Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nudge: Even The Empty Tomb Isn't Empty


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/26/2010

[audio link]

Invitation to turn to Luke 24…

The good news lands with a nudge. And central to the practice of nudging is the understanding that nowhere is off-limits to the presence of God.

I have a friend who was born to missionary parents, but became an atheist as a teenager.

For the normal sorts of reasons.

The story he'd been given of God didn't match up with his experiences. His parents divorced when he was young, in part because of the stresses that mission work put on their marriage. It was hard to see God's presence in that.

In fact, everywhere he looked for God, God seemed conspicuously absent. So much so that my friend took to carrying around the atheist debater's handbook. So that he could show others how what they thought was God's presence in this world was nothing more than an illusion.

Then my friend was awakened to God's presence. Not in a church, or at a crusade. But in the very place it seemed God was most likely to be absent. In his mother's losing battle with cancer.

His mother's friends from her church came day after day to visit her. To provide her meals. To pray for her. To spend time with her. To love her, and to love her family who was losing her.

Each visit was a nudge to my friend. A nudge whispering, "wake up."

Wake up to the presence of the God who is present even in death. Even in cancer, the instrument of death. Even in the grief of the loss of his beloved mother.

Death was not God. The cancer was not God. The grief and loss were not God. But God was present, nonetheless. Present in the midst of death, in the same room with cancer, planting seeds in the soil of grief and loss. And the love of these women awakened my friend to presence of the God who had been there all along. Got under his skin. Disrupted his worldview. Added new light to the story of reality as he understood it.

Nudged him to look again for God in places he'd previously decided God was absent from.

And do you know, he found that after those first nudges his eyes were opened to see the God that was in those places, after all. And God met him afresh, anew, and new life was breathed into him out of his mother's death. Life that changed his life forever.

Those women from his mother's church didn't bring Jesus into my friend's life, or into the home where his mother was dying. Jesus was already there. They didn't come armed with arguments for the existence of God - he wouldn't have bought what they were selling if they had. They didn't try to take advantage of his grief and "close the deal" with him - that might have closed him off even further.

What they did was nudge him. They nudged him by embodying and demonstrating the good news that Jesus wasn't afraid of death, that love was more powerful than death, that God wasn't abandoning him or even his mother in her battle with cancer. And their embodiment and demonstration of the good news of God's kingdom was a gentle nudge that awakened my friend to the God who had been there all along.

The best nudging happens like that. Naturally supernatural. Almost unconsciously. Almost invisible to the naked eye - unless you have eyes to see.

We've been looking at Luke 24 to understand how we can participate with Jesus in bringing the good news of the triumph of God's kingdom over the kingdom of darkness and death to one another. And what we've discovered in the story of Jesus' resurrection from the tomb, and the gentle, patient, gracious, unhurried way he reveals himself to the first people to understand the good news in Luke 24 is that the good news lands with a nudge.

The work of the evangelist is not the work of a manipulative salesperson or a even a well-intentioned shover. The task of a good-news-bringer is to nudge.

Jesus calls us to join with him in being a nudger. People who are awakening each other to the presence of the God who is already here. A nudge here. A nudge there. Our only agenda to bless, to serve, to cooperate with God in announcing and demonstrating and embodying the good news of the God of grace and peace.

And nudging counts on God being at work everywhere. This is our focus today. God is present everywhere around us. All the time. It's a question for us of noticing. Of recognizing. Of having eyes to see him, no matter where he's present.

Nudge evangelism requires us, in a sense, to have a simple shift in focus.

The kind of evangelism that has become a dirty word to some requires that we look for the absence of God. Oooh, I think that person is lost. Look how they talk, how they act. They are probably a good candidate for a good dose of Jesus. Let me check my supply and see what I can offer them. Or, Oooh, I see a chink in their armor. Life isn't going good for them, their sin is finally catching up with them. Let's see how strong their arguments are against God now! If I can just be there at the right moment, when their defenses are down, I bet I can I can topple their resistance to God. This focus turns people into projects.

