Don’t leave your body at home

Don’t leave your body at home

We are recipients of incredible, amazing grace from the moment the call to worship is given in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s the theological story, the vision of what happens in a worship service - we are receivers of grace, beginning to end. But that shouldn’t be the only thing that happens in a worship service.

You can imagine worship as the Temple of a New Eden. And there is a tree from which we need to eat, of course, the tree of Jesus - offered through confession and pardon, prayer, the Word and the Sacraments. But where some worship services, ours included, seem to be lacking, is in what it looks like for us to feast on Christ. Though we take the Lord’s supper each week, a physical act of worship, it seems like eating from the tree is almost exclusively cerebral. We are in our heads. I think we are in our heads too much.

What if we lifted our hands in worship? What if we clapped? What if we said Amen, or yes sir!, or even Thank you Lord! If we did those things we would be reflecting part of the biblical teaching on worship (Psalm 47, 63, 5, 134, 141, 149, 150). I did not even mention kneeling or lying flat on your stomach with your face on the ground. I did not mention dancing or playing the drum, or openly weeping for joy or sorrow, or crying out. These are also part of the way the Scriptures present worship (Rev. 4, 2 Sam 6, Zeph 2).

While physicality can take different forms, Biblical worship has to involve physicality to some degree. Because the God who demands our physical lives should receive them not only in full-bodied service, but full-bodied worship.

When our son or daughter gets baptized or married we react bodily, physically. When our sports team wins, when we get a good parking spot at the library, when there’s one more can of LaCroix left in our crisper (it’s Pamplemousse!), when we look and the ALDI quarter is still in the console when we need it, we react bodily. But we often divide this ordinary physicality from what we consider to be our “spiritual” lives. Theologically we understand that there should be no real division between the “secular” and “sacred,” that rather than asking you to rejoice in worship like you rejoice out of worship, it should actually be our physical worship that shapes our lives elsewhere. The question isn’t “imagine if we worshipped the way we cheer at sporting events?!” That’s silly. Instead it should be, “Imagine if we cheered at sporting events like we worshipped?!” What if we had that much soul, joy, physicality.

Somehow a dualism (theologian-philosophers call this Gnosticism) has compromised the way our worship should lead our lives in physicality, in emotiveness, in joy! When we celebrate the God who has removed our shame, who has taken us off the exhausting stage of religious performance, when we think about our God saving and redeeming us, we do so often without bodily reaction. Let me just say this - the Bible points out to us how the goodness of the Gospel may begin in our minds, but it cannot stop there.

Here’s the objection: “it makes me uncomfortable.” I want you to know that you have my sympathy. I am an introvert. I don’t like public displays of anything. And if, like me, you don’t like public displays then don’t make your bodily worship a public display, make it public thanksgiving. Make it public gratitude, but more than that - make it public joy! It doesn’t have to be hands raised, it can be hands kind of raised, it can be an amen, it can be the swaying, whatever.

A congregant lovingly disagreed with me on this yesterday, saying that they are not very demonstrative outwardly but feel they are very physically involved in worship. I agreed with them! From my place on stage I could see this person physically engaged in worship - they often sway, close their eyes, lift their head, they sing; that’s physicality! I’m not sure they realized they did those things, which are very physically expressive for them. I understand the concern that this is some law I’m establishing, the way you must worship, that I would somehow invalidate the quiet, non-moving, non-physical worship that happens during a worship service. Please know that I get some of you will not respond honestly or naturally in a physical way. Some of you have worked through trauma that makes it difficult for you to even be present in a room full of people. I love you and am grateful for the hard work you have to do just to be at worship. I do not want you to feel condemned in any way. Jesus is for you; He is delighted by your sacrificial worship.

But I’m going to bet that I can count on two hands the number of times I have seen any of the biblical physical expressions I mentioned above present in our worship service. My hunch is that what binds us is not always the way God made us, but one or more of the following:

1. We do not want to embarrass ourselves. We are afraid that we will look foolish, unhinged, TOO RELIGIOUS, or somehow awkward. Probably because we have, ourselves, smirked at physical expressions of worship in the past. We don’t want people to be embarrassed for us.

2. We do not want to make others uncomfortable for not responding physically. We worry that non-churchy people are turned off and pushed away by shows of public piety (emotive/physical response). Or that our physicality will be seen as a judgment on those in the room who do not respond the same way. We don’t want people to be embarrassed by us.

I completely understand this. I also believe we need to work together to overcome both concerns. In the case of personal fear or embarrassment, we need to build a culture of trust and care in the room. Honesty and genuine love will free us to think about how our physicality may free someone else in the room to respond the same way. This will have to happen slowly if it is to happen in a healthy way. It may be that small moments of physicality, along with greater congregational sharing, will help us. Start with swaying. Start with hands at waist level, or mouth the word amen, if you’re fearful of drawing attention. If you know the words to the song perhaps closing your eyes for a time may allow you to worry less about judgment. Ultimately, though, I think that to worship with our eyes open reminds us that we are one body, not individuals in worship.

In the case of the second concern, for those who may be embarrassed by us, I’m not sure we should be too worried. People understand physical expression; what they don’t want is to be manipulated or coerced into physicality. You will not hear us tell you to lift up your hands while we sing, for instance. But more importantly, if we continue to preach and live out a culture of “belonging before you believe,” people will know that we are not trying to make them fake it. Physical expression that has the ring of truth or authenticity is not as offensive as you might think.

All of this may sound like a lot of effort to give for a day of rest. But it’s important. Let me tell you why. When I feel free in a context to talk back during a sermon, to say amen or thank you, to lift my hands in worship, to clap, to shout out, I am deeply moved. And it is good to be deeply moved. God made us to bodily respond to goodness. When I eat good food I sway. John Lewis, the great civil rights leader once said, “when we pray, our feet move.”

More importantly, I’m convinced a great disease that has limited the kingdom-bearing joyful work of particularly white middle class Christians is the gnostic worship of its people. Maybe one reason the Spiritual body of Christ is bound up from doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly, loving their neighbors well, giving their lives away, is because the physical body of Christ is bound up on Sunday mornings in polite, cerebral worship.

