Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the sermon I gave on July 1

Be it and Bring it 
A month ago the youth groups went to Portland Rescue Mission, as we do every month to help them serve lunch. We don’t do much really; we just show up and serve the food they have prepared to the people from the homeless community that shows up to eat.  We are just a small part of the big, amazing operation that they have going on there.  It’s easy work for us - it really isn’t a big deal.  Portland Rescue is the big deal.  They work tirelessly to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Their mission is to share the love of Christ with everyone in the homeless community and they do that in a lot of great ways, from their rehabilitation and housing programs to their meals, to providing beds, showers and clothing.  They strive to do it well and to make sure everyone leaves there with a sense of dignity and worth.  They have even added karaoke nights and movie nights to their services, to give the people a sense of normal life.  They are being the body of Christ in a variety of ways to the homeless community, and when you are there, you can sense a little bit of heaven on earth.  I got to experience one of those moments last month.  PRM wants us to be relational with the people of the homeless community, especially at lunchtime. They specifically set up the lunch line with choices for each part of the meal, so you have to ask them want they want, instead of just giving them something.   It’s hard though, when we are only there once a month, to get to know people.  Every once in a while we do.  We get to know some of the people with big personalities, or interesting quirks, the people that are hard to miss.  One of those people is T-Bone.  T-Bone has been coming through the line for the five and a half years we have been working there.  He is known for being a bit of a troublemaker and he always has a lot to say.  He likes to hold up the food line telling stories, or lecturing the kids about staying in school. He is a character for sure, and he and I have hit it off over the years. Six months ago, T-Bone went missing.  He had said he was going back east to visit family, but you hear those stories a lot there, and often they are just stories.  We had asked the PRM crews about him, but they didn’t know either.  To be honest, knowing T-Bones troublemaking background, I thought the worst, prison or death.  I missed him when we went down to serve.  Last month though, T-Bone came walking through the door, and I have to tell you, maybe I shouldn’t be excited to see someone in need of food and coming through that line, but I was.  I couldn’t hold back my enthusiasm. I shouted out to him, “T-Bone, you’re back! It’s so good to see you!” He looked at me for a bit, and at first there was pain in his eyes, and I thought I had offended him by calling him T-bone, or something was going on with him, and I thought things were going to go down hill fast here. His expression changed though, the pain was replaced by joy, and he was beaming. His eyes got all watery and he came over and said, “girl you just made my day”. He then started telling everyone around him that I remembered him.  He remembered me too.  I am a bit inconspicuous with my tattoos and my daughter and the hooligans that are always with me.  We are told we aren’t supposed to have physical contact with guests, but when he came around the counter to hug me, I couldn’t stop it.  It was a moment of heaven on earth. He spent the rest of the time holding up the lunch line and lecturing Tabitha on staying in school and her goals.  He kept thanking the kitchen staff and me and telling us how great it was to be known. T-Bone felt joy and respect and love that day; he touched heaven in that line and so did I.  Really, it’s all due to Portland Rescue Mission.  They are being the kingdom of heaven as they follow Jesus and they are bringing it to earth.  They work in such a depressing atmosphere, helping people that are so broken, lost and forgotten, and yet they bring the  love of Jesus into that and make something beautiful.
I had a part in that for like two minutes, and then I went home that day and was grumpy about my messy house and the million things I had to do.  I brought it for like 5 seconds that day, and then I dropped it.

In this passage in Luke, 

Luke 17:20-21

New International Version (NIV)
20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[a]

Jesus is saying that heaven isn’t just a future concept, that the power and glory of God here with us isn’t some far off thing or crazy revolution.  It is here and now in our midst. There is argument about whether the Greek word, entos, here means within you or in your midst. Either way, he is saying heaven isn't just a future thing, it's here.  I don’t know about you, but I am missing it.  So often I am living my life, just thinking things aren’t that great, and man heaven would be so nice right about now.  We have had a rough last year and more than once I have prayed over and over again, “Jesus just come back now please. I don’t want to live on this planet of suffering and strife anymore, I don’t want any of us to have to, so please come back now”. I was missing the kingdom that Jesus started here with his presence and that he left here with us through his resurrection.  Maybe you have been missing it too.

