Guest Sermon – With God’s Help

Today was Senior Sunday at Christ Church in Bowling Green.  One of our high school seniors, Braxton, offered the homily at 10am.  Here’s the text.


First I want to thank Father Steve and Ms Karen for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the youth and graduating seniors today. It is truly an honor-it doesn’t mean I didn’t procrastinate on it, but it truly is an honor.

As I think about the lessons for today I am reminded that the disciples had to wait for Gods instruction on what to do and where to go. Can you imagine having to wait for information?!?  How lucky are we today that we have Google for any answer. You can Google for a career path , but you can’t Google to find what’s in your heart. Our faith and our church teaches us to care for ourselves and our salvation, to care for others, and to care for our land and nation.  But how do we do that? What is our purpose? Our passion? Steve Jobs says “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice”. We have to listen to that inner voice. The voice that guides us  that tells us the The will of God. Whatever you do, it always helps to have a plan. If you are going to build a business, one of the first things you need to do is to get together a business plan.  You lay out your strategy you intend to follow. You find that plan and then you follow that plan if you want to be a success. I can relate to this with my years of football at SWHS. A coach has a game plan. In fact, they get very intricate with that. They have all of the plays laid out. They know exactly where they are going. They know what the offense is going to do. What the defense is going to do. A large degree of success by an athletic team can be determined by the coach’s game plan.

This is the same for life. whatever path you choose , it always helps to have a plan. God has a wonderful plan for your life, The will of God”. When you see that phrase in the Bible it is talking about God’s plan. God’s purpose. God’s plan. What God has intended for you. The very greatest life you could ever live is a life lived according to the plan of God. If you can find the plan of God, His will, and if you will follow His will in your life, then indeed you will have a successful life.

We are a success-oriented society. Some people think that if they can ever get to the point that they can be the CEO of a successful company they will have succeeded . Others view success as having financial stability. Or perhaps success is excelling in your particular field. If you try to be THE best or one of the best of all of the people in your field, then you’re going to be a success.

In recent weeks after Easter we leaned that Jesus had recently physically left the disciples after the resurrection, departing to heaven with the promise of the Spirit’s coming and a mission of witness to be fulfilled. They had been charged to remain in Jerusalem for this day and they would be covered in power of God. They would  be called to witness to Jesus. This was their mission-the purpose of their calling. They were to witness to Christ Jesus before the nations far and near.

They were hardly prepared for such a grand task. They certainly did not feel prepared but their faith in God gave them what they needed to go places and do things they never could have imagined. That is were we are today. Are we ready to go into the word on our own merits? Leaning on the faith we have grown up knowing, What Father Steve, Ms Karen, Deacon Kellie have taught us and what we practice in EYC God will help us to become the successful people were meant to be.

Today is a day of celebration. We are celebrating the success of graduates and their achievements. We have studied, and completed coursework to arrive at this time of recognition of our efforts and achievements. We pause to celebrate our preparation and beginning to  a new phase of life. Graduation is not an endpoint. It is a beginning. it is a launching pad-commencement into the new stage of life beyond the one we just completed.  It is hard for me to associate our graduation with a beginning. It seems much more natural to consider it the closing of a chapter in life. Graduation is a celebration of the threshold-the turning of a page into our new lives. I pray that you continually hear, listen, and follow Gods will in your life. I wish you all success on each of your journeys and may you always be successful. Amen.

 

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God has a plan

Let me preface what is to follow by saying that I wholeheartedly believe that God has a plan for creation.  Well, maybe more like a dream.  God’s dream for humanity and the earth we were created to care for is a wholeness.  We were designed to be in relationship, perfect relationship with God, with one another, and with the world in which we live.  Every part of God’s plan, which is declared good and perfect in Romans 12, is about fixing those relationships that we have screwed up, repeatedly and ad nauseam.

With that caveat in place, let me now suggest that what we will hear from Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a very dangerous statement.  The story unfolds with Jesus and his disciples happening upon a blind man.  We aren’t sure how they know that he has been blind since birth, but it helps the drama of the story that he was.  Anyway, the disciples, being good students of Judaism, are eager to engage their Rabbi in a theological discussion about his man.  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  It may seem uncouth, but this line of questioning is perfectly valid in the context of 1st century Judaism.  In fact, those who would stick their head in the sand and say conversations like this don’t happen among 21st century Christians are just fooling themselves.  Jesus’ reply seems to indicate that God’s plan included the blindness of this man, and it is an answer with which I am exceedingly uncomfortable.

