Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 21, 2010 - Sit Here, Whilel I Pray

Sit Here While I Pray - Lent 1
Mark 14.32-36 - Jesus' prayer in the Garden

A. Lent began last week with Ash Wednesday.
B. Over the season of lent, we will be telling the story of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life from the Last Supper to the Cross. Our resource for this series is Adam Hamilton's book, 24 Hours that Changed the World.
Today, we begin right after the Last Supper has finished. Jesus has gone out to the Garden of Gethsemane; he leaves the disciples at the edge of the Garden and he goes further to pray. We will tell this familiar story again, examine the details to make sure we understand it well, then ask, "What does this ancient story have to do with us?"

[BIBLE ~ Mark 14:26-36]
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives...
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."

I. He said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."
First, consider this moment through Jesus' eyes. Let the scene play in your mind: Jesus walks into a grove of olive trees; he knew it as the Garden of Gethsemane. It is late, 11:00 pm or so. Most families are at home by now; even though it is Passover, most have already gone to bed. At the entrance of the garden, Jesus turns to the disciples and asks them to wait on him. He does not take the group of twelve with him to pray; he leaves most of them behind. Knowing what is coming, Jesus is already separating himself from them – preparing them and himself for his death and absence from them.
It is hard for us to comprehend what lies ahead of Jesus. The gospels keep reminding us that Jesus knew that the cross lay before him. He knew that he would be betrayed and who would betray him.
How does any person, knowing all that lies before him, chose to go forward?
+Jesus is no suicide bomber.
+Jesus is not manipulating the circumstances to make himself a martyr.
+He is not trying to go out in a blaze of gunfire like Bonnie and Clyde.
The witness of the gospels is that Jesus knew what lay before him and understood that he was born to this. And yet, the enormity of this had to be encountered gingerly. He had to be sure that he understood the path before him. So, he pulled away from the disciples so he could spend time with the Father in prayer. He pulled away knowing that he would soon be taken away.
Do we also have times in our lives when we become clear about our task? The conviction might form in your mind that you have been called to some great work OR some life-long calling. You might say that you are no hero; you were just in the right place at the right time.
+US Airways Flight 1549 was a scheduled commercial passenger flight from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina, that, on January 15, 2009, was successfully ditched in the Hudson River. The pilot was Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, 57, a former fighter pilot who had been an airline pilot since leaving the Air Force in 1980. He was the right pilot at the right time.
+Remember the story of Queen Ester in the Bible. When the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation, her uncle asked her to appeal to the king for justice. As he put it to her:
Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this" (Esther 4.14)
+I hope that each of us have had or will have occasions and seasons when we can think to ourselves: "This is the reason I am in this job at this time."

We all share such an experience of call and rightness for the job with Jesus. The difference between everyone else and Jesus is that early in his ministry, he knew that it would lead to his death. Thankfully, few of us will ever have to make such a choice. So, he said to the disciples, "Sit here while I pray; I have to talk this over with the Father."
Now, let's consider this moment through the eyes of the disciples. Jesus says to them, "Sit here, while I pray." Could we take liberty of completing the thought? "Sit here while I pray ...for you? ...for the world? ...for the lost? What if he spoke those words not just to the long-ago disciples, but even now to us? What if Jesus wants us *to sit* while he prays?

The next time you settle down to pray for any reason, sit still and imagine Jesus coming to you and saying, "Sit here while I pray for you."
There is a passage in Paul's letter to the Romans that speaks to this as well:
"If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8.25f).

Imagine the thought: God prays in us while we wait. To take upon ourselves the posture of sitting while Jesus prays brings us into the most grace-ful mystery of the waiting experience that there is: that of opening to the intimate presence of the Spirit of Christ praying within, penetrating, seeking, and holding us in our darkness (1).

"Sit here while I pray."

II. 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. Later in the prayer, he will say: "Yet, not what I want, but what you want."

Jesus' words echo the Lord's Prayer when he teaches us to pray: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is an expression of obedience and trust for us to pour out our deepest desires to God and then conclude by saying, "thy will be done." It speaks of trust that God, who loves us, will care for us even in circumstances too great for us to control. It also reminds us that discipleship can be costly.
As the prayer of Jesus reveals, he was in anguish over his coming pain, separation from the disciples, and death for the sins of the world. The divine course is set, but he, in his human nature still struggled.
Like to gospel song says:
Jesus walked that lonesome valley.
He had to walk it for himself.
O, nobody else could walk it for him.
He had to walk it for himself.

The writer of Hebrews understands Jesus' prayer in the Garden to mean: Because of the anguish he experienced, he understands our suffering. We are not without a comforter. We are not alone. Christ walks beside us, and there are tears of tenderness in his eyes.

