment gap – the gap I feel between expectation and reality.  What I want to do and what I actually do.

This disappointment gap includes much more than my skills as a parent – it covers every
area of my life:  my marriage, my work as pastor, my spiritual life, my life as a friend, my social media life, my prayer life. There is much that I want to do or not want to do and it seems I do the opposite.  I live constantly with a disappointment gap.  And – if you allow yourself to go there – you do too. 

Some of our disappointments are trivial – I need to get in better physical health or do a better job on my finances.

Some of our disappointments are neurotic – concerned about the expectations other people have for me. 

Some of our disappointments, though, run much deeper and darker.  So deep we will never share them. 

We stand in good company with our disappointment gap.  Listen to the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14 as he talks about the power of sin in our lives:  “In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do. I don’t do what I know is right. I do the things I hate.”  Paul had certain expectations of what he would do and not do – and reality set in and he did the opposite. 

We do the same thing in our spiritual lives – we have certain expectations like – I will forgive this person, I will become a person of prayer, I will invite that person to church, I will offer to pray for my co-worker – and then reality sets in and we live in the disappointment gap. 

What do we do with our disappointment gaps?

For some of us – we have learned to rationalize our disappointment gap.  John Ortberg in The Life You’ve always Wanted, calls this the Popeye approach.  Many of us will remember these old cartoons – or maybe the 1980’s movie - about an old crusty sailor named Popeye The Sailor Man.  When Popeye was frustrated or wasn’t sure what to do or felt inadequate, he would simply say, “I yam what I yam.” 

“Popeye wasn’t a sophisticated guy.  He had never been to therapy and was woefully out of touch with his shadow side and his inner child.  He didn’t have much education.  He knew who he was:  a simple, pipe-smoking, Olive Oyl-loving sailor man and he wasn’t pretending to be anything else.”  He “owned his story.”  Sound like anyone you know?

Ortberg notes a bit of sadness in Popeye’s expression, though.  He offered this expression as an explanation of his short comings with nonsense that he could ever grow or change.  He was saying – ‘Don’t get your hopes up.  Don’t expect too much.  I yam what I’m yam and that’s all that I yam.” 

I bet you have said those same words too – I know that I have.  “I am what I am and that’s all that I am – I will never be able to change.”  We get caught in the struggle between our disappointment gap and God’s hope. (John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 2002),14).

God desires a better way out of our disappointment gap.

If fact, God has designed a better way.  When we are experiencing life in our disappointment gap – we have dis-appointed God – we have removed ourselves from the life God appointed for us.  We have refused to let God be God.  Acknowledging God is the first step. 

          Do you remember the name God gives to Moses at the burning bush?  Back in Exodus, Moses has run away to the desert to escape.  Then, one day, God comes to Moses in this great burning bush – a tree burning, yet, not being consumed.  God calls Moses back to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of slavery.  The task seems too enormous and Moses gets a little free with God and asks:

          “Who are you?  What if I go to the people and tell them the God of our fathers has sent me, and they ask me his name – what should I tell them?” Do you remember what God says?

          “I am what I am.”  It’s the powerful word in Hebrew we name YAWEH.  Literally Yahweh means:  “I was what I was.”  I am what I am.  I will be what I will be. 

          While we may struggle with a life of disappointment gaps – rationalizing our disappointment to God and ourselves – “I yam what I yam,” God gives it right back to us:  “No – I am what I am.  There is no situation, no sin, no mistake, and no disappointment that is too big for me.  Get your hopes up.  You know me.  I yam what I yam!”

          Get this into your head:  God created you as a great piece of art.  And now God calls us to become the person God had in mind when God originally designed us to be. 
          Soren Kierkegaard has this wonderful prayer.  It simple says, “And now Lord, with your help, I shall become myself.”  Do you remember God’s Name?  I am who I am!  This is the hope in the midst of the disappointment gap!

          During college, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world – St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. It is filled with some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the world.  In one enclave towards the back sits a piece of renaissance art called the Pieta by Michelangelo.  Even as one unschooled in art – this piece of art spoke to me and took my breath away.  It’s a marble statue of an anguished Mary holding the crucified Christ.  I stood staring at the statue for several moments taking in this scene.

          What I didn’t know was that in 1972, a fanatic nationalist rushed the masterpiece and began smashing it with a sledgehammer.  Although there was much damage, the Vatican artists restored it to near perfect condition.  The damaged piece of art became beautiful again. 

God wants to do the same thing in each of our lives.  Each of us are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God – and yet, our sin has taken a sledgehammer to that image.  God is determined to overcome the defacing that sin has caused of his image in us. 

          God does not want the person that we are now to be the end of our story.  God desires for us to become something more.

          Let me invite you to take answer a simple multiple choice question.  It’s on your sermon guide and here on the screen.
“The purpose of my spiritual life is:
       To Be Good
       To learn about God
       To go to church
       To serve others
       To make a difference in the world.
       All of the Above
       None of the Above

Now - Listen again to our scripture passage Romans 12:2 (MSG):

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out”

God’s goal for our spiritual life is:  Human Transformation – changed from the inside out.

          Each of these answers to the question are good answers – yet, God wants something deeper and longer lasting.  God wants to change you – from the inside out. 

          The Greek word used in this passage in Romans 12:2 is Metamorphoo:  It means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure – from the inside out.  This greek word became our English word metamorphous which we use to describe the transition that takes place between a caterpillar and a butterfly.
This is the Greek word translated as transfigure when Jesus goes up the mountain with this disciples and the disciples see Jesus for whom he really is.  Matthew describes it this way:  “Jesus "was transfigured [metamorphoo] before them; his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.”

          Paul says in Romans – this is what God wants to do to us.  “Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed [metamorphoo]  by the renewing of your minds.”

          The image of Jesus lies dormant inside each one of us – and like a beautiful butterfly emerging from its cocoon, God wants to slowly, sometimes painfully, bring that image out in each of us.  God wants us to become something new.  In Corinthians, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

          God desires the transformation of you and me – from lives lived in the disappointment gap – to lives lived mirroring the face of Jesus in the world. 

