Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent 2010: Consolation

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 12/12/2010

[Audio link not yet available]

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

4“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3v1-13

Three things are broken in us and are the source of all the pain in our world.

We are alienated from ourselves. Like Adam, we see our nakedness and are ashamed of it. We look at ourselves and instead of taking joy in what we see, we despise ourselves. We look in the mirror and loathe what we see, everything a flaw, not quite right, not enough to make us happy. We hate our weaknesses, the ones in our bodies and the ones in our hearts and the ones in our heads. We are perpetually confident that no one loves us, because no one could, not if they see us the way we see us. Charles Park, a church planter in New York City, has a friend who is a pharmaceutical rep in Manhattan. His friend says that his company alone has two pharmaceutical reps in single 3 block by 3 block area in the Upper East Side, supporting over 300 psychiatrists. That’s like 33 psychiatrists per block. We are alienated from ourselves, and it hurts. Alienated beyond the capacity of drugs to heal.

We are alienated from ourselves, and we have no one to turn to for help, because we are alienated from one another as well. Like Adam, we look at others around us as objects of blame. “The woman you put here with me – it’s her fault!” Our relationships with those closest to us get irreparably fractured over time, sometimes by an accumulation of small wrongs, or too frequent judgments, or sometimes by horrendously awful betrayals. Sometimes we feel like we’re not safe around anyone, and sometimes no one is safe around us. And strangers – those different or foreign in our eyes – appear to us as threats or competitors or enemies, rather than brothers and sisters. [conversation with my dad about studies done with sanitizing stations nearby…] We are alienated from one another, and it leaves us with such pain, the kind of pain we never get over on our own, no matter how many battles we win.

And finally, and most devastatingly, we are alienated from God, the source of our life and the one who might heal us if we would draw close to him. Like Adam, when we hear God approach, we hide. We feel our shame, and we cast our blame, and even though God is the one who can look at us in our brokenness and still love us, and even though God is the one who knows the depth of our guilt and still has mercy on us, he is the one of whom we are most afraid. When he comes near, we hear him in the garden and we are sure our betrayal and rejection of him will come back to haunt us. So we hide from him and run away to other sources of life, sources that we hope will give us comfort in our shame, sources that will keep us company in our alienation from one another. [Mechanics, chiropractors, & God…]

Death by alienation is such a slow and painful way to die, is it not? We become ruins of who we were created to be, our relationships in disrepair, no longer good for shelter, emptied of warmth. The formerly verdant garden becomes a desert, a wasteland in which everything has been consumed and nothing is growing anymore.

This is shattered shalom. What once was peace, embrace, the true comfort of home, gone like the fading memory of dream, at best now an elusive feeling, a feeling of something missing that we are aware of only by the hole it’s left behind.

This is hell on earth, is it not? We’ve all felt some measure of its heat, have we not?

Oh, if only a light would shine in this darkness! If only there would be a rescuer who would come and pursue us unflaggingly across the barren desert and give us a cup of water to drink! If only a repairer of broken walls could come and make the ruins into a home! If only a gardener would appear who could plant seeds that would take root and run riot over the earth. If only a friend of sinners would come who could reconcile all alienated things to himself, in heaven and on earth and under the earth!

We reflected last week on how we are in the season of advent, the moment before the moment, the time when God invites us to anticipate, to look forward to what is coming so that the life of the future can bleed into our lives today.

Today we’re going to explore the question: “What do we have to look forward to, anyway?” This advent, we look forward to a baby who comes into the world in order to reconcile us with ourselves, with one another, and with God. This baby, as we’ll see, is a new Adam: one who embraces the shame, and takes on the blame, and puts an end to all of the hiding from God.

We’ll begin our exploration with an advent story from Luke chapter 2.

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and the glory of your people Israel.”

Let’s zero in on Simeon, a man “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Waiting here is προσδέχομαι prosdechomai take up, receive, to look forward to, to welcome. [throw $10.00 paper airplane…]

Simeon is anticipating something. He is looking forward to something promised to him, in a way that brings the joy of the thing coming right into his present circumstances. Circumstances that are not very rosy. He is an old man in a corrupt temple, part of a people in exile and under the oppressive rule of the Roman empire and a brutal, power hungry king. And yet, the Holy Spirit was on him. In his anticipation, his receiving of the future promise, the Spirit of God was present with him in the here and now. A fountain of joy is present to him in his trouble. And not only that, it makes him ready to receive and cooperate with what God is doing at that very moment Jesus arrives before him.