III. In his prayer Jesus said: 36 "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.
A. The Jewish people in Jesus' day had a strong tradition of prayer, three-times a day. They prayed in the morning, then around noon, and finally just before sunset. In addition, these were traditional prayers which every faithful Jew learned from childhood.
These traditional prayers were in Hebrew, the formal language of Israel, even though the language of ordinary people was Aramaic. Jesus begins this prayer in Gethsemane by addressing God as "Father." What we miss because we read in English is that Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to pray in Aramaic, the language of the street, instead of the formal Hebrew. This was a huge departure from the common teaching of his day.
Jesus lived in a world where the public reading of the scriptures was only in Hebrew, and prayers had to be offered in that language. When Jesus took the giant step of endorsing Aramaic as an acceptable language for prayer and worship, he opened the door for the N.T. to be written in Greek (not Hebrew) and then translated into every other language.

B. This means that in Jesus no sacred language is the "language of God." Across the Christian world, many people assume that one language (usually *their* language) is the language of God. By praying in Aramaic, Jesus demonstrated that there is no official language of God. Fifty years ago, for example, there were many English speakers who were sure that God spoke in King James English.
The traditional prayers that Jesus learned as a child were in Hebrew. In addition, they addressed God in several beautiful ways:
+God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob;
+God of our Fathers,
+Blessed one,
+Holy one,
+Builder of Jerusalem,
+Mighty one,
+Redeemer of Israel,
+"Our Father (in Hebrew),
and a few other names for God.
Jesus used none of these; addressed God on the night as "Abba." The Aramaic word "Abba" (Father) was used by an Aramaic-speaking person in addressing his/her earthly father. It was also used to address a respected person of rank. A student might address a beloved and respected teacher as "Abba."

"Abba" only appears three times in the N.T.
[1.] In this prayer recorded in Mark (the other Gospels use the Greek word for "Father" when they tell this same story).
[2.] In Romans 8.15; [3.] In Galatians 4.6.
In each case, Mark and then Paul immediately translate the Aramaic word, "Abba," with the common Greek word for Father, just in case their readers do not know Aramaic. This suggests that the Aramaic "Abba" was so important to the Christian communities that they kept it, even though they were careful to translate it. All three times it is used, it is in a fervent prayer – just as Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. It appears that the word, "Abba," as an address for God the Father was important to Jesus and thus it was important to keep it.

This great Aramaic word, Abba, affirms both respect in addressing a superior and a profound personal relationship between the one who uses it and the one addressed. It is easy to understand why the early Christian church continued to use it even while praying in Greek. It invoked the quality of relationship the believer had with God through Christ.
So, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane falls on the ground in fervent prayer. There he addresses God,
[36] "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me;
yet, not what I want, but what you want."

C. According to Kenneth Bailey in his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, to address God as "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" is to pray the prayer of a particular people with a particular language and a particular history. But, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray *Abba* in the common language of his day, he affirmed a vison of a family of faith that went beyond the community of those who claimed an ethnic tie to Abraham. To address God as "Father" recognizes that every human being, of any tribe or nation has a *father. Therefore, if God is "our father," then all people are able to address God equally. There is no ethnic or historical “insider" or "outsider" with the word "Abba" (2).
1. All are welcome at the Lord's Table.
2. The only limit on those who may come to Christ is that you must be born of father and mother. No other limit applies.

[Bill Hybels, Lead Pastor at Willow Creek Church] in his book, *The God You're Looking For*, tells of learning to sail his Dad's sailboat out on Lake Michigan. He said that his father would often tell him, "Go ahead and take the boat out, but take a friend with you."
A 42-foot sailboat on a body of water the size of Lake Michigan is a big responsibility. But, always up for a challenge, he'd find a junior high friend to accompany him, and they'd sail past the breakwater, hoist the sails, and head out to open water. But as soon as he'd see any cloud formation coming their way or the wind seemed to be picking up, he'd head back to shore, take the sails down, and regain his normal breathing only when they were safely tied up in the slip. Most of the time, it was fun having a friend along, but in a storm, he knew this kid wouldn't be much help.
Other times, however, Hybels and his Dad would go out together. When he was sailing with his dad, he'd actually look for cloud formations and hope for strong wind. He loved the feel of the strong winds and the rough waves.
His dad had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. He had endured five days of sailing through a hurricane. He was an experienced sailor, and therefore Bill was confident that he would be able to handle anything Lake Michigan could throw at them. He concluded by saying, "Everything changed when my Dad was on board" (4).

What Jesus showed us in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is that God is that sort of Father.
+The father who welcomes the affectionate, respectful name that only that Father's child has the right to use.
+The father who can handle anything the world can throw at us.
+The father who goes with us when we sail out into dangerous waters.
Every time I read this story and this prayer, I think to myself: Is that also my prayer? Do I have the confidence in God to keep that prayer for the day of my great testing? The fact is that everyone of us will one day find ourselves in a Garden like that one. Everyone of us will find ourselves needing to pray that prayer. The good news is that God is the *Abba, Father*, who is ready and able to walk with us.

1. Kidd, Sue Monk. "Sitting while Jesus Prays," When the Heart Waits, 1990.
2. Bailey, Kenneth. Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 96.
4. Hybels, Bill. The God you're Looking For, (Thomas Nelson, 1997).
5. Hamilton, Adam. 24-Hours that Changed the World.

