Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (3/15/15)

Traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent has been called “Rejoice Sunday.” In the middle of the season of Lent we take this Sunday to remember that even as we sorrow over our sin, we can rejoice because Jesus came!

Text: John 3:14-21

Theme: Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up

When is the last time you thanked God for being a Christian in America?

The headlines we’ve see over the last few months about what’s happening in Iraq and Syria give us a good opportunity to thank God that none of us have to worry about literally losing our heads for showing up here today. We American Christians have a lot to be thankful for in our lack of physical persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Christianity began. Jesus promised that if they persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. According to church tradition, all of Jesus’ original disciples but one were killed for their faith. But in the history of the persecution of the Christian Church, there is one ten year period that earned the inauspicious title, “The Great Persecution”.

It began on February 23, 303 AD. Faced with mounting pressure from without and within to return Rome to its traditional values and religion the Roman emperor Diocletian set the bull’s-eye on the Christians.

Churches were burned to the ground. All Christian services were banned. All across the Roman Empire those who professed to be Christians were told to show up and hand over their Bible’s to the Romans so that every Bible in Rome could be burned. Christians in high places lost their jobs. Christians with homes found themselves homeless. The clergy were thrown into jail.

One year later, in 304, the persecution escalated. Rome decided that every Christian had to make a public sacrifice to the Roman gods – and if you didn’t you would be killed.

And so Christians died. Countless Christians refused to turn their backs on Jesus and died because of it. Whole communities of Christians were wiped from the face of the earth in what has become known as “the era of the martyrs.”

And then in February of 313 a Roman named Constantine took control of Rome. Supposedly, he had a dream in which his destiny was tied to Christianity, so he signed into law the Edict of Milan which formally ended “The Great Persecution.” And just ten years later, Constantine would make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

And then an interesting thing happened. Closet Christians began to come out of the woodworks. Christians who had hidden their faith for a decade, suddenly started professing Christ again. Christians who had caved to the pressure and pretended to worship Roman gods, started worshiping the true God again. And from this sprang one of the first post-persecution problems in the church.

You see, those who had stuck with Christ (displaying strong faith) – those who had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters because they refused to turn their backs on Christ – they didn’t look too kindly on those weak Christians who had turned their backs on Christ to save their own skin. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

So some teaching, some healing had to happen.

Those Christians who had faced persecution and demonstrated incredibly strong faith needed to be reminded of an incredibly important truth. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. It is the object of our faith that saves us – a lesson Jesus teaches very powerfully and clearly in John chapter 3. Continue reading

Consumed with Zeal for God (John 2:13-22)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/8/15)

Text: John 2:13-22

Theme: Consumed with Zeal for God

A little word association: What picture flashes through your mind when I say… Jesus?

Maybe it is that picture you saw hanging in a church basement somewhere – that picture of Jesus sitting on top of a hill with little kids all around and one lucky kid on his lap. Maybe the image you see is the kind, welcoming, calming Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Maybe you picture the cross and your Savior on that cross. Or maybe you picture an empty tomb.

Whatever image you thought of when I first said the name Jesus, I’m willing to bet none of you pictured the Jesus we read about in John 2:13-22…

Imagine, if you can, the rage, the wrath, and the violence it would take for one man to drive away a small herd of animals and dozens of people who didn’t want to be moved. Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and say, “Please guys, can you get out of here?” He made a whip and started screaming, and yelling, and beating.

It’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing. Today we see Jesus red-faced in wrath, spittle flying from his mouth as he screams on the top of his lungs, a whip cracking in his hand over the heads of, and on the backs of men and beast as he drives them from the Temple courts. Today we see a Jesus consumed with zeal for his Father.

And it’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing… but can you blame him? Continue reading

It Is Good That One Man Died For the People (John 18:12-16)

Sermon for Midweek Lent 2 (3/4/15)

Text: John 18:12-16

Theme: It Is Good That One Man Died for the People

            How many of you are familiar with the movie Red Dawn? I’m talking about the 1984 classic in which Patrick Swayze leads a group of teenagers in guerrilla warfare against the Russians who have invaded the United States. It’s an entertaining and suspenseful movie as Patrick and his gang of teenagers band together in the Rocky Mountains and fight the evil Russians.