          Do you remember the tv craze back in the 1990’s called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?  The show was an unlikely hit – originally produced on a very low budget in Japan and badly dubbed into English.  The show and its characters continue to have their supporters – I still see Power Ranger costumes at Halloween and I learned this week there will be a new movie arriving in theaters in 2017.

          The key to the shows appeal was the character’s ability to morph.  Ordinarily, they were normal adolescences, but as needed they would access a power beyond themselves to become martial arts heroes for justice.  Their rallying cry in moments of crises was “It’s morphing time!” and they would transform with the ability to do extraordinary things.  Since then, the word “morph” has become a part of the American vocabulary (The Life You've Always Wanted, 19).
          In reality, we all desire deep down to be able to morph, to change from the inside out, to be transformed.

          Here’s the Gospel for you and me:  The possibility of transformation lies within each of us.  This is the essence of hope.  Ortberg says this:  “We are pregnant with possibilities for spiritual growth and moral beauty so great that they cannot be adequately described as anything less than the formation of Christ in our very lives.”  Wow!

          The goal of the spiritual life is our transformation from a life defined by our disappointment gap into an expression of Jesus.  Jesus wants to morph you and me!
          And when our morphing happens, we don’t just find ourselves doing the things of Jesus, we find ourselves wanting to do them.  We start becoming the kind of person Jesus wants us to be.  

I would like for us to learn a new litany to use in the coming days, weeks, months and years.  It points us to the heart and goal of our spiritual life and the life of our church.  It’s simply this: 
Pastor:  It’s Morphing Time
People:  We shall morph indeed!

          Let’s try it. 
When we morph into the image of Jesus – the world sees the changes and responses. 
Last week, I spoke about the shifting of our world. I challenged us to not just be afraid, angry, or apathetic – but instead to approach this new world with the excitement of a new adventure in faith.  The only way this makes any sense is when we are morphing more and more into the image of Jesus – as we begin to think, act, and become like Jesus.

When we do this – the world will be changed.  When we are transformed, we live by different rules – Kingdom living – than the surrounding culture.  Early Christians lived this way, attracting attention from outsiders and ultimately won many of them over the ways of Jesus.  Here is one report from a Christian sympathizer inside the Roman World:

“[The Christians] marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.  They share a common table, but not a common bed.  They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh.  They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.  They obey prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.  The love all men and are persecuted by all.  They are unknown and condemned.  They are put to death and restored to life.  They are poor, yet make many rich.  They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything" (Phillip Yancey, Vanishing Grace (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2014), 73).

When we morph into the image of Jesus – everything changes. 
Jesus desires us to morph – he wants to destroy the disappointment gap.
Our family needs us to morph – they want the best for us.
The world needs us to morph – they need to see Jesus.

What will you do?
Pastor:  It’s Morphing Time
People:  We shall morph indeed!

Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Resident Aliens: Being Christian in a Secular World

Preached on August 9, 2015
Scripture:  John 4:1-6

            Our world has shifted – Like a giant tectonic plate sliding Western on the Pacific rim of fire. 
For William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas, authors of the book Resident Aliens the first earthquake in this shift happened on a Sunday evening in 1963 in Greenville, South Carolina.  On that Sunday, in defiance of the state’s time honored blue laws which stated no businesses should be open on Sundays – maintaining the Christian Sabbath day - the Fox Theater opened.  The authors’ state:  “On that Sunday seven us – regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Bumcombe Street Church – made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out of the backdoor and join John Wayne at the Fox.”  On that night Greenville served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church.  There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides.  The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the worldview for the young.  In 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish” (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon.  Resident Aliens:  A provocative Christian Assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong, Nashville:  Abington Press, 2014, 15-16). 
            The Supreme Court ruling in June providing the right of same-sex couples to marry represented the closing bell for our Christian majority culture – completing a new landscape in which we live. 
For over 1700 years we have lived under the umbrella of Christendom – a world where Christians held power.  This world – constructed by Emperor Constantine by making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire - has collapsed.  It has been dying for decades. 
All the while, American Protestants – traditional Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians - have plodded wearily along as if nothing has been changing.  “Like an aging Southern mistress – living in a decaying mansion on the edge of town, bankrupt and penniless, house decaying around her but acting as if her family still controlled the city – our theologians and church leaders have acted as if we were still in charge, as if the old arrangements were still valid” (Resident Aliens, 29).  Since I left seminary in 1997, stories of ministry in Post-modern America resembling that in the First Century Roman world have circulated.  Like many, I closed my eyes and hoped the prognosticators were wrong.  That day is here.  
            Let there be no doubt - We live in a secular world - Even in the religion soaked south.  No matter what indicators you use, polls, church attendance numbers, decrease in baptisms – it is obvious that the people in the United States who identify themselves as Christians has decreased sharply.  Pollsters call this decrease the rise of the nones – individuals who claim no religion – who mark “none” on their survey responses.  Families simply call this decrease our sons, daughters and grandkids.  Our Baptist children raised in our church nurseries, suckled on GA and RA’s, and toted in church buses around the south have examined the experience with faith they found in our churches and left wanting for more. 
Christian Response
The result is a world that feels normal – yet, when we look around everything has shifted.  And we are left with the choice for how we as followers of Jesus will live in this secular world.
            As I listen to preachers and news shows, watch my Facebook newsfeed and talk to friends – I notice three common, Christian responses to this new, secular world.
First – there is fear. We fear change and all that it entails.   And this world shattering shift is one of the greatest changes in any of our lifetimes.  When things change rapidly around us – fear leaps out of the hedges, grabs our throats and won’t let us go.  We begin to fear anything and anybody that is different – different points of view, different colors and kinds of people, different ways of doing things.  Fear has becomes the lens by which many of us view the world. 
Often, this fear materializes as the second Christian response to a secular world:  anger.  Anger is the most visible way Christians respond to our loss of the Christian majority influence in our culture.  We write or share angry posts on social media.  We listen to angry commentators on TV and radio.  And if we wait long enough in a Walmart line or at the barber shop or even venture to read a comments section on an online news article – we will witness anger spring to life. 
And then there is one more common Christian response to our secular world:  apathy.  Apathy is the ostrich with its head in the ground; it’s the grown adult with his eyes shut, hands on his ears, babbling to keep from hearing or seeing what is around him.  Apathy withdraws itself from the world – hoping to outlive or ignore the changes happening all around us.  Honestly, some of us have a better chance of outliving this shift – withdrawing into our homes – but for most of us – living in this new, secular world cannot be stopped. 

