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As a little child

July 18th, 2012 No comments

“As a little child” (Matthew 18:1-5; 19:13-15)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
July 15, 2012 (Child Dedication), Grace Hill Mennonite Church

One of my favorite Bible stories when I was a child was the calling of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 1-3). I would lie awake at night, wondering if I too would hear the Lord, hoping that I too would hear the Lord say, “Peter, Peter.”

Samuel’s mother Hannah came to the temple at Shiloh, and she prayed fervently for a child. So fervent were her prayers that the poor jaded priest Eli thought she was drunk. At last, Samuel was born, and his mother brought him and presented him before the Lord to dedicate his life to God. The boy Samuel was to grow up at the temple under Eli’s care, ministering there.

The word of the Lord was rare indeed in those days, and visions were not widespread. Then one night, as Samuel was lying down, he heard a voice, “Samuel! Samuel!” Well, little Samuel replied “Here I am,” and he got up and ran to Eli, and he said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said, “I didn’t call. Go back to bed.”

Then again, Samuel heard the voice of the Lord, “Samuel! Samuel!” And he said, “Here I am!” and he ran off to Eli again. And again Eli sent him back to bed. And a third time, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel ran off to Eli, but this time Eli realized it was the Lord, and he told Samuel what to do. So the next time, the Lord came, and stood right there, and called, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

“Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said.

I used to lie awake at night, just waiting to hear my name, “Peter! Peter!” And I was ready to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” . . . I used to lie awake at night, just waiting to hear my name, “Peter! Peter!” Now, most often, by the time I get to bed, I’m too tired to think about much of anything. Or if I do, it’s about the tasks of the next day, all the things I need to remember to do, people to call and visit, prayers that need praying, books that need balancing, house and yard that need maintaining.

But I can’t say that I stay awake just listening for God’s call anymore. And I wonder how many times God has come and stood in my bedroom saying “Peter! Peter!” and I haven’t heard.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “I think that God is the only child left in the universe and all the rest of us have grown old and cynical because of sin.”
 

There was a three-year-old girl who was the only child in her family, and when her parents told her that she was going to have a little brother or sister, she became incredibly excited. When the time came, and her parents brought the new baby home from the hospital, within a few hours, this little girl asked if she could be alone with the baby. She insisted on being alone with the baby with the door closed. Well, of course that would make just about any adult just a little uneasy, but they had a baby monitor in the room, so they decided they could do this and rush in if there was a problem.

So the girl went into the room and shut the door, and the parents dashed off for the monitor to listen. They heard the footsteps in the room as they imagined their daughter standing at the crib, and then they heard her saying to her three-day-old brother, “Tell me about God – I’ve almost forgotten.”1

How quickly do we forget that we come from God! A number of years ago, a group of researchers asked various young people, “Have you at times felt that God is particularly close to you?” 84% of first graders said yes. Fifth graders: 69%. Seventh-graders: 57%. Eleventh graders: 47%.2

Every morning when Sophia wakes up, as I’m taking her to the changing table, as I’m groggily thinking of how nice it would have been if she’d slept another half hour, and thinking about everything that needs doing today, she looks up at me with a great big smile, as if to say, “Look, Dad, it’s another new day! Isn’t that exciting?!”

So quickly we forget that we come from God. So quickly we lose the excitement of each new day. We’re quickly socialized into learning about this world and focusing on self: self-improvement, self-assessment, self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-centeredness, self-anxiety, self-trust, and perhaps most alienating, self-righteousness and self-reliance. We forget the One from whom we come, and the One in whom we live.

In school and at work, we do and say the things that establish the reputation we desire and win the approval of others – whether or not that’s who God made us to be. In church, we put on the right smiles, pretend to know the right Scripture passages, say the right prayers, enjoy the right music, hold the right ideology to win the approval of the church family, whether that’s the particular, unique faith or role in the body of Christ to which God has called us or not.

The still, small voice, the Christ within, speaks the truth, calling relentlessly in the night. We hear it, yet pretend we do not. We take the easy path instead of the right one; we keep silent when our voice needs to be heard; we speak when silence is needed. We deny the darkness within, “giving it more power” over us rather than letting the light of Christ reveal it, or we “project it onto other people, creating ‘enemies’ where none exist” and make true relationships impossible due to our own inauthenticity.3

Last night as a small thunderstorm came a-rolling through North Newton, I was reminded of the story of a young girl whose room was on the top story of the house. Well, one evening, a mighty thunderstorm whipped up, and there was lightning and thunder and hail and a great wind. And this girl’s parents were downstairs dutifully watching the radar on television as grown-ups do, making sure there was no hook echo or sign of danger to be seen. But then they got to wondering and worrying not just about the weather, but about their daughter. Why hadn’t she come down? Was she okay? Surely she was horribly afraid of this mighty storm! So they went to check on her, and they found her looking out the window, her face and hands nearly plastered to it. The parents asked her if she was okay. And she replied, “Oh yes, I think God is trying to take my picture!”

So there she was, heedless of the thunder and the hundreds of thousands of amps passing right through the atmosphere, just putting herself on display for God. “Unless you change and become like children,” Jesus said, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

How many of us want to be on display for God? Most people I meet are pretty down on themselves. Insecure. God calls, and we usually say, “No, I can’t do that. Not me. Someone else would do better. I’m not good enough.” People know how much is wrong with them, and they get down on themselves. Get caught on God’s camera? No thanks. Well, yes there’s a lot wrong with you, and with me too. Even children aren’t perfect if I remember my own childhood. But don’t forget that you come from God. Don’t forget that God loves you. Don’t forget that when you stand with Jesus Christ in his glory, you stand without blemish, whole, redeemed, on display for God, ready to be called. As a little child.
 

So quickly do we become encumbered by the thoughts and concerns of grown-ups. Saint Francis of Assisi is now famous for his peaceable spirit and his simple living. But much less famous was one of his good friends, Brother Juniper. Brother Juniper was really quite simple in both his living and also, one might say, his thinking. A child trapped in an adult’s body.

Well, one day the steward of the cathedral, against what one might call better judgment, left Brother Juniper in charge of the cathedral. Later that day a woman came begging for food and money. And, of course Brother Juniper himself had nothing to offer, but he saw that there were some silver bells on the altar that must be worth something. So with child-like innocence he went right ahead and cut them off and gave them to the woman. It was God’s house after all, and those must be there for someone in need.

Well, as it turns out, those bells weren’t a part of the care fund after all. And the flabbergasted steward ran off to tell the Bishop what had happened to those incredibly valuable silver bells. When the Bishop heard of it, as the story goes, so intense was his frustration and so impassioned was his rebuke of Brother Juniper that he lost his voice.

Brother Juniper felt bad that he’d angered the Bishop, so he decided to fix some stew and take it to the Bishop to make amends and to soothe the good Bishop’s sore throat. So after his chores were done for the day, he prepared the stew and showed up at the Bishop’s quarters at 3am with a piping hot pot of stew. The bishop was not impressed at being awakened at 3am for snack time, and he told Brother Juniper that he wanted nothing to do with him or his stew.

And Brother Juniper replied with the innocence of a child, “Well, could you then hold the candle for me so that I may eat it before it goes cold.” Which caused the Bishop to lose his voice again – but this time from laughing at the absurdity of this childish monk. The Bishop held the candle, and they ate the soup together.

Brother Juniper, how very childish he was indeed. Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child will be greatest in the kingdom.”
 

It’s kind of difficult for us to understand just how humble, weak, and vulnerable children were in Jesus’ day. Some estimate that two thousand years ago, 30% of infants didn’t survive their first few hours. Of those who did survive, another 30% didn’t make it to age 6. Of those who made it that far, another 60% were gone by age 16.4

Now of course every child’s life was especially precious with such a mortality rate, but how much do suppose a society would invest in children, when the odds were so stacked against a child surviving to adulthood? No education system open to all. No summer rec commission. Children of commoners were officially nobodies, not worthy of investment. They were totally dependent on whatever their parents could muster to care for them. They relied on the care of a merciful God.

Reflecting on war-torn Serbia, Kurt Bestor wrote “Prayer of the Children,” a favorite of the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus in recent years:

Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying,” Jesus, help me
to see the morning light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.”
Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto
but hope for a better day, a better day.
Crying,” Jesus, help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home,
give me loving arms, away from harm.
Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying,” Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you’re near,
bringing peace again.”
Can you hear the prayer of the children?

What can a child in a war-torn land do but pray? They are utterly dependent. They have nothing, nothing but the care of a merciful God.

When Luke tells the story of Jesus blessing the little children, he makes it clear that these children were infants – utterly dependent, completely helpless. “To such as these the kingdom of God belongs,” Jesus said. No more self-centeredness. No more self-achievement. No more self-reliance. Just total dependence and trust in God.

