>My Sermon Yesterday

>Kenneth Colephoto © 2010 Joel Montes de Oca | more info (via: Wylio)
I feel like I’ve been on a roll lately with sermons.  Or, perhaps to say it more faithfully, God’s been on a roll through my sermons.  I think there has been more dialogue about preaching with the congregation and I’ve been going out of my way to include more visual presentation material — powerpoint slides, images, even movies.  It’s been a challenge and the way our church is set up presently, it means that I’m manning the computer/projector along with the sermon.  But I’ve been getting good feedback and some constructive criticism.  It hasn’t all been sugar-coated.

But yesterday was awesome.  I’m not sure the sermon text or my presentation was all that great, but the topic and the sermon as a whole seemed to really resonate with people.  It was on GRUDGES and was called “LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO HOLD A GRUDGE.”  And so we talked about the fleeting nature of life and the abundant life that God intends for us.  Then we talked of how grudges keep us from being the people God wants us to be and how it accomplishes nothing but making us slaves to our past and how grudges keep us from any hope of reconciliation and, beyond that, even civility with those for whom we carry the grudge.

Three people told me that they thought I was preaching directly to them.  One person asked for a copy and proceeded to text portions of my sermon to their family members.  Another person emailed me and said that the sermon led them to have a heart to heart with someone who had wronged them and that they wanted further conversation about it.

I think I preach pretty well.  I think I’ve been blessed with a fairly good ability to communicate, although I would never classify myself as a “great preacher.”  “Pretty good” seems fair.  But, I guess I wasn’t prepared for God to work through today’s sermon the way God did.  I’m humbled.  I’m awed.  I pray that God is able to work this way again…maybe next week.

I’m also kind of nervous that I might have “peaked.”  What if next week is a dud and the pieces just don’t come together?

I guess I better start praying now.

>LOST: Our Quest to Find Jesus — "Jesus the Man" — Sermon for 6 February 2011

>1984 in Maya hieroglyphs. Jesus.Image via Wikipedia(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us.  I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes.  For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church.  And, I’ve really enjoyed the book.  It’s challenged me.)

Text:  Psalm 24:1-6 & Romans 5:17-21
Title:  “Jesus: The Man”

We like our God tough.  We like our God OMNIPOTENT and OMNIPRESENT and OMNISCIENT  (all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing).  We like our God to be GODLY, with some holy muscle on him.  We can talk pretty openly about Jesus being with us wherever we go and how much he loves us and speaks to us through his Spirit.

Sometimes it’s harder for us to come to grips with the humanness of Jesus.  That’s why I stress at Christmastime that the great God of the universe has come to us as a helpless baby in the manger…who cried and got gas and spit up on Mary’s shoulder as she burped him. 

That’s some human stuff.

And there’s other parts with being human that we just don’t get into with Jesus.  As fully human I’m pretty sure he had to use the restroom.  I’m pretty sure he left toys on the floor and had acne.  I’m pretty sure he sometimes laughed so hard that he got the hiccups or did one of those SNORT noises that some people do when they laugh.  He was human.  He was a baby.  He was a boy.   He was a teenager.  He was a man.

But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we need to admit that there is a leap of faith that comes with this, for we say that Jesus was both fully God and fully man…not the typical, everyday experience.  And sometimes, trying to hold these together, persons have come down way on the side of one of the other.

Throughout this sermon series, we’ve been saying that there are certain MISCONCEPTIONS that people have of Jesus – like he’s angry and doesn’t forgive of that he has nothing to do with all that came before him in the Old Testament.  But, the MISCONCEPTION about Jesus being fully God and not human at all isn’t even a misconception.  The church, long ago—like, in the 3rd century—,called it a heresy. 

Here’s a little history lesson for you.  In the 3rd century the church was dealing with a growing belief that JESUS FELT NO PAIN.  While there was a lot going on at the time that tried to deny the divinity of Christ, this is one that denied the humanity.  The name of this belief is DOCETISM.  Docetism comes from the Greek work which means “TO SEEM” or “TO APPEAR” and, in docetism, Jesus wasn’t really human although he SEEMED to be human.

There is a logic here.  Because we have an all-powerful, all present, totally transcendent God, it would be impossible for our God to experience any kind of human suffering.  It wouldn’t make sense.  And to embrace some sort of idea where the great ruler of the universe would have put on human flesh and moved into our neighborhoods was, well unthinkable.  Couldn’t have happened. 

The early church, however, fought back hard.  I know the name Irenaeus probably isn’t known to you, but it was Irenaeus who wrote from prison saying, essentially:  Hey, why am I in prison if the gospel is just some harmless lie, where no one really suffered and died?

His exact words were more pointed, even:

Turn a deaf ear therefore when any one speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, the child of Mary, who was truly born, who ate and drank, who was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and truly died….But if, as some godless men, that is, unbelievers, say, he suffered in mere appearance (being themselves being mere appearances), why am I in bonds?

[And another ancient saint in the fray is Polycarp who] “makes the strongest possible charge against the Docetists by saying that “everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ,” echoing 1 John 4:2-3.”

So, what’s the big deal here?  What’s the problem with having a view that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ never touched the ground because he was so Godly and surely couldn’t have suffered and died?  Well, that’s what we need to get at.

It all kind of goes back to that Psalm passage we read, from Psalm 24 a bit earlier:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?  Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

This is David, back in the Old Testament.  David…with all of his Bathsheba problem.  This is not someone with clean hands and a pure heart.  And yet, here he is, singing about the only one being able to ascend the hill of the Lord…the only one able to bridge the distance between God and humankind is the one who is clean and pure and doesn’t do what is false, and doesn’t swear…deceitfully.

Even in the Old Testament, there was a sense that what was needed, to really connect us with God was someone…some human…who was without sin.  We needed a human to make the sacrifice to restore the relationship between humans and God.

That’s where Jesus comes in.

