Tag Archives: Jesus is Lord

Building Up the Body of Christ – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 for Pentecost A

June 2, 2017

We just heard the amazing story of the Holy Spirit rushing among the disciples who had been praying together for fifty days. We think of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, because it was on this day that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on  those who were gathered. But for centuries, Pentecost had been a major Jewish festival, and people came from all over the world to  celebrate it in Jerusalem.

The disciples had been huddled in an upper room together for weeks. Now they dispersed through the crowds, each speaking a different language. The people who had come from far and near each heard  the Good News in their own tongue. As Peter preached to the  crowds, thousands responded to the gospel and believed in Jesus as  the Son of God.

This is where it all began. After Pentecost, there was no going back. Somehow, these new believers had to figure out how to be the  Church, how to live and worship together in a new way.

It didn’t take long for conflict to emerge. Some thought faith should be lived out this way, and others thought it should be that way.  There were arguments over worship and teachings and how to  observe the Lord’s Supper. And because the church was made up of human beings, there were arguments over power and hierarchy.

Some thought that they had a corner on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that the gifts they had been given were somehow more important than “lesser” gifts. In the middle of all this conflict, the Church at Corinth sent a letter to the Apostle Paul, asking for some clarification. It’s a good thing for us that Paul wrote back. Continue reading

The Greatest Commandment – Sermon on Matthew 22:34-46

October 26, 2014

When our son was living with us while attending college, I would often come home to find him unwinding from a hard day of study, sprawled in front of the television. Almost always, I would find him shouting out responses to the game show, Jeopardy! He was pretty good at remembering the bits of trivia that were represented by various categories on the game board, and he was extremely good at remembering to always phrase his responses in the form of a question.

It’s easy to play Jeopardy! from the comfort of your own couch, where you can feel brilliant every time you get one right. The stakes aren’t very high if you miss one, and if you get too frustrated, you can always turn off the TV. Jeopardy!’s format puts questions in the form of answers, and answers must take the form of questions. It’s obviously a winning formula for a game show, because Alex Trebek just started his thrifty-first season as game host.

That whole question-and-answer thing was something Jesus was pretty good at, too. Over the past several weeks, we’ve been following the conversation between Jesus and various religious groups, and these conversations all seem to revolve around questions posed as answers, and answers that sound like questions. But today, we come to the end of the conversation. In today’s passage, Jesus gets the last word, and yes, it takes the form of a question.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
           “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”
No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. – Matthew 22;34-46

So let’s review:
In chapter 21, the Temple rulers challenge Jesus’ authority to teach in its courts and throw out the money-changers. Jesus meets that challenge by telling the parable of the two sons, insulting the religious leaders with the news that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God ahead of the scribes and temple rulers.

Jesus then tells the parable of the wicked tenants, further accusing the chief priests and Pharisees of rejecting God’s anointed one. It makes them mad, but they are afraid of the people, so they don’t arrest Instead, they conspire to trap him.

Jesus responds to their anger with the parable of the wedding banquet in chapter 22, a particularly difficult story that ends with a wedding guest being thrown into outer darkness, simply for wearing the wrong tie to the party. “Many are called, but few are chosen,” Jesus tells his opponents. In other words, since you have rejected God’s chosen Messiah, others will be invited to participate in the Kingdom of God in your place, but even these must commit fully to faith in Christ to be included.

Then, last week, we heard the conversation between Jesus and a new batch of antagonists, that awkward alliance between the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians. They try to trap Jesus into revealing himself as either a traitor to God or a traitor to Rome, certain that whichever way he answers their riddle about paying taxes, he will say something worth getting arrested. Of course, they run the risk of causing a riot by setting Jesus up this way, but Jesus slips through their trap by turning their political question into a spiritual one, and he confounds his accusers once again.

We skip over the story of the Sadducees trying to trap him with questions about the resurrection to get to today’s passage, but it’s worth noting that he silences the Sadducees and sends them away with the notion that “God is not God of the dead, but of the living.”

So far, Jesus has interacted with Temple rulers, Pharisees, disciples of Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees. In every instance, Jesus astonishes his listeners with a wisdom they have not heard before. And the stakes get higher and higher.

Now, the Pharisees are back for one last attempt to trick Jesus into saying something that will justify arresting him. Naturally, it’s a lawyer who comes up with the ultimate question. This is actually a no-brainer. Everyone knows the Shema. It’s fastened to their foreheads and on their doorposts. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”[1] It’s a good answer, straight from scripture, and the Pharisees nod in agreement.