Now don’t hear me say that you are not welcome if you just can’t get with us here - there will be people not raising their hands, not talking, not participating, not singing, for lots of reasons - some of them very good reasons! But I want this church to be a place that is helpful to the person who wants to express spirituality with physicality, who want to laugh or rejoice or weep or talk back, not because it makes things more worshipful or whatever, but because it is how the whole body honors Jesus. We’ve got to break through the Christianity that resides only in still, quiet, mental worship.

Some thoughts for your week:

1. I welcome your “talk back” during the sermon. If you are moved by the truth of the Gospel to say Amen! Or “that’s true!” Or whatever, you will not be bothering me. I like dialogue. Maybe save your objections for the Q/A after, but don’t worry about making noise. Crying babies and Amens won’t bother me one bit.

2. My hesitation to express myself physically in worship (when I’m not leading) has a lot to do with objection #2 above. I don’t want you to feel awkward. I’m going to commit here to worry less about that moving forward. So when you see me lifting my hands or really swaying in worship, or if I’m Amen-ing Heath’s preaching, it will be because I feel the freedom to respond biblically with my whole body, not because I think you should.

3. Isn’t it possible that one way worship is limited in its power to be formative for us is that we do not enjoy it? We do not physically engage it in a way that communicates deeply to our soul. Marriage has a deeply soulful physicality, so does a typical thanksgiving feast - we love it because it combines, in many cases, the conceptual truth of togetherness and gratitude with the physical truth of good food (that particular way the tast of a good gravy reminds us of the person who makes it). We reinforce the truth of concepts by physical interaction. Jesus does this when he says “do this (eating and drinking) in remembrance/memorial/honor of me.”

4. Maybe most importantly, I hope you hear this: your whole body is welcome in the Temple of the Lord. Your whole body is washed clean in Christ. Worshipping physically can and should be an endorsement of your whole body in a time when the messages we hear about our bodies can be so destructive. Your Jesus, He loves you.

What happens in a worship service?

What happens in a worship service?

Three women sit at the bar. The first woman says, give me an empty beer mug. The other two get beers. The first woman grabs hold of the empty mug. She puts it up to her mouth and sets it down. She traces the lines of the mug with her index finger. You ask what she’s doing and she says going to the bar is important. It is what she believes she must do in order to live a good life. She doesn’t enjoy it much but it is the right thing to do. This is her duty. She sits for a while, gets into a bar fight, and leaves when she’s had enough.

The second woman exchanges a smirk with woman number three. She takes the beer and pours it over her head. She works the beer into her hair and her pores. She takes a deep breath. She blows beer bubbles. She says that this is a very important experience for her. It’s crucial from time to time - not necessarily as a habit - you need to remember what it’s like to be covered in beer. She even pours beer over her head at home and on tuesday and Wednesday mornings and watching online videos of other people pouring beer over their heads.

The third woman of course drinks the beer.

Now drinkers one and two are working hard at bar attendance. The first one is hanging in there - she is bringing her faith and her duty into the beer experience and she feels that this is going to work, this ritual of going to the bar, holding the beer mug. The power of this event is in either fulfilling your duty to go to the bar (drinker 1) or to immerse yourself in the beer, as an experience (drinker 2). Drinker 3 is shaped by the physical action. The alcohol, as the Bible says, gladdens her heart.

Something real has happened for drinker 3. The power is not in what she brings to the beer experience, but the beer itself. she has experienced it, yet she wants to repeat the experience, because it isn’t just an experience, it is actual physical transformation. She knows exactly what it feels like to hold the mug, and drink the beer, she wants to repeat the experience because it shapes her. If someone were to ask her why she is a regular at the bar - haven’t you experienced beer - she’ll tell them yes, and that’s why she wants to come back.

You don’t have to be told that you should go to worship if you understand that it is formative. You go because it shapes you, nourishes you, gladdens your heart. It actually changes you. One of Steinbeck’s great observations about the church comes from East of Eden:

“The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels.”

Worship has to be more than an event taking a man out of his bleakness for a time. Something has to really happen in worship. Not because you’re doing your duty, and not because you’re getting church all over you, but because in worship we actually partake in the person of Christ and are nourished - we are actually more equipped for Christian living as a result. We are full. Not figuratively, if you close your eyes and imagine it hard enough, but really-spiritually full.

If we want to talk about “attending” worship, then we mean it like attending the emergency room or attending your own wedding. These are not experiences; they are life-jackings. The worship service of the Lord Jesus is even more so. It is profound experience that truly nourishes and shapes us.

What’s at stake here is raising the bar for what Jesus is doing through His local church:

Ephesians 2:19–22 (ESV): So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The really spiritual way to live is to worship the Lord in His church with every expectation that you will partake in the very real presence of the Lord to nourish you, equip you, heal you, and make you whole.

One of our congregants texted a question about the sermon:

“Was just thinking about your sermon today and the example you gave of the 3 women in the bar. Is person number 1 or 2 the fault of the individuals attitude or is it something inherently wrong with how the church congregation partakes in worship as a whole? Is it both? In other words how do you make sure you’re person # 3? Brian thinks we are all persons # 1,2, and 3 at different times depending on the attitude we bring to worship. Thoughts?”

The answer is both, really. It’s possible to be drinker 1 or 2 no matter how well your church teaches the Bible and structures the liturgy, because we naturally want to keep God at arm’s length. But the way a church worships makes a big difference. The church that speaks only in terms of personal experience, and focuses on the individual should not be surprised when their people are pursuing worship as duty or as an immersive event. The church that is preoccupied with “preparing your heart for worship” often loses the point in pious spiritualism. After wringing every bit of experience and emotion and “worshipfulness” out of attending church, what’s left? Do your duty, and hope something happens.

These churches should not be surprised when the communion of the saints, the social dimensions of the Gospel, and the Kingdom priority of reconciling man to man is completely lost. Event-driven, sermon-information-driven churches should not be surprised when their people feel excluded from worship by their struggles with sin (because they’re bad at diligence) or when they feel ashamed to be present (because they’re bad at immersing themselves). And when Jesus is really and truly offered to them at His Table, they will either bladly “experience” Christ’s body, or sit back like second-class citizens. These are the first and second drinkers, and though they are dutiful and immersive, even though they are regulars in the bar, they are absolutely dying of thirst.

