Streams of Living Water | John 7:37-43

Picture, picture, picture. That was Rabbi George’s favourite phrase. He said it to us, everyday, during our tour of the Middle East.

Pyramid. Picture, Picture, Picture. Temple. Picture, picture, picture. A Shepherd with his flock. Picture, picture, picture.

Its not that George was inviting us to pull out our cameras all the time. What he was doing, rather, was inviting us to look. He wanted to give us eyes so that could see the concept behind the picture. To see through the picture, into the ways of God.

Its amazing just how many pictures God employs to communicate himself and his will.

For instance, in Isaiah we read: “A shoot will rise up out of the stump of Jesse. And from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1)

That’s a picture. Isaiah could have just said: Look people, God’s won’t forget the covenant he made with King David, Jesse’s son. Things look hopeless now, but you can count on God to raise up a new King. That’s the literal message. But the picture communicates better than literal message.

The same goes for what Isaiah says next about peace:

The wolf will live with the lamb,

    the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

    and a little child will lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

Isaiah could have just say: And when that new King Comes, the result of his rule will be peace. That’s what is meant here. But instead of simply telling us, Isaiah paints a picture.

The bible is a long book. I’m sure that with a good editor, God could have distilled the message down to a few thousand words. But he didn’t. A he didn’t because he wanted to give us a lot of pictures. Pictures help us.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

Then I looked out over the valley, and behold, it was filled with dry bones. And then I heard a voice that said: Can these bones live?

Speak to the bones, the voice said.

I did. And the valley of dry bones came to life.

Picture, Picture, Picture.

One picture that shows up a lot in the scriptures is the image of living water.

Now, of course, living water isn’t just a picture in the scriptures, it was also a real and necessary substance. For the Israelite, living water was fresh water. It was water that moved in a river instead of sitting still in an old cistern. It was water that you could drink, and clean yourself in. Living water kept your animals alive and allowed your crops to grow.

So it was a real thing, just like fresh water is a real thing for us. But because of its importance, it also became a picture that God used to describe his ways in the world.

In Ezekiel 47, for instance, Ezekiel is given a vision of a river flowing out of the Temple. Its starts as a trickle. But eventually is grows so deep and wide that it cannot be crossed.

And all along the banks of the river, Ezekiel sees trees sprouting up. These trees are quite remarkable because they produce fruit every month, all year long. And the leaves on the trees produces a balm that brings healing.

What does this picture mean? It’s a picture of God’s Kingdom. And the life and abundance that flows out of the place where God resides.

Picture. Picture. Picture.

And let me tell you that this living water business was a big deal for the ancient Israelite.

Here in B.C. we have living water leaking into our basements. The rain drives us nearly insane for 6 straight months.

But in the middle east, every drop is precious.

This is so stark in Egypt. The nile flood plain is a lush, green place. Can you see the green in this picture. Palm trees. Hay that’s ready to harvest. Its a great place for growing food. But on the other side of the road, where the mountains are, that’s the beginning of the Sahara desert. The contrast is stark when you’re stand on the road. On the right side of the road you have life. On the left, you have death. Stay near the living water and you live. Venture away and you die.

And what did God do in the Exodus story? He took Israel away from the river, and into the wilderness. No wonder they complained about water.

“God brought us out here? Why did he do that? Moses!”

And so Moses, probably thinking the same thing, brought the people’s complaint to God. God told Moses to do something strange. He told Moses to speak to the rock. And he promised that as he spoke, water would come from the rock. But Moses is too angry to speak. And so he beats the rock instead with his staff. And water gushes out.

The Israelites roamed the wilderness of the Sinai for 40 years. They didn’t see a fresh water river or lake that entire time. They only drank what God provided them from the rock. And then, finally, they arrived at the Jordan River, just east of Jericho.

Can you imagine what that was like for them?

My recent tour spent 6 days in the wilderness of Sinai and Jordan. And let me tell you, when we arrived at the Jordan River, we were speechless.

Living water is life.

So its not wonder that the Biblical employ this picture, picture, picture, to speak the truth about God and his Kingdom

The prophet Zechariah jumped on this picture at the end of his message too. He prophesied of a day when the Lord himself would push back the enemies of Israel. And on that day, he said:

“… living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea [Dead Sea] and half to the western sea [Mediterranean], in summer and in winter.” (Zechariah 14:8)

Jerusalem is an elevated city. Its all downhill to the Mediterranean on the west. And its all downhill to the dead sea on the east. So when it rains in Jerusalem, the water washes down to the East and to the West. 

But in Zechariah’s picture, the living water doesn’t just flow during the rainy season. It never stops flowing.

This is a picture of life. And the goodness that flows out of the place where God resides.

So… with that water colour backdrop in mind, lets see if we have eyes to see the picture, picture, picture that Jesus gives in John 7.

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7:37-38

Jesus is in the temple as he shouts these words in a loud voice. It was the last and greatest day of the festival, we’re told. The Festival that Jesus was celebrating was the Festival of Booths, also know as the Feast of Tabernacles.

During this festival, the people lived in tents. They camped out. And as the camped, they intentionally remembered how God sustained them in their wilderness after they had exited Egypt. They remembered the manna that appeared every morning. And the water that came from the rock. In Chapter 6, Jesus already referred to himself as the manna which came down from heaven. And now, he’s going to lay claim to the water too.

The Feast of Booths took place at the very end of the dry season. Just after the harvest. And so, just as the people were remembering God’s provision in the wilderness they were also celebrating God’s provision at the harvest.

But this being the end of the dry season, it was also a natural time to start praying for rain. We feel something of this urgency for rain at the end of our dry season too. In late August our whole Island is parched.

But it’s even worse in Israel. Their dry season is much longer there. So, all through the Festival, they would pray for rain.

In fact, each day, a solemn processional would take place. The Priest would lead a group of people down to the spring at Gihon. The priest would dip a golden pitcher of water into the pool. As he did that the choir would sing a song based on Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

Then the processional would return to the temple through the water gate. The priest would take his place behind an altar, and pour out the water into a silver funnel. The water would then flow out on the ground. On the 7th day, the greatest day of the feast, this processional would happen again, except the Priest would walk around the altar 7 times before pouring out the living water.

Now… imagine you’ve just participated in this processional. Its hot. Its dry. You’ve prayed the prayers and sang the songs. You saw the water being poured out by the priest. And then, all of a sudden, you hear someone cry out in a loud voice. Is anyone thirsty? Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. For whoever believes in me… they will have living waters flow from within them.

Needless to say, Jesus words caused quite a stir. “Who is this guy? He already called himself the bread that came down from heaven. And now he’s calling himself the living water. What’s next, the light of the world?”

Some dismissed Jesus as being crazy. But others wondered… “Maybe this person is who he says he is. Do you think he’s the Messiah?”

Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink. For whoever believes in me, they will have living waters flow from within them.

This is a big picture, people. Jesus is portrayed as the source of living water. An eternal spring welling up in a dry and thirsty land. Those who come to him in faith, he promises, will be filled up and overflowing. And they will now become a source of living water for others.

“Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink. And if you do, streams of living water will flow through you.”

There is much that is amazing about this picture, but let me direct your attention to three things in particular. 

First notice that thirst is the only qualification one needs in order to come and drink.

This means that the only thing you need to have in order, in order to come to Jesus, is an awareness of your need for him. Let me say that again. The only thing you need to have in order, in order to come to Jesus, is an awareness of your need for him.

The gospel invitation as wide open as the world. It is for Jew and Gentile; Male and Female. And every other category of person under the sun.

All you need is to know that you’re thirsty.

And we are thirsty creatures, aren’t we? One of the most universal things you can say about human beings, I think, is that we seek fullness in life. We want satisfaction. And so we try, and we try, and we try, and try. But we can’t get no, satisfaction.

We look for it in… Pleasure, food, alcohol, exercise, academic or career accomplishments, spouse, family, etc. etc…

These things can temporarily quench our thirst. But they don’t satiate in the way we desperately want them too.

The Christian gospel hands out Christ and says drink. Here is the source of life. The only water that truly quenches thirst.

And anyone can come to him. Free of charge.

But you do have to drink in order to experience the life.

And that’s the second thing to notice about Jesus words here. His call to Faith. It is possible, you see, to be aware of your thirst, without actually stopping to drink. Maybe you get distracted by something else. Or maybe you think the water is corrupted somehow, and probably shouldn’t be ingested.

Some who heard Jesus that day came to this conclusion. “We know this guy. They said. We know where he comes from. No living water flows from there.

But others came to him and drank. Zacheaus had a little sip and in his joy, he immediately started giving away all his possessions. Nicodemus was skeptical at first. He came to Jesus at night. He wanted to check the P.H. of this water source.  He left unsure, but eventually he came back. And at the end of John’s gospel, Nicodemus is one of the people who helps Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body down from the cross.

Maybe he saw the blood and water pouring out of Jesus side, and said to himself: Surely this man is the Christ.

To have faith in Jesus is to trust him with your thirst. To build your house upon his words. And to drink, exclusively, the water that he is offering.

And finally, notice what happens to those who come and drink. They themselves become bearers of living water.

Zechariah imagined a day in which living water would flow constantly out of Jerusalem, to the east and to the west.

Jesus says that those who come to him in faith, become that stream.

Now the narrator of John’s gospel adds an important little editorial comment here.  By this (streams of living water business) [Jesus] meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. ~ John 7:39

Its like John wants to peel back the curtain for a minute, and tell us what all these pictures mean. “Its not that Jesus is talking about actual water here,” he wants to say. He’s talking about that life that is on offer in him, that he pours out when he sends his Spirit.”