The NRSV renders it thusly: “Neither than man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’ works might be reveled in him.”  To my mind, this is the other side of the same coin as Pat Robertson saying Hurricane Katrina happened because of the gay agenda or the Haiti earthquake was the result of the Voodoo religion.  To suggest that God’s plan, that I would remind you is both good and perfect, includes such hardships as hurricanes, earthquakes and a child born blind is to forget the purpose behind God’s plan: the restoration of all relationships.  As is often the case, bad theology stems from bad translation.

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In this week’s WorkingPreacher Commentary, Osvaldo Vena, Profesor de Nuevo Testamento at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, suggests a more straightforward translations of verse three.  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me … ”  The man’s blindness isn’t the result of God’s plan, but rather, it is God’s plan to heal him in this moment.  It wasn’t God’s plan to make this man blind so that God could later swoop in and look heroic, but rather Jesus says, it is God’s plan to overcome the broken relationships of this man’s life.  Of course, as the story plays out, it’ll take a lot more healing to fix all of his relationships.  After regaining his sight, he is ostracized by his neighbors, by the religious authorities, and even by his own parents, but with his newfound sight, the man is able to see a way to right relationship with God, which is the first step in right relationship with the rest of God’s creation.

This Sunday, let’s not perpetuate bad theology.  Let’s not suggest that God allows us to suffer, or worse yet, that God makes us suffer, so that God can fix things later.  Instead, let’s share the story of God’s saving grace, God’s perfect love for all of creation, and God’s plan to restore all things to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.

Amazed and Perplexed

Imagine the Pentecost scene.  The city of Jerusalem is teeming with tourists in town to offer the first fruits of the spring wheat harvest.  Certainly there is still a bit of a buzz over this Jesus character who 50 days earlier was said to have risen from the dead after being crucified at the hands of Rome.  His disciples, dutifully following the directions Jesus gave them, are waiting and praying for the Advocate to come and guide them in what is coming next, when all of a sudden, the room is filled with noise and light and heat and flame.  The disciples, about 120 of them, begin to speak in a cacophony of voices that fill blocks upon blocks of the city with sound.  To everyone’s amazement, amidst all this noise, they are able to hear the testimony of God’s deeds of power – presumably in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – in their own native language.  Luke tells us that the crowds response was to be “amazed and perplexed.”

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The Greek literally says that they were “beside themselves” with amazement and “wholly at a loss” for what to make of what was happening right in front of them.  In the midst of this nearly out of body experience of awe and confusion, some were led to assume that the disciples were merely drunk.  This wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility.  According to my HarperCollins Study Bible, wine was viewed in the Oracles at Delphi as an enhancement to prophetic speech.  While this response is humorous, and probably grabs our attention, the more important reaction comes from the majority of the crowd as the wonder:

“What does this mean?”

What does it mean that devout Jews from the diaspora, all in Jerusalem to take part in one of the less popular Jewish feasts, were given the privilege to hear a word about a subversive Rabbi who was put to death for claiming to be the Messiah?  What was God doing in that moment? Looking back, it makes sense that the coming of the Holy Spirit would coincide with a Jewish festival as it seems certain that in that moment, God was using the law to set people free from the corrupt Temple system and invite them into a new covenant with him through the resurrected Messiah.

What does this mean?  It means that it is God’s deepest desire that the whole world be restored to right relationship through the saving power of Jesus Christ.  It means that beginning in Jerusalem, with faithful Jews, the Good News of Jesus would spread to the whole world.  It means that God has a plan for salvation history, and that no matter when we come to faith, we have a role to play in that plan.  The Pentecost event is amazing and perplexing, but it is by design, for the sake of the whole world.

Thy Kingdom Come – a Lenten Meditation on the Lord’s Prayer

I taught the second of our four part Lenten series on the Lord’s prayer last week.  Here’s the text.

Good evening.  Welcome to the second week of our four part Lenten series on the Lord’s Prayer.  Last week, we looked at the opening acclamation of the prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”  Father Keith helped us think about how we approach God both as Abba, our Father, on YHWH, the Great I am, a name so holy that a proper Jew would never speak it.  We looked especially at the story of  Moses at the Burning Bush, where God was both accessible to Moses and yet appeared in the form of fire, a force that must be treated with great reverence.