Gospel Response
            Fear, anger and apathy are the common Christian responses our secular world – yet, they are not the biblical response.  In our humanness, we exhibit fear, anger and apathy – yet, the Gospel communicates a clearly different Christian response to the secular world. 
            The teachings and actions of Jesus – the author and perfector of our faith – invite us to a new way living in a secular world.  The authors Willimon and Hauerwas building off of 1 Peter 2 name for this new existence for us.  Simply, they invite us to be Resident Aliens in a secular world.  Peter writes:  “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”  As resident Aliens – we reside in the world.  We are citizens of the United States, the state of Georgia and Habersham County.  Yet – while we are residents of this place – as followers of Jesus we are not of this world – we are aliens and exiles – citizens of another kingdom demands to be our first priority.  As long as we live on earth – we will never feel like true locals. 
            Learning to live as resident aliens in a community that feels so familiar and yet so different requires us to listen more intently to and follow Jesus. 
            Look again at John 4:3:  3”Jesus left Judea and started back to Galilee.4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar.” 
            Traditionally, religious Jews like Jesus never went through Samaria.  To get from Judea in the south to Galilee and the North – religious Jews went around the region called Samaria which sits in the geographical center of Palestine.    Imagine for a moment that Georgians hated Tennesseans besides just on one Saturday in the fall.  We hated them to such an extent – we never wanted to step foot in Tennessee – so to go North to Kentucky we always traveled through Virginia or Arkansas – it was out of the way, but never saw a Tennessean. 
            In this passage – the opening verses of the passage on the Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus makes the radical decision to go through Samaria and stop in the Samaritan village Sychar. 
            “In Jesus’s day Samaritans lived just down the road – just over the state line - from their cousins the Jews.  Despite having much in common – language and religious practices especially – the two groups could not get along.  They were hostile to each other.  Like estranged family members, the nursed grudges.  To the Jews, the Samaritans were heretics” (Phillip Yancey, Vanishing Grace:  Whatever Happened to the Good News? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, 25).  John reports later in this passage that Jews did not associate with Samaritans – they didn’t talk to them, didn’t share things with them, and would rather see them die than help them in any way.  For the Jews of the time – there was no racial slur worse than being called – “A Samaritan.”  You – Tennessean!
            In John 4 Jesus intentionally goes to Samaria to teach us a lesson about how to live in this world. 
            Tim Stafford in an article in Christianity Today said that often times Christians compare life in our secular world with the Jewish exile to Babylon in the 6th century BC – we stuck in a culture that trumpets values hostile to our faith.  Actually, Stafford argues – living in the modern secular world of the West is less like living in Babylon and more like living in a modern Samaria.  “The problem,” Stafford says, “is not that our religion in America is strange to those who are secularist – the problem is that our religion in familiar.  Like Samaritans and Jews, Christians and NonChristians in America have a partly shared worldview (based on Western Traditions including the bible) and a shared point of origin … We are familiar with what each other believes.  We’ve suspicious of one another.  So we start off with a grudge” (Vanishing Grace, 25).
            If living in Secular America is the similar to living in modern Samaria then we need to pay attention to what Jesus says about Samaria.
            Not only does Jesus intentionally go to Samaria in John 4 – to the woman he meets there she is the first to acknowledges Jesus as Messiah. 
            In Luke 10, Jesus tells one of his most remembered and powerful parables to his Jewish followers.  In this story, a man gets beaten, robbed and left on the side of the road to die.  Two Jewish religious leaders pass him by.  Yet, it is a business man who stops to help.  Do you remember where he was from?  Yes – Samaria.  Jesus chooses to make the Samaritan good, the hero of the story.  What does this say to us about how we respond to our secular world? 
            In another passage in Acts 1:8 – Jesus gives his final word on Samaria.  Jesus says – “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.”  We’ve quoted and preached on this powerful com-missioning passage all of our lives.  Have we ever realized – Jesus is sending us as missionary to our secular world – which causes us so much fear, anger and apathy?  The story of Jonah feels comes to mind, doesn’t it? 
            We don’t need to assume this world shifting assignment came easily to the first disciples.  In Acts - Phillip begins preaching in Samaria and the Holy Spirit breaks out.  The church in Jerusalem questions it and really doesn’t want to believe it.  So they send their leaders – Peter and John to witness it. They return testifying to God’s amazing grace.
            As Resident Aliens in modern Samaria, Jesus invites us to lay down our fear, anger and apathy at the foot of the cross.  Instead – Jesus invites us to see the time in which we live as the most amazing, incredible and exciting opportunities for living and proclaiming the Gospel.  Willimon and Hauerwas make this powerful claim:  “The demise of our Christian culture as a prop for the church is not a death to lament.  It is an opportunity to celebrate … American Christians are at last free to be faithful in ways that make being a Christian today an exciting adventure” (Resident Aliens, 18). 
            This is how we live as Christians in a secular world – with a spirit of excitement anticipating the moments God breaks out in the world in new and fresh ways. 
            Moving from fear, anger, and apathy to joy, celebration and excitement does not come easily.  Living as a Christian in this secular world invites us to make three intentional responses.