That movie is the closest I have ever come to experiencing what it must have been like to be an everyday Jew at the time of Jesus – at least as far as experiencing what Roman rule must have been like.

As long as any of us have been alive (and long before that), America has been free. American’s haven’t experienced enemy occupation since we did it to ourselves in the Civil War. So it is hard for us to imagine all of the emotions and feelings everyday Jews would have had toward the Romans. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would have been like to live in a politically charged atmosphere like Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

The Roman Empire was in the midst of the Pax Romana, a 200 year period of relative peace and stability in the Roman world. This was an unprecedented span in the history of the world. 200 years without a major war breaking out. 200 years of peace that the 20/20 hindsight of history reveals as God orchestrated, so that his fledgling New Testament Church could grow.

But just because there was peace doesn’t mean that things were always peaceful. You see, there’s just this thing about conquests that has been proven true over the history of the world – people, nations don’t like being conquered. They don’t like being occupied. No matter how far the conquering nation goes to keep peace, that doesn’t mean it’s always peaceful. Continue reading

Splurging in Acts of Love (John 12:1-11)

Sermon from a Midweek Lent service (2/25/15)

Text: John 12:1-11

Theme: Splurging in Acts of Love

            How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

It’s a 1st world problem. It’s not something being discussed in Syria or Iraq right now, but it is a question Americans spend time and energy answering.

How much do you spend on an engagement ring?

The general consensus (as far as I can tell) is somewhere between one and three months wages. Whatever you make in three months, that should be the ceiling on how much you spend on an engagement ring.

Well, back when I went shopping with my mom and sister for the ring Laura has on her hand now, that didn’t add up to all that much money. I was a fulltime student at the seminary, only part-time employed. Even adding up three months of part-time pay washing windows for Squeegee Squad didn’t amount to all that much…

So I broke the rule. I decided to splurge on the engagement ring – still something not unreasonably expensive, but more than three months wages because I was in love and I wanted to show that love in a tangible way, and I knew I wasn’t going to be working part-time washing windows forever. I was going to ask Laura to marry me and I wanted to splurge on this once in a lifetime opportunity to show Laura what she means to me.

That’s what you do when you are in love, right? You splurge in acts of love for the object of that love. You go over and above what is normal for you. And splurging doesn’t always just have to mean “spending more money.” You can splurge on something or someone by spending an unusual amount of time with them. You can splurge by paying particularly close attention. You can splurge just be being nicer, friendlier, more welcoming. Splurging is anything that you do that is over and above the normal for something or someone that you love.

Splurging, it’s what we see Mary doing in the Passion history I just read from John 12. Mary takes a jar of perfume worth an entire year’s wages and she pours it on Jesus’ feet and then uses her own hair to wipe Jesus’ feet clean.

Talk about splurging!

What do you make in a year? I don’t actually want you to tell me, but think about that number. Now, picture sitting down, writing a check for that much and dropping it in the offering plate when it comes around in a little bit – talk about splurging!

What Mary does here is even a step beyond that, isn’t it? Mary takes this extremely expensive jar of perfume and she doesn’t just give it to Jesus so he can use it later – she dumps the whole thing on his feet. To really do what Mary does here you would have to go to the bank, get your salary in cash, and then lighting it on fire and watch it burn here in front of the altar. It’s gone! A whole year’s wages, just gone – talk about splurging!

It’s an amazing, almost uncomfortable thing to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this supper where we see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for Jesus by Mary – it’s amazing. I mean, it doesn’t get much more real than this, does it? What we see here is someone desperately in love with Jesus and willing to do anything to show that love – it’s almost uncomfortable to see this extremely personal act of love.

It’s also a humbling thing, isn’t it? It’s a humbling thing to be a fly on the wall for this supper (one of the last ones Jesus would have on this earth) and to watch Mary splurge in an act of love for Jesus.

It’s humbling because all too often my love looks pitiful in comparison to this reckless love of Mary…

What or who do you splurge on in an act of love?

There are a couple slightly simplistic ways to find the answer to that question.

First, look at your budget. It’s tax season, that time when we look back over 2014, the money we made, the money we spent. What did you splurge on financially last year? What are the things you went over and above to spend money on because you love them? How much did you financially splurge on Jesus?

