Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Humanity // Put to the Test

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/21/2014

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard
podcast here:  http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379


We left off in Mark 1 last week with Jesus being baptized and then being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he would be surrounded by wild animals and encounter the accuser. Mark leaves it at that, but Matthew’s gospel fleshes it out a bit, describing the toe to toe encounter. Let’s read.


Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”


5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”


8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


It may not be immediately obvious to us, but this is a story of the first of the new humanity encountering the prince of the old creation. This is a story of child-like faith encountering a world full of evil.

Which is really important for us to witness, because one of the things we get nervous about when we consider following Jesus and having the kind of child-like faith he invites us into is this whole question about can a child-like faith really survive in a world where mature, grown up evil is prowling around? Don’t we need a sophisticated knowledge of good and evil to hold our own and stay faithful to a good God?

And if you’re not a Jesus follower already, the question you might have about trusting Jesus is, well, is the life he’s offering me any better than the life I might be able to get for myself? And I think this story shines some light on the kind of life Jesus enjoys, even in this broken, often threatening and fearful world.


The story begins with hunger – much like the Genesis story of Adam & Eve’s encounter with the serpent. Jesus fasts 40 days and 40 nights and he gets really hungry. That makes sense, and actually, his experience of hunger is the foundation for the whole encounter. Because as we talked about last week, hunger reveals one of our core vulnerabilities as human beings. So I want to pause on the story for a bit here at Jesus’ hunger, and just spend some time outlining a few of the basic ideas for our new humanity series.



These two words describe the basic reality for every human being in this world. No matter how rich or powerful or good or strong. We need food, water, air, shelter, protection from the elements. And that’s just for starters. We also need love, belonging, significance, freedom, and so on. If we want to thrive, and not just survive, that is.

Some of us get our needs met more reliably and easily than others, for sure. And some of us feel our neediness more often than others. But every single one of us – without exception – is needy.

We’re vulnerable, too. We can’t meet all of our needs on our own. And things beyond our control can hurt us, or keep our needs from being met. We get sick, injured. All of us, eventually, die. No matter how hard, or well, we try to fight it.

So what are our options in light of our neediness and vulnerability?




Admittedly, some would argue that the third option (God) is theoretical at best, but for the sake of argument, and since we’re here to explore the potential benefits of faith, we’ll keep that option open.

Let’s start with the option most of choose, at first: ourselves. If we’re going with ourselves, we’re counting on having one thing.


We’d better hope we were dealt a good hand, for starters. We’ll need – at least – intelligence, physical strength, physical adaptations suited to our environment, emotional & mental resilience, good health. If we’re on our own, our best shot at survival is to maximize those traits. For some of us, that’s the story of our lives. It’s hard work. [Daft Punk – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger]

Most of us, though, at some point realize that ultimately we’re going to need the support or aid of others. At the very least, we’ve got to keep others from opposing us. So what does that take?

Really only three main pathways to getting help from others.




If others love you enough (we’re not talking about real love here, of course, but the conditional kind), they’ll work with you or for you. You’ve got to be strong, and frame it or market it in such a way that others can see it. You’ve got to strut your stuff.

Alternatively, if others fear you enough, they’ll work together with you or for you in order to protect themselves from you (assuming they can’t hide or avoid or run from you for some reason), in order to stay on your good side. Which, again, means you’ve got to be strong and make sure the world can see it.

Then there is this issue of respect. Can your strengths and skills be counted on? Is your “goodness” reliable? Or your badness, for that matter? It had better be, because if you’re loved or feared but not respected, you won’t get much cooperation from others. That’s a lot of pressure, a lot of energy spent making sure others get the right impression of us, and accounts for no small amount of our general anxiety.

In other words, if we want the support and aid of others, we need to be strong and we need to maintain a good reputation.

Notice this: how many of you cringed at the words “support” and “aid”? We don’t like them because they suggest vulnerability and need. We prefer the idea that we’re “working together” with others, or “gaining their cooperation.” That sounds a lot less needy and vulnerable, doesn’t it?

