Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Father's Love

This sermon was originally preached on Holy Thursday 2013, from the text Luke 22:39-54a. May it provide you with a Holy Week reflection as we all await Easter morn.

God the Father wanted to save his world from the clutches of sin and the power of death, and so He sent His Son, His only begotten Son, to earth on a rescue mission. This Son was born to Mary, and they named him Jesus. For thirty years, the Father in heaven watched Jesus grow in wisdom and years and in everyone’s esteem (Luke 2:52; 4:15). And then Jesus began his ministry (3:23) and began to tell the world that he was God’s agent, sent to set things right, sent to fulfill everything that had been promised before in the scriptures (4:16ff). He was healing people and casting out demons, feeding multitudes of hungry people.
I don’t know what parental pride is like when you’re God. I don’t even know what it’s like for a person—closest I have is a godson—but maybe those of you with children can imagine something of what the Father may have felt as Jesus grew up and began to accomplish all of these incredible things, and started to do what he had been born to do, to make a way for us to be delivered from evil, a way for us to be with God. You can hear a hint of that pride at Jesus’ baptism, when his Father tells him, “You’re my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22). The Father took joy in His Son as He saw all of this unfolding, saw how faithful Jesus was to his mission; he knew how Jesus was being filled with the power of God by the Holy Spirit (4:14) so he could carry out his work, going around and doing all of this good (Acts 10:38). And then Jesus was constantly taking time to speak to his Father in prayer, so that the Father didn’t have to content himself with watching his Son’s life, but he was able to be a part of his life directly, as they spent all of that time alone together. This must have been a very special time for the Father, seeing His Son in such a different way and relating to him so differently than they had before in heaven.

And then things took a turn.

They both knew all along that this night was coming, but even when you know, you can’t quite prepare yourself for something like this. Jesus was going to die. Tomorrow—at the hands of cruel men, men who would beat him and mock him, who flogged him and would nail him to a tree and leave him to die there. That’s what the next few hours held in store for Jesus. They both knew, they always knew that, in a sense, this was a suicide mission. But now the time had actually come, and that first domino was about to tip over and launch that whole gory chain of events.
Jesus may have been God, the Son, but his head wasn’t in the clouds. He didn’t want to do this. He was a man, he had a body with blood, and nerves and pain receptors—and he’d probably seen some people hanging on crosses before. Jesus didn’t want to die. And so on this night, Holy Thursday, the night before the cross, God the Father had to listen to his beloved Son ask him “Father… if you’re willing, take this cup of suffering away from me. But not my will—your will be done” (22:42). Jesus left it all up to his Father. ‘Father, I don’t want this—if you’re willing to, just take it away, let’s do something else. But I’ll do whatever you decide’.
You know he wanted to grant that prayer. His only child is there, practically begging Him to find another way, to change His mind about all of this. ‘Son, of course I’m willing—I don’t want you to suffer! I don’t want you to die! But there’s no other way, there’s nothing else to do. If there were, we’d do it… but there’s not’. You know the Father wanted to answer his prayer. Why didn’t He? How could He listen to His Son’s pleas and still give him up to these men, these killers—how could this ‘loving Father’ do that to his boy?
He did that because He’s a Father. He’s a Father, and He and His Son both knew that if they carried out this mission, if they did what they set out to do and delivered us from sin and from death, then He could become the Father to billions of sons and daughters: us. That’s why God was willing to go through with this—so that we could be adopted into the family. The Father wanted to be a father to us and to have us as His daughters and sons forever. That’s why we were created in the first place: to be with God, so that we could enjoy our Father and he could enjoy his children. And he refused to let us go, refused to lose us.
And Jesus refused to let us go. He didn’t want to go to the cross, but he chose that rather than giving up on us. He was faithful to his Father’s plan all the way up that hill, carrying the cross he was going to die on, because God loves us and he wouldn’t let us go. Because of Jesus’ faithfulness and obedience to his mission, we are set free from sin, free to be adopted as his Father’s children (Gal 3:26). Jesus endured that torture, the Father endured the anguish of watching His Son’s pain and death so that we could be with God, so that we could call Him “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6) How deep the Father’s love for us; how vast beyond all measure!