You should know the answer to that question. Jesus tells us to sit down and consciously plan out how much we are going to spend on him, so you should know how much you did or didn’t give to Jesus.

What are you splurging on with your money?

Second, take a look at your average weekly schedule. Where do you spend your time? What are the “must do” things on your weekly to-do list? How much do you splurge on Jesus with your schedule? You have 24 hours in your day. How many of those hours do you give to Jesus? How long do you spend in prayer? How much time do you spend reading his word on a typical day?

What are you splurging on with your time?

Third, take a look at your heart? What’s the most important thing in your life right now? We just celebrated Valentine ’s Day, right? Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, how much energy do you invest into showing the love of your life he or she matters? The things we love with all our heart are the things we do random acts of kindness for. They are the things that light up our faces when we see or think about them. They are the things that obsess us, the things we can’t get enough of.

And how does Jesus fit into that picture? Does your face light up when you think about coming to church to sit at Jesus’ feet? Do you obsess about Jesus? Do you splurge on Jesus with random, over the top acts of love?

What are you splurging on with your love and attention?

Now I realize this is a slightly simplistic way to go about it. It’s not a simple math equation: if you give x amount of dollars you really love Jesus… if you spend x amount of hours in devotion in a week, you must really love Jesus… but man, I look at this three step approach to answering the question “what do I splurge on,” and let me be the first to say… I’m sorry. Let me be the first to confess before you and before God that I have not loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Let me be the first to identify that Judas in my own heart that pushes me to love other things above my love for Jesus…

What’s my point in all this? Do I just want to browbeat you into giving more money (I sure hope you know that’s not my point)?

This is the season of Lent. We are walking with Jesus to his cross – to the place he was brutally murdered. This is a time for us to examine our hearts and see just what it was that drove him to that cross: my sin… your sin… all of those times you and I broke the first commandment and loved something or someone more than we loved Jesus. And what we see Mary doing at this dinner; it drives us to ask the tough question: what are we splurging on?

We see in Mary a reckless act of love that ought to make us sorry – sorry for all of the times we fail to love Jesus as we should.

But Mary isn’t the only act of reckless love we see at this dinner in John 12…

Mary poured out a jar of expensive perfume to show how much she loved Jesus. Jesus was about to pour out his life to show how much he loved Mary… and me… and you…

Jesus says of Mary’s splurging, “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.” Jesus isn’t dead yet, he won’t be for another five days. But already Jesus is talking about his death as a forgone conclusion – He was as good as dead now, because he knew where he was going. He knew what was waiting for him when he got to Jerusalem.

Realize tonight that this is what drove Jesus to that cross – his reckless desire for us not to have to pay for all of our sins against the 1st and every other commandment.  What we see tonight from Jesus, what we see in Lent, is Jesus splurging in an breathtaking act of love for us!

This is how much he loves you! He would willingly pour out his own life on a brutal death on a cross to prove to you just how deeply and desperately he loves you.

It’s amazing and almost uncomfortable to see, isn’t it? To be allowed access to this last week of Jesus’ life, to see this shameless act of splurging, intense love for us – it’s amazing! It doesn’t get any more real than this! What we see here from Jesus is someone desperately in love with us, and willing to do anything to show that love – and if it weren’t so personal and perfect it would almost be uncomfortable to see Jesus loving us so deeply like this.

It’s also and inspiring thing, isn’t it? It’s something that fills our hearts so full of love that we too want to love Jesus back.

That doesn’t mean that I expect each of you to write a check for one year’s salary and put it in the offering plate – it is not now, nor will it ever by my job to dictate to you how you have to show your love for Jesus. But it is my privilege to remind you of the love that I know is in your heart – you do love Jesus! And it is my privilege to remind you to show that love!

Every day, we get to wake up and realize that we are soaking wet in the love that Jesus has poured out on us. And we get to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love. We get to respond in love to that love! We get to turn each day into moments when we go over and above to say thank you to the one who poured out his life for us.

Every day we get to wake up and know that Jesus loves us. Every day we get to wake up and live a life splurging in our acts of thank-filled love for Jesus.

Amen.

I Have Sinned Against the LORD! (2 Samuel 12:1-13)

Sermon for Ash Wednesday (2/18/15)

Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

Theme: I Have Sinned Against the LORD!