February 14, 2010 - Transfiguration Day

Transfigured Hope
Luke 9.28-43

My first impression on reading this story: Things happen when you pray! This is our first insight from reading the story of Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain. He went up onto the mountain to pray, as he often did. Luke is very clear about Jesus' continuous practice of praying. Luke, more than any other gospel writer, tells us that Jesus often went apart to pray and taught his followers to pray. More than this, Luke connects times of prayer with great events in the gospel story. The message is: Things happen when you pray.
Making sense of the stuff of faith continues to be one of the hardest tasks for modern people. Despite all the increase and the wide availability of knowledge, we are unprepared to speak of the connection between the ordinary and the Divine. Any of us can outline Jesus’ humanity and the ancient history surrounding him, but we struggle to give a meaningful explanation of the presence of God in him. More than this, we struggle to give a meaningful explanation of the divine and the Spirit. Oh, we keep a little category in the corner of our minds where we store such convictions, but we have difficulty connecting that “spiritual corner” with the rest of life.

The story of the Transfiguration is important because it comes as an answer to this difficulty. Luke hears those who want to believe struggling to understand and he says:
1. "The spirit and the ordinary meet in Jesus of Nazareth";
2. Then, he says: “Let me tell you what happened to James and John and Peter on the mountain.”
On this occasion, Jesus went up onto the mountain with his disciples, Peter and John and James, to pray, and there, "While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white." Transfiguration!
TASK: Stop to reflect on what this moment of Jesus' transfiguration meant to Jesus and now means to us.

[II.] The Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us that there are thin places in the course of our lives where we stand so close to heaven, that we can sense the near presence and hear the still, small voice of God.//
We live, most of our days, at some distance from all that is holy. The "everyday" is jobs and kids and school; it is doing what we can with what we have in our hands. It is not that we leave our faith behind; we are just busy somewhere else. The truth is that we pray, most days, on a long-distance connection to heaven.
+Only a few of us will ever hear the voice of God when we pray. Mostly, we pray, faithfully, confident that God will hear us when we pray. Still, we mostly pray to the Great Silence.
+Our religion does not require God to jump at our command. We practice our faith daily in the simple conviction that the unseen God is in command; we are always the followers.
+The truth is that, even though we may need to hear the voice of God ANSWERING OR SPEAKING JUSTICE OR WHISPERING HOPE, God most often does not jump just because we are frightened. God does not often speak just because we have started a conversation.
The result is that God can seem very far away sometimes. You may spend your whole life speaking to God over a long-distance connection. // Faith is going forward even though the night is dark. Faith is praying against the Great Silence in the confidence that God does hear. Faith is walking with God without putting obligation on God.
And then, occasionally:
+once in a lifetime,
+once at the point of our greatest confusion,
+once when we are not even looking,
+once, like Jonah, when we are running from God,
we find ourselves in one of the thin places where heaven and earth are so close we can touch the face of God, when we are so close that we can hear the still, small voice of God. Simon, James and John woke up to find Jesus standing with Elijah and Moses. And suddenly, the voice of God broke over them, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
In a way, the Transfiguration is frightening because it is fair warning that through Jesus, the distance between heaven and earth has been bridged. God can lean in to listen as never before. It is also reassuring because it is the assurance that through Jesus, we can reach out to the unseen God of the Universe. In Jesus, the distance between heaven and earth has thinned.

[Marcus Borg] described "thin places" this way:
Thin places are places where two levels of reality meet or intersect. They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God, experience the One in whom we live, all round us and within us (1).

Many experiences and places can become thin places for us:
+worship is designed to be a thin place for us;
+music has always been able to move us;
+participation in the sacraments offers us a thin place;
+reading the Bible;
+friendships can often become thin places when they make us aware of the holy surrounding us;
+anywhere our hearts are opened.

Ezekiel 36.26 expresses God's desire to meet us at such thin places:
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Mindie Burgoyne in her Celtic article describes "thin places" this way:
A ‘thin place’ is a place where the veil between this world and the Other world is thin, the Other world is more near. Since the times of ancient civilization the fascination with the "Other world" has occupied human minds. To some it is heaven, the kingdom, paradise. To others it may be hell, an abyss, the unknown. Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are so intense as to be almost touched or felt (2).

The Transfiguration became one of the "thin places" for the disciples; telling this story again teaches us to watch for such thin places.

III. I do not think we appreciate how difficult it was for the disciples to comprehend the full identity of Jesus. We have known the story of Jesus from beginning to end from the time we were old enough to hear about Christmas and Easter. We grew up knowing how the story of Jesus ends. But, for the disciples coming to know Jesus was more like living a John Grissom novel. They had no idea what was coming next. And they certainly did not know the end of Jesus' earthly ministry until the cross and the resurrection. It took time for the full identity of Jesus to sink in.
+They had to hear it from him;
+they had to watch him at work;
+they had to see what happened when he spoke or acted.
+And, as Peter did in the Great Confession, they had to say aloud the conviction about Jesus that was forming in their own hearts.
My guess is that they easily understood that he was fully human. After all, everyone is fully human. The harder task for them was to comprehend and explain that Jesus was fully God.
At this point, Luke wants to help us. One of the purposes of the story of the Transfiguration was to show the disciples, and now to show us, that Jesus was at the same time fully God. What does that mean, anyway? That Jesus was fully God? We know about super-heroes; we watch them on TV every Saturday morning. But, except for Jesus, we have no models for one person who is fully human and fully God. As I said, Luke wants to show us as he tells the story of Jesus on the day of the Transfiguration.

