“Cleansing the Lens” – A sermon based on Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians

Have you ever reached a point in your life, when, everything that you thought was true and ‘right’ about the world, was indeed exactly the opposite of what you knew to be true? It’s a humbling feeling to have a life-long held value shattered by another’s wisdom.

The Bible is full of such wisdom, and by the word ‘wisdom’, I don’t necessary mean the wisdom books of the Old Testament like Proverbs and Psalms.

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The Holy Scriptures require a humble reader who shows reverence and fear toward the Word of God, and constantly says,‘Teach me, teach me, teach me…. The Spirit resists the proud.’– Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol.54, 379; Table Talk, 5017

By wisdom, I mean instruction for daily living.  It can be difficult to define wisdom, but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Psychologists might tell us that wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and understanding that incorporates open-mindedness for the uncertainties of life. There’s an awareness of how things will play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance.

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But I wonder if that is how people of faith understand ‘wisdom’ especially as we encounter the Word of God from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

If you read the Bible and you’re not gaining in wisdom and understanding of God, I would begin to wonder about your approach to scripture.   When we read the Word of God, we expect the Holy Spirit to show-up and illustrate something fresh that we hadn’t already known about God; which is to say, to learn something about our own self in relation to God.

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Paul says that God’s acting through the cross of Christ isn’t found in worldly wisdom.  God bypassed the sages and scribes, the philosophers and debaters with all their learned debates and learnings. What we are talking about here is a mystery.  God is both revealed in the cross of Jesus, but God is also hidden.  It’s a paradox where both things are true.  So, Paul goes on to say   the Jews see only a sign of weakness in the cross… They want power like what they saw in the exodus from Egypt, or the crossing of the Red Sea. Might signs of Yahweh that liberated the people. But that’s not the power of the cross, where the power is in the weakness (yet another paradox, both weakness and God’s power are true).

And the ‘Greeks’ (the rest of humanity from a Jewish point of view) are seeking a message and a teaching that makes sense; a message that is logical and rational. For the ‘Greeks’ to take a man who was crucified as a foundation for one’s life seemed to them to be simply irrational.  It cut against the grain of ‘knowledge’.

Yet, Paul’s argument is that Christ crucified is the power of God and God’s ‘wisdom.’  Could it be, per Paul, the real problem with those who don’t understand his message of the cross and the foolishness of worldly wisdom is that we need a new way of seeing things.   Such that, it becomes totally necessary to cleanse our lens of seeing the world.  And reexamine how we understand the way of the world through the cross of Christ.

Lutheran Christians make that claim that as one reads the Word of God, one should do so through the lens of the Cross of Christ.  And that through the Gospel, we see the world has God intend the world to be.  Through the Holy Spirit, our lens of seeing is cleansed and we are given ‘ideal’ eyes by which to see the real nature of reality.

The more I write about this, the more Paul’s message of the cross makes sense.  When we lead our life with judgement and blame, we can’t see the world correctly.  When we lead with fear, we can’t see correctly. When we lead with shame, we can’t see correctly.  When we leave with domination and might, we can’t see correctly.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that later there isn’t a point of caution or even judgment, but to see clearly means that we can’t lead our life with them.  If we lead with a concocted or calculating mind, we will never get the chance to love and experience true love.  We’ll simply cut down and close too quickly; our heart is unable to remain open and we simply will not have a clean lens in which to see God. It has John of the Cross has said, “God refuses to be known except by love.”

It’s such a sad reality that the state of our culture and the deconstruction of our society is such a cynical response to the reality of what’s happening all around us.  As a people, we’ve become cynical about ourselves, our world, and our future.  For so many people life is lived devoid of meaning, purpose, or even direction.  And increasingly the case becomes that we are only aware of what is not and can we rarely enjoy what already is.   Do you hear the two ways of seeing in that statement?  What isn’t and what is… It’s a lens of seeing.

I think what Paul is getting at in this text is that the message of the cross leads a disciple of Christ to be enthusiastic about what is, and not to be angry about what isn’t.