The famous pastor and evangelist Tony Campolo was once walking with his son Bart in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and a little boy came up to his son begging for money. Tony told is son not to give him anything because if he did, every kid in Port Au Prince would be on top of him and he wouldn’t be left alone until they’d gotten every penny out of him. And his boy looked up at him and said, “So?”5

So? Apparently children don’t realize that you could end up giving everything you have in the name of Christ. Or more precisely, apparently they don’t realize that’s a problem. Complete trust. Jesus said, “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is greatest in the kingdom.”
 

You’re never too old or to young to surrender to God, to be shaped for God’s kingdom, to become like a child again. Jesus suggested to an old teacher that he be born again (John 3). He says to all of us, “Here, come to me and be born again. Become a child again. Let me take control of your life and do my thing.”

It’s actually not that hard to welcome Jesus into your life. One way to do it, Jesus said, is to welcome such a child. “When you welcome one such child in my name, you welcome me,” he said. Just imagine letting go and opening your arms. Imagine little-by-little letting go of the things you cling to so tightly: fear, anxiety, and worry; what others think of you behind your; back; resentment; security; control; possessions; power; achievements and status; even life itself. And as you let go, open your arms to welcome the children.

There are little ones all around – helpless and hungry little children, homeless children in adults’ bodies. Elderly children with no family who visit. Teenage children abandoned to the streets. Children of all ages with addictions, with diseases, with loads of baggage.

Our task isn’t just to pass out food for these children, but to invite them to our table. To our homes. To our church. To our Wednesday evening activities. To our worship. To our fellowship and service. To welcome them into our lives. Do that, and you welcome Jesus, and who knows, if you open your arms wide wide wide to Jesus, so wide that you let go of every last penny, every last worry, every last bit of control, maybe you’ll remember that you also came from God, maybe you’ll stop worrying about yourself and start trusting God again, maybe you’ll hear God calling your name in the night, and you’ll be reborn as a child again as well.

“Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. To such as these the kingdom of heaven belongs. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Do you hear God calling in the night, “Grace Hill! Grace Hill!” Speak Lord, your children are listening. Amen.

Notes:
1. Originally told by Tony Campolo, e.g. “If I Should Wake Before I Die,” http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/campolo_3627.htm
2. Kalevi Tamminen, “Religious Experiences in Childhood and Adolescence,” in International Journey for the Psychology of Religion (1994), 61-85.
3. Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, 4. Palmer also lists several hallmarks of the divided life here.
4. Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 117.
5. Campolo, “If I should wake before I die.”

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

Hidden Treasure!

July 13th, 2012 No comments

“Hidden Treasure!” (Matthew 13:44-46)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
June 10, 2012, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Have you understood all this?
Now, if you read on a little ways further in Matthew chapter 13, you will find that after Jesus is finished teaching, he turns to his disciples and asks, “Have you understood all this?” Jesus has just spent the day teaching the greatest mystery of life, the deepest secrets of the kingdom of heaven and the most profound truths about God, and not only that, but he has been teaching by telling parables – spinning yarns, speaking in riddles.

“Have you understood all this?”

A most astounding question because not only has he been teaching the deepest secrets of the kingdom by telling riddles, he’s been telling these theological conundrums to fisher folk and common people. These weren’t Israel’s great scribes and scholars who studied in seminary at Jerusalem and sat at the feet of the high priest. These didn’t even know how to read and study the Scriptures for themselves!

“Have you understood all this? Have you understood the secrets of the kingdom of heaven?” And these disciples, these common folk from backwater Galilee, these men and women who can’t even read, they answer quite simply, “Yes.” “Yes, we have understood.” “We have understood the deepest secrets of the kingdom and the most profound truths about God.” Astounding! But, then again, the kingdom of God is like that, is it not? It’s not just for the learned, for the powerful, for the rich, but especially for the poor and the plain, the humble and hopeless.

Jesus responds by telling his disciples that they are like scribes trained not for the university, not for the temple, not for books and scrolls, but for the Kingdom, like a master of a house who brings out great treasure – the new and the old. What is this new thing, this kingdom that Jesus is bringing around which they are orienting their lives? Well, it is in fact the great treasure of old, the just reign of God.

On the hunt
The Psalm (146) from our call to worship is like a picture, a snapshot of that treasure, of God’s kingdom of restoring justice, who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry; who sets the prisoners free; who opens the eyes of the blind; who lifts up those who are bowed down; who loves the righteous, watches over the stranger, upholds the orphan and widow, and subverts the way of the wicked. Is this not incredibly relevant, down-to-earth, good news for the world in which we live? Jesus’ Gospel of this kind of God and this kind of kingdom is good news for the world.

Jesus told his followers to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s justice – also translated God’s righteousness, and here in Matthew 13, he tells them a couple of parables about seeking – going treasure hunting for the kingdom.

Do you remember when the Antiques Roadshow came to Wichita? Well, normally that show’s not exactly my cup of tea, but in that episode, something caught my eye. A woman, in going through her grandfather’s stash of stuff after he died, had stumbled upon a rookie year Mickey Mantle (now you know why I was interested) paycheck with Mantle’s signature on the back that her grandfather had cashed for Mantle and kept. The paycheck was from the Minor League Intependence, KS Yankees baseball team. The appraiser estimated the value at between $30,000 and $50,000.

We all love a good treasure tale, don’t we, or one of those surprise stories where the hero comes into unexpected riches? Actually, just about every culture in the world has them. There’s Ali Baba and the forty thieves and the now-famous password, “Open Sesame!” Or think of all the tales of pirates on the high seas and their constant quests after treasure and riches. We’ve got treasure tales in our age as well, and Hollywood has taken a special liking to them: The Italian Job, Ocean’s 11, National Treasure. We’ve even got treasure-hunting game shows: Wheel of Fortune. The Price Is Right. The Amazing Race. There are even real-world treasure hunters diving in pressurized underwater vessels to explore the riches long lost to the depths of the sea.

Now of course, a big part of the excitement and the thrill of telling these stories and watching these shows is that we get to imagine ourselves feeling the shovel strike the chest buried in the ground and breaking off the lock, or discovering the secret entry into the cavern of riches, or getting a surprise inheritance or winning the big prize. And then you wonder, “What would life be like once I’ve got the treasure – once I’m the latest millionaire or billionaire?” “What would I do with all that loot? Give it to charity? Set up my family for generations to come? Get lots of fun gadgets and slick cars? Pay off the mortgage, make some improvements around the place? Build a baseball field? Would I retire early?”

“How would the treasure change me? Would it go to my head? Would I still be like an ordinary person? Would I try to use my wealth to gain respect, power, influence, to set the agenda the way I think it should be set, get my name on some building, buy/give my way onto some board of directors so people will listen to me? Purchase a little ‘freedom of expression’ as the politicians like to call it?”

Glen Stassen, in Living the Sermon on the Mount, writes,

We know the reality: if we invest all our money in an expensive and luxurious car, then a significant amount of our caring and attention will go to how the car is doing. This is what is meant by our heart following our possessions. If, on the other hand, we invest our money in education and evangelism; prevention of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and poverty; in orphanages in poor countries [and here at home!], and agricultural development and teaching the gospel there, then we will pay more attention to how people we have given to are doing and how U.S. Policies affect their lives. What Jesus is teaching about investment, heart, and a way of seeing reflects reality. Jesus’ transforming initiative is realistic: invest it in God’s reign, in justice and charity, and your heart will be invested there as well.1

Treasure amid the rocks
Part of any treasure story isn’t just the opportunities and the thrill, not just the valuables, but also the values. That’s the kind of treasure tale Jesus tells his disciples. It’s one about kingdom valuables and kingdom values. He said the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that’s been hidden in a field. Now you and I probably store our treasure in safe deposit boxes or electronic savings accounts or fireproof safes, but in the ancient world, the surest place to bank your riches was in a jar secretly buried in a field somewhere.

You’ve probably heard the story about a young Bedouin shepherd who was throwing stones in 1947 near the Dead Sea, when he heard a sound like breaking pottery. Thinking he had perhaps found some buried riches, he went and got his cousin, and as the tale goes, he fell into a cave, and discovered jars filled not with coins or jewels, but with scrolls – including many of the oldest copies of the Old Testament known to exist. The scrolls had been hidden to protect and preserve them from an invading and occupying Roman army. Treasure indeed, but of a much different kind. The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered one of the most valuable finds in biblical archaeology in a millennium! They’ve changed the way the Bible is translated – a hidden treasure of God’s word literally stumbled upon.

The treasure hidden in Jesus’ parable is buried out in a field. Now in this first parable, the man isn’t out looking for treasure. He’s not walking about with his fancy metal detector seeping the field. Most likely, he’s a tenant farmer out plowing the field of some absentee landlord, when chunk, his plow jerks to a stop. Now the fields out around Galilee are filled with limestone and basalt rocks. Nothing new here. The farmer grumbles, and goes to move the rock and reset the plow, and he sees not a rock, but a pottery lid. Heart racing and hands shaking with excitement, he unseats the jar from the earth, removes the lid, and. . . Ahoy! Buried Treasure!