            It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

David sat in his throne room, righteously wrathful over the story Nathaniel had just shared with him, only to have Nathaniel look him in the eye and chill him to the bone with the words, “You are the man!”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

Ananias lays his offering at the apostles’ feet. He feels a little flutter of pride as he looks around the room and sees everyone else watching him make this “great sacrifice,” only to have Peter see right through him – to that heart so full of the devil’s pride and lies. “You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to.

I sat in my dad’s office at church. I heard him speaking quietly with my teacher just outside the door. I didn’t care to hear what they were saying – I knew what they were talking about. I had seen a movie at a friend’s house that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at home. I had proudly repeated a rather vulgar line from that movie to my other friends at school. The teacher found out – and now the pastor, my Dad, was finding out too.

It’s a feeling you never forget. It’s a feeling you never get used to – at least you shouldn’t.

It’s the feeling of guilt – that uniquely, universally, horrible, rock-in-the-gut feeling that comes when you know you’ve done something wrong and that you are about to pay for it. Continue reading

It Is Good For Us to Be Here! (Mark 9:2-9)

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (2/15/15)

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Theme: It Is Good For Us to Be Here!

Why did he do it?…

We just saw, with Peter, James and John, a fascinating but all too brief glimpse at Jesus in all of his glory. Mark describes Jesus’ clothes as “dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them.” Matthew and Luke, in their records of this event, describe Jesus’ face as looking as bright as a flash of lightening.

For one brief afternoon, after years of following Jesus’ every move, these three disciples get this little glimpse at the real glory of Jesus. The other gospel writers explain that these guys did what every other human does when he sees true heavenly glory – they fell on their faces in fear, only to look up and see Jesus catting with Moses and Elijah (two men long since dead) like old friends.

And just when the awesomeness of what was going on started to sink in, a cloud settles in, the heavens open and they hear the voice of God the Father himself.

And it just begs the question: why?

Why now? He spent 30+ years on this earth and just in this brief moment, for one afternoon, does he fully reveal who he really is. Sure, throughout his ministry he gave hints as to who he really was with his amazing miracles, but even the prophets did miracles, even the disciples did miracles. This was on a whole different level. This was undeniable proof that Jesus was who he said he was – true God.

Why did he do it? Continue reading

Selfishness Exposed: Only Jesus Can Give You What You Want (Romans 8:1-10)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent (3/31/14)

Text: Romans 8:1-10

Theme: Only Jesus Can Give You What You Want!

            The character is a familiar one, I’m sure. Even if you have only seen a few of the movies that have graced the big screen during the last half century you know the character I’m talking about. It’s that character in almost every movie and play that has their priorities mixed up, but through some traumatic experience they realize the error of their ways.

Just yesterday I sat down with my bride and watched a good old-fashioned chick flick. While You Were Sleeping was the title of this heartwarming love story from the mid-90’s. In that movie there is a character named Peter who was living a life long on success but ultimately short on meaning. He had the penthouse in Chicago, the successful career, the tall-dark-and-handsome good looks, the plastic surgery enhanced fiancé, but it wasn’t until he woke up from his near-death-fall-induced coma that he realized that though his life was full of things, it was empty of purpose. He needed to reprioritize his life. Just plain selfishness (getting and doing whatever he wanted) wasn’t cutting it.

Now stop and think about it – how many movies have a character just like Peter? How many movies have a character that needs to have his priorities reordered? How many movies have a character that needs to realize that selfishly seeking everything he wants isn’t going to give his life meaning?

I don’t have any official statistics, but I would say that almost every movie made has some character searching for meaning – some character that needs to reprioritize his life and stop being selfish. From Scrooge in A Christmas Carol to Anakin (aka Darth Vader) in Star Wars, Hollywood preaches the message that there is such a thing as too much selfishness – there is such a thing as mixed up priorities.

And in general, we love these movies. Hollywood keeps making them. We keep watching them.

I think that part of the reason we enjoy watching these selfish people become less selfish – these purposeless people find purpose – is because we can all relate. All of us have chased life down a road that we thought would give us meaning and purpose – leave us feeling fulfilled – only to realize that we needed to make some serious course corrections because the life we hoped to find wasn’t there and the peace we wanted wasn’t found.

I think we enjoy watching these movies because they give us hope that we can find purpose, a full life, and peace just like those people on the big screen.