Community readings for the week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 121, Isaiah 29, Mark 5
Tue Psalm 122, Isaiah 30, Mark 6
Wed Psalm 123, Isaiah 31, Mark 7
Thurs Psalm 124, Isaiah 32, Mark 8
Fri Psalm 125, Isaiah 33, Mark 9
Sat Psalm 126, Isaiah 34, Mark 10
Sun Psalm 127, Isaiah 35, Mark 11

Readings for this week:

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 114, Isaiah 22, Matthew 26
Tue Psalm 115, Isaiah 23, Matthew 27
Wed Psalm 116, Isaiah 24, Matthew 28
Thurs Psalm 117, Isaiah 25, Mark 1
Fri Psalm 118, Isaiah 26, Mark 2
Sat Psalm 119, Isaiah 27, Mark 3
Sun Psalm 120, Isaiah 28, Mark 4

Scripture readings for this week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 100, Isaiah 8, Matthew 12
Tue Psalm 101, Isaiah 9, Matthew 13
Wed Psalm 102, Isaiah 10, Matthew 14
Thurs Psalm 103, Isaiah 11, Matthew 15
Fri Psalm 104, Isaiah 12, Matthew 16
Sat Psalm 105, Isaiah 13, Matthew 17
Sun Psalm 106, Isaiah 14, Matthew 18

Scripture for the week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 93, Isaiah 1, Matthew 5
Tue Psalm 94, Isaiah 2, Matthew 6
Wed Psalm 95, Isaiah 3, Matthew 7
Thurs Psalm 96, Isaiah 4, Matthew 8
Fri Psalm 97, Isaiah 5, Matthew 9
Sat Psalm 98, Isaiah 6, Matthew 10
Sun Psalm 99, Isaiah 7, Matthew 11

Scripture reading for this week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 86, Song of Solomon 6, Revelation 20
Tue Psalm 87, Song of Solomon 7, Revelation 21
Wed Psalm 88, Song of Solomon 8, Revelation 22
Thurs Psalm 89, Song of Solomon 9, Matthew 1
Fri Psalm 90, Song of Solomon 10, Matthew 2
Sat Psalm 91, Song of Solomon 11, Matthew 3
Sun Psalm 92, Song of Solomon 12, Matthew 4

Scripture readings for the week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 79, Ecclesiastes 11, Revelation 13
Tue Psalm 80, Ecclesiastes 12, Revelation 14
Wed Psalm 81, Song of Solomon 1, Revelation 15
Thurs Psalm 82, Song of Solomon 2, Revelation 16
Fri Psalm 83, Song of Solomon 3, Revelation 17
Sat Psalm 84, Song of Solomon 4, Revelation 18
Sun Psalm 85, Song of Solomon 5, Revelation 19

Scripture readings for the week

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 72, Ecclesiastes 4, Revelation 6
Tue Psalm 73, Ecclesiastes 5, Revelation 7
Wed Psalm 74, Ecclesiastes 6, Revelation 8
Thurs Psalm 75, Ecclesiastes 7, Revelation 9
Fri Psalm 76, Ecclesiastes 8, Revelation 10
Sat Psalm 77, Ecclesiastes 9, Revelation 11
Sun Psalm 78, Ecclesiastes 10, Revelation 12

Community Scripture reading

Mon Psalm 65, Proverbs 28, 3 John
Tue Psalm 66, Proverbs 29, Jude
Wed Psalm 67, Proverbs 30, Revelation 1
Thurs Psalm 68, Proverbs 31, Revelation 2
Fri Psalm 69, Ecclesiastes 1, Revelation 3
Sat Psalm 70, Ecclesiastes 2, Revelation 4
Sun Psalm 71, Ecclesiastes 3, Revelation 5

Community Scripture Readings

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 58, Proverbs 21, 1 John 2
Tue Psalm 59, Proverbs 22, 1 John 3
Wed Psalm 60, Proverbs 23, 1 John 4
Thurs Psalm 61, Proverbs 24, 1 John 5
Fri Psalm 62, Proverbs 25, 2 John
Sat Psalm 63, Proverbs 26,  3 John
Sun Psalm 64, Proverbs 27, Jude

Unpopular Proverbs

Unpopular Proverbs

Proverbs are kitchen talk.

It matters whose kitchen you’re in. Maybe you’ve experienced this with a parent or relative that has shaped your world through proverbial expressions. They teach you how to live skillfully in the world of the proverb-teller. In my home it was quoting Melloncamp, “I fight authority / authority always wins.” I heard it every time I didn’t like a decision. The proverb reminds you of the person, and the setting. When you hear, “A man is not finished when he is defeated, he is finished when he quits.” It’s inspiring. But when you know that Richard Nixon said it, the only president to resign the office, it takes on more meaning. Proverbs work within their own ecosystem. Within their own “kitchen,” so to speak.

The proverbs in Scripture are the same. They were never intended to work alone, though they are good advice for anyone. They were intended to be lived out within the ethical world God had created for his people. So the proverbs make greater sense at the kitchen table created by a redeeming, self-giving, sovereign king and Lord. And so when we read the Proverbs we are learning about life in the world where God is King. Proverbs tells us how to live with skill in that world.

Proverbs 16 is a killer. You’ll notice all sorts of familiar sayings, but one that caught my eye this morning is verse 19: “It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” There is one sense in which this is terrible advice. In the world at-large it makes sense to divide the spoil, to get while the getting’s good. But the shocking truth here is that God’s ecosystem is so different that what makes a person poor is not their possessions but their pride, because only the humble can hear God as He is, and only the humble can cling to God in desperation. And the person who clings to God inherits everything, according to Jesus (Mt. 6.33, 13.44); which means that, in the ethical world God has created, only the humble can be rich.