See him jumping for joy all over the rock-riddled field. But suddenly he comes to himself. Flopping around the field like a fish out of water in the middle of a field is the sort of peculiarity that could attract attention. And attention is not what one wants when one finds a hidden treasure. So he looks around suspiciously as he puts the jar back where he found it, sets the plow back to its task and keeps working, though with a little added zip in his step.

Being a tenant farmer, the land wasn’t his, and neither was the treasure, so as soon as he’s off work, he rushes home, runs about the house gathering up everything that could fetch even a meager price – flour, furniture, cookware, the family milk cow, poultry, little heirlooms tucked away here and there in the house. He turns it all into quick cash – his whole life savings and everything he owns – imagine how his wife felt about that! – and dashes off to buy that plain old rock-riddled piece of land.

Now do you suppose he told the owner of the field about the treasure buried there? Finders keepers, eh? But not only is this particular tenant farmer a little on the sneaky side, he is also woefully ignorant. You see, according to Jewish law, any treasure found in a field was to be returned to the original owner.2 Has the farmer invested his whole life’s savings, only to lose everything in the end? What a paradox! What an astounding surprise! Then again, the kingdom of God is like that, you know.

Which goal? Which treasure?
Unfortunately, Jesus gives no further consideration to the conundrum of this man with the treasure and what will come of it. Instead, he goes right on to tell another parable, and this one is similar, but also different. Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who is searching for fine pearls and when he finds just one pearl of great value, and very much like our farmer in the previous parable, he sells all that he has – all his jewels and merchandise and livestock and whatever other inventory and currency he has, to buy that one pearl. But unlike the treasure in the field, this is no accidental find. He has been searching high and low for this pearl of great value.

Are you the merchant? Are you relentlessly searching for something of great value? What’s your goal in life? Security? Achievement? Success? Service? Purpose? Respect? Influence? What are you seeking? Are you seeking security? Well, you won’t find it in princes or presidents, who return to the earth, and their plans with them. You won’t find it in abundance of possessions either – things that whither, fade, and can be destroyed by something as little as a termite or as unpredictable as churning markets. But seek first God’s kingdom, and you’ll have a treasure and security in God, and in serving others.

Are you seeking achievement or success or purpose with your life? Well, your search is over, friend, because you’ve got a place in the greatest thing ever to come across this earth. You’ve got a place in God’s kingdom. You get to help proclaim justice for the oppressed, feed the hungry, set free those who are bound, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down, care for the stranger, uphold the weak and vulnerable, and subvert the way of the wicked by doing so!

If you’re looking for service, then you are indeed close to the heart of God. You see, God needs harvesters and healers and witnesses and sharers and compassionate hands and open hearts. It’s all going on in God’s kingdom right here. Do you want to seek God’s restoring justice? Go see what’s happening with the homeless shelter, or with the summer food for kids program. Do you want to seek God’s righteousness in your own life? Join a discipleship group here at church and see, just see where God will lead you. God’s got a life in mind where yes means yes, where servants are great, where fidelity is practiced in relationships, where enemies are prayed for, where the poor are fed, where we all get to see God face to face! Do you want to seek God’s kingdom? Then pray, friends, pray for that kingdom to come right here in the middle of Kansas, right at home in your living room, right here in our church, right here in your heart.

Will you take the plunge? Will you go head-over-heals for God’s kingdom? Is your goal in life to give yourself so completely to God’s kingdom that if all you had left at the end of the day was that one pearl or great value, that would be more than enough? Are you someone with goals? Are you on a quest in life for meaning, purpose? What are your goals in life? God’s got a kingdom in mind for you.

Surprise Kingdom!
Well, okay, not all of us have lofty goals. Most of us aren’t so taken with ambition. Not all of us are on a great quest for security or purpose or achievement or success or service or whatever. A lot of us don’t have such an incredibly clear vision of what we want out of life, because, well, there’s enough to cope with in life as it is. There’s planting or harvesting or traveling or cooking or fixing or communicating or developing or adding or getting kids from one place to the next or committee meetings or sitting in the pew on Sunday morning.

Isn’t the routine in life already more than enough without grandios dreams? Aren’t most days just pretty ordinary days? Don’t a lot of us just want to get the plow from one end of the field to the other, hitting as few rocks as possible, so we can go home, pick up the pieces, and start all over tomorrow – when clank! The plow stops dead in its track. You’ve hit something. Your routine is upended – maybe you lose a loved one. Maybe there’s a fissure in a relationship. Maybe a major illness. Maybe a choice you wish you could undo. Maybe you’re seeing whatever dreams you had vanish away. Maybe it is a big old nasty rock that’s just gonna make a long day even longer, gonna make a tough life even tougher.

But maybe not. Maybe you’ve hit a treasure, an unexpected gift buried just beneath that rocky surface of your life. The kingdom of God is like that, Jesus said. You’re plowing along through life, when clank! You hit something that breaks your routine. Maybe a baby is born and that little gift from God shakes up the routine. Maybe in your moment of need, the Word of God is there for you, to comfort you, to protect you, to give you hope and a glimmer of light for a dark night.

Maybe it sounds like a plain old rock, maybe it looks like just another bump in the road, but you dig deeper, and discover. . . hidden treasure! The treasure of the kingdom is hidden all over – it grows up slowly, subversively, like a pesky mustard weed. And sometimes we just trip right over it. It’s there, but we don’t know until it unexpectedly surfaces. Treasures all around.

Something beneath the soil and rocks of your day ends up being the priceless pearl, the hidden treasure. It’s almost like something from another realm – another kingdom – is breaking through the surface of your life. The kingdom of God is like that, Jesus says. How often do rocks become treasures if we stop and look? The right song at just the right time? A hug from a friend on a tough day. The riches of your faith tradition to carry you through. Suddenly you find that you’ve stubbed your toe on the foundation Christ has laid, and you discover riches you can’t even imagine.

That’s what the kingdom of God is like – unforseeen treasure, buried amidst all the other stuff of our lives that suddenly pops up and makes us stop and change course, again and again. That’s the priceless pearl of the kingdom, of new life and new hope in Christ.

The kingdom comes as a gift, you see. The tenant farmer plowing in the field neither earned nor owned the treasure he tripped over. But when he found it, the pure joy of it drove him to sell everything to receive it. And since the field – much less the treasure – wasn’t even legally his, this gift came outside the law. “It was an unearned, lawless gift.”3 Then did the farmer jump head over heels to receive it.

Truth be told, God’s kingdom isn’t the sort of thing that you can buy. It’s a gift, a little thing called grace. How can you possibly buy God’s kingdom? Sometimes, we gracefully and carefully find its treasure, some times we just stub our big ol’ toe on it. But however or whenever we find it – or perhaps even better, however or whenever God’s kingdom finds us4 – whether we’re desperate to be found or don’t even know we’re lost – suddenly we have a choice.

Will I stop what I’m doing? Will I go and dig up that treasure? Will I invest myself so heavily in it that I allow it to realign my values and priorities so much that all I want is that treasure of God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness and justice? May that be our vision, our dream, our goal, our purpose, and our life.

Then we will understand the secrets of the kingdom, and great indeed will our treasure be.

Notes:
1. Glen Stassen, Living the Sermon on the Mount, 133.
2. J. Duncan M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament, 6-13.
3. Leo Hartshorn, “Finding is the First Act.” Some other ideas are adapted from this sermon as well.
4. Read closely: the kingdom is like the searching merchant!

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

Joined with Christ

July 13th, 2012 No comments

“Joined with Christ” (Mark 10:35-45; John 13:12-15)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
June 3, 2012, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

The following was presented together with a digital presentation/outline.

A fancy title and a measure of power?
These past several weeks, you may recall, we’ve been talking about living as kingdom people. And we’ve talked about transformation and mission and yielding to God’s kingdom and purposes and demonstrating and proclaiming the kingdom and making kingdom people.

Now in Jesus. time, many people were eagerly awaiting the kingdom of God, and there was much discussion about what God’s kingdom would look like and how people would participate in it. So when Jesus came proclaiming that the kingdom was at hand, why, of course he caught the attention of a wide variety of people. And actually, among Jesus’ ragtag little band of disciples was a at least one person who was known to have been a part of a political party that would today most likely be labeled a terrorist organization1 – sowing anger, hatred, and violence in hopes of establishing God’s kingdom!

But most people weren’t so extreme in their views or in their practices. Think of James and John in the first gospel reading for this morning. Now they’re certainly a precocious pair, presuming to ask Jesus to do whatever they may ask!