But there’s a problem with this hope, isn’t there? The problem is that real life isn’t like the movies. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any real people who reprioritized their lives, found true love and rode off into the sunset never to experience doubt again – perfectly happy and at peace once they started making the right life choices. Continue reading

The Light of the World Shines On You and Through You (John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/23/14)

Text: John 9:1-7,13-17,34-39

Theme: The Light of the World

1) Shines On You

2) Shines Through You

            Do you know what I consider to be one of the most inconvenient aspects of being a parent? Toys… Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching my kids play, and I love playing with them. I’m glad they have toys. It just seems that no matter how often we clean, there are toys are everywhere.

Sometimes walking through my house feels more dangerous than walking barefoot across a field full of broken glass. I don’t even know where all of the toys come from. It continues to astound me how one minute all the toys can be neatly stored in their bins, and the next minute every floor in the house is covered with potential hazards – some of them soft and slippery, some of them tall and easy to trip over, some of them made with just the right amount of hard corners to inflict maximum damage when stepped on.

And this minefield of toys gets particularly dangerous at night. Before I turn off the lights and head to bed I find myself doing a quick scan of the room, looking for hazards that may jump out at me once I am blind in the dark.

What would make this nighttime minefield trip a little less harrowing? A night light! That’s the point of a night light – to provide enough light so that you can avoid the hazards of a well-played-in living room.

It’s a simple truth for all people, whether you live in a house of toddlers or not – not being able see in the dark, being blind, is a hazardous thing. That’s why there are headlights on our cars. That’s why we bring plenty of flashlights when we camp. That’s why we put nightlights in our hallways at home. We realize that trying to function blind is a hazardous thing.

Now, what would you think if a car sped past you at night without his headlights on? Or what if you saw someone walk into a thick patch of woods in the middle of a cloudy night leaving his flashlight behind – what if this guy was so intent on blindly traipsing through the woods that he put a blindfold on first, and then set off on his adventure? Well, that guy is cruising for a bruising, right?

The reason I bring this up is because I can’t help but see the Pharisees doing the exact same thing this morning. I look at the Pharisees and I see people willingly living in blind darkness. I look at the Pharisees this morning and I see people intent on finding heaven without Jesus, and I can’t help but be dumbfounded at their stubbornness. In essence these guys are looking at Jesus and saying, “No thanks, I can see fine, I’ll find my own way to heaven.” Continue reading

You Are Exactly Whom God Wants! (John 4:5-26)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (3/16/14)

Theme: You Are Exactly Whom God Wants!

Text: John 4:5-26

            I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase before. Chances are, you have said (or at the very least thought) the phrase on more than one occasion. You heard it when your friend got engaged to that guy who didn’t have his act together yet. You thought it when your boss hired someone that you personally knew wasn’t going to be a good fit for the position he was given… you could have done better. If only your friend hadn’t been so eager to marry the first guy who came along – she could have done so much better. If only your boss had done his homework a little more before hiring this guy – he could have done better.

It’s that little phrase that slips between our lips so easily when we see someone get something we don’t think they deserve… you could have done better.

It’s that little judgmental phrase that leads to clicks, even in a church. It’s that little phrase that leads you to treat someone differently because their accent is a little thick, they work a different job, or have no job, they look, they dress, they smell, or they sound different than what you are comfortable with – you could do better… your time, your energy, your love could better be spent elsewhere. You could do better.

Maybe you would never admit it. You probably would never say it out loud in front of me because you recognize how silly it sounds, but I know it’s there, because it’s the only thing that can explain why you treat some people better than other people.

And this little judgmental phrase that we throw out there so often because someone fails to live up to our standards is nothing new. It’s certainly what everyone in Jesus’ day would have thought if they read what we just did in John 4. It’s certainly what the disciples were thinking when they came back and found Jesus talking to this unnamed Samaritan woman. The very next verse that we didn’t read says, “Just then the disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”

They didn’t say it, but they all were thinking it… Jesus, you could have done better.

“Can’t you see this is a woman? Don’t you know that no teacher worth his salt speaks to a woman in public?” said every social norm of the day.

