Jesus taught and showed us how to live in this world. The hope of life beyond this world is implicit, sometimes explicit, but it is never primary. The gospel is good news for this world, this life, today and tomorrow and each day to come. To be “saved” is to be healed, set free, made whole, empowered for the life given to us through the Spirit.
Long ago, I studied James D. Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion which taught us to ask the question, “If you died tonight and stood before God and he asked you ‘why should I let you into heaven,’ what would you say?” I was never comfortable with that, but now I abhor that approach to being a Christian.
If we don’t die tonight, and we continue to live among people tomorrow, how will we live? What will we do? That’s the question. Jesus taught us to live with people and with God in love. As long as we in this way, we are “saved.”
Vibrant churches with spiritual energy are filled with people who understand the true nature of our creation and calling – to be like God. To be like God who is love, who shows grace and compassion, who is not violent, who gives everything away so that all may live abundantly. (See Genesis 1 and Ephesians 4)
These churches are learning to live with freedom and hospitality, where all are welcome and included. Constraints of institutional demands and of inherited doctrines and traditions are re-examined with humility and love. These are changing churches.
From Brian McLaren:
For many people, to be Christian only one thing matters: correct beliefs. Based on the priorities of many Christian leaders and institutions, we might conclude that Jesus said, ‘By their beliefs you shall know them,’ or ‘This is my command, that you believe the right doctrines,’ or ‘Behold, a new systematic theology I give unto you.’
Or that Paul said, ‘Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not the right theory of atonement, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.’
Or that James said, ‘True religion is this: to have the right concept of spiritual authority.’
Or that John said, ‘God is a doctrine, and those who have the correct beliefs know God and abide in God.’
(pp.21-22 – The Great Spiritual Migration)
[A fantastic book – well worth having a copy of your own.]
Christians “shine” when the light, life, and love of God reflects through them into the world. Judging other beliefs and other behavior give way to a sense of belonging together in the love of God. Here’s my sermon from Sunday – the notes – and a link to the audio.
TEXT: “How to Really Shine”
TITLE: Exodus 34:29-35
THEME: To glorify God is to really shine in the midst of darkness, death, and fear.
- As a teen and young adult, I was embarrassed by my face. It certainly was not “radiant.” It did not shine – although I tried hard to do that. … I had severe acne as a teen, black heads and all, and it left pock marks (which you could still see today if I shaved my beard. )J – I never felt that my face could “really shine.”
- Little children sometimes have shiny faces, radiant, beaming at us. We describe people in love that way at times. – Our stories today speak of both Moses and Jesus that way. … Moses’ face was radiant. And the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, it says, and then says his clothes were dazzling white. – Radiant, dazzling, brilliant – full of shining light. – Moses and Jesus knew how to really shine. J
- Moses had been in God’s presence, talking with God, receiving from God what the people needed to know. God had told Moses who he was – compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness – a description heard throughout the Psalms and the Prophets and revealed in the words and actions of Jesus. – Wherever God is present, we experience compassion and grace, love and faithfulness. No wonder Moses was radiant and came off the mountain “really shining.”
- The story of Jesus’ transfiguration – his appearance clothed in the shining light of God – was only one moment of time. Yet his whole life revealed that shining light. He said, I am the light of the world, and then said to the disciples – and to us – You are the light of the world. Let your light shine so they will glorify your Father in heaven.
- So how can we “really shine”? How can we be radiant and dazzling, not so much in physical appearance but in who we are and how people experience us?
- These stories offer us one answer. Moses was in God’s presence and experienced the compassion and grace, love and faithfulness of God, and had heard God’s “word” to him. Jesus was the embodiment of all that and revealed it to us – and by the Spirit, Jesus has given it to us. We are the light of the world.
- We sing that song – “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” But do we understand the meaning of it? God’s light shines in our hearts, and so we are called to reflect God’s shining light into the darkness of this world. How? … Through compassion and grace, love and faithfulness – by being for others who God is for us all.
- In another scripture for today – 2 Cor. 3 – Paul refers to this story of Moses’ radiant face and then says: We all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into God’s likeness with ever-increasing glory.
- An early saint – Irenaeus (about 200 a.d.) – said “The glory of God is a person fully alive.” Alive with the brilliance of God’s light and life within and expressing itself in the world.