Anything that shows the world our neediness or vulnerability threatens to make us less loved, less feared, and less respected. We want to show just enough neediness or vulnerability that others feel like we’re “real” – so they can trust us – but not enough to look like we’ll be an energy drain on them. Because none of us feel like we have too much energy to spare on others if we don’t get a return on our investment.

As we’ve been exploring in our “New Humanity” series, this is the nature of life for the old humanity. We’ve chosen to depend on ourselves and others, instead of God. In the language of the biblical story, we’ve eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and we keep on going back to it. So much so that we’ve forgotten the location of the tree of life, and can’t even remember what it’s like to completely depend on God.

As a result, our lives and our world are full of things like shame, worthiness, comparison, busyness, addiction, perfectionism, defensiveness, hypocrisy, deception, manipulation, and anxiety.

Jesus shows us, and opens up for us, and invites us into a new way of being human, a new humanity. And it all revolves around choosing option three – choosing God, choosing to eat from the tree of life – in response to our vulnerability and neediness.


That’s what Jesus’ discussion with “the devil” in the wilderness is all about. Jesus has a child-like faith in God and the devil wants him to abandon that and depend on himself and others.


I highlighted “the devil,” because the Greek word is diabolos, which means slanderer, or accuser, a person who brings false accusations with the intent to destroy or harm. Literally, someone who “casts through.” Later, when Jesus calls him “Satan,” it means the same thing. Satan is the Hebrew and Aramaic name (the language Jesus would have spoken) that means “Accuser.”

Let’s think about that for a second, before we break down the exchange between Jesus and the Accuser.

If a human being is going to choose to eat from the tree of life, to choose, faced with the fact of their vulnerability, to depend on God completely for their needs being met, what helps them do that? The answer the bible gives is confidence or trust in God’s promises. Faith. [go back to whiteboard]

That’s all faith is, when you get down to it. God promises that he’ll address our needs as we bring them to him in faith, waiting for his response. God promises he loves us and relates to us as the best father relates to his children. God promises that we have nothing to worry about if we depend on him, because he’s good and he’ll be faithful to all his promises to us to give us life, and life overflowing.

So let’s say something or someone evil wants to destroy or harm someone who is needy and vulnerable. All they’ve got to do is get that person to lose confidence in God’s promises, to stop waiting for God to address their needs, and start to depend on themselves. And it just so happens that slander and accusation work really well for that purpose.

God didn’t really say that.

God didn’t mean it when he said it.

God may do that for other people, but not for you.

Look what happened to so and so – God obviously didn’t follow through on his promises to them, did he?

Look at you – you’re all messed up – why would God care about you?

Look at your life. God hates you, obviously, or at least has forgotten about you; you’re all on your own.

You’ll never measure up to God – the best you should expect from him is punishment. You’d be better off on your own; maybe you can make a better life for yourself at this point anyway.


This is why in Paul’s letter to Timothy, he tells Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith.” Holding on to God’s promises about who you are and who he is and how he cares about you are the key to eating from the tree of life. When the accuser confronts you in the midst of your neediness and vulnerability, it’s like a fight to keep trusting those promises of God, to keep coming to him to address your needs, and waiting for his response, instead of wandering off in search of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and figuring out how to take care of yourself or making yourself appealing to others so you can win their support and aid.

So Jesus is hungry. Really hungry. He’s as vulnerable as a human being can be, alone, in the wilderness, hungry and tired and weak and surrounded by wild animals.


If you are the Son of God. Twice the Accuser starts this way. If you are the Son of God. This is the fundamental form of the destructive slander that began in genesis, calling something God has said into question.

It’s potent because our faith rests on God’s promises. Trusting God’s promises is what empowers us to bring our needs to him to address.

The promise to Jesus is that Jesus is God’s son and that God is pleased with him (It’s what the Voice said at his baptism 40 days earlier). The accuser wants to call that into question, slip a wedge under it and lever it away.

It works on the old humanity, but not on Jesus, the new humanity. What’s the difference?

