Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-16; Ephesians 2:13-22
I gotta tell you, I really like the theme of this years mission trip.
Reframed: A Jesus Centered Mission
I believe this is a perfect theme for us, because each one of us has been called to a particular mission in life. The way I see it is to be reframed in Jesus is more than just being renewed or remade in him. To me, it’s about becoming an important part of the overall structure and integrity that makes up the body of Christ. When we are reframed in Jesus we become a dwelling place where others can find God's love.
Now there are all kinds of dwelling places in this world. And in our country alone there are many types of houses to dwell in. From single family homes to oversized McMansions, and mobile homes to modular homes and now we even have tiny micro homes sprouting up like little sheds. There are also apartments, motels, cabins, tents, trailers, yurts, huts, caves, nests, burrows, shacks, shanties, adobes, and so on…
We have houses of government and the White House; and of course the Congregational Meeting Houses where we gather as a church every Sunday simply because we feel at home here.
In her book Anna and the French Kiss, author Stephanie Perkins writes, “For the two of us, home isn't a place. It is a person. And we are finally home.”
I think it's intriguing that we find in 2 Samuel the Lord asking such a pointed question:
“Are you the one to build me a house to live in?”
Here God is referring to David who feels guilty because he is living in a luxurious palace while the ark of God resides in a dusty old tent.This bothers the young king because he believes God is the one who deserves the better home. And he believes he is the one to build it. “One of the most fundamental of human mistakes is to think we can do God a favor.” Are we like David and believe we have the power to domesticate God? Or are our egos tricking us into believing we can?
I’m not saying it's wrong to want to build God a house, clearly our forefathers believed they could, and did a beautiful job too boot. If we believe we can control God by putting him in a beautiful box then we lose sight of the truth that God has chosen not to dwell in a building… but instead in our hearts. By grace alone, we are reunited with our Creator, and find our home in God's love. God too finds a home in our heart. But it is only in a heart that is free from ego...and the need to control, that can God be at home with us.
It’s our egos that harden our hearts and our desire to control others that builds up the walls of separation. God is determined to demolish these walls that keep us apart. God doesn't just want us to be reframed in Christ, but God wants us to receive a right heart suitable for God to call home.
Our reading from Ephesians gives us three distinct ways on how being reframed in Jesus create such a home for God. They are reconciliation, unity, and peace. Because of the sacrifice made by Christ, our sins are forgiven,...our hearts are made pure...and we are reconciled back to God.
The author states...those who were once estranged from God (the Gentiles) are now brought into the covenant with the Jews. This is a big deal since there has been open hostility and antagonism between the two parties since the covenant was made. Through Christ, those walls have been torn down. And there is to be no more division between us.
Yet we continue to created divisions among ourselves. In this church alone, there is evidence of different camps keeping us from achieving our mission. We might not all see eye-to-eye, but this should not stop us from reconciling our differences and standing united in Christ.
It's tough enough that we live in a “Us against them” society.The conservative right against the liberal left…mainline Christians against the fundamental evangelicals…Wolverines against Spartans. Have you ever had a day were you felt like it's just you against the rest of the world?
But Jesus taught us if we stand united, then judgment and gossip will not pass through us...people will not feel excluded...feelings will not be hurt...wounds will not fester...but instead be healed. When we stand united in Christ our spiritual house will overflow with God's Spirit because God is living fully within the hearts of each one of us. When our spiritual house shines...so too will our physical house.
Sadly, our egos, and our need to control have made it too easy to fall into our habitual battles of finger pointing and mudslinging. Unless we are reframed in Jesus then there will be no reconciliation, no unity, and therefore no peace among us.
When we put our own wants and needs before others, we forget that “Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall.” God sent his messenger to tear down the walls we put up. And God continues to do so today.
The hard truth is, we like our walls. With them we can control who can come in and who we can keep out. You might recall last week God stood on the wall with a plumb line and measured the heart of the Jewish people. You might also remember that they failed to line up. And God promised to destroy their walls.
Today, Israel continues to separate themselves from the Palestinians with a wall that slithers through their land like a serpent. Likewise along our southern border, the United States is constructing a wall that is dividing communities instead of uniting them. How soon we have forgotten the joyous feeling that spread over the world as the German people reunited when the Berlin Wall came crashing down.
It could be argued that strong walls make for more peace. When my brother and I shared a room, we created a dividing line made out of tape. He got one half of the room. And I got the other. But it didn’t really do much for keeping peace in the rest of the house. The poet Robert Frost once said, “good fences make good neighbors.” But unlike my brother and I, neighbors don’t share bunk beds.
The truth is, walls separate and divide us. And more often than not, they cause hostility between the two sides. When there is anger and resentment, Then there is no reconciliation, no unity and no peace. Our divine peacemaker has been separated from us by a wall that we have created.
