Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Let this same mind be in you....

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus
In the name of the inclusive, adamant, and loving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

13 years ago, over the New Year holiday in the middle of my year as a Resurrection House intern, I was on the planning team for the Lutheran Student Movement National Gathering in Phoenix Arizona. After four days of prayer and worship, joy and laughter, not a little bit of flirting, I stayed behind with a smaller group for a mission/service trip to Nogales, AZ. Nogales is a border town; so there is Nogales AZ and Nogales Mexico. We actually went over into Mexico and visited families on the Mexican Side. This was 2002 and in the decade before that a couple of factories had been built on the Mexican side and the population of the Mexican town had exploded. Thousands of people had come there looking for work, and they had come so fast the town was not able to keep up building infrastructure. A large shantytown had “built” up around the actual town. I use the term “built” because most of the “home construction” consisted of cargo palates covered in roofing paper turned on their side to form “walls”.

We visited a woman. She was a single mom and she was considered middle class in the neighborhood, because the house she shared with her daughter had a concrete slab floor and cinder block walls. She technically had running water because there was a tap outside the house. Her electricity consisted of one light fixture in the dining area, one plug in the kitchen and one plug in the second room of the two-room house. So, here I am sitting at her table having lunch—at this point I had a master’s degree in music, I was headed to seminary at one the oldest and most prestigious seminary in the Episcopal Church—and at one point she looked at me said, “How come you Americans have so much stuff and yet there’s so much depression and people committing suicide?” I didn’t have answer for that. Later, she again looked me dead in the eye and said, “How come your country has the death penalty when only God should decide who lives and dies.” I didn’t have an answer for that either. She continued to pelt me with convicting truth after convicting truth. And I am sitting there about to commence my second master’s degree, unable to answer. It was quite a sight…
I think this relates to our gospel story for this morning. Jesus is teaching in the temple and the religious leadership just isn’t getting it. They can neither comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ teachings nor accept his authority. The people who should have been able to grasp the truth, the people invested with conveying the truth could not hear the truth even when it was right in front of them. The religious leaders, the civic leaders, the so-called “right people” could not believe. On the other hand the sinners, the outcasts, those considered by the leadership to be unworthy, they got it, they understood, embraced, and began to follow Jesus.

This teaches us two things, if we are willing to learn: 1) we must keep our ears open to unlikely sources. We never know when an unlikely source will deliver a message from God for us. When I was in Nogales, I should have been the source of truth. I was way more educated than my host, but she was speaking truth. By the grace of God I was willing to listen, but I hope it teaches all of us to keep our ears open to hearing God from unlikely sources.

Second, we must ask questions, its how we learn. We must continually question everything. Now, listen to me closely: never take anything I say at face value. I am a religious leader. I do the best I can everyday, but I am just as susceptible to the blindness that the leaders in the gospel succumb to as any other leader. Ask questions! Wonder, study, learn, and as I said before listen, especially to unexpected sources. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” My brothers and sisters, I want the truth to come to us. However, to do that we must listen, especially to unexpected sources and ask questions. That’s what it means when Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” It is imperative that we make an intentional practice of listening and questioning, because that is how we get on board with what God is doing in North Omaha. It was a tragic week in this part of town this week. Four people were shot on Wednesday alone. One of them, J.T. Swift was high school student who Jodie had at Morton just two years ago. Now the cross teaches us that where suffering is, God is present. So, I know God is present in North Omaha. I know that God is at work in North Omaha. I also know that for us to discern what God is up to, and how we get involved, we must listen to unexpected sources and question those in authority. I invite join in doing just that. Amen!

Sermon from 5 October 2014

“…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

In the name of the creating, redeeming, and sustaining God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Last week, this week, and in the weeks to come we are going to hear stories from the Gospel according to Matthew of Jesus preaching/teaching in the temple. Now the author of Matthew’s gospel doesn’t give us everything Jesus’ says in the temple during the last week of his life. What we get, like today's Gospel passage, are the parables that increasingly increase the displeasure of the scribes, Pharisees, temple leaders, and ultimately the Roman authority as well.

When we hear these stories we need to keep where they are pointed in mind. We need to remember that Jesus’ actions persistently and irrevocably point him toward the cross and our salvation. Reading these stories and knowing where they are headed, I end up asking a couple of questions: 1) Why Jesus didn’t just back off? There were plenty of evidence that Jesus knew the Hebrew scriptures intimately. He could have chosen to preach on those passages that support the temple and its operation. That would have kept the powers that be at bay, and he could have gone back to gallelie and continued to grow his ministry. So why poke the dragon, if you will? 2) How does salvation work? How does the life, brutal death, and miraculous resurrection of one man 2000 years ago cause our salvation? How does it reconcile us to God?

Oddly enough the answer is the same for both questions: Love. Not only because God loved the world so much God sent Jesus, but Jesus loved us and indeed all so much that Jesus stuck with mission. It was out of love that Jesus shows us the very limits of love. We all limit our love and concern for a host of reasons, but Jesus shows us that limiting our love, especially whom we are willing to love. Jesus in these parables that anger the powers is calling for them to open their eyes to love God has for sinners and saints, the rich and the poor. Calling for them to be less concerned about power and more concerned about love.

Love is also why salvation works. See, Jesus was sent to save humanity, and it is humanity that kills him. Jesus feeds humans, heals sick humans, teaches humans, and it is all humanity that nails him to a tree. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I can tell you for sure, if y’all nailed me to a tree in the hot desert sun; left me to die; and by some miracle was raised from the dead, forgiveness would not be on my mind. It'd be zombie time and I would be after you. But not Jesus. Nope. He does not seek vengeance nor retaliation. Jesus loves all humanity so much that Jesus was willing to forgive humanity’s rejection. The miracle of the resurrection is not resuscitation rather forgiveness.

My brothers and sisters we are invited into that forgiveness each and every time we gather around that table and receive the feast of our redemption. But, my brothers and sisters, we dare not approach God’s altar for solace alone and not for strength. We dare not come to this holy meal seeking just our own salvation. Rather we must humbly approach God seeking to be caught up in God’s reconciling work. We must come and receive the body of Christ so that we may go and be the body Christ willing to love as Jesus loved. My brothers and sisters, never forget what Jesus did for us. Never forget how much Jesus loved us, and never ever forget that because there are no limits to what God’s love can do, there are no limits to what our love can do. Amen!