Grace Communion Melbourne – Sept 30th, 2017
by Steve Schantz
Matt 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
You may have noticed that the National Football League has shared headlines with National politics and cultural clashes over the past two weeks. With this on our minds I’d like to take us back to 2011 for a few moments to Superbowl XLV (45).
It was the era of Quarterback Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers. With the footwork of a ballet dancer and the arm of a canon, Rogers led the Packers to more than one Championship game. He lived with the unbelievable rush of achievement and stardom winning the Superbowl championship and the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy. In the glory of that moment the Packers celebrated in the stadium, and then the team began to celebrate in the locker room, and then the celebration continued onto the bus. Team mates passed the trophy over their heads from player to player. Later, as Rogers shared the moment he recalled a sudden, darker moment. An empty feeling came over him, and he said, “I hope I don’t just do this.” All of the training, all the effort, all the coaching and the workouts and the pain and body punishment and the praying— Everything that led to this moment of triumph, and when he arrived, for one brief moment he thought: “Is this all there is? There’s got to be more.”
Even being just Aaron Rogers isn’t enough. We were made to live for more.
Stephen Covey works with a lot of executives, a lot of CEO’s and leaders and not-for-profits and g overnment officials. And one of the things he tells them is:
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
What I’d like to do today is help us be sure that our ladder of faith is leaned up against the right kind of life. The life we have in Christ. As we have been focusing on Jesus as the center of His Kingdom, my hope is that we can grow into loving what He loves. A life that is revealed by, and centered in, who we are in Christ. President Tkach has been heralding this resounding theme of who we are and what we’re here for in his writing and in his speaking for some time. (Sept 27th weekly update, emailed to members on Wednesday.) So let’s begin by asking the question, “What do you love?” One of my favorite movie quotes is from the opening scenes of The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington. (Yes, it is a bit violent, but anything with Denzel in it is hard for me to resist.) But like a bookmark for the entire movie the memorable Mark Twain quote appears on an opening screen: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Jesus not only came to bring us life but to reveal what this life is really for. Our text comes from Matthew chapter 4 this afternoon, and as Matthew unfolds this significant moment in the life of Jesus, what we are reading comes to us right after the baptism of Jesus. Where the sky opens up and the Father’s favor and blessing are showered upon the Son, lighting on Him as a dove, and a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” So what does Jesus do with all of this blessing and favor? March on Jerusalem and kick the Romans out? Go all the way to Rome itself and dismantle the evils of the Roman empire? No. In a moment of solitude and silence he begins a 40 day journey into the wilderness to face alone what we would care to avoid. Reading from the New Living Testament:
Matt 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. 2 For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. 3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” 7 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” 8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” 10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. (NLT)
When hurricane Harvey struck Texas, it was a rough week for the largest church in America and especially her pastor, Joel Osteen. His comments during and after the storm went viral in the midst of a crisis in his city of Houston, TX.
He addressed the crisis with a few platitudes on twitter such as, “Don’t worry, God’s got this.” “Don’t let the waters of doubt get above your head.” Then came, “Hey The church is not open because you can’t get to it because of the flood waters”, and then we find out that this not completely true. And then, “Well we didn’t open the doors of the church because the city didn’t ask for help.” It was not a good week for Pastor Osteen. Comments flew around the internet comparing him to Noah closing the door of the ark and refusing to let others in, (like a Basil Wolverton Bible Story illustration from the 1960’s), and the innkeeper who said to Mary and Joseph “There’s no room at the Inn.”