1.      Ask the right theological questions. 
Life in modern Samaria requires us to learn to think theologically.  We cannot just say we believe what our parents believe.  We can’t just spout a list of essential beliefs.  Theologians in the 20th century were concerned about apologetics – trying desperately to get a secular world to make intellectual sense of our Christian narrative.  Jesus didn’t try to convince people to think differently.  Jesus taught so that people would live differently – be different (Resident Aliens, 24).  This is the key reason I am certain that our BELIEVE experience starting on September 13 will begin revival in our church.  The purpose of this experience will not be to brainwash our church to believe a certain set of principles.  This experience invites us to move our theological beliefs from our head to our hearts so that we live differently.  When we trust what we say we believe - we will thrive in modern Samaria. 
2. Develop spiritual disciplines. 
This summer, I have reflected on how I can best lead you – my church – to thrive in this new Samaria? I keep coming back to the practices of the early first century Christians.  What spiritual practices did they do that gave them power I in a secular world?  What kind of prayer life was necessary to thrive in ancient Jerusalem with your neighbors and relatives trying to kill you?  What kind of worship was required in Corinth to break through the glitz of the Roman Empire?  If we are going to thrive in the 21st Century – we must invest our time and energies reproducing these practices in our lives.  In our Believe experience we will ask – how can we act like Jesus?

3. Our final biblical response to a secular world is simply this:  Offer water to a thirsty world. 
While we may feel threatened or fearful or angry or apathetic – remember – the world around us is desperately thirsty.  Phillip Yancy in his book – Vanishing Grace, which I will be teaching on Wednesdays this fall – says this about our lives in modern Samaria:  We must become dispenser of grace - “utilizing the weapons of grace which means treating even our enemies with love and respect” (Vanishing Grace, 26).  When the Pharisees called Jesus “A Samaritan and demon possessed – he did not protest the racial slur.  Instead – he went through Samaria, made a Samaritan a hero in a parable and sent his apostles to preach the good news IN Samaria TO Samaritans. 
            Our secular world is thirsty.  And Jesus is the Living Water.  Henri Nouwen invites us to start living in secular America – modern Samaria – with a prayer on our lips.  It is simply this: 
“God, help me to see others not as enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst” (Vanishing Grace, 26).
            What if, instead of getting fearful and rushing to judgement or getting angry and bristling with self- defense or being apathetic and hiding our heads in the sand we simply prayed each morning:  Lord:  let me see your world as thirsty people, and teach me how to best offer your living water to those around me.         
What difference would this prayer make in your life?  What difference would this prayer make in your attitude?  What difference would this prayer make in our church, in your home, in your workplace, and even in our nation?         
            As we ask the right theological questions and develop spiritual disciplines and offer water to our thirsty world – God’s world will open up to us in new ways.
Yes, we will still be resident aliens.  So - Let us rejoice for now the fun really starts!  Thanks be to God.   Amen. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trinity: Holy Spirit Arrives

Scripture:  Acts 2:1-21
Preached on May 31, 2015

Movement 1
            The great sadness consumed Mack.  It slowly “tightened around his chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor, squeezing liquid tears from his eyes until he thought there no longer remained a reservoir.”  Everyone saw the great sadness on his face – day after day – and no one blamed him. 
            The story of Missy’s disappearance is unfortunately not unlike others told too often.  It happened during the Labor Day weekend.  Mack decided to take his three younger children on a final camping trip of the summer.  
            On the last day of the trip, Mack looked up to see two of his children canoeing in the lake.  Suddenly, their canoe overturned and they were in the water.  Instinctively, Mack left Missy at the campsite and dove into the water to save his children.  When he returned – kids safe – no one could find Missy.  She was gone.
            Anguished weeks passed before a piece of her clothing was found in an old shack out in the forest.  The great sadness tightened quickly.
            The story of Mack and the shack, however, is more than a story of death and sadness – it is story of God’s movement in the world and in one particular man.  When bad things happen – we wonder is God at work?  Why would this happen?  In the story - Mack meets God as Trinity in the Shack.  It sounds quite fantastical, doesn’t it?  Yet, this is where faith centers into our lives. 
            William Young, author of The Shack, says it this way: 
“There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational.  It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it surely is not rational.  Perhaps there is suprarationality:  reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that only makes sense if you can see a bigger picture of reality.  Maybe that is where faith fits in.” 
Movement 2
            At the end of Jesus’ time on earth he ascends to heaven and invites his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive.  This event in the life of humanity transforms our understanding of God.  Jesus – God in human form, Emanuel – God with us – leaves.  The disciples are left to ponder:  how will God relate to humanity and the world now that Jesus is gone?  We might ask:  How does God act in a world governed by science and natural laws and rational thought?
            This question has never s more important a question that it is today.  “No period in history has been in greater need of God’s present activity in the world and a comprehensive and integrated spiritual vision of the future and destiny of planet earth than the present.”
            And yet – for many of us – our theology of God’s Spirit alive in the world remains stunted.  Lora Gross in her introduction to the Holy Spirit in A New Handbook of Christian Theology says “The Christian church’s theology has been glaringly deficient in setting forth a detailed doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”
            The charismatic movement of the 70’s and 80’s that swept through so many communities and Baptist churches seemed to steal the life from a healthy theology of the Holy Spirit.  We let our charismatic friends have the Spirit and the gift of speaking in tongues and we looked the other way and focused on the things we could understand … and control.
            A rational theology that takes out the Spirit makes sense in a rational world.  The idea that something of absolutely irrationality might take place never crosses our mind.
            In the Shack, Mack inexplicably receives a typed note inviting him back to the woods – to the Shack – from a person named Papa – the name his wife uses for God.  Without knowing why – except that the Great Sadness drove him – Mack goes back to the Shack – the scene of the crime.  It is there when he opens the door that he meets God face to face – God as Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And if you ever want to have your preconceptions of God blow away – you will simply need to read the book – I won’t spoil the surprise. 

