He Bore Our Shame

Shame is connected to guilt – the two are interrelated. Guilt is something we feel because we do wrong; it has to do with our actions and the consequences of our actions. Shame, on the other hand, has to do with our being, our identity. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Shame is what breaks our communion with the Lord. Remember in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned, it was their shame that caused them to hide from God.

Shame is not only caused by things we do, but also by things that have been done to us, or by our own personal failures and inadequacies. Shame causes us to hide, but it also causes us to create false facades. We keep our sources of shame hidden.

This is where some idols are set up in our lives. We become really good at certain things in an attempt to hide our failures, and they become shame-generated idols behind which we hide in order to keep people from seeing our authentic selves.

Jesus is the only person ever who has never had any reason to feel shame. Not even those who disbelieved him could find any charge against him. Everyone who put him on trial proclaimed, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:13-15) And finally, the centurion at the foot of the cross of Christ proclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) Yet he endured the cross for our sake.

Our world teaches us that if we have problems or if we feel shame, what we need to do is save ourselves. Our libraries and bookstores are full of “self-help books,” which instruct us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and save ourselves. But those are really just hiding our shame, not healing it.

The better choice for dealing with shame is acknowledging it before God, bringing it before him. The Collect for Purity puts it perfectly for us:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.

Book of Common Prayer

We need to acknowledge them before God and allow him to do his redemptive work in them. He already knows you intimately anyway. Don’t allow your insecurity about yourself or your knowledge of faith keep you from approaching God with humility.

Make a decision not to allow the world’s save-yourself attitude to keep you from approaching Jesus and asking for his mercy. Remember the grace he showed the thief on the cross, who begged for his favor, and Jesus gave it to him freely (Luke 23:39-43). He longs to show you the same mercy and bring you the same freedom from shame. He himself bore it on the cross, and he offers to restore us to his Paradise, not naked like Adam and Eve, but rather clothed in his righteousness. What a glorious Savior!

Politics, Marriage, and the Resurrection of the Dead

Sermon on Mark 12:18-27

This passage is a difficult one to explain. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Sadducees and Pharisees were both political parties. Our political views are shaped by our values, our ideas, our doctrines, and our worldviews. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a political debate over whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees said that there was no resurrection, so their focus was on living their best life now, because afterwards there is just nothing.

The Pharisees, however, believed that there is a resurrection of the dead. They believed that when people die, they go to a sort of temporary state in heaven, but then there will come a day when God will turn the world upside-down and set everything to rights, and this is the Day of Resurrection. On this day, those who have died and are in the temporary state will rise from the dead bodily and be alive again.

(Many people don’t know that Christian doctrine agrees with the Pharisees. A common misconception is that heaven is the ultimate destination for our souls, but it’s not. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ will return, and we will rise with him, and live out eternity on earth with Christ in bodily form.)

We see in Acts 23:6-10, an example of how volatile this division between the parties was, because Paul used the violent dissension between the groups as a way to get out of trouble before the Jewish council.

So in Mark 12, the Sadducees are trying to bring Jesus into this argument with the Pharisees by presenting him with what they think is an incontrovertible proof that they are right: A woman is married and widowed by a succession of seven brothers and then she dies… Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? The Sadducees think this is a zinger, because that situation is ridiculous.

So Jesus responds. Sometimes he refuses to engage in debate when he is challenged, but the issue of resurrection is so central to who he is and what he came to do that he responds clearly and firmly.

Jesus essentially says to the Sadducees, “You are wrong. Resurrection is real.” Jesus explains that marriage is a temporary situation for this age only; there will not be marriage in the resurrection age. Marriage is necessary in the current age because people die, and so we need to marry and have children in order to make more people to carry on in the world. But in the resurrection, there will be no more death, so marriage and procreation will not be required to make more people. In the resurrection, marriage will be irrelevant. The Sadducees are focusing on the wrong thing entirely.

Jesus then goes on to give further proof that resurrection is real, by using a passage from the Book of Exodus, when Moses was at the burning bush. God introduced himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To the human way of thinking, those three men were dead, but God was saying in essence, “These men are alive and with me now.”

It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to believe in resurrection, and Paul explains it this way:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

When Jesus was dismissing marriage as a temporary state for this age only, he was aiming straight for the Sadducees’ way of thinking, because the Sadducees were focused on this life only. They were wrapped up in their earthly wealth, status, and comfort.

But the truth is, if you put too much stock in the things of this age, you may very well forfeit your soul. You have to place all your hopes in the coming age. Jesus promises that all the blessing, comfort, and riches are coming for his people in the resurrection, not in this world. People who are truly following Christ will be willing to lay down their temporary lives, their temporary possessions, because they believe they will receive all that and more in eternity.

Do Not Lose Heart

Sermon on the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18)

When Luke begins to recount how Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow, he explicitly says why Jesus told it: “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

People of Jesus’ day were so longing for God to manifest his power and overcome the corrupt political and societal systems of that day. They wanted God to bring about the fulfillment of all his promises, and for him to somehow intervene in people’s hearts to cause them to want to do good and live righteously. They longed for the day when God would wipe away sin.