The difference is that when the old humanity experiences accusation, we want to defend ourselves. We want to respond to the accusation. We know we live in a world where people judge one another, where we evaluate one another constantly. Is this person good or bad? Can I trust them to help me survive, to help me be less vulnerable in this world? An accusation calls that into question, and we know others will judge us based on our response. Our deepest insecurities revolve around that question about ourselves, don’t they? Am I a good person? Will I be accepted or rejected, ultimately? By others? By God? All of our instincts are shaped by this awareness that we need to mask or hide or cover our vulnerability, that we need to defend ourselves against accusation, prove our doubters wrong. We want people to respect us. Love us. Fear us, if that’s all we can get. At least then they see us as strong, not weak. The last thing we want is disrespect. Pity.

Not Jesus. The new humanity is created to draw its life from the new creation, where its citizens have been delivered from the curse of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where they are nourished by the tree of life. The new humanity has a child-like faith in God. [write on board] Accusation comes, the question is very simply – is God saying anything to me in this that I need to hear? The new humanity listens to discern God’s voice. Does it sound like him?

The new humanity doesn’t need to defend herself. What’s the point? Her survival as a vulnerable person is not dependent on the moral approval of others, nor their positive evaluation of her strength. She has no reputation to maintain, only a faith to hold on to. A faith in God’s promises that are as sure as the heavens and cannot be taken from her, only let go of. And even then, the God who made the promises will not let go of her, not ever.

The Accuser’s suggestions are interesting, too – expertly crafted to work on the appetites of the old humanity.


Tell these stones to become bread. You’re hungry, God hasn’t fed you yet, so take care of yourself.


It just doesn’t work on the child-like faith of Jesus, though. Jesus knows the purpose of his hunger is to continually move him towards his Father to address his needs. Because life comes from God, ultimately, not food. That’s why he quotes this passage from the Old Testament about every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It’s a quote from Deuteronomy about when the people of Israel were on their way through the desert to the promised land, having just left slavery in Egypt, and God provides food, manna, from heaven for them. Fresh on the ground every day. So that they’d learn to depend on him, not themselves, and not the Egyptians.

Our appetites are what bond us to God, and God is the one who gives us life. The Accuser wants our appetites to become our gods and lead us to destruction. No dice, Author of Vice!

Imagine a little kid being offered a Happy Meal. The deal is though, they have to leave their mom – forever – to get it. No way! This is child-like faith. The meal does look good, but it pales in comparison to mom. Because if the kid is like a child in relationship to his mom, but grown up in his thinking, he realizes that that happy meal will taste good, and then be gone, and then what? That would be stupid. Thanks but no thanks.


Next up: Go up to the top of the temple, jump off, and watch as angels catch you. You look like a fool out here, starving in the desert. Why not show the world how important you are to God, when they see how he rescues you?


This doesn’t work either on Jesus. It’s simple, child-like faith. My dad didn’t tell me to do that. Why would I care about being vindicated in my confidence in him? Either he’s coming through for me in my life or not. And if he’s not, I’m screwed because I have no other options. So no, I’m not putting him to the test. My whole life is the test. Again, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, where the people of Israel in the wilderness get really thirsty and they start fighting with one another because they become impatient waiting for God to address their needs.


In a bit of beautiful, poetic irony, Jesus is going to be brought up to the Temple by the Accuser later in his life, and then let himself be led down from it, only his foot will hit the stone. The stone nail that goes through it as he’s nailed to the cross. No angels will protect him. His vindication doesn’t come until after his death, until after he looks more the fool than anyone in human history has looked the fool. Until after people mock him saying, if you’re the son of God, save yourself! That’s child-like faith.


Finally: Here, just worship me and I’ll give you all the military and economic and political power in the world. Why stay a kid with a Father who’s given you nothing so far but some nice words at your baptism, when you can be king if you’ll depend on me?


Jesus seems to just be fed up at this point. Really? You’ve got to be kidding. I love my dad. I’ll take my chances on his promises over yours. Go away.

This is child-like faith at its finest. Jesus quotes from the same story he quoted both other times, in Deuteronomy. Let me read you the part that leads up to it, the promise that Jesus is holding onto from God, the promise that he has child-like faith in, the promise that keeps him coming back to God with his needs for God to address, and keeps him waiting for God’s response, as long as it takes.


10When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

13Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you.

Deuteronomy 6


Practical Suggestion:

Just two. One for now & one for later.