But is their request really that unreasonable? They want to sit on Jesus’ right and on his left in the glory of the kingdom. They’d been working hard, traveling throughout Galilee and Judea, healing, watching warily as their opponents were plotting against them. And they were just looking for a little recognition, a little status, a little comfort and respect after all the hard work.

And isn’t that the way it works? What’s wrong with wanting a cabinet seat in the new administration. You support your guy, and you get rewarded for your efforts. That’s the way the kingdoms of the world work. That’s what the kingdom life should look like, right? You need a little power and authority, a fancy title by your name if you’re going to change this world, don’t you? You work hard, you climb the ladder, and then you can finally make some changes, and yes, you get rewarded for it.

Well, no, that’s not how God’s kingdom works. “You know how that works out – how all these quests for power and status play out,” Jesus says: oppression, tyranny. God’s kingdom looks different, works differently. Much differently. In God’s kingdom, the greatest are actually servants, and the first are actually slaves. Because, you see, the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for a ransom for many!

You know, if you want to see what the kingdom life looks like, if you want to see how you can participate in the kingdom, well, it really is quite simple.

Joined with Jesus
As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, people were starting to get excited! The kingdom was finally coming to the holy city! But Jesus had no army to oust those pig-headed Romans. No wealth. Just a bunch of disciples with dusty feet. So one day, as Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem, some of the Pharisees asked him when this thing was going to happen, when this kingdom was going to arrive, when things were gonna get rolling finally.

And Jesus looked at them and said, “People aren’t gong to say: ‘Here it is! Or There it is!’ The kingdom of God is among you!” (Luke 17:21). You see, if you really want to see the kingdom and catch a glimpse of the kingdom life, you don’t actually have to search high and low or figure out any great mystery or attain any great knowledge, because it’s right in front of us, among us. All you have to do is look to Jesus, and you’ll see the kingdom life.

If you read through the New Testament, you’ll find that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament are constantly talking about following Jesus, or waking in his footsteps, or taking his example, or being transformed and conformed to his image, or imitating him, or letting him rule in our hearts, or making his life visible in our own life. . . the list could go on and on and on.2 But what all these have in common is being joined with Jesus, sharing his life, his death, his resurrection.

There’s much to be said about this, but I’d like to break it down into three ways to think about – and more importantly, actually practice – being joined with Jesus: Caring about what Jesus cared about, living as Jesus lived, and sharing Jesus’ inward character of heart and mind.

  1. Caring about what Jesus cared about
    1. Those the world kicks aside, forgets, and shuns

Jesus cared about those whom the world kicks aside as it goes speeding by: Lepers, poor, blind, lame, the sick, the prisoner, the hungry.3 Jesus came proclaiming good news for the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:17-19). He taught his disciples that those who tended to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner would inherit the kingdom (Mt. 25:34-36). He cared for those whom his culture thought insignificant: women, children, and despised Samaritans, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and those unable to fulfill the law’s obligations.4

    1. The powerful

Jesus cared about those with power and authority as well. He invited the rich to a new life; he spent many hours with the religious elite of his day. So too, we are called to pray for those in power and authority.

    1. Transformation and new beginnings

Jesus cared deeply about transformation and new beginnings. He offered forgiveness so people could be released from sins, their old ways, their baggage and brokenness, and could be free to live for him and experience new life. Prostitutes got a fresh start. Corrupt tax collectors could find integrity. Those given to violence and hatred could experience peace and hope. Rich people drowning in their own wealth could live the generous, just, and simple life. The blind received their sight. The lame walked. The dead were raised. The poor had good news brought to them. In Jesus, we also can find freedom, forgiveness, a fresh start, and new life, and we can offer forgiveness, second chances, and a fresh start to our friends, neighbors, strangers, and enemies, and to those sitting in darkness.

    1. Love as the foundation of the Law

Jesus taught his followers that the greatest commandments were to love God with undivided heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love their neighbors and themselves (Mark 12:30-31 and par.). He taught his disciples that to do unto others as they would have others do to them was the law and the prophets. He told his followers that he gave them a new commandment: to love one another as he loved them (John 15:12), and they were to love even their enemies (Mt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). He called the religious elites to remember the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, faith, and love (Mt. 23:23; Luke 11:42).

    1. Faith

Jesus told his followers that those who trusted in him would know and see God (John 14:1, 7, 9). He nurtured and commended the faith of those who came to him for healing. He invited people to believe in him and offered eternal life. He trusted God with his life. We also are called to nurture our faith and faithfulness, and grow in trusting Jesus.

    1. Unity

Jesus prayed that his followers may be one, just as he and the Father are one. He prayed that they may be one, saying, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21). We are to care about unity that the world may see and believe.

    1. Kingdom of God

Finally, the kingdom of God was Jesus passion, focus, and message. He proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, and that in him, it is arriving here. He demonstrated it by healing, forgiving, welcoming the stranger, demonstrating care and compassion for the vulnerable, fellowshiping with those who were ostracized, touching the untouchable. He told his followers to pray for the kingdom to happen on earth as in heaven. Likewise, we also are to make the kingdom our passion and focus, seeking it first.

  1. Living as Jesus lived
    1. Simply

Jesus once told a would-be follower, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt. 8:20). When he sent out his disciples, he told them to carry no purse and no money. Instead, Jesus trusted in God’s provision for his needs, the needs of his disciples, and the needs of the crowds when he fed the thousands. He taught his disciples to give to all who are in need, expecting nothing in return, and to store up treasure in God instead of in money. He told the poor they would inherit the kingdom, but warned the rich that they had already received their consolation. His followers were to live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field in God’s care and not to worry about tomorrow.

    1. Peaceably

When Jesus was arrested, one of his disciples cut off a centurion’s ear. Jesus responded by healing the ear, and he warned his disciples that those who live by the sword perish by it. While on trial before Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of the ways of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:23). With his dying breath, he prayed to his Father in heaven to forgive those who were crucifying him. He forgave those who wronged him and offered new beginnings.

    1. Prayer

Jesus lived a life of constant prayer. Though his ministry was incredibly rigorous and filled with travels and events, he always made time for prayer. It sustained him and united his will with God’s will. He taught his disciples to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, for forgiveness as one forgives, for daily bread, for deliverance from evil and rescue from trial.

    1. Friendship

Jesus was a friend to sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, rebels, religious teachers, Samaritans, Gentiles, and anyone who took no offense at him. He showed compassion to the wounded and vulnerable, and ate with those who were considered a blight on good society.

    1. Forgiveness and generosity – healing

Jesus was generous in offering forgiveness to those who came to him – even his executioners. He healed the crowds, curing diseases and casting out demons and offering deliverance from everything that distorted God’s good intention for life. He offered a new teaching with authority that contained the way of life.

    1. Courage and faithfulness – even to the point of death for both friends and enemies

Jesus did not waver from doing God’s will, even when it was unpopular or risky, even when it ended up getting him killed. He was faithful unto death, dying not only for his friends, but also for his enemies, and therefore God highly exalted him.

    1. Reversing worldly standards

Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated a kingdom that was the great reverse of the kingdoms of the world – a kingdom where the last are first, where the outcasts are welcome, where the poor are heroes, where cheaters, murderers, and prostitutes may find new life and become the models of faithfulness, where those who serve are the great ones, where the lowly are lifted up and the mighty are brought low, where security is not in wealth or possessions, but in God, where love is more powerful than carnal weaponry, where forgiveness triumphs over hatred, where death leads to life, where truth is practiced and religious devotion is not self-serving, but God-serving.

    1. Proclaiming and healing and inviting new followers

The majority of Jesus ministry was spent proclaiming and teaching the kingdom of God and demonstrating it by healing crowds, providing abundance, and welcoming people into a new life. Jesus continually extended the invitation for the crowds to come and follow him and become disciples.

  1. Sharing Jesus’ inward character of heart and mind

Jesus wants our actions; he also wants our hearts and minds, from which our actions flow.

    1. Humbleness

Though he was the Son of God, Jesus humbled himself, taking on human form, living as a peasant, enduring shame and ridicule, and finally, a painful, public execution. He associated with the lowly and endured ridicule without retaliation. He proclaimed his message with clarity, compassion, and courage, but never laid claim to worldly power.

    1. Servant

Jesus had a servant’s heart. Jesus stooped to wash his disciple’s feet and taught them to do the same. He fed people and healed them. He jeopardized his religious standing and risked his own health by welcoming and healing the sick. He delivered people from slavery to the powers of this world. He showed compassion to second-class citizens, such as women, children, Samaritans, and Gentiles. He even served his executioners. Jesus came to to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

    1. Trust in God

In all things, Jesus trusted and relied on God for strength and direction. He trusted God in poverty and hunger, in dangerous moments, in exhausting ministry, throughout every pain of this world, and finally even to death, saying, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). His trust in God never wavered, even we he knew he was called upon to relinquish life itself for the sake of the kingdom in suffering a cruel death.