The Bible is full of the humanness of Jesus.  We’ve already alluded to that birth in the manger that we celebrated about a month and a half ago.  (Really, it’s about a month and a half ago.  I swear!)  And we know this was a real birth, albeit a miraculous one with a virgin for a mother—and that’s “virgin” in the classic sense of the word and not “virgin” as in “a young girl” which is what the original word in Isaiah, that points to this might have meant.  The gospels are clear that Mary and Joseph had no marital relations before Jesus was born. 

And then we kind of enter a cloudy area in Jesus’ life, because there’s just not much there.  We might be fully interested in hearing about Jesus’ childhood friends, and whether he got picked first or last for the baseball team and whether or not he responded with some “and the first will be last” comment.  But we just don’t have that information.  We know that he got lost from his parents when he was just 12 years old and his parents found him in the temple.  But that’s about it.  And we have to deal with that.

Says Jared Wilson, whose book Your Jesus is Too Safe is serving as the background for this series says,

Though we’d love to know more about Jesus as a child, the gospel writers were more interested in telling us about the powerful and redemptive work of his adult ministry than in satisfying our curiosity about his childhood.  The modern imaginative insistence—that the church excised from the Gospels and then concealed whatever happened in Jesus’ adolescence—is not only fanciful, it is also anachronistic—it assumes the Gospels must adhere to the forms and conventions of modern biographies. (83)

In short, the gospel writers didn’t care to tell us what happened in Jesus’ teens and twenties…why…because that wasn’t really important to the salvation story at hand.

We can assume some things.

We might assume that Jesus was a carpenter because we know Joseph was.  But, Jesus is never called a carpenter in the Bible…only a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55).  He’s called “Rabbi” or “Teacher” a lot more frequently.  It could very well be that he studied as a Rabbi.  That would make some sense.

We can also assume that Joseph, Jesus’ dad died at some point.  That would explain why we don’t hear about Joseph at all after the “lost in the temple” experience.  And, it would also explain why, Jesus, at the cross, gives his friend John charge of his mother. 

There would have been no need to do this if Joseph were still living, and indeed, John takes Mary into his home to live thereafter.  Mary’s widowhood would partially explain Jesus’ close relationship with her throughout the gospel stories.  The other explanation for maintaining such a close, sweet relationship with his mother is just that he was the perfect son. (Wilson, 84)

Some have assumed that Jesus was married, even married and having kids.  Does Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code ring a bell to anyone?  There are some problems with this. 

First, it doesn’t make historical sense.  We know it’s not in the four gospels.  And, if he had gotten married, there’d be no reason not to include it. It wouldn’t be scandalous and therefore kept from the first century Christians.  Moreover, if he had been married with kids, it would have been a big part of his life and worthy of a mention.

Secondly, it doesn’t make logical sense.  We started this discussion of Jesus’ manhood by saying that he was the perfect man…the perfect human…and was therefore able to bridge the divide between God and humanity.  Well, what kind of perfect man would leave his wife and kids behind to go tour around the countryside with 12 guys for three year before dying for the sins of the world?  He’d be a horrible man.  It’s not logical.

All this is to say that, orthodox Christianity doesn’t believe that he was married.  If he had been, it wouldn’t make him any less the Son of God and Son of Man.  But, since he didn’t get married it’s kind of a moot point.

But, beyond assumptions, there are some things that we really can know about Jesus the Man from the three years of ministry that get recorded in the Gospels.

We can know the Jesus was a humble man.

This is, perhaps, a little odd considering here’s a guy who says, “I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life” and demanded that the lives of all his followers revolved around him.  But we know he was humble.

This is one who gave up the throne of heaven to come down to earth to redeem.  He gave.  He served.  He sought.  Think of how he lowered himself to move into our neighborhood, earth…the neighborhood on the other side of the tracks from heaven.

Philippians says he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

He was humble man.

We can also know he was a brilliant man.

This may be hard for us to grasp, as we see brilliance in the minds of Einstein or Plato, Augustine or Isaac Newton.  We don’t think of Jesus.

Yesterday I had a meeting for The Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat.  And, on the retreat, the Walk to Emmaus story from Luke comes up where Jesus walks with persons after the resurrection and they are distraught at what’s taken place around his death.  But as they walked along Jesus opened up their hearts to all the scriptures about himself.

And we believe that Jesus was a brilliant guy and believe that his words are not just a quaint account of first century life, but are words of instruction and life across the miles and the ages.  We believe he was good, but that he was smart in the practical application.

But, says Wilson:

In one of the great ironies of our modern evangelical subculture, we are very big on “making” the Christian faith practical and “relevant,” yet by and large we go on living our lives as if Jesus had nothing relevant to say about what we do and say, who we date or marry, what sort of jobs we take, what sort of families we raise, where we spend our time with. (94-95)

We’ll take our Jesus as “good” but will we take him as smart enough to know what’s best for us.

We can know him as fully man. 

Because Jesus was fully man, he can reverse Adam’s fall.  Our Romans passage says this:

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

Jesus was fully man…but a fully sinless man.  That makes our righteousness possible.  This is integral to a Christian understanding of salvation.

But he was fully man as well in that he experienced the highs, the lows, of human life.  He knew loss of family (Joseph and John the Baptist).  He knew the loss of a friend (Lazarus).  He knew temptation (remember that time in the desert).  He knew what it was like to be lost from him parent.

He might not have experienced exactly what you’re going through or you’ve been through but he knew what it was like to be rejected by friends and family.  He knew anxiety.  He knew physical abuse.  He even knew what it was like to die.

As human as we are, we may want a God who is totally other than us…divine.  That’s understandable.  And, in many ways, Jesus was and is that.  But as divine as our God is, he knew that the way to offer us a better way was to become one of us…fully.  Know that Jesus the man has accomplished all that his Father has set out to have him do.  And because of that we can ascend “the hill of the Lord.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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>LOST: Our Quest to Find Jesus — "Jesus, The Forgiver" — Sermon for 30 January 2010

>Jesus forgivesphoto © 2010 R. M. Calamar | more info (via: Wylio)

Text:  Hosea 14:1-7 & Colossians 3:12-14
Title:  “Jesus: The Forgiver”

We have sanitized forgiveness in our culture.  We have lessened its impact.  We have made it easy…simple…quaint.

