Sunday, June 30, 2019

Luke 9:5l-62

"Resolute"
Covenant Living of Florida -- Chapel
30 June 2019

As much as I love doing a paraphrase of the scriptures sometimes a really literal rendering grabs the imagination. Luke 9:51 in the NRSV:
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
That is, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. There was no way to change his mind -- no way to change his course -- no way to distract him from his goal.
Luke 9:51 is the hinge verse for the entire gospel of Luke -- the fork in the road -- the point of no turning back.

Chapters 1-9:50 contains an introduction to who Jesus is and what he’s up to. But suddenly in vs 51 the whole thing starts to get intense and he sets his sights on Jerusalem where he’ll do battle with death and the sin of the world.


Okay, so here is my paraphrase of Luke 9:51-62.

51 Now as it was getting closer for Jesus to be drawn up into the heaven-determined events of the cross and resurrection, he resolutely set his course for Jerusalem.

52 Jesus sent a vanguard of messengers to make arrangements for his stops along the way. They entered a certain Samaritan village 53 but the residents there were inhospitable toward the advance men because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

This was a precursor of the rejection that would follow once he arrived there.

54 When the apprentices James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Boss, do you want us to summon fire from heaven to wipe them out -- like when Elijah called down fire in 2 Kings 1 to kill those soldiers who were disrespecting him?” 55 But Jesus rebuked the apprentices for their response to the insult.

56 So they just went on their way toward another village.

57 As Jesus and his apprentices walked along the road, someone volunteered to join him and his entourage, saying, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “If you’re going to follow me you need to understand that foxes have their dens and birds have their nests but Uberman is homeless.”

59 Then Jesus invited someone else to join him -- “Follow me.”

That man replied, “Boss, I need to wait a bit so that I can go fulfill my obligation and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let those who are dead take care of the dead. Your priority, however, is to go spread the news of God’s kingdom.”

61 Another person said to Jesus, “Boss, I’m ready to follow you, but first I need to go get my house in order.”

62 Jesus replied, “Don’t get distracted! Anyone who starts plowing but looks away -- even for a moment -- creates a crooked row. If you turn away you’re not helping God’s kingdom.”
This passage is an invitation into unwavering kingdom living.

Jesus often talks about God’s kingdom in the first three gospel accounts. In Matthew he most often calls it the "kingdom of heaven." In Mark and Luke -- God’s kingdom. Slightly different ways of saying the same thing.

The kingdom is the way of life that is defined by God’s agenda.

Some people get confused and think of the kingdom of God as something that happens at the end of time or what happens when we go to heaven. I mean, YES, the kingdom shows up in all those settings.

But it is way bigger than that. It is the way of life that is defined by Jesus’ agenda starting here and now. Where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

That’s where Jesus is leading people and following him is a matter of resolutely walking with him to live out God’s kingdom agenda.

That’s the key idea this morning for those who are jotting things down on the sermon guide. Following Jesus is a matter of resolutely walking with him to live out God’s kingdom agenda.

And in our passage we see Jesus outline some critical dimensions of what this means -- what kingdom living is all about. I’ve summarized what he says and what I think he is saying to us with six more or less brief observations:

#1. Kingdom living is easily misunderstood and easily blown off.

We live in an era where even Christians have embraced secular symbols of success. People will tell me that they were members of some huge church with a big name pastor and a mega staff and a mega budget. And they wait to see how impressed I’ll be. Lots and lots of people see them as successful so that must be God’s stamp of approval.

But notice what happens when Jesus starts to unfold his kingdom map as they are marching toward Jerusalem.

They’re trekking through Samaritan territory -- an area of outcasts -- an area which you would think would be welcoming toward an activist who was on his way to challenge the Jewish establishment.

For them, that would have been a positive. But they had their own ideas about how this revolution should happen. And it involved rendering Jerusalem powerless by hyping their own system.

So when Jesus marches on Jerusalem they didn’t understand what he was up to. And they blew him off -- failed to offer hospitality.


So, vs 52 --
Jesus sent a vanguard of messengers to make arrangements for his stops along the way. They entered a certain Samaritan village 53 but the residents there were inhospitable toward the advance men because Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.
The point is if you’re following Jesus as he implements his kingdom agenda -- don’t be surprised or thrown by the rejection.

Just as bigger doesn’t prove anything in the kingdom of God, neither does rejection diminish what is happening. So, don’t get discouraged by it all.