In our day, sometimes we get so used to the way things are, so disillusioned with the way things are, that we just accept things too casually. We see so much injustice and perversion and corruption that we become desensitized to it. We lose our deep longing for God’s righteousness and to see authenticity in God’s people. We come to a place where we start to just expect people to be dishonest, to be corrupt. Cynically, we stop expecting anyone to do the right thing. Our hearts get hard, and we stop feeling. Or our hearts despair, and we stop hoping. In either case, we lose heart and stop believing anything can ever change.

Jesus tells this parable in order to counteract the tendency to lose heart. He set up a situation with an unjust judge – he clearly tells us that the judge “neither feared God nor respected man” (18:2). And then he tells us about a widow, who had to be her own advocate – she had no one else to stand up on her behalf. The only One she had on her side was God, and the text explicitly tell us that the judge didn’t care about God. Seems like a hopeless situation.

And yet with her persistence, she finally wears him down. The judge eventually decides to give her justice simply because he was tired of hearing from her. “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (18:5). The original Greek that is translated “beat me down” in this sentence literally means “give me a black eye.” The picture of this is great – the judge feels like he is being beat up by this little widow simply because of her tenacious persistence!

So then Jesus tells us to now think about God the Father, the perfectly righteous Judge that we have. Our Judge cares about the widow, cares about the poor, cares about justice. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, he records when Jesus says how tenderly and with such detail God cares for his people:

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!… Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:22-24, 27-31

Yet how often do we give up asking, give up seeking? Do not be someone “of little faith” who gives up believing that God will work. Just keep praying, just keep seeking, just keep asking!

Often one problem in our challenges is that we put way too much faith in the things of this world. Money will let us down. Other people will disappoint us. Our circumstances may not ever change the way we want them to. The Apostle Paul explicitly states what we should be fixing our eyes on in order to not get discouraged:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Stop putting your hope in other people! Stop putting your hope in your circumstances! Put your hope ONLY in Jesus Christ, and continue to pray.

Is there something in your life that you’re discouraged about right now? Finances? Health? Relationships? The kind of faith the Lord is looking for is the kind of faith that says, “I’m going to take all of these problems to only one place – the throne of heaven. I’m going to knock. I’m going to seek. I’m going to ask. And I’m not going to give up. Because I know my good, good God will never stop loving me.”

The Man at the Gate

Sermon from Luke 16:14-31

At first glance, one’s interpretation of this Gospel passage might be to say that rich people go to hell and poor people go to heaven. That’s not what this is saying! Instead, it is a direct follow-up to last week’s Gospel message, which ended with, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). It’s upside-down when you take the possessions that were meant to serve you and you serve them instead.

Then the following Gospel passage says that the money-loving Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for this stance, so he doubled down with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to reaffirm his position.

Jesus presents the circumstance of a wealthy man, clothed in fine clothing and eating fine food. Sitting outside this man’s gate is a poor man called Lazarus, who is starving and covered in sores. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells us the name of the poor man, but the rich man goes unnamed?

This is not the only time that Jesus teaches that at the end there will be a great reversal – those who are last shall be first, and the first shall be last (Matthew 20:16). This parable is another example of that principle.

So Lazarus dies and is carried to the heavenly realms by angels, and the rich man dies and goes down to torment. Notice it’s the poor man who God helped, not because he was poor but because he was humble. The rich man wasn’t condemned because he was rich, but because he was selfish.

Notice that the rich man gives himself away when he is in torment. First, he decides to try to boss around Father Abraham, proving that a person’s selfishness doesn’t go away once they see the torment they will receive in the afterlife. But secondly, he calls Lazarus by name, asking for his help, proving that in life, he KNEW who Lazarus was, the beggar who had been sitting outside his gate for years, and he had declined to help him then.

But Abraham, having none of it, declared what is true. The rich man had received his good things in life, and now Lazarus, who had received bad things in life, was receiving his reward thereafter. Also, just like the rich man had put a gate up outside his house to keep out the dirty beggar Lazarus, now there is a fixed chasm between Lazarus and the rich man, so that even if Lazarus had wanted to help him, he wouldn’t be able to.

The rich man tries a different tack, asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers who are still living about the torment that would come. But once again, Abraham states the plain truth, saying that even Lazarus rising from the dead wouldn’t convince the man’s brothers if they are unwilling to believe based on the truth of the Law and Prophets, which they already know.

Through this parable, Jesus is challenging his listeners to be intentional about our material blessings. Our world is upside-down, and the natural inclination is to worship our possessions. Jesus says that path will only end in destruction. If you have been given earthly material blessings by God, do not settle into the false thinking that you deserve those things, and they are meant to serve YOU. They are meant for you to use to serve GOD. He is the one worthy of worship, not us, and not our possessions.

Look around and see who God has placed around you, maybe someone in need right outside your gate. Can you use your own earthly possessions to make an eternal difference in their life? Don’t let your heart get greedy, conceited, or wrapped up in using money as your identity.

