Sunday, October 25, 2015

All you need is love...really? Yes really

It’s a great song isn’t it?   I really like it.  But come on now, is it true?   How can all you need be love?   If that’s the case, why isn’t our world a better place?  After all, everybody thinks they are loving, at least to some people.   And that’s nice and all.  But if love is all you need, shouldn’t it be doing more than that?  

Here’s the problem too.   As Christians, we kind of feel the same way as The Beatles.  Essentially, our whole message is that all you need is love, particularly the one who is Love with a capital L, God.  But does the message hold true?   If love is all you need to change the world, even to change us, why hasn’t it done more changing?  Maybe, the problem is that we don’t really know what love is.   We think we know, but we don’t.  Here in these words, Jesus shows us what love really looks like.   Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say. 

The Beatles did have it right.   All you need is love.  But here’s the problem.  We don’t really know what love is, at least the love that can and does change everything.  But we can know.  Why?  Here Jesus shows us.   In this foot-washing, Jesus wasn’t just trying to give his disciples a nice experience to remember him by.   Jesus was giving his most forceful lesson yet on the whole reason he came.   Jesus was saying.   You need to know what love is.  Let me show you.

And how Jesus does.   We may not get the whole impact of what is happening here.  But his disciples did.  That’s why Peter tries to refuse it.   People had to have their feet washed.  The roads were dirty and worse, and in that world, you needed somebody to deal with the dirty feet.  But doing so people found utterly repulsive.  In fact the rabbis said that you couldn’t force a Jewish servant to do this.  A Gentile servant, no problem, but you couldn’t ask a fellow Jew.  That was simply wrong. 

Why was it so repulsive?  It wasn’t just the unpleasantness of the task.   It was the fact that you were washing feet.  Do you remember several years ago President Bush was speaking at a press conference in Iraq, and somebody threw something at him?  Does anybody remember what it was?   It was a shoe.   Now, over here, that incident really didn’t make a lot of sense.  Sure, it was rude, and a little weird, but we just felt glad that it was only a shoe.  But in that part of the world, no one could imagine a worst insult.  Why is it so bad? A shoe means dirt, and to throw it is like throwing dirt or worse on someone.   That incident makes clear.  Things haven’t changed a lot in the Middle East when it comes to feet.  This idea goes so far back, you find it in the Old Testament.  In Psalm 60, God says this: “On Edom, I hurl my shoe.”  People considered feet, especially the dirt that collected there as the most repulsive thing imaginable.   And Jesus grew up with that understanding.  Yet here, he kneels down and grabs a basin of water to do the most humiliating task imaginable.  And get who this is.  This is not only Jesus their teacher.  This is God, the creator of everything, and God is doing this?    Why does God in Jesus doing it?  He is saying to his disciples.   “This is what love looks like.”  

But let’s go beyond the repulsiveness of the task.  Let’s look at the when and the who.   When is Jesus washing these feet?   He is washing them on the night before what he knows will be the most traumatic, terrifying, terrible hours of his life.   Not only will he die, but he will feel the whole weight of all human evil falling on him.   Yet, on this night, what is he thinking about?    He is thinking about his disciples.   Sheesh, the day before I preach, I’m preoccupied and distracted.   But here is Jesus, so utterly un-self-absorbed that he can focus his attention, his love fully and completely on the people in that room in a way they will never forget.

And who is in that room?   Who has not yet left?   Whose feet in particular will Jesus wash?   John lifts it up if we didn’t get it.   Judas, the friend who is about to betray him, to deliver him into unimaginable suffering is sitting there.  And what is Jesus doing.  He is washing his feet.   

Do you see what Jesus shows us?    Love isn’t some warm fuzzy.  Love is a force that willingly and joyfully does the most humbling acts of service; that does them without any sense of self-absorption; that does them for everyone, even our enemies.  If you live with this sort of love in the world, this utterly giving, utterly un-self-absorbed, utterly gracious love; that will change things.   This love our world desperately needs. 

So Jesus shows us this love.   Jesus even tells us to do it.   As I have loved you, so you must also love one another.  But come on now, how many of us do it, really do it, day in and day out?  Some days, I get there a bit.  But even if I’m serving at some menial task, I’m not doing it humbly or without self-absorption.  I’m thinking.  Look at me, I’m serving like Jesus.  Sheesh, people better appreciate this.   
 So why doesn’t it happen?  Why doesn’t this love live more fully in us as this love lived in Jesus?   It’s because we’re hungry and we’re scared.   What do I mean?