But what exactly had he been anticipating, looking forward to, waiting with expectation for? A rousing victory that would crush the romans and Herod and the corrupt priests? No, nothing that exciting. He was waiting for “the consolation of Israel.” [Not consolation how we usually understand it…] He was waiting for comfort, for healing, for the presence of God that would bring peace. Specifically, Simeon was waiting for what had been promised through the prophet Isaiah.

13Shout for joy, you heavens;

rejoice, you earth;

burst into song, you mountains!

For the Lord comforts his people

and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

Is 49:13

3The Lord will surely comfort Zion

and will look with compassion on all her ruins;

he will make her deserts like Eden,

her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.

Joy and gladness will be found in her,

thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

Is 51:3

9Burst into songs of joy together,

you ruins of Jerusalem,

for the Lord has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

Is 52:9

13As a mother comforts her child,

so will I comfort you;

and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

Is 66:13

Salvation breaks into our brokenness, affliction, and alienation first as consolation, as comfort, as an answer to our distress. Like a mother coming to the rescue of her child. Yes, she will set everything right. Yes, she’ll take care of the source of the trouble. But first, she is there. Present with the child. And in her presence, there is comfort. And there is promise that the rescue begun with her arrival will surely become a full and present reality.

Look at that Isaiah 51 promise again. The description of ruins and desert and wastelands becoming like Eden, the garden of the Lord, full of joy and gladness and thanksgiving and the sound of singing. It’s the promise of a place where there is no shame, no blame, no hiding from God, isn’t it?

And to Simeon, Jesus is the one who makes all these promises a reality. He is the consolation of Israel. What does Jesus have to do with this kind of comfort, of consolation? How is he the one Simeon has been waiting for? How is he the one we’ve all been waiting for?

Jesus is consolation for our alienation. In Jesus, God brings comfort to all three expressions of alienation, healing them and opening the door to reconciliation. Jesus ends the shame, ends the blame, ends the hiding from God.

Jesus is what Paul, in his letter to the Romans, calls the firstborn of a new creation. He is the first human being reconciled fully to himself, fully reconciled to every other human being – even to his enemies, and fully reconciled to God.

Listen to this verse from Romans 8, from the message translation:

In his Son Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.

[For those in the know, you already know what it means for Jesus to set right what shame has set wrong, what it means for him to set right what blame has set wrong, what it means for him to set right what all the hiding from God has set wrong, in many cases because you’ve already experienced a taste of it. But allow me to unpack it a little bit for those who are still exploring what Christianity is all about…]

Jesus arrives as an outcast, poor, born among beasts, with questionable parentage [a Mamzer…]. God himself inhabiting the deepest shames of humanity, without shame. The shame and alienation came to human beings when we aimed to be like gods. The shame is healed and the reconciliation begins when Jesus humbles himself to take on the flesh of his own broken creation.

And look at the reconciling impact Jesus has between people once alienated from each other. The angels announce him as good news of great joy for all the people. He draws all sorts of people into fellowship with one another. The outcast shepherds are drawn into the city of Bethlehem to worship the baby. The Wiseman from the east. Simeon, and Anna, old people blessing this young baby brought to the temple by this young family. And later the tax collectors and prostitutes and fishermen and scholars and rich men and centurions and servants and children. And he never casts a word of blame at any of them. Not even those caught in the midst of their sin. Instead, he offers them forgiveness and sets his face like flint towards the day when he can bear the weight of all of our sins on his shoulders. On the cross, when we all are to blame directly for his suffering, he looks at us and says: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” He owns it all, takes it all on himself.

And where does the power for this reconciliation to himself and to others come from? It comes from the fact that Jesus is human being fully reconciled to God himself. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Doesn’t hide from God, but has such a nearness and intimacy with him that he calls him “Father.”

All of this alienation and reconciliation business comes full circle in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In his death on the cross, Jesus experiences with us the full exile from the garden. And then, Jesus breaks back into the garden at his resurrection. He’s literally in a garden, outside his tomb, 1 man, 1 woman. But no blame, no shame, just naming each other and embracing. In his resurrection body, he’s fully at home on the earth and in the heavens. Breathing his holy spirit on his followers, so that they too can be reconciled to themselves, and to one another, and to the Father. Truly, he is the firstborn of a new creation. A creation in which we are all adopted by the Father as his brothers and sisters, a creation in which we do not receive the spirit of fear, but the spirit that cries out, “Abba, Father.”

These things we can look forward to because of the arrival of Jesus. These are all coming in fullness through the Lordship of Jesus, as he brings his kingdom among us, to us, within us, through us. We will be fully reconciled to ourselves. We will be fully reconciled to one another. We will be fully reconciled to God. No shame, no blame, no hiding from the source of life.