I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul did in his letter to Timothy:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs… As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 (ESVUK)

Kingdom Shrewdness

You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Yes, you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the Devil
Or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Album: Slow Train Coming, 1979

Bob Dylan got it right in this case. We are made to serve, made to worship, made to be possessed. The problem comes when we take our possessions, the things made to serve us, and we worship them instead. That’s backwards. We are the Lord’s possession, and the things we own are made to help us serve him. We must intentionally make an effort to serve only the Lord, and not give ourselves to other things.

The parable Jesus teaches in Luke 16 about how we use our possessions is one of the most complex and difficult ones to interpret. It sounds at first like he is commending dishonesty and corruption, but actually he’s doing something more clever than that.

In this parable, there is a dishonest manager who knows he is about to get fired, and so he does some underhanded deals with his employer’s business partners in order to ingratiate himself with them and ensure that he will be able to do business with them again in the future. Verse 8 says that the master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.

If we try to interpret this parable according to other parables about stewardship, where God is the master and we are the stewards, we’re going to be running down the wrong track. That is not the case here. In this case, the master is just as corrupt as the steward. They are both delighting to earn unjust wealth for personal gain. The master doesn’t commend his steward for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness.

What is shrewdness? It’s a practical wisdom, that can judge a circumstance wisely and turn it to your own advantage.

The key to understanding what Jesus meant by this parable is found in verse 8-9:

For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

Luke 16:8-9

He wants us to take a look about how the corrupt people of this world can use relationships in the world to secure their own futures. Worldly people are really good at this, but often God’s people are not shrewd enough in their dealings in this world. We need to be shrewd about using relationships and resources in this world, not for personal gain, but to bring about an eternal future and the success of the Kingdom of God in this world.

Jesus is not telling us to be dishonest, but he does want us to be wise. Wealth, politics, and business are in many ways corrupt, unrighteous, and tainted by sin, yet we all have to use it in this world. We have no choice. So be shrewd about using it in an intentional way for the sake of eternity.

Use your possessions, your wealth, your relationships, your talents to build up the Kingdom of God. Don’t keep the rest of your life separate from your faith life. How can you shrewdly use ALL that God has entrusted to you to put it in the service of God and his Kingdom?

Understanding Grace

If you think about it, you would expect that Jesus would be intimidating to be around – I mean, he was perfect! But we see the opposite in Scripture. Sinners found themselves drawn to him, wanting to be around him, even if his message made them uncomfortable. This quality about Jesus baffled the Pharisees and Scribes… They just didn’t get why people loved him, and why he would welcome those undesirable people into his company.

I would like to suggest that this desirable quality about Jesus, that drew people to him, was grace. I think he lived grace, he breathed grace, he spoke grace, he manifested grace tangibly to those around him.

So since Jesus was the living embodiment of grace, if we want to be like him, we need to work to understand grace more.

1. Jesus manifested a desire for the lost.

Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Jesus sought out the least desirable people in his culture. Tax collectors were considered to be the scum of society — those who stole, manipulated, and took advantage of even their own relatives. But Jesus loved them, sought them out, and won them over with his grace. Jesus never wrote anyone off as a lost cause – he desires ALL to come to grace.

2. Jesus was diligent in his focus on seeking the lost.

This week, I lost my keys, and they weren’t just misplaced – they were LOST. That could have been a major inconvenience for a lot of people, and so I got diligent about really searching for them. I tore my house and office apart, and eventually found them inside the couch cushions. But it was an intensive search to FIND what I had lost. And this same intensity is how Jesus wants us to seek out the lost people around us. We don’t just hope they show up sometime. We go to great lengths to find them and bring them to his grace.

3. Jesus felt great delight in seeing the lost found.

When the lost are found, there is great rejoicing in the heavens, much more than how I felt when I found my keys! God loves seeing sinners turn over their lives to him — from tax collectors to clergy!

Let us make an effort to share in Jesus’ expressions of grace: to desire the lost, to be diligent in our efforts to seek the lost, and to take great delight in seeing them found.

The Humility Banquet

Sermon on Luke 14:7-14

Picture the scene: In a religious leader’s home, many people are watching Jesus, but Jesus is also watching them. He sees how they position themselves and posture each other in their personal interactions with each other. All of the social dynamics that we’re familiar with even today – the discomfort of going to a party where we might not know anybody, the desire to make a good impression on others, the fear of being rejected – were present in this scene, and Jesus saw how it dictated their behavior.

There are two kinds of humility: a false humility where we pretend to be lower in order to get more recognition, and a true humility that the Lord is advocating in this Scripture passage.

