From a lecture on the Eucharist entitled "Training in the peace of Messiah" by Dr. Tommy Givens
"If man is in the likeness of God, and rules the whole earth, and has been granted authority over everything on earth from God, who is his buyer, tell me? Who is his seller? To God alone belongs this power; or rather, not even to God himself. For his gracious gifts, it says, are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). God would not therefore reduce the human race to slavery, since he himself, when we had been enslaved to sin, spontaneously recalled us to freedom. But if God does not enslave what is free, who is he that sets his own power above God’s? (Gregory of Nyssa, Fourth Homily on Ecclesiastes)
The glory of friendship is not in the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is in the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.
- Ralph Waldo Emerso
Scriptural Readings: Genesis 1:26-31; Revelations 21:22-22:5; 1 John 2:1-11 (located at bottom of post)
Choir Anthem: "What Light" by Wilco.
Good morning. Last month, my family and I watched a classic film from the early 1980’s called “Time Bandits.” It’s a fantastical, and whimsical story of a young boy named Kevin who goes on a time-traveling adventure with a bunch of treasure-hunting misfits. Hiding from their master, The Supreme Being, these bandits have “borrowed” a map of the Universe’s Time Holes to loot the coffers of history for their own personal gain. But Evil is watching, and through the use of spells and dark magic the travelers are directed towards the “Fortress of Ultimate Darkness” where they are captured and forced to surrender the map. Without giving away the entire movie, I will say this. In spite of what history tries to sell us, evil doesn’t win.
It seems like Time Travel is gaining some popularity. Recently a friend posted this on Facebook. “I wish I had a time machine so I could go to back in time to when Ronald Regan was president.” I wanted to respond, why not go back to Thomas Jefferson, where slavery was out in the open and not pushed behind the walls of the urban ghettos. Or perhaps to Teddy Roosevelt when women had no rights and polio was a serious health risk to every baby born.
You see, I am not sure I would want to go back. I enjoy the Internet and my global community, communication technology that can transport sounds and pictures as fast as my brain can process them. I enjoy my marriage, my family, and all my friends. With that said, it would be nice to have a head full of hair again.
If we take the advice of physicist Steven Hawking, who said we would need a wormhole and a really, really fast rocket in order to make time travel a possibility, we might overlook the reality that time travel has been possible for nearly 2,000 years. It’s called the Holy Bible. Unlike Facebook or wormholes, this time machine is not limited to the past and present; it takes you into the future.
While there are some who disregard the Bible as mere fiction, others have risked their life defending it without ever having read a page. I hope to shed some light on today’s readings that will inspire you to pick up this timeless classic; which is loaded with history, politics, philosophy, ethics, poetry and songs. You see, the Bible is more than just the Word of God it is the way to God. Because “God is the light, and in God there is no darkness at all.”
In his book “Participating in God,” Paul Fiddes writes, “The world exists because out of the overflow of God’s own character, which is love, the eternal God establishes an external counterpart – that is creation.” Therefore, the Bible begins by saying “In the beginning, God created.” And it was good.
Human beings were made in God’s image. That is to say in God’s overflowing love. And it was good. We can argue the numerology behind the six days of creation, but it’s hard to disagree that our universe is anything less than spectacular and awe-inspiring. Having been made in God’s image, we have a great responsibility in maintaining that awesomeness.
In the Genesis reading, God has called us to transform this perfect garden and make it even better, and gives us a 3-fold mandate on what to do.
First, God says “Be fruitful and multiply.” That is to say, create more of us; create families, communities, and kinships; God wants a diversity of people who will continue to evolve the creation.
Next, “Fill the earth and subdue it.” We have been given the resources and raw material to create technology, languages, philosophy, minivans, movies, health care systems, schools and churches and economic centers. The In-n-Out Double-Double, Animal Style. And it was good.
Lastly God calls us to have dominion over it. This doesn’t mean to dominate God’s creation or the people made in God’s image, but to be caretakers of the garden and to cultivate its growth and tend to its health and wellbeing.
So each generation is to build upon the previous generation work as we are called to make more humans, fill the earth with culture, and care for everything in it so the world can see God’s glory unfolding before them.
And it was good.
But by chapter 3 of the Genesis story, we learn that obeying God’s commandments isn’t always easy to do. Like Adam and Eve, we find it too easy to turn away from the light of God’s love to worship the very culture that we’ve been commanded to cultivate.