Scan the story once again. Look for the words and images Luke uses in this familiar story to give us Jesus' identity. There is a time and place for Christians to be Biblical literalists, and this is one of those times. You might take a notepad and just list the words that Luke uses to describe Jesus.
+he was praying;
+his face changed;
+clothes were dazzling white;
+he stood in the company of Moses and Elijah;
+his departure - I'm guessing that this word points to the cross and the resurrection;
+voice of God spoke from the cloud: "This is my Son";
+voice of God spoke from the cloud: "This is my Chosen";
+voice of God spoke from the cloud: "Listen to him!"

Later, at the foot of the mountain,
+the father of the boy addressed Jesus: "teacher";
+Jesus had the power with only a command to heal and make him well.
I do not know, of course, what words you would use to describe the full identity of Jesus as you know about him and believe in him. But, if we are going to take the witness of scripture seriously, then our description of Jesus has to take into account these words from the Transfiguration. Here we can start by taking the words of scripture seriously: noting the words Luke uses to describe this event. Now, you and I might take these words and look for further insights into their meaning for Christians across the ages and for us.
Now, go beyond the literal words and let the story tell us about Jesus. When I was in seminary, my preaching professor got excited about this story one day. It was time for me to preach on the Transfiguration story, and I had chosen just that part of the story that which took place on the mountain. He wouldn't stand for it. He pointed out the second part of the story, which tells how Jesus and the disciples came down to the foot of the mountain to find a large crowd surrounding a father and his sick child. The father hurries to Jesus, points to his son, and tells Jesus that the disciples cannot heal the boy. Whereupon Jesus does a bit of teaching and then casts out the demon, which appears to be epilepsy.
The point of this two-part story, as my seminary professor was so excited to share, is that life, and particularly the Christian life, cannot be lived only at the top of the mountain. Christian life is lived both at the top of the mountain, basking in the glory, AND at the bottom of the mountain in the places of service that demand our attention. This is the life and the example of Jesus.
The next time someone asks you: "Tell me about Jesus," go to this story. Read it or tell it. Let this story teach those who are ready to hear about Jesus.//

V. Now, there is one more step in our study of the story of the Transfiguration. It is never enough to know about Jesus. We are not finished until we allow the story of Jesus to shape us and to change us. You might say: Just as Jesus was Transfigured on that day, so the story of Jesus will transform us. The Bible uses many terms for this:
+from unrighteousness to righteousness,
+from lost like a lost sheep to found by the Good Shepherd,
+from unknowing TO moved to wonder.

I contend that the best I can do is to be a Christ-formed person. This change to becoming a Christian person is transformation. Our transformation takes place
+as we allow the story and the witness of disciples of Jesus Christ to become our story;
+as we learn from Christ what he taught about love, about God, and about living.
+as we do as Jesus did in his time and know that Jesus would do in our time through those who follow him: service, charity, even miracles;
+as we allow the image of Christ to be formed in us more and more each day. This is what we United Methodists call: "Going on to perfection."

[MOVIE] The movie, "The Blind Side," is a story of transformation – based on a true story. It is the story of Michael Oher, an offensive lineman who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL. He began in Memphis as a foster-child being pushed from foster-home to foster-home. He ran away from every placement. As it turns out, one of those foster-families enrolls him in a private Christian school by convincing the football coach that the young teenager is a natural athlete. At school he finds a friend; this friend turns out to be part of the family that will adopt him and turn his life around. Actress Sandra Bullock plays the mother of the family who took a special interest in Michael and, little by little, welcomed him into their home and into her heart. With the support of his adoptive family, he finishes high school and goes on to play at Ole Miss. After a great career in college, he is drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and now plays in the NFL.
The message of the film is that without this transformation, he would have gone nowhere. He would have been just another kid who never got the support he needed to succeed. But, through the love and support of his adoptive family, he has lived a story that is an inspiration to any family and any foster-child (3).

Thus, transfiguration is about changed lives, changed hopes, changed futures.

[CONCL] So, let us be transfigured by the work of Christ in us. We are transformed by the work of Christ when we hear his story and understand that his story opens possibilities for the same story in our stories.
Let me tell you about Jesus. Let me tell you how he was transfigured on the mountain with three disciples who were blown away by what they saw. Let me tell you about Jesus, so you will know about Jesus, too. Let me tell you about Jesus so you too can believe that he was God walking among us in Galilee so long ago. So you will know that Christ calls us to see God through him even today.

1. Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity, pp. 149ff.
2. Bourgoyne, Mindie. "Walking through Thin Places," published online at
3. The Blind Side, movie directed by John Lee Hancock, based on the book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 7, 2010

That fish was how big?
Luke 5.1-11

When Jesus called the disciples to come and follow him, did they already know him? Or, at the moment he called them, was he a complete stranger? As I read the call of the disciples in Luke, I think that they knew Jesus. More than merely knowing Jesus, Luke tells us that the fishermen had already seen Jesus in action: teaching, healing, and casting out demons. The moment of their call to follow Jesus came later. All of this suggests that becoming a follower of Jesus is not just a matter of knowing or of being amazed at what Jesus can do. There is something more.

As Luke tells the story of "The Miraculous Catch of Fish," I watch Jesus’ face closely. It's the twinkle in this eye that catches my attention. He looks like the good friend of these fishermen who has just presented them with the best gift ever. He is impatient to see them open it, and yet he is relishing the moment, watching these friends every step. At the beginning, they are definitely not getting it, but he knows they will. And when they do, he wants to be watching.
This gift, wrapped up as a miracle, is the moment when Jesus will reveal himself to them. It is like the moment when Clark Kent lets Lois Lane see that he is really Superman. It is like the moment when Spiderman lets Mary Jane see his real identity. Except for one huge difference: All Superman and Spiderman wants was a little romance-American-style. When Jesus reveals himself to be the Son of God, he will call these fishermen to leave their nets and follow him all the way to the cross. This is the way Jesus does an Epiphany. You don’t just SEE that Jesus is the Son of God and then make a few notes for the book you'll write some day. When these fishermen see that Jesus is the Son of God, they must lay down everything and follow him into the life he will show them. SEEING, REALIZING, THEN RESPONDING. THAT’S EPIPHANY.

The story really began in the chapter just before this one when Jesus came to Capernaum at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It was the city of Simon the fisherman.
1. There Jesus went to the synagogue. While he was there a man with an unclean spirit stood up to confront Jesus, crying out in a loud voice, “I know who you are; you are the Holy One of God!”
2. Later, Jesus went home with Simon for Sunday lunch and there he learned that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever. Again, Jesus spoke to the fever, it left her, and she was well.
3. Then, later that evening the people of Capernaum brought their sick to Jesus at the doorway of Simon’s house. And he laid his hands on them and healed them.
All of this is to say that Simon had plenty of information about Jesus. He knew that Jesus taught with authority, and he knew that Jesus could heal the sick and cast out the demons which caused illness. Like us, he had plenty of information about Jesus. But Jesus was not showing Simon all of this to amaze him, he was showing him all this TO CALL him.

So, not long after the events on the Sabbath in Capernaum, Simon and his friends were back to their work as fishermen. Jesus was back to his work as a traveling teacher. It was morning, Jesus was just getting started; Simon and the others were just finishing a night of fruitless fishing. The fishermen are tired and disappointed; they will not have anything to sell at the market today.
As Jesus walks along the shore of the lake, a little crowd starts to follow him. They want to hear; perhaps they hope to see him do something like he did in Capernaum on the Sabbath. Finally, Jesus stopped on the edge of the water and began to teach in earnest. The crowd continues to grow until it seems that they will push him into the water. So, Jesus steps into one of the boats so he can push off a bit and continue his teaching. Imagine the scene: the tired fishermen cleaning up from a night of work, the interested crowd is straining to catch every word, and they are all listening to Jesus there on the edge of the lake. There is plenty going on, but no one expects a miracle – not here, not now.

Then, when Jesus finishes teaching, he turns to the fishermen:
4 He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

Of course, he knows enough about fishing to see that they had caught nothing. And even now, if you are watching, you can see the twinkle of anticipation in Jesus’ eye. You can see the beginning of a smile creeping into his face. He knows what he about to do, and Jesus is obviously enjoying the moment.
Simon takes the net he has been cleaning and gives it a toss. He is good with a cast net; he does not waste the effort. And yet you know that his heart is not in it. He does it to humor this traveling preacher, this Jesus. “Get a crowd, and these traveling preachers think they can do anything,” he grumbles to himself as he tosses the net.
But, immediately the joke is on him. The net comes alive with fish. They nearly pull him into the water in their effort to escape. Simon shouts to the others, and together they begin to grab the wriggling fish and get them into the boat. Visualize the scene: fishermen shouting, fish flopping everywhere, boats tipping at the weight of the catch. Jesus is sitting where he was, just watching the scene unfolding before him. And imagine that huge, delighted smile covering his face.
It is at this point that someone shouts, “O my God! Look at all these fish!” And Simon begins to repeat the shout, but as he looks up at Jesus, he catches the smile and understands the gift that Jesus has just dropped into his lap. So, Simon repeats the shout but punctuates it differently. And it comes out, “Oh, my God!” It is a moment of recognition that the demons had been right all along; this IS the Holy One of God. It is a moment of realization that Jesus has presented this gift to him and to them and now waits to see how they will respond. You see, Simon realizes that JESUS WANTS RELATIONSHIP with him and with them. This, my friends, is pure Epiphany. Seeing, realizing, then responding.

II. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;
When you find yourself in the presence of the Holy, you have to humble down. We are not "buds" with the Almighty, and we will never drop by heaven to drink a beer with the Creator. It is time to set aside all claims to status; it is time to realize like Isaiah in the Temple that the best of us would be completely undone. So, Simon says: "Go away from me, Lord," as his way of saying, "How can you offer me relationship? I cannot possibly deserve any place in your company."

A. Simon might have been a fisherman, but he was also a great theologian. He was a great theologian because he looked at the events unfolding around him and realized the role of God in them. And he realized that God was dealing with him through these events. It rightly scares him to death. This is doing theology.
Simon had just witnessed the events in Capernaum; his own relative had been healed by Jesus’ command. He had INFORMATION about Jesus. But, this time he was not merely interested or curious. He was not merely an observer of the events unfolding around him; this time he understood that he was caught up in the event of the miracle. He was a great theologian.
At Ministers’ Convocation this week, Dr. Tom Long, from Candler School of Theology said that we are enriched when we can think theologically about the events unfolding around us. Great events occur around us frequently, but when we choose not to reflect on what these great events show us about the work of God among us, then we are impoverished by that failure.

[Q:] Recently, there was a great earthquake in Haiti; the death toll according to the Haitian government has reached 200,000 souls. What does this great earthquake tell us about our place in God's creation? Or what does it tell us about the character of God's creation? Pat Robertson, on his TV program, claimed that this earthquake happened because the Haitians made a pact with the Devil. It was a claim that got him a storm of criticism. If he is wrong, as I believe he is, what is the correct interpretation? Take it to Sunday School/Sunday lunch and search your convictions about God and the scriptures. Like Simon Peter, you be a better theologian.

There are many excellent examples of this; actually we do this all the time:
1. When we come to marry, the State of Tennessee only sees a contract between two people. But, good theologians that we are, we often marry here in the church before God. We DO NOT HAVE TO BEGIN our marriages here, but do it so that we can claim language ordinarily reserved for God for ourselves and our most basic relationships. God is the maker of COVENANT; God is a God of LOVE and LOVING-KINDNESS. We claim these words for ourselves when we marry. That is a theological act.
2. When we give birth to our babies, the world sees biology in action. Doctor Spock might see another book sale. But, that is not enough for us. We bring our babies to this altar where we claim the promises wrapped up in baptism for them and for ourselves. With water and the laying on of hands, we claim, more than biology, that this child is a child of God, marked as precious in the sight of God. This is a theological act.
3. When we come to the Table, we share bread and a drop of juice. If a stranger fell asleep in the church and woke up just in time to see everyone coming forward to receive, that stranger might think, “O boy, they’re serving snacks!” But, good theologians that we are, we find at this table a place among the followers of the one who went to the cross for our salvation. We find at this table a sharing in his death that we might live. Taking the bread and cup is a theological act and a great witness to the world.

It is not enough to know the details about Jesus' life and ministry. It is not enough to stand amazed at the wonders of creation. It is not enough to come to the Table and enjoy the snack of bread and juice. Like Simon, we must realize that these mighty events are calling us to a relationship with Christ.
1. They call us to faith.
2. They call us to service.
3. They call us to witness.
The miracle of the Lord's Table is unfolding around you even now. What will you do with Jesus?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

January 31, 2010 - Called by God

Not Driven by Circumstance but Called by God
Jeremiah 1:4-10

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged by his dungeon . . . [William Cullen Bryant’s poem, “Thanatopsis"]

You caught the image, didn’t you: “Like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged by his dungeon . . . ” Bryant suggests that each of us have a choice about the way we will live. And, of course, no one would choose to be a *quarry slave*. Although some have had such slavery forced upon them, it is the last life we would choose for ourselves.
Television and other media provide us with many other possibilities for seeing human life. Often, we find them in the commercials; they suggest other images of life to entice us to buy their product . . . which owning and using will somehow usher us into that desirable lifestyle.
+You’ll be young and smart if you drive this car;
+You’ll be hip and sexy if you drink this soft drink;
+You’ll get hired for a great job if you use this hair coloring to cover your gray.
We Americans have always used what we own and what we consume to define the lives we live and the sort of persons we are. Ask yourself: what is the definition of your life? What image of life are you striving to claim for yourself?
There is an alternative - a deeply satisfying one. It comes from the scripture: Imagine yourself *called by God.* Imagine yourself spending your life and your energies in the service of the eternal purposes of Almighty God.
+Adam and Eve began that way, though they were soon tempted to turn away from God’s call.
+Moses was called by God to lead His people out of Egypt and slavery.
+The judges like Deborah and Gideon and prophets like Anna and Simeon were called to speak the Word of the Lord in their time.
+And, as you know, Jesus knew himself to be called.

[TASK] We are going to explore the call of Jeremiah the Prophet this morning. We will learn about the prophet’s call, then let it teach us about Jesus’ call. Then, we will consider what it means for us to live a life as those who are *called*.

I. In this reading from chapter-1, Jeremiah tells how he became a prophet. It was the call of God, you see. There are jobs for which we volunteer. Or we take a test to discover our aptitudes, then find a job which works to our strength. So, any of us might become
+a doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief,
+grow up to be President,
+or enter a particular kind of work because it runs in the family.

A. But, the prophet knew himself to be CALLED. It was a job that he did not seek, but rather God sought him and placed this work on him. In this sense, Jeremiah stood in the great tradition of the Old Testament prophets. God told him this clearly; he was destined before his birth to this calling.

5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you . . .
As we read beyond this short passage through the rest of Jeremiah, we will find that he did not welcome this calling. His given message was uncomfortable. It made him unpopular, even unwelcome in the community. Still, he felt as obligated to live out this calling as a bird is obligated to fly or a fish is obligated to swim.
Geo Martin said in his article on this passage:
Calls from God are scary. Tell someone God spoke to you, and you might be locked up. Maybe your call is not exactly a voice. It could be a thought you cannot shake–an idea that seems crazy or irrational. You try to ignore it, but it seems to be there again and again. (1).

B. Like many in the Bible who were called, Jeremiah objected that he was not the right person for this task. 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."
+Moses also objected that he did not know how to speak well.
+Isaiah objected that he was a man of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips.
But, God swept all these objections away:
7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.

The task of the prophet is not to speak out of his own abilities or his own message; his call is to speak the word which God has placed on his heart and in his mouth.
The work of a prophet by definition is not comfortable for anyone. To speak the Word of the Lord, the prophet must call into question the assumptions and convictions that everyone shares. He must challenge the bedrock principles upon which communities and nations are founded. It is uncomfortable because such challenges are not popular. People object to such impertinence. People do not want to hear the negative voice when people are already struggling. But, mostly it is uncomfortable because the prophet must challenge the cherished principles and convictions in his own heart. It is uncomfortable because the prophet must stand apart from the community which is most likely to listen to him, and even from himself. Prophecy is not comfortable work.

THE SIGN A couple of Saturdays ago, Celia and I went to Pigeon Forge for the day. On the way home, coming through Sevierville, we noticed a sign at a busy intersection that said: "Your G.P.S. is wrong. Keep straight for I-40."

I thought: Now that sign is doing what the church should do. It is warning people that they are going the wrong way.
+To call out a warning when what everyone believes and assumes is wrong.
+Then, to point people in the way that God would have us to go.

This is the calling of the prophet.

The fact is that nobody wants to hear the bad news. Oh, we can take our medicine along with the rest of them. But, when the bitter taste washes away, it is time to go back to more pleasant stuff.
God said to Jeremiah: "You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you." The downside of this calling is that you must proclaim an unwelcome message not your own. The upside of this calling is that you proclaim a message not your own, but Word of God.

C. This is a decidedly *political* voice for Jeremiah to raise. You can hear it in the words of his call:
10 Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

This is not a call to teach Sunday School down at the Methodist Church.
1. He is to speak out against nations and kingdoms. His is specifically sent to speak to the political forces of his day.
2. His message is decidedly negative: Four words of destruction describe his call:
+to pluck up and to pull down,
+to destroy and to overthrow
3. Only two words speak of building:
+to build and to plant.

[POLITICS] - Don Ratzlaff said: Too many of us Christians confuse political convictions with spiritual conviction. Insecure with ambiguity, we assume people of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism must also promote one political agenda. That assumption leads the church into trouble. First, it prompts us to make judgments about people that ought to be left to God. Second, when the church confuses spiritual and political convictions it is tempted to use political power to forward a "spiritual agenda." (2)

Forty years ago, it was the liberals in the church who were speaking out on political subjects. The conservatives grumbled: "Those liberal preachers should stick with spiritual matters and leave politics to politicians." Twenty years ago, it was the religious right that became politically active. So, the liberals grumbled: "Those on the religious right have no business in politics." Well, the voice of the church on political issues will always be uncomfortable and even add to the controversy.
The problem is that the Bible belongs to all Christians – Christians who may or may not share the same politics. While I can ignore some opponent shouting his *particular opinion*, I cannot ignore someone who uses my Bible to make his/her point. When someone uses my Bible to do their politics then I have to work harder to figure it out. I can't ignore it as just someone else's *opinion*; I have to wrestle with it like Jeremiah wrestled with the Word of God which he was given to preach.

II. Well, what does this story of Jeremiah's call tell us about Jesus?
It tells us that in part Jesus was also called to the work of a prophet. Jesus was called/sent
+to preach Good News to the poor, which often hit as judgement on the rich;
+to challenge business as usual in the religious establishment of his day; he did clean out the temple, you know.
+to challenge the politics of purity in the Temple; Jesus offered compassion as an equal claim of God on people of faith.
A good indicator of the strength of Jesus' challenge is the reaction of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. It was they who conceived the plan to kill Jesus.
We have to remember that Jesus was not killed for feeding hungry people with a few loaves and fish out in the country. He was not killed for healing the sick. He was not killed for stilling the storm and saving his friends from certain shipwreck. He was killed for challenging those who were comfortably in power. He was killed for challenging the systems of purity that kept certain people in their places of poverty and others in their places of comfort.
Jesus filled many roles in his years on earth:
+healer and teacher,
+preacher and miracle-worker,
+Savior and Son of God,
+and Prophet.