    1. The way of the cross

Finally, as the church spread and grew and told the stories of Jesus over and over, it discovered that the symbol that captured the very essence of Jesus’ passion, his life, his heart and mind, was the cross. It was and is a symbol of incredible self-giving love, radical forgiveness, faithfulness unto death, trusting God even in suffering for the kingdom, humbleness and care for the least among us, the triumph of love over hatred, violence, and death, and the ultimate victory of God. Jesus told his followers, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.”

Jesus told James and John that though they didn’t understand it, they too would share his cup and his baptism. They too would bear their cross, giving all for the Kingdom of God. When we are joined with Christ in the cross, we put to death our slavery to sin, we leave behind the old self and old ways of thinking and living, and we rise to newness of life in Christ Jesus, joined with him as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

May we all be conformed more and more to the image and likeness of Christ, that in us, his life may be made visible. Amen.

Notes:
1. Simon the Zealot, Luke 6:15.
2. E.g. Mt. 5:44-48; Mt. 6:12, 14-15; Mt. 16:24; Mt. 18:32-33; Mark 8:34; Mark 10:42-45; Mark 11:25 (undivided as God is); Luke 6:32-36; Luke 9:23; Luke 11:4; John 13:14-16; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-14; John 17:22-23; John 20:21; Rom. 5:5; Rom. 6; Rom. 8:11; Rom. 8:29; Rom. 15:1-7; 1 Cor. 4:9-13; 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 5:14-21; 2 Cor. 8:7-9; Gal. 2:19-20; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:20-24; Eph. 4:32-5:2; Eph. 5:22-28; Php. 1:29; Php. 2:1-11; Php. 3:10; Php. 3:21; Col. 1:24; Col. 2:12; Col. 2:20; Col. 3:1; Col. 3:9-10, 13; 1 Thess. 1:6-7; 2 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 12:1-3; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 3:14-18; 1 Peter 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 2 Peter 1:4-7; 1 John 1:5-7; 1 John 3:1-3; 1 John 3:11-16; 1 John 4:7-10; 1 John 4:17; Rev. 12:11
3. E.g Mt. 8:2-3; 10:8; 11:5; 25:35-36; Mark 1:40-41; Luke 5:12-13; 7:22; 14:13.
4. E.g. Matthew 9:10-11; 11:19; 21:31-32; 18:1-5; 19:13-15 (and parallels); Luke 15:2; John 4:1-42; 19:26. Those with various afflictions were unable to fulfill the law’s obligations.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

Gone Fishin’

July 12th, 2012 No comments

“Gone Fishin’” (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10:1-12; 5:1-11)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
May 20, 2012, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

So terrific it’s terrifying
When Katherine and I were in Galilee, we saw a boat that had been pulled out of the Sea of Galilee. This boat dates to the time of Jesus, and when I saw it, I thought of one of my favorite gospel stories. And this story shows up in all four gospels in one configuration or another. Now this is a story that you have to tell and hear with a twinkle in your eye. Luke takes a special delight in it and tells it something like this:

One day Jesus was out by the Sea of Galilee, and a great crowd was pressing in around him to hear him proclaim the word of God – every preacher’s dream – and Jesus saw a couple of boats nearby – the fishermen had already come in for the day, so Jesus commissioned a boat belonging to Simon, whom we know better as Peter.

And Simon took him out a little ways, and Jesus had his own floating pulpit out there on the sea. Well, when he had finished teaching, he told Simon to head out for the deeper water and to let his nets down for a catch.

This past summer when it was so dry and the crops were drying off, I fancied myself telling one of you farmers to go and try sewing some corn out on the far east 80. . . but fortunately I though better of it.

Well, Simon said, “Master, we’ve been out all night but haven’t caught a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” And no sooner were the nets down, than they were straining to the point of bursting, so they had to call out to the other boat to come help them, and they filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

So, of course seeing this boat that had sunk made me think about these overloaded boats. Now I’m not a fisherman worth anything, but I would think that that would be just about the perfect dilemma for a fisherman. Maybe like a farmer whose harvest is so plentiful and rich that the grain trucks are weighed down and overflowing beyond their capacity. Now you would think that Simon Peter would be elated at this catch. You would think that he would be overjoyed with his haul here. Why, they’d be in the black after just one day’s work.

But next thing, next thing, Simon Peter is at Jesus’ feet saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” It seems it was just too much to tolerate – so terrific it was terrifying. Not the first time that ever happened. Think Moses at the burning bush and being scared speechless (Ex. 3-4). Think Isaiah catching a glimpse of heavenly glory and saying “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6). So terrific it’s terrifying.

A couple of smelly nets and two old boats
Now I wish I could say I had that problem – being so filled with God’s power and holiness that so many incredible things happen that, that there’s such an incredible haul that it just gets dangerous, and it makes me uncomfortable, scared and even terrified, but that’s most often not the case at all. I don’t know about you, but most of my days are quite ordinary. Telephone calls and emails and visits and prayers and sermon preparation. Hardly life-threatening, boat-sinking hauls of fish.

Every year as our catechism students are preparing their faith statements as they are getting ready for baptism, I go back through my old catechism folder, and I reflect on how I’ve changed (and hopefully grown a little bit!), and how the public decision, confession, declaration, and commitment I made on June 2, 2002 continues to shape my life.

And I re-read my faith statement. And I’m always struck by just how. . . ordinary my faith story is. No blinding conversion experience like Paul had. No big old catch like Peter and his co-workers. Just pretty slow, steady, ordinary.

And as I reflect on my own faith journey, I think I’ve learned something about why Peter was so scared. I think I know why he wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Coming from a small school and a small college, I spent many years as a student and as an athlete. And the thing with being a student and an athlete, the thing with being a fisherman out on the lake any old day of the week, is that often times, what you achieve is some combination of your own skill and hard work, and a little good fortune. You work hard, and you earn it. Mennonite work ethic at its best.

But not that day with Jesus on the lake. You know what I think was so terrifying for Simon Peter wasn’t just the amazing haul – it wasn’t the fact that he brought in a tremendous catch, but all he had brought was a couple of smelly nets and two old boats that could barely stay afloat. “Whoa, too much, Lord, leave me to myself, for I am a sinful man.”

Only a few weeks into my chaplaincy, there was a suicide on campus, and I was called upon to minister to a confused, numbed, and frightened group of young men. I was at a loss personally, yet what I can only describe as the grace of God’s presence empowered me to minister to my fellow students in their pain. It was terrific, and it was terrifying, and in that moment I just wanted to run and hide because I knew I’d encountered something holy. I wanted to say, “Whoa, too much. Leave me to myself, for I am a sinful man.”

Demonstrating the Kingdom, Proclaiming the Kingdom, Making Kingdom People
Except that Jesus doesn’t leave any of us be. He’s always got a mission. Two times in Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends out his disciples with a mission. First he sends out the twelve and instructs them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:1-6). And when the crowds found out about it, they followed Jesus. Then Jesus called 70 and sent them out even further and instructed them to cure the sick and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:1-12).

These are the twin pillars of the disciples’ mission in Luke: demonstrating the kingdom and proclaiming the kingdom. Both times that Jesus sends out the disciples, they have this twin mission: demonstrate and proclaim.

And the gospels record over and over that Jesus went into towns and villages proclaiming the kingdom and demonstrating its presence by healing the crowds. If we neglect either part, our mission carries only half the gospel. We are to be both models of the kingdom and messengers of the kingdom.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers that they’re to be like salt for the earth, or a city on a hill, or a light for the world. I like to think of it as being like little embassies or outposts of God’s kingdom, modeling and demonstrating God’s kingdom here on earth, and we’re Christ’s ambassadors, sent out with the message of God’s reign.

Now there are some of us Christians who tend proclaim the kingdom and introduce people to Jesus (and praise God for that), but neglect demonstrating the kingdom with acts of compassion and healing and peacemaking. They’re good messengers, but modeling the kingdom isn’t such a concern.

But for most Mennonites, we have the opposite problem, don’t we? We’re good modelers, but we don’t get too excited about being messengers. We’re very intentional about demonstrating the kingdom through relief efforts and peacemaking initiatives and standing in solidarity with the crippled, the poor, the blind, and the lame and so forth (and praise God for that!). But too often we leave people in the dark as to the “ultimate source and deeper meaning of our actions.”1

From time to time, you’ll hear folks worrying that Mennonites are losing our peace witness. And I don’t know, maybe there’s some truth to that. But I think the real problem is that we’ve confused the message of the gospel of peace with secular political advocacy. And sure, we’re called to bear witness to those in power, just as Jesus did. But the gospel of peace is so much bigger. It transforms hearts and minds!

My Mennonite Disaster Service crew leader in New Orleans was a short, wiry old retired plumber from British Columbia. And during devotions before our first day of work, he challenged us to work hard because the need was great, but then he added, “Look around you. Look at the devastation and the pain. Hammers and crowbars alone can’t fix this. So work hard, but when you see a homeowner or local resident, stop what you’re doing and offer to pray with him or her. Offer a word of comfort and hope in Christ.”