1. Notice Your hunger, and bring it to Jesus during communion. Notice what you’re hungriest for, right now, in your life. Food? Success? Good health? Better relationships? Someone to love, or to love you? Better finances? A great vacation? As you come up for communion, bring that hunger to Jesus, asking him to address that hunger today, this week, this year.

2. Fast like Jesus. Just for a day or a meal or 2 this week. Everytime you’re hungry, bring your hunger to Jesus to address, like you are a child going to a parent. See what it teaches you about child-like faith.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Humanity // The Two Trees


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/14/2014

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard
podcast here:  http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379


Welcome to the young people among us today. I have a question for you as we get started. How many of you sometimes don’t like the food your parents give you for lunch or dinner? Do they ever make you eat it, or discipline you if you don’t? Is that one of the hardest things about being a kid, sometimes?

And adults, for those of you that remember your childhood – can you empathize with these kids? Do you still carry scars from that part of your life?

For those of you that are parents, can you imagine how much you’d pay to have someone wave a magic wand and make all the battles around food disappear?

Alas, I can’t do that, and I don’t think that’s the business God’s in either, but hold those experiences in your heart, because I think they’ll help us understand something of the New Humanity we’ve been looking at in the Bible.


Just last week we began a new conversation, a set of lessons – what we adults call a “sermon series” – called New Humanity. Humanity just being a fancy word for people and what it means to be people together in this world. We’re talking about how Jesus is a whole new kind of person, who sees the world differently than anyone has ever seen it before, who relates to himself and to God and to other people in a whole new way, never seen before in history. We’re talking about how Jesus, this first new kind of person, shows us what it means to become, and makes it possible to join him in becoming, a whole new kind of person. He invites us to follow him as he transforms us into new kinds of people born, through the Holy Spirit, just like he was, into a new world that’s standing shoulder to shoulder with the old world we’re all used to. You know the old world I’m talking about - the world where hard things happen all the time, scary things, and ugly things. The world that brings out the worst in us, and the world that we ourselves have helped make difficult and scary and ugly by our own failings and fearful, self-protective actions.

Last week we started with this story from the book of Mark.


1 This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It began as the prophet Isaiah had written: “God said,

‘I will send my messenger ahead of you

to clear the way for you.’

Someone is shouting in the desert,

‘Get the road ready for the Lord;

make a straight path for him to travel!’ ”


4 So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized,” he told the people, “and God will forgive your sins.” 5Many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the River Jordan.

6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 7He announced to the people, “The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


9 Not long afterwards Jesus in the came from Nazareth province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”

12 At once the Spirit made him go into the desert, 13where he stayed 40 days, being tempted by Satan. Wild animals were there also, but angels came and helped him.

Younger people, your parents and other adults may find some parts of this conversation more suited to them, but feel free to tune in as much it all makes sense to you. Some of it has to do with things we can learn from you, actually, and some of it may help you have much more and better life from God in your own life, so keep your ears open.


Last week one of the most important things noticed about Jesus, and the new humanity revealed in him, is that he isn’t afraid of the fact that to be a person in this world is to be vulnerable. He’s happy to let other people look better or more powerful than him, and he has no shame about that. Jesus lets his cousin baptize him, as if Jesus is a weak and messed up person just like everyone else, someone who needs God’s help so much that he’s willing to let the whole world see it.

We noted that when we see our vulnerability, we are deeply disturbed by it – we hate that it reminds us of that we might die, and that others might reject us because of it, if they see it, because it reminds them that they might die and that we might not be much help to them in preventing that. All we want to do is get rid of it. Cover it. Hide it. Fix it. Distance ourselves from it. Comfort ourselves that others are more vulnerable than we are. Run from it. Live in denial, pretending it isn’t there. Or just as bad, be consumed by it, depressed by it, cowering in shame and fear, bitter, angry. [Ever notice how much kids love band-aids…? And how they love their boo-boos being kissed…?]

But not Jesus. He steps right into our vulnerability. First as a baby, and then in his baptism, and eventually in his death on the cross.