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Luke 14:8-11, NRSV

I have a good example of this from my own life when I was a young seminarian. I was raised to believe there was a hierarchy in grocery stores – some grocery stores were high class, and others were low class. It wasn’t explicitly stated, but it was implied that high class people shopped at high class stores, and if you shopped at a low class store, you were a low class person. When we lived in Florida, I needed to run to a store just for a carton of eggs, and the nearest store to where we lived was a Winn Dixie – the lowest in the hierarchy of grocery stores. I ran in quickly, and immediately found myself uncomfortable, feeling like I was outside of my element. I was the only white person in the store, and I was shaken to find myself a minority. I found myself frightened and judgmental of the other people in the store, and it was disturbing to me all the prejudice and judgment that was revealed in my heart just by walking into an unfamiliar store and being surrounded by unfamiliar people. As I was waiting in the long line to buy my eggs, all of this was still brewing in my heart, when the man behind me asked if I would watch his cart while he stepped out of the line. I begrudgingly agreed, but I was shocked and humbled when rather than disappearing into the store, that man walked up to the end of the checkout counter and offered to bag the groceries of all the people in front of us to help the line move faster. I had been standing there exalting myself in my heart, but I was humbled. That kind man humbled himself by serving all the rest of the people in line, and he was exalted by the gratitude of all the other people in that store.

I encourage you to ask yourself: Is there any grocery store that is beneath you? Is there any seat you wouldn’t sit in? Is there any job that you wouldn’t do? Is there any person you think you are better than?

Jesus says that everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and everyone who humbles themselves will be exalted. The Scripture does not give any exception to that statement. One of these WILL happen to you.

Jesus then extends the lesson to those who were hosting the banquet as well, pointing out that we tend to only invite our friends or people who we think can give us something in return. A well-known phrase in our culture is quid pro quo, which means “this for that.” You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Many of our human relationships are based on quid pro quo – we enter into social situations while keeping in mind what we can get from the people around us. We subconsciously gravitate toward people who can give us something in return.

One of the greatest tools we have for the Gospel in our communities is the homes God has blessed us with. But who do we usually invite over to our homes? Our friends, people we already know and are comfortable with. What if we opened up our homes to those in our community who we wouldn’t normally come in contact with? It may be outside our comfort zone, but they need Jesus just as much as anyone else, and their lack of resources may be keeping them from being able to seek Him on their own.

Humble we must be if to heaven we go. High is the roof there, but the gate is low.

George Herbert

The Mirror of the Cross

Luke 12:49-53

Not Peace, But A Sword

Sometimes I hear the words of Jesus, and I’m immediately struck that I think, That doesn’t sound like Jesus. For example, when we call him the Prince of Peace, but then he says, “I have come not to bring peace but division.” And then he goes on to clarify what he means by division, “I’m going to bring division right through the middle of the family unit. Father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.” How can this be? Well, first of all, you need to know that I do believe these are the words of Jesus. Absolutely.

But we have to wrestle with them, trying to understand what the Prince of Peace is challenging us with. There’s a strong resonance with Jesus’s words when he says, “I have come to cast fire on Earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Strong resonance with the words of John the Baptist earlier in the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist says, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Truly his winnowing fork is in his hand. He has come to clear his threshing floor” (Luke 3:16-17). Jesus is saying nothing different than John the Baptist. There is an aspect to the Ministry of the Lord and Savior of the world which is an aspect of judgment and condemnation.

Baptism of Fire

He has come to bring a baptism of fire to this world. As Jesus often referred to his baptism, not only is he referring to the baptism he received in the River Jordan with John, but he looked forward to the baptism which would be the cross.

Remember the conversation that he had with James and John when they said, “Hey, when you get to your kingdom, can I sit on your right hand and you know maybe let John sit on your left hand?” (I don’t know which one was bucking for the left or the right, but they were both wanting to be right there ruling with Jesus.) And Jesus says to them, “Let me ask you guys a question. Can you drink the cup which I am about to drink? Can you be baptized with the same baptism?” They said, “Oh, yes we can.” (See Mark 10:35-39.) But really they did not know what they were saying, because he was speaking about the cross.

For Jesus, the cross was the baptism which he was agonizing over in great distress until it was accomplished. More than that, he would look forward to the baptism which would come through the outpouring of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Baptism would involve death and resurrection.

Parables of the Vineyard

So how is the baptism of the cross a revelation of the fire and the judgment upon the earth? It’s a little bit complex, but stay with me. In the prophet Isaiah, chapter five, we hear a parable of the vineyard where Isaiah the prophet tells what starts off as a wonderfully sweet story about “my beloved” – the Lord – who has who has created this wonderful vineyard for his bride. The vineyard has a nice hedge around it, and it’s got a watchtower, and he’s planning some wonderful vines. But then the stewardship of that vineyard was for naught; it actually was for evil. When the lord of the vineyard comes in, he looks at his vineyard. He sees it not producing sweet wine but wild grapes, and all of the sudden what starts off as a beautiful story turns into one of concern and judgment. The lord of the vineyard destroys the hedges and tears down the watchtower and judges that vineyard as a corrupt and wicked vineyard because of the bloodshed and the unrighteousness of the people of Israel.

