The Pope Is Here…And He’s on EVERY Channel

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

I don’t know if you have heard, but the Pope has been in America this week. I have had so many people wanting to talk to me about all the comings and goings of Pope Francis—and it’s a good thing. For the most part everything I have heard has been pretty positive—maybe I just don’t attract negative comments toward the Pope. In my opinion, the best thing about the Pope’s presence here is that it has gotten everyone talking. Granted it has been splattered everywhere on TV, but when else would the media focus solely on a particular religious person or subject in such a positive light?

This almost ubiquitous coverage—almost so much that they have someone listening to his door saying, “The Pope is sleeping. The Pope is sleeping. The Pope is still sleeping.” This coverage and having everyone talking about what he is doing, with very few negatives, I think brings out the gist of what Jesus is telling his disciples—He that is not against us is for us.

I think that the overly Christian leader can even unite Protestants with Catholics—during his visit anyway—because he is able to confront Congress and the President and whomever else with the Gospel. He doesn’t have to pull any punches, because he is also a world leader, and as a world leader, he must be respected. To not invite him to say something and have important meetings with important people would infuriate so many people, that no matter the views of the individuals in the Oval Office or in Congress, it would be political suicide the prevent the Pope from doing this. So everyone is forced to eat their vegetables, because you don’t not eat what’s put on your plate when the Pastor comes to visit your home.

So even Protestants, some of whom are very much against almost everything he represents, even the most vehement of them admit that when it comes to the nation, he who is not against us is for us—and that sentiment can only come from God.

One of the things that is so uplifting about this pope is the joy that seems to be associated with him. He shuns the rich and powerful in order to dine with the homeless, but it is not done so with the air of someone who is seeking attention. Rather it is someone who sees Christ in the least of these. There is a joy that radiates from him as he does each act because it seems that he does so with the love of Christ.

Last week I was reminded that we should always have that joy near us to remind us that this Christian life we lead is not merely a list of dos and don’ts, but it is a relationship of love between our Creator and his creation. This week James asks us to put that aside for a second. He tells us, lest we get caught up in all the joy, that we do have rules that need to be followed. In fact, I think it is when we focus solely on the joy that we are most susceptible to overlook this.

Think about a party, how many times do the good times of a party cause one to sin? I’m not merely talking about sins of the flesh, I’m talking about getting so wrapped up in having a good time that you forget yourself. Maybe a group of friend are standing around swapping funny stories, each trying to keep the good times going, then one person goes a little too far and tells a story that gets riotous laughter but is one that makes the storyteller wish the next day that they hadn’t told that story.

James would have us spared from having to regret the good time we should have had because we forgot ourselves because we were too wrapped up in the moment. James tells us to first put on a hair shirt, then the fine clothes can be donned. This was the practice of King Louis IX of France. Even though he had to wear the fine livery of a monarchy, he would first remind himself of who he was, by putting on an itchy, irritating hair shirt, then he would put on the fine silks of a king. This is what James is saying.

He tells us “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.” He does not mean to say place these things aside for good. He means to place humility in the midst of this joy. Remember, our joy is the result of Jesus’ death due to our sins. James wants us to temper our party nature with the reality of sin.

If we get too caught up in showing our joy that we forget the reality of sin, then we call people to join us in the revelry of death. Only sin that is repented of is forgiven. If sins are glossed over to call more people in, then those who are called in are given the opiate of the people. Rather than dealing with the reality of sin, they are called to ignore it and dance until they die.

James would have us rather be reminded of the reality of sin that our joy may be complete. He follows in the footsteps of Jesus his kinsmen, who in John’s gospel tells us,” As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

This is the purpose of the Pope’s visit here to America—to remind us in our revelry of the reality of sin. Congress couldn’t turn him away and the media is falling over themselves to document every second of his time. This is a time when we as Americans are offered the opportunity to see the reality of our situation. When the dross is burned away with the trial of testing, and the silk of revelry is burned away, will we find ourselves still clothed in the reality of the hair shirt? Because if we do find ourselves in this position then we will find ourselves further clothed with the clothes of salvation.