Perhaps its not surprising that the bible uses pouring out language when referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Peter quotes Joel 2 in his Pentecost sermon. On that day, writes Joel, The Lord will pour out his Spirit.

John the baptist said, “I baptize you with water. But there is one coming after me and I’m not worthy to untie his sandals. He will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Spirit.

So this is a multi-layered picture we’re getting today. But the basic idea is still clear. Jesus is the source that truly brings life. He pours out his thirst quenching blessings on those who come to him in faith. And they in turn, become streams of water in the wilderness.

I have a little more water and a couple cups up front today. I need 3 volunteers. Together, we are going to try to picture the picture, picture, picture that Jesus gives.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. John 7:37-38

Think about the Spirit brothers and sisters. The Spirit which comes from God and is poured out by Jesus himself. What does he give us?

The Spirit gives us new life in Jesus name.

The Spirit reminds us everything Jesus has taught us and makes us more like Jesus

The Spirit knits us into a new community. The Church.

The Spirit empowers us to serve Jesus in the world.

This is why Jesus poured out his Spirit. The there may be streams in the wasteland. New life in the wilderness.

New life. New purpose. God’s kingdom streaming out into the world.

Picture, Picture, Picture.

And you are, or could be apart of today, this stream that continues to proceed East and West from Jerusalem. The river that brings life to the world.

A story to conclude.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Henry Wildeboer was the Pastor at 1st CRC in Calgary. Through Christ’s leadership in that community, and Henry’s faithful witness, a charismatic renewal of sorts took place. The Spirit was poured out.

There was a man named Philip living in Calgary at the time. He was skeptical of this revival. He was an elder at the time too, in a different church. And his consistory sent him over to 1st CRC to monitor the situation.

Philip went into the service skeptical, but he came out filled up by the Spirit.

He went home and the next day he called a family meeting. He shared his experience with his adult children and his young grandchildren. He confessed his sins to them. And asked for their forgiveness.

One of the little grandchildren in that mix was a boy named Trevor. Trevor’s dad was greatly impacted by Trevor’s grandfather’s confession and experience. This impacted Trevor’s life because now his Father was more actively drinking Christ.

Trevor grew up and eventually went to Seminary. Now he’s at the 1st CRC in Vancouver. That Church almost folded, but its been given some new life over the last 10 years. One thing that has happened is that the Church attracted a small group of students studying at Regent College. Trevor and his wife poured into those students and modelled for them what the ministry of the gospel looks like.

Those students are now pouring out living water in cities all over western Canada. Andrew is pastoring in Prince George. Joe and Michelle in Telkwa. Calvin Chen is planting a Church in the Seattle Area.

Trevor and Julia have three sons. They named one of their sons, Philip, after the Grandfather who first drank from the well.

Many of you are here today, because at some point in your life, you crossed paths with someone who had a fullness that was attractive to you. And you came to discover that that fullness came from Christ.

The Spirit-Filled river has not stopped flowing. The water-fall cascaded onto Jerusalem many years ago, and it has been bringing life to the east, and life to the west, ever since. 

Are you thirsty? Come and drink. And you too can be filled up with the living water that brings life.

Amen.

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The Real | Matthew 7:15-23

So, I have in my possession today, a bill worth one million dollars. That’s right. One million dollars. I found it the other day while walking down the street. You might say that it was my lucky day.

I thought about putting it in the offering plate, but maybe I’ll take it to the bank first, and see if they can break it into smaller units.

I wonder what the bank teller is going to say when she sees this bill early tomorrow morning. “Congratulations Mr. Salverda. Its not everyday one of our clients comes across a million in cash. You’re rich!” 

That’s one thing she could say.

But my hunch is that the conversations going to go like that. Any guesses what I might be told in the bank tomorrow?

“Counterfeit.” She’ll say “I’m sorry Mr. Salverda, but the Bank of Canada doesn’t stand behind this bill. Someone clearly printed this off the internet. Its actually not that hard to tell. The back side is plain white. Dead giveaway. It also says: ‘this is not legal tender on the front.”

Counterfeit.

The world is filled with counterfeit stuff. Counterfeit sunglasses. Knock-off pants and shirts. Ice cream that isn’t made with real cream. The worst.

I recently bought a little stuffed camel for my daughter, Abigail. I bought it at a market in Jordan, just East of Israel. “Authentic”, the man said to me. “Made in Jordan. Good quality. 20 dollars.”

“Made in Jordan, eh? Well how but I give you a million dollars for it.” That dumb Camel is already falling apart.

Sometimes its easy to spot the difference between the real and the counterfeit. But other times, it’s not so simple.

This is especially true when it comes to people. We’re good actors. We know how to craft an imagine and massage a message. How do you tell a good politician from a bad one. A Good salesmen from bad salesman. Who is for real and who is a fraud?

Jesus called out our capacity for hypocrisy earlier in the sermon on the mount, and he returns to that theme now. Clearly, Jesus has a strong aversion to all things counterfeit.

Beware of false prophets, he says. They come dressed in sheep’s clothing. They will look and sound like they belong. But in reality, they are ferocious wolves.

And not all who testify that they belong to the Lord, are actually living in obedience to the Lord. Outwardly, they may look the part. But in reality, I never knew them.

How do you tell the difference between the real and the counterfeit. Answer: You will know them by their fruit.

“False prophets”. Jesus warns his disciples about them here. And in basically every New Testament book after Matthew, the warning is issued again.

In Galatians, for instance, Paul tells the Christian community to have nothing to do with the Judaizers. These people were preaching that Christ wasn’t sufficient. They thought that people needed Jesus and that they needed to submit to various parts of the law of Moses in order to be saved. And so Paul calls those false preachers out, and tells the Church to remain rooted in the gospel that they received.

And Peter, in 2nd Peter warns the Church to avoid people who deny the sovereign Lord and the way of the sovereign Lord in the world. Adulterers, Peter calls them. Living for their own pleasure. Greedy for personal gain.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah says this about False Prophets:

“They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ Jeremiah 23:16-17

In other words, false prophets speak their own thoughts when they should be proclaiming God’s thoughts. In Jeremiah’s day, they were conjuring up words of comfort when they should have been calling people to repentance.

Frederick Dale Bruner makes a good observation in his commentary on this text. He connects this teaching on False prophets with Jesus prior teaching on the narrow gate. And he says that a false prophet is one who makes the gate broader that it should be or narrower than it should be. They say that something other than Jesus is needed to enter the Kingdom, or they say that Christ is not really the only way to enter God’s Kingdom. False prophets fail the Christ alone doctrinal test. But they also fail the ethical test. For the preach a broad road to life instead of calling people to pick up their cross and follow Jesus down the narrow way.

A true prophet’s message is that salvation is found in Jesus alone. And that the way to life is in obedience to Jesus alone. That’s the narrow gate and difficult path.

Now, not all who miss this Mark in their teaching and preaching are ferocious wolves. Some are just mistaken and need a little correction. But others lead people astray because it is somehow advantageous for them to do so. Those are the wolves.

I read an article in the BBC yesterday. It featured two poor Americans who have given much of their small supply of money to a televangelist, and supposed money expert, named Todd Coontz.

Coontz is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He quotes the bible a lot. He knows how to empathize and communicate with those who are at their wits end. With stories and testimony, he warms people up. And then he makes his pitch.

He calls it seed money. He promises that the funds donated will blossom into a plant and that they will produce a large harvest. All you need is faith, and $273.

Cleary Coontz is a wolf. I mean, its kind of obvious. But Coontz isn’t out to trick the smart sheep. He has his best luck among the rural poor, and the uneducated. He’s skilled at separating them from the herd. And then he sinks in his teeth.

Says Peter of False Teachers: These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 2 Peter 2:17

Two weeks ago, a few elders and deacons were installed at our church. Today, Ralph Ovinge will be installed as an elder.

One of the questions we ask of our ordained leaders is this: 3: Do you subscribe to the doctrinal standards of this church, rejecting all teaching which contradicts them?

I always have a little trouble asking this question. It feels so rigid.

But on the positive side, it does set up a clear obstacle for wolves. Its harder to attack the flock of Jesus Christ, when the flock is well-protected by shepherds.

Its my job, with the elders, to ensure that the narrow gate and way is promoted and that counterfeit messages are exposed and outed. We do not the sheep to be devoured or taken off course from the way that leads to life.

After warning his disciples to watch out for counterfeit teachers, Jesus moves closer to home, and he invites all his sheep, shepherds included, to examine the quality of their own faith and witness.

Not all who say “Lord Lord” are the real McCoy,” says Jesus. “Only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”

Talk is cheap. We all know that. Just because the salesmen says that the Camel is well made, doesn’t mean that that is actually the case. And just because someone claims to be a Christian, doesn’t mean that they are actually seeking to live as a follower of Jesus.

But what’s shocking about Jesus words here is that the people who say “Lord Lord” are not just believers.They are emphatic believers, doing impressive things for the Lord. They are preaching in his name, performing miracles, driving out demons!  And yet Jesus tells them plainly. “I never knew you. Away from me.”

I suppose, that what Jesus wants us to learn from this is that its possible to work for Jesus and yet not be living in communion with him. Its possible to glorify him with your tongue and actions, but not be living under his Lordship in your life.

Here’s an example that might help.

I have noticed something in myself. Maybe you can relate. Sometimes I get convicted that I’m supposed to do something. Something not easy but undeniably the right thing to do.

Let’s say that I have to confess something to my wife, for instance. That’s a hard thing to do. In fact, in a way, it would be easier for me to be really nice to her for a whole week instead. To serve her. To do the after dinner dishes and take the kids out of the house for an afternoon. Anything but confess my wrong.

But meanwhile, as I’m doing all kinds of nice things for my spouse, I’m avoiding the hard work that I know I’m supposed to do.

And so, even though I’m going above and beyond to be a Christ-like husband, I’m actually living quite far away from Jesus himself.

But. Lord, Lord! Look at all that I’ve done. I cleaned the house. I changed the baby’s diaper and took out the garbage.

But Jesus isn’t impressed by our resume. Not even when it includes signs and wonders. And that’s especially the case if our resume of works is really just a way to avoid the narrow path that he has called us down.

Jesus could call you to preform miraculous healings and preach boldly in this name. But ordinarily, what he requires from us is not flashy. He calls us to turn the other cheek. Forgive the offender. Fight off lust and live faithfully. Be a peacemaker.

A poor application of this teaching would be to look around the room and say to yourself: “I wonder who here is a real disciple, and who here is counterfeit. I have my suspicions.”

No, once again, Jesus calls us to look at our own heart first.

This said, it should be noted that the truth usually and eventually does reveal itself. This is true for counterfeit prophets and disciples. For eventually a tree produces fruit. And then the character of the plant is on display.

You won’t ever find juicy grapes growing out of a thorn-bush, or sweet figs hanging off of thistles. It can be hard to tell at first. What kind of plant is that? Is that a lettuce shoot? Or is it a weed?

But in time, it gets easier to determine the real from the counterfeit.

The fruit of justice and righteousness is seldom seen in Todd Coontz’s life. The couple who donated their money to him last year recently called his ministry in need of some help. They got voicemail. Last year, Coontz was arrested for committing tax fraud. His Church, Rockwealth Ministries is still accepting donations, however.

By their fruit, you will recognize them.

People who are walking by the Spirit, says Paul, will produce the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Whereas those who are controlled by their sinful nature produce something else.… “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Galatians 5:19-20

The life of a tree is made apparent in the fruit that it bears. The results of a teaching or the heart of a person is made apparent in the fruit that it bears.

This past Friday, one of our own passed away. Harry Neutel. And on Tuesday, we will gather here again to remember his life, and celebrate the hope that is his and ours through the death and resurrection of our faithful saviour Jesus Christ.

Harry was not a flashy Christian. Not one to say “Lord Lord” or to haul out a list of his acts of service. But as his family attested to me yesterday, and as most of us experienced in person, Harry was the real deal, and not counterfeit.

How can we know for sure? Well, the fruit of love, was evident in his life.

And so it is for all those who quietly walk the narrow way, with and under Jesus, on the road that leads to life.

And speaking of Jesus. I think its safe to say that the world has never encountered a more real human being. There is nothing fraudelent of phony about Jesus. Despite constant pressure to do otherwise, Jesus never departed from the will of his Father in heaven

And despite ample opportunity to roll his eyes and move on, Jesus stayed connected to the ones God called him to serve. He served both enemy and friend. He died for both enemy and friend. And here we are today, still seeking to align our living with his.

Abide in me, says Jesus, and you will bear much fruit. This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit. But apart from me, you can do nothing.

Amen.

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The Narrow Way | Matthew 7:13-14

This past Wednesday, a barn swallow flew into our sanctuary. It happened during high school chapel. It caused quite a commotion as it swooped through the rafters. It even let out a little poop, which was popular among the high schoolers.

When I came in on Thursday morning, I noticed that the bird was still in the sanctuary. Feeling sorry for the little guy, I opened the side door, and put a bowl of water in front of it. Then I took some water from the bowl and splashed it in the air. “This way little guy,” I said. “This is the way out.

The barn swallowed looked at me and cocked his head, and then he proceeded to fly back and forth among the rafters of our sanctuary.

Not knowing what else to do, I went to prepare for my day.

About five minutes later, I returned to the sanctuary. I stood in the doorway for a minute and looked for the bird. He was up on one of those bars. Sitting quietly.

And then, all of a sudden the swallow swooped. Down he swooped, underneath this beam, and right out the door.

I let out a little cheer of excitement. “Great job, little guy!” I said. “That took courage.” The bird, of course, was not listening. But I was still pretty pleased with his flight path.

As I was going shut the door and put away the water, I took a second to look at the door. “Here it is,” I said to myself. “This is the narrow gate that leads to life.”

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate, and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There’s a black and whiteness to the picture that Jesus gives us here. Two gates. Two roads. One way is broad, and that way leads to destruction. And the other is narrow and that way leads to life.

Destruction over here. Life, over there. Which way are you going to go?

Generally speaking, us Canadian folk get a little squeamish around people who see things this simplistically. Its not a compliment to be called narrow minded. Or a black and white thinker.

But some things in life are black and white, I suppose. Either you’re on the plane or you’re off the plane. Either your heading east on Agnes Street or your heading west on Agnes Street. Either you’re in Christ and seeking to have him master your life, or you’re not.

This picture that Jesus gives us comes at the end of the sermon on the mount. And it’s the first of four rather challenging teachings.

When I was learning how to preach, my professor taught me to always end my sermons with grace. End with the gospel, he’d say. End with words that help people experience the comfort of God. This is generally good advice for the young preacher. But Jesus, evidently, didn’t get the memo.

Which way are going to go, he says, confronting his disciples. That way leads to death. And that way leads to life. Over there is sand, and over there is rock. On which foundation will you build. 

Jesus begins his sermon with grace. He begins by blessing those who are poor in Spirit. And promising those who mourn over sin that they will be comforted. But he ends with exhorting us to make the right choice.

Maybe one of the reasons Jesus finishes this way, is because he wants his sermon to go somewhere. To not just be an uplifting Sunday morning experience, but something that is practiced and lived into.

Another reason, perhaps, that Jesus ends this way, is because he knows that life isn’t a game. Choices have consequences. You go with the flow long enough, and you may just end up in a dark, lonely place. This is life. Jesus is loving enough to challenge us to choose wisely. 

Enter through the narrow gate.

What does Jesus mean by this gate?

Jesus doesn’t explain this picture, but it’s clear, from the rest of the scriptures that he’s talking about himself. 

I am the gate; says Jesus in John, whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. (John 10:9) Not long after saying this, Jesus says to his disciples. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father expect through me.” (John 14:6)

Jesus is the Gate. Which means that the way to life runs through his narrow frame.

This is the scandal of the Christian gospel. In Bible times, this teaching was a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. In our modern times, this teaching is shrugged off as being too exclusive. Too narrow minded.

But Jesus is pretty sure of himself.

And this is why, as C.S. Lewis noted, that you can’t simply be an admirer of Jesus. Many people, of course, admire Jesus. They respect his ethical teaching and his leadership skills. But Lord and Saviour. No way. The problem with this view is that it ignores Jesus’ actual message. He didn’t see himself simply as a wise sage. He believed himself the best thing to happen to planet earth. “I am the way the truth and the life. I am the bread of life.” Fullness of life. Its found in me.   

This confronts us. And it forces us to ask: Is he who he says he is? Or his he simply an egotistical lunatic? 

Enter through the narrow gate.

Jesus is talking about himself, but he’s always talking about conversion to himself. That evangelical decision to accept him as Lord and Saviour.

You know, in our reformed tradition, we have tended to minimize this moment of decision making. We’re covenant people. We baptize our babies. We believe that it was not I who chose Jesus but Christ who chose me. 

So when I ask you when you became a Christian, many of you are a little unsure as to when it all started.

Now, there’s a lot of good in this, of course. Its certainly a blessing to be raised in a household that is following Jesus.

And yet, its important to remember that no one enters the narrow gate riding on the shoulders of their parents. Billy Graham once famously said: “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” Only children.

And I know that this gets tricky theologically, and that there are things here that we need to nuance. But its true, that at some point, in order to be a disciple, you need to make a break from the flow of history and culture, and get on your knees outside the narrow gate. And you need to say: Jesus, you are mine, and I am yours. And I want to live my life under his authority and direction.

On that first Pentecost Sunday, when Peter addressed the crowds, the crowds were broken by God’s Word and the Spirit. And so they asked Peter, “What must we do.” And Peter said. “Repent,  place yourself in front of the narrow gate, and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s the gate. Enter through the narrow gate.

And I’m thinking that another reason this gate is a narrow, is because you can’t take anything but you naked self through it.

“Repent” Peter said. Meaning, leave your old life at the door. Your sins are no longer your master.

A death takes place as we pass through Christ and into a life that is mastered by him. This is conversion, says the Heidelberg Catechism. It involves the dying away of the old self, and the rising to life of the new.

Its not that you have to be perfect prior to entering into a life ruled by Jesus. Far from so. But you do need to renounce the work of evil in your life and in the world.

Our baptism and profession of faith liturgy gets this just right.

The first Question I ask someone who is being baptized or will profess their faith is this: Do you renounce sin and the power of evil in your life and in the world? Answer: I renounce them. And the second question follows closely behind: Who is your Lord and Saviour? Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour.

This turning away from the world and towards Jesus is the gate that leads to life.

And it couldn’t be more different from the gate that leads to destruction.

That gate is broad. So broad that you don’t even know you’ve gone through a gate. You’re simply following the crowds. Doing what they do. Thinking the way they think. You don’t have to renounce anything prior to entering this gate. You can take all your baggage with you.

