In Christ we see that to do justice is not to get what you deserve. To do justice is to give until it hurts and all things are set right. To love kindness is not to let anything and everything go. To love kindness is to value the person above the rule; to aim for the new life that is possible rather than settle for the way things have always been. To walk humbly with your God is not to hide from every confrontation or keep quiet about your faith. To walk humbly is to give up control and stop thinking that any of us could come up with a perfect list of the fundamentals of anything meaningful.
You are not and will never make yourself perfect; and for that you are loved all the more.
In which Joseph writes a not so flattering Yelp review of the inn…
“At it’s heart, the Christian faith is about making room where there is none…
What begins as a story with no room in the inn, ends with a story of room for all who are willing to come and see. Jesus constantly pushed the boundaries to invite others closer to him. He lived his life unafraid to let people in and by doing so empowers us to know and be known…
To be loved with and even through our failures and shortcomings is the most profound kind of love we can hope for. In Christ, we are loved not because of our ability to be perfect, but through our willingness to be vulnerable. We are accepted not because of the value we add to some divine economy, but because we are God’s children.”
“Until we learn to truly listen, until we care more about how someone else feels than about the letter of the law, until we stop forcing our agendas and start treasuring children of God, the world isn’t going to change.”
Sometimes being seen and heard is all it takes for everything to change. That’s a fundamental conviction I carry with me in all that I say and do as a pastor. We don’t need to put on some idealized or cartoon-ish mask of holiness and perfection. We aren’t called to say the right “church words” or hide behind Christian sounding concepts and ideas. We need to be seen and heard for exactly who we are – and to realize that through Christ we are loved and treasured all the more for it. If we know that kind of embrace, there is nothing we cannot do or face in life. If we never find it, no amount of knowledge or action or fight will stop the ground from shaking beneath our feet.
To be seen and heard does more to empower the life changing work of God’s grace than any tidbit of knowledge or interesting idea or compelling argument every could. The most pressing and needed work of the church is to create the space in which God’s children from all walks of life are able to come together and experience what it means to be seen and heard. To be treasured is to know the sure foundation of the love of God, AND to offer that love to neighbors near and far.
“In the still small voice of the cross of Christ, God declared once and for all that there is nothing we can face in life – nowhere we can go – no fear we can feel, no challenge we can face – where God has not already gone before to bring us back to Him and make abundant life possible.”
1 Kings 19:9-15
This has to be the single most challenging sermon I’ve given – both for how difficult it was for me to get through and also for the sense in which it undermines a lot of popular assumptions about what the Christian faith is and is for. A bit of background you should know before listening to the sermon – last summer we had a variety of really stressful things happen all at once. You’ll hear enough to gather a lot of the details, but what may not be evident is that this sermon came just after our last appointment with an infertility specialist. After trying for a couple of years overall and for several months or so with the specialist, we had just found out our last round of treatments didn’t work. This sermon came in the midst of grappling with what to do next.
Since that time, we’ve decided to adopt and we’ve gained a great deal of peace with that decision; but this sermon came at one of the most chaotic and challenging times of my life. In many ways, it is the most deeply personal way I could articulate an answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Between this and the previously posted sermon, “Here is the Lamb of God,” I think I’m finally beginning to articulate an understanding of my own theory of the atonement – one based on vulnerability and relationship far more than debt, victory, substitution, or ransom.
“In those moments when all that we are is on the line, we are met by the one who came so that even death itself shall die. The temptation will always be around to not care, to not love, to not open ourselves up to the possibility of pain; but at that moment – when it feels like everything we’ve longed for is being taken away – that is the moment when God is most present, offering all that He is to mend our broken hearts and heal our deepest wounds.”
John 1:29-36 & Genesis 22:1-19
This was one of the most difficult sermons I’ve ever preached, but also (or maybe because it) expresses one of the most central convictions of my theology. The Christian faith is not a means of knowing enough to be in control, but of finding the embrace of God when we are finally willing to give up control and risk all that we truly are. If I’m right, we almost always look at theology in the wrong direction. The vulnerability of relationship comes first, which in turn creates the space for words of faith to do and mean something true.