No one said it would easy to be a Christian in today’s world. But rarely has it ever been easy. But is that why you chose to be a Christian in the first place? Because it was easy? We can’t go back and reverse the original sin of Adam and Eve. But we can continue to create and cultivate all that is good for the glory of God.
So where do we begin? How do we do it? What did Abraham do when God promised him a son, through whom “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed?” Did Moses sit idly by as God instructed the people of Israel on how to farm in obedience to the will of God, how to have labor relations in obedience to the will of God, how to worship, sacrifice, and sustain a thriving economic life all in obedience to the will of God. You see through Israel, God shows us what it means to live in a community, forming a culture of love in obedience to the will of God. And for a while, it was good.
But sin did not go away. So God became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to redeem and transform the cultural practices of the entire pagan world. As a divine creation, Jesus brought a renewed promise not just to the covenant people but to all of creation. A promise of peace and redemption, life everlasting. Jesus came, and it was good.
Yet the darkness of sin finds a way into our lives. So in the First Epistle of John, the author encourages those who may have fallen that there is hope and mercy through Christ, who is our advocate for the sins of the whole world. In Christ, the old and new commandments of love, the very love in which the universe was first created, collide.
“Whoever says, I abide in him, ought to walk just as he walked.” Brothers and sisters, we are called walk in that light and to love one another; to cultivate our communities and to care for everyone in it. Rich and poor, black, brown and white, Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Buddust, Hindu; we are all made in the image of God, and we all have been given the same mandate.
Therefore, “whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.”
In the End, Love wins. And it is good.
The Church was not built to be a stumbling block but a guiding light for those who are lost in darkness. Our church, which is just a few miles away from the cultural epicenter of Hollywood, needs to ask what are we doing to cultivate God’s love in the world. Are we building upon the previous generations before us? Or are we happy just to do business as usual?
If you could get into a time machine and transport back to when our forefathers landed on Plymouth Rock, do you think you would discover they risked their lives to “build a church the same way we’ve always done it?” No. So what then?
For starters, as Sarah spoke of this morning, the nominating committee needs your help to fill the vacancies on the various boards and outreach groups. I urge you, if you haven’t already, to think about how your talent can help transform and transport the church into the future.
For those of you who are visiting, I invite you to transform the culture of your life so people can see the image of God in the way you interact with co-workers, play with your children, or open the door for a stranger.
We are alive in a great tradition. But we are more than humble pilgrims cultivating the Congregationalist Way. We are God’s children who were created to move in a forward direction; God’s way. We have roots buried deep in the history of a great garden. But from that garden we were called not to sit idly by, but to transform the world for God’s glory.
As you heard in the final chapters of Revelations, “nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” Christ will be the lamp that guides all the nations. And all the material things we have ever created will be placed before the Lord. Therefore, what we create as a church in Sherman Oaks, CA will impact the future church of the Heavenly Kingdom of God.
It is imperative then that we open the Bible for guidance. This timeless classic gives us a holistic approach to loving our neighbors. To love in the form of a just political system, a just economic and labor system, a just healthcare system, a just and open church for anyone who seeks to be warmed by the divine light of peace and forgiveness.
While for some going back to the good old days of Ronald Regan or Thomas Jefferson might sound ideal, it pales in comparison to moving towards a time where there is no more slavery, no more hatred and aggression, no more bias capitalism, poverty or sickness.
God does not call us to go back in time, but to march forward until we reach “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the thrown of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street.” We do that by engaging the sin of the world; shining God’s light in the darkness.
In the beginning God created. And it was good. In the middle of the garden God place the tree of life. Likewise in the holy city, “on either side of the river is the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nation.”
The love of God begins for us in a garden. And as we cultivate it and tend to it and transform it, we add to God’s love. The overflow of God’s own character, which is love, transforms the simple garden into the most spectacular, awe-inspiring city, the New Jerusalem. Where the Lord God will be our light and we will reign forever and ever.
Without giving away the entire book, it is safe to say that from the beginning to the end, Love Wins. And it is good. Amen.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Revelations 21:22-22:5 found on page:
22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
First John 2:1-11
1My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. 7Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. 10Whoever loves a brother or sisterlives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”