Not a bad gig some days

“How do I get that?”

I had been talking to a woman about God. She was convinced that God could never look on her with love. She had done too much that in her own eyes was wrong and unworthy of God.

In all her talk, she had never uttered the word “Jesus,” even though she had talked over and over about her certainty that God “is there.”

So, I asked her about Jesus. She did not know what to say about him. She was not sure how God was Jesus and Jesus was God. It was all confusing. So, we talked about that for a little bit.

Then I talked to her about the fact that God loves us, loves her. I talked about the fact that all of us — me as much as any — fall short of the glory of God. We all are sinners. We all have a list of the ways we fall short of God’s dreams for our lives.

But the good news is this: While we were yet sinners, Jesus Christ died for us.

And I talked about the cross and forgiveness and new life.

I talked about the sense, the assurance, the knowledge that one can have that Jesus Christ loves me and died for me and forgives me, even me, for all sin.

“How can I get that?” she asked.

And so I talked about faith. I talked about trust in Jesus. I talked about it being something that we receive not something we do. I asked her if she would like to pray with me.

“I was going to ask you if we could,” she said.

And so we prayed. We confessed our sin. We asked to be forgiven. We named Jesus as Lord and Savior. We thanked him for all he has done and will do for us. One after the other. Voice after voice.

As she prayed, she cried.

We said “Amen.”

When I saw her the next day we talked about building on that foundation. We talked about finding a church where others could help her continue what had begun.

She said that before she had been seeking relationship with God. She thought she had it. But what she had was not real. It needed drugs and alcohol to keep her numb.

“I know what it means now. I know what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.”

She smiled.

Some days, being a pastor is not at all a bad way to get along in this world.

Tearing ‘em to pieces

In a letter to a Methodist preacher in 1750, John Wesley cautioned Joseph Cownley against preaching nothing but God’s love and thereby neglecting the law. Here are Wesley’s words:

Let the Law always prepare for the Gospel. I scare ever spoke more earnestly here of the love of God in Christ than last night: But it was after I had been tearing the unawakened to pieces. Go thou and do likewise.

Remember, Wesley preached in many churches once, but far fewer twice.

It is true, the love of God in Christ alone feeds his children; but even they are to be guided as well as fed; yea, and often physicked too: And the bulk of our hearers must be purged before they are fed; else we only feed the disease. Beware of all honey. It is the best extreme; but it is an extreme.

I really wrestle with how to follow this advice of Wesley. It is hard to preach the law, especially in congregations where few people are bold and open sinners and most believe themselves to be good, earnest Christians. The specter of hypocrisy and legalism hovers over my shoulder whenever I try to do this. I never come close to tearing them to pieces.

Just last week, I was preaching on Matthew 10:24-39. It was not a Law text, really. It was about the apostles getting abused in word and body and about not being worthy of Jesus if they did not love Jesus more than family and did not take up there cross.

It was a tough sermon for me to preach. I was determined not to preach it in a way that rounded off the hard edges of that text, but I’m sure my distress over the text showed in the preaching — as well as not managing my week terribly well and not leaving myself enough time to work on it. Thank you lectionary for forcing me to attempt it.

Wesley writes in this letter — and elsewhere — that he too finds the preaching of Gospel pleasing. He suggests that he preached Law because it was necessary to the salvation of his hearers.

His insistence on these points stands as a challenge to me. Do I need more Law in my preaching? Am I tearing the unawakened to pieces?

 

The authority of Jesus

Then Jesus came to them and said,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18, NIV)

All authority belongs to Jesus. That word “all” is huge. It means all, as in there in no other authority other than that which derives from Jesus. None anywhere. Not in heaven, nor on earth.

The votes of democratic majorities do not give authority. Office and position and skill do not give authority. Wealth does not give authority. Fame does not give authority. Traditions do not give authority. The only authority resides with, is found in, Jesus.

If the president of the United States is aligned with Jesus, then his authority is genuine. If he (or she) is not, then the president may have power, but no authority. Lots of people in our world have power and exert power. But they do not have authority. Their power is used in godless ways.

Jesus has all authority. If we would have authority, it must come from him.

This is an amazingly, breath-takingly, radical statement by Jesus.

Agony among the olives #LukeActs2014

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, NIV)

That night in the garden has always been a powerful moment for me. This week I stood in the Church of Christ’s Agony on the Mount of Olives. They have a stone there that tradition says is the place where Jesus prayed this prayer and bled. I have to confess, visiting Jerusalem was a curious experience. I felt at times a bit like Luther as people knelt and wept over stones, and yet being in places I had only read about in the Bible was compelling.

Church of Christ's Agony

We often talk about the particularity of the incarnation. Jesus was a man who lived in a certain place at a certain time. He is not a general principle or ever-recurring story. Somewhere on that hill he knelt to the ground among the olive trees and prayed “not my will, but yours be done.”

As hundreds of commentators have noted, he could have easily escaped the passion. He could have climbed the Mount of Olives and headed east away from Jerusalem. But he remained. In other points in his ministry he withdrew or avoided the hostile crowds. Now he would give himself over to the agents of death.

Jesus died because it was the will of God that he do so. He died for us. This night was not a Jean Valjean “Who Am I?” moment. It was not an identity crisis. It was the final act of his ministry, one toward which all else he said and did had been inclining.

If we would be his followers, he told us, we must follow him through the dark night of this prayer. We will encounter moments when our choice is between our desire to live and the will of God. In our culture, we are told that we deserve comfort and a life without pain, that we should strive always for these things. Gethsemane stands in start opposition to that message. I am reminded of the old hymn:

“I’ll go with Him thro’ the garden,
I’ll go with Him through the garden,
I’ll go with Him thro’ the garden,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.