 

Community scripture reading

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 51, Proverbs 14, 1 Peter 3
Tue Psalm 52, Proverbs 15, 1 Peter 4
Wed Psalm 53, Proverbs 16, 1 Peter 5
Thurs Psalm 54, Proverbs 17, 2 Peter 1
Fri Psalm 55, Proverbs 18, 2 Peter 2
Sat Psalm 56, Proverbs 19, 2 Peter 3
Sun Psalm 57, Proverbs 20, 1 John 1Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 51, Proverbs 14, 1 Peter 3
Tue Psalm 52, Proverbs 15, 1 Peter 4
Wed Psalm 53, Proverbs 16, 1 Peter 5
Thurs Psalm 54, Proverbs 17, 2 Peter 1
Fri Psalm 55, Proverbs 18, 2 Peter 2
Sat Psalm 56, Proverbs 19, 2 Peter 3
Sun Psalm 57, Proverbs 20, 1 John 1

Community Scripture reading

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 37, Job 42, Hebrews 7
Tue Psalm 38, Proverbs 1, Hebrews 8
Wed Psalm 39, Proverbs 2, Hebrews 9
Thurs Psalm 40, Proverbs 3, Hebrews 10
Fri Psalm 41, Proverbs 4, Hebrews 11
Sat Psalm 42, Proverbs 5, Hebrews 12
Sun Psalm 43, Proverbs 6, Hebrews 13

Community Scripture reading

Yearly Bible-reading plan:
*Plan takes you through the Psalms twice per year, the New Testament once, and 1/3 through the Old Testament.

Mon Psalm 30, Job 35, Philemon
Tue Psalm 31, Job 36, Hebrews 1
Wed Psalm 32, Job 37, Hebrews 2
Thurs Psalm 33, Job 38, Hebrews 3
Fri Psalm 34, Job 39, Hebrews 4
Sat Psalm 35, Job 40, Hebrews 5
Sun Psalm 36, Job 41, Hebrews 6

Easter, 2018: Do not be afraid {Matthew 28.1-10}

Easter, 2018: Do not be afraid {Matthew 28.1-10}

[Sermon preached April 1, 2018]
I’m afraid of spiders, snakes, flying, heights, heart attacks, losing my mind when I get older, losing my mind when I’m middle aged, my daughters growing up, my daughters going outside, dating, marrying, leaving. I’m afraid of cancer, failure, smelling things that have spoiled, milk less than two days before the sell-by date, being sprayed by a skunk (because what if you never get the stink off), being pulled on stage to do things, clowns, trip wires, messing up my marriage, messing up my children, and bees. 

That’s me. What are you afraid of?

In many ways the Bible is the story of fear: the way fear makes us less than human, and how that fear casts us out and away from God, too. Now you might expect that sermons are aimed at telling you how to get your way back to God, that the sermon is a spiritual report card that might cause you some grief, some anxiety. But a sermon that tells the whole truth, and particular one that tells the whole truth about Easter, is aimed at your fears, because fear lives in the duplex with love. Where you find one, you’ll find the other. Fear gets to the heart of the matter. 

After the death of Jesus and the storing of his body, which - I cannot imagine the pain, had to be excruciating for Joseph of Arimathea. Have you ever held the evidence that your hopes have been completely wrecked? He had in his hands, the lifeless body of the messiah. It cannot get more grim than this. So Mary and the one Matthew calls “that other Mary,” go to the tomb early in the morning. They are going to prepare his burial. 

Of course I don’t think I’m going to ruin things by giving it away right here at the onset - Jesus has risen from the dead. Mary and the other Mary arrive to find the stone rolled away and an Angel resting atop the stone and he says, “do not be afraid.” He tells them that Jesus is risen. He has overcome death. Do not fear.

The grave, the tomb, the cessation of breathing more certain than a heart attack. It is limited. The great and fearful power of the grave is broken as soon as one person overcomes it. As soon as the champ falls for the first time, everyone knows that possibility exists. Death as an end is over. Completely done. If Jesus rises from the dead then a new scale arises by which we view life - it means that meaning is assessed not by a scale of roughly seventy-five years but seventy-five million, billion years. Not by seventy five birthdays or christmases or anniversaries and the things you did right or wrong, the assessments we make about ourselves and each other, but a realm of possibility opens that says we no longer need to assess ourselves, and our worth and dignity by what we prove between first and last heartbeats. We can throw off that burden so heavy that it can grind us into dust, and begin living by a resurrection clock.  

In Omsk, in Siberia, a center of war weaponry construction throughout the last century, decommissioned and destroyed tanks serve as the apparatus for several city parks. Some of them have playsets built on them, through them, some are colored in primary rainbow colors, they are de-fanged, used as playthings, utterly harmless. This is what the Angel of the Lord is doing by sitting on the stone that bragged it could hold the body of the Lord Jesus. Death is humbled. Easter is when we paint the things that terrify us, it’s when we put the clown nose on the Adversary of God, on the grim reaper.

The resurrection casts out death from the company of things that should terrify you. Because what is clear now is that death can no longer be proud. Death does not have the last word. The best death can do for the Christian, for the one who belongs to Jesus, is the sloughing off of a corruptible body in the service of an incorruptible one. The worst death can do is usher the believer in Jesus into their eternal joy. Death is the next-to-last word. Death can threaten, but heaven sings. The Angel of the Lord greets the first witnesses of the resurrection by telling them not to fear, because death has been cast out.

But death also casts out sin. 
As Mary and the other Mary are on their way to tell the others, they are met by the resurrected Jesus. And he tells them, do not fear. At first there is no reason for this meeting. They were already on the way, they didn’t need convincing - Mary Magdalene is the one who is faithful to Jesus. But this meeting actually tells us everything we need to know. First the greeting. If you have a King James Bible it is typically full of beautiful language but here it gives too much formality to the meeting. Instead of Hail - Jesus actually says something closer to, “Hi.” It is the impersonal and familiar greeting of a friend. He greets them as friends. He allows them to embrace him and worship him (which is a problem for you if you think Jesus never claimed to be God - here he allows himself to be worshipped). 

Remember that all the disciples, and all of his friends left him last chapter. Remember that he was crucified in part because humanity is desperately sinful and broken. Remember that Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden due to sin. They said, in effect, “if we cannot be god then we would rather die.” They had to leave, sin creates distance. Here Jesus’ first greeting is a welcome. He receives our sin in the Crucifixion, then in the resurrection he receives us. If he had not cast out sin he could not have received these women as a friend.

Remember he is physically bearing the scars of a crucifixion for which they are liable. Jesus has nail holes and they have a hammer heart and pockets full of nails. When he tells them to go see the disciples he does not say, “Go see those guys that left me in the lurch and tell ‘em Jesus said, ‘I’m on the way and you have some explaining to do.’” No he doesn’t. He says, “tell my brothers...” He refers to them by the family title. 

And ever since the resurrection Jesus has been bearing the scars from you, for you, in order that he might call you brother, sister, son, daughter, friend. 