Well it’s time for that to change.  We have to BE it and BRING it.  That is what we were created for.  We were created to live with God in his presence in paradise.  Do you realize that?  The beginning of our story, that beautiful poem in the beginning in Genesis, you know the one that starts with in the beginning?  In the beginning when God formed us in his image, using this beautiful imagery, this poetry of forming us from the dirt, we were living in paradise with him.  And God, in his amazing love and mercy, gave us the freedom of choice in the beginning, we could walk with him in paradise and obey his word, or we could have it our own way.  We chose our own way, and that grieved God but it didn’t stop him from pursuing us with his love and his grace.  We see all through the Hebrew Scriptures, that God tried to rescue his people back to himself.  He saved them from themselves, he gave them choices, let them screw up and then worked really hard to help them change, and give them freedom.  He raised up prophets and leaders, all of whom had problems and struggles of their own to call the people back to himself.  Then he sent Jesus.  He put himself into man quite literally and came here to rescue us.  To bring us back to communion with him. When Jesus came people wanted a revolution, they wanted to be free from oppressive governments and religious structures.  Jesus brought them one, but it wasn’t what they were expecting.  He brought them a revolution of love, rooted in sacrifice, his sacrifice.  A revolution rooted in living our lives not for ourselves, but for community, for others, so that all of us can experience the love of God, and we can see his work, his heaven here on earth.   Jesus started the work, and I do believe he is coming back to finish it, but it is our choice now to allow him to work through us to continue it.

Whew that was a lot, did you follow me there?  Jesus brought that kingdom, that paradise back and he is entrusting us to be it and bring it.  To live in the kingdom of heaven and to share it to others until one day we all get to share in it together when he comes back.  But how do we do that?  How do we do that all the time?  I mean we are a mess right, I know I am.  I can have a great moment and then instantly be grumbling about my life and forgetting to work for the good in others lives.

Well take heart, because in the beatitudes Jesus tells us blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  We can’t do it on our own; we can’t be it and bring it alone. When we recognize that, and we look to Jesus, we open the door for him to work through us.

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven, and his followers would get frustrated, because he told parables about it and said these crazy things, like it’s in your midst, when they wanted an armed revolution.  One of the parables he told was that of the sower and the seed.  If you have had any background in Sunday School you probably remember it.  I just read the arch storybook version I have had since I was a kid to Elijah last week.  If you are new to all this, though, don’t worry, I have a Lego stop animation version, found on YouTube, for you all to watch right here www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LvvHXaKZPE.

His own disciples didn’t get what this meant, so let’s break it down shall we? He is talking about the sower, that’s him, not us.  Sowing seeds, the works of God, his Word. Word means Jesus, it means life, it means God’s teachings to us, and the way he calls us to live.  He calls us to live differently if we are following him.  Read the sermon on the mount if you want more detail on that. Our lives are to be about the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving others.  Right? So he is sowing this, he is planting this all around us, scattering it everywhere.  We have to respond to it, but we have a choice.  We are the soils in this story.  We can choose what kind of soil we can be.  Did you get that?  You have a choice.  God knows we screw this up, but he still gives us a choice.  What a merciful, graceful God we have.  We have a choice in how we respond.  Will we be a hard path, where the seed can’t get in and birds eat it before it ever has a chance to take root? Will we not let the kingdom of God rule in our lives, not let Him have any authority.  Or will we listen, be like the rocky soil, let the seed in, but not give it a rich foundation.  Then we can let the kingdom in a little bit, but eventually when things get tough, it starts to wither.  Or we can be like the soil that is good and lets the seed grow, but we also lets weeds grow too, we feed into things that aren’t good for us, and we let them take root in our lives and eventually that chokes out the kingdom work.  Those weeds are different for all of us, what you can handle and do and doesn’t take over your life, maybe I can’t, but there is probably something else in yours that squashes your ability to see God and others.  We have another option though.  We can be good nourished soil, full of life and nutrients, and we can let the word grow in us, and produce a crop. We can take care of the weeds before they choke out what God is trying to do.  We aren’t the sower, it’s not us that all this comes from, and we aren’t the seed, we are the soil. 

We need to be it and bring it.  We need to get our soil right. I confess, my soil has become rocky and dry lately.  I have not been tending to it, and I have been burning out. Maybe you have too.  So how do we be it and bring it, how do we choose good soil instead?

Irenaeus of Lyon, and I know you all have been following his blog, keeping up with his writings etc.  He was an old scholarly type saint and he wrote: “For the glory of God is the human person fully alive; and life consists of beholding God”. I like that.  We are fully alive; we are fully bringing it when we are beholding God.  We were created remember in God’s image and made to be in his presence.  We are fully alive when we remember that, when we remember we are loved, and valued and worthy because of the one who gave us beauty and worthy.  No matter who we are we have a part in God’s kingdom, but when we lose sight of him we lose sight of that.  So we have to behold him.  We have to live under his authority.   Then our soil can be enriched. 

How do we behold God, how do we sit in his presence?  There are so many things that need to get done on a daily basis.  I don’t know about you, but carving out time to be with God just gets harder and harder.  This week was crazy in our house.  The week before was VBS and that was a non-stop week of going and doing, and then we had to clean that up and get ready to go to Alaska on Tuesday.  But I knew I had to attempt to be it and bring it today, and I knew I couldn’t do that if I didn’t spend more time in God’s presence, reading his word and in prayer.  So I tried to fit it in, getting up a little earlier, and staying up, and sitting down instead of running around my house cleaning and getting all the laundry folded.  I have to tell you, yesterday, two guests arrived at my house to a mess.  Luckily they are trying to follow Jesus too, so I can hold them to a standard of grace and forgiveness and mercy.  It isn’t easy to make time for these things, and we cannot do it all.  Jesus promises though, seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added unto you. He says that in a very long chapter about worry.  Don’t worry about what you will eat and what you will wear, seek me first, he says.  He makes us a promise there.