But Nudge evangelism is all about noticing the presence of God in someone's life, and helping awaken them to it. Oh, look what Holy Spirit is doing to bring God's blessing to them in the midst of their needs. Oh, wow, look at the image of God shining in them in their compassion for the hurting, in their love of creation, in their concern for their kids, in their gifts and talents. Hey, look at that, they've got a real hunger for justice and an instinct for what's good - God's already given them some characteristics I've been praying that he would shape in me. Nudgers honor people as image bearers of the one who died for us.

Let's try an exercise.

[The Monkey Business Illusion...]

We're followers of Jesus. The one thing in the world we should be best at - as followers - is keeping our eyes peeled for him. But we've somehow gotten the idea of evangelism twisted and as a result, we've become blinded to his presence anywhere but in Christians or Churches or Christian-y places and activities.

For some of us, some of the time, in some situations and relationships and places, our problem is that we're not expecting God to be present... And because we aren't looking for him, or even because we're pretty sure he wouldn't be there, we miss what his Holy Spirit wants to make obvious to us: The 800 lb gorilla roaming the earth.

[Recap beginning of Luke 24...]

v11: The words of the women were nonsense (appeared to their minds as nonsense) to the men, because they couldn't imagine Jesus was anywhere but in the tomb. Dead people stay dead in tombs.

How often do we miss opportunities to awaken each other to the presence of God because we think the living God can't be present there, so we're not looking for him?

God's not present in my family, let me tell you. I know them, and I know they are as far from God as you can get.

God's not present in my work place. That place is worse than dead - people scoff at God there.

God's not present in that painful situation. In that lifestyle. In that activity. In that "godless" passion or interest.

God's not present in my school. Or on my team. Or at my gym. Or at that bar. Or that party this weekend.

Thank God I can come to church and get away from all those deathly tombs, all those hostile environments.

Because dead people stay dead in tombs.


That's not what the resurrection says.

But the women's nudge doesn't move most of the men. Most of the men, they know dead people stay dead in tombs.

Peter though, his balance is thrown off by the nudge.

v12: Peter hears the news, and it disrupts his assumptions just enough to get him to check it out for himself. Something about Peter's soil lets seeds in. Something about Peter makes him say, "Maybe." He scopes out the empty tomb, and begins to wonder to himself what has come into the world. And sometime after the wonder begins, Jesus shows himself to Peter.

Or maybe Jesus has been there all along, but it's not until the wonder starts that Peter can see him.

And then, look at what's next in the story...

v13: And behold! (When something starts with "And behold!", it's a clue that beholding isn't always as easy as it seems at first glance. Like without a nudge, we just might miss it.)

The disciples on the road to Emmaus don't imagine that the companion who joins them could be Jesus, and so even though he is right next to them, talking to them, they can't see him.

So he nudges their minds. Tells them stories they already know, but re-interprets them in a way that prepares their minds to see him. (more on that in coming weeks...for now the important part is still coming...)

And then he nudges their hearts with a meaningful action. (again, more on that in coming weeks...for now the important part is nearly here...)

v31: And their eyes are drawn asunder.

Their eyes have been closed to seeing him, recognizing him, because they haven't been able to imagine that he could possibly be walking around. Anywhere.

What is Luke trying to tell those of us who want to be witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, who want to help awaken our friends and parents and co-workers and children and classmates and neighbors and brothers and sisters to the presence of the God who is already here?

He's telling us our eyes may need to be drawn asunder. He's telling us behold!

Jesus is everywhere now. He's liable to show up anywhere, anytime, no boundaries holding him back. Behold!

Luke's telling us:

The Veil of the temple is torn.

Tomb stones roll away.

Eyes are drawn asunder.

Gatherings are infiltrated.

Minds are blown open.

The first nudge says that the world isn't as we've always thought it was. Did we think God can be stuck in a box? Did we think God was only present in "godly" places and among "godly" people? Did we think we could only find him by looking for him where we last put him?

God has shaken off the chains of death and now he's roaming the earth, his Spirit blowing like the wind. Nowhere is off limits to the resurrected Jesus.

Isn't that the good news? The Kingdom of God is here? The Kingdom of God is near? The Kingdom of God is within you? The Kingdom of God isn't restricted to the religious leaders, to the blessed, to the well-off? That the kingdom is among the mourners, and the poor in spirit, and the meek?