Tonight we will turn our attention to the second portion of the prayer.  If you’ll recall, Keith noted that the Lord’s Prayer follows a somewhat modified A.C.T.S format: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Tonight’s section, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” falls under confession.  Simply in saying these words, we know that they are not yet true.  The kingdom of God is not yet fully realized here on earth.  We are not living out the will of God every moment of every day.  That’s why we have to pray for it, and we do, we pray earnestly that God’s kingdom would come, but ultimately, the responsibility for the building the kingdom of God falls on us.  When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then we will see fully what the kingdom is like.

Saint Theresa of Avila, a 16th century nun and mystic is credited with writing a poem called, “Christ has no body.”  In that poem, she reminds us that since the Ascension, the disciples of Jesus carry the responsibility of the kingdom.

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thy kingdom come Lord.  Thy will be done.  Help me to do it.  Of course, we know all too well that discerning God’s will is much easier said than done.  Even when we turn to the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t give us much help.  More often than not, when Jesus talks about the kingdom, he does it in veiled stories called parables.  When he was asked why he taught in parables, Jesus said, “Because the kingdom of God is so hard to understand.”  For thousands of years, the seeds of the Kingdom have been planted.  Through a bow in the clouds, God established a covenant with Noah and planted a seed.  Through the promise of a son, God established a covenant with Abraham and planted a seed.  Through the promise of an Exodus from Egypt, God establishes a covenant with Moses and planted a seed.  Prophets came and reminded the people that for the kingdom to grow into full blossom, the people of God had to water and care for it.  Holy people throughout the ages fertilized the kingdom through their prayers and compassion.  Faithful people have tilled the ground, studied the scriptures, and longed for the kingdom to come.  And then Jesus came along, the kingdom of God personified, and told people stories about the seeds that had been planted.[1]

“[The Kingdom of God] is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a garden; it grows and becomes a tree, and the birds come and find shelter among its branches.”  Most of us have absolutely no concept of a mustard tree.  You might know mustard seeds, if you’re sort of foodies and like to make Indian food or maybe you’ve probably seen them ground up in a Grey Poupon jar, but most people have no concept of what happens between mustard seed and the French’s yellow mustard that ends up on their hotdog.  Of course, Jesus’ crowd knew about mustard seeds.  Mustard plants grew wild in Palestine; they were the kudzu of their time.  When Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, he tells the people that after thousands of years of seed planting, the kingdom of God is getting ready to run amuck.  As we hear that parable two thousand years later, there is evidence all around that the kingdom is growing, spreading, and in some cases even flourishing, even while in some places it is being choked out by fear, anger, and just plain ignorance.

The kingdom of God is here.  Growth has begun and continues every time a disciple of Jesus chooses to follow the will of God.  The kingdom is fertilized by acts of care and compassion.  The kingdom of God grows with love.  The kingdom of God comes when God’s will is done.  So what does that look like?  Like I said, it can be confusing.  Seminary was really hard for me.  My eyes were opened to all sorts of new and scary things.  By the time my first year was coming to an end, I was seriously considering dropping out.  I had a great safety net.   I could always go back and work for my father-in-law.  Doug is a good Christian man who runs his company on good Christian principles.  Surely I could fulfill the will of God by working for him.  Yet, God had so clearly called me to be a priest.  As a preacher and teacher I could share God’s will with others so easily.  Surely staying in seminary was God’s will for me.  They couldn’t both be God’s will, but they both sure felt like it. I finally realized that God’s will for me wasn’t about what job I had or what food I ate or what socks I wore.  God’s will for me is the same as God’s will for the whole world, to be restored to right relationship.  God’s will for me was to love him and love my neighbor as myself.  I could fulfill God’s will while working for Thomas Construction or as an ordained minister, the details didn’t matter, the way in which I lived did.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  Each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we confess that the world is not yet the way God intended it to be.  Each time, we invite God to open our eyes to the ways we can fulfill his will in our lives: to help us find ways to be his hands and his feet.  Each time, we repeat the hope of generations of disciples who have come before us that the kingdom of God might come in fullness.  Each time, we affirm our faith in the God who can set all things right, make all things new, and restore all things to the fullness of his good and perfect will.

[1] N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part 1, p. 161.