As a parent, I know there are times when we’re talking with our kids after an argument and we want one of them to say they’re sorry for whatever it is that they have done wrong and we want the other kid to say…even if it’s like pulling teeth to get them to say it… “I FORGIVE YOU.”  And this is a good lesson to be taught at an early age.  We don’t want our kids to stay mad at each other or us or someone else FOREVER.  There is some sort of emotional healing that comes with forgiveness, even for the little things, so that we’re not weighed down a desire to enact VENGEANCE BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN SO WRONGED–or at least our kids can FEEL that they’ve been very wronged.


She destroyed my picture.

He told her that I liked her.

They went into my room without asking first.


It is good to let the pain and the hurt go.  Forgiveness means you won’t be a slave to that pain and hurt anymore.

But, you know, this type of forgiveness is FORGIVENESS-WITH-TRAINING WHEELS.  Most of the situations where forgiveness comes up in our lives we’d really be able to get through or get over without much emotional investment because, while we may feel hurt at the time, a little perspective and a little life happening to you can make you realize that, in the grand scheme of things, our hurt was pretty minor.

Where the rubber meets the road, though, is when those training wheels come up…when the hurt is BIG, where the pain is REAL, where your emotional investment is INTENSE.

Says Jared Wilson in his book, Your Jesus is Too Safe, which is serving as our springboard into these discussions, writes about forgiveness this way:


We have so sanitized forgiveness it’s all out of focus.  We idealize it as nice and virtuous, the dominion of children and their insignificant squabbles.  We forget, though, just how messy, how difficult, how scandalous forgiveness really is until were faced with the opportunity to experience it ourselves.  If you’ve ever cried out for a forgiveness withheld from you, or if you’ve ever had to face the sometimes excruciating process of forgiving someone who has really sinned against you, then you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t experienced either opportunity, just wait. (59)


We may say Jesus loves us, but when we have been wronged to our very core, we like to saddle up with our friend, the ANGRY JESUS.  He’s the one who can’t stand to be around sin for he is holy, and he can’t stand to be around injustice, for he is just, and he’s the one who says vengeance is mine and we’re more than happy to let him at whoever it was who hurt us so bad.

And so, we get angry.   And we stew.  And we simmer.  And we boil.  And we hold onto those feelings and can’t seem to avoid having them define us and shape us.  We can lose sight of Christ’s forgiveness, maybe not because we want to lose sight of it, but because our situation makes it so difficult to forgive.

One example…  When I was in seminary at Duke, I had a professor who talked with me about a class on forgiveness he was teaching.  After students had signed up for the class one girl pulled him aside.  She admitted that she had been raped and she wanted to take the class to forgive the one who did this to her.  That put a lot of pressure on the professor!  Well, as the class progressed, she came and talked with the professor, wondering if she should continue.  She just couldn’t forgive this person.  The professor asked if she WANTED to forgive.  Yes, she did.  Well, then, she was on her way, he said.  He said, when your pain is deep, forgiveness can be a long process.  Deep wounds don’t have quick fixes.  But, it’s still important to move along that direction.

The Bible, too, talks about forgiveness in difficult times.  One great example is rough.  It’s Hosea in the Old Testament. 

God wants Hosea to serve as an example of his own great love and forgiveness and relentless pursuit of his chosen people.  So he orders Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute.  Hosea obeys.  Gomer doesn’t stop doing what she had been doing.  Hosea is married to an unfaithful spouse and yet remains wedded to her, forgiving her at every step, never stopping loving her.  This provides us with a stunning image of the grace of God.  For God, in Hosea, is in a relationship with an adulterous spouse Israel, who has gone off seeking other spiritual suitors.  

These two images, the young woman in the class on forgiveness and Hosea and Gomer are not meant to shock.  They are meant to help explain the rawness of forgiveness and what’s really at stake here.  Our Gospel teaches us that this very human commitment to sin and pain and hurt has been overcome by a more powerful commitment on God’s part to restoration and healing and sanctification.  And, at times, it’s every bit as difficult as these two illustrations make clear.  Forgiveness is messy work. 

But, even though it can tear us up, we know that, the end of the process is a beautiful thing.

Hosea’s account, closes with a love song — How could it possibly end with a love song, we may want to say?  — But it does.  We read it before, but Peterson’s The Message translation puts it this way:


“I will heal their waywardness.
   I will love them lavishly. My anger is played out.
I will make a fresh start with Israel.
   He’ll burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring.
He’ll put down deep oak tree roots,
   he’ll become a forest of oaks!
He’ll become splendid—like a giant sequoia,
   his fragrance like a grove of cedars!
Those who live near him will be blessed by him,
   be blessed and prosper like golden grain.
Everyone will be talking about them,
   spreading their fame as the vintage children of God. (Hosea 14:4-7)


We may say this is beautiful.  We may say it’s wonderful that Israel will be restored into relationship with its God.  But we cannot say the “getting there” is easy.

I was once told by another professor, (and I paraphrase), “Grace stinks.”  It stinks because it means burying the hatchet, in the ground and not in a back. It means welcoming home someone who isn’t worthy of being welcomed.  It’s is offering mercy to the one who is unmerciful.  It is forgiving the one you can imagine ever forgiving.  And, if we are going to followers of Christ, we need to follow into this radical world of forgiveness where “Grace stinks” – because it goes against our better judgment, against the world’s teachings of right and wrong, and against our emotions that would rather sit in our angers and resentments.

This is scandalous.

And of course, Jesus made it even more scandalous.  Because here we have a carpenter’s son from Nazareth who now claims to be able to offer the forgiveness of God.

Think of the passage from Mark 2 and the paralytic man.  His buddies bring him to see Jesus but they can’t get in the door.  They peek through the windows.  They yell. Nothing.  So they get a ladder and go up the roof and start digging through.  They lower their friend to the feet of Jesus in the sure and certain hope that he would be healed.  And he is. And Jesus says, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” 

Forgiveness and the healing or restoration that accompanies it is found in this one man.

