Distractions: Jesus, Herod, and Amusements 3/7/2018
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 // Luke 23:8-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On Ash Wednesday, we saw Jewish religious leaders distracted by their preconceived notions on how God should act, but we rejoiced in the very idea that God’s great desire is to have mercy on our souls. Two Wednesdays ago, we saw Judas distracted by a love for money and all of the social and political pressure on him, but we rejoiced that our God is never distracted from keeping us as the apple of his eye. Last week, we saw Peter distracted as he followed the train wreck at a distance, as he hug out with the wrong crowd, but we rejoiced to see Christ as the life of all the living, in the life of little Leona, whose absolute joy was how her God was visiting her in her trouble, making sure that her days of suffering and dying were the opposite of a train wreck.
Today/tonight, I want to begin with a story. One of my not-so-proud moments, in fact, one that I remember to this day as a lesson, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time…. Third grade… I wanted to go to McDonalds and perceived that I had extracted a commitment to do so from my parents…. Not sure that I actually did now that I think about it, and when the hour came we didn’t go, and I did what I still remember to this day. I remember hot tears running down my face. I remember running from the kitchen. I remember doing what I did when I got frustrated, crying into the corner of the living room couch.
I was – and here’s the point, the point that I have remembered for the rest of my life – I was crying over the wrong things. There are times to cry in life, and that was not one of them. There are times to spend your hours and your energy longing and desiring things, but McDonalds on a Wednesday night shouldn’t be at the top of the list.
Herod is seeking amusements. He is looking to consume media. He was looking for a tame lion to do tricks. He was looking at Jesus and loving Jesus for reasons that had nothing to do with Jesus. Instead of falling down in awe of the Living God in his midst, he pokes and prods him for a miracle. For some water into wine for him. For walking on the water of his pool. For multiplying his feast.
It may have looked like Jesus was on trial here. It may have looked like Herod held the power. But in the paradoxical and strange way that our God works, it was actually Herod who was on trial. Will he be ruled by his amusements, or will he be ruled by God?
And this isn’t new. Solomon in Ecclesiastes does the same thing. He says, I tried to satisfy myself with good food and good wine. I tried to satisfy myself with sex and the pleasures of the body. I tried to build gardens and great works, but after I built my empire, I found that in the end it is all vanity. It is all chasing a thing that cannot be caught. It is meaningful, but it only meaningful when it finds itself filled with a greater meaning.
If not, you are just indulging yourself.
One of my indulgences is running. If it came down to being healthy in the way that I choose to be healthy and being a father and a husband, I would absolutely choose to be fat and slow, or, what is more likely, I would absolutely choose to be healthy in different ways than I want, and be with my family.
So, let’s make this argument from the lesser to the greater. If this is true – and, of course, that’s debatable – if this is true, then does it logically follow that as we seek to focus on the highest good, loving the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, then we will have to see much of our lifestyle as our indulgence for the moment?
That there is a time when I can go snowmobiling and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can go hunting, and there will be a time when that is taken away. There is a time when I can run and there will be a time when that is taken away. I will love them for the moment, but I will love them for what they are. Momentary pleasures that come and go in the face of eternal joy.
How much more should we love, should we look to, should we care about the greatest joys, weep over the deepest sorrows, laugh at the grandest ironies, care for the deepest hurts, because as any knee-replacement survivor knows, the more you flex, even if it hurts, the more flexible you become. The more you cast your eyes up, the larger your world will become.
Let us lift our eyes from all the media around us that consumes our attention and bids us sit and stay and be passive, and in this setting, in the setting of the church where you are listening and I am speaking, let this be a refuge, a sanctuary, a resting place, from which you go out and you do and you love and you learn and you act and act and act, so that you are absolutely exhausted not from consuming, not from staying passive, but from really and truly striving to love those who are around you, whether you like them or not, striving to serve those in your workplace, in the ways that make them communicate better, be more honest, let forgiveness flow in a way that heals our organizations.
Jesus Defending His Father’s House
Third in a series of six, “Jesus on the way to the cross” 3/4/2018
John 2:13-25 // Exodus 20:1-17 // 1 Cor. 1:18-31
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are three weeks into our six-week journey toward the cross in this Lenten season. We’ve been seeing Jesus in his baptism and temptation. We’ve been hearing Jesus speaking hard truths. And today, we see Jesus cleansing the temple, defending his Father’s house.
There are two parts to our text today. First, we have the action of Jesus in the temple, and second, we have the discussion that happens afterward.
The first part could be summarized in just one phrase, the phrase that the disciples remembered from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Notice from where Jesus drives the money-changers and animal sellers out. He is in the temple, in the court of the Gentiles. This is where the Gentile people could come and join the people of God to worship God. Jews could advance beyond here and the high priests could even come into the Holy of Holies, but the purpose of the court of the Gentiles was that the Gentiles could pray and participate. When the Jews used this space for selling sacrifices and exchanging coins, they were distracting from the main purpose that the place had. When they did good things but they did them in the wrong places, when intermediate things became ultimate things, they did themselves harm and distracted themselves from the reality of Christ.
How many of you heard this text and wondered what Jesus would think of a door offering? How many of you thought of the silent auction we have in the Discipling Center today? But I’ll say this – Jesus doesn’t say that money in the church is bad. No, you remember he praises the widow for her gift of money into the temple coffers – that’s the same temple that he is crashing through right now. Money is a part of the way we live life, a part of the way that we express our values. The problem of the temple, and the problem for us, is the love of money, the addiction and distraction of power.