What hope do we have of nudging others if we don't believe the good news ourselves? The truth is, the resurrection makes sense of everything the scriptures have always been saying - we just didn't have eyes to see it without the light of the good news.

In the beginning, God blessed everything. The earth - it's good, God says. The oceans, the land, the animals, the sky, the rivers, the plants. It's good. It's blessed. It's his, he can go where he wants, and he wants it all because it's good.

And then, in making us, the soil itself has been infused with Spirit, the breath of God.

Sure, Shalom has been disrupted by sin. But God has never left the building. Or maybe better said, God has left the building - and now he's everywhere, arriving with Shalom.

v36: Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace [Shalom] be with you."

Nothing made in the image of God or blessed by God is godless. The word "godless" in the scriptures never means "devoid of God. It always means lacking reverence for God, or polluted, corrupted, profaned. But never, ever "empty of God."

Even the empty tomb wasn't empty. Signs of his living presence lingered. And then he showed up everywhere.

Consider Ezekiel. A priest who is the son of a priest. A good priest whose whole life and experience of God is wrapped up in the temple, the place where God dwells. And the temple is destroyed. And the children of God are exiled to the land where Ishtar is god. And his wife is dead. And Ezekiel is dragged through the gates of Ishtar into Babylon. And one day, by a river in Babylon, he has a fantastical, wild vision, with multi-faced creatures and spinning wheels with eyes, and he realizes, God is here. In Babylon. And he falls face down in worship. Right there in the land presumably belonging to Ishtar. Only it doesn't. Nothing belongs to Ishtar. Because the earth is the Lord's and everything in it.

Consider the disciples in a boat out on the water, sans Jesus. And they see a figure out on the water. The water that is filled with terrors. They know, they absolutely know, that when someone shows up out on the water, not in a boat, it's a ghost. Something evil and undead. Only this isn't a ghost. It's Jesus. Courage. No fear. I am. God loves to be outside of our safe boats. Walking on the water all around us. Saying, Courage. No fear. It's me. Awaken each other to me.

The resurrected Jesus is everywhere, if we will let him draw our eyes asunder so we can recognize him. And then awaken one another to his presence.

Nudging is awakening each other to the presence of the God who is already there. God is already there. Wherever there is.

Our problem is that we aren't looking for him because we didn't imagine he could be there. It's hard to awaken somebody else to the God who is already there if we aren't awake to him ourselves, isn't it?

May we apprehend that the good news of the kingdom is that the kingdom of God is here. Wherever here is. May the Sower of Seeds plant that word in us like a seed, and may it take root and grow.

And then may we have eyes to see it already at work right under the noses of our friends and relatives and children and neighbors and co-workers and classmates and teachers and teammates. God already present in their lives. In their hearts. All around them. If only they had someone to nudge them. To help awaken them to resurrection reality.

Next time on Nudge, we'll talk about how to spot the bushes that are burning.

Practical Tips:

1. Turn and Burn.

Repent of any false assumptions you've held along the lines of "dead people stay dead in tombs."

Do it this way: write down the name of a person or place or situation that you've written off as "godless" or as an unlikely candidates for God's presence and activity. Especially a place you go often or a person you would love to be part of them experiencing the fullness of God's blessing.

Get a candle that you like the smell of, and put that paper under the candle. Every time you light the candle or smell it's scent, allow it to remind you that the light of the world is shining there, or on that person, that the wind of the Spirit is blowing there, or on that person. Pray: Jesus, Nudge me awake to your presence, so I can be a nudger.

2. Change your Identity.

Resolve to stop thinking of yourself as someone who "brings" Jesus to a place or a person. For one, that's a lot of pressure... And 2, Jesus already beat you wherever you think you're bringing him, so you're wasting your time.

Instead, receive a new identity as a member of the New Creation Road Show. Like the Antiques Road Show, only you're helping people identify the hidden signs of new creation already present in their lives. Put NCRS on a wristband if you like, or stick it on your review mirror. If someone asks what it stands for, suggest: "No one Can Really Say." If they laugh and ask again, take it as a sign of new creation at work, and tell them what it really stands for. If they look at you like you're weird and move on to another subject, maybe the time for a nudge is still a little down the road.

resource link: Nudge, Leonard Sweet

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