The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Monday, January 4, 2016

...yet the world did not know Him.

The audio for this sermon can be found here.

Jesus Christ came into the world- and the world did not know him.
Grace and Peace to you from God of father and our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ.

And let’s begin the new year with a moment of honesty- the world still does not know Christ.

You see, each of the gospels ends the same- with Jesus rising from the dead- but each starts differently, which means that the framework for the gospel has changed.
If the resurrection is the answer- then each gospel writer has to invent the question.

Take Matthew for instance starts with the lineage because the main question to be answered is how will God continue his promises to the long-suffering Jewish people.
But John begins in the beginning- reminding of of Genesis, and claiming that the word- the being we know as Jesus Christ, was there in the beginning, and came into the world because the world did not know him.
And the world still does not know Christ.
Let me explain.
I has been said that Dante has had more of an impact of American Christianity that Jesus Christ has. Dante, famous for writing the divine comedy which includes the Inferno, whereby the author travels to the seven circles of hell, and torments and disgusts his readers with the torture, irony, and horrible conditions of hell- invented by Dante.

And today we live in a culture preoccupied with the saving of souls, which Jesus never talks about. Jesus talks about loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus talks about how to give to the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, Jesus talks about dealing in honesty and integrity, about how the last shall be first and how the lowly will be lifted up and the mighty will be brought down. Jesus talk about eternal life that starts today eternal life is understanding that God created you out of love and that should change the way you live and move and have your being. Jesus talks about transformation.

Luther’s life was transformed by the gospel, it changed his trajectory and he devoted his life to it.
Luther thought too that the issue was that people hadn’t yet heard the gospel and was convinced that if non-christians heard the words of Jesus of Nazareth and understood the gospel that they would want to convert. And he became angry and bitter when others didn’t come running to church when faced with what he thought were obvious truths about creation and new creation that If we seek Christ, we seek transformation, not inspiration.

This has been in my prayer time this week. I’m praying in the new year that things that are so obviously good for us might be realized. That Christ can be made known to us and it transforms us.
Jeff Thiemann is a pastor I knew out in Northern California who now is the director of Portico, which is the ELCA’s health insurance and retirement fund.
Every late December tries to rally the troops -all of us doey overweight pastors to take better care of ourselves in the new year. He trots out facts and figures, explains how time spent in meditation and exercise is actually beneficial for our congregations. He threatens that healthcare will become so expensive that our churches will buckle under the pressure.  
He said that the leading prescriptions for our pastors are medicine for hypertension, followed by depression and anxiety, followed by cholesterol medicine.
And I wonder: will this year be any better?

Will the very people who preach transformation be transformed? John says that Jesus came so that we may have life, and life abundantly.  
So I pray for our pastors that they/we may come to know Christ and follow him.
Like Luther I am perhaps naïve to think that if sermons were well enough preached, or if good-natured Christians made enough push that we could get people to see that they are displaying destructive behavior, and if they knew that, they would change.
But most leaders of business don’t consider their negative impacts on other or the world and therefore don’t give a flying fig about anything much more than the bottom line.
Ashley and I were sitting down to do our budget for 2016 and I looked at the books about budgeting, and nearly all of them start from the place of not spending more money that you can afford, more than you bring in.
Not, how much should someone in your circumstance live on, but how much comes in and goes out.
And it leads me to a much concern for our culture: how can we get deeper answers if we continue to ask shallow questions?

Sometimes, in darker moments, hearing the way business deals are done, the way the government makes logjams for itself, the way poor people are referred to as numbers, the way churches are known for bigotry and small-mindedness, it feels as if Jesus never came.
Or that he did come, and the world still does not know him.
I have friends who move away from religion because they deny Hell fire and hatred room in their lives. But their days are still filled with struggle, their souls still longing for peace, their houses still filled with laughter joy and love, their culture still riddled with selfishness. They just enjoy life without a church family. They just suffer affliction without pastors and hard times without community. Sure they have friends, but if you’ve ever felt the support of a religious community in your time of struggle you know we offer than friendship. We offer to those in grief and pain compassion and integrity, caring and service. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We believe that Christ is transformational- not just for those in the pews, but for the whole world.
There’s this book in the bible called James, and James says that faith without action is dead. Now he is where I really start to get worked up.
Luther hated the book of James because it sounded like if you do good works you can get into heaven, even though that’s not what James was saying. James says that transformation in Christ leads to good works, but Luther couldn’t preach that because people were buying indulgences to avoid hell because the catholic church told them they had to. The Catholic church was preoccupied with heaven hell and purgatory- despite the fact that Jesus never talked about salvation in those terms, but because Dante did. Dante, and Italian, whose family had close roots with the papacy, it is Dante who practically invented the modern notions of heaven hell and purgatory.
So Luther wanted the book of James thrown out of the bible, not because the book was inherently wrong, but because people weren’t capable of appreciating that faith leads to works- not for salvation but because we have already been saved.
Today Luther’s worst fears are realized because the notion that we earn our way to heaven or out of hell is exactly what American Christianity predominantly believes.
To follow Christ is to die and rise each day. To follow Christ means to risk your life for his sake. To follow christ is to risk transformation.
I have read recently something that helps put this in perspective. That as humans we have evolved over the past 200,000 years.The lifespan of our species is fairly young. In fact, scientists estimate that our species is now entering adolescence.

Our race is on the cusp of adulthood and we see this playing out right now. Candidates for leadership are often like 9th graders running for student council- but with larger budgets. The prevailing thought is that whoever spends more money in American politics will win the day. Not the one with better ideas, but the one who buys more ads on television, the vast majority of which are negative for the sake of being negative.  
We have lots of other problems- women on TV are 85% women age 18-45, childbearing years, despite representing only 19% of the female population.
Our military spends $577 billion every year, or more than the next 16 countries combined, many of whom are allies.
We have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the planet many times over, this planet- you know, the one we need to survive
The US wasted 131 billion LBS of food last year, which doesn’t include the food we all ate above and beyond our recommended dietary needs of which 7 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese., despite the fact that 15% of households in America are Food Insecure.
Millions will trot out diets and exercise routines and turn to scripture for some inspiration.
That’s it, isn’t it. Too often we seek inspiration because we don’t want transformation. We know what we need for better lives, so we try to squeeze goodness into a life of overindulgence. We begin with ourselves and look for inspiration, rather than begin with creation and seek transformation.
If we want to be a christian nation, we sure don’t act like it. And it’s kind of comical to think that we could get to heaven with our good works.

Today we rejoice because we have the gospel that is given to us.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Like John’s gospel proclaims, the biggest problem facing us today is that the world does not know Christ.
Now it’s your turn in 2016 to tell your gospel. Will you chose transformation or inspiration? If your gospel ends with Christ’s resurrection, how does it begin? If Christ is the answer, what’s your question?

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