“Can’t you see this is a Samaritan? Can’t you tell by her accent and the way she looks that she is one of those Samaritans, one of those ‘half-breeds?’ Half Jew, half Gentile, half worshiper of the true God, half worshiper of pagan gods. Don’t you know that no self-respecting Jew talks with a Samaritan? Don’t you know it’s against the law to even share a cup of water with one of these no good half-breeds?“ said every social norm of the day.

“Didn’t you notice she is down here by herself in the heat of the day drawing water? Don’t you know that any respectable person gets water from the well in the cool of the morning? Don’t you know that the very fact that she is here now  by herself means that she has been rejected by her own half-breed people, probably for some awful immorality, some terrible sin?” said every social norm of the day.

Jesus, you could have done better. You could have done better than talk to this immoral Samaritan woman. You could have asked any one of your disciples for a drink and they would have gladly gotten it and you wouldn’t have had to soil yourself in this way. You wouldn’t have even had to recognize that this woman existed! You could have done better.

And yet here he is… Jesus certainly knew better than the disciples did all the reasons why this immoral Samaritan woman should have no right to talk to him, the Son of God. We know that because with a simple request Jesus cuts right to the heart of her immorality. When Jesus said to the woman, “Go, call your husband and come back,” he already knew that this was going to be a problem for this woman.

The question that begs to be asked is: Why? Why would Jesus abandon the social norms? Why would Jesus talk to this woman? And why did he have this account recorded for us?

When you ask that question it becomes clear that he did this so that he could teach his disciples something – he did it to teach us something. He did it to get the disciples to start questioning the social norms that tell us that some people are better than others. He did it to help us see things from his perspective.

With one simple request Jesus awoke well-deserved guilt and shame in this Samaritan woman. With one simple request Jesus proved that this woman deserved nothing from him. What do you think the chances are that he could have done the same for the disciples – with one request cut to the heart of their shameful sins? What do you think the chances are that he could do the same to you? What do you think the chances are he could look at you and with a simple request cut through all the layers to the sins that reign in your heart?

Maybe for you it would be the exact same request, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “Oh no, not today Jesus. You see I have already chewed through five husbands, and the man I am with now is not my husband.”

Maybe for you the request would sound a little different. “Go, bring me your Bible.” “Oh, not today Jesus. Because truth be told, my Bible still looks pretty brand new. The crisp, white pages would reveal how little time I spend in your word.”

Maybe for you it would be Jesus saying, “Go, bring me your checkbook.” “Oh, not today Jesus. I couldn’t do that, because then you would know just how little I have thanked you for everything you have given me.”

Maybe for you it would be Jesus saying, “Go, bring me your calendar.” “Oh, not today Jesus. I couldn’t do that, because then you would see how full my calendar is with time spent on me, and how little time I have set aside for you.”

Can you see the problem with this little phrase? It’s not just the Samaritan woman that’s not good enough for Jesus… From God’s perspective it’s you, and it’s me because we all harbor sins that make us not good enough for Jesus.

“Could have done better,” is what the disciples thought. “Could have done better,” is what we think in our arrogant moments. But realize that from Jesus’ perspective, we are all in the same boat as that Samaritan woman.

But did you notice that we never once heard Jesus think or say that? Never once does Jesus give the impression that he is too good for this woman.

That’s because, from Jesus perspective, he couldn’t have done any better. He couldn’t have found a better target for his love than this adulterous Samaritan woman. The message that Jesus wanted to preach that day is crystal clear. The water of life, heaven –  it’s a gift. And a gift isn’t something you earn by being the right race, the right gender, or living the right way.

That’s why Jesus walked through Samaria this day. He could have walked around Samaria (as was the custom of many Jews). That’s why they made a pit stop at this little Samaritan town. That’s why he let the disciples go ahead of him into town. He did it all so that he could meet this woman and give her a gift.

You see, when Jesus looked at this woman he didn’t just see a adulterous Samaritan woman. He didn’t think, “This woman isn’t good enough for me.” He thought, “This woman needs me.” He looked at this woman and he saw someone who was thirsty, caught in the arid, dry downward spiral of her own sinfulness and he didn’t dwell on the fact that he deserved better, he dwelt on the fact that this woman was the very reason he was here on this earth in the first place.

Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well so that he could offer the free water of life to a woman who was desperately thirsty. Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well that day so that he could take someone who didn’t deserve him and treat her as if she did. Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well that day so that he could make clear to his disciples – so that he could make clear to you and me – that he couldn’t find anyone better, because he came to save sinners, and that’s exactly what this woman was, which means she’s exactly what Jesus wanted.

