Tag: lectionary year c

Sermon: God’s Indictment, Instruction and Invitation

Last Sunday I preached from Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 NIV. Amazingly, the circumstances in Isaiah’s day in 742 BC were similar to those in 21st century America. Politicians disagreed on how best to provide security for the nation of Judah. Strategic alliances to combat national enemies such as Assyria, and even Israel, were formed and then dissolved. The nation’s economy was rigged in favor of the well-to-do, and the weakest in Judah’s society — widows and orphans — were being cheated and oppressed.

But, in the midst of political, economic, and spiritual turmoil, God has a word for his people. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God condemns their religious practice because it was not consistent with their conduct. Or maybe their worship was consistent with their conduct because both were lacking in obedience to God and compassion toward others. Here’s the audio of the sermon:

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Feed the Homeless to Turn Night into Day

Raleigh police stop food distribution to the homeless by a local group who has been doing this for years.
Raleigh police stop food distribution to the homeless by a local group who has been doing this for years.

Yesterday the city of Raleigh, North Carolina chose to make feeding the hungry a crime. The mayor and city council of Raleigh ought to read today’s lectionary reading from Isaiah 58:9b-14. Isaiah instructs Israel to stop oppressing people, to feed the hungry and meet the needs of the marginalized. Then Israel’s light will rise and their difficulties which seem like a long night will turn to the glorious light of day. Here’s the audio from my sermon today:

 

Why Samuel, David, and a Bunch of Others Need Us

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The book of Hebrews was written to encourage Christians of the first century to remain faithful despite persecution. Examples of great heroes of the faith like Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha; and, events like crossing the Red Sea, the battle of Jericho, the survival of the lions’ den and fiery furnace inspired Christians then and now. But, there is a downside to faithfulness. Sometimes faithfulness to God doesn’t end triumphantly, but instead with the faithful being beaten, persecuted, displaced, and killed.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus knows what suffering is about. He endured the shame of the Roman cross in anticipation of the glory of the presence of God. The popular song, “Even in the Valley God is Good,” summarizes our response to suffering. For the first century Christians and for us, the most important thing we can remember is that God is present with us regardless of whether we triumph or whether we struggle.

Our lives contribute to the story of God begun by those in the hall of faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11 through 12. Just as we need them, they need our faithfulness to finish the final chapters in the story that God began in their day. Faith in the face of adversity is still needed today, and our faith builds on the witness of those who have gone before.

For the podcast of this message, click here:

[audio https://chuckwarnockblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/02-why-samuel-david-and-others-need-us.mp3]

Stop Doing Bad Stuff, Start Doing Good Stuff

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Sometimes Scripture is complex and difficult to understand. But, sometimes it’s just simple. Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 is an example of the simple. Isaiah says to the nation of Judah, “…stop doing wrong. Learn to do right…” Pretty simple, and amazingly difficult. Here’s the audio of my sermon last Sunday from this passage. It’s titled, “Stop doing bad stuff, start doing good stuff.” Can’t get simpler than that!

 

The New Living Dead

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First it was vampires, now zombies. Our appetite for the bizarre and scary seems to know no end. Of course film-wise, it all started in 1968 when George Romero directed the cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. Even the Library of Congress has recognized that film as a giant in its genre, and selected it for the National Film Registry.

However the Apostle Paul may have been the first to write seriously about the living dead. In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul reminds the Colossian Christians that they not only “have been raised with Christ” but they have also died to their previous way of life. In other words, first century Christians were the new living dead–alive to Christ, but dead to the world out of which they had been saved.

Paul lists specific behaviors to which the Colossians should have been dead: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed. If those aren’t enough, he adds more like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. When we look at that list, our spiritual pride tells us we are not as bad as the Colossians. But before we get too self-righteous, we need to realize that Paul was simply reminding the Colossian Christians that before they came to Christ they acted like everybody else in their society. In Roman culture, sexual mores were lax by Christian standards, and society prized the strong, the rich, and the powerful. The Colossian Christians weren’t worse than we are, like us they had just been doing what everyone else was doing.

For Christians then and now, to be dead to our old life means to stop living like the culture around us lives. To be alive in Christ means to live as Christ enables, with new values, new ethics, and new behaviors.  In this new society driven by the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, there are no ethnic, political, or social divisions — “no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.”

Christians are the new living dead in the 21st century. It doesn’t take long to realize that our Western culture glorifies casual sex, worships at the cult of personality, and values material possessions as trophies of success. As the new living dead, Christians should be like dead people to the culture in which we find ourselves. We might be immersed in it, but we should not be enmeshed in a culture that is at odds with the Kingdom of God.

However, just because Christians are dead to culture doesn’t mean we are not a pervasive presence. Our living essence is salt and light, preserving and illuminating the world that God created and is redeeming.