How often we get distracted by power! I think about how it’s easy to think, the Christianity of medieval times is when we had the chance to make things right – we had the majority in every way… and look what it got us! It brought us to the Enlightenment. The Christianity of early America had the chance to get things right – we had the majority in every way, and look where it got us! Many would look on what Christendom has done with the power it has had and say, “You’ve done alright, even good. But not good enough to be called ‘the only way to heaven.’” The Christianity of the 1950’s had the chance to get things right, if you want to talk about it that way. There was social pressure to go to church. The pews were filled to the brim, but look where it got us! I could imagine some saying, “You’re good, but it was Christian teaching and the Christian world that gave way to postmodern thought. We are past that now (have you ever heard people say that? Treat Christianity like an outmoded dated religion?). Christianity has tried to rule by power and failed.”
Here’s the strange and paradoxical thing about our Christianity: a Christian’s calling is to the margins. A Christian’s calling is to give away authority. A Christian’s calling is to upend convention for the sake of love – and let me remind you that our reading is in John, and for John, love is another name for the God-man Jesus Christ, in all of his strangeness and all of his glory…
A Christian’s calling is to remember that (and these are Paul’s words) the foolishness of Christ is stronger than the wisdom of men.
In the second part of our text today, the Jewish leaders said, “Do you have the legitimacy to make this critique? Do you have the credentials?” They call Jesus out to “prove it!” They tell him to give them a sign for the act he just committed.
Prove it! A few years back, I went to the house of a dear couple, a woman who had dementia, and her husband. She was having a particularly bad time. She thought that her husband had left her and that she was all alone in her house with a stranger there. Now, this distressed her husband (who, by the way, had never left her), he tried to prove who he was to her. He showed her his driver’s license. He showed her their marriage license. He showed her pictures from their wedding, pictures of their children, pictures of their decades of life together, but still she said, “I know that’s my husband, but you, you’re a stranger to me.”
So, I came in and sat down. We talked for a time. I heard her story. She ended it all by saying, “My husband left me 3 weeks ago. You’re not my husband. You might look like him, but he left.” What would you do with that?
No amount of proving would change her mind. What we did was something different. I asked her, “Is your husband good to you?” Yes. “Is this man good to you” Yes “Would you trust your husband?” Yes “Do you trust him?” Yes, of course.
As painful as it sounds, as much as we want her to know the little answer, the intellectual truth, the right facts, it is far more important, not that she know it with her brain, but that it affects the disposition of her soul, to trust, to receive care. To be loved. And though the little answers had fallen away, she knew the answer that mattered.
And I tell you all that to tell you this: in our text for today, when the Jews call Jesus out to prove it, when they ask for a sign, when they ask for the little truth for the rightful critique of their commercialism, Jesus points to the sign of the resurrection.
The sign that Jesus gives them, it’s almost as though it was too big. They were looking for fleas and Jesus gave them an elephant. They’re only looking at the physical sign. Jesus was giving them the linchpin of history. They were looking for a healing, or, perhaps, a jug of wine from Cana. Jesus gave them the once-and-for-all only miracle you’ll ever need. They were looking for the destruction of the temple; he was pointing them toward the death and resurrection of God.
Many times, we aim too low. I went to a new high school, started up my sophomore year, so we got to do a lot of fun and strange things. One year, someone donated 20 compound bows, so we had an archery class. We set up the targets, pulled back the bows and shot. And as most of you know, the closer you are to the target, the easier it is to aim. You start getting 20, 50, 70 yards away, and you don’t aim at the target anymore. To get the hang of it, you need to shoot a lot, and you need to aim high.
Many times, as we think of success in a church, we think in terms of dollars and cents. We think in terms of people in the pews, people coming to worship, in terms of participation in meetings, in terms of checklists getting crossed off and positions being filled, when the whole bounty of God’s truth and love and justice and grace are being opened to us day after day, week after week. We sit stoic faced in the back of our church, waiting for the preacher to stop preaching, when in these shallow and inadequate fragile and finite words an unknowable God is doling out the unfathomable riches that only God can give – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The calling, the challenge of our God in our text for today is to aiming for what God aims for. I had a recent conversation with my brother where I was lamenting my own great vanity. I can say that a decade ago, I was running about 2 minutes per mile faster than I am now. Now, I know that even in my heyday, I was still nowhere as fast as Al Dekruif in his day, but I was faster than I am now, and that can distress me. Now I was blithering and blathering. But my brother asked me, “Are you healthy?” Yes.. but. No buts. Full stop. You are healthy and that is worth something.
In that moment, he helped me to slow down and see what I was quick to pass over.
In the same way, our God would have us slow down. He would have us remember our worth. He would have us think again how sweet the name of Jesus sounds. He would have us think on what peace and strength come from the cross and the cross alone. He would beckon us to remember that we are shallow and half-hearted creatures searching after a God who has fallen headlong in love with his creation. He would bid us join him on the way of the cross, throw off all the sin that clings so closely, and run the race marked out.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town that remembers how sweet the name that Jesus sounds on a believer’s ears. They find that they need reminding every day that our God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his plans are far more than our plans, and the more that they remember this, the more God imprints his image on their hearts, and the more God imprints his image on their hearts, the less and less they aim at the ground, and the more and more they aim for what God is aiming for, the day when all creation is brought to right.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther