8 December, 2013

The Lion and the Lamb, a Sermon

Sometimes I wish the Bible were more explicit. I wish that it said, “In order to have a successful life, to be loved by God, and to help others feel loved and taken care of, do 1, 2, 3 and 4.” Then it could say, “In order to have a good, healthy church, do X, Y, Z, and ocassionally P.”

But it doesn’t exactly do that, does it? 

It probably doesn’t do it because of the complexity of life… an answer that works for you probably wouldn’t work for me. Of course, it probably wouldn’t work for me, because I’m pretty hardheaded, and I’d probably try to figure out some new and different way to do things. Some of ya’ll might call that rebellion. 

Did you know that when Simon, Jane and Alda interviewed me for this job, Simon told me that he felt like I might have been rather rebellious? That I might be rather rebellious. It makes me laugh to think about it. Yes, probably, I have been rebellious. But, as I said to Simon, I’m not particularly rebellious anymore. It’s probably just my personality. 

But back to the Bible. I find that the things that are required from us are usually the things we don’t do, and things that we do are usually things that are not required. You know what I mean? We spend a lot of time on things like figuring out where the Ark is, when the Bible most clearly tells us to feed the poor. We spend a lot of time keeping bits and pieces of the Law when Jesus tells us that he comes to fulfill the Law, not abolish it. We spend a lot of time aligning ourselves with the really cool characters of the Bible, when we more resemble the annoying ones.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that they are working hard on being nice. Nice. Where are the Scripture verses that say to be nice?

Ruth 3:3
Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking.

Ecclesiastes 6:9
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.

Isaiah 30:10
They tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!” They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies.”

Jeremiah 22:23
It may be nice to live in a beautiful palace paneled with wood from the cedars of Lebanon, but soon you will groan with pangs of anguish— anguish like that of a woman in labor.

Not once does the Bible tell us to be nice.

But the Bible says a lot of things about how to be. And we don’t like very many of them. And we really don’t like people who tell us how to be. The tradition of the prophetic voice in the text  is a strong one, but if you take a good look, you realize that most of the prophets were killed. For telling the truth.

On the other hand, prophets tell us that the impossible is possible. 

Let’s look at our text today from the Hebrew Scripture. 

Isaiah 11:1-11
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.
He will give justice to the poor
    and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
    and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
He will wear righteousness like a belt
    and truth like an undergarment.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
    the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
    and a little child will lead them all.
The cow will graze near the bear.
    The cub and the calf will lie down together.
    The lion will eat hay like a cow.
The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
    Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
    so the earth will be filled with people who know The Lord.

Whenever I read this passage, all I can think about is the Church. That’s Big C Church–the church universal, and Little c church–the local church. I mean, this is talking about Jesus, and when we talk about Jesus, we’re talking about the community of Jesus followers. 

Jesus will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. Jesus will give justice to the poor, and make fair decisions for the exploited. 

And the wolf and the lam will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The caalf and the yearling will be safe with the lion. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together.

Now that… that IS a vision of the church. The church (little c) and the Church (big C) are filled with calves, wolves, lambs, leopards, baby goats, and cobras. It is as if the impossible is possible.

But right now they are not safe together.

What about GCC? Are there wolves? Calves? Lambs? Leopards? Goats and cobras?

In any given church, it’s not really a question of whether there are wolves and lambs. The question is how they get along. How well they respect one another. How well they appreciate one another. 

John the Baptist helped us to see this as he heralded the coming of the Christ. Luke tells us

Here is a sample of John’s preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming judgment? Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say, ‘We’re safe—we’re the descendants of Abraham.’ That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” 

The crowd asked, “What should we do?”

John replied, “If you have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

“Show your honesty,” he replied. “Make sure you collect no more taxes than the Roman government requires you to.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money, and don’t accuse people of things you know they didn’t do. And be content with your pay.”

See? No one mentions nice. And mostly what John seems to be talking about is impossible. Or at least improbable. But John the Baptist says it’s possible.

John is pretty explicit. Be generous, even if it means you have less. Be honest and don’t expect more from people than they can give. And don’t accuse people of things that you aren’t sure they did.

Simple, huh?

Then why aren’t we doing it?

We aren’t doing it because of two simple priniciples. The first is that we believe we are different than every one else. The second is that we forget that everyone is just like us. We believe that the people around us are better than we are, have fewer problems, are more confident, and that we’re a little worse than they are.

But we forget one simple thing: everyone has pain, just like you. Everyone enjoys joy, just like you. Everyone is trying the best they can, just like you. And everyone hurts, cries, laughs, chews their nails, everyone does that just like you. 
We believe that we are the only one who has pain.

We forget that everyone else has pain, too.

But you know, we forget something even more deeply. We forget that we are loved and fully accepted by God. And we forget that God loves us, not IN SPITE of who we are, but precisely who we are. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago about God loving us so much he carries a picture of us around in his wallet. You don’t carry around a picture of somoene in your wallet unless you are crazy about them. That’s how God loves us.

And it’s not in spite of who we are… it’s not “we’re all sinners” but God loves us in spite of it. It’s that we’re wonderfully different, we’re amazingly made, we’re special, each one of us, even in our sameness. And God digs us!

Think about your children and how you love them. They aren’t bad, and you love them in spite of it. They are amazing, and you love them because of it. And you want the best for them. And you want them to make their way easier by being te best they can be.

God sent Jesus, not because God couldn’t love us without Jesus’ sacrifice, but because God already loved us so much, he wanted us to see him more clearly, to love him back, and to finally get it. We are the apple of God’s eye. The center of God’s universe. 

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