Sunday, April 22, 2018

A New Day

Given at Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church
Psalm 23; Acts 4:5-12

I can see a new day
A new day soon to be
When the storm clouds are all passed
And the sun shines on a world that is free (Pete Seeger).

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the
chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows.
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder…. 
(D.H. Lawrence - from Song of a Man Who Has Come Through)

 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
      your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
      your old men shall dream dreams,
      and your young men shall see visions.
      Even on the male and female slaves,
      in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Joel 2.28-29).

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
      ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
      it has become the cornerstone.’ 

Peter was the man of the hour.
The man who had denied the Christ.

I don’t know him, said Peter.
Not once.
Not twice.
But thrice, I don’t know him.

And then … of a sudden,
In the hubbub and noise.
Jesus catches Peter’s eye.
The cock crows for the rising of the sun.
Darkness fills Peter’s soul.

A horrible recognition:
Why did I do it?
Why was I so cowardly?
Why couldn’t I speak the truth?

I DO know him.
He called me from the boats.
To be a fisherman … of people.

For three years, I labored with him.
Walked and talked with him.
Learned from him.
Watched him carefully.
Promised to be faithful to him.

And in a heartbeat, I threw it all away.
I don’t know the man, said I:
To the servant girls.
And to the bystanders.

And to the mess I was making, I added a curse.
Just to make it clear, to make my point, drive it home:
By heaven, by God, by all that’s holy,
I don’t know the man.

It’s what Jesus said I’d do.
He was right.
Jesus knew me well.
All too well.
Better than I could know myself.

The Bible says that Peter went out and wept.

But all is not lost.
It never is with God.

In the early morning hours, on the shores of Galilee
Jesus, with a fire, and some fish.

The disciples are doing what they knew best:

While the disciples turn the boat shoreward, 
Peter, always in a hurry, leaps into the sea and swims to shore.
And there they have breakfast.

As Anthony Bourdain puts it:

In one of the great moments of the story:
Jesus speaks to Peter.
No intent to harm or shame.
Never a sense of “I told you so.”

With kindness and mercy:
Do you love me Peter?
Do you love me more than you love these fish?
These boats, and their nets?
This beautiful place?
This glorious sea of Galilee?
The morning breeze and the evening cool?
The challenge and the chores.
The work and the weariness.
Your family, your friends?
Do you love me Peter?

Three times Jesus asks Peter.
Three times Peter affirms his love.

Jesus undoes the three denials.
It’s Jesus who moves the hand of the clock.
The clock was stuck at the hour of the cock crowing.
The clock was stuck at the moment of Peter’s denial.

Peter was stuck in time.

Stuck in regret.
Resigned to the fact that he’d better get back to fishing.
To the boats, to the nets.
Nothing else left for him.
He was a failure and a flop.
He made big promises.
But it was all hot air.

Jesus gets the clock going again.
Not backward.
Not even God can do that.
But forward.
Forward to a new day.

Jesus gives Peter another chance.
A moment of grace.
A new lease on life.

A restoration to the work that lay at hand.
And what a work it was to be:
To change the world.

With the good news of God’s great love.
A love incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.
A love that never ever gets stuck in the past.
A love moving forward.
Upward and onward.

To the new day.
To the wonders at hand.
To the tasks of life:
Tasks of love, hope and peace.

And now in Jerusalem,
With a new lease on life:
Peter speaks.

With courage.
No holding back.
No longer giving in to fear.

Kill me if you will.
You’ve already killed my LORD.
So, kill me, too, if you have to.

But rest assured.
Love cannot be killed.
Goodness and kindness cannot be killed.
They live.
No matter what happens.

Love lives on.
Love endures.
Love never ends.

Peter was brave that day.
Ready for the work.
He speaks clearly and with kindness.
He speaks truth to power.

And power doesn’t like it.
Power doesn’t like truth.

Whether it be Peter before the high priest.
Martin Luther before the Holy Roman Emperor.
Martin Luther King, Jr. before an Alabama sheriff at the end of the bridge.
Parkland students, Emma Gonzales and David Hogg speaking to the powerful gun lobby.

Power doesn’t like truth.
Power needs lies to stay in power.

The powers that be … 

  • Racial powers: tell the lie that some lives really don’t matter, or to confuse the issue, cry out: “All lives matter,” which is like saying, “All weather is weather,” or “All food is food.” In the simple declaration of “All lives matter,” a lie is being told, to cover up the reality that for many people, some lives don’t matter at all.
  • Economic powers: tell the lie that poor people are lazy, and should be punished for their poverty.
  • National powers: tell the lie of god-ordained superiority which guarantees the right of nation to run roughshod over others, and by force of arms, if needed, to dictate policy for nations.
  • Religious powers: tell the lie that all other religions are wrong, and those who believe differently will go to hell.
  • Male gender powers tell the lie that men are superior; women are unable to handle serious decisions and moral questions, and women, of course, surely don’t deserve equal pay.