This is where the new humanity starts. With an embrace of our common vulnerability in the wilderness, made possible by a child-like confidence that God will address our needs as we take the steps he leads us to take, without fear of loss or hurt or the negative judgments of others, without the need to make ourselves look good or defend our reputation or secure our standing. With freedom from the cursed concerns about comparison and worthiness and strength and sufficiency. With a singular view towards what is it God would have me do today, right now? What is the posture God would have me take before others? The new humanity, in other words, begins with a naked faith in Love. A lot like a baby that’s just been born.

Jesus is so committed to not hiding his needs, or pretending they aren’t there, or finding ways to protect himself from the reality of his needs, that after this amazing thing happens where God makes it clear that Jesus is really something special, who has his favor, Jesus doesn’t try to take advantage of that for his own sake. Instead, he heads off, into the wilderness where he’ll be more vulnerable than he’s ever been in his life, alone except for wild animals, Satan, and some angels.


We’re going to talk about that part of the story more next week, but this week we’re going to talk about two trees. About two potential, competing sources of life and strength for human beings who are vulnerable in this world. One tree that the old humanity chose – and that we usually choose over and over again. And the other tree that Jesus chose, and keeps on choosing (and in fact, becomes) and invites us to choose with him.


Remember, Mark’s gospel starts with “the beginning” and has all kinds of signposts pointing to the first beginning, the account of the original creation story in the book of Genesis. There is a temptation scene in Genesis that includes important background for our understanding of the new humanity revealed in Jesus.

Maybe you’ve heard the story. God makes the world, and human beings in it, and provides everything they need to thrive for them. In the middle of this great garden he shows them two trees – the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He warns them, though, that although they are free to do whatever they choose, and eat whatever they desire, that they shouldn’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because if they do, they will die. And then, we read this:


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.

Human beings need to eat. If we don’t eat, we’re in trouble. And we’re not self-sufficient – the food has to come from outside of us, from the world around us, and it’s dependent on a whole lot of things we don’t have direct control over.

It’s no accident that this significant event takes place with eating at the center of it. Our need to eat is a core expression of our vulnerability, our neediness, along with the need to breathe, and have shelter and protection from the environment. But our need to eat is a special expression of our neediness, in that we get to choose what we eat, from a wide variety of foods. Our freedom expresses itself first, in fact, in our eating.

Think about it.

We don’t choose the air we will breathe. We take the air we can get. At least at first.

And we don’t struggle about clothing choices or our houses, not until we’ve grown quite a bit. We humans generally wear whatever our caregivers clothe us in and live in the places we are given to live. [case in point – do these look like pictures of someone who has chosen their clothing?]


But food is another story, isn’t it? Human beings are picky eaters.


The early battles over food that only escalate, it seems, as kids get older and develop strong preferences and disgusts… [engage with kids and parents, shows of hands about various food questions…]

The joy and struggle of the baby latching on to the mother…

What will we eat in order to survive and grow? This is our basic and first question as human beings, and it’s at the heart of all the other choices we will ever make in our lives.

This is the question before Adam and Eve, and before Jesus.

The serpent says, basically, you can eat what your dad provides for you and says is good, or you can say, “Dad, I don’t need you anymore. I’d rather figure out for myself what’s good and bad and take care of my own survival and growth.”

Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They chose to stop having a child-like faith in God, to stop bringing their needs to God to address, and receiving from him whatever he provided. They chose to try to find a way out of vulnerability into self-sufficiency. They chose to stop being kids, to leave home and go out on their own, confident that they could do a better job than their divine parent. They thought, if I could just know what’s good and what’s bad – like God does, or better! – then I could take care of myself. I’d be able to have the wisdom I need to make a good life for myself. I wouldn’t need a dad anymore.

They chose to live in denial of reality, denial of their fundamental vulnerabilities, and to instead pretend to be gods.

That hasn’t worked out as well as we’d hoped, has it? We’ll talk about that more next week.


But for now, notice that Jesus, the first of the new humanity, never ate from that tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He’s still eating from the tree of life. He’s still like a child, vulnerable and aware of it, depending on his Father to lead him and give him what he needs.