The next time you watch a zombie flick, just remember: there are some experiences more amazing than horror film accounts of the dead who come back to life. The real living dead are followers of Jesus Christ who have been raised with Christ, but who are dead as mackerels to the culture around them.  Pretty incredible stuff when you think about it.

Continuing to Live in Christ

The challenge for Christians, both new and old, is to continue to follow Christ long after our initial profession of faith in Him. This must be hard because thousands of books have been written about how to faithfully follow Jesus as a disciple.

The apostle Paul gives us a big clue about how we follow Christ in his letter to the first-century church in Colossae. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6a NIV).

In other words, Paul says, we follow Jesus in the same way we came to him. The question then is, “How did we receive Christ?” Here’s my take on what it means to continue to live in Christ just like we began with him:

1. Like the Colossians, we don’t trust the popular gods of our culture.

Roman culture in the first century embraced a pantheon of gods headed up by Jupiter and his wife, Juno. A host of lesser deities hung out on Mount Olympus. Romans called first-century Christians atheists because they didn’t believe in these rather fractious divinities. The Christians at Colossae rejected the gods of popular culture, affirming that Jesus Christ was the son of the One True God.

Today our cultural gods are power, money, and technology. Interestingly, like the gods on Olympus, our new gods often hang out together, too. Even though we all use power, money and technology, twenty-first century Christians are challenged not to place ultimate trust in these gods as the solution to our social and spiritual problems. Following Jesus like we received him means we continue to trust in him, and him alone, as the creator, sustainer, and savior of the world.

2. Like the Colossians, our politics is Jesus is Lord, not Caesar.

In the Roman empire, citizens were required to affirm their loyalty to the emperor by stating, “Caesar is lord.” Paul radically altered the politics of his day by asserting “Jesus is Lord.”

We have difficulty appreciating what a bold confession “Jesus is Lord” becomes. To replace Caesar, who was believed to be the son of god and ruler of the universe, with a crucified itinerant Jew placed first century Christians outside the social norms of the day. Under emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians suffered persecution as a radical, subversive sect who refused to acknowledge the emperor cult of their day.

Our political statement as 21st century Christians is still Jesus is Lord. That statement strips us of our primary allegiance to political parties, or even political ideologies as the ultimate guide in our lives. Our political leaders are neither the creators of the universe, nor are they the center around which all things revolve, despite the self-importance of those who live and work in Washington, DC.

3. Like the Colossians, we came to Christ and we continue to live in Christ because our relationship with God is personal.

In the Christian faith, we believe that God loves us, sent his son Jesus to die and rise again for us, and that we continue to know God personally. Unlike the gods on Olympus, who weren’t loving or personal, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus has always related directly and personally to His people.

Baptists, of course, have made a big deal of a personal relationship with God. Our Baptist forebears called this possibility the “priesthood of the believer” or “soul-competency.” Both of those phrases mean that individuals are capable of relating to God, and of receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord. Maintaining an awareness of our personal relationship with Christ models the same way we received Him as our personal Lord and Savior.

4. Finally, we continue to live in Christ because He is present with us.

For the first-century Colossian Christians the decision to follow Christ was a costly one. By rejecting by the popular gods of their culture, they cut themselves off from their families and friends who continued to seek the capricious favor of the gods of Rome. By refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord, and by embracing Jesus as Lord, the Colossian Christians isolated themselves socially, politically, and economically.

However, the Colossian Christians were sustained by the presence of Christ in their midst. Stripped of social and political community, Colossian Christians experienced the presence of God each time they gathered together. The gods of Olympus never pretended to be present daily with their subjects. But the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the God who delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, the God who brought Israel back from exile, and the God who sent Jesus was ever-present with the first-century church, too.

Elie Wiesel writes of the presence of God with his people in his book, All Rivers Run to the Sea.

“Here is what the Midrash tells us. When the Holy One, blessed be His name, comes to liberate the children of Israel from their exile, they will say to him “Master of the Universe, it is You who dispersed us among the nations, driving us from Your abode, and now it is You who bring us back. Why is that?” And the Holy One, blessed be His name, will reply with this parable: One day a king drove his wife from his palace, and the next day he had her brought back. The queen, astonished, asked him “Why did you send me away yesterday only to bring me back today?” “Know this,” replied the king, “that I followed you out of the palace, for I could not live in it alone.” So the Holy One, blessed be His name, tells the children of Israel: “Having seen you leave my abode, I left it too, that I might return with you.”

Wiesel continues:

“God accompanies his children into exile. This is a central theme of Midrashic and mystical thought in Jewish tradition. Just as the people of Israel‘s solitude mirrors the Lord’s, so the suffering of men finds its extension in that of their Creator. Though imposed by God, the punishment goes beyond those upon whom it falls, encompassing the Judge himself. And it is God who wills it so. The Father may reveal Himself through His wrath; He may even sharpen His severity, but He will never be absent. Present at the Creation, God forms part of it. Let atar panui mineiis the key phrase of the Book of Splendor, the Zohar: No space is devoid of God. God is everywhere, even in suffering…” — Elie Wiesel, All Rivers Run to the Sea.