Why do you love?   You love because you need it.  You hunger for it.   So yes, you love others.  You may love others sacrificially, but what drives that love?   You hunger to be loved, to be cared for.    Whatever poetic words you put around it, you and I rarely love others simply for the joy of loving them, without any need for that love to be returned.  Even with children, where you can come closest to loving this way, you still hunger for the hug, the smile, the joy.  Yes, you love them, but you hunger to be loved back.   And there is nothing wrong with that.   God made you to hunger for love, to seek it out, to yearn for it.   Yet that very hunger stands in the way of the love that Jesus shows us here, this utterly sacrificial, un-self-absorbed, utterly open love, love that even loves the enemy.

But, not only our hunger holds us back, but also our fear.   In the beginning, the Bible tells us the first human beings lived naked and unashamed.    They lived completely open and vulnerable to one another.  They had no fear, no insecurities.   But when they broke their relationship with God, what was the first thing they did? They hid from each other.  They covered themselves with fig leaves.  Then they hid from God.    Even as you and I hunger for love, we can hardly get the hunger filled.  Why? You can’t let yourself come out of hiding long enough to get what you desperately need.   So yes, you love, but you love guardedly, self-protectively, defensively.  To be utterly vulnerable, to live naked and unashamed, that can’t happen.  Why?   We fear.  We fear the hurt we might face, the wounds we might receive; wounds from which we fear we may never recover.   

How do you change that?   How do you get so filled to overflowing with love that you love with generosity and abundance, without hunger at all?   How do you feel such profound security and strength inside that you have the boldness of vulnerability, to love freely and without fear, naked and unafraid?

The answer lies here, not simply in what Jesus teaches but in what Jesus does    After all, Jesus doesn’t need our love.   Jesus doesn’t simply have love, Jesus is love.   Yet Jesus loves us just as we just sang.   On the cross Jesus loved us so profoundly, so totally that Jesus emptied himself of love so that he fill us with it.   He cut himself utterly off from love, so that he might unite us completely with it.    There Jesus literally was stripped naked, was wounded in every way, why?  So that he might clothe you in his love, so that by his wounds you might be healed.    Jesus, the almighty one, the ultimately invulnerable one, became bound and vulnerable for you, so that you might live free and unafraid.  

The more you see how profoundly God in Jesus loves you, the more you let his love fill you, the less you will crave the love of others.  You will love, yes, but not out of hunger or need but from an abundance that fills you from within.   And in his love, you will find the freedom to love yourself and others fully and completely, naked and unafraid.   That is the love Jesus gives, and that is the love you desperately need. 

How do you get it?   You open your hand.   You let Jesus give it.  You let Jesus pour his love over you, even as the waters poured over Logan’s head today.   And like Jesus did here, every day, you let Jesus remind you of that love, to wash your feet, to love you, even the dirty parts we all yearn to hide.    And as we let Jesus do that, then Jesus’ love will work within us.  His love will change the world.  Why. Because His love has changed us. 

Loveis all you need.     Let us pray. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How Do You Overcome Devastating Tragedy? Jesus Shows the Way

Only a few months ago, she died.   I read remembrances of her in several places, of the impact she had, of the thousands, no, millions of lives she touched.   But when a horrible tragedy struck her life decades before, you would never have guessed the life that was to follow.   In 1956 her husband, Jim Elliot went with four others as missionaries to a hostile tribe in the Amazon, the Aucas.   Shortly after their arrival near Auca territory, the Aucas massacred them.   His death left this woman, Elisabeth, Jim’s widow, alone in Ecuador with a ten month old daughter.  But she didn’t leave Ecuador.  Instead, through a remarkable confluence of circumstances, she herself went to live with the Aucas with her daughter, staying with the very people who had killed her husband.   The book she wrote, chronicling that experience, became one of the most influential books on mission in the 20th Century.  Over the next fifty years, she would not only serve as a mission worker among the tribes of the Amazon, but write over twenty books, teach at a seminary, speak to tens of thousands, and host a radio show.   When she died, not only did Christian publications note her death, but also the New York Times.   Such was the impact that Elisabeth Elliot had in the world.

But how does that happen?  How does someone face an earthshaking tragedy, and in the face of it not simply survive it, but actually through it become a person of greatness.   It’s not so difficult to live a life of fullness and growth when things are going well, but how do you do it when your life literally falls apart.   How do you not only survive the tragedies of life but through them become not less than you were, but more, even extraordinarily more.   How do you live a full, vibrant life even in the midst of the hardest of times.  How does that happen?   How can that happen in us?