There is this thing called the Shemah, it’s 3 parts of the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish people have said it for centuries. Part of it is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9,  4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. It comes as God is reminding them to seek him first, and he says to share it with their children during the day, to put it on their house, to wear it around their heads.  Little reminders all around them each day.  A short thing said over and over. Even then God understood us, even then it seems they were having problems letting things get in the way of them seeing God in their lives, and remembering his authority, remembering the work he was doing around them.  They didn’t have smart phones that were always buzzing with reminders of other things, or internet, but this is a problem and always has been for us all.  So God gave them a way, to memorize his word and to always have it with them.  They literally put and still do, mezuzah’s boxes on their doorposts with scripture, so when they came and went they saw it.  They wore things on them, that had scriptural symbolism, or scripture itself, and they memorized it.  They prayed as they were saying these things.

What can you do, or tie around your wrist to put God’s word in front of you?  Maybe you use post it notes on a mirror, embroidered pillows with verses, bible memory tools on your smart phone.  Maybe you have carved out a quiet time in your day, everyday when you can spend time with God by praying in a journal or reading through the Bible. Maybe you can use your commute time, or the time you spend running, or walking.  I know I have trouble with quiet, and a lot of times I draw near to God with music, and the words, often words that have come from Psalms, like the songs we sing here, draw me into God’s presence, and remind me of his authority.  We have to find ways to nurture our soil, to keep ourselves close to God. How can you be it, be the follower of Jesus the person living in the presence of God you were supposed to be?

And how can you bring it, how can you bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Being in fellowship with one another helps us bring it.  The church is a place where we are supposed to encourage one another to be it and bring it.  God brings us together so we can have an even bigger crop together.  Sharing our resources, our talent and our time.  But we aren’t just supposed to bring it to each other; we are supposed to bring it to Portland.  How can we bring the kingdom of heaven here, all around us?

Many of you brought it at VBS a week ago (Vacation Bible School at MPC was July 18-22, nearly 100 kids attended from outside our church community).  You gave your time and your talent, to be here with the kids.  Most of those kids aren’t a part of our church, but you loved them and made them feel welcome.  They had a great time here and they experienced the love of Christ through you.  One kid came and was kind of grumpy at the beginning of the week, he was making trouble. On Wednesday we brought the waterslides out, and he came up to me, and said, “Are we going to the pool, you guys have a pool here right?” I said no, there is no pool here, just water slides”.  He was upset and kept saying. “Waterslides, that’s stupid, we should just go to the pool”. Then he got out to the waterslides and I could see he was excited.  He went down one, and got out and said, “for God’s sake, you should at least heat the water, it’s cold”.  It was awesome! I could see that he was starting to enjoy himself, but he still just couldn’t let go.  Then a couple minutes later I saw him zooming down the waterslide, and he got off and he said, “this is so AWESOME!” and I had to yell for him to quit running, he was so excited.  He came with a hardened heart, but it softened over the week.  He got to experience a piece of heaven on earth.  I heard from other parents that their kids experienced the same thing.  For one week our church brought heaven to earth, with the seeds God planted.  We were some pretty great soil.  But how do we keep it up?

How do we be people that aren’t complaining about how rough life is, but are celebrating the goodness of God?  There will always be suffering; we live in a broken world.  God mourns with us in that suffering, but he also wants to bring healing and heaven and we have a part in that.  We can choose to see the good, and bring the good that he began.

Shane Claiborne, a guy who has gone so far as to live in an intentional community in the worst part of Philadelphia to better be able to be it and bring it, tells a story go when he was living in Calcutta India with the poorest of the poor.  They would hang out with the street kids and give them birthday parties.  They would celebrate these kids that were living on the streets that the rest of the world had forgotten.  They would have a party for them, and at one party, they got the birthday boy an ice cream cone.  This boy, who had nothing, took this ice cream cone and licked it, and then he passed it around to everyone, a lick for you, a lick for you.  Shane Claiborne like me has a fear of other people’s saliva, but he said even he couldn’t resist taking a lick of this cone.  Instead of focusing on how bad his situation was, this boy saw something amazing and he had to share it, he just had to share it with everyone. 

We have the kingdom of heaven. We have heaven right here, right now; we just have to share it.  We have to be it and bring it. I hope that you can be thrilled and excited with the possibility and the reality of heaven here on earth, so that you can be a follower of Jesus and bring his kingdom here now.

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