Holy Thursday—this whole weekend—is a dark time, a time when we come face to face with death and the grave, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ grave. Someone asked me just the other day why we even call it ‘Good’ Friday. Jesus’ battered body hanging there, the pain God suffered… it doesn’t seem so good. But the goodness isn’t Christ’s death itself: it’s what his death accomplished for us. The goodness is that now we can become the sons and daughters of such a Father, that God saw a world full of orphans and said ‘I want to take you home with Me, to love you and care for you forever’. Because of Jesus, that’s our Father. And that’s good.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Easter baskets and the good news

We're less than two weeks away from Easter now (Mar 31st), and many of you have probably already made your annual pilgrimage down the pastel aisles at Walmart or Target, lined with 2 ft. tall chocolate bunnies, pre-packed Barbie-themed baskets, and empty 'baskets' shaped like Iron Man's helmet ('just fill it up on our action figure aisle!').
It wouldn't be hard to write a post lamenting the general commercialization--Christmas-ization?--of Easter. But rather than shoot those fish in the barrel, I wanted to draw everyone's attention to one aspect of the Easter shopping craze that Christians need to give special consideration to: the chocolate.

You see, much of the chocolate we eat, Nestle, Hershey's, M&M Mars, has a shady past. Child labor, human trafficking, and even slavery can all play a part in chocolate production. Follow that link; read the article. But for now, here's a quick taste:
UNICEF estimates that nearly a half-million children work on farms across Ivory Coast, which produces nearly 40% of the world’s supply of cocoa. The agency says hundreds of thousands of children, many of them trafficked across borders, are engaged in the worst forms of child labor.

And in another piece from Easter-time last year, CNN forces us to face the issue: the chocolate in your Easter baskets may be no better.
Some 70 to 75 percent of the world's cocoa beans are grown on small farms in West Africa, including the Ivory Coast, according to the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative. The CNN Freedom Project reports that in the Ivory Coast alone, there are an estimated 200,000 children working the fields, many against their will, to satisfy the world's hunger for chocolate.
The average American eats around 11 pounds of chocolate each year, and the weeks leading up to Easter show the second biggest United States sales spike of the year next to Halloween.

(CNN's estimate for the number of children working on the cocoa farms differs from UNICEF's above, but either way the phenomenon is real, and the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.)

Much of our chocolate comes through processes that Christians simply cannot support. Even the chocolate we eat while remembering Christ's Resurrection at Easter.

What can we do? How can we get around this?
I don't have all the answers here, but I can make two quick suggestions. First, as the second article linked above explains, buying organic chocolate is one solution, as the farms that rely on child labor do not produce any organic cocoa beans. Organic chocolate will be more expensive... but so what? Buy less of it--God knows that won't hurt us (11 pounds a year!).
Second, avoid chocolate. Give your children or grandchildren some other kind of candy this Easter. It won't be as iconic as a chocolate bunny, but you can feel a little better about the purchase and the practices that your money won't be going to support.

Chocolate. It seems like such a small thing, but all of our decisions, great and small, have ramifications, and as we follow Jesus we need to be able to face that truth and begin to explore what those ramifications are. There are some decisions, even small ones, that we cannot simply go on making.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

when words are many

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but the prudent are restrained in speech."
                                                    Proverbs 10:19

When words are many. Hm. I'd say that about sums us up.

We're constantly using words.
Cell phones.
Text messages.
Guessing what's the word.
Greeting cards.
Thank yous.
Words, words, words.

And we're constantly hearing and reading words.
News feeds.
Text messages.
Words, words, words. The words are many, and constant.

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but the prudent are restrained in speech."

But where's the transgression in that? Let's consider some scenarios.

You're talking to your wife, and you're constantly rephrasing, taking back of things, and explaining (words, words, words), trying to self-justify and put yourself in a better light.

You can't seem to drop the topic--neither can he--because if you can just get in the last word, your point  will be made, you can come out on top. It just ping-pongs back and forth, the original point forgotten, while we grasp for that sense of triumph. Words, words, words.

You spoke for so long, said so much, that when she tells you how much your sarcasm hurt her, you can't even remember any sarcasm. It's lost in the flood of words--too many to recall, much less control.

The words on the little screen in your hand are more interesting than the words coming out of your companion's mouth, so you pay attention to the screen.

You didn't have anything nice to say, but you still said something at all.

Your words are so right, and his (whoever he is) are so wrong, that you'll let the anonymous comment section shield you from any shame while you say things to him that break Jesus's heart.

Your words are so important, why not cut your [friend, husband, wife, child] off while they're talking? 

You're so used to talking about God and the Christian life, and having people listen to you talk about God and the Christian life, that you start to fancy yourself an expert.

"When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
    but the prudent are restrained in speech."

Is anyone restrained in speech anymore? Is that even possible on the internet, or with a smart phone?

How can we even start on this path to prudence? How do we learn to restrain our speech?
Maybe this is the place to start: "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few." (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

Lord, teach us to use fewer words. Amen.