Our words must LOOK like Jesus...

NOTE: Here is this coming Sunday's sermon notes. If you are in the area, please join us at 10:30 am. We will also being dedicating our restored Bell Tower, too.

A lot of people – way too many to number – have been wounded and even abused by the Church. For a number of reasons – mostly bad – the so-called Body of Christ and its leadership over the years has regularly neglected, offended, manipulated, violated, betrayed and defiled those who have come searching for comfort, hope and forgiveness.
What’s more this is true in every spiritual community no matter what form or shape it takes: Congregational or Catholic, Buddhist or Baptist, Muslim or Mormon, Jewish or Jain including clergy and laity alike. St. Paul got it right when he said, “All have sinned and fallen short of the grace of God – and I mean all!”

Sometimes it is clergy misconduct, sometimes a treasurer embezzles money; sometimes it is cruel prejudice and other times callous indifference. Sometimes the offense is huge and other times it seems inconsequential. Nevertheless, one of the facts of life in community is that because we hurt and wound one another with such regularity through both our sins of commission as well as omission, disciples have been charged – and I would even say required – to take regular stock of both our talk as well as our walk. This morning’s gospel puts it like this:

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. "The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God's Law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It's all spit-and-polish veneer… (So ask yourself: "Do you want to stand out?” Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you'll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you're content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. (Matthew 23: 1-12 in The Message by Eugene Peterson)

You see, we are not the center of the moral universe. We are important and valuable to God and one another – formed just a little lower than the angels as the Psalms say – but none of us has a monopoly upon wisdom or compassion. Not liberal or conservative, male or female, traditionalist or contemporary, young or old or rich or poor. In fact, when we live like we’re the only person that matters in the world we become dangerous. Bill Coffin at Riverside Church in New York City used to point out that, “Many of us have a strong allergic reaction to change (or differences) of any kind.”

The result is an intolerance for nonconforming ideas that runs like a dark streak through human history. In religious history this intolerance becomes particularly vicious when believers divide the world into the godly and the ungodly – (insiders and outsiders, us and them) – for then, hating the ungodly is not a moral lapse but rather an obligation, part of the job description of being a true believer… but the Bible knows nothing of a moral majority… in fact, the Bible insists that a prophetic minority has more to say to a nation than any majority – silent, moral or whatever – because majorities in the Bible generally end up stoning the prophets…and wounding those in need of comfort and forgiveness.

That is the first insight I think that Jesus is trying to help us embrace: owning the effect that the gap between our walk and our talk always creates for ourselves and others. Let’s be clear: in his time Jesus was not claiming that the religious authorities were advancing a broken religion or a corrupt spirituality. Not at all: “our religion scholars and legal experts are very competent in the way of the Lord,” he said with honesty; “you won’t go wrong in following their teachings – but be careful about following them.”

+ Did you catch that? Their teachings – their words, their sermons and insights – are solid and helpful. It is their lives in action that are the problem: they talk a good line but they don’t live it. They don’t take God’s love into their hearts and then share it with others in their behavior.

+ There is a blindness – an arrogance – that wounds despite the beauty of God’s word.

And that is the second insight because in our era, this blind arrogance locks out and drives away more people from church than any other single offense: more than bad preaching, lousy music, shabby conditions, mold, mildew, poor lighting, sloppy theology or even periodic misconduct by church leaders, it is the stench of blind, spiritual arrogance that sends more guests and seekers running than anything else. And do you know why? Because they don’t sense anything of Christ’s sweet welcome and grace when the stink of arrogance is in the air.

It is not coincidental that when Paul went to the thriving metropolis of Thessalonica to build a new church in the year 51 CE, he began “like a nursing mother with her babies.” His ministry started with real and embodied tenderness. The scripture says:

God tested us thoroughly to make sure we were qualified to be trusted with this Message… we never threw our weight around or tried to come across as important, with you or anyone else. We weren't aloof with you. We took you just as you were. We were never patronizing, never condescending, but we cared for you the way a mother cares for her children. We loved you dearly. Not content to just pass on the Message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did… You saw with your own eyes how discreet and courteous we were among you, with keen sensitivity to you as fellow believers… You experienced it all firsthand. With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into his own kingdom, into this delightful life. (I Thess 2: 5-13)

Paul was teaching by how he lived – his actions were the only Bible people could see – so if he was going to be effective in sharing God’s new vision of grace and hope in his day, he had to be certain there was congruity between his words and deeds. Now scholars have noted that at the heart of Paul’s ministry was an expansion of Peter’s vision of radical inclusivity that was shared by the Holy Spirit at the home of the Gentile Cornelius. Do you remember how that story goes?

