Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best of News

“The Best of News”

Hosea 14:1-2; Hebrews 4:12-16; Luke 17:20-21

Pastor Tom Millner

September 19, 2010

Have you noticed lately that everyone wants to assassinate the character of those who appear to oppose them politically? It’s no better for those who possess opposing theological views…beyond religious affiliation; there is outright hostility among Christians who do not hold to a rigid theological bent. We see bumper stickers with the fish symbol emboldened by WWJD as the vehicle speeds through a just changed red light at the intersection. We tout “Christianese” (Church speak) as we hurl judgment at others who act differently than our ideal of “Christian.” We forget Jesus’ charge in Matthew 7 to “judge not that you be not judged.” We humans are all about power and control. God is about relationship! He already knows who’s in control. He waits patiently for us to get the memo!

I read a story this week from a sermon by Steven Grant. A nine year old boy was sitting at his desk when suddenly there was a puddle at his feet and the front of his pants was wet. He was horrified. This had never happened to him before. How on earth would he be able to face the ridicule of his buddies and the girls having wet his pants? His reputation would be ruined and his relationships forever altered by this single event. What on earth would he do? Someone must notice soon. Suddenly, Susie, one of the girls in his class, came rushing toward him holding a fishbowl full of water. She tripped and flung the entire contents of the fishbowl on the boy, drenching not only his pants but his shirt also. Suddenly, the girl became the center of attention and ridicule as young Timmy became the target of sympathy for being the victim of Susie’s carelessness. She was sorely reprimanded by the teacher as Timmy was summarily whisked away to be dried and consoled. Susie was shunned the rest of the day. As Timmy entered the bus after school he noticed Susie sitting alone, having been ignored by the other students for her carelessness. Timmy sat down beside her and leaned over to say “you did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie responded; “I wet my pants once too.”

A simple story tells a great truth. Susie lived out WWJD. She took the fall to save Timmy from the condemnation that was sure to come his way. I’m reminded of our reading from Hebrews, chapter 4 today: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”

In ancient times the high priest from the tribe of Levi would be the one who would enter the Holy of Holies in faith that the sacrifice made and the life lived would be acceptable before God. Just in case it wasn’t, a rope was tied around the priest’s ankle so that should the priest be struck dead before a pure and holy God, the body of the priest could be pulled from under the curtain. What the book of Hebrews is pointing out is that Jesus is now the High Priest; there’s no rope tethered to His ankle, for He was and remains sinless. Yet there is something very important to this story that makes it such great news: Jesus was tempted in every way as we, knows every moment of pain and suffering that we have or will ever experience and still remains sinless. He has secured the throne on our behalf – He has been the pure and acceptable sacrifice for us. He has accomplished for us what we could never do on our own! He has accomplished all that we’ve ever desired before God – therefore, we can approach the throne of Grace with confidence that no rope is required around our ankles! That’s the best of news- that because of Jesus’ love for us, mercy and grace have gone to the throne before us and we therefore can be confident before our God that He will regard our relationship with Him as having been restored to His original intent when He created us in His image. There’s no more nor less that we must do to be acceptable before Him. Jesus paid the price; He took the fall; He opened the door; He redeemed our being; He rescued our soul; He restored us to still waters. This is the best of news! Why, then, do we so readily ignore it and act as if there’s more for us to do?

Paul identified with this in Romans 7:19 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” For centuries theologians have speculated about what this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was; I believe it was his natural bent for taking matters into his own hands as a means of being acceptable before God. It’s what we humans do; it’s a part of our old nature that we will spend a lifetime setting aside for eternity. I don’t believe Paul harbored any deep dark secret – he was simply human, bound to commit human acts in an effort to gain heavenly acceptance. The rope around the ankle of the dead High Priest proves that effort to be impossible! Why do we continue to live with that same rope around our ankle?

1. Our quest for power! Humans want to be in control. Political institutions and organizational structures are designed with a hierarchical concept – someone(s) must be in charge. We hear “the buck stops here” and think of the one to whom ultimate control is rendered, but more times than not, we hurl ultimate blame to the one or ones who have not lived up to the standard that is set. So then the fight for power ensues to determine the next who will step into the seat of power to restore the confidence that was lost because of one’s perceived failings. We think that if we can somehow be a part of controlling the outcome we’ll be all the better for it. God is not about power, however! He’s about relationship. He’s not about control; He’s about relationship! He’s not about hierarchy; He’s about relationship. When Jesus placed the commandments in perspective He did it in the context of relationship – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” He was calling us to relationship. When He asserted that the second was like the first “to love your neighbor as yourself” He was calling us into relationship. Jesus paid the ultimate price – His life – for our relationship with God. We can’t improve upon what He has already done. Surrender, Dorothy – you’re already in Kansas! Read the Beatitudes in Matthew, Chapter 5 and show me where there is a single mention of having power, respect from others or a hint of being in control. Why are all those folks described as being blessed? Because they are at the bottom of the human system of values and as such are more open to relationship with the God of our creation. There have been those in the past who would seek to pattern themselves after those described in an effort to be more “holy” in the eyes of God. They miserably fail to accomplish the goal – why? The acts were one of placing God in their debt; the antithesis of the Scriptural intent. When we recognize that we are powerless to command His respect, we approach the place of grace and mercy that paves the way to that relationship to which He calls us. There’s another related reason we continue to live with the ankle rope.

2. We want the last word! This is another way we seek to be in control. I’m reminded of the childhood arguments with my ego nemesis; “you’ve got cooties;” “do not;” “do too;” “do not ‘cause you’ve got bigger ones!” “Do not;” “do too…” until the teacher breaks it up. “Do too!” Someone always wants the last word, even if it’s wrong. We laugh at those childhood moments as adults and fail to notice how we’ve taken the same behaviors into what we call adulthood. We engage the same process but we change the subject. We engage in theological cootie fights over orientation or speaking in tongues or you name it. Wounds are created and divisions are established. Churches are formed and encounter groups established to sooth the pain of the emotional wounds that have been inflicted by the gospel cootie hurlers. What patience our Father must have with us! He sees us anguish over the last word from others when in His Word He tells us that He “is the way, the truth and the life.” When He states that “no one comes to the Father except through me,” He’s not being exclusive; He’s being totally welcoming and inclusive! He’s saying we don’t have to find our own way – He’s already made it! He’s taken all the cooties away for everyone – He’s accomplished the cootie free life and seeks for us to join in the only relationship that will ever matter is our life – the one with Him! Yeah, we all have cooties – we’re infested, just like those described in the Beatitudes. Instead of acknowledging it, we fight to declare “do not!” We thus reject God’s love and cootie coverage for the sake of having the last word. Maybe we should be seeking a different last WORD…the Word of God…the one who was in the beginning, was with God, was in fact God. That’s the WORD of relationship and the example of that relationship in action is mercy and grace. God gives us mercy and grace – He expects no less in return, both in relationship with Him and with each other. Suspend the cootie fight; He’s brought the best of news – no more need for control and power – He’s got your back- He’s been there before. Therefore, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence that He seeks us even more fervently than we seek Him. He calls us and He waits patiently. Have you heard the call?

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