The narrow gate is Christ. The broad gate is the gospel promoted by our culture. Its motto is: You do you. Pursue the things that delight you. You’re good the way you are. Its the world that’s messed up. You only live once. Serve yourself first. 

This is the gate you’ll drift through. And you’ll drift through it even if you choose not to walk in any particular direction.

And this is because life is a little like a moving sidewalk. The culture is always forming us. Shaping our imaginations. Molding our wants and loves. It does this through symbol, story, and the soft power of peer pressure. It disciplines you when you break from the script.

And if you don’t go against the flow or hop the rails, this moving sidewalk will slowly take you down the road that Jesus says will ultimately lead to destruction.

Wide is the gate that leads to the party on Saturday night. But agonizing is the journey through rehab.

The road to good times is paved with little shiny gold credit cards. But dull and cramped is the debt consolidating office at the end of the line.

If you give all your heart, soul, mind and strength, to the pursuit of wealth. It will take it. And the final return on that investment will be a bunch of digital zeros in your lonely bank account.

Be careful what gate you enter. For the gate you enter will become your master. And there’s only one master whose desire it is for you to have life, and have it in abundance.

If Jesus is the narrow gate, then the road, the narrow road that leads to life, is a life lived under his tutelage. As his disciple.

Dallas Willard makes the important observation that this narrow road is not referring to theology, or right thinking. Good theology is important, but it is not the path that leads to life.

The road that leads to life is a life that is mastered by Jesus and lived in submission to him.

The word translated narrow in verse 14, could also be translated as difficult. And that perhaps is the better translation, because being mastered by Jesus isn’t easy street.

He’s going to invite you to take on practices that rub against the grain of your being. Like forgiving someone who’s wronged you. Or loving your enemies and blessing those who curse you.

But that is the way that Jesus leads. And that, he says, is the way that leads to true life.

This isn’t really all that hard to understand, I think. I mean, in order to enjoy many of the best things in you, you need to constrain your living. And make difficult sacrifices. If you want to master an instrument, for instance, you’re going to need to walk down a narrow road. While all your friends are hanging out after school, you’re practicing scales and memorizing theory. But slowly, the way begins to open. The scales become second nature, and useful. And soon, you’re experiencing the bliss of playing Bach, or Elton John.

And then one night you play a number for your friends. And afterwards they’ll say: I wish my parents would have forced me to practice more.

Right, that’s what they’ll say. And its like that for everything. Great freedom is found on the far side of discipline.

And Jesus says: Give me the reigns of your life. Place my yoke upon your shoulders. Let me constrain and guide your living, and I will lead you into whole-hearted living. To a life that bears witness to my Kingdom and ways. That’s the best life. For that is the life that, in the end, opens up into the most spacious of places.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many on it. But narrow is the gate and difficult is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

You know, unless you got stuck in Triathalon traffic on your way to Church today, I doubt you experienced much congestion coming here. And that is because few are on the road that leads to Church. This narrow way can feel kind of lonely at times.

But I don’t think that Jesus’ main point is numbers in this teaching. The book of Revelation tells that the Kingdom of Heaven is a robustly populated place. In his vision, John sees a multitude that no one can count.

Jesus isn’t talking about numbers here. He’s simply exhorting us to take life seriously.

At a certain point during his ministry, someone asked Jesus about numbers. “Lord are only a few people going to be saved?”

Jesus declined to answer the question directly. Instead he simply said: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Luke 13:23-24

Brothers and sisters. Life is serious. Today, Jesus wants you to hear that, consider that, and make a choice to enter life’s narrow way with him.

You don’t want to flap around in the rafters after flying into the wrong door. Nor do you want to drift slowly down the road that leads to trouble in this life and destruction in the next.

Come to the water. Find the narrow door. Let Jesus be Lord and Master of your life. And he will lead you on the path that leads to life. Amen.

Posted in Matthew, Sermon on the Mount, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gone Fishing | John 21

Dear Friends of Jesus Christ,

I wonder what was going on in Peter’s mind when he said: “I’m going fishing.”

Fishing. There’s nothing wrong with fishing, of course. Its a good thing to do, when you’re in the mood for losing money and wasting time. It’s hard to describe how amazing it is to sit out on a cold lake in the early morning, untangling fishing line. And then there’s that feeling you get when you feel a tug on your line. “Oh it’s a big one,” you say. But then, when your catch comes close to the boat, you realize that all you’ve caught is a 10 pound pile of sea weed.

Let’s go fishing.

Fishing was more than just a hobby for Peter and the other disciples. They were raised on the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberias). Their Father’s were fishermen before them, so they became fishermen too.

Fishing was how they put food on the table. It was their job. At least it was their job before Jesus called them to leave their nets behind. “Come follow me,”Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

For three years, the disciples put their fishing careers on hold in order to follow Jesus. And what a memorable three years it was! They had front row seats to authoritative teaching and dramatic displays of power. They drank the water that Jesus had changed to wine. They gathered up the leftovers of fish and bread that Jesus fed the 5000 with. They were on the boat when Jesus lifted up his hands and calmed the wind and the waves.

What a wild journey. Certainly more exciting than untangling fishing line at 4am in the morning.

But…. All good things come to an end, I guess.

“What are we supposed to do now?” I imagine the disciples asking each other. “Jesus… he’s different now. He just appears. Then he disappears. We know he’s alive, that’s for sure. He even breathed on us the last time we were together. Said he was giving us his Spirit. Said that he was sending us out, just as the Father had sent him out. But where are we supposed to go? And what are we supposed to do when we get to wherever it is we’re supposed to go?”

There was a disconnect, you see, in their mind. Perhaps you experience it too. Its one thing to believe in the resurrection. Its another thing to know what it means. How it change things?

I can just imagine Peter… staring out over the sea of Galilee, scratching his head. “I guess I’ll go fishing.” 

“We’ll come to,” the other disciples say.

Scholar, Edwin Hoskyns thinks that this fishing excursion is an act of apostasy. He thinks that by returning to the very nets Jesus called them to leave behind, the disciples are forsaking their Lord.

But I don’t think this fishing trip is an act of apostacy. The disciples aren’t turning their backs on Jesus, they just don’t know what to make of this new reality. They’re aimless, restless, without direction.

Can you blame them?

The resurrected Jesus is so illusive and underwhelming, really. You’d think that he’d make a dramatic curtain call or something. Waltz into the assembly of the religious leaders and say, “Remember me! I’m back.” But Jesus doesn’t do that. Instead, of knocking on Caesar’s door, he quietly reveals himself to a small group of women. And instead of doing an interview with the Jerusalem times, Jesus burns a day on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his downcast friend.

Jesus used to minister with focus and passion. He used to do cool things like heal lepers. But the resurrected Jesus is more relaxed. As his disciples go fishing, he makes a beach fire, and roasts some fish. (Which makes me wonder. Where did Jesus get his fish? Did he go fishing that morning too?)

Perhaps you feel some of the ambivalence, the restlessness today that the disciples must have felt.

I mean… today you’ll go home for lunch, and it won’t take long for the Easter high to fade. You’ll notice the dandelions taking over your backyard. You’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do about that. Or you’ll see your neighbour walking her dog. She doesn’t believe in the resurrection, and yet, her life doesn’t seem much different from yours.

And then you’ll think… well what I am I supposed to do now. I think I’ll watch a movie. Maybe I’ll check my work email?

We know that Jesus has been raised. But we don’t always know what it now means for us.

Now, while I sometimes wish that the resurrected Jesus were a little more showy in his post resurrection life, I’ve also come to appreciate the wisdom of Jesus’ subtle approach. The levels of communication and revelation in this passage are simply amazing. Jesus says very little. But his presence makes a big impact.

The disciples have been fishing all night, John tells us, but they haven’t caught anything. This isn’t really a surprise. That’s what usually happens when you go fishing.

“Haven’t you any fish?” Asks a stranger on the shore.

“No”… the disciples grumble back.

“Well, throw your nets on the other side of the boat, there’s fish over there.”

I’m not sure what’s more surprising in this scene. The fact that Jesus gives fishing advice to his aimless disciples, or the fact that his disciples actually decide to put this stranger’s word into practice. Surely, they had already tried the other side of the boat.

But, for whatever reason, they obey. And the moment they do, a giant school of fish swims right into their nets. The catch was so big, says John, that the disciples didn’t have the muscle power to haul it in.

Once stabilized, the disciples turn their gaze towards the shore. Who is this stranger on the beach? The beloved disciple is the first to testify. “It is the Lord”.

At this, Peter quickly puts his clothes on. And then, he jumps into the water and begins swimming towards the shore. This is kind of funny. I wonder why he put his clothes on before jumping into the water. Isn’t it easier to swim without clothes? Maybe Peter wanted to look presentable to Jesus. Or maybe this is simply another sign that Peter’s head is not in the game.

Gasping for air, but fully clothed, Peter stumbles onto shore. Speechless, he drips before Jesus. Moments later, the other disciples anchor their boats and join Peter on the beach. “We caught 153, Jesus.”

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says.

None of the disciples dared to ask who the stranger was. Because they knew it was the Lord. 

What is going on here? What is Jesus doing with his aimless disciples?

The most obvious thing that Jesus is doing here, is serving.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t scold his disciples for returning to their nets. Rather, he meets them in their confusion. He knows that what they need is not a good scolding, but a good breakfast.

Comfort food for the tired fisherman. Grilled pickerel and fire toasted biscuits.

We know that Jesus liked a good meal, but he’s doing more in this passage than just serving food.

As he shows hospitality, he’s also tending to the relationship. To the souls of his disciples. Specifically, Jesus has his eye on Peter.