So by all means, Beloved, revel in the joy of the Lord. We should be seen as joyful people, but remember that we cannot have merely a party food diet. We must eat our vegetables, especially when the pastor comes for dinner. And eat with the knowledge that the joy is us is not mere happiness—a fleeting emotion—but true life-giving joy that results from an honest relationship with a loving God.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

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Standing at the Foot of Their Own Failure, Jesus Asks Them Who Men Say He Is

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

I love this scene in the Bible—if nothing else for the sheer majesty of it. They have come to the ancient cite of Mount Hermon, more than 9,000 ft tall. There they are in front of a towering 100 foot water fall,  with those little rainbows forming as the light touches them and the roar assaults their ears as gallon after gallon tumbles down to the pool underneath. As they look around, they can see all the little niches carved out in the face of the cliff for the various gods that are worshipped there.

It is here where our Gospel scene takes place. This city was once the in the territory of Bashan. Bashan was great that it became the comparison of all around it. Their livestock was legendary, their oak trees had roots that ran so deep they could weather any storm, survive any drought. And that mountain range towered above all around it. Og the King of Bashan came out against Moses and the Israelites as they prepared to enter into the Promised Land, and though he was a mighty king, fell at their hands, because they could not withstand the awesome power of the God of Israel.

This land was given to the half tribe of Manasseh once the land was conquered under Joshua. Half of the tribe was in the Promised Land, and half chose to stay out. They, along with the tribes of Reuben and Gad, asked Moses that rather than entering the Promised Land and fighting for the Lord, if they could stay here. They had found their Shangri-La and wanted no part of this new land.

This angered Moses at first, but after he calmed down, they decided that if all of the fighting men of those 2 1/2 tribes came and helped the rest of Israel conquer the land, then he would give them their desire. And Moses died and Joshua takes over, but before he did, Moses told him of the deal he struck with Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh—all of the fighting men must help in the conquering of the land and then they could have the land east of the Jordan River as their allotment even though it was outside the Promised Land.

And when the time came, and the call went out, of the 40,500 of Gad, the 43,730 of Reuben, and 26,350 of the half tribe of Manasseh, about 40,000 of the more than 110,000 available fighting men showed up. The rest were just too unwilling to stand up for the Lord. They couldn’t be bothered to do what was required.

The land was eventually granted them because the Promised Land was conquered and Joshua, even though these tribes did not fulfil their end of the bargain, he was good to his word—with seemingly no punishment of failure to comply. In fact we don’t see the direct consequences of this until the New Testament. The Northern Tribes had devolved into idol worship many years ago, when all Israel split and King Jeroboam of the north reverted the people back to worshipping the golden calf. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom was conquered and sent into exile by the Assyrians and never really heard from again.

This city of Caesarea Philippi at the time of our Gospel lesson, had long since been out of the control of the tribe of Manasseh. This city for which was supposed to be their inheritance for all time, but for which they could not be bothered to do the will of God hadn’t been in their control in hundreds of years. By this time it had been taken over by Alexander the Great and converted into a Greek city (the shrine at which Jesus and his disciples were at was dedicated to the Greek god Pan). It was now in the hands of the Romans (renamed from what it was to Caesarea after the emperor Caesar, and Philippi after Philip II the tetrarch of the land at the time when it was renovated).

At this place, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who men say that I am?” So they give him the rundown of who the people suppose him to be. Then he says to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter, on behalf of the twelve says, “You are the Christ.” And Jesus began to teach them about what this means for them. Jesus tells them that he must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. In short, Jesus flips to the book of Isaiah, and begins to connect his ministry as Christ—the Messiah—to that of the Suffering servant.