+ Cornelius the Gentile was inspired by God to invite Peter the Jew to dinner – and Peter was inspired by God to accept. That was the first blessing – the potential for community beyond both racial and religious differences – but the blessings abound for you may recall that Peter freaked out when he realized hospitality was going to force him into eating a whole host of things that his Jewish tradition said were unclean: lobster, bacon, pork chops.

+ So the Bible tells us that Peter kept excusing himself while Cornelius was cooking so that he could go to the roof and pray for wisdom. And each time he went upstairs God sent him a vision of feasting at a boldly inclusive picnic that included all the former unclean foods.

Finally, after three such mystical encounters – it took Peter a LONG time to grasp the significance of this new way of being (which is one of the reasons Jesus nicknamed him Peter – Petras – it means rock or even blockhead) – eventually he discerns the voice of our Living God saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” He hears this three times – he’s a very slow learner like the rest of us – before he can reply: “Now I truly understand that God shows NO partiality…”

And that is the message Paul was sharing in Thessalonica. “Paul’s announcement of salvation and freedom from social conventions in a new, divine order,” writes Bruce Chilton, “appealed to many (but) especially to the prominent women of that city who knew that their capacities far out-stripped what their society would let them achieve.”

Do you see where this is going? Paul’s radical inclusivity broke with the social conventions and traditional spirituality of his era but struck a responsive chord within the souls of people who had been marginalized and minimized by the in crowd.

+ You see, the vision and words of Christ are always attractive: come unto me all ye who are tired and heavy laden –come to me all who feel burned out on religion – and I will give you rest in the unforced rhythms of grace – but they have to be embodied before people will trust them – and those who speak them.

+ That means that our words have to look like Jesus: a mother nursing her babes, a father holding the hand of his loved ones and whispering real encouragement, a servant stepping down so that there is room for another to step up. Not judge and jury, gate keeper or morals police – Jesus – for without him there is only the stink of arrogance in the room.

Every church – this one included – has to face this challenge and deal with it with clarity and conviction. We know that we will never get it totally right all the time because we are only human. But we can’t pretend that it doesn’t haunt and sometimes cripple us and wound others either for that would violate our best intentions as disciples.

To be faithful, said one wise old preacher, is to help one another distinguish between the heavy burdens we tend to dump on one another and the light burden of Jesus. And unless we are “practicing and proclaiming a Word that lifts the burdens of others – with our music, our worship, our liturgy, our organization, the way we share information as well as in acts of living compassion – then we are living under the critique of Christ as exposed in today’s scripture.” (Strofregen) The words of Robert Capon come to mind and warrant a hearing when he writes:

The church is not in the morals business. The world is in the morals business… and it has done a fine job of it, all things considered. The history of the world's moral codes is a monument to the labors of many philosophers, and it is a monument of striking unity and beauty. As C.S. Lewis said, anyone who thinks the moral codes of mankind are all different should be locked up in a library and be made to read three days' worth of them. He would be bored silly by the sheer sameness.

What the world cannot get right, however, is the forgiveness business -- and that, of course, is the church's real job. She is in the world to deal with the Sin which the world can't turn off or escape from. She is not in the business of telling the world what's right and wrong so that it can do good and avoid evil. She is in the business of offering, to a world which knows all about that tiresome subject, forgiveness for its chronic unwillingness to take its own advice.

But the minute she even hints that morals, and not forgiveness, is the name of her game, she instantly corrupts the Gospel and runs headlong into blatant nonsense. Then the church becomes, not Ms. Forgiven Sinner, but Ms. Right and Christianity becomes the good guys in here versus the bad guys out there. Which, of course, is pure garbage for the church is nothing but the world under the sign of baptism
. [Hunting the Divine Fox, pp. 132-133]

I hope these words make you as uncomfortable as they make me. I also hope that they make the distinctions before us clear because then, dear people of God, then God’s grace will abound and faith will flourish. And as far as I can figure out, that is the good news for today for those who have the ears to hear. Join me as we sing a new affirmation together...

