Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanks for the Troubles, Jesus. Pentecost 25 Proper 28C

Proper 28C                Luke 21:5-19                    Nov. 14, 2010             The Rev. Benton Quest

I was watching a show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network a while ago. I don’t know if you are familiar with TBN but it is the channel that has all the preachers on it. Now I need to tell you, I normally don’t make it a habit of watching TBN, but when I watched, they were having their fundraising week. Well, the preaching was quite unbelievable. These folks were preaching in a manner that I don’t think I will ever accomplish! Maybe you don’t want me to accomplish this style!! Well, I am not going to talk about the preaching style. What I wish to discuss is the content of the preaching.

I will admit that I didn’t hear the entire sermon, but what I did hear I found upsetting. It seems that this preacher was talking about how all the people in a certain congregation had gone from destitution to affluence. How suddenly the parking lot was beginning to fill with Cadillacs and Lincolns. How people have gone from having little money to having money to spare. The preacher was talking about how by just believing in Jesus, the people became wealthy.

Now this sounds like a good message. I bet if we went out and guaranteed that by coming to St. Swithin's, people would become rich, we would have people knocking down our doors! We would all like to hear that by simply going to church we could all make whole lot of money. Well, most of us would probably like to hear that message. Yet, for how good a message that would be to hear, there is a problem with that message. There is an underlying message to what the preacher was saying. What the preacher was saying is that we should believe in Jesus for the things that we can receive. What he was saying is that being a Christian is like having a winning lottery ticket. If we believe enough in Jesus then we will have big cars, big houses, abundant health, and lots and lots of cash.

So very often this is the message we hear when people talk about Christianity. The message we get is if we only follow Jesus our life will be so much better. If we only follow Jesus our life will be so much easier. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We don’t follow Christ and our life is a mess because of sin. We follow Christ, He forgives our sins, and our lives are much better because we are making Christ happy and he wants to give us stuff. Sounds good to me!

In seminary we had a name for this type of belief. The belief that because we believe then everything will be wonderful is known as a Theology of Glory. A Theology of Glory is pretty enticing. We believe in Christ and Christ gives us exactly what we want. And know what? A Theology of Glory works! It works until your wife gets cancer or your husband is in an accident or large buildings collapse killing thousands of people or jet engines self-destruct. When the “bad” things in life happen, then the Theology of Glory leaves us standing in the smoke and dust asking, “What happened?”

But Jesus doesn’t teach a theology of Glory. He teaches what Martin Luther called a Theology of the Cross. A Theology of the Cross has to do with learning from our mistakes and holding to our convictions. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus talks about being arrested and persecuted. Those who follow Jesus are going to be arrested and persecuted. Through their association with Jesus, the disciples lives are going to be come difficult and complicated. They probably will be taken to jail, not to the new car show room.

When I read these scriptures, I am confused as to how to respond. I don’t want to be arrested! I don’t want to have to go to the jail and visit with you when you get arrested! I don’t want to end up in jail myself! Just think about the evangelism campaign we could have! “Join St. Swithin's! A welcoming place where you can get your very own serial number! Free mug shot with every membership!” We won’t be able to keep the people out!

Why does Jesus do that? Why does Jesus promise all of these horrible things for his followers? It really is not a good way to get follower and believers. I think you will agree with me that we would much rather hear about how following Jesus would bring us a life of leisure. We don’t want to hear that through following Jesus our life is going to be more difficult. But Jesus doesn’t let us off. He tells us that we need to be prepared to be rejected by the world. We need to be ready to have the world not just passively ignore us but to actively persecute us.

Humm… I don’t like hearing this at all. And I would like to talk around these words. I would like to tell you that Jesus was just messing with our minds; that we really don’t have to go through all this suffering. But to tell you that would be to do Jesus a disservice.

Now one thing I want to make perfectly clear; Christ wants us to have the best life possible. Christ wants us to live a full and fulfilling life. We need to always remember this. Jesus is not telling us to follow him so that we will have trouble and pain. Jesus is telling us to follow him so that we can have the best life possible.

The way of following Christ is to pursue the things that are truly important in life. To follow Chris is to be fully involved in life. To follow Christ is to experience what is the most important in life.

What are the most important things in life? Is it most important to have things or to have friends? Is it more important to have the praise of everyone or to have the satisfaction of knowing that you did what was right? Is it more important to have the admiration of the masses or to have the love of God? It is nice to have things, praise, and the admiration of the masses, but it is more important to have the love of God. Like a good parent, Christ wants what is best for us. And just as with children, often what the parent knows is best may not always appear to the child to be the best. Also, what is the best may not be what is the easiest! If what was the best were also the easiest, then the new health plan would involve eating cookies and watching TV! Unfortunately, maintaining our health is a little harder. But in putting in the work, we get the benefits.

Our faith life is the same way. When we follow Jesus, we have to put in the work. This work helps us to live fulfilling lives. This work helps us to live a life that is rich and vibrant. A life in Christ is not dull and boring, no! It is full of energy, abundant energy! Life in Christ is not about judgment. It is about freedom!

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t want us to have an abundant life. If we have our fulfillment in God, then we don’t need to buy our fulfillment in the Martha Stewart collection. If we find our fulfillment in Christ, then we don’t need to worry about how others view us. If we have our fulfillment in Christ, we can move about life, experiencing what is best.

But it is this lack of worry about the world that will cause the world to rebel and causes the problems Jesus teaches about. There is a lot of pressure for us to define ourselves by the ways of the world. A lot of people have a lot resting on my desire for a new car or a new shirt or a new Wii. Advertising’s sole aim is to make me feel that my life is not worth living if I don’t own their product. Advertising’s sole aim is to make me (and you!) feel like we are less than the special creations created by God.

I have something to tell you! We are more than new Cadillacs! God gives us more than the purely material! We are the baptized children of God, heirs to the eternal reign! We are the redeemed! We have the promise of Immanuel, of God with us! God here and now! Soon we will come to the table and be fed and strengthened by Christ’s own body and blood. What greater gift can we receive?

It would be nice to have a Cadillac, or a Lincoln, or a 1976 tan Fiat Spider convertible with caramel leather interior. But to measure God’s goodness by purely tangible possessions is to limit our understanding of God. No, God comes to us in so many different ways. God comes to us in the laughter of children, in the coarse texture of a cat’s tongue, the sparkle in a loved ones eyes, the smell of freshly baked cookies, the feel of sheets fresh off the line, the feel of clothes still warm from the dryer, the sound of gentle rain on the roof, the smell of a fire on a cold evening, or the gentle brush of a finger on a cheek. Jesus is present in all of these. When we limit our concept of blessing to those things we can own, we limit God.

So as we approach this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for the things in our lives, but let’s also be sure to give thanks for the multitude of small blessings in our lives and pray that God increases our awareness of these blessings. God promises us more than we can ever understand. It may not be what the world promises, but it will be so much better!

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