Monday, February 4, 2013

Thrown Off A Cliff!

“Good Sermon pastor”
I hear this at least a couple of times on any given Sunday.
I always appreciate it.
It makes me feel good that the message I have worked on all week hits home for somebody in some way.
I am happy to bring the good news of Jesus to people and have them respond well to it.
I am happy that I can lift someone up, give them hope, or just say a word that might comfort.
But what about the other sermons the ones that get us thrown off cliffs, the ones where we take risks and jump off cliffs, the ones where no one says, “Good Sermon Pastor.”
The sermons that do not make us feel good or comfort us, but the ones that challenge us.
It is clear the Jesus hometown synagogue had settled in for the first kind of sermon.
They were ready for the comfort and hope.
Jesus had just told them he came to bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set the captives free.
All things they wanted to hear.
Yes, tell us about how God cares about us, and love us, tell us that you are going to be the one to set us free.
They were settling in for the sermon of comfort.

It turns out different doesn’t.
Because Jesus sermon turns into a reminder that God’s love, comfort, and hope are not just for them, but for others.
Jesus reminds them of two stories from their sacred writing’s about the way two of their most revered prophets went to help not the people of Israel, but outsiders.
Jesus reminds them of their own tradition that says, God’s activity is bigger than clan and nationality.
When they here that message that is uncomfortable and challenging to the way they have ordered life, well….it goes from “good sermon pastor” to… a mob who wants to throw Jesus off the cliff.

A friend told me this story about going to church and hearing a sermon that really disturbed him.
On Monday morning he called the pastor and expressed his concern over the content of the message.
The pastor listened to the concern and then responded, “I guess it was a good sermon then because you still are thinking about it today. And it is still challenging you.
It disturbed so much that you are still thinking about it.”

The word of God is not always easy.
It does not always say what we wish it said, or what we wanted it to say.
The word of God does not always confirm for us what we think.
I am finding this is one of the more challenging things about Bible Study.
People want the Bible to confirm for them the feel good messages they receive from pop psychology we consume in our culture.
They want to say things that well it just doesn’t say.

Just as an example.
People will say something like this, “I am a good person and therefore I am ok.”
That is a nice thought but it is not the biblical thought.
Jesus never talks about people being good.
He talks about God being good.
He talks about God being in places that we don’t expect, in ways that we don’t expect, and with people we don’t expect.
But Jesus never says, “Just be a good person and everything will be ok.”
Jesus says to us that we are not as good as we think we are.
That despite appearances we harbor ill will towards others, that we are not always honest with ourselves about our prejudices, and that we don’t always treat others in the way that God would like us to.
It is a disturbing message, because it breaks down our façade about who we think we are.
We can’t just be good people.
We need God for that.
We need God to challenge us and teach us, and mold us, so that we really learn what it means to love others.
This is what St. Paul is talking about this morning in our reading from Corinthians.
That to grow up in faith is to come to a more radical idea of what loving others really means.

My college chaplain, Nils Johnson, always would say to me that we could never really teach the Bible in our public schools.
People think that if we teach the Bible this will somehow make people more moral, our kids better behaved.
But the Bible message is to radical it upsets too many people, and breaks away the walls we construct to keep up the appearance that we are safe, and that we are good.
Nils used to say that we could never really teach the Good Samaritan story, because no one would think it would be a good idea to take a stranger and put them in your car, drive them to the hospital, and then pay all their medical expenses.
Not only that the many of the Biblical stories are complex, the characters do not always do the right thing.
Instead, it is only because of God’s intervention that things are set right.
The Bible challenges us to break from conventional thought and reach out in a radical way.
It messages is dangerous.

Jesus found that out after his sermon in Nazareth.
The message of God’s activity for all people is so dangerous that it almost gets him killed that day.
Eventually, it will.

Jesus message is that God shows up for the sinner among us.
God shows up for the person who doesn’t deserve it.
God shows up in ways that break our ideas of decency and good manners.

The city of Concord wants to pass some laws to stop people from pan handling.
Now if you ask my advice I would say that not to give money to people who are standing by Market Basket with a sign asking for money.
I am convinced that the money will be used for them to buy alcohol or drugs.
However, the people who are flying those signs do need help.
They are people in desperate need.
And even if we don’t give them money we should never lose our mercy and compassion for them.
The reason they want to pass a law is so we can feel better about ourselves.
So we don’t have to look at people in need.
So we are not disturbed as we leave the grocery store with our cars filled with food.
The law they want to pass might make us feel better, but it is not a good solution to the real problem.
The real problem is poverty, it is addiction, it is lack of good affordable housing, it is mental illness, it is not enough good paying jobs, and it is unfair distribution of goods.
Why not put our efforts into those things, because that means doing some hard work of reaching out, and touching the pain of another.
It is because we would rather just keep unpleasant things at bay.
We can’t just put everyone in jail, and then believe that all things are taken care of.

And perhaps that is the disturbing thing about the Bible, it challenges us to reach out beyond what we think or know.
It challenges us to believe that people not in our neighborhood or city are also the children of G1od.
A person who we have deemed unworthy Jesus tells us are the people God is here to save.

If you are mad this morning, then perhaps I have done my job.
Perhaps the best result of a sermon is people wanting to throw you off the cliff.
Hearing “good sermon pastor” is satisfying, but not always the most helpful for our spiritual growth.
So may you all be disturbed by God enough to grow into a radical love that encourages us to touch our own sins and those of others.

1 comment:

  1. The Lord Jesus could say - "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me"; that's where the power comes from. Amazing that even he, the Lord of glory, as a Man served by the Holy Spirit.