Peter has leadership skills, you see. When he says, “I’m going fishing” all the other disciples say, “we’ll go with you.” 

But as a leader, Peter has also failed pretty spectacularly. During Jesus’ trial, Peter denied Jesus 3 times. The beach meal is the context within which Jesus will minister his grace to Peter, and restore Peter to the apostolic office.

Do you Love me, asks Jesus.

Yes I love you, says Peter.

Feed my lambs, says Jesus.

Simon Peter do you love me. Yes I love you, says Peter. Tend to my sheep.

Three times, Jesus asks the question. And three times Peter says, “yes, I love you.”

Then Jesus says, “Now Follow me.” Get out of the boat, once more, and follow me.

As this scene unfolds, we start to see the wisdom in what Jesus is doing. In a non-judgmental way, in fact, in a restorative way, Jesus is re-commissioning Peter and the other disciples. He’s regathering his scattered team for breakfast, and he’s reminding them of their original call to follow him and be fishers of people.

And this is where the layers of communication in this passage really begin to pop. In a way, this simple scene becomes almost a parable for the disciples mission in the world.

Aimless and confused, the disciples decide to go out fishing on their own. But they get skunked. All toil, no fish.

This is what Jesus said would happen if they went out on their own. “I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus said to them. “If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. But apart from me you can do nothing.”

Apart from me, no fruit. No fish.

But if you abide in me and listen to my words: “Throw you nets on the other side of the boat.” You will bear much fruit.

So Jesus is wearing many hats in this scene. He’s the servant who graciously offers hospitality to the discouraged. He’s the servant leader who recommissions his aimless disciples in a non-shame inducing way. But he’s also the servant, leader, teacher who gives his disciples a tangible reminder that ministry is only fruitful when pursued in union with him.

Surely, this is the Lord.

And he still works this way, you know. Because he’s alive, and not dead. Of course, you probably won’t find the resurrected Jesus grilling pickerel on a beach anywhere, anytime soon. But if your senses are attuned, you may just notice him attending to you. Showing hospitality to you. Recommissioning you.

As I was writing this sermon, I was reminded of Anne Lammot’s story. Its creatively articulated in her brutally honest, but excellent book, “Traveling Mercies”.

Before Anne was called ashore by Jesus she led a very self-centred carefree life. She wrote books, smoked pot, hung out her progressive people in her progressive little coastal community. She wanted nothing to do with God and considered religion to be ridiculous. 

But then, she started to stop outside of a little old Church on her way home from the market. She enjoyed the singing. Sometimes she even went inside. But she always left before the sermon–which she thought was stupid. 

And then one night, after a slew of bad decisions and some serious emotional pain, Anne experienced the presence of Jesus in her room. She experienced Jesus so acutely that she actually turned on the lights. Of course, no one was there. I like how Lammot describes the experience:

I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this. And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends. I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. And so I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

The next morning, Anne woke up, but the experience of Christ’s presence didn’t go away. Jesus kept following her around, like a stray cat looking for a home. I kept pushing him away, Anne said, because I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever.

A week later she found herself at Church again. This time she stayed for the sermon, which she thought was ridiculous. But the song following the sermon was so raw and honest that she broke down and cried.

On the way home, she felt the presence of Jesus following her again. But instead of trying to keep Jesus out, Lammot began to open herself up to him. She lingered in the doorway of her house for a while. And then, after a minute or two of silence, she said “Alright already, I quit. You can come in.”

Jesus called to Anne. Welcomed her to his table. He recommissioned her as an author. Gave her a mission bigger than serving herself.

It is the Lord.

Dominoe’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan has a similar story. As a youth, he tried to go to seminary, to become a Catholic priest. But he was kicked out of seminary. On a wim,  he dropped out of college and bought a fledgling pizza place in Ypsalani Michigan.

For decades, Monaghan struggled to make Dominoes successful. But finally, in the 80’s, his hard work paid off. For a while, Dominoes pizza was the fastest growing pizza chain in history. And as the chain grew, Monaghan’s wallet grew with it.

He liked Frank Loyd Wright architecture. And so he began collecting Wright’s work. Houses, furniture. He once purchased an oak table for 1.6 million dollars. In addition to this, Monaghan had Bentley’s in his garage and a yacht in the harbour.

Monaghan liked baseball too. So he purchased the Detroit Tigers and owned them for about a decade.

Monaghan had embraced the materialistic life.

But then he started to read C.S. Lewis. And as he read Lewis’ reflections on pride in Mere Christianity, he received the call of Jesus, gently calling him to come to shore. And overnight, Monaghan came to the realize that he was a lost soul in need of new commission.

Slowly, he started to sell everything off. The Tigers. The oak table. And finally, he sold Dominoes Pizza for about a billion dollars.

Now his life and wealth directed heavenward. “My goal” he says, “is heaven. And I want to take as many people there as I can.”

So he’s built churches in central America, started a Catholic university in Florida, and has given away more than half of his net worth to Charity. 

“I came into the world penniless,” he said…, I know that I cannot take any of it with me, so it has long been my desire to use the material resources that I have been blessed with to help others in the most meaningful ways possible…”

Congregation, this is the Lord. The Resurrected one continues to call people to himself, welcome them to his table, and then re-commission them for his mission in the world.

And its a big mission. It includes the restoration of all things. So get out there and take out those dandelions. And when you’re done, you can come to my house. But at the heart of Christ’s resurrection mission is people. He invites us to join him in welcoming the discouraged, inviting the stranger to the family table, and recommissioning them for work in the Kingdom.

I don’t know where you are today…. Maybe your feeling a little aimless. Not quite sure what this resurrection business means for you. Its a tough place to be.

But today, I honestly believe that the resurrected Jesus is calling you to shore. He has no intention of shaming you. Rather, he’s preparing a meal for you. And a commission in his Kingdom that is perfectly designed for who God has made you to be.

He does this kind of thing, because he’s alive.   

Praise the Lord.

Amen.

Posted in Easter, John, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Self-Giving Love | John 12:1-19

Dear Friends of Jesus Christ

This is such a powerful scene—filled with irony and passion. Anyone with a pulse can tell that big things are about to happen in the unfolding story of Jesus and his love.

Behind the scenes, the religious leaders are starting to organize. This pesky Jesus guy used to just be a nuisance. But now that Lazarus has been raised, they see Jesus as a threat.

“What do we do?” They ask each other. “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.”

In addition to losing influence amongst the Jews, the religious leaders are also worried about falling out of favour with the Romans. They’re worried that this Jesus movement might cause the Romans start tightening the screws, and put an end to their relative religious freedom.

So Caiaphas, the high priest, stands up and offers his plan to the group. “… it is better” he says… “that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Better to take Jesus out, then to have him bring down our whole nation. Better that one man perish, so that the many can live.

If only Caiaphas knew the prophetic irony latent in his choice of words.

So from that time on, we read at the end of John 11, the Religious leaders began to plot Jesus’ arrest.

Jesus, meanwhile, has decided that its time to keep a low profile. The hour of his crucifixion draws near, but it hasn’t yet come. So he takes his disciples to the sleepy town of Ephraim. They remain there for a while.

But with the passover festival approaching, Jesus begins to make his way towards Jerusalem. Along the way, he makes a brief stop over at the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

These three are siblings. And we’re told that Jesus had become quite close to them. And that’s no surprise, really. I mean, Jesus had spent time at their house. He even raised their brother from the dead.

Recall the scene. Not that long ago, Lazarus had fallen ill and things didn’t look good. Jesus heard the news. And he said to his disciples: “This sickness will not end in death. No, this is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet him. “Your too late.” she said. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Then Mary comes out. And she throws herself at Jesus feet. “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus is moved by this display of love and emotion. So moved that he cries. Jesus is overwhelmed with sorrow again when he gets close to the Lazarus’ grave. But instead of laying down flowers, Jesus calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” And Lazarus comes walking out.

So its no wonder that these three have a close relationship.

But of the three, Mary is especially devoted. When Jesus came to visit them, earlier in his ministry, it was Mary who left the dishes in the sink, in order to sit at Jesus feet. And then here, in John 12, Mary is found at Jesus feet again. But this time, she has an expensive bottle of perfume in hand.

Pure nard, John tells us. The oil extract from the root of exotic flowers. Judas estimates that the bottle was probably worth about a year’s worth of wages. Wow…  Imagine spending 30,000 of your hard earned money on a bottle of perfume. And then imagine pouring it all out, on one occasion, on someone’s feet. Its reckless. Extravagant.

But Mary, Mary isn’t worried about the cost. Her eyes are on Jesus.

Nor is she worried about what the other dinner guests might think of her. I mean, this is a surprising and bold display of sensual affection. Mid dinner, Mary went to the place where Jesus was reclining. She knelt down at his feet, poured out the priceless bottle of pure nard, and then she let’s her hair down and uses her hair as a towel, to wipe off the excess oil.

Judas is the only one who says anything. But you have to wonder what the others are thinking….

Why did Mary do it?

Perhaps, Mary simply wanted to express her gratitude. Jesus did just raise her brother from the dead. How do you thank someone for something like that?

Or perhaps Jesus said something to her the last time she sat at his feet. Something about God’s Kingdom. And the good word brought life to Mary’s soul. And Mary thought to herself: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Or maybe Mary had heard about what the religious leaders were planning and she senses that this might be the last time she sees the person that she loves so dearly.

Whatever the case, its clear that Mary is overwhelmed with a love that is hard to express in words. So, instead of speaking, she acts out what’s she’s feeling in an extravagant way.