#2. -- Kingdom living involves non-retaliatory grace.

The conversation in vss 54-56 is referencing what happened when the Old Testament prophet Elijah called down fire on the people who disrespected him, the disciples are eager to do the same to the Samaritan village which disrespected Jesus by declining hospitality.

People always seem to be able to find some kind of religious justification for exercising judgment on others. But Jesus and the kingdom of God agenda he is advocating doesn’t buy into that approach. He graciously lets them off the hook and moves on -- just as he had instructed the disciples to do at the beginning of chapter 9.

Vs 54 --
When the apprentices James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Boss, do you want us to summon fire from heaven to wipe them out -- like when Elijah called down fire in 2 Kings 1 to kill those soldiers who were disrespecting him?”
But Jesus corks that talk because he is inaugurating a kingdom where you don’t fry your enemies but where you love them -- where you extend grace and mercy to the people who oppose you.
It’s not about becoming powerful enough to put the bad guys in their place. That’s not the nature of Jesus’ kingdom -- his agenda for recreating the world.


Vs. 55 -- "But Jesus rebuked the apprentices for their response to the insult."

3. -- Kingdom living can be rough and messy.

Look more closely at vss 57-58 --

As Jesus and his apprentices walked along the road, someone volunteered to join him and his entourage, saying, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “If you’re going to follow me you need to understand that foxes have their dens and birds have their nests but Uberman (his own self description -- "son of man" or "Superman" -- "the ultimate human") is homeless.”
How is it that the Uberman -- the greatest human who is rewriting what it means to be human -- would be a nomad?

He’s not in the least bit interested in living in the White House -- or Buckingham Palace.

And if you’re going to follow him as he implements his kingdom agenda -- you need to be willing to embrace the rough and the mess. For lots of the people he brings into your life will be rough and messy.

Quit looking to Jesus to improve your social standing or your way of life. Quit pursuing power -- even power to carry out good.

The kingdom of God isn’t about power or respectability or comfort or success. It’s about extending graciousness in rough and messy situations.

Of course, many of us are saying. “I can’t really do that. That’s not me. I need order and less mess.”

But the point is that it could become you because you are walking with Jesus and he is in the process of living out his kingdom agenda -- to which he we are drawn in -- because we are following him. It’s not something we do for Jesus but something he does through us because we’re on the road together.

Recognize that kingdom living is rough and messy and then stop worrying about your ability to live that way. He’ll teach you while you’re on the go.

#4. -- Kingdom living needs to be the first priority.

Now in vss 59-60, Jesus makes some pretty extreme statements given the way that first-century Jewish society worked -- where your highest obligation as a son was to care for your parents -- through their old age -- and to the point where you buried them. You could get out of a lot of the obligations but the shame of abandoning the family -- the parents -- was unbelievable.

So I could tell you that Jesus’ statements were hyperbolic overstatements to make a point. But most people would interpret that as getting them off the hook -- when in fact Jesus is trying to make all potential disciples squirm. He’s trying to shake people up so that they begin to grasp the significance of what he is up to and who he is.

So, vss 59-60
Then Jesus invited someone else to join him -- “Follow me.” That man replied, “Boss, I need to wait a bit so that I can go fulfill my obligation and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let those who are dead take care of the dead. Your priority, however, is to go spread the news of God’s kingdom.”
Following Jesus can’t just be another add-on obligation to your life. Being a disciple is a new identity that stands alone above all others -- family, nation, clan, race… And so it has to be the top priority -- the defining priority.

If you had to come up with a simple answer, what would you say is your top priority in life?

#5. -- Kingdom living involves “spreading” the news. 
There are references to this in vss 1-2, 6, 11, and again in vs 60. You might identify this as a recurring theme.

Here is vs 60 again, “Your priority, however, is to go spread the news of God’s kingdom.”


This is the good news -- the gospel is the rollout of God’s kingdom. And that news should be spread like crazy. And it is spread in two ways:

By word of mouth -- that is a verbal witness -- telling the story of how you are seeing God’s kingdom happening.

Then secondly, it is spread through actions. It’s not an either/or but a both/and.

Jesus did both.
He healed people and he announced the kingdom.

He hung out with the marginalized people -- the sinners -- and he announced the kingdom.

He turned the other cheek and he announced the kingdom.

Sometimes we’ve reduced the spreading of the news to mere words. But when we do that we’re missing out on how the kingdom of God rolls.

I love the quote which was attributed to St Francis but which he probably never said -- "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."