That’s why the voice says “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”


It’s because Jesus only eats from the tree of life that he doesn’t use that favor to go into the city where he can capitalize on it and use it as a strength to get others to serve him. Instead, he follows the Spirit’s leading, like a child, into the wilderness, where he’s going to be hungrier than ever. He doesn’t become an expert at judging what’s good and what’s bad for himself or others. He’s just becoming an expert at recognizing his father’s voice, bringing his needs to him, waiting for his dad to respond, receiving what his dad gives him, going where his dad directs him, doing what his dad is doing.

Growing up for him means learning to desire the same things his dad desires, so that he’s not judging for himself what’s good and bad, but rather learning to love what his dad loves and receive what his dad gives him, and reject what his dad rejects and not receive anything that comes from anyone who isn’t giving it under his dad’s authorization.

This is how the new humanity thrives and grows, vulnerable and needy in the world under the authority of its Father. I think that might be part of why Jesus joins in the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance isn’t mainly getting a better idea of what’s morally right and wrong, and deciding to do the morally correct thing. (Good luck with that!) Repentance is turning away from depending on one’s own strength and/or the favor of others to survive in the world, and turning towards God for help, recognizing oneself as a child in need of God’s leading and provision. (More on that in coming weeks).


Practical Suggestions:


1. Use mealtimes to reflect on your neediness as a human being. God, our hunger reminds us that without your loving provision, our life is in limited supply. And this food reminds us that not even death can remove us from your strong and loving care. We bring you all of our hungers, and wait for whatever food you desire to feed us. Thanks for being our Father.


2. Help in children’s ministry, with the goal of learning to be like a child, bringing your needs in faith to God to address, as Jesus does. Ask the Holy Spirit each week that you serve to teach you something you need to learn to put the old humanity to death, and put on the new humanity the Spirit is creating in you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Humanity // The Beginning


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/07/2014

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard
podcast here:  http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379

[have monopoly board out – reflect on playing monopoly over labor day and vacationpretty good at it, but it kind of brings out the worst in me, stuff that’s been the shadow side of my strengths my whole life…]


We're starting a new message series today called "New Humanity." As summer comes to a close and a new season (and school year and all the rest) begins, it's a great chance for us to consider and embrace the good news that the living God has something profoundly new for each of us.  A new us, in fact. A new way of seeing the world. A new world arriving, right before our newly opened eyes. A new way of being in this new world. A new humanity.

Mark’s gospel (meaning “good news”) is the first of the four biblical accounts of the life of Jesus. Mark is understood to have been the travel companion and interpreter of the famous disciple, Peter, so we might think of Mark’s account as Peter’s.


1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah,, 2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way”—

3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’ ”


4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.


I have to imagine that when we look around at ourselves and one another and this world in its brokenness, we would welcome some good news. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we see heroism, and love, and beauty, and mercy and other good and hopeful things. But more of the time, we see the parts of ourselves and our world that are crumbling and painful. We see our failures, our anger, our shame, unworthiness, frustration, fears, and vulnerability. We catch ourselves doing exactly what we set out not to do, and then rationalizing it, even though we know deep down that we are lying to ourselves. We see people around us doing exactly what we know will only hurt themselves or others, sometimes oblivious, sometimes well-aware of the path they are on. We see people and families and groups and nations relating to one another in ways that spell pain and disaster. We see our natural world falling apart under the strain and violence it endures as a home to people like us, struggling to self-correct, groaning under the weight of our ravenous appetites and collective obesity.

For good news to be truly good news to this broken creation, and to us, it would have to be pretty flippin’ good news, indeed, wouldn’t it? And that’s what Mark, and Peter, and the others who were first-hand witnesses to Jesus are claiming.


The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah...


Anything sound familiar there at the start? The beginning is signaling something to us.  It's reminding of us of our first beginning - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) - and letting us know that we're about to be let in on some news about a new beginning.  Good news about nothing less than a new creation, a new humanity.  A new self with a new way of being in a new world coming with and in and through and around Jesus, made visible by his light.  A new human community with Jesus at its center.

And you may notice that the phrase “the beginning” isn’t the only connection to the book of Genesis and the first creation. Mark also includes references to water and the Holy Spirit, to God being pleased, to wild animals, and to temptation. All elements that factored meaningfully into the story his readers were familiar with from their Jewish faith. Of course, they are all rearranged and organized not around Adam and Eve, but around Jesus (someone that another biblical author calls “the second Adam”).