In the tragic and triumphant story of Lazarus, Jesus shows us the way.   Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

When things are going great, living a life of purpose and meaning, one vibrant and full, can seem not all that difficult.  But what about when things aren’t just going not so great, but when they’ve taken a horrible turn?  How do you find purpose and meaning there?   How do you not only make it through the pain and heartbreak, but come out on the other side of it, greater, with a life fuller and more vibrant than before.   How does that happen?  How do you discover a way to transcend tragedy, even find triumph in the midst of it?   In this story of Lazarus, Jesus shows us the way.  Triumph comes when you get in touch with the only force in the universe that can overcome any heartbreak, any hardship; any evil you face.   What is that force?  The love of God.  For God’s love doesn’t just comfort you in those times, God’s love provides you a power that nothing and no one else can. 

But before we see how that power works, let’s face the hard reality of what God’s love will not do.  It will not protect you from suffering, from the hard things of life.    The very first words that we read tell us that.   Lazarus’ sisters write to Jesus, and what do they say.  “The one whom you love is sick.”   Jesus’ love doesn’t protect Lazarus from tragedy any more than any of us.   And what does Jesus say in response?  He says that this sickness will be used for God’s glory. 

God’s love may not protect us from hard things, even evil things, but God’s love will use it.   It’s easier to see this here because we know the end of the story.   Lazarus does rise.   But in our lives, things may not be so clear.  We can think that the hard thing we face has no purpose.    Yet, again and again, the Bible shows us God is working, even in the hardest things we face.  My favorite piece of scripture says it clearly.  “God works all things together for good (not all good things, all things) for those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose.   In those circumstances, God is using your hard times in countless ways, most of which you will not even see, to weave a tapestry of love and goodness throughout the world.  

Yet here’s the problem with that tapestry.   This side of heaven, we only see the backside of that tapestry.   Have you ever seen the backside of a beautiful tapestry?   It’s a mess or at least, it looks like a mess.   Threads of every color are going everywhere, with seemingly no rhyme or reason.  Yet when you look at the other side, it becomes clear.   All that seeming chaos has created remarkable beauty. 

God is working in our lives, but we do decide how effectively God can use even the dark threads of our lives.   When we face such hard times, we can either become better or bitter.   And the tougher the times, the greater the potential for those two alternatives.  God can grow greatness in us or we can choose a direction that leads to a far lesser life than what God yearns to give.  

So how do we make the right choice?  How do we grow towards greatness in our hard times rather than become bitter and broken people?   We do what Mary and Martha did.   We pray and we wait.   And, in doing those things, we need to look carefully at how Mary and Martha prayed and waited, for their patterns of praying and waiting make all the difference.

Do you see how they approach Jesus?  Do they say?    Jesus, our brother is sick, and you know how much good he has done, what a nice guy he is.  He doesn’t deserve this.  Please help him.   No.  They simply say.   “The one whom you love is sick.”   Too often we come to God, as some supplicant, who has no standing at all.   “Dear God, please help.  I’m doing my best, honest.”   But Mary and Martha don’t do that at all.  They simply say.  “The one whom you love is sick.”    That’s how you pray, because that’s who you are, the one whom Jesus loves.    “God, the one whom you love and adore, whom you gave your life for, who is the apple of your eye needs you.”  That’s how you pray.  Why?  That’s who you are.  That’s your standing before God.   

During the Civil War, a certain soldier was injured during battle.  But because of some bureaucratic snafu, he and his family weren’t receiving the benefits due them.  So the soldier went to Washington to appeal his case.  But he had no luck.    Discouraged, he went to the park across from the White House to think it through.  As he sat there, he started crying.   A young boy was playing in the park.   He saw the soldier crying.  He asked him.   “What’s wrong?”  The soldier was so discouraged, that he told the boy the whole sad story.  After he finished, the boy looked at him.  He said, “Come with me.”   They crossed the street.  They went to the White House entrance.   The guards let them walk right in.  They went down the hall to the President’s outer office.  Everyone let them pass.   They walked straight into the oval office.  President Lincoln was meeting with his generals, but when they walked in, Lincoln told his advisors to be quiet.  He knelt down and asked the boy. “What’s wrong, Tad?”  And Tad,Lincoln’s beloved son, said “Daddy, this soldier needs your help.”   Do you understand that you’re a Tad?   You are God’s child.   You are the One whom God loves.