Paul reminds us that we follow Christ in the same way in which we came to him. By rejecting the popular gods of culture; by our political confession that Jesus is Lord; by our personal relationship with God through Christ; and, by the presence of God, we continue to live in Christ in the same manner in which we received Him.

Who Do You Trust?

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The epistle reading for today is Colossians 1:15-23. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae contrasting the good news of Jesus with the claims of the first century Roman empire.

In their book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, authors Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat contend that Colossians contrasts the violence, inhumanity, and corruption of the Roman empire with the new imagination of Christian community centered around Christ.

As a Roman outpost, Colossae participated in the emperor cult which asserted that the emperor was the son of god and the deity around which the universe revolved. The Roman empire was also the undisputed example of political organization and military might. From Rome’s dominance came what was ironically called the Pax Romana — the Roman peace. However, the Roman peace was secured with overwhelming violence against those nations and city-states Roman legions pacified by force.

Paul challenges the ideas of the emperor’s supremacy, the empire’s legitimacy, and the Pax Romana with the assertion that Christ is the image of God, the creator of all things, the sustainer of the universe, the first-born from the dead, the head of a new community called the church, and the true prince of peace.

The point of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was to contrast the misplaced confidence they formerly had in the Roman empire with the new hope they found in Christ. Prior to following Christ as Lord, the Colossians had placed their trust in the Empire for their security, happiness, and fulfillment.

Today millions have misplaced their trust, too. If Paul were writing the letter to the Colossians today, he might contrast the trust we place in power, money, and technology with the supremacy of Christ.

Power is still the currency of international relationships. Mao Zedong said, “Political power comes from the barrel of a gun.” That philosophy is shared by virtually all of the nation-states on the world stage today. While the United States is still the most powerful nation on earth, countries like North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and others project the power they have in order to influence international events. Just as the Roman empire used its military, economic, and political power to shape the course of history, nations continue to be seduced by the promise of power today.

The second member of our illegitimate trinity is money. China is relocating 325-million peasants — rural farmers — into newly-created cities. Why? Because China’s economy, according to the IMF and other economists, doesn’t have enough consumerism. The key to growth in the Chinese economy in the near future, economists say, is creating a new class of consumers who will buy TVs, refrigerators, cell phones, and cars. In a world where one billion people live on less than $1 a day, money is a seductive force, often coupled with power.

However, a new player has entered the arena as a close partner to power and money. Both power and the quest for money are being driven by technology. We now have the technology to instantly deliver books, newspapers, and magazines to personal computers, tablets, or mobile phones. In  2007 Steve Jobs of Apple introduced the iPhone and revolutionized the mobile phone industry. Today over 5 billion cell phones are in service, and 1 billion of those are smart phones.

The NSA surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden showed us that the US now possesses and uses advanced technology to track every telephone call, email, and cell phone location everywhere in the world; scan those communications for suspicious links to suspicious characters; track users by location; and, know who everyone everywhere in the world is talking to and what they are talking about.

Technology is our Pax Romana — both the new security savior and cyber weapon in our war to be safe from terrorism. Our trust in technology compels us to give out our credit card information, our personal history, our family and friend connections, the schools we attended, our workplace, our daily routines, even where we eat, shop, and travel. Why? Because we cannot live without the always-on, always-available world at our fingertips. We depend on technology for friendships, for commerce, for security, and even for our faith (yes, there are online churches and faith groups). Increasingly, we give away our own privacy in pursuit of friends, followers, page views, and search rankings.

But power has not brought peace, consumerism has not brought satisfaction, and technology has not brought with it the authentic life we yearn to live.

We have separated our faith from our function as human beings, believing that we, too, can place absolute trust in power, money, and technology. By doing so, we are letting those things shape us.

Paul reminds us that we ought to be shaped by the radical good news that this world system, whether the Roman empire of the first century or the internet of the 21st century, are not the legitimate gods of this world. They are the pretenders, the interlopers, and the pale substitutes for that which is real.

If you want to know God, Paul says, look at Jesus. If you want to know who the creator of the world is look at Jesus. If you want to know who keeps the world turning, look at Jesus. If you want to know who’s in charge of everything, even the things that are not acting according to God’s plan, look at Jesus.

If you want to know where real peace comes from look at Jesus.

Despite the fact that misplaced trust in power, money, and technology are found in every culture on every continent, Paul says the good news about Jesus is also ubiquitous.

The question then becomes: Who do you trust? After all, the Roman empire is no longer a world power, is it?