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So, our first job as disciple of Christ must always be about seeing correctly who we are, and then to act on it. Don’t live in a false reality of who you’ve been created to be, BE YOU!  Live a true life, not a false-self. Don’t believe for a second that living into your true-self is an easy thing to do.  Some people wrestle with their true-self every day and are never fully aware of who the Creator has created them to be. It takes immense courage and humility to see ourselves correctly, and perhaps the most courageous thing we can do with our life is to accept with humbleness the mystery of our own reality.

Do you see the message of the cross in that?   Living in a way in which God wants me to live vs. how I want to live or what I want to get out of life.   They can very likely be two very different ways of living.

And this way of seeing is exactly what Jesus taught in the beatitudes.  Wisdom of the world is simply flipped upside down.  God’s way of seeing isn’t our way of seeing through the teaching of Jesus in which the ‘poor in spirit’ receive the kingdom of heaven, and those who ‘mourn’ are comforted.  Jesus’ message is not one of despair and gloom, but rather, ‘rejoice and be glad’.  Be glad when you are persecuted for righteousness sake and hurl all kinds of profanities because of our faith in Christ.  It’s not what we want to hear from Jesus, but that’s God’s wisdom.

Could it be that the message of the cross is that in seeing through a clear lens while gazing at the Cross of Christ, God is to be found in all things, even and especially through those moments that are most tragic, sinful, and especially painful.  Moments when we feel the absence of love are the moments when God is most close.  Like the moment of the crucifixion in which Jesus is at the same moment the most sorrowful and worst thing that could happen, yet it is also the best thing in human history.

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The ‘beautiful’ cross:  A paradox of faith.

And in the end, the paradox of faith always must be some form of crucifixion.  We can’t hold two equally true things together that are complete opposite of one enough.  Our minds are too limited.  Heck, consider Jesus crucifixion as the gospels tell the story – Jesus was crucified between two criminals one was a good thief and the other was bad.  Here Jesus hung somewhere between heaven and earth, between God’s shalom and the destruction of earth. And through the cross, Paul tells us in Ephesians that Jesus “reconciled all things to himself.”  (Eph 2:10).

Through the ‘foolishness’ of the cross, a mystery in which true life is found in a journey of death and where rebirth happens when we discover who God is we can let go of our need to be in control of what comes next.

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What I mean to say is that there is great meaning in the mystical words of our communion liturgy “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And Christ will come again.”  At the end of our life, that is all we need to know.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Hope….

“The local church is the hope of the world.”- Bill Hybels

But why? Because when the local church stewards the message of Christ, it truly is the hope of the world.

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If you don’t already have a community of faith.  Find one.

Be patient.  There is no perfect faith community.  We’re all dealing with serious issues.  But don’t loose your hope, having issues just validates the fact that we are all searching for hope.

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Stay alert and watch.

And above all else, trust in the slow work of God. 

Healthy Life Includes a Faith Component. Here’s Why… And How. – Luke 17

Faith. 

It’s what we Lutheran say is the only thing that will save us.  No measure of good works.  No earning your way to heaven.  It’s faith in Christ alone that will save us.  If this is indeed the truth, which I suspect it is based on what Jesus is saying today in our scriptures, then, logically faith is everything.  Nay!  it is the only thing. 

Every Christian at his/her baptism, or when he/she affirm baptismal promises is handed a blank canvas on which to fill their life. 

They can paint a picture of their life on the canvas without anyone assisting them.  We call that free-will and God’s blessed us the free-will to take control of the paints and decide best how to paint the picture of our life’s story.  At our baptism and when we affirm our baptismal promises, we must take the paint brush in our hand and get to work. 

Religion is never the goal of painting our life’s canvas but we must start there.  We call religious instruction in the church, confirmation and using the analogy of painting your life’s story, confirmation is nothing more the frame around your painting.  Religious instruction frames what the life of a Christian looks like. 

Now there are many names for religion.  At times we use the word religion, but other times we use other words to describe it.  Sometimes we might call religion “faith”.  Jesus spoke in terms of the “Kingdom of God.”  We profess that we are people of faith, the Church, Christians, or Disciples.  There are many names with various meanings but in the end they all describe the same thing.  We are a people of faith, faith in Jesus Christ to be sure, but faith nonetheless.

We in the Church aren’t a business or an institution.  We do not sell any products.  We don’t advocate an earthy cause. We serve no worldly authority.  We come to a building for worship that has been made by people and to do what? 