Peter speaks truth to power.
The powers-that-be don’t like it.
But the powers retreat a wee bit.

They let Peter go.
With a warning, of course.
But they let Peter go.

To tell the story:
The story of Jesus and his love.
The story of a new world.
A new day.
A new way of life better than all the lies.

A new way that doesn’t require selfishness and ego.
A new way, kind and generous.
A new way of sharing with one other, so that everyone had enough … no one had too little, and no one had too much.

A new way of life that doesn’t build  walls, because walls are just plain silly … the walls of Rome, the walls of East Germany, the walls of Israel, and the walls some would build on our border with Mexico … 

Peter speaks of a new way of life … 
A new kind of power:

The power that gives away its power … the power of self-denial, the power of self-giving, the power of laying down a life for the sake of another … the power of taking up the cross and following in the footsteps of Christ.

That day, Peter speaks up and he speaks out.
The way.
The truth, and,
The life.

All because on a Galilee beach, early one morning, Jesus made breakfast, and gave Peter one more chance.

Dear friends,
God never gives up you.
So don’t ever give up on yourself.
And, for heaven’s sake, never give up on one another.

Be kind.
Be generous.
Be gentle.

Read your Bible.
Live your faith.
Pour out your love.
Speak truth to power.

And to God be the glory … Amen and Amen!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Hour Has Come
Psalm 119.9-16; John 12.20-33
March 22, 2018

I like being a Presbyterian.

I was born and baptized a Presbyterian … then grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church … either way, clear and concise is our theology …

Theology is what counts … lots of other things count as well, but at the center of our Presbyterian life is theology - what we say about God, or more precisely what God has said about God … 

By the way, when I say “Presbyterian,” I’m referring to what we were called in England and Scotland in the 1600s, because of our form of government … we are governed by Presbyters, or Elders, and linked to one another by our Presbyteries… other churches were called Episcopal, because they were governed by Episcopoi or Bishops, and were linked together through their bishops … and others were called Congregationalists, because each congregation is unto itself, not linked to any other congregation in any formal sense.

So in England, where the questions of governance were debated and wars were fought over it, the three branches of Protestantism were named: Episcopalians on the one hand, Congregationalists on the other, and in the middle, with elements of both, Presbyterians.

When it comes to Protestants here in America, we’re one of these three groups … sometimes we hear the term “non-denominational,” but what that really means is, “congregational” … Baptists, and Assemblies of God are congregational, and other fundamentalist and evangelical churches, like the megachurches … or church life on TBN and other religious sources, all stand alone, congregation-by-congregation … they have associations, or fellowships, or even create satellite congregations, but they’re not linked together like Episcopalians, or Presbyterians … 

Anyway, when I say “Presbyterian,” it’s a reference to our form of government, how we govern, or manage, the local church, and how we’re linked together … in other words, we are stronger together: we believe that our unity reflects the unity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit … we believe that our fellowship and community reflects the love of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit binding us to God and binding us to one another.

Christ prayed that we might be one … and though it’s terribly hard for us human beings to get that worked out, it remains the prayer of Christ, and must be our prayer as well … 

Now, things get a wee bit complicated … on the continent, churches governed as Presbyterians are called Reformed Churches … 

When the Scottish arrived here, they were Presbyterians … when the Dutch arrived here, they were Reformed, and so were the Hungarians and the Germans and the French immigrants …

Many of these churches have since merged into the mainstream of American Presbyterianism … 

Different names, but the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches are governed in much the same way, by Elders, and both share in a common and glorious theology inherited from John Calvin in Geneva Switzerland.

In other words:

We are Presbyterians in our form of government … we are Reformed in our theology … we are Presbyterian and we are Reformed … a strong and vital heritage, something of which all us can be proud, and for which all of us can be grateful.

Our theology always begins with God, with creation … I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth …

Our focus is on God, and then, specifically, what God has done in Christ … and what Christ has done for the glory and the honor of God … it’s all about God … God’s work, God’s purpose, God’s saving grace … we are saved by God, we are preserved by God, we are held and made holy by God … every bit of our faith is God-created … our journey through life is guided and guarded by the Sovereign God, maker of heaven and earth … 

We are bystanders to all of this … we’re not participants in this mighty work of God in Christ … 

We are witnesses to this work … like someone witnessing a glorious sunset …

We are witnesses - we see Christ upon the road to Jerusalem … we walk with him into the Holy City, we might even wave some Palm Branches on Palm Sunday, shout Hosanna, and then, sadly enough, maybe we join the crowd calling for his crucifixion …

Part of our story is sad:
Like Peter, we end up denying Him.
Like Judas, we betray Him.
Like the disciples, we fall asleep in the garden and then we all run away …

We’re not a part of this salvation work … this is God’s work, God’s work alone. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

What had to be done, only God in Christ could do … what was needed to bring about the light of a new world, only God in Christ could do … for God alone is the creator of all that is light: the very first thing God said: Let there be light.