But Jesus adds something to it, another commandment from Leviticus. Okay, this is a little unexpected, but still well within everyone’s understanding of what God wants from us. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is certainly a good commandment to follow the first. The explanation Jesus gives for naming both of these commandments makes sense: the first five of the Ten Commandments are all about loving God, and the last five certainly show how to love our neighbors. While putting these two ideas next to one another may have been a new thing for some of those listening, it is well within the bounds of acceptable Jewish belief, and the scholars in the group would have heard other rabbis teach something similar. So far, Jesus has passed the test, and he has said nothing controversial or heretical.

Through all of these tests and challenges, Jesus keeps pointing back to the supremacy of God, and who can argue with that? But the real question isn’t about the Law or doctrine, or who is in and who is out. The real question, the one that is deeper than any the religious leaders have asked so far, is about the identity of the Christ. And so, Jesus puts that question to his opponents. It isn’t a trick question, as theirs have been. He isn’t being sly. He really wants to know what they think. But instead of asking “What do you expect the Messiah to do?” or “When do you think the Messiah will come?” Jesus asks, “Whose son is he?” The Pharisees answer automatically from the tradition of the prophets[2] It’s a sound, scripturally based answer, again the one everyone expects. The Messiah will be the Son of David.

The promise God made to David, and the prophetic writings about the identity of the one who will come to save Israel, all recognize that Messiah must come from David’s line. The Christ will have royal blood, but it will be good old-fashioned red-blooded human blood. The thought has never occurred to anyone that the one who comes to save Israel is anything other than a flesh-and-blood warrior who will conquer Israel’s oppressors.

The assumption that Messiah would be a “Son of David” included the understanding that this future “anointed one” would be a human king to rule over Israel when peace would finally come throughout the world. First century Jews, regardless of their political views, agreed that all kings of Israel were messiahs, because they were all “anointed.” But THE Messiah would be whichever king happened to be on the throne when world-wide peace was finally achieved. This Messiah would not be a miracle worker or a prophet. He would simply get to be the final king of Israel, descended directly from King David.

“How is it, then that David calls him “Lord?” Jesus wants to know. He quotes Psalm 110, which later became quite popular as a “messianic” psalm. But at this point in history, no one thinks of it that way. No one has considered that David might have been referring to his own descendant as “Lord.” Jesus forces them to see Psalm 110 in a new light. And that light reveals that even King David would bow down to this descendant, indicating that THE Messiah would be more than merely human. The Messiah would come from God.

In three short movements, Jesus has taken the most basic, common understanding of Jewish faith – loving God alone – and expanded it to include loving others, and then taken the most fundamental Jewish belief about Israel’s anticipated Savior and turned it on its head.

The Messiah comes from God, and is divine. The Messiah is both the Son of David and the Son of God. Putting these two ideas together was a good deal more radical than putting together the verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus to summarize the Ten Commandments. Loving God and neighbor are indeed the first and second most important commandments, but establishing Jesus’ identity as Messiah is the ultimate point of the entire conversation we’ve been exploring for the past several weeks. Anyone who believes that Jesus is, in fact, The Messiah, must believe that he is both human and divine. No wonder the Pharisees are left speechless. To consider that the savior they have hoped for might actually come from God is more than they can handle. From this point forward, they aren’t asking any more questions.

“Jesus is Lord” is perhaps the earliest confession of the Christian church. In Romans 10:9 Paul writes, “because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

And in 1 Corinthians 12:3, we read, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.”

Saying aloud that “Jesus is Lord” was a dangerous and radical thing to do in first century Palestine. Naming Jesus as Lord identified that very human carpenter’s kid as God. It could get you in trouble with the synagogue for blasphemy, or crucified by the Romans for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as lord. One didn’t say it lightly. If you admitted out loud that “Jesus is Lord” you had to be willing to take the consequences, and that could mean punishment by death. If you were going to go around saying, “Jesus is Lord,” you had to really mean it.

But claiming Jesus as Lord is the only hope we have. We aren’t very good at keeping that commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. Too often, our hearts are distracted by our own desires. Our souls become shallow and closed off to anything that might cause us discomfort, or force us to change. And our strength is often spent in ways that do not honor God. We want to love God, but we don’t know how. We have forgotten that “the primary component of biblical love is not affection, but commitment.”[3] And we aren’t very good at commitment.