- People have different ideas about the meaning of “the glory of God.” I believe it almost always refers to the brilliance of God’s presence, dazzling light shining in the darkness – true life in the face of death – unfailing love in the midst of fear and hate.
- To glorify God – to give God the glory – is to be a shining light – to really shine in this world – in the darkness, in the face of death, in the midst of fear and hate – to let God’s light and life and love within us shine forth in all we do, in who we are.
- We won’t go up a mountain to meet God as Moses did. We won’t be transfigured as Jesus was. – We can, however, experience God’s presence, and listen to God’s voice, and experience compassion and grace, love and faithfulness. – Then as God’s light and life and love shines in our hearts and fills up our whole being, we can go out into the world and “really shine.”
Sermon notes from February 24 on Luke’s version of Jesus’ sermon
(The audio version of the sermon can be heard here.)
TEXT: Luke 6:27-38
TITLE: “Do Unto Others”
THEME: If we would do this, we would be close to perfect love.
- One day as I was preaching from Jesus’ words, I came to this verse: Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.…. And a woman raised her hand and asked, “Even my new riding lawnmower?”
- Jesus said many things that challenge us, and these words are perhaps the most challenging.
Love your enemies – “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? – God’s love knows no boundaries. It is given to all people. God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked – a God of mercy / compassion.
- Do good (even) to those who hate you – This is tough stuff! Bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you. Do good to your enemies and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. – Who does that? Jesus’ followers. Those who would be like Jesus, who choose to do God’s will by following the way of Jesus.
- Turn the other cheek – Walter Wink described the cultural background for why each of the examples (turning the cheek, giving everything, going a second mile) could be a way to stand up for yourself in the face of greater power without violence. For example, a backhanded slap showed dominance, but a open palm slap happened between equals.
- Do not judge/condemn – This is where the Golden Rule comes in. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. – Do I want judgment and condemnation from other people? People who don’t know me, who don’t know what happens in my life? Who don’t understand me? No, of course not. Do I want other people to forgive me when I make a mistake or even when I do something wrong toward them? Of course I do.
- Give generously – Give, and it will be given to you. – Be generous toward others, and others will be generous toward you. Be generous toward God, for God has already been generous toward us. Generosity and compassion are two essential characteristics of the lives of those who follow Jesus.
- All of this can be understood best by focusing on what we have come to call the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you. – Some people have thought it humorous to turn it around and say “Do to others before they do to you.” That’s only NOT funny, it’s all too common in this world – and it sums up the opposite of everything Jesus said here.
- If we would do this one thing in every situation – treat others the way we want to be treated, we would come close to a perfect love. – We find some version of this in all religions:
- Choose for your neighbor what you choose for yourself.
- Do nothing to others which would cause you pain if done to you.
- What I wish not done to me, I wish to not do to others.
- One should seek for others the happiness one seeks for oneself.
- What you hate, do not do to anyone.
- One problem with the Golden Rule is that we are not all the same. I may want you to treat me differently than you want to be treated. Different personalities, different cultures, different backgrounds – there are many reasons for this. … That’s where empathy comes in. Seek to understand the other person enough to know that she or he may want something different from me than I want for myself.
- Still … it’s true in most circumstances. I want people to respect me, to be kind to me, to listen to me, to forgive me, to …. – Surely we all want other people to treat us in these ways, so we choose to treat them this way no matter what.
- I couldn’t quite answer the woman’s question. If I bought a new riding lawnmower and someone took it or borrowed it and wouldn’t return it… well, “that’s different.” – But we can often find reasons to say “that’s different” and excuse ourselves from doing what Jesus taught us to do and to live as Jesus lived.
- I invite you to choose the way of following Jesus and let him give you strength and power to do it.
Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. – “Christian faith is not dying. Rather, it is embarking on a once-in-an-era spiritual shift….Growing numbers of Christians are moving away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and towards a way of life defined by love.” [It’s about time!]
Listen to the sermon.
TEXT: James 1:19-27
TITLE: “Out of the Mouth…”
THEME: Listen, then speak, from compassionate hearts.
- There have always been people who just say things. Do they even think about what they’re going to say before they speak? – In this day of talk show hosts who go on and on about any subject – of talk shows where people shout over each other, of FB and Twitter posts shared to thousands, even millions, of people at a time – of politicians (from the president on down) who seem to say whatever they think their supporters want to hear … in this day, we need to listen to the words of James and of Mark more than ever.