However, St Francis of Assisi, the 13th-century friar did say -- “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”


Walking and talking go together. Spread the news by walking and talking.


When you walk into a room picture yourself as a royal ambassador for God’s kingdom.

→ How does that role define what you do?

→ What you’ll say to the people?

→ How will you say it?

→ As an ambassador of Jesus’ upside down kingdom where the least of people are the most important, who will you spend your time with?

→ What will you do with your money?

The list goes on.

Your assignment in life is to spread the news of God’s kingdom -- and to do it with focus.

That’s #6. -- Kingdom living needs to be focused.

vss 61-62 --
Another person said to Jesus, “Boss, I’m ready to follow you, but first I need to go get my house in order.”

62 Jesus replied, “Don’t get distracted! Anyone who starts plowing but looks away -- even for a moment -- creates a crooked row. If you turn away you’re not helping God’s kingdom.”
On Wednesday morning, a little before sunrise, I was riding my bike from home toward the Plantation Central Park, Cheryl was walking a half block behind me.

And when I came to the intersection of Central Park Dr and Cleary there was a black Camero turning from Cleary south onto Central Park Drive. But he got distracted while making the turn. I don’t know if he was texting, or if he spilled his coffee, or if his Sausage and Egg McMuffin slipped from his hand. But whatever the distraction was it was enough to change the course in his turn and he ended up with two wheels on the center divider.

And since he was going way too fast, to begin with, he couldn’t just turn back onto the road. He had to drive nearly a half block with two wheels up on the center divider before he could correct his maneuver.

Lucky for him that he didn’t flip the car or get the attention of the cop who drove down the road a few minutes later.

If you’re going to start along the way with Jesus and his kingdom don’t get distracted by multi-tasking. I mean, distraction is an ongoing hazard when it comes to the kingdom.

By definition, kingdom living involves moving through rough and messy terrain. It's even tempting to put things off until road conditions are better.

Think of all the young couples you know who are holding off on getting married until they can afford the big wedding or they find the ideal house or have a successful career or whatever… and time goes by… the relationship goes through lots of unnecessary strain because they are distracted by things which are only peripheral to the relationship.

Stay focused on what is important. Don’t get distracted and lose your focus. Following Jesus is a matter of resolutely walking with him to live out God’s kingdom agenda.

Let me draw your attention back to vs 51. "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem."

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem so that he can take on the sin of the world and conquer death on our behalf. We have life and purpose because he set his face toward Jerusalem -- because he was resolutely walking to Jerusalem to live out God’s kingdom agenda -- an agenda which he is calling us to embrace as our own.

Will you embrace that kingdom agenda as your life agenda? What a great opportunity!

And believe it or not, that is the good news.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Colossians 3:17

The Wedding of Kent Boydston & Samantha Morrow, Dublin, California, 04 August 2018

You’ve heard the expression, “Not all who wander are lost.” In light of the travel theme in this wedding I thought it would be appropriate to unpack that saying a bit. The reality is that many wander about because they are lost. But others wander because they want to experience new things. They are driven to get out there and see the world.

Now, that was not as big of a deal when I was growing up. The generations behind us have figured out that there is real value in seeing and experiencing more of the world. And that’s great.

But I want to suggest that there is a third reason why some wander.

The first is because they are LOST.
The second is because they want to EXPERIENCE the wonders of this great world.
And the third is because -- they're on a MISSION.

Christians are especially tuned into this dimension. Jesus sent his followers out to spread his good news.

We read in John 20:21 that after Jesus was raised from the dead he appeared to his disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

But we're not just talking about some class of spiritually elite individuals. We're all called to represent Christ, his message, his love…

And I'd suggest that it's not just individuals but also couples.

In the NT book of Colossians, the apostle Paul spells out some instructions on healthy marriage in Colossians 3:18-19 -- which I am not going to read. You can check that out on your own. But I would like to focus on the preamble to those comments in Colossians 3:17 --
And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
Or I might paraphrase it for this context --
Whatever it is that you do or say -- wherever you travel -- whoever it is that pays your salary -- your underlying mission is to represent the Lord Jesus -- and do remember to thank God with each step you take along the way.
Yes, a wedding ceremony is a celebration of your love and commitment to each other. But it is also a commissioning service to send you out together as a new team on a journey to represent Christ Jesus -- his good news -- his kingdom agenda -- and his way of life.