And when he does this. Peter becomes confused. “No Jesus, you are not going to be that kind of Messiah, you are going to be the triumphant warlord messiah that frees us from the bondage of these Romans.” Peter was trying to make the Messiah in the image that he wanted. He was trying to limit Jesus to his preconceived notion of what the Messiah was to be. And by doing this, he got in Jesus’ way.

Jesus, knowing what death it his death will be if all plays out as it should, knows that he is going to be crucified for his troubles. He knows that is what happens to those who challenge the establishment. I’m not sure if he knows yet whether or not he will be killed by the Jewish leadership ahead of this at this point, because as the story progresses his predictions become more and more clear that he will indeed be crucified as the events play out as they do. But he knows where all this is heading—to the most violent and shameful death available at the time—crucifixion.

So he rebukes Peter and the rest of the disciples and tells them that no is their port of departure if they are not ready for what is coming. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes into the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Basically, now things are being set in motion that cannot be undone. Shortly after this passage in Luke’s account, we see that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” meaning that nothing else was going to come in his way to get to the cross. All those not willing to take up their cross and follow Jesus need to clear out of the way because he has a job to do.

Beloved, we too have crosses to bear. We too must set our face to Jerusalem as we encounter an adulterous and sinful generation. Because Jesus says elsewhere in John: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” We preach a message that is very much counter-cultural or at least it should be. And this message is going to offend people. We do it as did our master out of love for them and in words of love, but it is a message that does not fall easily on the ears of those who do not wish to hear it.

One of the major problems for us is that this encounter is not with some faceless enemy. The lines are not so easily drawn—us and them. Jesus tells us that it will be between father and son, mother and daughter, a person’s enemies will be in their own household. Which means that this is going to cost you something—and it will hurt.

The suffering servant in Isaiah says, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the bears.” Those who would smite are big huge dangers—no one wants to be smote. Think of those as the big things that this costs. But it will also entail a death by 1,000 cuts. Now I have pulled many a hair from my beard—when I have one—and it hurts, but it is not going to kill me. But this one is that one that happens over and over, and over and over—those little things that can be worse than being smote, because you have to endure it for a much longer period of time.

We must set our face like flint, as did our master, because to fail to stand up results in the removal of the rewards. Look at Caesarea Philippi—the half tribe of Manasseh got a huge reward only to have it removed totally for their failure to stand up. Now this was not because God did not give it to them, but because they failed in their desire and eventually willingly walked away.

This is the problem with what we are facing today in our times. Not that what we have will necessarily be ripped from our fingers, because just ask my kids, as soon as one tears something away from the other, a fight ensues. But if something can be enticed away, then it is handed over without a second thought.

And so, today we stand with Jesus in front of this hugely impressive reminder of what happens when we fail to stand up for God. And he turns and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Our answer require something of us: either to walk away and forfeit or to take up our crosses and set our face toward Jerusalem.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

eh-fffffffffffffffff-ah-thah The Sound of Music

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

The other day I was stumbling around on Facebook, like you do, and I happened upon a compilation video of people hearing for the first time. It was a very moving video of 7 people from babies hearing the voice of their parents for the first time (super cute) to a girl in her 20s (probably). It is a pretty cool video that allows you to experience that moment with them.

The first thing one girl notices is the sounds of her breathing—something we take for granted. For us it is just something our brains filter out, but for her, the first thing she hears is life. Then she hears the voice of her mother and just loses it. She breaks into tears, as do all the others, both those who are experiencing the world for the first time in a new way, and those witnessing it, and almost a guy watching it on his computer…almost.

This morning in our gospel lesson, we witness this same first for a man who is deaf. The man had a speech impediment so he had apparently lost his hearing after learning to speak and so that affected his ability to communicate with the world around him. So in whatever ailment caused his illness, he had taken away from him two ways of interacting with his environment.

This man had friends, possibly family members, who saw Jesus come into town, and they had heard of his reputation and brought their friend to him. As with every he went at this point in his career, Jesus has quite the crowd following him. (Remember the crowd who could not be bothered to let Jesus go grieve the death of John the Baptist in that lonely place in Pig-town on the Golan Heights side of the Sea of Galilee—the one where Jesus just could not shake the crowd even after miraculously feeding them then telling them to go? Same kind of crowd.) So Jesus pulls the man away from the crowd and has a moment with him.