Proclaiming and demonstrating go hand-in-hand. In Matthew, Jesus adds a third pillar to undergird Christian mission: making kingdom people. “Go and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Our task isn’t just to talk about God’s kingdom. It isn’t just to demonstrate it. It’s also to work at training kingdom people – ourselves included.

Our congregations, our classes, our fellowship groups are to be like training camps for God’s kingdom. Our worship is to be like a rehearsal for when God’s kingdom comes in full. Jesus wants more followers – more banquet guests, and he wants growing followers.

These are the three pillars of Christian mission in the Gospels: Demonstrating the kingdom, Proclaiming the kingdom, and Making kingdom people. Do you get why it’s such a scary amazing idea? Peter caught a glimpse of it, and he thought it was so amazing, so terrific, it was terrifying, and he said, “Whoa, too much, Lord. Leave me to myself.”

So terrifying it’s terrific
But Jesus doesn’t leave. Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on, you’ll be catching people.” Are you a fisherman? Jesus has an incredible catch in store. Are you a homemaker? Jesus desires a kingdom filled with welcoming homes. Are you a farmer? Well, the harvest is plentiful, and Jesus needs you to help bring it in.

Are you a child? Congratulations, because the kingdom of God belongs to those who are exactly like you. Are you a scientist? Well, there is a whole universe of mystery to be probed and the world has many problems that need kingdom solutions. Are you a teacher? There’s a great crowd ready to learn and grow for God’s kingdom. Are you a medical professional? Jesus still sends his followers out to heal as a demonstration of God’s kingdom.

Paul made tents. Peter fished. Jesus and Joseph were stone-masons or carpenters. Luke was a physician. All are needed in the kingdom. Or like Paul said, there are many gifts but the same Spirit. How is God calling you to use your unique gifts, your unique circumstances in life, your retirement, your job as an accountant, your plans for summer break, to demonstrate and proclaim God’s kingdom?

But what Jesus really needs, more basic than farmers or cooks or teachers or doctors or tentmakers or leaders or preachers or miracle workers – what Jesus really needs – is followers – disciples.

Because, you see, the most amazing thing about this story – the most incredible miracle, isn’t about the great catch, but what those crowds found on the shore the next day. Look back to that shoreline, and you’ll find two fishing rigs overflowing with fish – a whole boatload of fortune, a start to a life of comfort and an entry ticket to a measure of power. And it was just. . . left there to decay, because they had left everything to follow Jesus.

There was just something about Jesus that they were falling in love with, that they couldn’t resist, that they knew touched the center of what is good and true and beautiful, and they left and followed. And that’s what Jesus needs. Followers. It made no difference if you were a fisherman or a tax collector or a terrorist or a clergy person or a rich ruler, the call was the same, “Come, follow me.”

In my opinion, the highest calling of any church isn’t in the training of leaders – pastors, teachers, theologians, and the like – but in training servants, in training members (brothers and sisters) of the body of Christ, in finding and training followers of Jesus. Look around; the harvest is plentiful! That’s a calling we all have. It doesn’t matter what occupation we have – teachers, farmers, accountants, scientists, preachers – we all have the same vocation, the same calling to the work of ministry in the name of Jesus, and the church at its best as I’ve seen it takes a bunch of teachers, pastors, homemakers, retired physicians, software developers, librarians, you name it, and puts us all in the same overflowing boat to lead us to say yes more and more to following after Jesus as we proclaim and demonstrate God’s kingdom. It’s a calling that’s so terrifying, it’s terrific.

Notes:
1. James Krabill, Is It Insensitive to Share Your Faith?, 70.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

Your will be done

July 12th, 2012 No comments

Your will be done” (Luke 11:2; 22:39-42; 23:44-46)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
May 13, 2012, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

The following was presented together with a digital presentation/outline. Items in bold indicate content found on the slides.

Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming, “The kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and trust in this good news!” He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, for I was sent for this purpose,” and he went about to city after city and village after village, “teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every sickness and disease.” He taught his disciples to do the same. Jesus’ mission was about the kingdom of God, and we see him proclaiming it and demonstrating it on every page of the Gospel. In fact, I was delighted to discover that Jesus focused so much on proclaiming and demonstrating the reign of God that there is enough to fill several weeks worth of readers’ theaters for our worship series on the Kingdom of God, to which Leah Bartel and Josh Toevs have already introduced us the past couple of Sundays.

God’s Reign

  • The Kingdom of God is at hand; Repent and trust in the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
  • I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. . . for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43)
  • . . . teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every sickness and disease” (Matthew 4:23)

Jesus makes clear that the kingdom of God is the gospel, and in him, it is arriving here.1 This is Jesus’ definition of the Gospel. If you follow the gospel story, you get a glimpse of what that kingdom looks like, and an invitation to join it. Stanley Greene puts it this way:

When Jesus cures a leper or a woman with an issue of blood and exorcises a demon-possessed victim, he establishes healing and wholeness as the essence of the kingdom. When Jesus fellowships with prostitutes and extortionary tax-collectors, he reveals that forgiveness and pardon are at the heart of the kingdom. When Jesus feeds the hungry and binds up the brokenhearted, when he upholds the importance of clothing the naked and visiting those in prison, he asserts that compassion and care for the vulnerable are at the very core of the kingdom.

When Jesus chooses to fellowship with ostracized women, like the woman at the well in John 4, and to enjoy the dinner company of sinners, he illuminates grace, welcome, and hospitality as fundamental to the nature of the kingdom. When Jesus loves the unlovely or touches the untouchable, when he highlights welcome extended to the wayward. . . lauds the generosity of the stranger. . . shows concern for the children and invites us to love our enemies. . . Jesus is pointing to the radical newness [and renewal] of the in-breaking reign of God.2

This is why Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21)

“Jesus calls for inner transformation that produces the fruit of genuine sexual chastity, integrity, forgiving and loving the enemy, giving to the needy, and embracing the kingdom rather than pursuing earthly wealth.”3

He even called his followers to pray for the kingdom to happen on earth as in heaven. When Jesus proclaimed the gospel, he began by asking two things of his followers as he invited them into the kingdom: to repent, and to trust. People are to trust in the good news of God’s kingdom and turn their lives around to live in ways that match up with the kingdom.

For those who are interested, in our particular tradition, the twin pillars of Anabaptist spirituality are following Jesus (discipleship/Nachfolge) and yielding to God’s will (Gelassenheit). Three Scriptures from Luke for this morning model what this process of yielding and turning toward embracing God’s kingdom look like.

Transformation: Yielding Inwardly to the Holy Spirit

  • When you pray, say: ‘Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come – your will be done – on earth as in heaven” (Luke 11:2).

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in a way that connects God’s kingdom with God’s will being done. In our inner life of prayer and spiritual discipline, we not only intercede for God’s kingdom; we also open ourselves to God’s will. Jesus once told Nicodemus,

  • No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and of Spirit” (John 3:5).

Jesus offers us the transformation of the Holy Spirit, if we yield inwardly to its renewing, regenerating work in our lives.

Upon hearing Jesus’ rigorous expectations for the kingdom life of discipleship, his followers once asked him, “Who then can be saved?” To which Jesus replied,

  • For mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Repenting – turning toward and embracing God’s kingdom – is not possible because of human achievement, perseverance, or strength of will. Rather, it is possible only when we surrender our will to God’s will and accept God’s offer of new birth by yielding to the inner transformation of the Holy Spirit.

Yielding is a process of letting go. In order to yield to the inner transformation of the Holy Spirit, we often need to let go of:

Attachments – family, property, achievement/reputation, occupation, wealth, food, security, plans, patterns of life, desires, pessimism (first last, last first), preconceived notions

Fear and Anxiety

Anger/Vengeance

Even old hurts and wounds, experiences – surrender to God for healing and transformation.

All these things distort our will, our hopes, our dreams, and make us slaves to Sin (cf. Rom. 6), so that the Holy Spirit’s transformative work is blunted and stunted. These are inner matters, matters of the heart. Jesus once said,

  • For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Repentance and trust begin with surrendering our will to God, and yielding inwardly to the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in our hearts, so that we may say, with Paul,

  • It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me!” (Galatians 2:20)

Following Jesus Together: Yielding outwardly to the will of God

“Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed,

  • Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’” (Luke 22:29-32)

Jesus expects that those who have been regenerated; those who have said yes to him and to the transformation of the Holy Spirit, will live lives that bear outward fruits in accordance with the will of God. After all, if it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me (Gal. 2:20), it would be impossible for my life not to reflect whose my life is. Baptism (which we will be witnessing in two weeks) is the outer sign of this inner transformation.