I think the main thing about forgiveness that confronts our delicate sensibilities is that the person who is forgiven doesn’t deserve that forgiveness.  It flies in face of all that we think is right and just.

I remember hearing a story about the Amish in upstate Indiana.  Apparently, one day, a group of teenagers was out joyriding and throwing rocks into Amish buggies as they passed by.  Nothing usually happened outside of some kids being mean.  But on this one day, the rock hit a baby who was in the back of the buggy and killed the child.  When the police started to press charges, the family said that they would not.  They forgave the teenage boys and would pray that they would receive and live into that forgiveness.  The police had no idea how to process this. It didn’t make sense.

Or, think about the Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania in 2006 where an armed man came and murdered five young girls before taking his own life.  And the Amish community said they harbored no ill will but forgave the man and have reached out to his family.

Or, this account given by Jared Wilson:


The same week of the Amish schoolhouse murders, one of our church’s pastors told the story of a mother who’d forgiven the drunk driver who killed her teenage son.  Not only had she found her way past the anger and bitterness to forgive the driver, but she and her husband had also pursued the messy work of reconciling a relationship with the man, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD NO PRIOR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM.  Her husband, who was a pastor, even presided over the man’s marriage. (66)


Look, I hope you’re never put in any one of these situations.  I pray that nothing I’ve said today will ever apply to your life in the same way.  I pray that the wrongs committed against you remain childlike, and involve little need for healing and restoration.  But if you ever find yourself in something like this, you’ll find that “Grace Stinks,” that forgiveness is painful, that fixing something that’s broken can require some great help from God.

Some things we need to understand about forgiveness:

First, FORGIVENESS IS NOT JUST FOR THE PERSON WHO’S FORGIVEN BUT FOR THE FORGIVER AS WELL.  By forgiving you free yourself from bondage to resentment.  You liberate yourself.  And this doesn’t matter if the person you’re forgiving is repentant or changed or accepts your forgiveness.  By forgiving someone, you claim that you will not be defined by that wrong that was done to you and that you will not keep the weight of that burden from living an abundant life.  You are freed.  You are more than that.

Now, as I’ve said, this may go against all that you’re feeling and all that you’re thinking when you’re in the midst of your pain.  Working through forgiveness can be infuriating.

Second, THIS WHOLE FORGIVENESS THING SPRINGS FROM THE FACT THAT WE ARE FORGIVEN. Remember Hosea and how his life of forgiving Gomer provided us a picture of what God’s forgiveness looks like.  That’s the forgiveness God offers to us.  We don’t deserve it.  It’s a free gift of grace.  That’s what grace is.  And we, who have been forgiven, are to forgive others.

We get reminded of this every time we say The Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Or, for the Presbyterians in the bunch, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  Or, for those who like to shake it up in a little more contemporary way, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  It all means the same.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.

Or, the Colossians passage,


Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.


It’s not dependent upon what the other person does.

Says Wilson,


[T]he moment you make your granting of forgiveness contingent on another persons’ attitude or worthiness, you’re slapping God in the face.  Again, this is why: you yourself are not WORTHY of God’s forgiveness.   You can never deserve it. You aren’t good enough or smart enough—doggone it, God didn’t grant you forgiveness because you’re likeable.  He did it because he loves you and because grace is the way he shows it. (72)


So, forgiveness is for the forgiver as well as the forgiven.  We forgive BECAUSE God forgives us.

Third, and last, WE FORGIVE AS WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.

We are forgiven relentlessly, endlessly, patiently.  That is how we are forgiven.  That is how we are to forgive. 

If you remember, when, in Matthew, Peter asks how many times he should forgive.  Is it seven times?  No, it’s seventy times seven.  The point is not to stop when we get to 490 times.  The point is that it’s unending.  Just like Jesus’ forgiveness of us.

Two last points here as we wrap this up.

One.  Forgiveness does not make us doormats.  If you’re getting beat up by a significant other, you need to get away…protect yourself and your family before this can be worked on.  If you have someone who is picking bullying you at school, it’s OK to turn them in, get an adult to help.  If you have a spouse who is fooling around with someone, that extra-marital affair needs to stop for there to be healing in your relationship.

But by offering forgiveness, you give up the power that unforgiveness can have over you.  You bring a radical forgiveness to your relationship and ONLY THEN can true restoration occur.

Two:  We’ve talked about how difficult it is to offer a deep forgiveness.  I want to say it’s difficult to receive forgiveness too.  I have more problems with receiving than giving.  Receiving means letting go of guilt and shame.  Receiving means recognizing how your words or your actions or inactions affected those you love.  Receiving can mean forgiving ourselves.  In short, it means coming face to face with your sin.  Know that God’s grace is always greater than our sins.  And, perhaps, when we’re in need of forgiveness, we’ll find persons whose grace is greater than our sin as well.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to find in the world.  But we should thank God when that’s the case.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

>LOST: Our Quest to Find Jesus — "Jesus, The Prophet Who Disturbs Us" — Sermon for 23 January 2010

>Buddy Jesus bobbleheadImage by _escalade328s_ via Flickr(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us.  I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes.  For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church.  This sermon functioned as the introduction to the series, trying to convey the notion that it can be hard to find who Jesus is in our culture.)

Text:  Malachi 4:1-6 & Matthew 24:37-42
Title:  “Jesus, The Prophet who Disturbs Us”

Our Old Testament comes to a close with those great words of Malachi that were just read.  I’m going to read it again, at least the first part.  And I want you to tell me what you think…what are your initial reactions?

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

So, what do you think?

See, I think these words…these words that point to the coming of Jesus and really serve as the prelude to all that follows in the New Testament…I think these words are hard for us to hear.  I think, we prefer our Jesus to be more warm and cuddly than this.  I think when we hear that his coming will be like the burning of an oven that will burn up everything so that there is nothing left…well, that this is hard for us to hear.  I think that, even if we can understand some measure of judgment and punishment we really would much rather hear about the little children coming to Jesus.  We’d rather hear about sight being restored.  We rather hear, “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” and BE NICE PEOPLE…which Jesus doesn’t really ever say but we often ascribe to him.