Which makes it hard for us to do very well when it comes to loving our neighbor. Especially when our neighbor is someone we don’t like, or someone who is very different from us. We forget that the kind of love God has in mind isn’t a fond emotion, but the hard work of caring more about another’s needs than our own.

No matter how hard we try, or how much we want to, we can’t seem to keep God’s greatest commandment, or the second that is like it. And if we cannot keep God’s law, our only hope is depending on God’s grace. Our only salvation is to call Jesus Lord, to recognize him as the one who became flesh for our sakes, who died that we might live, who rose again that we might have eternal life.

But if we are going to go around saying, “Jesus is Lord,” we have to really mean it. We can’t just give it lip service; it has to show up in the way we live. Our very lives depend on it.

So Jesus looks at us, as he once looked at Peter, and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” The Pharisees and Sadducees are done asking Jesus questions and putting him to the test. Over the next few weeks, as we near the end of this church year, Jesus will be putting us to the test. Here are a few of the questions he will be asking from the 25th chapter of Matthew:

Will we keep our light burning (ten bridesmaids, Mt 25:1-13)? Will we invest our talents (25:14-30)? Will we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned (25:31-46)? In short, will we love our neighbor in loving God and will we love God in loving our neighbor? Will we mean it when we say, “Jesus is Lord?”

[1] Deuteronomy 6:4-5

[2] Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5

[3] Douglas Hare, quoted by Alyce McKenzie

Beautiful Feet – Sermon on Romans 10:5-15 

August 10, 2014

5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or “Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  – Romans 10:5-15

 

How do people come to know Jesus is Lord? Paul has been struggling with this question throughout his letter to the Romans. He has explained how the Law was established to unite us with God, but the Law can’t save, because no one can obey it completely. The purpose of the Law, Paul tells us, is not to tell us what to do. The purpose of the Law is to refer us to Christ, who has arrived and is present with us now. Jesus completes the work of the Law, by making us right with God.

Paul has carefully explained how Gentiles have been included in the promise God made to Abraham, allowing them to become children of God. And Paul has lamented that his own people, the nation of Israel, have failed to see that Jesus is the very Messiah they had been waiting for. It isn’t the Law that saves, but faith in Jesus the Christ.

Now Paul draws on his extensive knowledge of the very Law Christ fulfills to remind his readers that God’s good news is very near – it is in their hearts and on their lips. Paul loosely interprets several verses from Deuteronomy 30:

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the depths, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” …. 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it…. 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Paul is saying that this promise from Moses, given at the end of his life, to the Israelites just before they were to enter the promised land, is for all, and what Moses is promising is Christ. The Word that is in your mouth and heart is the good news that Jesus is Lord, and God raised him from the dead. We are saved through faith in this good news.

“Jesus is Lord” was one of the earliest confessions of faith in the Christian church. It not only negated Caesar as “Lord” but affirmed that Jesus was God incarnate. It’s a radical confession for us today, as well. Asking Christ to rule over us goes against every cultural norm to take charge of our own lives, to focus our energy on satisfying our own desires.

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Paul writes. There is no distinction between Gentile and Jew – all must believe and confess to be saved. The Law has been completed, and all who have faith are welcome in the Kingdom. God has done the work, and brought the good news near to us.

What does it mean that it’s near to us? It’s right under our noses! On the tip of our tongues! It’s the word we share when we tell others about what God has done in our lives to change us. It’s that “E” word that most mainline Christians don’t like to use: evangelism.

Maybe evangelism makes us uncomfortable because we take too much responsibility for the salvation of others. But it is not up to us to save the world. God has already done that. It is up to us to believe that this is true and live as though we believe it. So, if God has already done the heavy lifting through the work of Jesus Christ, what is our part? What does it mean to ‘confess with our lips’ and ‘believe in our hearts’?” Our part is certainly more than private holiness, and delivering soap box sermons on the street corner isn’t what Paul has in mind here, either. What the apostle is urging is a life of inward and outward integrity, a life based on faith.

Kyle Fedler writes, “The Christian faith creates an entirely new geometry. The circle of believers that was once defined by its boundaries, the law, is now defined by its center, Christ. The attention to who is in and who is out is no longer the focus. Rather, the focus is on the One who calls and claims, redeems and loves. We are called to start in the center and live as though the circle is infinite – which of course, it is.”[1]

Yesterday, a couple of us attended a training workshop for leading an Alpha course here at First. Alpha has often been described as “Christianity 101” or a way to invite others into conversations about faith. It’s an evangelism tool that has changed hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, and it starts with the question, “If you could ask God anything at all, what would you ask?” As we listened to the story of Alpha unfold, I was reminded that evangelism is about introducing others to Jesus. We are not responsible for the outcome of the introductions; that work belongs to God.