In his play, Green Pastures, playwright Marc Connelly has the angel Gabriel walk on stage with his horn under his arm. He approaches the Lord who is deep in thought. God is troubled about what is happening on earth: So much anger and fighting, so much pain and sadness, so many people blindly ruining their lives. God is very troubled because He has already sent any number of prophets and special messengers, but His people just can't hear them.

Gabriel offers to blow his horn and bring the whole sorry mess to a quick end. But God takes his trumpet away. Gabriel presses the Lord about what He's going to do. And finally the Lord answers, 'This time,' He says, 'I'm not going to send anybody. This time I'm going myself!' (3)

And that is exactly what God did . . . "In the fullness of time." God sent no more messengers. God came to us in human flesh. No longer would God stand at the edge of the universe and lament the darkness on earth. God came to earth in a burst of light and angels' songs to forever dispel the darkness. God came to us as the prophet with the message: "Your G.P.S. is wrong. Let me show you the way."

III. Now, that we have explored Jeremiah's call to prophecy and Jesus' call, what does all of this teach about the possibility that God might call any one of us?
One of the great challenges presented by the story of Jeremiah's call is that it tempts us to think of *God's call* as something reserved for great figures of religious history: prophets, evangelists, and missionaries. But, you must know that God calls every Christian to live the radical gospel of Christ through faithful obedience in the world. For some, that faithful obedience may require powerful witness, heroic measures, or world-changing actions. For others of us, it is by fulfilling the tasks of our social, political, and family roles that we stand as prophets in the world, testifying to God's intentions for the world in the way we live our lives (4).
+Martin Luther King, Jr spoke on the Washington Mall and shouted: "I have a dream . . . " Rosa Parks, on the other hand, just kept her seat on a bus in Montgomery.
+Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world; Mary and Martha just offered their home as friendly place for Jesus to teach and to rest.
+Billy Graham often preached the Gospel to one hundred thousand persons; my childhood Sunday School teachers never had more than a dozen at a time.
It makes no difference whether our call is grand or small. If we hear the call of God, it is our invitation to serve eternity.

[MONSTERS, INC.] - In the Disney movie, *Monsters, Inc.*, the truth about monsters is revealed. Monsters are in the business of scaring children because it is their job. In a parallel world to our own, monsters tote their lunches and punch a time clock while they work at a factory called Monsters, Inc. The factory contains thousands of doors that lead to the back of children's bedroom closets in our world. Doors are brought to the monsters on conveyor belts so that the monster can simply walk into the bedrooms of children to scare them.
The monsters are ultimately harmless. In their world, they are fuzzy and loveable creatures merely trying to make a living. The only reason they scare children is to capture the energy contained in their screams. Their entire world operates on this energy – much like our electricity and gas. The monsters capture the screams and compress them into a tank similar to a propane tank. One of the main characters is Sully, and the plot centers on his quest to have the highest production of capturing screams.
The greatest secret of the monster world is this: While children are afraid of monsters, the monsters are even more afraid of children. Outside of the job of retrieving screams, the monsters want nothing to do with children. They would never touch a child or anything a child has touched for fear of contamination. If a monster so much as touches a child's sock, he must go though an extensive decontamination process.
In the movie, a little girl accidently enters the monster world through the door in the back of her closet. Sully went to her bedroom to capture her scream but botches the job. She jumps on his back and clings to him as he returns to Monsters, Inc. After Sully discovers the toddler, he is terrified because he had been taught to fear children. He cannot return her until he finds the correct door to her bedroom. In the meantime, he begins to take care of her. In the process, he slowly overcomes his fear. Sully actually begins to like the little girl.
And then, after a while, Sully decides to give the child a name, Boo. This is of great concern to Sully's best friend, Mike, who also works at Monsters, Inc. When Mike hears Sully has named the child, he exclaims, "Oh, no! Not a name! When you give it a name, that's when you get attached to it! That's when you get changed by it. You'll never be the same" (5).

So it is when we hear God's call on our lives. It comes hard oftentimes. The job is difficult or even unwanted. But, the time comes when we grow fond of it. That's when we are changed by the call of God upon our lives. We thought we knew what life should be, but then God called us to some necessary task. And little by little that call changes us – never to be the same again.
Think about it: What is God calling you to do or to be in this world? When you heard God's call, what did you respond? Today, when you hear God's call, what will you respond?

1. Martin, George. "Pastoral Perspective" on Jeremiah 1.4-10, Feasting on the Word, pp. 290f.
2. Ratzlaff, Don. Quoted by Edward Rowell in Leadership Journal.
3. Connelly, Mark. Green Pastures, a play first performed in 1930.
4. Davis, James Calvin. "Theological Perspective" on Jeremiah 1.4-10, Feasting on the Word, pp. 290f.
5. Monsters, Inc. Walt Disney Movies, 2001.