For it is the God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts….

God has done the great work of redemption. What we couldn’t do, God in Christ has done.

Just like Adam and Eve - they come at the end of the story, not before, or even during … they are not self-created, but created by God. God is everything in all of this mighty work.

And by the Holy Spirit, we are caught up and brought into the work of God in Christ … and into fellowship with one another: once we were lost, but now we’re found … to God we belong, now and forever more … there is nothing, nothing anywhere, nothing anyhow, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD.

And with that, let’s do some practical theology … 

Sometimes people ask, “Are you saved?” When I lived in Oklahoma, I got that a lot. 

Turn on religious TV, and you’re likely to hear someone asking that question.

Here’s my answer: “Yes, I am, because of what God has done in Jesus Christ.”

Not because of anything I’ve done, or have tried to do … 

Not because I went forward in a revival … not because I had a great emotional, spiritual experience at 2:00 in the morning … not because I got baptized in a river, or the ocean, or someone’s swimming pool … not because of anything I’ve done, or anything that I’ve experienced …

Certainly not because of my purity, my goodness, my prayers, my repentance, my tears, or even my faith … which hardly sets any records.

It’s all about God … God in Christ … God did it, God does it, and God will do it.

Are you tracking with me?
This is important.

I recently saw a meme on FB: “The best decision I ever made was to follow Jesus Christ.” Stuff like that drives me crazy … it’s self-congratulating  … something I did … and it’s not true.

It’s not our decision … it’s God’s decision, God’s love … we are saved by grace … not of our own doing, as Paul the Apostle says, lest any of us should boast.

And heaven knows that so much of evangelical Christianity is full of boasting … “I chose Christ” is pure nonsense … no one chooses Christ … no one … it’s God in Christ who chooses us … all of us … everyone of us … all of creation, all creatures great and small.

It’s all about God … God in the morning, God in the evening … God at noontide, God at midnight … 

“I was saved 2000 years ago when Christ died upon the Cross …” said Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

And even before that, we were saved … remember what the Apostle Paul wrote? 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
It’s God’s decision … when we’re good, and when we’re not … when we’re faithful, and when we’re faithless … when we believe, and when we don’t … when we’re loving and kind, and when we’re little snots.

You see how this works?

The focus is on God … not ourselves … but only God … God in Christ.

Yes, we’re saved … because of what God has done in Christ.

And when we’re clear about God in Christ, then all kinds of things fall into place!

When I die, I belong to God … because in life, I belong to God … before life, I belonged to God … because everyone and everything belongs to God … the living and the dead … the past, present and future … 

Now, at just this point, some evangelical will say, “If we’re saved, no matter what, then I can go out and live my life any ol’ way I please?”

Paul the Apostle dealt with this in his letter to the Romans … the point being,  if you wanna go out from this place today and live like hell, go ahead; give it a try … but guess what? … the Great God Almighty goes with you … remember the Apostles’ Creed? Christ descended into hell, there to set the captives free. 

Even in hell, the love of God in Christ prevails and wins the day … even when we’re stupid and silly and just plain crazy … God’s love wins the battle. Period! All the time, and all the way.

But in reality, who here is going to walk away from God and live like hell? 

Are you prepared to give this all up? To never again sing “Amazing Grace,” or say the LORD’s Prayer? Could you turn your back upon Christ and never utter his name again in faith? Could you walk outta the fellowship of Christ and never again give it a thought?

It doesn’t work that way, does it?
It’s a foolish question … because the love of God in Christ prevails and wins the heart and wins the mind … the love of God draws us upward … when I’m lifted up, said Jesus, I will draw all people to me.

The Gospel News:
We don’t have to worry about our salvation, because our salvation is not ours to worry about - it belongs to God in Christ, and God is pleased to give salvation to us, and to all the world … and what God gives, God preserves … God will see us through, to the end, and beyond.

Dear friends, if any of you should be anxious about your salvation, your eternal destiny, look to Christ and the promise of God the Father in Christ … you are safe in Christ, even if your life is in shambles … Christ surrounds you with his love, even when your faith is battered and broken … his saving love holds you, his redeeming love keeps you … until the end of time and beyond.

Dear friends …

When hour came for the Son of God to be glorified, on that terrible cross, God in Christ worked out the glory of salvation, for the world … all the world … and that includes, you and me.

Dear friends:

To God be the glory.

Hallelujah and Amen!