So, how do people come to know Jesus is Lord? It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can’t call on the name of the Lord unless you believe Jesus is Lord. You can’t believe unless you’ve heard the good news that Jesus is Lord. You can’t hear the good news unless someone tells you how Jesus is Lord. You can’t tell someone how Jesus is Lord unless you go to them. In other words, evangelism is discipleship, and discipleship is evangelism. Sharing Jesus is following Jesus, and following Jesus is sharing him.

In her early book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lemott confessed to a prayer life that consisted mainly of “Help! Help! Help!” and “Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!” Several years later, another book showed how her faith had grown. The title offered a third prayer that Anne had added to her repertoire. That book was called Help Thanks Wow. This week, Anne Lamott posted a story on her Facebook page that reflects an even deeper understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. She calls it her “fourth great prayer” and again, it’s a single word: Okay.

Following Jesus means saying Okay, Lord, I will make you be the center of my life. Okay, Lord, I will go where you send me. Okay, Lord, I will look for ways to tell others about the ways you have changed me into a new person by loving me beyond my comprehension. Okay, Lord. I’m yours. And when we say “Okay,” we open the door for God to use us to bring in his Kingdom.

If you believe in your heart … the early Methodists would always begin their “classes” or small group sessions with this important question: “How is it with your soul?” Early Pietists, who met in similar groups called conventicles, asked a similar question, “How goes your walk with the Lord?” Believing in your heart describes a personal and deep relationship with God that only comes through consistent prayer and Bible study. But it is not something we do in isolation. “How is it with your soul?” and “How goes your walk with the Lord?” can only be asked by others in the community of faith, who walk with us as faith develops in the very core of our being.

If you confess with your lips … we tell others how God has changed our lives, and invite them to consider how God might change their lives. Do you think that’s too hard? Let me tell you how you are already doing it.

This week at the Brown County Fair, more than 70 families took advantage of our Diaper Depot and Feeding Station. We showed those families that God loves them by providing something they needed.

This week, the task force formed to establish an emergency shelter for displaced single mothers and their children gave the project a name. It will be called NUMAS Haus. Community partners have joined the task force, including the superintendent of New Ulm Public Schools, and the director of Brown County Family Services. If funding comes through, we could begin renovation on our vacant house in January, with services beginning as early as March. You made this possible by stepping forward in faith. Can you even imagine the message this sends to our community? By our very presence and participation in this project, we are telling New Ulm that we care about the needs of homeless families, that we love them as Christ loves them.

Next week, children will gather for two evenings of learning about Jesus in Vacation Bible School. In a couple of weeks, we will once again serve a meal through Food for Friends. Our youth recently served as the hands and feet of Christ in Sioux Falls. All of these activities are ways we tell the people around us that we belong to Christ, that we have said, “Okay, Lord.”

Last week, I received this letter:

“Dear Members of First United Methodist Church
I have been a member of a Methodist Church for 64 years – But have never experienced such a feeling of being welcomed as I did Sunday July 27th. My great granddaughter 4 years old, was given the children’s bag – right off – she really used it. Thank you. We were helped to a pew with plenty of room for the three of us – lots of space …. to move about and not distract anyone. At least 4 people came and greeted us before the service began. Then at least 4 people invited us to join them for fellowship time – Bill insisted. Thank you so much, and God bless you all.”

That’s a powerful affirmation that God is moving among us, changing us, so that others lives might be changed through us.

You will hear much more about a new initiative in September, but you should be aware that the Minnesota Conference of the UMC is refocusing its efforts to start new churches and revitalize existing congregations through the Reach, Renew, Rejoice campaign. We can be part of this movement. We already are part of this movement.

As we confess our faith in Christ Jesus as Lord, by telling our own stories of God at work, and living out lives of faithfulness, we are changed. And as we are changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ calls us to share that good news. It’s part of being a follower of Jesus. Evangelism is discipleship and discipleship is evangelism. Whether we share that good news by telling others what God has done for and in us, or by showing God’s love in action, we are the messengers Christ sends to a hurting world.

“How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Amen.

[1] Kyle D. Fedler, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3, 328.