What is Jesus really interested in? Is it a bulletproof confession of faith? Is is knowledge of history or theology or scripture? Is it who your parents or grandparents or great-grandparents are? Is it how smart or funny or good-looking you are?

Jesus once said,

  • By their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. . . Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. . .” (Matthew 6:21-27)

Jesus is not merely concerned with attitudes, but also with actions, with fruit, with acts of faithfulness. You see, for Jesus, belief/faith is always something that is active.

Jesus is our model of life lived in radical outward obedience obedience to God’s will. On the eve of his arrest, on the Mount of Olives, he prayed that his life might be an answer to the prayer he taught his disciples to pray: “Not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus was willing to accept even the cup of suffering in seeking after the will of God.

  • I can do nothing on my own,” he said, “because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30)

What is the will of God? Well, there’s no better place to start than the life and teachings of Jesus. His Sermon on the Mount has long been practiced as a training session for God’s kingdom.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said (Mt. 5:13). “You are the light of the world. . . You are a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. . . Let your light shine before others!” (Mt. 5:14-16). And Jesus talked about the old ways, about the ways of the world in which people get trapped by anger and lust and lies and hatred and vengeance and self-righteousness, and worry and wealth, and judgmentalism and conformity, and he showed his followers the kingdom way, the way of reconciliation and forgiveness, the way of fidelity and plain, honest speech, the way of loving enemies and refusing retaliation, the way of humble righteousness, of simplicity and content trust in God, of humble love and distinct living, of doing unto others and letting your light shine! (Mt. 5-7).

Yielding outwardly to the will of God means that we allow Jesus to set our priorities, and that we begin to see Jesus as the standard of our own living (since we are joined to him and he lives within us).

Sadly, however, followers of Jesus are generally more talented than just about anyone else when it comes to cleverly evading actually following his teachings, especially when it comes to several of his core teachings.

We’re probably fairly familiar with the ways that we evade Jesus’ teachings when it comes to loving our neighbors or judging or making peace or loving enemies. But Jesus’ teachings about God’s will that we evade more than any other far and away have to do with money, wealth, and materialism, even though this was one of his most frequent topics.

How often do you hear this verse quoted:

  • So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33)

But the story that gets evaded more cleverly than just about anything else is the story of the rich young ruler, who comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing: he needs to sell his possessions and give it to the poor so he will have treasure in heaven; then he may come and follow. The rich man was sad, because he was so rich. Jesus said to him,

  • How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:24-25)

And we followers of Jesus have done some incredible gymnastics to take the edge off of this particular teaching, even though it deals with eternal life, the kingdom of God and wealth all at the same time. Nearly a thousand years ago already, interpreters invented the idea of a gate in Jerusalem called the “eye of the needle,” which a camel could only pass through if it stooped a bit. But really, there is no credible indication that Jesus had anything in mind other than the hilarious idea of a camel trying to squeeze through the tiny eye of a sewing needle. Or it’s probably been said from the great majority of American pulpits that the man’s problem wasn’t that he had wealth, but rather that he had the wrong attitude about it.

Now I am curious why those of us in Christian religion spend so much time pointing fingers and getting all worked about this or that, while we (and I certainly include myself) quite willfully persist in a lifestyle of wealth and worry of the future (I have a retirement plan. Do you?), which were topics at the very heartbeat of our Lord’s ministry and proclamation of the kingdom. But then again, we are a curious lot, aren’t we? It just goes to show how amazing it is that God would choose to use us ragtag disciples to accomplish the purposes of the kingdom.

Now of course we can’t leave everything to follow Jesus. That’s not possible. That’s why the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” and that’s why Jesus replied, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Indeed, Peter said to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything.”

Could it be that we are so unwilling to give up our North American lifestyle that we go to such lengths to evade or ignore the will of God? It seems to me that we have more attachments to give up and more transformation to receive.

We also yield outwardly to the community of faith.

  • Truly I tell you, whatever you all bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you all loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18)

This is one of the most difficult parts of discipleship in a culture that says “my way or the highway” and “my business is just that – my business” and that puts up the pretense of perfection. But we are the body of Christ, given to each other for mutual support and prayer and accountability, and in our baptism vows, we pledge to give and receive counsel. Indeed, we are called to lay down our lives for each other.

But how do you think I would respond were someone to ask me, “Brother Peter, I see that your family has two vehicles. May I ask you how many vehicles you think Jesus would have?” Well, I don’t know how you’d react, but I’m guessing some of my first thoughts would be along the lines of:

Who are you to say that to me? Or Oh, and how many vehicles do you have? Or How big is your house? Or Hey, buddy, you’re not perfect either. Go and fix your own stuff and get that log outta your own eye first. Or simply, Yeah, I don’t see how we could get by without them. But how often do I say, “Yes, friend, you are right. Pray for me that I may yield to the Holy Spirit’s transformation so that I may overcome my captivity to the ways of this world and yield before the will of God.”

The outer life of surrender to the will of God is not easy, but it is also filled with joy and incredible reward – a hundredfold now and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:30). Praise God that Jesus is patient with us, meets us where we are, offers us welcome, healing, and hope, and leads us into greater faithfulness.

Putting ourselves completely into God’s Hands:
Yielding to God’s Greater Care and Purposes

  • Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46)
  • This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13)
  • Your will be done as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2)

The life of yieldedness is one of radical trust in the good news of God’s kingdom and means that we must put ourselves with Jesus completely into God’s hands. We allow God to lead us into risky situations for the sake of the kingdom because we trust in God for resurrection beyond the grave and for the final victory of God’s reign over every dominating and death-dealing power of this world. We yield to God’s greater purposes in giving even our lives for God’s kingdom, considering it a privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ (eg. Php. 3:10).

We depend not on our own strength or resolve, but on God’s. The life of yieldedness is the life of incredible joy and freedom in God’s care. We need not fear, for we are secure with Jesus in God’s caring hands.

Yielding to God’s greater purposes in accepting suffering for the sake of the kingdom is one thing. But what does it mean to put ourselves completely into God’s hands when the oncologist tells you, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do, except to do our best to make you comfortable for the time you have.” What does it mean to put ourselves completely into God’s hands when we suffer senseless abuse that has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s kingdom? What does it mean to put ourselves completely into God’s hands when we find ourselves worn out, burnt out, discouraged, wounded, wronged, resentful, and afraid?

These are the hardest things to let go of: The injuries forced upon us by those people or powers more powerful than we ourselves. The moment when our own well-being passes beyond our control. The achievements and goals of life.

We cannot adequately explain it, but we know that evil is real, that people die far too soon, that children are abused, that violence and selfishness distort God’s will and good intention for this world. Illness, violence, and evil are not part of God’s plan or purpose. We know this because Jesus worked so hard against these powers.

Part of trusting in God’s kingdom means trusting in its final victory over every power that distorts God’s good intention for life. I don’t say this as an easy answer, because it wasn’t an easy answer for Jesus; nor is it for us. But in all times and places and seasons, we may yield before God’s greater care and commit ourselves with Jesus into God’s hands.

And in God’s hands, we find comfort, healing, and hope.

May we all yield inwardly to the Holy Spirit’s transformation of our hearts. May we all yield our will outwardly to God’s will as we seek to follow Jesus together. And may we all yield to God’s greater purposes and care by placing ourselves with Jesus completely into God’s hands, that God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen

Notes:
1. E.g. Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; Matthew 4:23 and parallels.
2. Stanley Green and Sarah Thompson, “Jesus and the Kingdom of God” in Jesus Matters, ed. James R. Krabill and David W. Shenk, 78. Emphasis added to coincide with digital presentation.
3. Greene and Thompson, 84-85.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

God’s Building Plans

September 22nd, 2010 No comments

“God’s Building Plans” (2 Samuel 7:4-17)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
September 19, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church
From Joshua to the Kings
Last week, you’ll recall, we joined the people of Israel as they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Land of Promise, and like the people of Israel, we built our own monument here as we remembered God’s saving activity in our own lives.

Well, the people of Israel didn’t just cross the Jordan and set up shop. The rest of the book of Joshua records the conquest and settling of Canaan, the Promised Land, with the land of Canaan being divided among the tribes of Israel. At the end of the book, Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and re-tells the story of God’s saving promises and deliverance – from Abraham, to Moses and the Exodus, to the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of Canaan, and all the people renewed the covenant with the Lord and chose to serve the Lord and participate in God’s redemptive work.

What follows, in the book of the Judges, is a period of crisis and conflict. The people of Israel repeatedly disobeyed and worshiped other gods, and thus brought calamity upon themselves. And each time – twelve times in all – God would remember the promise and raise up a judge to lead the people to victory and restore righteousness. Yet as the stories cycle through, the narrative takes an even darker turn amid false worship, selfish kingly plots and power plays, deceit, and finally, rape, murder, and the near obliteration of the tribe of Benjamin. The book of Judges leaves us with a picture of depravity and disorder.