But Mary and Martha not only prayed, they waited.   And that waiting must have been devastating.  They had heard the message of Jesus that it would not be a sickness unto death.  Yet each day they wait, and Lazarus gets sicker and sicker, and no Jesus.  Then he dies, and still no Jesus.   They enter the period of mourning for four days, and only then Jesus shows up.    And how do they react?   Do they turn Jesus away? Do they lash out at him? “You promise-breaker!  You faithless friend!”   No, they simply say.  “Jesus, we wish you’d been here.”   In their waiting, they make a profound choice.  They decided that they would judge their circumstances by Jesus’ love, rather than judge Jesus’ love by their circumstances (Tim Keller, the Love of Christ).

Here’s the stunning truth of what happened here, one the translation camouflages a bit.   When Jesus hears the news of Lazarus’ illness, the story tells us the following.  “Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, therefore he stayed where he was for two more days.”   Because Jesus loved them, therefore he stayed?  What’s up with that?   It’s something we see again and again in the Bible when God makes a promise.  God often waits until the human mind cannot comprehend in any way how God could fulfill his promise.   Only then God acts.  Abraham and Sarah have a child, only when such a possibility is literally impossible.   David becomes the King of Israel only after he has to flee for his life and live as an outlaw for years and years.  And Jesus does the same here.   And God continues to work in just such impossible ways.

When Elisabeth Elliot heard about her husband Jim’s death at the hands of the Aucas, she was working as a mission worker with another tribe in the Amazon.   She decided even as a widowed mother of a young child to keep up that work.   Roughly a year after Jim’s death, through a series of strange coincidences, two Auca women came to live with that tribe.   Elisabeth, a trained linguist, reached out to them, and learned their language and culture.  And as she talked with them, she made her remarkable, stunning choice, to go to the Aucas herself.  That choice led not only to the spiritual transformation of the Auca culture, including the conversion of her husband’s killers but for Elisabeth a life of worldwide impact and influence that she never could have imagined.   How did that happen?  It happened because Elizabeth chose to judge her circumstances by Jesus’ love rather than judge Jesus’ love by her circumstances.

When you and I are going through hard times, we have to do the same.   The truth of our situation isn’t the circumstances.  The truth of our situation is always Jesus’ love for us.   And if you doubt just how profound that love is, simply look at what happens here.

When Jesus sees Mary and Martha’s grief, when he approaches the tomb, it devastates him.  Our translations don’t do justice to the extent of his grief, even his anger at the whole scene.  Jesus is not simply shedding a few tears here.   He is overcome with his grief, crying out in pain at the loss.   But get this.   He knows what he is going to do, and still he feels this much pain.   Do you see that when you see Jesus’ pain, you are getting a picture of God?   When you are in pain, the creator of the cosmos feels your loss.  God grieves with you.   No other religion gives such a picture of God, a God who grieves with and over the children God loves.   When you are going through hard times, God is not detached from your pain.  God is right with you in the midst of it.  

And what happens next only confirms the extent of Jesus’ love.   For when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, it forces the religious authorities’ hands.  They decide.  This Jesus has to die.     

Jesus knew that when he raised Lazarus from that tomb, he was putting himself in it.  When he interrupted that funeral, he was causing his own.    When he raised Lazarus to life, he was putting himself to death.    Why did Jesus do it then? Jesus loved.  And he knew that even in the brutality and evil of the cross, his love would have the last word.    There too, his love would overcome, his love would win.   For in that cross, Jesus shows that not even God’s death can defeat God’s love.  

When you see, really see, how much God loves you, do you get what power that gives you?   You can know that the ultimate reality of your situation no matter how bad is God’s love for you.  Even if you die it’s good, because God’s love beats that too.   Nothing you face will ever overcome God’s love, will ever separate you from it.    And the more you rest in that ultimate reality, the more you will see that there is no pit so deep, that Jesus’ love is not deeper still.   In the embrace of that love, even in your hardship and pain, Jesus will grow you, Jesus will give you strength to stand, even to overcome.  Why?  Because you are the one whom he loves.     

Sunday, October 11, 2015

From a Life of Insecurities to a Life of True Security, the Jesus Way

It’s really surprised me.   At times, it’s certainly disappointed me.   How can such remarkably accomplished people seem so insecure?   It doesn’t matter their party or their position, their insecurities rise up again and again.    One of them becomes more popular and what happens?    They either parrot or get petty.  So a few of them start parroting the popular position of the moment.   They may even double down.   “You want to build a wall with Mexico. I want to build a wall with Canada too!”    And if they’re not parroting, then they just get petty.  They make snarky remarks about the hot candidate of the moment. 

And forget about them ever admitting they made a mistake.   No matter what these folks think about the priorities of the country, one priority they all seem to agree on is never doing that.    Even when it’s painfully clear they messed up, they seem determined to deny it to their dying day.  This insecurity is a bit disturbing in folks who are seeking to be the leader of the free world.  