In my experience as a minister the roots of unbelief are less about an objection to the quantum physics of a resurrected Lord and more about the internal life, the physics of fear and desperation, the way we learn even from a very young age, that the world is full of hurt and evil, and people who say they love you but leave, and the encroachment of poverty and abuse. And we bury ourselves in activity, in a flurry of noise and distraction, in the stuff of life, because it is too painful to believe that we could be greeted like these women. That we could be called brother or sister. 

Now I’ve got you here, I have you as a captive audience. You cannot bury yourself in work right now, you cannot bury yourself in serving others, you cannot distract yourself with looking after your kids or anything else. You cannot cast yourself so far away from God that he cannot tell you this instant the same thing that I’m going to tell you: your hammer and nails could not keep Jesus from loving you. You may think so. You may believe with every ounce of conviction that bodies stay buried and no God wants a girl riddled with addictions and un-love. But both are proved wrong on that Easter morning. 

Charles Colson, who was Richard Nixon’s hatchet man before he met Jesus on the road, said this:
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” 

Now, if you’re a skeptic this may all sound like the most absurd fairy tale, and I want to address the plausibility of all of this for a moment. There are elements that are so unique to ANE culture, so odd, that they cannot be dismissed as cultural inventions:

First, the initial witnesses to the resurrection are women - they aren’t even eligible to give sole testimony in a Jewish court - they aren’t deemed trustworthy. But Jesus chooses women, and the disciples don’t change it. You know if we wrote it there would be a Steve from Galilee who also happened to be there when the women got to the tomb and he heard the angels tell Mary the stuff. 

Second, the idea of a spiritual-physical presence was completely innovative. ANE folklore held that ghosts had no feet. Matthew specifically mentions this idea - the risen Jesus had feet enough that the women could cling to them. The separation of spiritual and physical was just the accepted arithmetic of the ancient world. This is some epic-level oddness for the typical Judean of the day. 

And Jesus’ greeting is not the standard greeting. It is not the right context or the right story for it, but there it is.  

The theologian N.T. Wright puts it this way: “If you were a follower of a dead Jesus, in the middle of the first century, wanting to explain why you still thought he was important, and why some of your number had inexplicably) begun to say that he had been raised from the dead, you would not have told stories like this. You would have done a better job.”

Fleming Rutledge says it even more succinctly when she writes:
“It cannot be said too often: if Christ was not raised from the dead, we would never have heard of him.“

So this morning we must decide how we are going to react to the resurrected Lord. Some immediately throw themselves at his feet, others run in the other direction, some like Thomas, ask for evidence then when they see it become such devout witnesses that traditions hold he made it all the way to India with the news. Look there are two reactions possible to the claims of the Bible this morning, and one that is not. 

You may be devout in your atheism, and oppose this message with real conviction because it says that you either have the resurrection and the life or you have nothing. This is an offensive message! And if you are not deeply committed to Christ you have every reason to oppose the truth of the resurrection.

You may also be devout in your faith this morning. That does not mean that you do not doubt or you do not struggle or fail, but that you have boarded the plane whose destination is certain, and you have decided that there is no turning back, no matter how much you dig your fingernails into the armrest at takeoff.

The one reaction that is simply insane is indifference. To be intellectually consistent you must take a position on this question. You must be devout one way or the other. And maybe this morning you are realizing that you have lived a life of devout opposition because your heart is not in the resurrection, or the Kingdom of God. You are a follower of your own life, you are committed to weighing your life by that seventy-five year scale. You are committed to the fear of death. Let me just make sure that you know that there is no skepticism so deep, no questions so difficult, no faith so fragile, that God cannot meet you on that road this very day saying, “Do. Not. Fear.” That can happen right now. This morning. You simply need to receive from God his gift of forgiveness, a simple prayer of thanksgiving and ask that Jesus Christ our Lord save you from your sins and adopt you as his daughter or his son. You ask for faith to have faith. This is how we embrace Jesus like these women, by knowing that he stands ready to forgive. And if you pray that prayer this morning, if you want to follow Jesus, man tell me about it. Pastors love that stuff.

If you’re already a follower of Jesus but you realize that you are living indifferently to him, and maybe that’s comfortable for you - I want you to consider this, also from Wright: 

“The point of the resurrection is not simply that the creator God has done something remarkable for one solitary individual (as people today sometimes imagine is the supposed thrust of the Easter proclamation), but that, in and through the resurrection, the present evil age has been invaded by the age to come, the time of restoration, return, covenant renewal, and forgiveness. An event has occurred as a result of which the world is a different place, and human beings have the new possibility to become a different kind of people.”

The Christian church cannot live indifferently to the truth of the resurrection. It must drive us to greater and more passionate life. If the resurrection is true then our reaction should be similar to that of those first disciples: joy, courage, generosity and justice, a contention that we have seen, in the resurrected Lord, the future - and we will not be content until we live there. 

The greatest proof for the resurrection of Christ is the resurrected church that creates a resurrected world. 

I love how MLK talks about how the resurrection casts out the fear of death. The belief in the resurrection created a church who had courage beyond physical death - who could look at sacrificial love the ends your physical life as a small price to pay, because eternity awaits. It allows us to say, “but if not...” that is, like Daniel in the Lion’s Den, eternity allows us to exercise enormous courage now. God will save us from this fire, Daniel said, “but if not.. we will yet serve the Lord.” You can say, “but if not” when you know that you have everything in Christ. The church that casts out fear casts in justice and mercy and love. 

“And I say to you this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and so precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren't fit to live. You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you ...and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause--and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or you're afraid that you will be...criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90!...And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice....These boys stand before us today, and I thank God for them, for they had found something. The fiery furnace couldn't stop them from believing. They said "Throw us into the fiery furnace."

If fear is cast out then we can be cast out into the world for the sake of the world. It doesn’t always have to be MLK’s call to enduring bombings and death threats. Into all of your relationships and cubicles and locker rooms where the resurrection of Jesus can bring life into the broken world. 

My friend Duke Kwon puts it this way, the ordinary courage that comes from the resurrection.

“How a Christian proves the tomb is STILL empty the day after Easter: dares to love difficult neighbor; repents for wrongs a little more quickly and a little less defensively; returns to work with a fresh sense of purpose and mission; recommits to praying for that “impossible” situation; quietly perseveres in long-term battle with depression; approaches spouse, children, and roommates with fresh wonder and affection; risks serving where no one else wants to go.”