Movement 3
            Imagine your surprise, though, if you were in Jerusalem 2000 years ago for Pentecost – the Festival of Weeks.  Imagine seeing a crowd of poor, yet ecstatic Galileans gathered in the street.  You might have expected a disturbance when you realized they were a small group of Jesus followers.  If you saw them that night on the narrow streets of Jerusalem you would have instantly known they were on fire.  They were talking, but they were talking in a very unusual way. Their passionate conviction conveyed the power of their message even to faithful Jews like yourself. 
            As ecstatic as their speech was – you are surprised you understood it.  Faithful Jews like yourself from every known place around the world understand them too – Persians and Romans, Egyptians and Greeks.  Something else, more important than language, though, catches your attention.  This group of people are fearless.  They stand up and say what they want to say, even though they know that their words might mean death.  And above all – they are amazingly effective.  People listen to them.  Thousands of people are moved by their words of the wondrous works of God.  You look around and see people deciding to follow Jesus too.
            Acts 2 describes a Divine Disturbance.  The Holy Spirit breaks out into the world at Pentecost in a new way.  The world as we know it has never been the same. 
            In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is active as well as a vital energy of the divine nature at work.  We first see the Spirit at work in the first chapter of the first book.  The opening creation song of Genesis 1 says: 
            “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”  The Spirit of God brings order to the chaos and life to the world – it serves as the creative and vitalizing force of the world.   
            Here in Acts 2 – we see a new manifestation – a new look – for the same Spirit of God. 
            These early followers of Jesus felt the energy of the continuous living activity of Jesus and called it by the name of Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was the link between the church and its head – Jesus.  The enthusiasm we witness in Jerusalem on Pentecost was actually there became theirs – the phrase Holy Spirit was their interpretation of their experience.  God was alive in the world – disturbing everything they knew. 
            In the Shack, Mack has an encounter with the Holy Spirit.  Using the female designation found in the Hebrew word for Spirit in the Old Testament, Mack describes the Holy Spirit this way:  “Light seemed to radiate through her and then reflect her presence in multiple places at once.  Her nature was rather ethereal, full of dynamic shades and hues of color and motion.  “No wonder so many people are a little unnerved at relating to her,” Mack said.  “She obviously is not a being who is predictable.”
            An unpredictable power breaking out into the world – this is the Holy Spirit. 

Movement 4
            Too often, though, the unpredictability of the Spirit gets in our way.  We don’t want unpredictability.  We want God in a way that we can understand, manage and control. 
Craig Van Gelder in his book, The Ministry of the Missional Church, describes the world we build to rationally describe and control God as a Closed Universe.  This world is closed to anything that cannot be explained through rational objectivity.  Our closed universe was built by the scientific world as a result of the Enlightenment.  For our electrical engineers – this is as close to understanding what you do as I can – a closed universe is a like a closed circuit.  In a close circuit – the electrical current moves predictability through a series of wires, switches and lights.  The closed circuit controls the power and the results are predictable.   
The same is true in a close universe.  In our closed universe – we get predictable God.  In our closed universe – we hold God back.  In our closed universe – we don’t welcome divine disturbances. 
Yet, the biblical record and the testimony of the saints through the centuries says we don’t live in a closed universe – we live in an open universe.  In an Open Universe the world is open to the movement to the Spirit of God. 
As such, the Spirit is the power that sustains the world and human life at the same time that it moves the world and human life to transcend themselves in concrete ways. 
The Spirit at work in the world is more than just a faith in the gap theology.  Faith in the gap theology says that we whenever we encounter something we don’t understand in the natural world – we name it God.  Science has worked over the last 500 years to disclaim the faith in the gap theology – from the fact that the earth goes around the sun, the earth is round and to evolution.  The Spirit of God is more than just a way to describe the things we don’t understand – the Holy Spirit is more dynamic and powerful than our unanswered questions. 
Instead, The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the world.  This presence places the power, meaning and purposes of God into creation and especially into humanity.  Because of God’s presence – the Holy Spirit is active in nature, active in history, and active in life.  This is good News!

Movement 5: 
            The Good News of Acts 2 is this:  The Holy Spirit breaks out of the obstacles of our lives for the sake of the world. 
            The Holy Spirit is breaking out in the day to day moments of our lives.  The Holy Spirit is breaking out in the daily work of our church.  The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our families.  The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our jobs.  The Holy Spirit is breaking out in our mission work – as we will see when our mission team returns from Santa Emilia, Nica.
            The testimony of the first Christians is that this breaking out into the world is for a purpose:  for the sake of the world.  The followers of Jesus don’t look around the upper room amazed to just take in the breaking out of the Holy Spirit around them.  The breaking out causes a disturbance in their lives.  The breaking out pushes them out into the world beyond the house.  The breaking out opens their mouths and forces them to preach the Good News of Jesus to the world.  
These are the words Peter preaches:
‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—    and they will prophesy.”

            When the Holy Spirit breaks out – our lives and the lives around us are transformed forever!
            That’s what happens to Mack in the Shack.  In a most mysterious way – a way that never makes complete sense, God breaks through the Great Sadness of Mack’s life.  The Spirit of God breaks forth in a dynamic and powerful way to bring healing and meaning to his hurt and pain.  The questions of why did this happen and what else could I have done never get answered.  Instead, into the mysteries The Spirit of God breaks forth and his life is transformed.  Praise be to God!
The same can be true in your life.
            The Holy Spirit is not a passive actor on stage waiting for the signal.  The Holy Spirit is a divine disturbance moving in ways that will both astound and confound us.  Would we have it any other way?
            Today, right now - The Holy Spirit seeks to break through the obstacles of your life to bring healing to your hurt – to bring meaning to your life.  What obstacles stand in the way?  What facades have you built to keep God in your own closed universe – free from anything you don’t understand?  What excuses have you made to God to keep God at bay?  What portraits of God have you painted in your head that limit God’s dynamic ability to transform your life?
            The story of the disciples at Pentecost invite us to experience God in a new way – to release the power of the Holy Spirit in to our lives and into our world.  The story of the Pentecost invites us to see the Holy Spirit at work in all that we do – as individuals and as a church.  Finally, the story of Pentecost invites us to release the Holy Spirit into our lives so that we may see the Kingdom of God established on earth as it is in heaven.  This is the meaning of life and faith.  Thanks be to God.  Amen. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Orienting Values 2015

[I've had lots of great opportunities while raising my
daughters.  Speaking at Sarah's Baccalaureate Service is one of my highlights.  I choose not to tell any Sarah stories.  Instead, I spoke to the challenges and opportunities today's graduates have as natives of the post-modern, digital world.  If you want a few Sarah stories - I have those too.  Eric]

Baccalaureate Service
Habersham Central High School
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Good Afternoon – Superintendent Cooper, Principal McGee, Distinguished faculty, families and friends and most importantly – Good Afternoon to the 2015 Graduates of Habersham Central High School.  The opportunity to speak briefly with you today brings me great joy and much honor. Thank you. 