Jesus would recast that entire story and tell it again. He would tell about a man who was the owner of a vineyard who went away for a long journey. He decided to send some servants to take account of how the vineyard was doing. He would send one servant, and they would beat the tar out of the servant. So he sent in another one, and they beat him up, too. The owner thinks to himself, I know what I’ll do. I’ll send my son. But instead of the tenants embracing the son as the master of the vineyard, they think to themselves, Here’s the heir. And they decide to kill him in order to have the vineyard for themselves, for their own evil agenda. And that’s exactly what they do.

Jesus would say to the Pharisees and the scribes and the Sadducees, which were basically the various political parties of the day, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” He was telling the story about himself. (See Matthew 21:33-44.)

The Cross is a Mirror

You see, the cross is like a mirror. It reveals just how ugly human beings can be towards their God. Just how evil, and corrupt, and prideful, and self-centered human beings can be in their political agendas and their factions – in their hatred of the ways and the holiness of God.

And when God sends his only begotten Son because he loves his vineyard – he loves the world, instead of embracing him, the political systems of his day (both religious and secular, the Romans and the Jews) crucify him.

So when we when we align our lives with that cross and we say, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,” what we do is we lift up the mirror of human sin, and everybody that’s confronted with that mirror has to make a choice about how they’re going to live their life. They will look in that mirror and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or they’ll say, “No, that doesn’t apply to me. I’m not that bad.”

There’s no way getting around the baptism by fire that comes from having the cross of Jesus Christ lifted up. What happens as people begin to appropriate Jesus into their lives is that it becomes a dividing line within families.

Divisions

I remember when I became a very strong Christian in college, and I had to tell my father that I was going to go into the ministry. He said, “That’s not the plan that I have for your life.” The plan had been that I would inherit the family car wash business. For three years, my calling became a source of tremendous conflict with my father.

It gets worse than that. That was minor compared to what some have gone through for the name of Jesus Christ. Twenty years ago, I was counselling with this wonderful young couple. I thought that out of all the young couples I had counseled, they were so fun, and they really loved each other. They were just a great match. I was so excited about doing their wedding, and every time we met, I had a great time with them. Then one day they came into my office for premarital counseling, and they were just despondent and in despair. They told me they were calling off the wedding. I asked, “Why? Y’all are great!” It was his family. They were Iranian Catholic, and they looked at her, an Episcopalian. They said, “You cannot marry her unless she becomes a Roman Catholic. And if you do without her converting, we will disown you.” That’s family pressure. Family ties are powerful, and sadly this young man chose to stick with his family rather than embrace the new possibility of a wonderful Episcopalian bride.

But think back to the pressures of the early Church where the powerful ties of ethnicity and Jewish identity were challenged to the core. God was creating this new Church in which racial divisions, socioeconomic divisions, and ethnic identities would all fall away, and the dividing walls of hostility would come down at the foot of the cross. The biggest conflicts of the early church were racial conflicts, ethnic conflicts, socioeconomic conflicts. It’s what all the letters of Paul are about. The cross of Jesus Christ calls you to a new reality which will challenge the old patterns of family tradition and heritage right to the core of their being.

Acknowledging Slavery

Four hundred years ago in 1619, a British ship intercepted a Portuguese ship and captured twenty what they called, “odd Negroes” – twenty Africans that were enslaved to be taken and pressed into slave labor. This British ship landed in Jamestown with these twenty Africans, and they were sold into slavery. This next weekend, we will be commemorating the anniversary of that event. The National Park Service, and especially Jamestown, has invited churches around the country to ring bells at 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the 25th in order to remind us about that first moment where slavery of African-Americans got its seed in this country. It’s going to be a very powerful moment for our country, and we’re going to ring bells here at St. John the Divine.

I want to tell you a little personal story about that. Two years after those Africans landed in Jamestown, in 1621, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Randall Holt, landed in Jamestown. He was rounded up by the Orphan Act in London and forced to be an indentured servant to Dr. Pott, who was the first doctor of Jamestown. When an indentured servant received his freedom rights, he was given a barrel of corn and a new suit of clothes from head to toe. The Christmas that Randall received his freedom rights, he married the girl next door, who happened to be the heiress of a thousand acres of land across from Jamestown and the James River. (She was a good catch!) The Holts have owned that property for about two hundred years.

As I’ve studied my own genealogy, I think it’s interesting, and I think a lot of people you know maybe have ancestors who were indentured servants. But there is a major difference with Africans. Some of those Africans that were brought over in 1619 were indentured servants and given their freedom rights, but others were not. Institutionalized slavery became a norm for the colonies and eventually the United States of America. The values which we expressed, both in our founding documents like the Declaration of Independence – that all men were created equal and given inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and in the pulpits of our churches, began to support the institution of slavery. I can look back in my own genealogical history and see where Holts left their black slaves to other Holts in their wills. Personally, I’m not at all proud of that history.