Which means that Jesus stopped at Jacob’s well so that he could make clear to you that you are exactly the kind of person he wants. Look at the conversation between this woman and Jesus today and realize that everything he is offering to her, he is offering to you.  Realize that Jesus came to give the water of life to sinners, which means he came to give the water of life to you and to me.

Jesus stopped at this well so that he could make clear that the water of life, heaven, is his gift – a gift bought and paid for at the cross – a gift he offers completely free of charge to sinners, each and every one of them. A gift we receive simply by trusting him when he says that this water he is giving us will make us never know thirst again and will bring us eternal life.

This gift comes simply by faith – faith like Abraham, the man who simply trusted that God would take him from what he was (a barren 75 year old man) and turn him into something he wasn’t (a great nation).

It’s faith that makes a person worthy of the water of life, not race, not language, not works. Its faith in the promise of God that he wants to take people and make them what they are not – worthy of heaven. When Jesus looks at you he doesn’t see just a hell bound sinner. He doesn’t think, “I could do better.” He thinks, “You need me. You are why I am here. I couldn’t do any better than you because I came to save sinners, which means I came to save you.”

Now stop and think about what that means for every day of your life, and for every interaction you have with people in this church and outside those doors. This love of God levels the playing field, and forces us to change our perspective – it helps us see that we are all sinners in the presence of a perfect God. It helps us see that we are all sinners whom God wants to save.

If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then that new guy at work is not just another guy – he is someone whom God wants to hear about the Bible. If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then that maid at your hotel is not just an unknown person speaking a different language – she is someone whom Jesus died. If God looks at every person and sees exactly whom he wants to save then those people on your tv dealing with death, disease and disaster are not just unlucky strangers– they are people that God wants to offer the water of life.

So go, see all people the way God sees people. Offer them the same water of life God has given you. Echo his thoughts when he looks at you and says, “I couldn’t find anyone better. Here take and drink and know that heaven is yours.”

Amen.

The History of Salvation (Genesis 3:1-15)

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent (3/9/14)

Theme: The History of Salvation

Text: Genesis 3:1-15

            One of the things that fascinates me in this world is… you. Now before you get too creeped out, allow me to explain.  For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with people – what makes people tick, what makes people excited, how different people react in different situations. I’m fascinated in getting to know people, specifically I love getting know how different two people can be from each other. Two warm blooded humans can have a lot physically similar, but be completely different when it comes to things they love and things they hate, things that get them excited and things that bore them – and these differences fascinate me.

One of the things I have noticed about myself that is certainly not unique, but at least it is different from most people I come in contact with is this: I love history. I always have. I love reading about history, thinking about history, studying history – and I have gotten to know enough people in this world to realize that this makes me different from a lot of people.

Now I suspect that this love of history, or perhaps your lack of love for history, is as much nature as it is nurture, but I also think that one of the reasons that some people dislike history is because they never had the “why” adequately explained to them.  The most common complaint I have heard when it comes to history is, “So what?” Why should I care about what happened hundreds or thousands of years ago? Why should I have to memorize all of these pointless facts? What does Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 have to do with me and you, right? I think one of the major barriers to appreciating history has to do with understanding why history is important, and what it has to say to us today.

It is my hope that today, even if you are not a history buff, I can get you to have a little bit more appreciation for why studying history is a good thing.

I say that because the Lent is basically a 40 day study of history. Over the next weeks leading up to Easter, we are going to be reading and talking about a lot of history every time we get together in this building. And it is my hope that you would go through this Lent understanding what this history means for you today. Because this is the history of salvation.

Two of the three Bible readings we have before us today are pure history – they tell us what happened thousands of years ago. And just like any other history, it is easy to get wrapped up in the facts of the stories, but  it is the “so what” that will be the difference between being fascinated and just tolerating the history we are looking at.

Our reading from Genesis 3 is simple history. What’s more, I know that it is history that you already know. Some of you have been reading and rereading this story from the time you could read – Adam and Eve in the garden, tempted by the devil.

So, let’s ask ourselves that all-important question: So what? What does this story that took place thousands of years ago have to do with me today? Continue reading