Here’s my thesis, a summary of what we’ll be exploring in this series. Jesus is the flesh and blood start of a new chapter in human history (what a later biblical writer calls “the firstborn of a new creation”) who lives with new, vital motivations and a revolutionary capacity for good empowered by a transformative, divinely enabled revelation of an in-breaking reality (a reality that Jesus calls “the kingdom of God”). And even more than that, Jesus makes it possible for us to be participating members of this new humanity, inviting us to join him in living in the light of what he can see clearly, and what we are learning through trusting confidence in him to see as well. This is at the heart of what Jesus’ first students called discipleship, and involves letting go of our seasoned, sophisticated, grown-old-beyond-our-years understanding of how to survive in the old creation and adopting the child-like faith required for thriving life in the new. A new creation that is present, at least in part, at least present enough to be able to draw life from, right here, right now. At your work. At play, and rest. In your wider community – your neighborhood, your city, your world. In your family life. In your personal relationships. In the part of your life that you think of as your spiritual life, the place where you long for a soul connection to God, to Love itself.

Let’s dig into this a bit, see what Mark is getting at.


The story starts with John the baptizer (also an older cousin of Jesus, as we learn from other gospels), an eccentric prophet type out in the wilderness, calling people to repentance. John represents, in many ways, the best of the old humanity. He’s devoted his life to God and to helping people become part of God’s family. (That’s what baptism is all about – the Jewish people baptized non-Jewish people as part of the initiation rites into Judaism. It was symbolic of the Jewish people going through the red sea when God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, on their way to the promised land. So when people are coming out to be baptized, it’s their way of saying they’d wandered from God’s path, and they were turning back, re-affirming their commitment to be God’s people.)

And yet, still, like all of humanity, John lives in the wilderness, not in the garden, reminding us that all of us, like Adam and Eve, are cast out of the garden, no longer at home with God and each other, no longer naked and vulnerable, no longer safe in Love. John’s even wearing a leather belt, reminding us that he is clothed in the death of an animal, like God clothed Adam and Eve to cover the shame of their rebellion against him in the garden of Eden.

There’s more too, something else that’s telling about the old humanity, the way all of us, including John, experience ourselves and the world.

Let’s try an experiment. Listen to verses 7 & 8:


7And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

What do we hear when we hear this, what do we take away? I suspect that what we hear is that someone is coming who is going to be pretty impressive indeed. And that, of course, is what John’s message is – don’t get caught up in your enthusiasm for me; keep your eyes peeled for the One who is coming – he’s the one who will change everything!

But that’s not exactly how John says it, is it? John’s message is framed in the context of comparison, of seeing the goodness and strength of Jesus relative to the unworthiness and inadequacy of himself.

One is coming, he says, who is “more powerful than I.” John says that he’s not worthy, or sufficient, to even stoop down and untie the sandals of this one who is coming. John is speaking of himself, relative to Jesus, as lower than the lowest of slaves, the ones who have the job of attending to the dirty feet of their masters. Why isn’t John worthy even of such a demeaning task? In his worldview, it’s because of the depth of his weakness, his insufficiency, in comparison to the One who is coming. Even John, this holy, wild man out in the desert, surviving on locusts and honey feels unworthy.

John speaks using the same shame-framed language of strength and sufficiency, vulnerability and worthiness that characterizes the first humanity.

Isn’t this how we think about ourselves, from the earliest ages? We constantly evaluate how we measure up, in strength, in attractiveness, in intelligence, in wealth, in talent, in goodness. We feel shame about our flaws, feel like we will be judged unworthy as a result, feel like we don’t belong with those who are stronger, more attractive, smarter, richer, more talented, more good.

This whole paradigm is an essential part of the old humanity that Mark is setting up in contrast to Jesus, who is about to appear in the story. As we’ll talk about next week, it’s connected to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Genesis story, in contrast to the tree of life, which God placed at the center of the Garden of Eden for humanity’s benefit.