Confronting Racial Divisions

One mile away from the church that I was a pastor in Orlando a young man of 17 or 18 years old named Trayvon Martin was shot as he was walking home with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona iced tea and a hoodie on, looking a little scary, apparently. A man named George Zimmerman overreacted, to say the least, and a conflict ensued, and the result was that Trayvon Martin was shot. That happened right across the street from my daughter’s elementary school. As the environment of the news and the politics of all of that started to really heat up in that area and around the national news and even around the world, there was a part of me that said, Stay out of that; don’t get involved. But I called up one of my black pastor friends named Lowman Oliver and I said, “Lowman, I was driving my daughter to school, and she pointed at the memorial to Trayvon Martin, and she said, ‘Is that where that young boy got shot?’ And I realized that I couldn’t stay out of it. I would like to go to lunch with you, Lowman.”

That started a conversation between me and Lowman, and we decided between the two of us to invite all of our clergy friends to come to Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Sanford, Florida, on Good Friday to pray for our community. Black and white, we had an equal representation at the front. All of the clergy of Seminole County that came to that gathering stood facing the four walls of our church, and we prayed for our country and for our nation and for our community, that the Lord would protect us from the political agendas and divisions that were happening and lead us through a very complicated and complex time.

Another day, Lowman and I were walking out of a meeting together, and he said, “You know, Charlie, I’m a descendant of a slave.” I said to him, “You know, Lowman, I actually am a descendant of an indentured servant myself.” He replied, “Those two things are different.” And I said, “Yes, I know they are. But listen to me. I want you to also hear this. I’m also a descendant of slave owners.” That little conversation started something a little bit deeper for the two of us. It’s very complex, and I don’t know what all the answers are to the challenges that we face in our country.

Hard Conversations

But I do know that almost 80% of African-Americans in this country are descended from slaves. That’s a very significant fact that we have to wrestle with. I also know that we must begin to look inside and confront the challenges that run deep within our very family lines. I could tell you things about my family from a bigoted and racial standpoint that I would be ashamed about and embarrassed about, and I would also embarrass a lot of my family members.

But we nevertheless have to have the hard conversations. Some of those difficult conversations will divide our families in two, and some of those conversations will cause us to look at ugly parts of the inside of our hearts and our lives. Jesus said, “I’ve come to bring fire to the earth.” There’s an aspect in which the unity which God is calling us to will also cause divisions as political agendas, family traditions, and heritages which we have passed down from generation to generation are confronted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And this is a day in which we have an opportunity to embrace that Gospel.

On Barn Building: Keeping Perspective on Our Possessions

Luke 12:13-21

The occasion for Jesus’ story in Luke 12 about the man building the bigger barns is actually a conflict. A man comes and says to Jesus, “Jesus. Rabbi. Tell my brother to divide my inheritance.” That’s a pretty common scene actually, especially in church life. I have seen it played out over and over and over again, not only in the lives of parishioners, but I’ve also seen it happen in my own family, where brothers and sisters fight over inheritance and the dollars that represents.

What Causes Conflict?

There’s a passage in James which I have used in parenting a lot, and I also think it applies to this situation. James says in James 4, “What causes fights and conflicts among you?” That’s a good question isn’t it? “What causes fights and conflicts among you?” These two brothers have a conflict over the inheritance. James answers it this way: You want something but you can’t have it. In other words, conflict comes from our desires. We want something but we don’t have it. We can’t get it. I want you to give me my inheritance. That’s a desire. I want my half or my share — whatever that share is — according to my desires. But you can’t have it so you kill, you covet, you fight, you quarrel. James would go on to say, “You do not have because you do not ask. And when you do ask, you ask with wrong motivations intending to spend it on your own pleasure” (v.2-3). He encourages us to grieve our idolatry.

Oftentimes in conflicts like the ones between these two brothers, there are material things that are at stake, the substantive issues. How much money should I get from this estate? But then there are also personal things that get wrapped up in those material, substantive matters, and oftentimes in peace-making, those personal issues and material issues are all intertwined so closely together that they cause a reciprocal negative thing to happen among them. But here are these two brothers, and obviously the one brother is not getting what he wants. He wants a portion of the estate — I’m not sure what exactly percentage he expects but he clearly thinks that he’s not getting what he deserves.

I would imagine that this is the younger brother because typically the older brother is the executor of the estate, especially back then. If he’s not getting what he deserves, he somehow thinks that the older brother is not being fair or faithful or something. Maybe they had a personal grievance with one another. So instead of asking Jesus to intervene, he demands. That’s typical of a conflict.

Wisely, Jesus does what Moses failed to do actually. There’s a story in Exodus 2 where Moses came up on an Egyptian who was beating the tar out of a Hebrew, and afterwards he went and killed the Egyptian. And then later he came across two Hebrews fighting with one another. Two brothers in a sense. And Moses began to intervene in that conflict and the Hebrews said to him, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” A lot of times when we come across a conflict we want to get sucked into it. Wisely, Jesus does the opposite of Moses, says, “Who made me judge and arbiter over you? I’m not getting involved in your conflict. I’m not going to take sides in this fight. But rather I want to get to the heart of the matter and the heart of the issue with your conflict, and that is your idolatry of money.”