In 1997 - the year most of you graduates first appeared on the world’s stage - the world you entered was stable. Newspapers and television news delivered the world to us regularly each day. The internet - then known as the information superhighway – was still a novelty.  Google did not exist so people still used books called encyclopedias.  Your parents at their work and maybe their homes were just beginning to use something called email to communicate. When we traveled, we pulled out huge things from the glove compartment of our cars called maps to find our directions.

In 1997, the country was in an incredible mood - the stocks markets were beginning to soar. Stories of secretaries making millions though internet company stock options filled in the news. Russia was a disaster after the U.S. won the Cold War.  Dreams of long lasting world peace were everywhere. Tiger Woods won his first masters in April. Hong Kong returned to China in June and Mother Teresa died in September. 

In 1997 - parents like me pictured a great future for our new young infants.  Life is never without its difficulties; but in 1997, hope filled our homes and our biggest fears were trying to get you to fall asleep each night - not what kind of world you would inherit. 

This world no longer exits.  The world I just described might as well be life on Mars for all of you.  Over the course of your life, the 1997 world has morphed into a new world.  And our world continues to change at a rapid pace. The only thing we know about the future is that change will continue and it will happen at even faster rates.

The peace of the late 1990's morphed into the longest wars in American history.  Instead of world peace, you grew up with nightly images of combat, terror, and friends and family at war. 

The financial dreams of the late 1990’s crashed into the Great Recession.  Friends and family members lost their jobs, their homes, and their security.  The financial security in which you were born became a life of financial instability.  Slowly, I’m grateful to say, our world is pulling out of this – but this experience has shaped all of us. 

The Internet of the 1990's has transformed our whole world and nothing is the same.  There is no question Google cannot answer at the moment we want it.  There is no place on earth we cannot locate – from the bottom the ocean to the top of Everest.  We are connected to everyone via social media – sharing pictures, events and experiences.  The Internet is no longer a computer it is everywhere.

The world that has formed you will always be a foreign country to me and to your parents.  Yes, we visit and try to acclimate ourselves to this new, digital world.  But we will never be citizens – only visitors.  You, on the other hand, are natives.  You belong in this world.  What my generation causes distracted multi-tasking – doing your homework while watching a Netflix movie on an ipad while listening to music all while texting – you simply call life and work.  What my generation calls oversharing, you simply call social networking. 

While the world will continue to change dramatically, the one thing I know about each of you – these 18 years between 1997 and 2015 have prepared you to enter this brave new world.   The world is wide open for each of you to discover.  Yet, this new world can also eat you up.  To survive you must prepare yourselves.  The lives you want to live will not just happen – they require intentionality.  Without intentionality and preparation – our lives will tumble in the rapid change of the world. 

So - how do we live lives of intentionality and preparation?  Let me offer you three orienting values from scripture and life to guide you.  These values if embraced will orient your lives to the dreams and goals God has created for you. 

1.         Place matters.
This mobile world in which you find yourself will have you
believe that place does not matter.  We can do what we want from anywhere we want.  Email, skype, or texting allows us to connect to people around the world and never get to know our neighbors.  Online universities allow us to attend school with cohorts from around the country and never shake their hands or look into the eyes of the professor. 

The scriptures bulldoze into our mobile fantasies to remind us of the power of a place.  As much as the Bible tells the story of God’s work within humanity, the Bible also shares the story of God’s People in a place:  Palestine, Israel – the Holy Land.  When the Egyptian king releases the Hebrew slaves they travel across the desert to the Promised Land – a land full of trees, water, and fruit. 

Today – you are two airplane rides from that same land.  You can take a boat out onto the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water.  You can walk up the Via Delosa where Jesus carried his cross.  These places are sacred.  They have power to settle and remind us of God’s power in our lives. 

Place matters in our lives too.  As you make your way in the world – learn the sacred power of the locations God places you.  Learn its history.  Get to know its people. Meet your neighbors. Preserve its resources. You see, in a mobile world - place anchors our lives. 

You have been blessed to live and learn in a place full of meaning and power – Habersham County.  I know some of you are eager to leave these hills to make your mark in the world.  At some point, though, you will realize the gift of this place and you will hear the siren songs calling you home.  You may never come back, but don’t let that keep you from finding the power of place where ever you are.  The first orienting value is this:  Place matters!

2.         People matter
 The second orienting value to anchor you in this new world
is this: People matter.  While we are more connected to more people in more places than ever in all of history, physiologists and researchers also tell us we as a whole feel more isolated, lonely and depressed.

The fast pace of communication today also allows us to be emboldened to say online what we would never to say to someone in person.  Hatred and bigotry fill the online worlds we create through false personas.  We release our anger or fear on the world.  Our tweets, texts, and snap-chats can cut other people (friends, acquaintances, and strangers) to core and we just see it as communicating honestly. 

In the Bible, Jesus gives his followers a command as he prepares to leave them.  In John 13 he says:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus says – people matter.  Our family matters.  Our friends matter.  Our new roommate matters.  Our parents matter.  Our followers on Instagram matter.  Our Facebook friends matter.  These are real people whom Jesus loves and to whom Jesus invites us to treat as valuable objects.

Over the course of the next few years you will be making choices about people that will impact the rest of your lives.  As you do this – let me remind you of this value:  People matter.  The friends we make matter – so choose wisely.  Will they make you better?  Will they challenge you to love more?

The spouse you choose matters – choose wisely. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised,” is how the proverbs state it.  Choose Wisely.