Now, to be fair, there a couple of things that are unfair and a couple of things that are fair about this social network criticism. It seems to me the unfair part is this: When we go through moments of crisis like this we are always looking for someone to blame, and so Joel Osteen as a televangelist is an easy target for a kind of public shaming and a self-righteous. (Mega church, mega-bucks, and a public persona that is recognized everywhere.) We don’t want to get on that bandwagon. But there is also a part of the criticism that is absolutely fair. Because moments like these expose what we really believe about God and what we live by. It Exposes in this moment the shallowness and the weakness of what is often referred to as the prosperity gospel, the success gospel, the health and wealth gospel, the name it and claim it gospel. Basically that you can call down prosperity and material blessings from heaven if you pray. But when the flood waters rise to a certain level, that gospel washes away. Because right now there are dear children of God, His adopted sons and daughters in Dominica and in Puerto Rico right whose roofs were blown off their homes, and some completely destroyed. It won’t be the same there again for decades! New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it this way:
“While orthodox Christianity suggests that evil is a mystery to be endured, the prosperity gospel suggests that evil is something that can be mastered, through a combination of spiritual exertion and the divine intervention it summons up. If you fail to master everyday events, and fall into struggles and suffering, it’s a sign that you just haven’t prayed enough, or trusted faithfully enough, or thought big enough…” – Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics
The book Your Best Life Now isn’t going to help you in the moments when the flood waters come rushing at you. Little aphorisms and catchy phrases won’t be helpful in moments of real and widespread suffering. As followers of Jesus, we believe and affirm the meaning stated in the Apostle’s Creed, that Jesus “…was conceived by the Holy Spirit; Born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate; Was crucified, dead and buried;…” When we say this we are saying something incredibly radical. We are saying that God suffers with us, that God suffers for us. What we are declaring is that Jesus (our God) will not take a short cut around the cross. That he did not seek a life that avoids the discomfort of pain or suffering. Jesus does not take a detour around the wilderness. Like Moses who went before him he enters the wilderness. Like King David before him he will enter into the wilderness. Like the prophet Elijah he will enter into the wilderness. And where God’s people failed in the wilderness, Jesus triumphs as the faithful son in his suffering. And because we are included in His humanity and taken up into this relationship that He shares with the Father and the Spirit, we to can face temptation and suffering while trusting in God. It is critical for you and I to have a faith that is robust enough to incorporate the suffering of this world, because in this world we to will have tribulation. We also go through those moments of wilderness trial. So what do we learn from Jesus in the midst of his wilderness test? We learn a couple of things. Let’s walk through them quickly together. The first test where Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread, it is a test of comfort.
- Comfort – Stones to bread
Will Jesus use his status and power to satisfy and to meet his own needs? No, He doesn’t do that. The liturgy of comfort is not His primary directive as the Father’s only son. The second part of the wilderness test is where Jesus is taken to the highest point of the temple and the devil tells him to throw himself off the temple because surely the angels will catch him in a spectacular fashion.
- Security – Protection from harm
Will Jesus use his blessing from God, his favor from God to protect himself from harm? No, he won’t. It’s in this moment that we see clearly that Jesus will not steer Himself away from the cross. In the third of the trials and temptations Jesus is taken to a mountain top and He sees all the splendor and glory and prestige of the Kingdoms of the world offered to Him.
- Status – Glory of the kingdoms
(If we jump to the end of Matthew’s gospel account, we see that it is already His!) “All authority on Heaven and on earth has been given to me.” But He was offered it all, right then, without going to the cross, if He will only bow down to Satan. But He won’t. Jesus goes through the wilderness and suffers with us and for us.
How about you and me? How do I do in the wilderness? Do I respond by feeding on the word of God as Jesus did? In the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains there is a stopping place with comment cards for the public to fill out and return to the Parks and Recreation Dept. Journalist Tom Wharton shares some actual comments collected from these cards:
- The Coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
- Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
- A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please contact me at…
- A McDonalds would be nice at the trailhead
- The places where trails do not exist are not well marked.
- There are too many rocks in the mountains
We laugh because these are ridiculous. But if we could open our soul, and see what some of our secret comments to God would they be much less ridiculous?
Our Wilderness Comments:
- God, I don’t have anything to wear
- God if I only had a little more…
- God, I am so busy.
- God, I’ll help that person as long as I don’t have to go out of my way.