In his book Open Mind, Open Heart, Father Thomas Keating puts it this way: “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God we fail to believe that we are always with God and that God is a part of every reality – in people, in events, in nature.”
As we are reframed in Jesus, we begin to see how God chooses to be bound to us…to be nailed to us even. Together, in unity, “we are members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as our cornerstone.”
It is time to set aside our differences, to stop spreading rumors and start spreading love. It's time to stop pushing people away and start pulling them closer. It's time to tear down our walls, of jealousy, anger, and resentment. Let us come together to fulfill our mission and be reframed in Jesus. To be “one holy temple in the Lord, built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
We do not earn peace any more than we can control it or claim it as our own. Instead God give us peace through Christ Jesus. It's a gift giving freely to us so that God can make the only home suitable for God and all of creation. By the power of God, old saying rings true, “Home is where the heart is.”
Bartlett, David and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 3. Westminster John Knox Press. (Louisville, 2009).
Wrencher, Brandon, ed. Living in the Word, Sojourners Magazine, July 2015.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned."
Luke 6:37 NASB
It's worth trying a little harder to do, don't you think?
Yes, a silly title because this is a silly issue. As a married minister and struggling sinner, I find it offensive that we cannot see Christ in all people. ALL people. Instead of coming together at the table, we still try to exclude people from it. Instead of offering the freedom to thrive and live a life of abundance, we hold it for those we "deem" rightful heirs. No one is worthy of love, yet for some reason we all are allowed to have it. We can take it, if we want it, free of charge. I call it love, but you might call it grace. Either way, we are not the judge but simply the recipients.
This is a wonderful blog piece written by Carey Nieuwhof, a Canadian minister who has struggled to heal the wounds of a church divided on the same sex marriage laws that Canada passed 10 years ago. (And aren't we the progressive ones?) Please take the time to read it.
Advice on Same Sex Marriage
Readings: Amos 7:7-9; Matthew 21:42-46
How many of you recognize this dress? With all that happens in the world, I am still amazed at how one single image can capture the attention of the entire internet. In case you didn't know this past winter the world of social media was set on fire. It seemed like in nearly every conversation appeared this dress.
All over, people were hotly debating whether the dress was blue with black lace. Or white with gold lace. This experiment was a great reminder of how easy it is for our eyes to play tricks on us. Mass Media and graphic artist have known for years that our perception of things can easily be distorted. As the dress controversy demonstrated, our own biological nature allows us to see light differently. But then there is also the context in which we see things.
For example, imagine standing in an old house that has uneven floors. The slightest difference can change our perception; making even the straightest wall look crooked. Likewise, the way we see ourselves can often be skewed depending on we're we stand in the world. What we think we see, or even believe who we are, can easily be distorted when we judge ourselves by the world around us. If the world is askew, then our own judgment will naturally be off. Yet it's not so much how we measure ourselves through a distorted lens...but how God will measure us.
There once was a little boy who ran into the kitchen to tell his mother the good news that he had grown taller over night. “Guess what, mommy? Guess what?” the little boy shouted with great excitement. “I’m exactly nine feet tall!” he exclaimed. His mother, greatly surprised by this news, asked him how he got to that measurement. The boy took off his shoe and began to measure himself by it…one foot, two foot….!
Sadly so many of us measure ourselves incorrectly. We use human standards of measurement instead of going by God’s. The trouble is, as I’ve pointed out, what our eye sees is not always the truth. With the slightest of moves, a magician is able to misdirect our attention and thus manipulate our perception. So too is the way of the world. We have social norms that misdirect us...skewing our perception, which then distort our reality.
Many of us here have built or remodeled a home, or erected a pole barn, constructed a handicap ramp, or built furniture…and so forth. You know that each of these projects requires precise measuring and cutting. There is no room for the slightest error. If you want to build a solid, well-constructed wall...you can’t just eyeball it and hope that it turns out straight. Instead there is a precise way to do things. Same is true about life.
This church, like so many great buildings, began with a precise set of blueprints. After the foundation was poured, a cornerstone was set into place...setting the horizontal line for the entire structure. The cornerstone is the anchor that brings the blueprints to life. It is the cornerstone that helps ensure the integrity of the architect's precise measurements. Every builder knows that if you want a strong, straight wall...then all the bricks must align perfectly with that one cornerstone.
Now this is a plumb bob. My son bought it off of Grandpa Dan at their garage sale last month. Along with the hammer and chisel, it is one of the most ancient of tools...which might explain why Dan had one to sell. The masons used a plumb bob to make sure each row of bricks lined up straight with the cornerstone.