We want a NICE Jesus.  We want a SAFE Jesus.  We want our faith with an EASY BUTTON so we can, at times look for an EASY JESUS.  We want our Jesus to come to us like Stuart Smalley of Saturday Night Fame 20 years ago, telling us that we are GOOD ENOUGH, SMART ENOUGH, AND DOGGONE IT, PEOPLE LIKE US.

And so, we come to the BUDDY JESUS (show image) who is just happy to be around us, wants to hang out with us, enjoys the same things we do and likes us for who we are.

And so we have our HIPPIE JESUS (show image) who doesn’t want to “harsh our vibe, man.”  He tells us that we’re cool with him.  He doesn’t want to talk about sin and judgment and stuff like that because what’s important to him is for us to feel the love.

This is all pretty simplistic.  And I want to be fair and say that this is a message that needs to be heard by persons.  We want to tell our children that “Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  We want the person dealing with depression or self-worth issue or the youth who is struggling with self-image issue and is cutting themselves or suffering with anorexia that Jesus does love them just the way they are and that he is with them and cares for them and embraces them in his loving arms.  It’s a good message to hear.

But, I want to say, it’s incomplete.  It’s an incomplete, and therefore, inaccurate picture of Jesus.

Think of it this way…I love my children.  And I hope they know I love them very much and would do JUST ABOUT anything for them, particularly when they’re in trouble or when they’re hurt.  But I’m not OK with everything they do.  I get angry with them.  We have talks.  They get warnings.  There are “time-outs” and “groundings” and sometimes I know it hardly makes sense to them as hard as I try to be clear that my anger or their punishment is based on me, believe it or not, having some idea of what is best for them and wanting to pull them back into line with expectations.  That goes for my younger kids and the older ones as well.  And I know all of you who are parents know that this is the case.

I want to enjoy my time with my kids, but I don’t want to be their buddy.  I want to be their parent.  I give my kids a lot of freedom, much to their chagrin it’s a lot less than many other kids, but there are things I think ARE NOT OK…and I want to call them on it.  I will, on occasion, HARSH THEIR VIBE.  I will bother them.  I will get in their space.  I will disturb the world that they’ve set up around themselves.

And it doesn’t always go real smooth.  And there are times, I’m just trying to figure it out.  Sometimes, being good to them, caring for them, means seemingly harsh things.

C.S. Lewis addressed this very type of issue in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE  The Lion, of course, is Aslan.  He’s the Christ figure in the story who gives up his life for his people.  And isn’t it interesting, though, that it’s a LION who is the representation of Christ here.  Lions are big.  Lions can be vicious.  Lions are intimidating.  Here’s how the story plays out:

Says Mrs. Beaver; “I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

Imagine, if you will standing face to face with a full grown, real, untamed lion.   It would be terrible.  But what if the Lion were good.

C.S. Lewis writes as the children see the Lion for the first time:

People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.  If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now.  For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.

The fact that we shudder a little, go “all trembly” when we read the words of Malachi, help us to see that, in many ways, we have tamed our God.  We’ve got a friend in Jesus.  He’s our brother.  But, in Scripture, our God isn’t a kitty cat.  Our God wants to disrupt us and disturb us an bother us and call us back into obedience.  Hebrews 10:31 kind of sums it up:  “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (NLT).

So, to combat the BUDDY JESUS SYNDROME, we need to remember that Jesus comes to us as prophet, with all that this implies.

FIRST, JESUS DISTURBS THE NATION…HE PREACHES OUT AGAINST IT.  For instance, in Mark 11 Jesus curses a fig tree.   He sees a fig tree with no fruit.  He curses it, saying, “May no one ever eat off of you again.”  And the next morning the disciples see that it’s withered to the roots. 

You may think, “Well, la-di-da, a dead fig tree.”  But the fig tree was a symbol of Israel itself.   What if someone preached and destroyed a symbol for another country…like our own.  Burned a flag.  Would that be viewed as “figtin’ words”?  Of course.  He was proclaiming that there was no good fruit in their country and he showed it in a very vivid manner.

And that’s just one incident.  There are other places where Jesus preaches against the nation using the Temple and its future destruction as the illustration. 

This Jesus is disturbing.

SECOND, JESUS, LIKE THE PROPHETS OF OLD, PREACHED REPENTANCE.  Repentance means a TURNING AROUND in your life, a reorientation of the way you’ve been headed, to go in a new direction.  This ordinary carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere started showing up and telling people…by the way, I’m speaking for God now and I gotta’ tell you things have got to change.  “GO AND SIN NO MORE!”

THIRD, JESUS THE PROPHET TELLS US TO BE PREPARED.  This is where that reading from Matthew 24 comes in:

For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Look, one of the scary things about Jesus is that he tells us he’s coming back.  It’s scary.  But it’s awesome.  He doesn’t say when or where, but he says it’s going to be very good news for those he calls his own.  But…that means you gotta’ expect him any time.  Few people cheat when they know the teacher could walk in the door any moment.  We, too, need to act as if our Teacher’s coming in at any moment, too and that this is VERY GOOD NEWS FOR US.

This is a Jesus who should disturb us.

LASTLY, JESUS THE PROPHET COMES INTO OUR PERSONAL SPACE, OUR PERSONAL LIVES, TO CALL US INTO QUESTION.