- God, I’ll do the right thing at work as long as it doesn’t interfere with the advancement of my career
- God, help me to look good in the eyes of others
My wilderness journey is too often filled with complaints. Yet, the son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. (Matt 20:28) In other words, true success, true joy, true satisfaction, true purpose, and our true identity is not in having all of our perceived needs met, or in having all of our desires fulfilled or wishes granted. What life is for is about giving ourselves away– in self-sacrificial and life-generating love! We saw examples of this recently plucked from some other headlines in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey in Texas.
Chick-Filet store manager Jeffrey Urban in Houston came in to the store to assess the damage after Harvey passed through. He was there to prepare for re-opening, check inventory, etc. The store owner told him not to answer the phone because you don’t want to confuse people as if they were open but with no food available. But the phone was ringing again and again, and Jeffrey glanced over at the caller I.D. and he noticed that it was J.C. and Karen Spencer who were calling. They were regulars and senior citizens, and he knew them and wanting to know if they were Ok Jeffrey answered the phone. And sure enough J.C. was on the other end of the phone and said he would like nothing more than his daily grilled burrito with extra eggs, (which is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy…) and J.C. also said that he would like to have with that order a boat if at all possible because the waters were flooding their home!
A couple of hours later, (because Jeffrey called the store owner Cindy Smith and her husband, and he had a boat and a jet ski), they showed up at the Spencer’s home to rescue them and deliver a #3 to go! Showing up when it really counted – because we are living for more. A young pastor named Aric came back to his flooded house and sat down at the piano to play music in the midst of a flood. The video that came out of the flood waters went viral. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f92xyd2wKc
But even more captivating than beautiful sounds coming from a piano sitting in water is what Aric posted with his video, he said: “I think it is all finally sinking in a little. What we used to have going as a city is gone. I really think God is going to do something completely new here. I am excited to see the new beauty in the suffering.” – Aric Harding
And then he quoted in his post the passage from Romans 8:19-24
19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.)
Does this sound like a prosperity gospel to you? That we, even those who experience the first fruit of God’s glory and power, that we join creation in a fallen world with the tears and the groaning because not all things are well… But we trust that God is at work to renew all things!
And finally out of this storm comes the story of 41 year old Colette Sulcer and her 3 year old daughter, Jordon. From Beaumont TX they fled, trying to escape the flooding by car.
Bottom of Form When Sulcer and her daughter exited the stalled vehicle, they were swept a half mile away from the car. When officers pulled them to safety, Sulcer was unresponsive and her toddler was suffering from hypothermia. CPR was performed and both the mother and daughter were rushed to a waiting ambulance. But Colette didn’t make it, and The New York Times put it like this, “Even as she succumbed to the floodwaters, she never let go of her daughter.” ‘Greater love has no man than this, to lay down your life for his friends.’ Little Jordon’s middle name is Grace… Jordon Grace. And she will be marked forever by the self-sacrificial love of a faithful parent.
So no, we don’t preach a health and wealth gospel. We believe in a gospel where the son of man came to serve and to offer his life in exchange for ours. Your middle name and my middle name is Grace. Because of what God has done for us… what we could not do for ourselves. And so we believe that Jesus suffered, and that he was crucified, and that he died – and that he was resurrected! He came to give us life, and to show us what this life is for. It’s all too easy to take pot shots at Joel Osteen, but much harder to see where the fault line of a shallow theology exists within my own heart and yours. Jesus suffers with us, He suffered for us. And so we don’t walk complaining through the wilderness.
Prayer: Lord God we too often live for comfort, status, and security when you have called us to live for more. Give us a vision for a fullness of your gospel, that great rescuing mission that shows up in the midst of the cries, in the midst of the crisis. Thank you for beauty that comes from ashes, and the music that plays even through the loss. Help us not squander the stewardship of what you have done for us and to walk faithfully by your power, out of self-sacrificial love. In the name of the father, Son, and Holy Spirit – AMEN.