The children we raise matter – so, choose your careers wisely.  Our parents matter – so, choose to honor them in their older years.  Even people we don’t know matter – the ones who come behind you, the ones who struggle to get by, the ones living in poverty around the world.
The gifts you have been given to this point in your life are great gifts – so use them wisely to make a difference in the lives of other people.  Remember – People matter. 
3.         Purpose matters
Finally, the last orienting value is this:  purpose matters.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today currently will hold ten different jobs before age forty.  Forrester Research predicts that today's youngest workers - that's all of you - will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime.

There once were days – maybe for your grandparents – where a worker would join a company, work his or her way up, and eventually retire with a solid pension.  Those days are also over.  If no job is ever a certainty, the challenge for each of you this – find your purpose, your calling, your vocation and let this guide your life.  Purpose matters.

Several years ago Michael Lerner wrote a book called “The Politics of Meaning.” Lerner said that too often we give up on our deepest held values of compassion, caring and community because they do not seem practical in the real world.   We lose our passionate purpose and our values because we simply have to make a living.  An ethos of selfishness and materialism then prevails by default. These are the values that we settle for when our deeper values seem out of reach.

The story of Jonah in the Bible reveals a man running from his God given purpose.  Jonah did not want the purpose God had for him so he ran.  And almost died in the ocean as a result until God saved him in a pretty epic way. 

God had a vocation, a calling, for Jonah.  Vocation is different from career.  We work our way up in a career.  We live out our purpose in our vocation.  Our vocation may never be what funds our family – but it is what brings our living to life. 

This week as you release your lives from the moorings of home and family, let me invite you to listen to God’s voice in your life.  Discover your vocation.  And remember – purpose matters. 

These three orienting values have given shape to my life and the lives of many people I respect.  I pray for each of you – for your families – and for your futures. 

This week – amid all of the exciting graduation events of graduation let invite you to type into your phone or write in a journal or even your bible these important orienting values: 
  • Place Matters
  • People Matter
  • Purpose matters. 

If you allow them, they shape our lives and allow god to guide you to the great adventure and journey of your lives.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Who Do you Say I am: King of the Jews

Palm Sunday 
March 29, 2015

          Wars are fought for power over a region.
          Lives are ruined for individuals to gain power.
          Read through today’s headlines – and you will find stories of power.  Chaos in Syria, Iraq and Egypt - Power struggles.  Wars in Sudan, Nigeria and Congo – power.   Political inaction, government shutdowns – power politics.  Domestic abuse, divorce, teenage rebellion – unbalanced roles of power. 
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt, he directly challenges the world’s power structures of his day and ours.  At this moment on Palm Sunday the military, political, and imperial power of the Roman Empire and the high octane, high-pressure religious power of the Jewish national aspiration meet the powerful wind of God.  Jesus seizes the moment, the Passover moment, the Exodus moment, to give voice to the true power on earth as it is in heaven. 
          The Roman Empire and its emissaries in Jerusalem ruled the world.  From the island of Britain to the fertile Nile deltas of Egypt, Rome’s soldiers and engineers ruled.   In Judea, a mid-level Roman elite named Pilate served as the Roman governor like an annoyed child.  His main task:  keep the inhabitants subdued, stop rebellions and keep the Middle Eastern grain supply open – no matter the cost. 
          Normally, Pilate ruled from the city of Caesarea on the coast – a modern Roman city with all the amenities – theater, fresh water, and baths.  Now, Pilate sits in Jerusalem – the Holy City - for Passover because of the signs of a possible Jewish revolt.  He needed to subdue any uprising during the large, Jewish festival.
          Imagine Pilate’s response when one of his guards reported to him about the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday prior to the festival.  The picture of country rabbi riding into Jerusalem on a donkey welcomed by the crowds chanting and waving palm leafs would have amused him.  Where is this king’s army, his power?
     Pilate knew pure power.  He had seen with his own eyes:  a Roman Triumph parade down the streets of Rome.  This is pure power.  Like a modern day ticker tape parade – the citizens of Rome welcomed their king called Caesar.  First come the spoils of war marching before him:  exotic animals, golden statues, and defeated soldiers.  Then, the victorious army parades through town – full of life, rich from conquest.    Finally, the victorious King comes into view.  He’s carried by a special chariot pulled by 4 strong, beautiful, white stallions, side by side.  The people of Rome line the streets waving branches in the air celebrating the arrival of their leader. 
Just behind the general also on the chariot stands a slave.  He holds a crown above, but not upon the head, of the King.  At this moment – as the King rides through Rome, the most powerful city in the world, wearing a purple toga – a sign of both his religious and political power – the slave whispers in his ear – “look behind you – you are just a man.” This is how a king enters his capital.  This is power – not some Galilean carpenter on the back of a donkey.  With the might of the Roman world – Pilate would mock Jesus and call him “King of the Jews.”
          The religious leaders of Jerusalem recognize the invisible power Jesus displays as he enters.  The symbols of power in Jesus’ entry can’t be missed.  The donkey.  The timing.  The words:  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem challenged the power that kept the temple and the Sanhedrin standing, the balance of power between the religious leaders and their Roman overloads.  In the form of a dramatic parable –Jesus’s entrance lived out the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9:  “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
At exactly the time when Jesus was growing up, there was a movement, a political movement mixed with a religious movement that said it was time for God alone to be king. Tired of corrupt leaders, the people waited for God to become king. But did they know what this theocracy would mean or look like? No one knew who would fight the battle, overthrow the pagans, restore the temple, and establish the long-awaited role of justice and peace.  So they waited - with Hope and even longer with sorrow.
They longed for a theocracy where God would rule. However, they had to have the right God ruling – one of their own choosing.  They wanted their own ruler – and Jesus was not him.  In spite of Pilate’s question and sign on the cross – the Jewish leaders would never call Jesus – King of the Jews! He could not be controlled.
This desire for God to rule over Israel and the desire for the religious leaders to keep their power positions clashed with the arrival of Jesus on the back of a donkey.
Beginning with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth a new power emerged on earth – God’s power.  Yes, Jesus was from Nazareth.   Yes, he was a Rabbi.  But from the time the earliest of his followers began to write and sing about Jesus – there was something more about him.  He did more than teach – he forgave sins.  He did more than care – he healed.  He did more than weep at death – he brought the dead back to life.  Jesus was this combination of Davidic king and returning God
In Jesus – God was now in charge of the world.  In Jesus was now king.  Jesus was more than king of the Jews – Jesus was king of the world. 
This is the Good News:  Jesus, the King of the Jews, is king of the world.
The Romans thought their wealth and army contained power.  The religious leaders thought their positions and right theology contained power.  Jesus, though, on the back of a donkey, welcomed by the crowds demonstrated God’s power on earth.  God reigns.  God rules.  God is in charge and he rules from this humbled position.