We are the people of the resurrection. Jesus loves you dearly. He meets you on the road with wounds that tell you all you need to know. 

I spent time researching bees this week. I’m a curious guy, I wondered how the ANE world would have understood the idea of death losing its sting. Anyway I was studying bees because it seems odd to me to say that death does not sting with death can sting like hell. So we’ve probably all heard that honeybees die after stinging and you may wonder why. Well their stinger has small barbs on it that when stinging other insects and some mammals will allow them to sting and continue living. But when they sting mammals with a skin density like ours the barbs get stuck and when they fly away the stinger remains and pulls apart their abdomen and a portion of their intestines. I know it’s gross but you can’t live without that stuff, okay. Death is certain, but not instantaneous. When the Gospels say that death has lost its sting it is telling us that when death stung Jesus he rose from the grave with the stinger in his hands and feet. The very worst that death could do, it did. It left its barb in Jesus and Jesus then inflicted a mortal wound upon death. Death will die, you must know. 

And because death will die we all get to dance at the funeral. It’s a funeral procession we’re apart of this morning, a real New Orleans jazz funeral. We’ve dropped off the body and now it’s time to dance. The resurrection is pure joy for those who are in Christ Jesus. All day we’re told to act like adults, to keep it under wraps, put your head down and get work done but this is our jubilee - we will not sleep, 1 Corinthians says, but we will all be changed in an instant. Death is as good as dead, and because Christ has risen we will rise with him. I fear a lot of things, but I'm not going to be afraid. Are you? Standing here week after week is how I put fear to flight. And say it with me, “Christ is risen!” He is risen, indeed!

Amen.

  

How to feast

How to feast

“The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding feast for his son...” 

This Sunday we talked about how Chrisitianity is a feast from Matthew 22.1-14. Jesus teaches that you cannot be a part of the Kingdom of God without feasting; there must be joy and celebration - your Christianity must party if it is the Christ-centered. God must be the generous host and we must be the treasured guest. What this means is that the battle fo faith is between the temptation to have “kitchen faith” where you must provide for yourself, where you cook the meal, you are the people pleaser, and “table faith” where we joyfully receive from God as his treasured guest. One lives by works and the other by grace. I received a great question during our post-sermon Q&A that asked:

“For those that are comfortable to live with ‘kitchen faith’ because accepting/understanding God’s love is that hard to grasp, what advice or early steps would you have them take to make ‘Table faith’ more realistic or understandable?”.

  1. Friendship. Take in the stories of others. Investing in the lives of others as they have intersected with the Gospel can be particularly helpful. Sometimes we forget the long path of redemption in our own lives and others can help us to remember. I believe this is exactly what’s happening in Acts 2.42-47, and it’s no coincidence that the church grew accordingly!
  2. Hospitality. Setting aside a regular time to welcome new people into our home places us back into the story of redemption. We re-learn what it means to have a generous host and a treasured guest. When we welcome others, we reflect the image of God. And the Bible teaches that merely reflecting the character of God is good for us. Imitating God is just one element of “Abiding” in Him (John 15.4-5), and God teaches us that this leads to much fruit in our lives.
  3. Worship. God has given us the resource of worship to feast on the Gospel. Pray, confess, sing, listen to the Word, take the Lord’s supper, receive the benediction. All of this is able to remind you of the goodness and joy of your union with Jesus Christ. Come to worship expecting to be nourished, and recognize that your interaction with others may be an important part of their feast, too. 
  4. Beauty. Music, art, books, film; For a Christian these expressions of beauty will naturally lead to thanksgiving. But they also shape our hopes toward the future. Experiencing beauty makes us eager to find more beauty. 
  5. Thanksgiving. It is important to connect the goodness of the world, that feast of blessings we receive, to God himself. This is “table faith” and the act of thanksgiving is “table talk.” It can be especially helpful for thanksgiving to be a part of the spiritual habit of daily prayer. Thanksgiving is associated with being “grown up” and rooted in Christ (Colossians 2.6-7)

Union with Christ, union with man.

Union with Christ, union with man.

Among monotheistic world religions the concept of union with God is peculiar. World religions depend on the ineffability of God, his distance, in order to maintain his character as one who should be feared and followed. This has a dramatic effect on human ethics. If you are not in union with God then it makes sense that your behavior is only skin deep, it is outer devotion, it is performance-based. In Christianity God is connected to us at a deeper level. He is affected by us and, more importantly, we are affected by Him. This is why Christianity can, without being arrogant, unloving, or judgmental, talk about your sexual ethics and how we spend our money and our race relations and the need to forgive our enemies - because something greater than simple affiliation with God is at work here - we are in union with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. We belong to God, and the affection, blessing, love, commitment that rests on us also changes us. Union does not just challenge my behavior, it challenges my hope. It believes better than my belief, bringing me encouragement in my grief and repentance in my pride and perseverance in my parenting and fruitful living when I feel cold-hearted. An ineffable, distant God cannot do this. He or she or it cannot be in relationship with us; the argument James makes is that in the case of a moralistic or surface faith the heart of speech is unaffected, so our speech is unaffected.

If we are in union with Christ then speech is only one of the things that will be different in the world around us. We will be in union with the mission of Christ in the world, taking it upon ourselves to be Christs, to speak - and not just to speak but to live - in such a way that the world is rescued. We will not only be a people of the good news, but good news people; indistinguishable from the truth we bring.

In Christ you are willing to suffer for the other because they are you, they are your flesh. Christianity, union with Christ, gives the only rationale for true brotherhood and sisterhood, true unity in the world is born with unity in the Body of Christ, among the people of God. This is why a church consumed by spiritual maintanence, faith only, is so abhorrent to James, and we must continue to reject it and to push on as a church to something greater. Our union with Christ must bless the world. Our neighbor must reap the benefit or it isn’t union with Christ. The world is not civil, it is not safe, people do stupid, terrible, nonsense things to one another. The church must be uniquely courageous here because we have jurisdiction. Human identity is the image of Christ. Human flourishing is the Kingdom of Christ. This is our circus, these are our monkeys.