But come on now, who am I kidding?   From where I sit, it’s easy to criticize folks running for President.   But how would I be in the midst of a situation where thousands, even millions are constantly evaluating and criticizing, many attacking me on a daily basis.   I get a little insecure if I notice a stain on my shirt.  Sheesh, how long has that been there?  What did people think of me when they saw it?   

In life, who doesn’t struggle with insecurities of one sort or another?  Don’t we all?   But our insecurities do limit us, don’t they.  They limit our confidence.  They hamper our relationships.   They make our lives far less than what God created our lives to be.   And painfully we can blind ourselves to seeing the worst of our insecurities, to seeing how deeply insecure we actually are.   But how do you free yourself from something that powerful, so much a part of you you may not even see it, though guaranteed others do?   How do you become truly secure in every sense of that word?  How do you discover a life where you live truly at peace with yourself, even your frailties and our flaws?   In this story of a very flawed man who finds such freedom, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

How do you experience a true sense of security, one that frees you from the insecurities that limit your life?   How do you walk away from these fear based ways of being that make your life less than it could be, that prevent you from experiencing the abundantly beautiful, joyful life that Jesus yearns to give?  In this story, Jesus first shows us two things that you must let go, two things that block the freedom that Jesus wants to give.  And then Jesus shows you what happens when he gives that freedom, how powerfully freeing his liberation is.  But before we get there, what are the two things you need to let go? 

First, you need to let go of your reluctance to climb a tree.  Think about it.  If you were the chief tax collector of a region, you had power, a lot of power.    Everyone knew you.   They might have hated you, more about that later, but they definitely knew who you were.   So can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Zaccheus, this rich and powerful politician of sorts, to, of all things, climb a tree?

What would you think if you saw one of our city officials climbing a tree, it would be a little strange right?  And why?  Because adults don’t climb trees, kids do.   If you are an adult climbing a tree, it just doesn’t seem dignified.  And if that’s true in our more relaxed, equality oriented society, imagine how undignified it was in the rigid and hierarchal culture of Jesus’ day.   When Zaccheus climbs that tree, he risks looking very publicly foolish   But, in climbing that tree, Zaccheus shows us a crucial step that everyone of us needs to take to find the freedom and security Jesus offers.       

We have to be willing to become child-like, not childish, but child-like.  What do I mean?   To become a follower of Jesus means believing things that others might feel only children can believe.   God came to earth as a human-being to rescue us from evil and give us life forever.    That’s a wonderful story, people might say, but you don’t really believe it happened?   That’s like believing a fairy tale.    And folks who say that would be right.   After all, what is the basic plot of a fairy tale?    Some person or persons find themselves under the power of an evil force, a dragon or evil ruler or whatever, but then s hero comes from far away and at great peril and cost, rescues them and makes everything right again.   Isn’t that the story of Jesus, the gospel?  But here’s the amazing truth.  The gospel isn’t just another story like the rest.   The gospel story is the underlying reality to which all those stories point.  To believe the gospel is to believe that all those fairy tales at their heart tell a beautiful truth.  We have been rescued.  We have been set free.   And as we believe that, really believe that, we do become more child-like, but at the same time far less childish, far less insecure. 
In reality, it’s childish to be afraid of being child-like.   Isn’t that what often kids do, they try to act grown up when they’re not?    Only when you become more child-like are you reaching true maturity, coming to a true sense of security.

Do you see how children don’t manage their faces?    When dessert comes, their faces say it all.  And when they get hurt, their faces say it all too.   But as we get older, we learn to manage our faces.  We look confident, when we’re scared.  We look happy, when we’re sad.  We look holy when we are not feeling holy at all.  And when we lose that childlikeness, we fall away from who God created us to be.  Hiding behind our managed faces, we become isolated from others, from ourselves, from God.  But this life of managed faces is not true maturity at all.   It’s why as one writer put it: 

Those who have attained considerable spiritual stature are frequently noted for ‘childlikeness’  What this really means is that they do not use their face and body to hide their spiritual reality.

In other words, they have stopped managing their faces.  Real maturity comes when we walk away from such adultish ways, when dare to become like a child.   As Jesus put it, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.   In other words, you’ve gotta be willing to climb a tree. 
But as you climb the tree, you’ve gotta be willing to get over the crowd.   One thing that we find out immediately is that Zaccheus is short.   Now normally, if you’re short, then folks let you get closer to the front so you can see.  It’s the courteous thing to do.  But no one wants to do that with Zaccheus.   Why?  Well, he’s a tax collector and he’s rich.  