This clash of powers – between Rome, religion and God – plays out in Mark 15 in Jesus’ trial before Pilate.  Jesus stands before Pilate in the Roman military barracks in Jerusalem.  Pilate asks, ““Are you the King of the Jews?”  Do you claim to have the power of the people, the power of the rebels, the power to rule over Israel?  Jesus answered him, “You say so.”  Pilate assumes he is in charge at this trial – when in fact, God is in charge. 
Because no one can see the real dynamics – the real power – Pilate takes the trial to the people.  He asks this powerful question that becomes our question as we confront the rule of Jesus as King of the world.  Pilate asks everyone in attendance:  “What will you have me do with the King of the Jews?”  Like the crowd of Roman soldiers and citizens of Jerusalem, this question confronts us too:  What will we do with the king of the Jews who now rules the world?

1.       Would we choose to join the crowd? 
“Of course not,” we say.  The crowd was fickle.  It was easily swayed.  “I would risk my life in the shadows with Jesus.  I would confront the evil no matter how powerful,” we say.
          Too often, though, our lives tell a different story.  Like water flowing down a mountain, we choose the line of least resistance.  We find the easy way.  Would we be in the crowd shouting with our friends and neighbors – “Give us Barabbas, Crucify Jesus?”  Think about it:  How often do we choose the easy way when it comes to Jesus?
•         It’s easier to sleep in on Sunday and enjoy an extra cup of coffee – than make it to church. 
•         It’s easier to believe in Jesus when it agrees with my politics – than when his words confront our politics.
•         It’s easier to just live our work and home lives than go to Nicaragua or serve on the church’s Love the World day.
•         It’s easier to not let my faith shape my business.
•         It’s easier to not take time for Bible reading or prayer.
•         It’s easier to not tithe.
The crowd standing outside of the Roman barracks early on Passover morning were not there by accident.  It was easier to destroy Jesus than confront the truth of God’s rule on earth.  What about you? Would you join the crowd?

2.       Some of us would not join the crowd, instead, we would join the soldiers.
After Pilate also takes the easy way out – by giving the people what they want – he instructs his soldiers to prepare Jesus for crucifixion.  The soldiers place a purple cloak on Jesus – the color of gods and kings.  Then, they twist a crown like the one the slave holds over the emperor as he parades through Rome – but this one was not made of beautiful leaves – it was twisted together with thorns.  Then, the soldiers “began saluting him, shouting “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.”
Rather than noticing the power of God – the king of the world – in front of them – they mocked Jesus.  They treated his kingship as the greatest of farces.  Blinded by their own power – they missed God’s true power.
I would like to say that we would never treat Jesus in the same way as these soldiers did.  Yet, I wonder if the way we live our lives tells a different story.  How have our lives mocked the power and lordship of Jesus?  How have our words said one thing about Jesus – hail, king of the Jews – and yet, our lives told a completely different story.
•         Jesus rules the world – and we fight him for control of our lives.
•         Jesus rules the world – and we choose the sin that pleases.
•         Jesus rules the world – and we forget him each day.
•         Jesus rules the world – and we play games with his love.
•         Jesus rules the world – and we fail to tell anyone.
Would we join soldiers in patronizing Jesus, disqualifying his power in our lives?

3.       Or would we join the first Christians who claimed the Kingship of Jesus in the world.
The apostle Paul wrote down one of the earliest of Christian hymns in the 2nd chapter of Philippians.  In this passage, Paul outlines the power shift that happens in the person of Jesus – displayed on the back of a donkey.
“Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
The earliest Christians knew that with the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem the power of the world shifted.  God was now in charge.  And they gave their lives to Jesus – completely, fully.  What about you?

          Today - Jesus invites us to be agents of God’s kingdom in the world. 
N.T. wrights says it this way:  “Jesus rescues human beings – you and me – in order that through them he may rule his world in the new way he always intended.”  In Jesus the kingdom of God is indeed now being launched. Jesus is Lord of the world. His kingdom is being implemented through human beings. This is the way God designed it. 
Modern Christians use the word witness to mean “tell someone else about our faith.”
The Gospel of Luke uses the word differently.  Witness means to “tell someone else that Jesus is the world’s true Lord.”  Jesus is King.  God is in charge. 
The story of Jesus in the world is a picture of God’s kingdom come.  When we look at the Gospels – the ministry and authority of Jesus – we are seeing a picture of how Jesus is starting to rule the world. This picture is what it will look like when God becomes king on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus rules the world today not through his people behaving ourselves, keeping a code of ethics and practicing certain spiritual practices. Rather, Jesus rules the world through people like you and me who launch new initiatives that radically challenged the acceptable ways of doing things in the world:  soup kitchens and cold weather shelters, camps for artistic kids and camps for troubled kids, networks of believers and investments in Central American villages.
We have domesticated the Christian idea of good works, so that it has simply become the keeping of ethical commands.  In the New Testament good works are what Christians are supposed to be doing in and for the wider community. That is how the sovereignty of Jesus – the king of the world - is put into place. 
What about you?  How will you respond to Jesus – the King of the Jews who is now the King of the World?  Whose power will control your life?  How will you answer Pilate’s Question?  How will your life be an agent of God’s Kingdom in the world?  The challenge and the opportunity are yours as we enter into this Holy Week experience.  Amen.