It seems clear in the text, that John wants us to notice the stark contrast between Judas and Mary.

Mary is totally devoted to her master. But Judas… he has a divided heart.

“The poor could have used that,” he says, shaking his head. Which is true. Judas raises an important point. A lot of poor people could have been served for a long time with the funds Mary used to buy that perfume.

The trouble is that Judas isn’t actually concerned with the poor. He just says that because he knows that Jesus cares about the poor. Judas hides his true motivation behind something he knows will sound good to his peers. But all he really sees is dollar signs.

Mary, on the other hand, is recklessly un-calculated. She doesn’t see dollar signs, she simply sees Jesus. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Its not hard to spot the true disciple in this scene.

I was listening to something this week. The person I was listening to, was reflecting on a book that was released a few years ago. The book referenced was When Breath Becomes Air. It was written by Paul Kalanithi.

When Breath Becomes Air is Kalanithi’s story. While working to become a neurosurgeon, at age 36, he was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer. This book is his story of dying. Its a reflection on illness, medicine, and mortality. I’m going to have to read it. It received great reviews.

Anyway, the part that struck me about what I hearing about Kalanithi’s book, was his reflection on the difference between a job and a calling. 

While in medical school, Kalanithi began to notice that, around the 3rd and 4th year, many of his colleagues began to make decisions to specialize. And he also noted that many of them did this for lifestyle reasons. What they were after was better pay, with better hours. They wanted to practice medicine, but they wanted to do it in a way that would fit with their preferred lifestyle.

Now, I don’t know all the ins and outs of med school. And I make no judgement on those who choose to specialize. We need specialists just as we need general practitioners.

But Kalanithi’s reflections were interesting here. He used this example as a way to talk about the difference between a job and a calling.

A job is something that you work hard to contain, so that it doesn’t take over your life. You do it, to pay the bills, but that’s not what you really like to do. A job is something you tailor, so that it fits your lifestyle.

A calling is different. A calling is more like a burning passion that tailors your lifestyle. The rest of your life falls into place around the call that burns within you.

So in the case of medicine, for someone who is called to medicine, health is not just a job—that thing that allows you to go to the lake on the weekends—it’s a passion. It’s a big part of why you get up in the morning.

Now apply this distinction between a job and a calling to Christian discipleship.

For Mary, Jesus is not simply a means to some other end. Jesus is the end. He’s the passion that shapes her life.

But for Judas. Jesus is means for him to move up. He doesn’t want Jesus himself, he’s only interested in what Jesus can give him.  And when he starts to figure out that Jesus is a losing investment, that Jesus doesn’t fit with the lifestyle he wants to have… well he decides that it’s time to cut his losses and move on.

And it makes me wonder…. Who do you identify with in this scene? Is following Jesus a job to you—a means to some other end that fits with the lifestyle you want to have. Or is the call to follow Jesus the call that tailors your life.

Judas highlights the pathway of someone who wants Christ to fit into their life. Its a path that leads through disappointment and into betrayal.

Whereas Mary. She highlights the path of the disciple. She’s all in on the person who is all in for her. She has chosen the better way.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus says to Judas. “The poor you will always have with you. But me. You will not always have me.

I love Jesus’ response to Judas. In essence, he’s saying: “You know, there’s a time to be thrifty. Ordinarily, you should give your money to the poor and not expend it all on a bottle of expensive perfume.”

But this moment… this moment is not an ordinary moment.

This is the calm before the storm.

After this night in Bethany, Jesus will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. And once he enters that city, he’s a marked man. One of his own will betray him. The religious leaders will arrest him. They will try him and crucify him.

That will happen soon. But tonight he’s in Bethany with friends.

Jesus seems to recognize that this moment is a Kairos moment. Kairos. In greek there are two different ways to talk about time. There is chronos time which is “tick, tock, tick, tock”—the sequential movement of time. And then there is Kairos. Which is more like a pregnant moment that presents an opportunity. You don’t hear the tick/tock of the clock in Kairos time. What matters is “being in the moment and doing what the moment calls for.”

Kairos. We’ve all experienced Kairos moments before. The moment your first child was born. That was a Kairos moment. The moment when conversation with a loved one went deeper and you took the opportunity to tell them how much they mean to you. That’s a Kairos moment. You don’t think about the tick/tock in a Kairos moment. Its a weighty moment, that presents a unique opportunity.

Jesus recognizes that this moment in Bethany was a Kairos moment. This extravagant act of love what the moment called for.

Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet is so fitting for a few reasons. Firstly, as I already mentioned, this kind of extravagant gratitude is a fitting response for a disciple to make.

But secondly, there is a prophetic aspect to this act as well. Mary is preparing Jesus for his passion. And in a way, Mary’s passion prefigures Christ’s passion. Her act of self giving foreshadows Christ’s act of self giving. She shamelessly pours herself out for Jesus. And that’s what Jesus does for us.

The next night, Jesus gets up from seat at the passover meal. He puts on the servants towel and he will washes his disciples feet. Days later, soldiers strip him completely naked, put a crown of thorns on his head, and a cross on his back. Jesus life is poured out like priceless perfume. All because of the love of the triune God for the world.

And just as the aroma from the perfume spread throughout the whole house, so the aroma of Christ’s love, has spread throughout the whole world.

I mean, one of the reasons that you are here today is because you have heard the story. And the impact of Christ’s self-giving love continues to amaze you. “Did he really do that for me?” You wonder. And the answer is…. Yes he did. He poured out his whole life, that you may have the fullness of life.

Its no wonder that the whole world is going after this man. Another ironic statement made by the religious leaders. Its no wonder that wherever this story of love is shared, people are cut to the heart, repent of sin, and profess their faith. The aroma of Christ’s love continues to make its way around the world.

And like Mary, we have an opportunity to both be a recipient of God’s love, and to also showcase that love in the world.

There’s a movie that does this so well. You have to see it. Its called “Babette’s Feast”

Its the story of a woman named Babette, who is forced to flee France. She goes from Paris to a drab little community in Denmark. The community is rigid and filled with crotchety people. They dress in black clothes and eat tasteless food.

They welcome Babette, but they are always a little suspect of her. The know that she can cook, but she remains a mystery to them.

As the movie unfolds, we begin to see the depths of this communities problems. People are set in their ways. People are at each other’s throats. Their worship life, in Church, is dry and lifeless. Their piety is more fear based than grace based.

And then, one day, word comes from Paris that Babette has won a lottery. 10,000 francs.

Everyone wonders what Babette will do. They believe that she’ll leave.

Babette decides to put on a meal for the community that has welcomed her. She begins ordering food. Turtles for turtle soup. Quails from France. Fine wine. It turns out that Babette was a chef at one of the best restaurants in Paris.

The villagers get nervous. They have never seen such extravagance, and it all goes against their religious views. But they decide to attend the meal anyway. But they agree to not enjoy it. They will eat for Babette’s sake.

But as the meal progresses, it becomes harder and harder to the gathered eaters to hold back their joy. Little smiles burst onto their faces as they take bite of soup and sip of wine. Pretty soon, people are laughing and old rifts are being mended. With stomachs full of fine cuisine and minds lightened by find wine, the community stumbles out into the street. They end the nigh singing the doxology under the stars.

The next day, they ask Babette about her plans. “When do you plan to go,” they ask.

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” Babette says.

“Why not. You’re rich. You could go anywhere.”

“I spent all the money,” says Babette. “I used it to buy the food for the dinner.” 

Brothers and sisters. In so many ways, we live in a drab world. Filled with rifts and crotchety people.

But in the midst of this world, God has poured out his love through the passion of his son. He did that to reconcile us to himself, and us to each other. And now we have the joy of joining God in his passionate work of filling this world with the aroma of Christ.

Let’s go all in on the one who went all in for us.

Amen.

Posted in John, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Discerning, But Not Critical | Matthew 7:1-6

Jesus seems to like using animal illustrations. Dogs and pigs make it into this passage. But elsewhere Jesus uses other furry examples.

At one point he calls Herod Antipas a fox. On another occasion he calls the Pharisees a brood of Vipers.

And then, in Matthew 10, as Jesus is preparing his disciples for mission, Jesus uses four different animal examples in one verse.

Behold, he says to them: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16

Now, in context, Jesus is inviting his disciples to be wise and pure. He’s sending them out and he wants them to land in a community like a dove lands on a tree. Graceful. But they are to be smart about it. Discerning. If there is receptivity to the gospel message, they are to press in. But, if they are shut down, and persecuted, they are to move on. “Shake the dust off their feet,” says Jesus.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be a shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

As I was thinking about the dogs and the pigs this week, my mind drifted towards the snakes and the doves. What do all these animals have in common? Nothing, other than they’re animals.

So why do I bring them up? Well, I think the animals in Matthew 10 can help us interpret the animals in Matthew 7. When it comes to living into God’s Kingdom, disciples need to land as gracefully as doves, but we also need to be as discerning as snakes.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be critical. But we can’t be naive, either. 

Now, one of the major errors made when interpreting this passage, is the error of thinking that Jesus is inviting us to turn off our critical faculties. To be blind to sin. And to avoid evaluating another’s behaviour.

In this way of seeing the text, Jesus comes off sounding like a good, modern liberal Canadian. “Live and Let live. You do you. Who am I to judge?”

But this isn’t what Jesus means when he says “Judge Not.”

All throughout the sermon on the mount, Jesus has been inviting us to not be like the hypocrites or the pagans. And later he will implore us to avoid false teachers. So clearly, Jesus wants us to know the difference between righteous and unrighteous behaviour.