Little surprise, then, that the people of Israel looked around themselves and became jealous of their neighbors who had kings. Forgetting that God Almighty was their king, they approached the righteous prophet and judge named Samuel and demanded a human king. Samuel warned the people what what their king would bring upon them: heavy tax burden, military conscription, slavery, and tyranny (1 Sam. 8). A bad idea indeed, it would seem; yet the Lord agreed.

After a false start with King Saul, the prophet Samuel anointed David, the son of the shepherd Jesse, as king. David, the anointed – which is in Hebrew, Messiah, and in Greek, Christ (symbols of royalty, promise, and deliverance finding their fullness in Jesus) – David began his rise to power and popularity.

David’s victories on battlefield and in the hearts of his people mounted, and he became king first of Judah, then over all of Israel. David conquered Jerusalem, the stronghold of Zion, which became the city of David. At last, he brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, where it would rest in his stronghold.

Building our Temples to the Lord
And so, here we find David in 2 Samuel chapter 7. He has been victorious against the enemies marching against him; he has won the hearts of the people; he has secured the ark of the covenant to affirm the religious legitimation and security of his sovereignty. And now, finally, having gotten his life in order, having checked everything off his to-do list, having filed away all the papers cluttering his desk and signed away the last executive order for the day, having made something of himself, he now finally has time to think about God.

It’s tough to find time to think about God, after all, when there are enemies at the gate, or when the royal household is plotting against you from within, or even when there are kids to get out the door to school, or phone calls to make, or bills to pay, or homework to finish, or games to attend, or even church meetings to prepare for. How easy it is to get caught up in our ambitions, our careers, our families, and even, paradoxically, our church, and forget about God.

Well, David has made something of himself, and now he’s ready to make something of God! In the first three verses of 2 Samuel 7, we get a hint of where David’s thoughts are going. David looks around himself and sees his beautiful cedar palace that he’s built for himself, and he’s fixing to do the same for God.

Ironically, he’s thinking about God, but he never actually asks the Lord if he wants a nice cedar house! He just sets out his graph paper and slide rule and starts sketching! He’s going to go and build God’s house just like he built God’s kingdom!

And the people of God, we’ve always been the sort of builders who often like to cross over from being builders for God’s kingdom to builders of God’s kingdom, often getting impatient with the way God wants to go about building the kingdom on earth.

“Have a child when we’re elderly?” Abraham and Sarah thought. “It’ll never work that way.”1 And so they found a concubine for Abraham instead, and built the kingdom their own way. “Have a kingdom without an actual king?” the Israelites thought. “It’ll never work that way!” And so they got themselves a king. “Have a kingdom whose anointed king, whose Messiah ends up crucified?” Peter thought. “It’ll never work that way!” And so he took Jesus aside and tried to help him understand what he thought it really meant to be the Messiah. “Take up the cross?” the fanatical Anabaptists at Muenster thought in 1534. “It’ll never work that way!” And so they drew their swords instead. As have many before and since.

Time after time, we builders get caught up in ourselves and try to “drag the kingdom of God into the world.”2 Of course, the prophet Samuel had known how that would turn out: life-crushing tax burdens, military conscription, slavery, and tyranny. The people of Israel were going to become precisely that which they had despised in Egypt.

How often do those seeking liberation from oppression dream grand visions of just societies of equality and yet become themselves the oppressors? How often do we read the grand stories of the Exodus or the crossing of the Jordan and try to re-create that liberation and victory for and by ourselves, when it was God who liberated and won the victory?

How often do we try and build the kingdom by ourselves by building ourselves up by adding yet another program to put more people in the pews and more checks in the offering? Such is the folly of revolutionaries and Temple builders, for the kingdom of God is built by God alone, and it grows as the mustard seed – slowly, unexpectedly, infectiously – by God’s power and grace and not by the willfulness of any human king or president or general or legislator or pastor or deacon.

New Plans: The Lord Builds Us for God’s Purposes
Yes, King David, having finally made a name for himself, had blueprints of buildings of the Kingdom on his mind, but God was looking at a different set of plans. You see, it turns out that David needed to be reminded that he wasn’t the builder of the kingdom; God was, and he actually didn’t make a name for himself; God did.

I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel. . . I have been with you wherever you went. . . [I] have cut off your enemies. . . I will make for you a great name,” said the Lord (vv. 8-10, NRSV).

David gets no credit in God’s speech; rather, he is a product of God’s “powerful, relentless graciousness.”3 David’s building plans for God are going to “get in the way and distract from God’s building plans for David.”4

Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way: “[my] kingdom [is]. . . not what you do for me but what I do through you. . . I’m. . . building, not you. . . I’ve been working with you since your shepherd days, building a kingdom – a place where salvation and justice and peace can be realized. That is why you are here, to give visibility and representation to what I am doing, not to call attention to what you are doing.”5

David once again gets caught up in what he’s doing; he once again forgets what God’s doing. But David doing some building as well would confuse things. David’s kingship was to be a witness to God’s High Kingship; not an obscuring of it.6

No, David won’t be building any houses of God, but God will build David into a house. God does a surprising, world-altering thing: God once again makes a promise, an unconditional covenant with David, that though David and his house may be disciplined, God will never remove God’s steadfast love from him. David’s house and kingdom would be established forever.

Knowing full well the limitations of earthly kings and the suffering they bring, God establishes a kingdom forever. Knowing full well that David often gets caught up in his own ambitions, knowing that David won’t be the best family man in history, that he has a tendency to abuse power and deal ruthlessly with enemies, God nevertheless chooses David unconditionally. Part of the good news; part of our story of God’s salvation is that God meets us where we are: in our culture (amid our cries for a king), in our limitation, and works with us and calls us to something greater as part of God’s redemptive purposes.

David is remembered well in the Scriptures not because of his victories in battle, and certainly not for his use of kingly authority, but rather because he lived his faith fully alive before God. His brokenness, his obedience, his limitation, it was all there, open before God, offered and available for God to work out his purposes for the people of Israel and for the world.

And out of this covenant with David, “there emerges a hope held by Israel in every season that there is a coming David who will right wrong. . . That coming one may be hidden in the vagaries of history, may experience resistance from the recalcitrance of injustice and unrighteousness,” may even suffer and die on a Roman cross, “but nevertheless there is one coming who will make things right.”7 And in that covenant and promise, there is much hope, because we know that God enters our brokenness with promise.

Sitting before the Lord
And what happens next, after God makes the promise, reminds us of why David is remembered as a man whose faith was fully alive before God. David, the great King of Israel, protector the Ark of the Covenant and champion of the Most High; David, the victor of the battlefield; David, in verse 18 sat down before the Lord and prayed. David, who could barely find time to think about God, now started a conversation with God. David put aside his aspirations and his building plans, and got in touch with God’s plans. David went from “full of himself and his plans for God” to “fully attentive to God’s plans for him.”8 He stopped talking about God and started talking with God.

David sat. David, whose accomplishments and trophies would rival the collections of Moses and Abraham. David, the genius of program and strategy. David, the man of action, sat. After running around furiously from battlefield to the palace and back again, David finally let the dust of his frenzied activity settle, so he could see the “real world,” the real kingdom, “God’s world,”9 God’s kingdom

Often times, we Christians get afraid of being caught not doing enough, but often times, doing “nothing” is exactly what we ought to be doing – letting the dust of our scheming and organizing and planning and doing settle, so we can see God and God’s purposes for us.

David wasn’t being lazy; he wasn’t resigning himself to be a passive player in the world; David was in prayer. David finally let “his enthusiasm for being king with authority and strength to do something for God be replaced with zeal to become a king who would truly represent the sovereignty of God, the High King.”10

If you’re a church who likes fixing things, who likes doing things, who loves a good program; if you’re a church that’s ready for some changes, ready to try some new things; if you’re a church who has young pastors that have all sorts of, shall we say, interesting, ideas about what those changes might look like, maybe the first thing you need to do when you start doing something, is to stop doing, to sit down, and to let the dust settle while you pray. Maybe when you’re ready to build God a house, maybe when you’ve got your plans for God all drawn out, you need to sit down and discover God’s plans and promises for you.

When David was confronted with the insignificance of his own plans and ambitions in the face of Almighty God’s plans, sovereignty, and graciousness, all he could do – all he needed to do – all he ought to have done – was to sit down before the Lord in awe of God’s Majesty and make his prayer of praise. It is surely no different for us.

When David finally sat down, the action could finally get started. . . (improvised ending)

Notes:
1 Claiborne and Haw, Jesus for President, 100.
2 Ibid., 100.
3 Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation Series, 255.
4 Eugene Peterson, First and Second Samuel, Westminster Bible Companion Series, 167.
5 Ibid., 167.
6 Ibid., 168.
7 Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, 257.
8 Peterson, 170.
9 Ibid., 170.
10 Ibid., 170.