Jesus would speak a principle and use the occasion of this conflict to teach a very important principle about our relationship to material possessions. He says to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Be on your guard against all kinds covetousness for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Fundamentally this has to do with where we find our sense of worth and value.

Apparently there’s more than one type of covetousness. I think there’s a covetousness that can come from a desire to just love money and to have a lot of money. There are certain people that are just characterized by a covetousness which is more aptly described as greed where they’re just greedy for a lot of money. But sometimes covetousness can be caused by insecurities that we have where we feel like our material position and posture is not good, so we look at what other people have, and we covet what they have. Or we might have some sense of entitlement. All kinds of covetousness — and you could probably think of a lot of different ways that we fall into the trap of covetousness — but fundamentally what it has at its root is the equation of the significance of our lives with the abundance of our possessions.

Possessions as things “Under Rule”

I want to zero in on that word “possession” with you for a moment. There’s a Greek word behind our English word “possession” in the New Testament here. It is at its root hyparcho. And it comes from two root words: hypo which means “under,” and archo which means “rule.” Rule under. Now think about this. Our possessions are the things that are under our rule. And what we want is more things under our rule. Right? I’d like to have a lot of things under my rule, and it’s not just money. I’d like to have more people to supervise, more things to be in charge of, more material things to take care of. Inside of us is an inherent desire to rule over things. In fact, that’s part of what it means to be an image-bearer of God.

When God created human beings — male and female — he put us over material things. He told us we need to steward the garden. We need to rule over the beasts of the field and the cows and the domestic animals. That we are in charge of creation. It is our possession. Something that we need to rule over and would be ruled under us. But the problem is not the possession itself but it’s when we equate what we have under us with the significance and the meaning of our life. Right? It’s when that which is under us becomes what defines us.

What should define us? Well, there we go. Jesus. It’s like a Sunday school question. I mean, this is what Paul is getting at in Colossians when he says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Up there. This is where our life is. Above us.

Now, here’s the subtle thing that happens, because not only are we made in the image of God, designed to have things that we possess and other things that we subdue that are under us, but we also are designed to be under something. We are designed to be possessed, not by demonic forces, but we are designed to be under the rule of God and under the rule of the lordship of Jesus Christ. And so, when we equate the very thing that is supposed to give us life with the things that are under us, we actually are flipping the order of things. We’re taking the things that are under us and literally putting them over us. We are making the things that we are to possess the things that possess us. Do you see it? It’s a very subtle shift that happens, but it’s an important one because at its root, it’s idolatry.

Idolatry

What is idolatry? The taking of the work of our hands — the things that are under our possession — and making them our overlords: the things that we follow, the things that we rule, the things that define us, that give us our identity, our worth, our value, our significance. I mean, think about how stupid that is. I mean, the Israelites worshiped a cow in the wilderness. A golden cow. Now what was that cow? That’s the thing that they were supposed to have under them. They were supposed to rule over cows and make sure the cows got their grass and supplied their food and so on. But instead of having what they possessed remain under them, they put it over them, and they served and worshiped the work of their hands. A golden calf.

Jesus just has one story to tell how foolish this is. And He does a great job of just disconnecting it. Basically, He calls the man who builds the bigger barns a fool. Proverb 14:1 says, “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” The man who builds the bigger barns is a man who is living as a practical atheist, who takes the work of his hands and places them in the position of God and defines his soul and his life in terms of the abundance of his material possessions. He equates these two things, and by doing that, he is a fool.

I’m reminded of the woman — her husband had just died, and she’s talking to the minister of the church. He says to her, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and she replies, “It’s horrible, yes.” And then she says, “You know what’s interesting though? I went up into the attic, and he had left a suitcase full of money up there. That crazy man thought that he was going to go to Heaven and grab the suitcase on his way up.” The minister says, “Just goes to show you. You can’t take it with you.” She says, “Yeah. You know what else? He really should have put it in the basement.”

It’s silly the things that we do. And yet we all do it. I want to end by asking some practical questions. What should we do if we have begun to define our lives in terms of the things that are under us and not over us? If we’ve equated our lives with having an abundance of possessions? Well, first of all, the antidote to that is actually getting our mindset correct. It’s about a change of thinking and a change in orientation where, like Paul says, we set our minds… It’s a mindset. We set our minds on the things that are above, not the things that are below.

It’s not wrong to have possessions. What’s wrong is to equate possessions with the things that are above. Our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Our marching orders and the definition of who we are — our identity, our significance — it comes from God and from our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we have that right mindset, then we begin to put into proper perspective the things that are under us and our stewardship of the material things. Our lives are on loan from God. We are his possession, and the things that we have ultimately belong to him. I love in the Crown Ministry financial stewardship course where people are asked to sign a quitclaim deed of all their things to God. Now, you don’t actually have to sign the quitclaim deed for all the things to belong to God — they already do — but it’s a nice gesture from a heart standpoint and a mindset standpoint to go, “You know what? I don’t really, truly own all of these things. These things fundamentally belong to the Lord, and I’m going to acknowledge His ownership.”