Comments

Luke said…
make me feel uncomfortable?! HECK NO! i've been waiting to hear something like this for a while! i think your church will be shocked by the honesty and i LOVE the clarity in which you present the gospels... bringing in both peter and paul and showing how forming and transforming the church can be. it's ashame that in that forming/transforming that we do fall short and harm ourselves and others. but relationships are tricky things.

i really love this sermon and will be stealing it from you sometime in the future ;-)

RAWK out dude!
RJ said…
thanks,luke. steal away cuz as woody guthrie once said, "Plagerism is endemic to all culture... and I steal from everybody." Rock on!
ElderChild said…
“Love Not The World”

”For the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one”(I John 5:19)

Rather simple to "see" what the world is, for those with "eyes to see"? The Messiah declared the world to be wicked, and i believe it rather simple to "see" that the world is that 'place' where money is 'god', and 'god' is money. That 'place' where The Only True GOD's Order, which is HIS Will, has been cast aside, replaced by the "imag"ined systems of mankind, and especially the religious systems which create but confusion, dis-order, and every evil work. Yet to those who are of this world, such a 'place' is a paradise. And what better represents such a 'place' than that which is called the u.s. of a.?

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

“Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

The “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

And the “strongest thing” in the evil one’s worldly systems? “Woman”…… yet The Truth, that which is of The Only True GOD, is stronger even than woman. (read I Esdras 3&4 of the Apocrypha) And Truth, Love, Peace, Faith, Mercy, Hope,,,etc,,, all that is “good”, is of The Only True GOD and is of HIS Spirit, not of this world. Those born of The Spirit, those born of The Only True GOD, are the brethren of The Messiah, for they received "a love of The Truth that they might be saved”. Reborn!

And those who have received "a love of The Truth” have separated themselves from this world and those of this world, for they have taken heed unto The Call of The Only True GOD to “Come out of her MY people.” They are “in, but not of this wicked, evil world”, and The Only True GOD has received them, and is "A Father unto them, and they are HIS sons and daughters”. And they follow, and desire to be like their Master and Brother, The Messiah, He Who was “the firstborn of many brethren”. And as “The Messiah was a servant of The Only True GOD”, so also His Brethren are “servants of The Only True GOD.”

The called out ones are not “adulterers and adulteresses”, they are not “friends of this wicked, evil world”, they do not “fornicate with the god of this world” for they know that “to be a friend of this world is to be the enemy of The Only True GOD.” They are at war against the evil spirits that possess those who are of this world.

And they do not “allow that woman Jezebel, which calls herself a prophetess, to teach. For she teaches others to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. The Only True GOD gave her a chance to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.” (Rev 2:20-21)

“fornication” and “adultery..” in that which is recorded above signifies spiritual fornication with “the god of this world”, which is to love that which is of his world.

Once again, the “earth” is The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”.

Those who “love this world” all serve “the god of this world”, and play their part in the processes that seek to destroy The Creation of The Only True GOD. “And The Only True GOD will destroy them who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18)

Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease ,,,etc,,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”.

And as stated, “woman is the strongest thing of this world”. Yet stronger than woman is The Truth, which is in those who have “received a love of The Truth”.

The Truth Is Alive in those who have been born of The Spirit for “they no longer love this wicked, evil world and it’s things, nor do they love their own lives in this world”.

They but seek and desire The Will of GOD, their Father and Creator, as they await their final transformation. “Corruptible to Incorruptible" ndeed and Truth!

Now “the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake” because he “hearkened unto the woman”.

Adam listened to a woman rather than obeying The Only True GOD. Yet because of Faithful Noah, The Only True GOD “no longer would curse the ground for man’s sake” because Noah obeyed The Only True GOD! (Genesis 8:21-22)

And the Faithful today are exhorted to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” And Faithful women are exhorted to “be in silence.” “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. For I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” “For Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11,12,14)

A man and woman joined together in obedience and submission unto The Only True GOD are blessed indeed. All who are not obedient, all who will not submit themselves unto The Only True GOD will have to answer to HIM..period..

Be not of those who deny and defy “The One GOD, Father of All”. Be not of those who are destroying and perverting HIS Creation(land, air, water, creatures, Light, Truth, Love, Peace, Hope, Mercy, Thankfulness, .etc.)!

Paul testified, “The Only True GOD is The HEAD of The Messiah, The Messiah is The Head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman”. Multitudes pervert GOD’s Order because they have been seduced by ” the commandments and doctrines of men and devils”.