Eight centuries before Christ, the prophet Amos had a vision in which he saw God standing on top of wall with a plumb line in his hand. Help me out Grandpa Dan...if I am correct the word they used back then for ‘wall’ often refers to one’s heart. In essence, the Lord is standing on the heart of his people and measuring their faithfulness.
Now this vision happened during a time when Israel was experiencing great prosperity. They had begun to measure their success by the standards set by the nations around them. It seemed like the more prosperous they were, the less they remembered God was the key to their success. Amos hears God say, “I am using a plumb line to show that my people are not straight.”
Their hearts are off from where they are supposed to be. They are crooked, and no longer sound. Simply put, they don’t measure up. Amos warns his countrymen that their holy Temple and their entire dynasty will fall. But Israel has trouble hearing the prophet because from their point of view they are doing great. Their eyes are distorted by the world around them.
We too may be unaware that we are not straight, or that we might be out of alignment with what God really wants from us. It's easy to trick ourselves into believing we are doing what's right because we are good people, we go to church, we don’t hurt others, we pay our bills and keep a tidy house.
But Jesus constantly inspires us to look at ourselves, and the world, through a different frame. Jesus confronts our perception of reality...and redefines our social norms to re-align us with God's will. He speaks of loving our enemies and forgiving them for what they have done. He teaches us to be peacemakers instead of warmongers, and how to give instead of to receive. You might recall from last week, Jesus taught us how to seek justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8). Jesus’ life, and his death, is the plum line that God uses to measure us.
In Matthew's gospel...the author likens him to the psalm that says “the stone that the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.” Such a declaration tells us Jesus is the standard by which the world will be set straight and made new again. If Jesus is the cornerstone, then we are the bricks. We must adhere to him to ensure the integrity of the Body of Christ...the churches foundation. When we set our life on Christ, we begin to produce the fruit of the kingdom.
As we spend time with Jesus and get to know Him better, through prayer and meditation, and the understanding of scriptures, we become more like Jesus. We begin to see how His thoughts become our thoughts. His actions become our actions. His purpose will become our purpose. His divine perception becomes our reality.
In a word, we become Christlike.
But how we measure up to God...is not based on perfecting Christlikeness, it is in our constant striving to bear good fruit.
So what is the fruit that we are measured by? The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Are these the things our world promotes?
Or better yet, are they the things the world sees in us? I can stand in a room with crooked angles, and the one straight wall can look crooked too. Likewise, when we stand in the middle of a culture filled with greed, decadence, and hardness of heart, the righteousness and justice and love of Christ can look lopsided and out of place. Yet in our striving to live in Christlikeness we begin to see ourselves, and the world around us, more clearly and more honestly.
I would like to leave you all with this reminder. God’s plum line has become flesh. He lived among us and invites us to walk with him and learn a new way to view life from his vantage point. It’s not until we’ve encountered the love and grace of Jesus Christ, that we realize we have the only love worth measuring up to. Amen
Greg Laurie Daily Devotion - June 13, 2007 http://www.crosswalk.com
Howard Strickland, Amos and the Plum Line, July 2008.
A great reminder of how we are failing as a society to welcome the stranger. Thank you Jim Wallis at Sujourners for standing up to "The Donald."
Read the story here:
Readings: Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 9:2-7
A father was talking with his rather rebellious son one day and said, "Every person who lives in the United States is a privileged person."
The son answered, "I disagree."
And the father replied, "That’s the privilege."
Yesterday marked the 239th year since our Founding Fathers gave us our National Birth Certificate. Since its inception, this country has done some serious growing up. Sure we’ve gone through our rebellious phase, fought with our siblings, and strayed from some of our family values, but all-in-all we’ve continued to be the longest running Constitutional Republic in the history of the world. And for that great accomplishment we should be proud.
Many bumper stickers and t-shirts slogans describe America’s success as the direct result of having been blessed by God. Like that rebellious son, I personally disagree. I exercise this privilege with great honor and out of great respect for my country, which allows me so many wonderful freedoms. But I do not believe God has singled us out as a nation. Instead I believe God seeks us out as individuals. God blesses people who in return bless their country. Many of you might disagree with me. That is your right.
Let us not forget that the last nation that God singled out did not fare so well. But we can learn a lot from the past mistakes of Israel...which failed to heed the warnings of prophets like Micah and Isaiah. They refused to do what God had called them to do. They believed that having God's blessing meant they could do anything they wanted. They thought God was exclusively theirs and not inclusive to all people. God doesn’t chose one country or a particular form of government or religious institution, any more than God chooses which football team will win the Super Bowl.
God seeks out each one of us to bless with grace and love. From the righteous and faithful to the down and out and faithless, every last one of us is invited to receive God’s blessing...and a seat at God’s table. It's up to the individual person to accept that invitation. When we accept to follow God, through the life and teachings of Christ Jesus, we receive God's grace and all the blessings that come with it.