It’s not wrong to have possessions. What’s wrong is to equate possessions with the things that are above. Our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Our marching orders and the definition of who we are — our identity, our significance — it comes from God and from our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we have that right mindset, then we begin to put into proper perspective the things that are under us and our stewardship of the material things. Our lives are on loan from God. We are his possession, and the things that we have ultimately belong to him. I love in the Crown Ministry financial stewardship course where people are asked to sign a quitclaim deed of all their things to God. Now, you don’t actually have to sign the quitclaim deed for all the things to belong to God — they already do — but it’s a nice gesture from a heart standpoint and a mindset standpoint to go, “You know what? I don’t really, truly own all of these things. These things fundamentally belong to the Lord, and I’m going to acknowledge His ownership.”

All things belong to the Lord.
That mindset changes everything.

Divest.

But then let me give you two more things here: What do we do if we are a person that has built the bigger barns? In other words, we have been blessed by material abundance, and we’ve had to tear down some barns and find some bigger bank accounts or bigger investments in order to accumulate an abundance of wealth. First of all, we wrestle with the question, “Is there more to life than this? Is this enough? And what is enough?” But then the challenge — and you have to be the one that sorts this out — but what am I going to do as a stewardship of this abundance? I can continue to build bigger barns only to one day die and have it become insignificant and meaningless or give it to my kids to fight over. Or I might do something for the Kingdom with that abundance. And how will I steward that abundance for God’s will? This is something that you have to pray about; you have to be thoughtful and discerning. Invest in things that are worth investing in. Look for ways in which to multiply the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.” The one who has abundance should ask himself, “What does it mean to be rich towards God? And how can I be rich towards God?”

Get out of Debt.

But then we also have those who don’t have abundance who have the opposite problem of looking at those that do have abundance and saying, “Boy, they have the life. And I wish I had that life.” Because that’s the same trap of thinking that life consists in the abundance of possession. And so what happens with that mentality sometimes for those that don’t have it is that they over-leverage and get themselves into incredible burdens of debt. Instead of building barns, they raise mountains of debt. And this comes to the same heartache and has the same insignificance and meaning. Break the bondage of covetousness by living within your means, getting out of debt, determining how you’re going to steward your dollars.

Tithe.

Now I think God’s plan from the beginning of tithing is such a good thing to help us break this. Ten percent is not so much that it breaks us and prevents us from living a life and from having material things and from taking care of ourselves and our children and so on. But ten percent is painful enough that if we give away ten percent, we actually are saying, “You know what? This is not my god. Money is not what leads me and owns me. I am a steward over it, and I’m giving back to God a portion of what He has given to me in recognition that He, not my money, is the one who is over me.” I encourage you to contemplate the practice of tithing, to think about divestiture if you have abundance, and getting out of debt if you don’t, but fundamentally changing your mindset and putting the Lord, and not your possessions, above your heart.

Jesus’ Missionary Methods

Sermon from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10

In reading this Gospel passage, I’m struck by how different the missionary methods of Jesus were from how we in the modern day Church engage in the mission of the Gospel. So I’d like to highlight the missionary strategies of Jesus we see in this passage, and compare them to how we often engage in mission.

1. Jesus grounds the work in prayer.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Luke 10:2

Although we do pray today, we don’t allow it to give us the eyes to see the harvest field the way Jesus did. What Jesus says highlights a missionary problem, and compares it to a relatable problem for the missionaries He was sending out. Imagine a farmer seeing a beautiful field full of ripe grain ready to harvest, and that sinking feeling of knowing you don’t have enough workers to bring in the harvest before it goes to waste. All that value and potential gone to waste! It’s even more dire when we realize that the harvest the Lord says is ready is not grain, but it’s souls. When we earnestly pray the way the Lord did, our eyes are opened to the urgency of this missionary problem. Mission begins with prayer. A prayerless Christianity is a powerless Christianity, but Jesus gives us new eyes to see.

2. Jesus eliminates dependence on the flesh.

Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.

Luke 10:3-4

Modern mission has become more about distribution of resources than it has about distribution of the Gospel. Jesus sent out His missionaries with ONLY the Gospel, in what seemed like weakness and unpreparedness. But that meant what they were giving was only the MOST important thing. Anything else is just a distraction.

3. Jesus’ mission is based on hospitality.

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.

Luke 10:5-7

Jesus’ mission and ministry was always based in homes. Every place He went, He started a home group! Modern Christians think that the work of God is done in church, but Jesus took the mission of God out of the church building and took it to where real life was happening every day. Consider opening up your home to become a missionary outpost of the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter where you live or what your home looks like. What matters is the heart you use to reach out to those around you, and the message of the Gospel that you offer there.

When the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in this passage used Jesus methods, they had thrilling results!

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

Luke 10:17-18

God is turning this world upside-down through His people when they step out in faith and engage in the mission He is calling them to with the methods He calls them to use.