Jared Wilson, who’s book YOUR JESUS IS TOO SMALL is serving as the background for this series talks of how Jesus interfered in the life of the woman at the well, calling her relationships into question.  Jesus should and does make us uncomfortable when confronted with what’s wrong in our lives.  Jared then shares the following story about how Jesus disturbed a Bible Study he was leading:

The Christian community I pastor was meeting one night for Bible study. In the sharing time, several of us spoke of difficulties at work or relatives undergoing surgery.  Then one new attendee, an Iranian immigrant who had been a Christian only a few months, said, “If I go back home they will kill me.”  Long awestruck silence followed.  And then she added, “But it’s okay.” (57)

Puts my complaints about having to go to San Francisco this afternoon or my complaints about picking up this kid or that kid from wherever or not having any skim milk at the Merc or losing power for 30 minutes or long lines on Chair 6 or whatever into question.  My life is lived so far removed from those who rely…really rely on Christ.  The mere fact that I know that there are people in this world for being a Christian makes me realize how EASY it is for me to stand up and say I believe in this place.  My faith is less challenging but God wants us to be challenged by his words and have our lives changed.

This should disturb each and every one of us.

One of the problems about our BUDDY JESUS, is that he’s entered our churches too, where we encourage folks to be nicer, or smarter, or more healthy, or richer.  We forget his challenges as we leave the buildings because we’re never challenged when we’re in.  We’re never called to a RADICAL change in the way we think and act and talk.  It seems, sometimes, all we’re asking is for people to be well-adjusted.  And we need more than this.

I want to close with a quote from a blog I read a lot.  It’s called The Internet Monk.  And it’s a couple of pastors carrying on the legacy of Michael Spencer, who died a year ago.  They right about how “BUDDY JESUS” has moved beyond a personal faith buddy to a programatic experience in churches. I don’t know if it entirely meshes with what has come before, but I think it’s important for us to hear as we look towards having more and more activities in our facility.  What is said here is disturbing:

Let me just say this straight out. If all you are interested in is becoming is a better person, then Jesus is not your best avenue to get there. You can find lots of self-help books—and in Christian bookstores without embarrassing references to Jesus to worry about—that deal with marriage, health, finances and life-issues you find yourself dealing with. They are piled high on tables leading into the temple. As a matter of fact, you can buy them in many temples every Sunday, credit cards accepted.

Jesus is not a self-help guru. He is not interested in you becoming a better person. He could not care less with you improving in any area of your life. Because in the end that is your life. Yours. And he demands you give it to him. All of it. An unconditional surrender. He did not come to improve you, or encourage you, or spur you on to bigger and better things. He came to raise the dead.

Do you have a Jesus who wants to be your BUDDY?  Or do you have a Prophetic Jesus who wants to bring you life?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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>LOST: Our Quest to Find Jesus – "Jesus the Promise" — Sermon from 16 January 2011

>(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us.  I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes.  For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church.  This sermon functioned as the introduction to the series, trying to convey the notion that it can be hard to find who Jesus is in our culture.)

Text:  Isaiah 40:3-5, 9 & Matthew 5:17-20
Title:  “Jesus the Promise”

How many people here today golf?  I know there are some who still find time to golf pretty regularly during the summer months up here even though Alaska isn’t perceived as a golfing destination for many. 

I golfed once, back in college, with a buddy of mine.  I remember on the first hole, missing the first shot completely…you know after a swing that I was sure was going to hit the ball a country mile.  So, that was a “mulligan” a “do-over.”  We pretended it just didn’t happen.  I was warming up.  It didn’t count.  And, with three more swings I managed to get the ball into the whole.  It was a par 3.  I thought I was God’s gift to golf.  I was on a roll.

It went downhill from there.  It wasn’t pretty.  I think when all was said and done, even with some mulligans thrown in, I shot a 72 for the first 9 holes. That, was my golfing experience.  I haven’t tried it again.

Now, I don’t think Jesus was much of a golfer, but I do think, as we talk about the misconceptions and incomplete pictures of Jesus that many of us have…I do think that some persons have an image of a “Mulligan Jesus” a “DO-OVER Jesus.”  That God had given the law and the prophets and a couple thousand years of history to his chosen people and they still weren’t getting it.  It was just one big swing and a miss.  And so, God, looking down from heaven says to his angels, “I think I’ll take a mulligan.”  Let’s have a whole do-over here.  I’m going to send them JESUS.

And, as if all that other stuff never happened, in comes Jesus, to save the day and it’s a HOLE IN ONE.

While it is true that, as Christians, we read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus…meaning, we can’t help but use the words in red, what Jesus said, and what Jesus did as the tool for interpreting the Old Testament passage.  While that’s true, Jesus is not a whole new story in the salvation story of our God, but a continuation of the story that’s been told throughout eternity.  It’s not like, since Jesus came along that the whole Old Testament doesn’t matter.  That’s part of the reason why there’s been a movement to call the Old Testament “The First Testament” or “The Hebrew Bible.”  The Old Testament matters, and, when we pay attention we can see that it’s full of testimony about and for Jesus.

Take, for instance, the passage that we read from Isaiah 40 just a bit ago:

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill be made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.  And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain.  You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”

The people of Israel had passed through the waters during the Exile from Egypt a long time before Isaiah.  But still, at this point, there was the understanding that God had something more in store for them…that God had promised to come back and make things right…all things right with his people. 

It had been a long time.  But a promise is a promise is a promise and the people of Israel waited.

This is where I think the illustration from the Children’s Time comes in handy…that of a child being tucked in and the parent promising to come and check on them.  In our household, it’s in “eight minutes…with the kids not having much understanding of just how long that is.  But they know that we’ve promised to check on them and they can go to sleep safe in the knowledge that we’ll come back.

Israel, though its history, knows that God will come.  He promised.  And they waited.

During this waiting period a lot of folks came out of the desert claiming to be the promised Messiah.  And many of them came with similar credentials.  They hoped that God would intervene and make things right. They were upset at the oppression of present overlords, the Romans.  They’d go out to the wilderness, get a bunch of followers, and then hatch a scheme to overthrow the government by might.

It didn’t work out too well for most of them.  Mostly death.