- We need to practice wise discernment and judgment about who and what we listen to. We also need to discern our own motives and judge our own words all the time – at home, in church, on the job, in school, on FB….wherever! This, according to James, is at the heart of our faith …. Those who do consider themselves religious must keep a tight rein on their tongues – so they do not deceive themselves and so their religion is not worthless. … Pretty strong language!
- Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry – Excellent advice! …. “2 ears, 1 mouth – to listen twice as much as we talk” …. More often than not, it seems, people are quick to speak and slow to listen, if they listen at all. And too often, what we say comes from anger and not love.
- In this context James says …. get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
- What is immoral and evil? James suggests that angry speech and spoken words which do not come from love are moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.
- Christians have too often focused on sexual matters when they want to talk about sin. Look at the two most common conservative causes – abortion and homosexuality. Both have to do with sexuality – and when conservative men talk about them, it is women or gay men who are judged as sinful.
- Yet for James, what is said about women and gay men in these contexts … that is the true evil.
- Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. …. The royal law, according to James, is love. Love gives freedom. If we want to speak freely in any situation, then it must come from love. – Speak the truth in love!
- James gets his “material” from Jesus! – In the Mark passage, Jesus says all these evil things come from the heart …. not just sexual sins, but deceit, greed, envy, slander, pride, and just plain foolishness (what is not wise!). … Then if we compare the parallel passage in Matthew 15, Jesus says clearly that what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles us.
- Sometimes we do say things we don’t mean. As soon as the words are out of our mouth, we know that really is not what is truly in our hearts. That happens. … But more commonly, as both Jesus and James say, what we say is what is in our hearts. We speak from the heart – not always from the mind. If we thought about it, we might not say it. But what we want to say is what we truly feel.
- Begin with the heart. – Choose our words carefully is good advice. But if what we really want to say does not come from love – if it would wound someone or damage a reputation or cause division – then our hearts need to change. Not saying it is not enough. Begin with the heart.
- Listen with compassionate hearts. Listen long and deep with love for the other person. – Then we can speak with the same compassion and love. We will find words to express what is in our hearts for them.
- If we are doing that, we must also listen with wise discernment and judgment to what other people say. Hold them accountable – at every level of nation and community – for what they say comes from their hearts as well. …. Let us listen and speak from compassionate hearts and expect other people to do the same!
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
From Richard Rohr
Center for Action and Contemplation
A Changing Religion
Monday, September 3, 2018
Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.
Several writings illustrate this early commitment to Jesus’ teachings on simplicity and generosity. For example, the Didache, compiled around 90 CE, says: “Share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish!” 
The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in 311 CE. In 313, Constantine (c. 272-337) legalized Christianity. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning money and war. Morality became individualized and largely focused on sexuality. The church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point. Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing the “pagans.”
Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas.The Roman basilicas were large buildings for court and other public assembly, and they became Christian worship spaces.
When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion!
The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap. In effect, we Christians took Jesus out of the Trinity and made him into God on a throne. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible. Relationship—the shape of God as Trinity—was no longer as important. Christianity’s view of God changed: the Father became angry and distant, Jesus was reduced to an organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes, the Holy Spirit was forgotten.
The New Testament does not speak well of putting stumbling blocks in the way of people seeking to know God. Many people in the Church have done just that in the past 40 years. Naming “abortion” and “homosexuality” as dividing lines between those who believe the Bible and those who do not has made these two issues major stumbling blocks.
Where does the Bible even say anything about abortion? Where does it say anything about faithful Christians choosing to be in a loving relationship with someone of the same gender? The answer to both questions is that the Bible does not. There are, of course, scriptures which people interpret to say that either one is sinful, but those are interpretations which many of us do not accept. It simply is false to say the Bible says clearly that either abortion or same-sex relationships is a sin against God.
I am more than willing to look at the Bible with people and honestly, openly discuss our questions and ideas. I am not willing to simply argue back and forth – which is what the Church has been doing for too long. The result is that too many people seeking to know God, to follow Jesus, to live as a Christian have found these two issues to be stumbling blocks to their faith. And that is wrong.