This is heaven on earth. This is the consolation of humanity. This is the restoration of shalom. We can be free to anticipate these things. They are not false promises. Their fulfillment has already begun in the birth of Jesus. Their fulfillment has already been secured by his death and in his resurrection. The life present in their fulfillment is available to us through expectant, anticipating faith.

This advent, may we look forward to being at peace with ourselves. May we look forward to experiencing peace with one another. May we look forward to knowing, at the deepest level of our being, Shalom with our heavenly father. It is all surely coming in the fullness of time. Its life and power is available to us even now through the Holy Spirit. May we, like Simeon, welcome it in faith, receive it in anticipation this advent, this season of the moment before the moment.

from Romans 8:

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Practical Tips:

1. Make an Advent Peace list.

2. Receive Jesus.

3. Ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent: Anticipation

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 12/06/2010

[audio link not yet available]

[Hammer time…]

Life finds its stride in rhythms and melody.

The beating of our hearts. Breathing in and out. The contraction and relaxation of our muscles. The cadence of our footsteps and the swinging of our arms. Waking, sleeping. Meals and prayers punctuating the day.

It’s no accident the scriptures begin with a poem. What better way to show us the creation of all things then through words ordered by creative rhythm and melody. Vocalized sounds woven into primitive song, the hustle and the flow that creates worlds in our minds, in our bodies, in our hearts.

[Genesis 1v14…]

14And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Genesis 1v14–19

Rhythms and melody from the beginning, surrounding and penetrating every experience. Night, day. 6 days of work, 1 day of rest. Fortnights and months from the waxing and waning moon. Seasons from the tilt of the earth’s axis and the wheeling path around the sun. Planting and harvesting. Hunting and hibernating. Feasts and festivals, holidays and holy days.

We are in a season now called Advent, which is Latin for “the coming.” If seasons make up the stride of life, Advent is the moment before the footfall. A holy moment. What Rob Bell calls “the moment before the moment.”

Advent is a season of anticipation, of looking forward. It is dark, but the pregnant stillness in air says that light is about to appear on the horizon. The tracks are empty, but an ear pressed against them can feel a vibration that promises the train’s a-coming. The package hasn’t arrived, but the tracking status has changed to “out for delivery.”

Let’s look at an advent story this morning, and hear what the scriptures are teaching us about anticipation, about looking forward to what God is about to do.

Read and comment on Luke 1v5-23…

5In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both well advanced in years.

8Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25“The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Notice - something significant is happening in this passage, but it all feels like prelude, doesn’t it? Such a sense of pause, of presence in the moment, of a pace yet to quicken. Once. Meanwhile. Remained unable to speak. Were waiting and wondering. Returned home. Remained in seclusion. And listen for all the future language: “Will bear…will be a joy…many will rejoice…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit…many will he bring back…he will go on...to make ready a people prepared…you will be silent…which will come true…”

Another way to reflect on it would be to say that the moment before the moment matters. This moment (the moment of these advent prophecies and pregnancies) has a particular kind of life in it because of what is coming next (God himself entering into the world through flesh and blood in Jesus of Nazareth), and the life available in what is coming next is accessible to us because of what happens in this moment (it allows us to see what’s next for what it is, to not miss it, to be prepared to receive it, respond to it). The two moments – the moment before the moment, and the moment itself – are joined together in meaning and power.

We see this in the way kids love hearing stories again and again, filling in the blanks; then when something comes at the right time, even perhaps in a surprising way, it gives delight - delight whose power was born in the moment before the moment. [telling Elle she is a great daughter…]

Many of us know what is arguably the greatest single moment in all of pop music. And that, of course, is Phil Colin’s drum solo three minutes and forty three seconds into “In The Air Tonight.” [play short clip] But would that moment be what it is without the 3:43 that come before it? Would we know what to do when it came without experiencing the moments before the moment? [play the few seconds before and the moment itself…] For those who know the song, would the 3:43 before it be what it is without what we all know is coming? Those 3:43 are what they are because of the anticipation present in them, the drum solo inhabiting them like a baby in the womb, waiting to be born out of them.

Anticipation, looking forward to something, is a way of making the future blessing present now. Through anticipating it, you receive life today from the future that hasn’t yet arrived, but is surely coming. [examples…] This is what the season of Advent is all about.

Look again at Zachariah’s experience with the angel. Gabriel makes him a promise about God’s answer to his prayers. A son is coming to him and Elizabeth. A son who will be a big time player in the coming of the Messiah.