But things changed when this one man, John, the cousin of Jesus came along.  We just heard some of his story leading up to Christmas.  This is how Jared Wilson, whose book Your Jesus is Too Safe, which I’m using as a springboard for this sermon series describes him:

Cousin John ventured into the Jordan River Valley, but instead of starting a commune, instead of seeking out angry dudes with swords, who wanted to conspire and bust some Roman heads, he put on his camel-fur galoshes, stood in the river and began receiving people who shared his expectation.  Cousin John was the perfect man for this perfect time, because he was a guy who really got into the wilderness.  This is a guy wearing animal skins and eating crickets and wild honey, who made the Crocodile Hunter look like Mister Rogers. (20-21)

And, with his baptizing of people, it was kind of like the Exodus was being reenacted all over again.  The stories of the prophets said that God would come…he PROMISED.  With John, he said the PROMISE WAS COMING NOW.

You’ll remember John’s words from the gospel of Matthew — “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”  (Matthew 3:2).  That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

And so, the Promise comes.  The long-awaited Promise, the Messiah, comes and breaks into the world.  The story of God continues.

But as we think about the promise of God coming to us in Jesus, we need to be very aware of why everyone didn’t just jump on Jesus’ bandwagon.  See, as I had stated, there had been a lot of anticipation for a military uprising that would come with God’s Messiah.  As we read a lot of the prophets, there was an understanding that not only had God promised to come and make things right but that he’d flex some divine muscle as he did this.  Swords.  Clubs. Armies.  Tactical plans.  That was part of the package.

But we know that wasn’t the case with Jesus.  Our Gospels go out of their way to show his humble and peaceful side.  He comes as a baby in a manger.  He preaches about turning the other cheek.  His triumphal entry into Jerusalem involves a donkey ride and not a big white stallion. 

And if the Jews had assumed they would gather with their Messiah and take over the land and the rivers and the trade and the government and the banks and sit all high and mighty in places of power…it had to be more than a little disheartening to find out that ALL they were getting out of the deal was Jesus. 

But the Promise wasn’t going to be fulfilled with the empty things of this world, but with God himself.  It’s not what people wanted.

Wilson writes:

Jesus showed up and said that the kingdom of God was here now, coming and breaking into history.  And he said the kingdom was coming by, in, and through him.  This was a hard pill to swallow—then and now.  Let’s be frank: if you find the message of Jesus easy to digest, you’d better check the label on the box.  You may be consuming a diluted version of Christianity.  The message of Jesus—that he himself is life and you can’t get it anywhere else, least of all in yourself—is the hardest message we could ever hear, because it goes completely against our perceptions and conceptions, our prejudices and our opinions.  It goes radically against the bent of our souls.

You know that we are a people who like our stuff…we like our things…we like our privilege…we like our power.  If you had hoped, like Israel, for hundreds of years for stuff and things and privilege and power and then found out you were getting a poor Carpenter from a nondescript Judean town, what would you think?

But as different as this Promise was, we need to remember that it’s not a do-over, a mulligan…that Jesus is very closely connected to what came before.

Many persons, as they look at Jesus will say, in the Old Testament we had the Law and that’s how God tried to shape and be in relation to his people.  But in the New Testament we have Jesus who comes and offers grace.  Law/Old Testament/Bad.  Grace/New Testament/Good.

But that misses the fact that the Law was, all along pointing to Jesus.  It was all about being in relationship with our God.  And to claim “Law/Bad…Grace/Good” misses even what Jesus says about the law:

“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.  Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20).

As Christians, we look back at the Law and we can say that they definitely show us that we are a sinful people…we mess up…we’re broken…we have some trouble with obedience…ad probably with authority.  And we look to Jesus as the one who fixes that…fixes us.

And again, it doesn’t happen the way we might like it to…at least not if we were writing the story.  There is sin and disobedience.  And it involves the spilling of some blood, which is very much in line with the understanding of the Hebrew people.  And, if we’re going to follow him it even involves taking up our own crosses to follow him, some self-sacrifice.  Sacrifice…again…very much in line with the Hebrew people.

So, we can’t look at Jesus as some great “PLAN B” from God because “PLAN A” was an utter failure.  Jesus comes to us as the fulfillment of the promises of God…in person and he connects us with all that has come before.  He connects us to those stories.   He connects us to the love of God and the call to faithfulness of the prophets and even to the hope that God will create for us a world that is free from pain and abuse and hunger and awkwardness and cranky kids and depression and flat feet and everything. 

The story continues.

The Promise is ours.

He has come.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

>"LOST: Our Quest To Find Jesus–Introduction" — Sermon from 9 January 2011

>(Note: This is a sermon series focused on misconceptions of Jesus in our culture where Jesus is all around us.  I’m using Jared Wilson’s book, Your Jesus is Too Safe as a springboard into the series and will follow along with some of his themes.  For those of you who haven’t read Wilson’s stuff, I encourage you to at least check out his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church.  This sermon functioned as the introduction to the series, trying to convey the notion that it can be hard to find who Jesus is in our culture.)

Text:  Matthew 16:13-20
Title:  “Our Quest To Find Jesus:  Introduction”

Betty Stephens was the pastor’s wife at First United Methodist Church in Marion, Indiana when I was in High School.  She was a neat lady.  Thin as a rail.  Full of life.  We were in the Midwest, home of lots of Wesleyan Churches and in at town with Indiana Wesleyan University—“IWU” as we called it.  Our church was the big, downtown church.  It was country-clubbish and in it’s heyday it might have been the biggest church in the town.  Betty, as I said, was full of life and I’ve shared here that, as the conversation around her turned to salvation and whether or not she or someone else had “found” Jesus, she would say, “I didn’t know he was lost.”

And while her response, I’m sure, rubbed some persons the wrong way, there’s some good theology rooted there.  It’s not a matter about US FINDING JESUS but us BEING FOUND BY HIM.   The old hymn says, if I remember, “I once was lost, but now am found.”

And I think Betty saw the face of Christ all around her.  She saw Jesus on the children and in the other members.  She saw Christ in the community.  I don’t think, theologically, she could imagine not finding Jesus.   I don’t know that for sure, but I believe it’s the case, and it’s partly how I see Christ in this world of ours.  How could I not see him?