Additionally, we’d have to toss out much of the New Testament if the “live and let live interpretation” were correct. Because Paul and the other writers spend a lot of time encouraging godly behaviour and condemning ungodly behaviour in the body of Christ.

And, of course, later in Matthew, Jesus himself institutes a Church discipline process as a means to gracefully deal with sin in the body of Christ. So its safe to say that perceiving clearly and naming correctly are necessary skills for the disciple to have.

The problem with judging is not the critical discernment piece. The problem is when we think we belong in the judges chair and then we deal harshly with each other.

John Stott thinks that what Jesus is warning us about here, is the dangers of censoriousness. “Censoriousness”. I had to look that word up, because I’d never heard it before.

And what I found is that a censorious person is someone who is inclined to look for and point out the faults of others. It’s their mission to expose error and impose judgement.

Says Stott: Censoriousness is a compound sin consisting of several unpleasant ingredients. It does not mean to assess people critically, but to judge them harshly. The censorious critic is a fault-finder who is negative and destructive towards other people and enjoys actively seeking out their failings. He puts the worst possible construction on their motives, pours cold water on their schemes and is ungenerous towards their mistakes. John Stott

Don’t do this, says Jesus. “Quit being so critical of each other” (Frederick Bruner, traslation). Be innocent as a dove, not rambunctious like a bull.

In high school, I worked for a few months as an egg picker. Awful work. Imagine 2000 chickens running wild around a windowless barn. And my job was to collect the one thing that each of those chickens didn’t want to give up.

One of the things that I found so sad about life in the chicken coop, is the way that chickens treated other chickens who had developed defects.

One hen had a tumour on her head. And wherever she would go, other chickens would peck at her tumour. A few days later, I found her dead on the floor. That kind of thing happened all the time. Broken leg. Peck, Peck, Peck. Busted beak. Peck, Peck,  Peck…

I’d like to say that that kind of behaviour is limited to the hen house, but truthfully we do that kind of thing to each other too.

Often the worst pecking happens within the family. Most of us can tolerate the faults of people we don’t live with. But at home we grow weary of each other’s faults, and we start to peck. “You should know better by now.” “Why do you always cut corners when you clean your room?” “You’re such a selfish jerk.” “You only think of yourself.”

This pecking can be bad in the body of Christ too.

Does it ever work? All that critical nagging and fault finding. Does it ever produce a cm of change? Rarely.

Pecking each other into submission is not the Jesus way. Judge not, he says, or you will be judged. In fact, the same measure you use on others will be applied to you as well.

Its tricky to know what Jesus means by this measure business. Is being judged in return a natural consequence of being censorious? This is true to life, I suppose. If your boss is a fault finding fanatic, then you’re more likely to be critical of her in return. But if she cuts you some slack, you’re more likely to cut her some slack.

But Jesus could also be talking about the final judgement, here. If you yourself have no grace for others, then clearly you are far from the grace of God. And you can expect the true judge to bump you from your judgement seat and be critical of you.

So how should we deal with faults as Kingdom people. Well, says Jesus, we should work on ourselves first.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It’s a hilarious picture, really. (Hold up plank) “Hey buddy… I can’t help but notice that you have a little something in your eye. I could see it from a mile away, because my eyesight is, like, perfect. Let me get that out for you.”

Its a funny picture. But isn’t that the way it goes. This is basically a law of nature: We chronically underestimate our own faults, while we exaggerate the faults of others. But as Jesus already made clear, being critical of the faults of others is not the way forward.

The first step is to take a good look in the mirror. Name your own sin, faults, and weaknesses. Confess your own sin to God. Ask someone to help you with this burden. Do what you can to pull it out, God helping you.

Part of the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching here is that starting with yourself teaches you humility. Change is hard. Have you ever tried to take a plank out of your eye? Or move past a besetting sin. It can take years or difficult work. There are set-backs. Its hard!

And its only as you work on yourself that you realize how hard sanctification is. And when you figure that out, you’ll be way less judgemental and way more gentle with others and the sins and weakness that they have.

Another aspect of wisdom to this teaching, is that this is how change really happens in a community. If you tell people to shape up, they’ll never do it. But if you work on yourself, invite other people into your growth, people will be inspired by that. And they’ll desire to join you on the road of personal growth.

A few years ago, I went on a pastoral retreat. The main presenter was humble and quite vulnerable. He shared with us that he used to be a big bully.

At the end of the retreat, we were invited to confess something we had learned of ourselves to someone else. While there was about 7-8 people that I could have gone to do this with, I went to this man. I went to him because I knew he wouldn’t peck at me. His vulnerability inspired me to be vulnerable. His growth, encouraged me to grow.

This is the Jesus way of dealing with faults and sins. Start with yourself, and then be of service to others. The goal is no planks or specks. A speck of sawdust might not look like a big deal. But it can do a lot of damage in there. Its has to come out.

Jesus wants us all to have clear vision. But its important to be gentle with each other’s lives. Be as gentle as doves, and we will fly together.

And yet, at the same time, be as wise as serpents.

The gentle, Kingdom approach to dealing with faults is beautiful. And when a group of people decide to grow towards holiness together, in a gracious, vulnerable way, amazing things happen. But not everyone is ready for that. And not everyone wants that. In fact, some people hate it. And they come not with sawdust in their eyes but with clubs in hand.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Now before we explore this strange teaching, let’s remind ourselves a few of the things that Jesus has been teaching us. His has said, “don’t hit back, but turn the other cheek.” He has said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He has also told us not to call people names like fool or idiot, or pig or dog. That is like murder, says Jesus. Such hatred has no place in a disciples heart.

So, the attitude of the disciple, towards the neighbour, every neighbour, is always and forever, love.

And yet, Jesus also says, that if you go to a town, and you receive no welcome there, and no one is receptive to Christ’s Kingdom, then shake the dust off your feet. Move on.

Jesus did this in his own home town. He was amazed at their lack of faith, so he moved on. Paul routinely did this is his ministry too. When he received welcome, he would settle in and do some preaching, but whenever he was persecuted, he moved on.

It is true that we have to be patient with others, and sometimes we need to persevere. But its also true that some people are just not ready to receive the goods that God has on offer in Christ or to be a gentle member in the community that is growing in godliness together.

Its not that they themselves are dogs, or pigs—although some people, after a lifetime of hardening their heart to God, are truly lost. Its just that, for whatever reason, there is no readiness.

I remember attending a high school chapel once. The speaker shared his own story. He was vulnerable. Authentic. He talked about his sin, and God’s grace. You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. 

Later that day, I overhead a few 3rd year students making fun of the speaker. They were laughing at his story. Making fun of the way he talked.

“Pearls before swine.”

And I don’t say that or mean that in a sneering, demeaning way.

Those third year teenagers simply weren’t ready for the goods that God had on offer to them in that chapel.

In every mixed crowd, there will be a mixed response to God’s Kingdom work. For some, the good news pops, the call to confession cuts them to the heart, and the assurance of pardon is music in their ears. They are ready to participate in the work that God is doing in them and join the community that is striving towards holiness together.

But others will shrug their shoulders and check their facebook feed. Or, storm out in anger because the preacher had the nerve to gently question their way of life.

You can’t predict or control the results, but you can be discerning about where you give your time and energy.

Generally speaking, the Christian response to those who reject God’s Kingdom is patience and perseverance. This is how God pursued us. But there comes a time when it time to move on. To give the pearls and Holy food to someone who is more receptive.

Be as wise as serpents, but as innocent as doves.

So where do we get the power to be gentle like a dove, and the wisdom, to be wise like a serpent.

It starts by recognizing the way that God has been demonstrated his love for us. He sent the pearl of great price to live among us. He demonstrated great patience and perseverance in doing so. For humanity trampled the pearl, Jesus Christ, underfoot.

The world wasn’t ready for him, but God sent it anyway. And while we were incapable of receiving him, Jesus took all the splinters, the planks, and the sawdust out of us, and into himself, so that we could become the beloved, community of God.

Because God has acted this way towards us, we can be non-judgmental with each other.

And consider that way that Jesus has been shrewd to you. Somethings you weren’t ready to receive as a teenager, but now you are. I find it simply amazing that Jesus reveals himself to us at a pace that we can handle. He serves us the Holy Food in season. He doesn’t belittle me for being where I am, rather, he patiently works on me.

Think about that.

Who Jesus is and how he engages us…. Its him, and the Spirit who dwells within, that gives us the power we need to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Amen.

Posted in Matthew, Sermon on the Mount, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do Not Worry | Matthew 6:19-34

Dear friends of Jesus Christ,

Jesus’s main point is not hard to find in this passage. He says it a number of times in a number of different ways.

“Do not worry about your life?” “Do not worry about tomorrow.”

Worry. I think we all know about this thing called worry. And one thing we all know about worry, is that it’s a hard thing to stop.

Frederick Buechner says that telling someone not to worry is like telling “a woman with a bad head cold not to sniffle and sneeze… or a lame man to stop dragging his feet.” Frederick Buechner

Why do we worry. We worry because we are vulnerable creatures. We worry because we can imagine a future in which our needs are not met or are plans go unrealized. We wonder if we’ll be Ok.

  • Did we save enough for retirement?
  • Who will take care of me when I can’t care for myself?
  • Will my job be there for me in the future?
  • Did I choose the right career path?
  • Do I have enough money to pay rent, or tuition, or to buy groceries?
  • Will I ever find a suitable partner?
  • Will my children make friends?
  • What happens to them if something happens to me.
  • They said they’d be home by 11pm. But now its 12pm. Where are they?
  • The doctor wants to see me right away. He says its urgent.