The whole point of prophecy is that those who hear it would begin to anticipate its fulfillment. Because in their anticipation, they are prepared to receive what God is going to do. And because in their anticipation, they receive life today from what God is going to do in the future. (After all, God could just do what he’s going to do without telling anyone right? But we’d be left in the dark, and everything God is doing is precisely so that light would chase away the darkness in which we are dying.) Anticipation is the first thing we do to join with God in his salvation.

But Zachariah’s capacity to anticipate God’s promises, to look forward to their fulfillment, has been destroyed by the work of the enemy in his life, hasn’t it? They were childless. One disappointment after another, and now they are advanced in years. And so he doesn’t receive the promise, doesn’t begin to anticipate its fulfillment. Instead he resists it. “How can I be sure of this? I’m old. My wife’s no spring chicken either.”

It’s the sort of thing that happens to many of us.

When you look forward to something that doesn’t happen, it can sour the anticipated joy you carried into that moment. [Carmel apple/onion prank…]

So sometimes, we protect ourselves from that disappointment by choosing to be skeptical about any good thing promised. We’ll believe it when we see it, we say.

Perhaps there are times when that’s wise [Lions football…].

But no matter how wise it may be, it closes the door to the life intended for us now from God’s good future. [Share my inability to look forward to anything unsecured and the bad fruit of thatthe joys un-looked-forward-to would certainly outweigh the disappointments avoided on balance]

Sometimes, not only are we not anticipating the good thing promised, we are actually anticipating the bad thing that we anticipate will take away the good thing promised. [examples…] Which brings the ill effects of future disappointment into our present nows, and which are carried with us into the future, whether or not our disappointments are realized.

The ways in which our capacity to look forward, to anticipate is compromised by any number of things: the disappointments of life, the unreliability of others, misplaced expectations…

[Quote from SI about LeBron James’ first game back in Cleveland after leaving his old team to go play in Miami: The basketball lesson for the day was that ‘tis better to have LeBron James than to have loved and lost him. But this night was never really about basketball. It was about Cleveland….It was about Cavs fan Bart Gruber, who brought his 8-year-old son to the game – not so much to cheer or boo, but because they are Cavs fans. I asked Gruber what he told his son after “The Decision.” “After he cried for two hours,” Gruber said, “I just told him this was life.”]

This may be life in this world. But it is not life in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, joy awaits, not sorrow. Promises are kept. Every disappointment swallowed up in a beauty that takes our breath away and fills our lungs with laughter. Love wins. The King comes home to stay.

Look at children. They can delight in what they think is coming, no matter its likelihood… [examples…]

Why not us? Because we don’t want to look foolish. Jesus says to inherit the kingdom of God, we must become like little children. This, I believe, is part of that kind of faith. Faith that risks looking a fool for the sake of the Kingdom.

Which is why Gabriel shuts Zachariah up. He’s not able to speak until the promise is fulfilled. Which is an interesting thing, isn’t it?

First, who looks like the fool now? See, that’s the truth about not trusting God’s promises; it means we are trusting the enemies promises, and that is true folly.

Second, every time Zachariah can’t speak, he’s reminded of God’s supernatural power, which in turn encourages him to anticipate the promise, doesn’t it?

And finally, every time he can’t speak, he’s reminded that he can’t speak because he used his speech to push back against faithfully anticipating the good thing God was promising him. Which encourages him to look forward to its fulfillment, because it’s when the prophecy is fulfilled that he will get his speech back.

God’s a genius.

Anticipation is an act of faith, faith that opens the door to life from the heavens. This advent, may we take advantage of the moments before the moment. May we open our eyes to look forward to what God has promised us. May we open our hearts to look forward to the arrival of a savior in the midst of our deepest pain. May we embrace the life that finds its stride in the rhythms of looking forward and waiting and receiving, of longing and celebration, of anticipation and fulfillment.

Practical Tips…

1. Look forward like a fool to something inconsequential but potentially joy-filled for you. Go public with it. Make some kind of daily reminder for yourself. When you see the reminder, welcome the joy trying to poke in to your heart from the future.

2. Make an Advent List. In prayer, list the things you are looking forward to God doing in your life and in the world. [The Advent Prayer Hour as a great opportunity…] As you do, anticipate the joy that’s coming in their fulfillment.

3. Repent of foolish foolishness. Resolve to be God’s fool and no one else’s. Turn doubts and fears into prayers. Change your “We’ll see” to “Amen.” (Mary’s “May it be to me according to your word.”) Every prayer contains at least seed of anticipation that God might act, can act, may want to act on our behalf.