Let’s say that someone not that well off gets elected to city council.  Then a few years later, he buys a multi-million dollar house, and on top of that starts driving a Bentley.  You’re likely thinking that guy needs to be investigated.   And you’re probably right.   But, the Romans encouraged this type of corruption.  They told their tax collectors.  Here’s what we need, and anything else you get above that is yours to keep.  So tax collectors became like legalized robbers.  And on that of that, they worked for the Romans, enemy occupiers whom everyone hated.   So when these folks saw Zaccheus coming, they despised him.   He was a terrible sinner, and they wanted nothing to do with him.   

So what does Zaccheus do?  He finds a way to get over them.  Why?  So he can see Jesus.   And today, if you want to see Jesus, you’ll need to do the same thing.    There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes like this.   “I really like Jesus.   I just don’t like his friends.”  Now as unfair as that might seem, it speaks some truth.   Christians haven’t always been the best representatives of the Jesus we follow.    How many of you have heard some prominent or even not so prominent “Christian” do or say something that made you cringe?   Here’s the truth.   In the crowd of people around Jesus, you’re going to find some pretty unpleasant people.   But if you become a Christian, you’re not following the crowd, you’re following Jesus.  And if it helps, the only people that Jesus really, really got angry at were the religious ones.   If you see offensively religious people around Jesus, just know that Jesus is probably more upset by them than you are.    And take a moment to be honest with yourself too.  If you really get super angry or offended by self-righteous people, isn’t that itself a tad self-righteous?   The writer Kathleen Norris put it this way.  She writes.  “Not long ago, I was asked by a college student how I could stand to go to church, how I could stand the hypocrisy of Christians.  I had one of my rare inspirations, when I know the right thing to say, and I replied, “The only hypocrite I have to worry about on Sunday morning is myself.”   If we’re honest, aren’t we’re all hypocrites to some extent or another?  If you really want the freedom that Jesus offers, you need to get over the crowd.   Don’t let the crowd define Jesus for you.   Let Jesus do that.

So what happens, when Zaccheus does those two things, climbs a tree and gets over the crowd?  Does he see Jesus?   Yes.  But more importantly, Jesus sees him.   And what does Jesus do?   He invites himself to stay at Zaccheus’ house.   He doesn’t just invite himself over for dinner, but he actually tells Zaccheus.   I want to come and live with you for a while.   

But do you see how that happens?   Does Zaccheus go.   Jesus, I will give half of my money away, and return four times anything I have stolen, and then Jesus goes.  Well, then I can stay at your house.    No.   Jesus first invites himself over to stay, and then Zaccheus responds.   Heck, that’s not even the correct Christian answer.   Don’t you first have to invite Jesus in, accept him so to speak, and then he comes?   Zaccheus doesn’t even do that.  He does nothing really. Jesus just invites himself in.  Jesus reaches out to accept Zaccheus in the most public and significant way he can by eating at his table and sleeping under his roof before Zaccheus has done much of anything.  Jesus doesn’t say.  “Hey, if you clean yourself up, get right with God, Zaccheus, then I’ll come stay at your house.   No.   Jesus says.  “I’ll come live with you, and Zaccheus says, “Good, then I’ll stop robbing.”    That’s what Jesus does.   Jesus goes to each of us, “In spite of all the junk in your life, I want to become your friend, and I trust that in that friendship, you’ll find the freedom and security in me to let the junk go.”   That’s the order of the gospel.  That’s how Jesus works.  That’s how God works

It’s why Jesus had problems with religious people in his day.  They kept saying to people.  “First, you have to get it right, obey the rules, and then God will accept you.”   Now beyond that being not at all how God works, do you see how profoundly insecure that makes you?   I mean.  How good is good enough?   Every religion has different rules after all.  Which are the right ones?    That sort of relationship with God doesn’t give you any security.  It leads you to more insecurity than ever. 

But do you see how Jesus’ way leads to the ultimate sense of security?  Look at what it does to Zaccheus.   First, he gets excited like a kid.  “Look, Jesus, Look!”  How many times have you heard a child say something like that?    And what does Zaccheus want Jesus to see?   Well, what was Zaccheus’ source of security?   It had to be his money.   To get his money, he betrayed and robbed his own people.  You’ve gotta hunger for money pretty badly to do that.   But now his greed becomes outrageous generosity.   Why?  Zaccheus has found a new source of security, one that actually makes him secure.   In that security, he can walk away from relying on his wealth for that security.   Zaccheus is saying, “Because you love me, now I can change.  The wealth of your love makes all this other wealth mean so little.”