Faith, if it is breathing, must breathe good works

Faith, if it is breathing, must breathe good works

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17 ESV)

The scriptures tell us that we must reject a non-breathing faith as if it is a living thing. This is a serious offense in our culture because a non-breathing faith allows us to maintain a private spirituality. You know the old, “I’m spiritual but it’s a very private belief.” The only problem with that is that evil and suffering is very public and it demands a public response! The private, easy-going religious person greets physical need with religious language and non-physicality. Be warmed and be filled sir. In the name of Jesus. Faith without works cannot interact in the world of real needs and real non-faith. Somehow we have allowed faith to exist in a realm where it does not have to be seen, or physical, or worth much. And that is perfect for our busy, physical lives. It costs us nothing to wish the world well.

Show me your faith without works. He moves on - you believe in one god, way to go! We think of faith as belief in the existence of God. Even demons believe that, but at least when they believe it, it provokes an actual response. They tremble. They move, we don’t. What’s wrong with this picture? Is it possible that demons have a more orthodox response to God, a more faithful faith, so to speak, than those who call themselves Christians but live lives of safety, comfort and control? To have faith without works, faith that is little more than a hobby, to do this is demonic. Faith without works is dead and deadly, it reduces the kingdom of God to a trivial reality. This is a tragic misunderstanding that is close to what we might call the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. To deny the works of the Holy Spirit is to deny the Holy Spirit himself. It is to get salvation and the gospel wrong. It is that serious. 

The do nothing church, the church content to grow into a base of spiritual maintanence, is an issue of integrity and truth-telling for every member of the trinity: the Father who promised that a world would be changed from the moment of our first sin, for Jesus who promised that his disciples would do his works, and for the Holy Spirit who promised to enliven us so that we might fulfill the great commission. We must not make a liar out of God.  

At first glance, if you’re somewhat theologically astute it looks as if James is contradicting the scriptures. After all doesn’t the Apostle Paul tell us that we are justified by grace through faith - not by works. But we have to understand the situation each book is speaking to - in this case James is not speaking to where faith begins but where it finishes. James is attempting to uphold the significance of the grace of God for not just the beginning of faith but for the end. All of us have seen what happens when a beautiful structure falls into disrepair. James is saying that real faith is finished by works, it is not left barren, vacant, a house with beautiful bones but nothing else. 

The Apostle Paul says grace is so beautiful it results in salvation. James says the grace of God is so beautiful it results in glory. Faith means the person who has been rescued by God cannot help but rescue. Faith means the person who was poor in spirit, who was desperate for the bread of faith cannot watch the poor and wretched suffer. It is a common thread of argument throughout the Scriptures. Jesus more than anyone else says that being forgiven makes you crazy for forgiveness, and if you aren’t crazy for the forgiveness of man it’s a sign that you’ve not been forgiven at all. The church of Jesus must not only pray for the salvation of Jesus but for the works of Jesus, for the Kingdom of Jesus, that the whole world might breathe a living faith. 

Temple

Temple

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17–22 ESV)

{From a sermon given 7.23.17}

 

Once, on return from a conference my flight was delayed, then canceled. It was a late flight and the next morning was my daughter's birthday; I had been away from both my daughters and wife for a week. I chose a flight into dayton that would get me at least that much closer to home, then I could rent a car and drive the remaining distance. The experience of that last hour's drive was maybe the most unholy experience I've ever had - not because I was particularly wicked that night driving home, no road rage. But it was the slowest drive, the miles crept, crept. I knew what was waiting for me - the arms of my wife, a long shower, the faces of my daughters in bed. Everything about it was holy, set apart, beautiful and good. God-sent. And I felt the ache of the distance between where I was and where I wanted to be. It was a long way home. 

It's a long way to holiness. It's a long way that drive, it's a long way late at night and your heart sinks in bed from loneliness or fear. It's a long way to holiness when you walk out of the hospital after a long shift into god-knows what hour of night, and what greets you on the drive home is the thought that you have to work more when you get there. It's a long way to holiness when you can't make ends meet. It's a long way when you show up at a church with runner's shoes and a runner's soul that barely flickers, and you just know you're not going to find it, holiness, here. But you show up anyway. Because who knows, there could be something there, some whiff of something. Something in the stained glass, something in the bread or the wine.

The opposite of holiness is to be distant from God. To know, even if no one else does, that your heart separates you. Here in Ephesians God gives us the contrast between holiness and un-holiness. The distance from being wrong to being righted again. This is a frequent confusion in the church, one with drastic consequences. It is possible to be both moral and unholy at the same time - the Pharisees showed us how. It is possible to be raggedly holy, the disciples, the woman at the well, showed us that. If you think that holiness equals pristine morality, then you will always love your morality more than Jesus. 

So How do you get there, to holiness? If holiness is to be like God in his character and work, united to God and to his goodness, to no longer be a stranger, to no longer live far off from Him it will require something more radical than moral and religious wishing to get there. 

***

That church at Ephesus, so consumed by the mystical, the local deities, the marketplace gods and goddesses you can buy and sell to make the day less blue or fill your pockets. The little deities who were part of a spiritual city. Paul in a letter here says that if you want holiness, you really want the God of the Bible, because unlike so many others that keep you distant, this God brings holiness to you. In fact he makes you into holiness itself. This is what the text is telling us: there is justification, when we are declared innocent by the blood of Jesus Christ upon our embrace of him. That is merely point A. There is also sanctification, being made holy, the process of going from point A to point B. The answer we are given is that holiness is by the Spirit of God at work in the Temple of God. 

A quick primer: if your only exposure to temple is the Temple of Doom, let me give you quick historical data. Temple worship was instituted by Moses, the author of the first five books of the Bible, in obedience to God. The first version of the Temple was a small-scale roving tabernacle. It went wherever God's people went, and through it they worshipped regularly, structuring their lives around the process of hearing the word of God proclaimed, making confession of sins, and receiving a pardon through the blood sacrifice of animals, then receiving the priestly benediction. Around 1000 BC, once God's people had a land and were no longer wandering, they built a permanent Temple. God's real presence among his people was always of critical importance to their daily life. The process of holiness, the way of being right with God, the way of growing up into maturity, was being in the presence of God.

A.W. Tozer, 20th-century american churchman who signed away the royalties for his books to those in need, described the process of holiness this way: 

“Holiness, as taught in the Scriptures, is not based upon knowledge on our part. Rather, it is based upon the resurrected Christ in-dwelling us and changing us into His likeness.”

God builds us together into a temple for his Spirit to dwell. So when we are called together, being built stone upon stone, life upon life, grief upon grief, joy upon joy, belief upon barely belief, your part-time agnosticism upon mine, we become the Temple of the living God. And in all our ramshackle glory heaven breaks in on earth, our mortality is swallowed up by immortality, the Spirit of God which raised Jesus from the dead goes to work in the middle of wherever we are with faith. He "temples" us to make us holy, transforming us breath by breath from messes to holy messes.

To be templed is to be washed clean. Sin and suffering are addressed through the word of God; we confess to one another and to God, we receive the pardon of God for our sins. We agree together that there is power in the blood of the Son. We do not allow ourselves to believe that we do not need cleansing. And we do not let people lurk in the shadows who believe they can never be clean, who are content to beg, who show up in church and are terrified sthat they will be found out, and we don't allow Christians to puff out their chests, who cannot imagine that they would need that kind of help from God. This temple function of being washed clean, which we do each week through the liturgy - you notice during the pardon we take part in the washing that comes from Christ - it allows us to speak courageously even amidst our own failures. It allows us to pursue good even when our hearts are weighed down by sin.

To be templed is to be nourished. The Temple of God has always been a place where faith is strengthened, where we receive the blessing of God to be what we are called to be. We receive the presence of God to pursue holiness. So that when we gather together it isn't foolish to believe that the action of worship could actually change things for us. Part of the way to holiness is for God to feed you by his presence. You must have your faith nourished by God if you are to be holy. A church that is not a temple is merely optimistic. When we take the Lord's Supper each week it is for the real spiritual presence of Jesus that we eat and drink. We want to follow God, we know we need Jesus, so we hear the word of the prophets and the Apostles, and we drink to Jesus! When I tell you that we must press on to uncommon generosity, that blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, I am not pressing on you a burden, but a delight, because you are fed by God for those tasks, and to walk that road is to see God at work in you. 

To be templed is to be set apart. There is a ministry of the temple in its dignifying and commissioning function as well. When the people of God temple together we are set apart by God through our worship-for the task of Godly life in his world. We are reminded of our identity, encouraged in that task, sent out for a purpose. Temple worship is, weekly, an opportunity to remember the goodness of God, the need of the world around us, and the provision of God to meet that need. And for those of us who arrive with two left feet and a grim soul, it must be an unbelievable joy to be told that you have this destiny. But again, if this isn't a temple, if there isn't a cleansing, if there's no nourishment in the gospel, then the benediction is well-wishing and not much more. 

Having been templed by God, how do we bless the world? We make the ground holy in far off places. It means that both our worship of God and our spirituality are temple-shaped. The same way we engage in temple life elsewhere, because everyone temples.

An Ohio State football game is not just a game, it is an experience. There is a liturgy and a responsive reading, there is an emotional process of being cleansed and nourished. O-H-I-O, Hang on Sloopy, sitting in our seats, standing and sitting down, clapping, shouting, hoping, having our emotions engaged. The difference of course is that after the game, without a ticket stub, there is no lasting difference made in our lives. We expect our temples to shape our lives, for at least as long as we give ourselves to them. So how do we live a life shaped by the temple of God?

We hold out for the world a worship service as one of our very best ways to love people and to be a temple for the world. It has structure that helps them learn how to worship, but more importantly, a worship that cleanses, nurtures and sets them apart. Our worship service should temple the world. We are committed to a robust temple worship service. So if you were invited here by someone this morning it’s because they believed that you, as much as they, need to be nourished spiritually, challenged and grown up in God. Anne Lamott, in her story of faith, was brought to a state of conviction over her sin and her need for God through all the parts of worship, not just the preaching but the singing and the readings and those living stones built on the cornerstone - that all of it was heavy, substantial, real and true. Every part of the worship service needs to have some heft.

We also take a temple shape between worship services. It is how the Temple happens outside, it is the way that we become temples too. This week multiple families that do not attend our church were connected to us through the intersection of relationship and need, and families in our church were excited to provide for them. You do not have a temple spirituality unless the outside world is shaped by its presence. When Papa Wemba, the Congolese inventor of the Rumba died, the BBC interviewed grief-stricken Congolese. When they asked about Wemba the people almost unfailingly broke into dance. He shaped them by the shape of his life. The Temple makes temples. Your fellow print machine operators know that you can keep secrets, you hear their confessions, their fears. They do not know but they are experiencing the Temple, but they are, because you are one of those stones. Your patients know when they see you that they are not a patient satisfaction score, or a file that moves from the inbox to the outbox; they know you see them, they know you are not indifferent, they know - somewhere in the cosmic darkness you get sucked into when you are terribly ill, they know they are someone to you. They have been set apart. They are at temple, without knowing it. 

The reason for the Temple is so that there will no longer be far off places and far off people. And if we are going to build a life, if we are going to build a church, and if it will be more than a place for baptizing, marrying and burying, if it will be more than a place for learning bible trivia, then we must commit to being a temple together, so that our church can know Jesus and do some good. That’s all we can ask. That’s where we’re going. A church that cleanses, nourishes, and sets apart. We have an agenda: we want no more far off places or far off people. 

***

In John chapter one, verse fourteen, we learn what it means to go a long way for holiness. The word says that the Word of God, that is, the love of God, the face of God, the power of God, the desire of God, the goodness of God, put on flesh and "tabernacled" with us. We translate it "dwelled" but the word is Tabernacled. He templed with us from the moment he came into the world. He put on flesh because only flesh can bleed. He came a long way for holiness, and the holiness he was after was you and me transformed from point A to B, into people built upon his word and one another, built with him as the cornerstone. He was after us and he came a long way. His very presence in the world was a gift. He was wrapped, literally, in the means to make you holy. That's why he can look at you and call you holy. He calls you holy even while you're on the road, even while you are a long way off, in the middle of things, in the middle of hoping, finding the words to pray, learning generosity at a snail's pace, asking your children for forgiveness, asking your neighbors for forgiveness. Even a long way off you are a part of a holy temple, resting upon Christ and even when you are out of breath, nearly out of hope, having your lungs filled with the Spirit of the living, dwelling, templing, God.