And, as we look at this world of ours…particularly the American culture in the latter part of the 20th Century, leading to the 21st Century, we can find a whole lot of Jesus around us.  We are a Jesus-fixated culture.  You hear his name used in vain.  You hear him mentioned from the stages of the Oscars and Grammys and when championship rings are placed on fingers.  And the cross on which he suffered and died had been reduced to a popular piece of fashion jewelry.

And just as we can take a few magnetic pieces and dress Jesus up to make him look like whatever we want, we can also morph our understanding of Jesus to speak to us as different time and place and so he comes to us in different guises.

The following are all found in brief searches on the internet.  Take a look at all of these Jesuses.  (I had lots of pictures of Jesus to show on the screen.)

BLOND HAIR ED BLUE-EYED JESUS
BLACK JESUS
ASIAN JESUS
BUDDY JESUS
ANGRY JESUS
HIPSTER JESUS
FAT JESUS
PSYCHADELIC JESUS
HIPPIE JESUS
PUNK JESUS
ROCK N ROLL JESUS
HIDDEN JESUS
JESUS IN A LATTE
JESUS THE REPUBLICAN
JESUS THE DEMOCRAT
JESUS THE AMERICAN

And, to show just how far this can go…

ZOMBIE-KILLING JESUS.

Why do we have to go on a quest to find Jesus?  Because he is lost in the confusion of our culture.

Starting in the 1950’s there was a television show on called, “To Tell the Truth.”  On this show, three persons appeared before a panel of judges.  And each person claimed to be, for instance, Rosie Fletcher (an Olympic snowboarder in our community).  Two were imposters who were up there trying to convince the judges that they were Rosie Fletcher while one was the real Rosie Fletcher, who, as the name of the show implied, had “To Tell the Truth.”   After as series of questions and answers given by each of the contestants, the host would say… “Would the real Rosie Fletcher please stand up?” 

Well, that’s the kind of problem we have in our world when it comes to Jesus.  But, instead of just two imposters…we have hundreds of them, thousands up them and they come to us every day.

Jared Wilson, co-founder and pastor at Element, a Christian Community in Nashville, addresses this very issue in his book, Your Jesus is Too Small, which serves as the springboard into the Jesus discussions we’re going to have over the next eight weeks or so:

The man known as Jesus of Nazareth—Jesus the Christ, or Messiah, to Christians—is undoubtedly the most popular, the most recognizable, the most cited, the most admired, and the most controversial figure in all of history.  No other person has been more scrutinized, studied, or cited—ever.  Entire philosophies and religions have been founded on his teachings.  More books have been written about him than about any other person who ever lived.  Every day, his name is spoken more than any other name, whether in affectionate admiration by his followers and fans, or in absentminded curses or denouncements by those ambivalent or antagonistic toward his fame…

No message has been more used and exploited and appropriated than Jesus Christ’s.  It happens whenever a politician co-opts one of Jesus’ quotable quotes to promote his own platform.  As a result, every careerist soul climbing the ladder of American political engagement—in either major party or neither—and every one of their constituents believe that Jesus is on their side.  Every religion in the world, too, Christian or not, has to factor in some appraisal of Jesus himself, whether it’s to honor him as one of God’s prophets or as an enlightened man, to reject him as a false prophet, or hail him as king of the universe.  Indeed, a handful of religious leaders today cannot even avoid claiming to be him (12-13).

Is it any wonder, in our culture that Jesus is LOST and we need to go on a quest to find him?

And it’s not just the culture.  It’s the church as well.  We, too, want a Jesus that looks and acts and talks like us.  If our theology seems to focus on the primacy of sin, then it’s hard for us to avoid an angry Jesus who’s here to give us a stern talkin’ to.  If we love the environment, it’s hard for us not to have a Jesus who looks to the lilies of the field and caries sheep around his neck.  If, like the Doobie Brothers sang, “Jesus is Just All Right With Me,” we have a Jesus who’s cool with us and loves us man and “would never harsh our vibe because he like[s] rock music and [wears] blue jeans” (13).  If, we look at Jesus and we see America and we look at America and we see Jesus, God and country kind of morph into one thing, indistinguishable from each other.  Or, perhaps, like in the current “prosperity gospel” we avoid all that sacrificial language and know that Jesus Christ just wants us to be rich.

I know that at this point in my life and ministry, I resonate with the language of Jesus reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost…the hurting.  The Scriptures are full of that language and that that’s the side of Jesus that I think comes through in how I conduct myself as Pastor in this place.  The Jesus who turns over tables in the temple?  The Jesus who curses fig trees?  Not so much. 

So, how do we find the real Jesus here? 

A.W. Tozer, an evangelical preacher and author in the middle part of the last century said, “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy).

Fine tuning that a little bit… “What comes to our minds when we think about Jesus is the most important thing about our Christian faith.”

It is for this reason that Jesus asks the question in today’s Scripture reading:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”   “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”  Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

It’s interesting here that Jesus starts off by asking the disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  That easier.  That’s safer.  The answer they give here requires very little of them.

“Well, Jesus, some say you might be John the Baptist.  We can kinda see that.  There are others that have thrown out the names of our prophets…you know, Elijah, and Jeremiah or a couple other ones.  Yeah, that would be cool.” 

It’s always easier when it’s not your faith that’s on the line. 

Perhaps their answers are good.  Perhaps not.  But the real question comes next.  “But who do you say I am?”  And we get Peter’s answer, “You are the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”

This question from Jesus is a call to the disciples to step up to the plate and not rely on the perspectives of others but claim him as our own.  This, as you might guess, is no small issue for those of us who say we’re believers and followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Present day scholar N.T. Wright pointed out, “What you say about Jesus affects your entire worldview. If you see Jesus differently, everything changes.”

We are going to try to see Jesus differently over the next 8 weeks.  We’re going to look at some of what he means to us and for us as we embark on this quest to find Jesus. 

For a culture that lives and breathes as much religious language as ours does, it’s amazing how lost Jesus can be. 

Over the next several weeks we’re going to find him.

As a prophet, and the forgiver, as a Man, as the Shepherd, as the Judge, as the Promise, as the King and as Savior.

Who do you say that he is?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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