Religion doesn’t give you that security.  But Jesus does.  In Jesus, you know that God loves you no matter what.  God, the only One who ultimately matters loves and accepts you without condition.  But how can Jesus do that?  Because, in his love he paid the cost so you don’t have to.   On the cross, he became the hero who came and entered into the greatest danger to rescue you.  He became the true hero, the one to which every fairy tale points.    He became the giver of the ultimate happy ending, ultimate because it is actually true.  And the more you let the reality of that ending, of his extravagant, infinitely costly love for you sink in, the more you let it capture your heart, your imagination; the more it will free from everything that you looked to for security in the past.    His love will slay them, will cast them far away.  Instead, you will have the security that you see in a little child, deeply and unconditionally loved.   Why?   Because you will now know that child is you.                   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How Do You Find Real and True Rest in a Restless World?

I don’t remember when I first saw it, but when I did, I was hooked.   I wanted that!   What was that?  It was something called Calgon, which seemed to be a magical potion that transported you to a land of bliss and beauty.

At least that’s what the commercial told me.  It started out with this poor woman crying out as the dog barked, the boss yelled, the baby cried, and the traffic honked.  All of it was driving her nuts.  But in her desperation, she said the magic words!  Calgon, take me away!  In an instant she found herself in this spectacular tub in a palace in a magical land.  I had no idea what Calgon was, but it if could do that, I wanted some. 

Now, since then, my Calgon bubble has burst.   I’ve learned.   Calgon can’t miraculously transport you to a blissful land of bubble baths in beautiful palaces.   But that image has stuck with me, because isn’t that what we all want?   Maybe not that exactly but rest, a place where we can let all the stress, all the burdens go, where we can truly be at peace in every way.   Don’t you ever yearn for that, a place like that?   Yet, here’s the problem.  Does it even exist?  Can it ever exist?   Yet if it doesn’t exist, why do we yearn for it, so deeply yearn for it so that just showing a picture of it for a few seconds sells us on Calgon?  Maybe because it does exist.   As C.S. Lewis put it.  “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

But what is this other world, and can it even exist in this world?   In this story of a healing gone wrong, Jesus shows us the way to such a peace, such a place of rest.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

Have you ever thought in the crazy, hectic life that so many of us lead, isn’t there a better way?   Have you ever yearned for a life with more peace, a life where we can really rest?  Even when we have a day off, it doesn’t seem to happen.   Let’s say you decide to take the family to the beach, but along the way you and your spouse get in a huge argument over what you can’t remember.  Then the kids complain about the sand in their suits and one of them gets sunburned.   By the time, you get back to the car, you’re drained, exhausted and cranky.   Still what do you do?   You get everybody together for a big smiling picture that you can post to Facebook or what it should be called Fakebook.   Look another awesome family day at the beach!

Is that rest?  Really?  How do you get to a place of true rest, not just glimpse it in some rare stolen moment, but live it more and more each day?   How does that happen?  In this story of a healing gone wrong, Jesus shows us the way. 

The story begins so well.   Jesus goes to this pool in Jerusalem where all the sick people hang out.  They hang out there because there’s a belief that every now and then an angel stirs up the water, and the first one in after the stirring gets healed.   Likely there was no angel, just a bubbling up from the spring that fed the pool from below.  But hey, if you’ve got no other option to get well, why not hang out at the pool?  What do you have to lose?

So Jesus goes there, and finds one poor guy who has been hanging out there for 38 years.  Now this kind of rest, nobody wants.   This guy doesn’t have rest.  He has a prison sentence, one that has kept him locked up in a broken body for almost 40 years.   So Jesus comes to set him free. 

The man doesn’t approach Jesus.   Jesus reaches out to him.  Interestingly enough, this is always the pattern.   Even before we reach out to God, God is reaching out to us.   The Bible tells us that even the questions we have about God are prompted by God.   God is always seeking us out, and God uses any means to connect to us, including questions and doubts,   If you’re wondering about God, it’s because God planted that wondering in your heart.   God always moves first, even when we think God hasn’t.   

Yet when Jesus moves, when he asks.  “Do you want to be healed” what does the man say?   He says, “Sure, I’d like some help to get to the water when the angel stirs it up.  Can you help me with that?”   Do you see the irony of what he’s asking?   He’s saying to Jesus, “I need you to help me get to what will save me, to that pool of water.  But, Jesus, the One who can actually save him is standing right in front of him.”  But we do the same thing.   We come to Jesus, and say, “Jesus help me save my marriage or my career or my health or whatever.  Because if my marriage gets better or my career gets saved or my health improves, then everything will be ok.”    But as good as those things are, they don’t save us.   They’re good but they’re not ultimate.  They don’t really give us what we ultimately need.  Only Jesus does that.   Yet instead of looking to the One who can ultimately save us, we ask him to get us to what we think will.  