Simply put- we come to worship to practice our faith.  But we just as well could have met for worship in a home or in a park setting.

The head of our church is not here, not so that I can show him to you or offer you any sort of proof that our spiritual teacher and savior is here and exists.  This means that faith is all we’ve got. 

We are born through faith, live by faith, and we die by faith.  After I die, then and only then will I know in full, as the Apostle Paul’s speaks when I shall see Christ face-to-face.  Until then I’ve got to understand that this faith thing is all I’ve got. 

Sounds pretty darn daunting, doesn’t it?

But, here’s the good news from our text this morning:  Faith isn’t all that difficult.  Faith in Christ is what saves us.  Faith can set us free if we know how to live in faith.  Faith is the angel to your religion.  So how do you practice your faith and not religion?  Jesus offers those who seek to follow him an outline in the 17th chapter of Luke’s gospel. 

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This morning he’s offered us three ways of take small steps in growing tiny seeds of faith.  Three small steps to make up our journey of faith:

The first small step is learning to forgive.  I start with forgiveness because this is the one that is misunderstood the most.  We are told from our earliest moments that we are always to forgive.  Let me back up a verse or two that precedes this morning’s text:  Jesus tells teaches the disciples about the need to continuously forgive.  We always emphasis the sin and the times we are to forgive.  Forgiving is right and good and holy and needed, but we should never leave out the other word either and that word is “repent.”

We need to learn not just how to forgive but when to forgive.  Forgiving someone who has wronged you and when they have not repented of their sin may just be enabling to continue in the downward spiral of sin.  What I’m saying to you is that Jesus says to rebuke the sinner, but forgive her if she changes her way.  Take the steps and forgive when someone repents.  It is one of the primary things we do as Christians.

The second step we can take is to believing just a little.  Jesus doesn’t ask you and me to have a mountain sized faith; just a little seed’s worth of faith will do us well.  A mustard seed is really no big deal. But from this small seed grows a very large plant in a very short period of time. Using a tiny mustard seed, Jesus suggests a very remarkable thing. He says that if our faith is only as large as this very small seed, we can do great things, as great as moving a mountain from one location to another. In fact, he says, “Nothing would be impossible for us.” As Jesus talks to us about a mountain-moving faith, some of us possess a mountain of doubt.

Often people have doubts about God it seems to me they try to subject God to the limits of their own reason.  They want to place God in a box, on their own terms, according to their own reason.  They seem to say that if they were God, things would be done differently.  Maybe the crux of the problem is they see themselves as God.

Jesus is suggesting something radically different.  If we really want to get to know God, it is better to begin with faith.  Remember:  faith is everything.  So no matter how little our faith might be – even if it is smaller than a mustard seed – God is saying to us today that there is great potential to grow the seed of your faith.

The third small step that is a small one is serving others in Christ’s name is a calling.  Let me honest with you:  God owes you and me nothing.  And if it’s true that God owes us nothing, then we understand why self-righteousness is such a nasty attitude for religious people.   Self-righteousness assumes we are due God’s blessing and grace because of our good behavior.   Take a look at the second half of our gospel text this morning.  It’s a parable that teaches us to avoid a self-righteous attitude.  Imagine you are the owner of a farm with servants.  When the servant’s work is done for the day and he comes in from the field, are you going to wait on him?  Help him relax at his dinner table?  Prepare his meal? Serve his supper?  I don’t think so.  The servant is not the master.

Jesus drives home his point:  the master is under no obligation to say thank you to the servant. 

Why?  Because the servant was simply doing his job.  It is what is expected of him.  The servant is not worthy to receive any compliments when he does what is expected of him.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we should honor those who do good works.  It simply means it is our duty and delight to work in the kingdom of God and we are do nothing in return for our labors.  First and foremost, we live for God expecting nothing in return.

As our communion liturgy says:  “it is indeed our duty and our joy…that we should at all time give thanks and praise to god alone.”  Our duty as a those who follow Christ:  forgive those who repent, believe and cultivate the mustard seed sized faith and serve in the name of Christ who promises us the forgiveness of sins and the offer of eternal life.  Amen.