sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 05/25/2014
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Difficult challenges a few years ago, taking their toll, not sure how I was going to get through them gracefully. The kind of experiences that led to hopelessness, despair, loneliness. Had dinner with an out of town friend, shared about life and the present circumstances and how I was handling it. He listened patiently, and then said, very simply, and with a sense of excitement that took me by surprise, “You’re getting a promotion.”
It was like the lights turned on in my world. Everything looked different. Disconnected things were connected, senseless things made sense. My perspective changed and hope made a fresh entrance into my life.
What he meant by a promotion, of course, wasn’t about a new job title or professional advancement or anything like that. It was a much more personal thing, having to do with what God was up to in my world and my life. The specific meaning isn’t really the point. The point is that my friend saw something, and nudged me just enough so that I could see it too. And once I could see it, that’s when everything changed.
I’d propose to you that my friend saw what he saw and said what he said with the help of the Holy Spirit. And further, I’d propose that something like that is what the Holy Spirit wants to help all of us do, all the time.
Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as wind. Before wind fills our sails and really moves us somewhere, it gets our attention. It wakes us up. It makes us look around. It shifts things enough that we can see what we couldn’t see before. It moves the clouds so the sun can shine on the landscape in front of us. It shows us that the world around us is alive and calls us out into it. It arrests our wandering brains and gently (or not so gently) brings them into the present moment, where Love always dwells.
When Jesus rose from death to new life, he spent almost all his energy getting his followers engaged in a new kind of life, a new era in human history. Life after Easter. Because God is alive among us in a new way. Or, at least, we're coming awake to his living presence in a new way. And he's breathing new life into us, too. So we can live energized by his life. Cooperating with his living presence.
Life after Easter is mostly about the Holy Spirit, really. What (or who) the Spirit is. What the Spirit does. How we hear and respond to and experience the Spirit.
Today I want to begin talking about how the Holy Spirit brings us into a new kind of relationship with each other. The Holy Spirit makes us nudgers.
A little background first.
The Holy Spirit has been around from the beginning, hovering over the waters of the first creation, bringing order out of chaos. And throughout the Hebrew bible, the Holy Spirit is offered to individuals for specific purposes – ruling wisely, prophecy, art, etc. But it’s always temporary, situational - nothing like what we experience today, after Easter.
There is however, a promise, that things will change. That God himself will become more profoundly accessible and known to us, more intimate and personal. Jeremiah, the great Hebrew prophet, wrote this:
31“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
32It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34No longer will they teach their neighbors,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
Following Easter, Jesus’ disciples waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and after the Holy Spirit came, they understood that this new covenant had begun.
And notice that it doesn’t just change everything about how we relate to God (his law on our minds and hearts – inside of us!), but it also changes how we relate to each other.
“No longer will they teach their neighbors or say to one another…”
Jesus himself said something very similar:
8“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant.
If we are living life after Easter in the community of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot have relationships where we are telling each other what to do, or how to think, or where to go, or anything of that nature – one person over the other - but rather relationships where we are servants, nudging each other to help one another see, to come into deeper awareness of the Spirit’s presence and power and prompting among us.
It’s not that “teaching” is some bad thing, necessarily, but the witness of the people of God through history is that it’s fraught with danger.
One, it’s so easy to lord it over one another, to use our power for our own gain, to manipulate others. We become sales people and shovers.
And, two, it tells a fundamentally untrue story about ourselves to one another, about what it means to be a human being. The true story is that we are all sisters and brothers, but we function in different roles than that all the time, don’t we? And those different roles can mask the truth of our sibling-ness, often to detrimental effect [parents, bosses, doctors, law enforcement, prison guards, etc.]
Nudging, on the other hand, is the kind of activity brothers and sisters can thrive on.
There's no manipulation or pressure in a nudge, is there?
Our job is to nudge.
Nudge. Wake up. Look.
Nudge. Hey, did you see that?
Nudge. Look at you! Well done.
Nudge. I'm here, how's it going?
Nudge. Shhh...something's happening.
Nudge. Wow, can you believe that?
Nudge. Woah, careful there.
Nudge. Woah, did you feel that?
Nudge. Oops, did I press to hard? my bad. Please forgive me.
Nudge. Do you need a hand?
Nudge. Here he is. The one you've been waiting for, right there.
Nudge. Your number just got called. It's your turn.
Nudge. Go for it. I'm cheering you on.
Nudging affects both the nudger and the nudge-ee.
Nudging is an act of friendship, of love.
Nudging is up close and personal.
Nudging is invited, welcomed.
Or sometimes it's not - but even when that happens, or especially when that happens - it can open the door for more honest relationship.
Nudging happens at the right time, in the right place, and it can happen anywhere, at any time.
Nudging isn't rushed or forced, yet nudgers never hesitate or sweat bullets either, because nudges happen naturally, instinctively.
Nudges produce smiles and embraces, not narrowed eyes and clenched fists.
What is nudging all about? Our text today will be Luke 24, where Jesus awakens human beings to their first awareness of the living presence of the God who they thought was dead.
It takes place a couple of days after Jesus has been executed on Roman cross, and everyone who loved him is despairing and despondent.
Let’s see what this story can teach us about nudging.
13Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16but they were kept from recognizing him.
Jesus comes near and joins with. This is the context for all nudging. Coming near and joining. This is the relationship we are to have with one another. A nearness that love inspires and fear despises. Fear says stay away or stay above. Love says approach, come close. Nudging isn’t possible without love.
17He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
Jesus pays attention to them. Asks them a question. -Nudge. His nudging begins by getting them to pay attention to themselves.
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Jesus notices their expressions. Probes for more. Listens to their answer. Surprises them with a very different perspective, an unexpected viewpoint - one that speaks to what they already know, but tells a different story about it. - Nudge.
The perspective that Jesus has comes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the one who helps us see, and the Spirit is the one who helped Jesus see who he was and what his life was all about and what the scriptures were saying about him in the first place, years earlier. So what Jesus is telling them, the nudge he’s giving them, is a nudge that comes from the Holy Spirit.
I’m persuaded that all seeing that brings true new perspectives that had never been seen before can be the work of the Holy Spirit. And not just religious perspectives. Whether it’s Einstein or Copernicus or Galileo or Darwin or DaVinci or Rembrandt or Handel or Miles Davis or Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr, the Holy Spirit is the one who helps the seeing happen.
But back to Jesus in this story of nudges…
28As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
Doesn't make himself a nuisance, acts as if he's going on. – Nudge. Some nudges can only be given when the nudger is strongly welcomed; Jesus is sensitive to this and waits to discover how they feel towards him before any further nudging.
We carry incredible anxiety with us, and anxiety is like static in communication. Especially when a person is anxious towards you, it’s almost impossible to nudge well. It will always feel like a threat, an aggressive attack. The wise nudger is sensitive to this, like Jesus. Better to wait until the person is inclined toward you and makes that clear.
30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.
Jesus accepts their invitation. Blesses their meal. Serves them. - Nudge.
31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Their eyes are opened, and they see him. And they see themselves. They see that God has been at work in them all along.
Can we see now what nudging does? The blind see. The Holy Spirit is having a field day. Seeing happening everywhere – God is seen, self is seen, the past is seen, the scripture is seen.
Opened = torn asunder // it’s like there is a rupture between the dimensions where God dwells and the normal dimensions of our embodied existence. The heavens and the earth joining together, light shining. Order from chaos, new creation. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it all starts with nudging.
33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
They turn around. At once! – they are energized, animated, enthused - it’s the Holy Spirit at work, after all.
And they tell their story.
This is the fruit of many nudges.
Now they are witnesses.
Now they have eyes to see.
Now they can join in the nudging.
This is how life spreads in the kingdom of God. The shift from faces downcast, leaving the city of peace to running towards it, full of joy and energy, brimming with good news and eyes alive with wonder. It’s all the fruit of a nudge here, a nudge there. There is no wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am drama. No techniques. No systems.
Just people paying attention to the resurrection-infused world around them. And helping one another pay attention.
Jesus at the center of it all. Never pushing, always responding to their hunger and invitation. Patient. Never frustrated or angered at the slowness of the process.
Joining them in the normal, unexceptional things of life, looking for the right time to reveal the holy and divine present in the midst of the mundane.
Never defensive about their doubts of him.
Never cursing them. Always blessing them.
Until all the nudges make a landing pad for the Holy Spirit, until all the nudges open the curtains enough for the light to flood in.
Everything you need to know about Life after Easter can be found in Luke 24. Things are not what they seem. Jesus is alive and present everywhere without boundaries, often unrecognized. We are often reading the signs wrongly, but the signs are there to be read. Every nudge is a part of long process. There is a bigger story to be told, if we can see it with God's help. The very things that disturb and frustrate and sadden us are sometimes the very things that bear witness to the Living God, if we have but eyes to see it.
1. Get nudged.
Put a target on your shoulder. Invite people close to you who love you and know how to pay attention to the God who is already there to nudge you. To point out something they see God doing in your life that maybe you didn't notice. Or to point out something they see God inviting you to join him in that you maybe haven't yet said yes to. Or to point out something they see God doing through you that you didn't notice was him so that you can cooperate with it more fully. Or to tell you a different story - a kingdom of God story - about the facts of your life than the story you've been telling yourself.
2. Repent of Sales Tactics and Shoves
You notice how nice people who work at good stores are to you when you come in? It feels good, but deep down, you know they might be being nice just because they want you to buy something. Not because they actually love you. Is that why you're being nice to an unbelieving "friend." Because you want them to buy something? That's not how God relates to us. He calls us to love people because he loves people. Because it's a family he's inviting us into, not a pyramid marketing scheme.
And shoves miss the point as well. We shove someone when we think we know better than they do where they should be at a particular moment in time. God surely knows better than we do where we should be at any particular moment in time, and how often does he shove us? Most of the time God seems more content to let us fall flat on our face, or even let us get hit by a train, than he is to shove us off the course we choose for ourselves, doesn't he? Because he's inviting us into a life of following him, not a life on a leash.
So do some business with God and make a settled decision in your heart to get out of the business of selling and shoving. And to get into the joy of nudging.
3. Do a little homework.
Read Luke 24 this week (there’s a lot more to the story!) and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you about nudging like Jesus nudges. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how Jesus has nudged you in your life so far.