But as followers of Christ, who sacrificed his life for us, we too are to make a few sacrifices. One in particular is our freedom. America can boast to be a free country because it is not bound to God's law. But for Christians true freedom means being a faithful servant to God. This is the irony of Christianity. Christ gives us our freedom, Yet in our devotion to him we are to become slaves.
Such faithfulness is not easily regulated or legislated. That's because faith is an individual act; it comes from a person's heart. Therefore it's up to each person to do with it what God has called us all to do. For each one of us will answer to God individually.
So what is God calling us to do?
Let's go back to Micah 6, and the second half of verse 8. In one single sentence rest all the legal, ethical and spiritual requirements needed to be right with God. Here's what it says: “and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
That's it. Be just and fair, loving and kindhearted, and most of all be humble about it. We don't need to wear it on t-shirt or proclaim it from the back of our car...We just have to do it.
Be just, love kindness, and be humble. This kind of stuff does not go over well in free-market capitalistic society. Justice involves a standard of equality among people. But capitalism works best when there’s disparity. Take, for example, the law of supply and demand. It can control the price of a commodity, and likewise it controls who becomes rich and who will remain poor.
But “the Bible was not written for free-market consumerism, it was written for intergenerational justice.”* Jesus promoted justice by reaching out to the “least of these,” who had been pushed out of the community. Jesus did not exclude anyone and neither should we.
Whether they are rich or poor, citizens or immigrants, straight or gay, brown or white, faithful or the faithless…it should make a difference to us. Christ welcomes all who come to him. By non-judgmental acceptance, we too are called to show loving kindness and mercy to all people. And this is important for welcoming peace into God’s kingdom.
I remember getting my photo taken at the Secretary of State’s office.
When the lady behind the counter handed me my new driver’s license I complained, “This photo does not do me justice.”
She quickly responded, “I am sorry sir, but with a face like yours you don’t need justice, you need mercy.”
God knows each individual needs mercy, and God has called us to give it away to one another. A judge can show mercy but even a judge is bound by human law to uphold justice. Human laws will always fall short of what God demands simply because it’s based on the innocence and guilt of an individual. As Christians we are bound by the commands of Christ, who told us to offer mercy and kindness and even unconditional acceptance to others, in spite of their sins and shortcomings.
Christ called us to share the love and grace of God, not our judgment. And this is one of the hardest things for individuals to do. I am grateful our country has fair laws and a reliable judicial system that helps keep evil away from harming the good. My own faith is not strong enough to allow armed criminals to run free in our society. Is yours?
What Jesus is asking us to do is to exercise the blessings that were given to us; to forgive the people who are in our everyday lives and in our communities. He wants us to forgive them, instead of blaming them. Love them instead of hating them. Show them mercy instead of intolerance. Be the love and kindness of God to everyone...No matter what. We don't have to like where they’re from, or what they’ve done, or who they choose to marry. But we have to love them and show them mercy. No matter what.
The Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston is a perfect example...They publicly loved and forgave the man who murderer 9 beautiful, peace giving people in their church family. It is through selfless acts such as this...that God blesses people...who in return bless their country.
As we struggle and strive to walk as faithfully as Christ walked, we begin to better understand how to walk humbly with God. And to walk humbly with God means, of course, giving up our freedom. But scripture tells us, "For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). The Spirit of God is true freedom.
Yes I feel honored and proud to live in a wonderful democracy that promotes a unique brand of freedom. Despite a few humbling mistakes along the way...America continues to fight for...individual rights around the world, including the rights of religious freedom.
But as Christians, our freedom is limited to the Spirit of God. This means we are free...free to deal with people justly in our business and social life, but we are not free to judge them. We are free to show mercy and love to all people, but we are not free to discriminate or hate them. We are free to humbly forgive debts of our neighbors...as God has forgiven ours, but we are not free to condemn them or exclude them because of what they've done.
If we truly want to be a nation that is blessed by God, then we must realize such blessings do not start in Congress or in the Supreme Court. Instead it starts in the heart of faithful individuals.
Saints and sinners alike we are all called by Christ to gather at the table of God’s blessing of love and grace. We are all called to unite with one another under the sovereign authority of our Creator God; one nation of many nations, one people from many different backgrounds, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Again, I believe America is blessed, not because God choose our country above any other, but because of the people whom God has blessed. Therefore I pledge my allegiance to God first and foremost. For it is at God's table of Blessing I receive more freedom than any constitution, even our great one, could offer.
(move to the communion table)
Sermon Illustration by Melvin Newland, Ridge Chapel, Feb. 2001
Horance Wimpey, “Simple Man;” June 2011
* Unknown: Heard on NPR during an interview with a Rabbi on the Genesis Creation story and human’s response to having dominion over all other living things.
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.”