Multitudes are seduced by the religious systems that are in and of this evil world. Seduced because they love this evil world and their own life in it!

“Set your affections on things above”. Desire heavenly, eternal things. Quit serving ‘time’ in the prison that is this world and take heed unto The Call of "The Only True GOD" to ”Come Out of her, MY people!”

Once again, “Come out” from among those who are destroying and perverting Creation and be of those who follow The Messiah on “The Way to The Truth of The Life”.

“Come out” of the worldly systems, which are the product of mankind’s “imag”ination, especially the religious systems. "Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world." (James 1:27)

Simply, all other religions are impure, defiled and of this wicked, evil world!

Faith will not create a system of religion!

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth.......

Truth is never ending.......
RJ said…
My, my, quite a response... almost word for word from your blog elderchild, yes? It is not my calling to argue or fuss, but let's just say that I think that when Jesus speaks of "loving the world" he isn't just spiritual. Nor is his Hebraic way of living/thinking divided into such dualities as you seem to suggest. At any rate, happy reading and be well.
ElderChild said…
simply, religion has had it's way with you, and so it is that i am sad for you and all others held captive by pagan catholicism and her multitude of harlot christian daughters ;-(
RJ said…
Yikes... God be with you!
Luke said…
i don't get the point of elderchild's posts. i'm confused.
RJ said…
Well, I almost NEVER try to understand another's inner stuff... but so far as I can tell, Luke, he/she is convinced I have been coopted by the whore of Babylon (however elderchild understands that apocalyptic term for the Roman Empire but NEVER the church!)The older I get the more I am going to trust it to Jesus and all the others to sort out the wheat from the tares well beyond my time because life is tough enough without being judgmental on top of all the trials, yes? Anyway, that's my best guess...
Luke said…
coopted by the whore of babylon? do you sign up for this or is there a draft?

just wondering ;-)

i still think you rawk!
ElderChild said…
"My, my, quite a response... almost word for word from your blog elderchild, yes? It is not my calling to argue or fuss, but let's just say that I think that when Jesus speaks of "loving the world" he isn't just spiritual. Nor is his Hebraic way of living/thinking divided into such dualities as you seem to suggest. At any rate, happy reading and be well."

Sadly, your worldly eyes have left you without vision. Most have such a condition because they "love this wicked world and their wn life in and of it" ;-(

Simply, The Messiah testified:

"If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

Quite clear that you have not kept that which The Messiah said ;-(

The Messiah testified:

“The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)”

And those who love this evil world and who follow the catholic and christian "imag"ined 'jesus' also hate The Messiah ;-(

The Messiah testified:

“If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

Hope is you would 'die' to self, and so it must be for those who desire to follow The Messiah on The Way to The Truth of The Life!

And sadly, you reject not only The Teachings and The Life example of The Messiah, but you also reject The Testimonies of The Faithful thruout time ;-(

Yet there is hope!

For Miracles do happen!

Hope is you would experience The Miracle that is receiving "a love of The Truth".

Was going to repost "Love Not The World" yet the link will suffice:

simpleandspirituallife.blogspot.com/2008/06/love-not-world.html

Once again, "Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world." (James 1:27)

Simply, all other religions are impure, defiled and of this wicked, evil world!

Faith will not create a system of religion!

"Set your affections on things above", Heavenly things, that which is of The Spirit, for only that which is Spirit is Real, and only that which is Real is Forever!

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth.......

Truth is never ending.......
thedestructionoftheearth.wordpress.com
RJ said…
Too much hate, elderchild, too much hate - and judgment - and misreading dear John who was mystical and not literal on so many fronts. Don't be like Nicodemus when Christ spoke of being "born from above." How did Paul put it? Rejoice in the Lord... always! Alas, not all who cry "Lord, Lord..."
ElderChild said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RJ said…
Ok, enough, ok? This is no longer even approaching a dialogue but a rant. Blessings to you always, elderchild.
ElderChild said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RJ said…
everything is ok
Luke said…
i LOVE this sermon and keep coming back to it.. this is such and inspiration and i've used Robert Capon's quote so many times and in so many different contexts people are starting to wonder if i have anything original to say.
Luke said…
all this despite you being co-opted by the whore of babylon... i didn't know she was still in business, that saucy fox!

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