One more note, before we move on to Jesus’ arrival on the scene. John says that the thing about Jesus is that while he, John, baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. In the first creation story in Genesis, at first the earth is formless and void, deep water covering everything. John – the representative of the first creation – immerses people in water, the symbol of the first creation, a good thing in and of itself, the thing out of which the creation was formed. Jesus, on the other hand – the firstborn of the new creation – immerses people not in water, but in the Holy Spirit. In the Genesis account, the Holy Spirit is the one who hovers over the chaotic waters. It’s the Holy Spirit that broods over the water like a mother broods over her chicks, overseeing their development from pre-embryos to soaring birds of the air. Jesus, in other words, is up to something very, very special.

And, in fact, something extraordinary happens when Jesus arrives on the scene.


9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

So yeah, pretty cool that the Holy Spirit shows up, like a dove descending, hovering just like he did in the first creation, but this time over Jesus, the start of a new humanity. And pretty cool that heaven is torn open, and God’s voice affirms Jesus as his Son, whom he loves, and all of that. Not to belittle any of that - because we’ll get to that more as the series develops - but none of that is the first extraordinary thing.


The first extraordinary thing is that Jesus is baptized by John. Jesus, the powerful, super-worthy-sandaled one, bends down below the unworthy-to-untie-his-sweet-sandals weak one. Jesus, the m,,,,,,,,c sinless, flawless, perfect one participates in the repentance-for-the-forgiveness-of-sins baptism by letting the flawed, sinful one baptize him. What is going on here?

Well, there are lots of theories as to why Jesus might have done this, of course. Some of them holding merit. But I want to leave those alone for now. And I want to invite us just to look at what’s happening and see it for what it is, on its face, unconcerned for now with the question of why.

The unbroken, unflawed, powerful, sufficient, good, perfect new creation is humbling himself before the broken, flawed, weak, insufficient, evil, sinful old creation. Letting himself be immersed in the waters of the old creation, joining himself in with the plight of the vulnerable children of God. The first glorious new human placing himself head down in service below his cousin, the soon-to-be-beheaded prophet who could not imagine himself worthy even to serve him.

This is a picture of a man who doesn’t look at the world through the lens of shame and worthiness, strength and weakness, power and vulnerability. Jesus doesn’t even play that game, does he? He comes over to the table, takes the game board, flips it upside down, and says, can I get you anything to eat or drink? Do your feet need washing?

We see our vulnerability, and all we want to do is get rid of it. Cover it. Hide it. Fix it. Distance ourselves from it. Comfort ourselves that others are more vulnerable than we are. Run from it. Live in denial, pretending it isn’t there. Or just as bad, be consumed by it, depressed by it, cowering in shame and fear, bitter, angry.

Not Jesus. He clothes himself in it.

This is where the new humanity starts. With an embrace of our common vulnerability in the wilderness, made possible by a child-like confidence that God will address my needs as I take the steps he leads me to take, without fear of loss or hurt or the negative judgments of others, without the need to make myself look good or defend my reputation or secure my standing. With freedom from the cursed concerns about comparison and worthiness and strength and sufficiency. With a singular view towards what is it God would have me do today, right now? What is the posture God would have me take before others? The new humanity, in other words, begins with a naked faith in Love. A lot like a baby that’s just been born.


Practical Suggestions (a la carte):

1. Pray the Lord’s prayer like a 3 year old. Spend a minute remembering (or imagining, if you can’t remember) what it was like to be inside your head and heart before you compared yourself to anyone else, before you had thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness, thoughts about being flawed or insufficient, or how you measured up. To just be you – limitation and all, but minimal shame – and pray the Lord’s prayer from that place. Do it at the beginning of the day each day this week, closing with this: help me to maintain this kind of child-like faith in You today.

2. Sing or Dance or Pray with a Child (or an with an animal or alone, with God). Sing a song. Dance a dance. Pray a prayer. Or something you’re not great at, not comfortable doing with other old creation grown-ups. Once a day this week. As an exercise in experiencing the gap between the old humanity and the new.

3. Serve someone. Someone with less power (strength, money, talent) than you have in this world. But do it asking God to make you unconscious of that dynamic, and wakefully conscious of your shared vulnerability in the wilderness that is this world.