The Song of Assurance

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Music plays an important role in our daily lives and is woven into the fabric of society. We listen to music while alone or in company, in a dance club or at home, through simple headphones or via high-end speakers, as background or as foreground, after we get up or before we go to bed. Music accompanies us when we are traveling, playing or watching sports, shopping, working or relaxing. Music seeps into our souls, and is an important tool for instruction—you can ask any child or adult to sing their ABCs and a smile of recognition will break out.

As music is for us today, so it was for the ancients, and so today we begin a new preaching series for Lent entitled “Songs of Enduring Faith.” Based on lectionary readings from The Book of Psalms, this series explores the breadth of experience and depth of resilience found in God’s people, as revealed through their most central worship materials. Before the psalms were written and saved as scripture, they are first of all part of the soundtrack of God’s people. The psalms contain hymns for worship, proclamations of praise, affirmations of trust, pleas for help, laments of loss, words of pure adoration, and so much more.

Lean in, listen closely, learn the heart of God’s people, and receive the gift of these songs, for they are Songs of Enduring Faith.

Transfigured!

Luke 9:28-36

A ticket is presented, popcorn and a drink purchased, and the viewers sink back into a reclining chair in a darkened theater.  It’s movie night, and time for the show to start. Almost.  First, there are the trailers…the “preview of coming attractions.”

Good movie trailers give an audience the glimpse of what is to come, but never reveal the whole plot.  The audience gets the gist of the film—comedy, tragedy, suspense thriller, love story, etc.—and has some knowledge of the plot revealed.  However, the best trailers only pique the interest of the audience; they never give too much away.

So it is with today’s scripture, and today’s worship.  God reveals in Jesus a preview of coming attractions.  There is a foretaste of Jesus’ future glory, and a revelation of the trials that stand between here and glory.  We overhear the ominous dialogue with Moses and Elijah about what is waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem, we see the mysterious cloud and tremble at the fearsome voice.  We know something of what will come, but so much is not said…so much has yet to be revealed!

Amidst the trials and struggles of this life, the promise of what is to come can only be discovered by following Jesus, and listening carefully to his teaching.  

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 4

Luke 6:27-38

In terms of the ordinary world around us, Jesus sometimes asks too much.  Take for example his teaching in today’s Gospel lesson. It is filled with wonderful, idealized thoughts about the Kingdom of God.  But who really lives like that? Forgive wrongdoers?  Love our enemies?   Pray for the welfare of our abusers? ABUSERS? It’s all well and good for an hour of inspiration on Sunday morning, but who really lives like that?  This is some of the most straightforward teaching in the Bible, yet it is also among the hardest to hear.

Perhaps we have trouble hearing this word because Jesus never really explains this teaching. He just lays it out there—all of the morality and ethics of God’s Kingdom—and lets his hearers wrestle with it.  Apparently, the Kingdom of God is about turning cheeks, and giving to whoever begs, and never expecting loans to be repaid, and being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. To the ungrateful and wicked!  What does Jesus mean by that?

I think he means the Kingdom of God is about turning cheeks, and giving to whoever begs, and never expecting loans to be repaid, and being kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Literally, this is what it’s all about. Such a life seems unrealistic, unattainable, perhaps completely impossible to most believers. And that’s the point. The Kingdom Jesus preached is not built by humans. It is built by love, forged in the furnace of God’s grace. Such a love is unattainable by us, but “what is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 3

Luke 6:17-26

When Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking of God’s promised Kingdom, his words ought to have been received with joy and thanksgiving. And yet, often as not he received criticism as well as praise, and there were many who scorned his teachings. In the gospel of Luke we find reason why revealed in a single word: “reversal.” God’s kingdom reveals the respect, dignity, and rights of all persons, and brings into reality the justice of God. God’s justice is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, the hungry are made full, the persecuted are raised up, and the poor are made rich…but on the other hand those who are rich, respected, and well-fed have already received everything they desire, and many will end up serving instead of being served.

St. Augustine was once reported to have prayed “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but do not give them yet.”  He has not been alone in this prayer, for there are many in this world view the judgement of God with suspicion and fear.  These privileged ones are often found bartering with God to “hold off just a bit” when confronted with God’s justice and the sacrifices demanded by faith. They ask for delay, but there can be none. Too many in our world already live in such desperate circumstances that God’s justice cannot be delayed even one more hour. The kingdom of God is here, and its consolations are meant for all people…even those who are not yet ready to receive.

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 2

Luke 5:1-11

The subject of this morning’s worship is call. The ministry of Jesus grew into what we know today as “church” because Jesus called his disciples. One by one he walked into their busy, mundane lives and disrupted them, saying “follow me.”

In today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel, there are some fishermen sitting by the lakeshore, washing their nets after a long, fruitless night of fishing.  Jesus happens by, pressed to the edge of the lakeshore by a huge throng of people who want to hear his teaching. Jesus asks to use Peter’s boat so that he can sit a little ways offshore and teach the crowds.  After the teaching, Jesus tells the tired fisherman to drop the nets one more time in the deep water. A catch of miraculous proportion is made—one that requires a second boat to haul it in. The fishermen are stunned and startled, even a little frightened. Jesus reassures them, calls them to undertake a new work with him, and they leave their boats and their nets and follow. They’ve left their occupations for a new vocation in Christ.

It still happens today: everyday Jesus finds people living ordinary lives of endless toil and drudgery, and shows them a new clarity and purpose. The initial sense of awe is often accompanied by a fearful “get away from me, Lord!” But Jesus loves them, and by his love they discover a truer version of themselves and follow him in joy.

Presenting the Gospel of Jesus, Pt. 1

Luke 4:14-30

Early in his ministry Jesus made a visit to his home town of Nazareth. It should have been a story of home-town boy makes good. Jesus’ had actually started his public ministry in Capernaum, and news about the authority of his teaching and the power of his healing spread quickly throughout the region. Now he had come “home”, and the local congregation was eager to see for themselves what “Joe and Mary’s kid” might do for them. This was their chance to affirm Jesus and add their voices to the chorus of those who were singing his praise.

But Jesus was not looking for affirmation, or notoriety, or their acceptance. He was there to proclaim God’s kingdom, and announce that he himself embodied the fulfillment of ancient prophecies. In the short time it took him to read and interpret a passage from the prophet Isaiah, the congregation made the journey from expectant to incredulous to indignant to hostile. For They wanted to stone him.  And then Jesus passed through the midst of their hostility and left that place.

Jesus’ message is that the good news free, neither chained exclusively to ancient scripture, nor exiled in perpetuity to some future, unmet promise. The good news Jesus is a present reality, meant for everybody, and on the move. It cannot be domesticated by any congregation or people; those who try are often left with a glimpse of Jesus’ back as strides purposefully onward.