When we lived in Turlock we had a man in our church whom I'd have do premarital counseling for me. He was much better at that kind of thing than I am. And he'd meet with the couples before I'd officiate at the ceremony.

Kent, you remember Lloyd Ahlem. Lloyd was a retired psychologist and college president. And one thing he'd always ask couples to do is to write out their corporate mission statement. Lloyd was a genius and that one assignment quickly got couples talking about the point of marriage.

What is your mission statement? What is your corporate purpose? Why are you going on this journey? Why are you wandering?

Is it because you're lost and you need a spouse to help you find your way? Is it because you're looking forward to experiencing the world with a kindred spirit? (And Kent and Sam seem to be very kindred spirits. I think it was Stephen Kim who first figured that out and hooked them up. Thank you!) Maybe it's a combination of both those reasons.

And really when you think about it, wandering because you're lost or wandering because you desire to experience things together aren't such bad reasons. But remember your prime directive as individuals and a married couple -- to represent Christ as you wander on your journey. If you make that the first priority the other aspects of the marriage journey will fall into place.

And believe it or not, that is the good news.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Luke 2:1-20

"The Night Heaven Declared Peace on Earth"
MasterPiece Church
Christmas Eve -- 24 December 2017


“Glory to God in heaven,
and on earth peace among
those whom he favors.”
 
~ Luke 2:14 (CEB)

You might think that given their place in the heavenly ranks that the angels would have an inside scoop on what God is up to. But that's not entirely true. Angels have been known to get things wrong -- terribly wrong at times.

Now, of course, they knew God was up to something. There was a lot of buzz in the capitol and there had been several recent dispatches centered around a lovely young human woman. Something was definitely happening. But that was all privileged in detail.

Besides, no one ever quite knows what God is up to. He only reveals so much...

That, of course, did not stifle the speculation. And if you asked the average angel on the street he would have told you that in his educated opinion God was about to launch a judgment offensive.

I mean if you looked at the signs it made a lot of sense. The humans were in political turmoil under oppressive dictators. Ordinary people lived morally indifferent lives. The religious were the biggest hypocrites around. And everyone dreamed of getting rich -- even if it meant displacing vulnerable people and shortchanging both the poor and the creation to get there.

So the off-duty angels -- soldiers of the heavenly host -- would sit around the pub drinking celestial brew and speculating on what kind of battle tactics the commander would utilize in the offensive against the evil of the world.

Old Arnie was about to say that it would be like that time they opened the skies and flooded the earth during the days of Noah. But his memory kicked in just in time to catch himself. God had promised he wouldn’t do that again.

But Anders, an experienced yet low ranking angel, jumped in, stating that he was fairly certain it would look something like that time when they unleashed plagues and death on the Egyptians before the Exodus.

“Yeah,” everyone at the table piped in. “That was pretty cool. No doubt that God has something along that line in mind.”

But a couple of the younger experts at the far end of the table raised their voices -- “NO WAY! Have you seen how much worse things have become since then? The world has fallen into chaos. The leaders are self-obsessed uncaring narcissists and to make matters worse -- their subjects -- their very victims are so blind that they support the corrupt regime thinking they’ll somehow get rich, too. It’s a greedy hell hole down there. And God will most certainly unleash a bloodbath unlike anything ever before seen. History can no longer be used to predict the future.”

So a couple of hours later when the heavenly host was summoned for assembly most of them showed up in full battle gear -- even though the gear wasn’t a part of the order.

But the captain commanded them to stand down and stow the gear -- “You don’t need that stuff -- not now -- maybe never again. We’re on choir duty backing up a messenger.”

“Sir,” a sergeant jumped in. “But what if the infidels don’t like the message and turn on the messenger? Shouldn’t we be ready to protect him?”

“Don’t worry,” the captain responded. “The messenger will be meeting a group of shepherds out at night watching over their flocks. Believe me, these guys are no threat. They’re about the only ones left who don’t fancy delusions of power. They watch sheep!”

Then the captain handed out music for a quick run through.

They warmed up and started to sing --“Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Arnie quietly turned to his buddies -- “Can you believe this? ‘Peace to the earthlings. They have found favor…’ How can this be? This is a whole new era -- a new way of doing battle. God is launching peace against the bloody rebels! The only way that will ever work is if he shows up in person to lead the charge. This is going to get interesting.”

Then they all loudly joined the reprise -- one more time before boarding transport -- “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

And believe it or not -- that is the good news.

Monday, December 11, 2017