And this man does just that.   When Jesus heals his body, he thinks he’s good, but he’s far from well.   His body might be made whole, but his spirit that’s a very different matter.  When the religious leaders come after him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, what does he do?    He throws Jesus under the bus, or at least he tries to, except he doesn’t know Jesus’ name.

And when Jesus sees him again, he knows.   He knows that this man he healed is still far from well.  Whatever his outward body looks like, inside he’s still crippled by fears and insecurities.  That’s why Jesus warns him about sinning.  Jesus wants to heal this man inside and out, but all this man wants is healing on the outside.  He doesn’t want Jesus to go any further.  So instead of letting Jesus save him, he gives up Jesus, the man who healed him, to the leaders he fears so much.  

Ultimately, that’s what really sabotages us in our lives, the stuff inside, the lies we tell ourselves, the fears we let rule, the anxieties to which we cling.   Whatever foolish and hurtful actions we do to ourselves and others, they begin with that brokenness inside.   Yes as much as Jesus yearned to heal this man inside, it didn’t happen.  The healing only went so far.   This man’s broken body might have found healing and rest, but his spirit was as broken and restless as ever.

So the leaders come after Jesus.   And what does Jesus do?   He doesn’t apologize.  He doesn’t justify.   He doesn’t defend.    Why?   He knows.  The only One who gets an exemption from the Sabbath rules is God.   So how does he reply?  He tells them.  “My Father and I gotta do what we gotta do.”  And they’re appalled.  They have every right to be.  Jesus is claiming the same exemption.   Jesus is telling them.   “God has come to earth in me.”

But more than that, Jesus is showing us what God deems so important that even the Sabbath can’t stop it.   What is that work?  It is making the Sabbath what God intended the Sabbath to be, not just in our outer world (as important as that is), but more crucially in our inner world, the very work that Jesus tried to complete in the man by the pool. 

In the Creation story God rested on the 7th day.  Now why was that?  Was he tired?  Of course not.  God was satisfied.   God was content.  God was at peace.   God had completed his work.   God intended Sabbath not just to be about physical rest.  That outward rest is only meant to lead you to the inner one, to the place where you truly need rest.   Why is it that even when you take a day off, it so often it doesn’t feel restful but hectic in a different way?   It’s because whatever work you and I might have stopped; the work behind the work continues on.   Our minds buzz with worries and anxieties, with things to be done, with resentments and disappointments that rent space in our head.  Whatever work has stopped on the outside, the frenzied work behind the work is going full blast.  And that’s where you ultimately need rest.  That’s what the Calgon commercial hints at, to where you truly need peace, not simply in your outward activity but at your deepest core.

As Shabbat ends, Jews pass a box of spices, and pray words such as these.  Just rest in the vision they give.

The added soul Shabbat confers is leaving now, and these spices will console us at the moment of its passing.  They remind us that six days will pass, and Shabbat return.   And their bouquet will make us yearn with thankful heart for the sweetness of rest and the fragrance of growing things; for the clean smell of rain-washed earth and the sad innocence of childhood; for the dream of a world healed of pain, pure and wholesome on that first Shabbat, when God, finding all things good, rested from the work of creation.

That’s the true rest to which every Sabbath points.   And that Sabbath Jesus came to bring, the ultimate rest.  That’s what he yearned to give that man by the pool, what he came to give us.   What were Jesus’ last words on the cross?    He said. “It is finished.”   And he meant it.   The work was once again coming to completion. The healing of creation, our healing had begun.

How did it happen?  On that cross, Jesus took all the junk that takes our rest away, our chasing after good things as if they were ultimate things, and the fears and insecurities and restless pain that chase brings.   At the cross you can lay those burdens down.    You can rest your hearts in the Only One who can complete you, who can heal you, who can bring you back to the wholeness of that first Shabbat.    You can lay those burdens down because at the cross Jesus took them up.  Jesus entered into the ultimate work so that he could give you ultimate rest. 

And more and more as we live into this reality, then less and less will you and be tempted to make good things ultimate things.  Less and less will the work behind the work take hold.   More and more, even when you are working, you will be at rest.   So come and lay your burdens down.   Let Jesus take them up.   For his yoke is easy and his burden islight, and here you will find rest for your souls.