This is a very visceral moment with this man. Jesus touches him, puts his fingers in his ears, spits, and touches the man’s tongue. And then he says to the man ephphatha (“Be opened”). This was the first word—the first sound—the man had heard in many, many years.

I spoke this word to myself a couple times in the preparation of this sermon because I was struck by the presence of that double f sound. Eph-pha-tha. It starts out very softly with the light “eh”, then the breath is then forced through the lips, with a sound like the air leaking out of a tire, only to then proceed into a much more breathy portion of the word. Even the word sounds like the process of his ears opening. Eh-fffffffff-ah-tha. And I imagine that his reaction was similar to the reactions of those people that I saw on the Facebook video.

But there is more going on here than simply a man hearing. This account only happens in Mark, and there is a Greek word that is used to describe the man that points somewhere else. The man was deaf, with a speech impediment. Of course he had a speech impediment, he couldn’t hear himself speak, so why point it out? That word mogilalon is used another time in the Greek version of the OT, in Isaiah 35:6 “the dumb –those with a speech impediment—shall sing for joy.”

Not only does it aptly portray the result of the deaf man’s ability to hear and speak, but it speaks of a new creation, the refreshing of what was once stopped up. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like the hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.”

The text points to the phrase at the beginning: “Behold, your God.” So there is Mark proclaiming the divinity of Jesus there in this deaf man. Behold your God as the man stands there weeping with a song of joy on his lips having been given back his full life. Is there any wonder why this man cannot shut up about it?

He goes to all his friends and family, he probably even just goes to the market place and listens. And with every sound he hears that was deprived of him previously, I’m sure he breaks into tears of joy and praises God. Which draws a crowd which is then told of the story of the tears. All this results in the conclusion: “He has done all things well,” which points us to another OT passage Genesis 1:31.

In Genesis 1:31, God has just finished creating the world and populating it, and he stands back to survey his handiwork, and says, “Behold, it is very good.” We are meant to see this in this statement by the people. The deaf man has been recreated into a new creature, and behold it is very good.

All of this, Beloved, leads us to James for our application. We are meant to have this joy as we hear God words. How many people have the response of this formerly deaf man each Sunday? Alas, not even this guy, for we have become too used to it. We have become so accustomed to hearing the good news that it ceases to be for us good news. This is why the local news cannot dwell too long on such topics, because we will become bored and stop watching. If the news only reported what went right that day, then why tune in at all? But give us a catastrophe and we cannot look away.

Is there something wrong with this? Probably. But it is how we are. Ask coaches of any sports team and the good things fade away while the bad, the almost, sticks with them forever. Which is where James’ counsel comes into play. He tells us, do not simply be hearers, but doers. Do not simply let the deaf man become a new creation, only to be forgotten the next minute—standing there crying in the marketplace with no one to tell his story.

Because soon, that man in the marketplace will lose his zeal as well. And then it will be as if nothing spectacular had ever happened to him because his story of how God met him face to face and changed his life forever will fall on deaf ears. My almost doctor in chemistry sister told me on Friday, the nature of the universe is to return to entropy. Zeal always fades into the mundane.

But James tells us to combat this by hearing the word with the fresh ears of this former deaf man and then be immediate doers. Imagine this man being asked by his wife, for the first time, to do the dishes. “Of course!” But if he allows this hearing to become commonplace in his mind, it will fade away and he will revert to being a deaf man.

And so Beloved, we are given this day a new chance to hear God’s word. Hear it as though it were the first time. Go out and do the things that God tells us here as if it were the first time we have ever heard them. For in doing this, the fire of zeal will resist fading away. So honor this deaf man, and go out and be doers, and celebrate the great things that we have heard this day. In the name fo the F, S, and HS. Amen.