According to Psychologyhealthcare.com the majority of humans worry about four things rather consistently. 1: We worry about money. 2: We worry about our jobs. 3: And we worry about health. 4: We worry about our relationships and the people that matter for us.

And its no wonder that we worry about these things. These things aren’t trivial. I mean without money, we can’t buy food, we can’t put a roof over our heads, we can’t send our children to college.  And when things go south in your marriage, or your body, or something significant happens to someone you love, all of life comes to a grinding halt.

And Jesus says… “Do not worry about your life—what you will eat or drink; or about your body—what you will wear.”

I find it a little shocking that Jesus tells us not to worry about these things. I mean, I could understand him telling us not to worry about image. Or chasing after wealth. But food and clothes?

How would this teaching sound to the poor? How can you possibility concern yourself with the Kingdom of God, if you don’t have daily bread.

“Do not worry about your life”…

The greek word for worry is “merimnao”. It means “to be anxious” “troubled with cares”.

This word, merimnao, is used a number of places in scripture. In Philippians 4, Paul says to the Church, “Do not be anxious (merimnao) about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And then, in the parable of the sower, Jesus talks about seed that is sown on different types of soil. Some is scattered along the path. Some is scattered among thorns. And still other seed is scattered in good soil. 

The seed, says Jesus in his interpretation, represents people and their response to the  word of God.

The seed that is scattered among good soil, grows to be exceedingly fruitful. But the other seeds don’t fare so well. Jesus says this about the seed that is sown among the thorns. It “refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries (merimnao) of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

I still don’t know what Jesus words would sound like in the ears of the poor, but it is true that worry chokes both a disciples growth and his or her fruitfulness. Worry shrinks our world. Makes us succumb to analysis paralysis. And that is not Jesus vision for his disciples.

Before applying Jesus’ antidote to worrying, I think it’s important to distinguish between two different types of anxiety. Our capacity to be anxious is not wholly bad. In fact, its a good part of our created design.

The other day, I sitting in my living room and out of the corner of my eye, out the window, I saw my two year old running up the driveway, towards the road. Jailbreak.

In that moment, I didn’t say to myself, “Ah… Don’t worry, David. Worry won’t add a single hour to your son’s life.” No, in that moment I jumped into action.

That kind of decisive action is produced by acute anxiety. And it’s very important that we are capable of this kind of split second response. Jesus isn’t telling us to shut down this part of us.

What Jesus is targeting here is chronic anxiety—the worry that moves into your living room, and whispers horror stories into your ears at night. The worry that causes you to become focussed on securing your own life, instead of confidently living for Christ’s Kingdom in the sure and certain care of the Lord.

Its a constant battle, isn’t it.

I mean, how often do you have the urge to do something of importance. Something that aligns with God’s Kingdom mission. To have a hurting neighbour over for dinner. To have a hard conversation with a loved one. To go on an adventure that you know aligns with some aspect of God’s mission.

But then… you start asking those nagging “what if” questions. “What if they don’t like my cooking?” “What if conversation doesn’t go well?” “What if we run out of money? Or don’t have enough of it later in life?”

And pretty soon, the thorns of worry kill the possibility of meaningful fruit.

One of the reasons that I memorized this text last summer is because this is me. Worry causes me to think and act in small ways. To take few risks.

There are reasons for this. The short form is that when I was a child, some difficult things happened in my family’s life. The meaning I made from that experience is that the world is not a safe place. In response to this meaning making, I developed what I’ve come to call a scarcity mindset. I fear lack. I worry about getting in over my head and running out. And I make many decisions accordingly.

I’m very thankful that God, through Faithwalking, helped me discover this about myself. Because now I can do things to try to disrupt this behaviour and re-write the story.

But while I’ve made some progress relegating worry to the basement, she’s still in the house, and she still pesters me.

So, what can be done to move on from worry to trust. I want to know. Don’t you?

Well, friends, I have good news for you today. I have searched high and low and I am happy to report that I have found two words that if properly employed will kill worry and replace it with care-free bliss.

Would you like to know what those words are?

Hakuna Matata.

Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase. What does it mean? It means no worries, for the rest of your days. Its a problem free, philosophy.

Obviously I’m joking. But before sharing Jesus’ antidote to worry, I think its important to consider how our culture invites us to move on from worry. The Hakuna Matada approach is shockingly prevalent.

And its similar to the “don’t worry, be happy” approach that was popularized by Bobby McFerrin in the late 80s. You know the song. “In this life we have some trouble. If you worry, you make it double. Don’t worry. Be Happy.”

What a great song! Too bad its bad advice.

Both “Hakuna Matada and Don’t Worry, Be Happy” promote escapism as the antidote to worry. The message is that anxiety can be sidelined with the pursuit of happiness, and the avoidance of hard things. For Symba, the state of Pride Rock is out of sight out of mind, so long as he’s hanging with his friends in their jungle oasis.

But there are problems with this escapist approach to worry.

Firstly, it’s pretty hard to avoid reality forever. You may successfully push worry down the road by partying it off with your friends, but eventually, it will come back with a vengeance.

And secondly, pursuing happiness doesn’t deal with the root causes of worry. We worry because we are vulnerable. And no amount of happiness seeking can ward off the consequences of a terminal illness.

The only way to put worry to death is to find something solid to stand on. Something you can trust, in life and in death.

Look at the birds of the air, says Jesus to the disciples he’s called out on an adventure.  They do not sow or reap or store up in barns. And yet your heavenly father feeds them. And see how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. And yet I tell you that not even the best dressed man on earth was decked out like one of these.

If that is how God cares for the birds of the air, and the grass off the field. Will he not so much more care for you?

Jesus tells these stories about birds and flowers, because he wants his disciples to know something important about God.  Namely, that God is a living God. Not just the covenant God of Abraham Isaac and Jakob, but the covenant God of you and me.

Living Covenant God. You know, in seminary, I learned how to talk about God correctly. I passed oral exams, talking about God correctly. But the God I learned to talk about, was more abstract that present. More the idea of fire, then an actual consuming fire.

But there’s not an instant that goes by in which God ceases to be the living God over creation and history. Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest. The birds have their food. The lilies sprout up as beautiful as ever.

And how much more does God watch over us, and tend to the people pursuing his mission in the world.

I was listening to my friend Clarke lecture a few days ago. Clarke is the leader of Canadian L’abri, which does its ministry in a big house near the urban bee on West Saanich road. In his lecture, Clarke was talking about the ministry of L’abri, and how it started.

L’abri was started by the Schaeffer’s. Edith and Francis. Through prayer and providence, they were able to secure property in Switzerland. Their vision was to provide shelter for young people wresting with issues of faith and reality.

But they also wanted their life together to be a tangible expression of the truth that God is a living God. So they never advertised their ministry. They never fundraised. They simply prayed. They prayed that God would provide the ministry with resources, and that God would bring the right guests into their house.

And God showed up. Again and again. There has never been a time when L’abri was an empty shelter. Miraculous checks continue to come into the mail for just the right amount at just the right time. “God prompted me to give,” the card would read.

Now we might have some wonders about L’abri’s insistence to only pray and not fundraise. But I appreciate their intentional desire to live in trust, to not light their own way, but to follow leading of the Lord and be a tangible expression of God’s living presence.

This is solid ground, says Jesus. This is why you don’t have to worry and why you can give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. The God who raised Jesus from the dead, who feeds the birds off the air, he can be counted on to care for the needs of his Kingdom seeking disciples.

The seek first his Kingdom part is important here. God sustains his missional community. If you’d prefer to seek first your own Kingdom. Or, if like Symba before Nala’s intervention, you prefer to avoid the messy work of fighting for what is good, then you will probably not receive manna from heaven or miraculous cheque’s in the mail.

Food and Clothes come to those who Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness. What Jesus doing here is taking away obstacles to ministry. Don’t let the thorns of worry choke out your growth.

What does it mean to seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness. I like how Eugene Peterson describes it in the Message.

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving…. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions…. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” (The Message)

What are the God things, and God initiatives before you. Every time you show hospitality to a stranger or neighbour, you are participating in a God thing. When you encourage a brother or sister in the faith, or share the hope that you have within you with a co-worker, you are engaged in Kingdom work.

The focus of God’s Kingdom work in the world is the transformation of hearts and minds. But it expands out from there. Whatever you do, says the Apostle Paul, do it for the glory of God. Righteousness is about right relationships. Its about justice and peace.

And its only as we give our lives over to God’s initiatives in the world that we begin to see God provide us with the things that we need.

And even if the food and clothes don’t come, still, like in the case of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abendigo, before King Nebucknezzar and the fiery furnace. Still, it is better to be serving our Lord unto death, then it is to be bending the knee to the idols of our age.

But those who step up in faith, routinely find that he is faithful.

So do not worry. Do not worry. I don’t know what cares and concerns are stirring you up today. Lean in to what God is doing around, and you will find that all that is needed, his hand will provide.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble on its own.

I love this conclusion. There’s a lot of realism here.

Nowhere does Jesus promise us a hakuna matata life. Even the sparrows and the lilies don’t have an easy go of it.

You can count on trouble. Each day. There will be trouble. But each day there will also be daily bread. Each day, daily bread. Don’t let the worries of tomorrow keep you from tackling the God initiatives today. Each day has enough trouble of its own. But seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things—food, clothes—will be given to you as well.

Amen.

Posted in Matthew, Sermon on the Mount, Uncategorized | Leave a comment