You’ve Been Served!

It will almost certainly be something else next week, but this week it has been the toy vacuum cleaner.
 
Just about a foot and half tall, it has a clear canister that spins confetti around and it sounds like the real thing.
 
If our son has it, our daughter wants in. If our daughter is playing with it, our son must have his turn.
 
She can be playing happily in the next room until she hears him turn it on and the next thing we hear is:
 
Mama!! Samuel has my vacuum cleaner!!
 
What do you do when 2 people want the same thing…or two people want different outcomes to the same situation?
 
When you’re small you can call mama. When you get older – if the two people are intractable enough and if you’ve exhausted every other option – you might take the matter to court.
 
You might find yourself standing in front of the judge (and perhaps the jury), expecting (or dreading) that justice will be handed down.
 
The Prophet Micah invites us into a courtroom this morning and as the action unfolds we find: it supersedes any courtroom drama on TV.
 
the Creator of the World, the God of Israel is taking his own people to court.
 
We can almost hear the bailiff say: All Rise! The Honorable God of Israel presiding…he has been wronged and he wants justice.
 
God accuses his people, saying:
 
You have loved money so much that you have treated your neighbors terribly, you have coveted one another’s things, you have not looked our for the weakest and poorest among you in the community…and you are a people whose leaders take bribes so that the poor and their needs are overlooked.
 
God accuses his own people, Micah tells us, In the grand courtroom of his creation. God looks at the mountains, the hills and the foundations of the earth, (who are serving as the jury as Micah tells us) and asks them to consider his arguments.
 
God looks at his people Israel and begins to really make his case:
 
Why would you betray me like this? What have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Has it been all my fault?
 
It’s my fault isn’t it?… I know why you’ve done this: its because I saw you were slaves in Egypt, working every waking hour out in the sun making bricks for pharaohs pyramids and I sent Moses to lead you out of Egypt through the wilderness to your freedom…
 
It’s my fault isn’t it…you must have behaved this way because the King of Moab tried to curse you but I spoke to the Prophet Balaam and told him to bless you because I love you…
 
It must be my fault because at Gilgal I lead you out of the wilderness at into the Promised Land where you could finally rest, and settle your families, and have a home.
 
Did you know God loves sarcasm?
 
God rests his case.
 
The evidence is in. Its open and shut.
 
And in the end, Israel comes to her senses…she admits her guilt.
 
But here’s the surprise verdict:
 
God doesn’t desire the people to be punished.
 
All God wants…all God has ever wanted… is for this people to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him.
 
God wants the people to do what is right.
 
God wants his people to speak to one another in ways which build one another up, to share what they have to those who are in need, to renounce untruth and lies, to speak up for those who are taken advantage of and have no voice.
 
God wants his people to take care of the refugee, the orphan, the widow, and those traveling far from home.
 
God’s people are guilty of ignoring God’s desires for those things and deserve to be locked away or worse, but Instead God sends them to go free…
 
BUT wants his people to live differently now…to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him.
 
When I was a freshman in high school, some buddies and I camped out one night in our neighborhood. We were tent camping in a neighbor’s backyard and some of us decided to walk around the neighborhood. Before we knew it some of the guys in the group starting ripping the metal flags off of mailboxes, and before it was all over an entire mailbox was pulled out of the ground.
 
That fall night a blurry memory which I have tried to forget, but the best I remember some of us we’re cautioning others about the stupidity of what was happening. In the end, regretfully, the awful truth is we were all involved.
 
The next day when our brilliant parents put all the evidence together: that is, that same night their 15 year-old boys camped out, vandalism occurred at a half dozen houses in a quarter mile radius all around them…somehow, we were surprised.
 
Our parents made us walk around to each house we had vandalized, not at night this time but in the broad daylight, ring the doorbell with a pit in our stomach and tell our neighbors what we had done.
 
By this time we knew that Mailboxes are federal property, that it is a federal crime to vandalize them, and that violators can be fined up to $250,000, or imprisoned for up to three years, for each act of vandalism.
 
I didn’t want to do the math then, and I still don’t.
 
To a person, our neighbors told us they were disappointed in us…AND to a person our neighbors told us that they forgave us.
 
We were made to offer them money to fix their damaged property…to a person, our neighbors refused.
 
I couldn’t believe it then, and now, twenty years later, as I reflect of the headache of trying to fix a mailbox or go to the trouble of buying and putting up a whole new mailbox when there are dozens of other, actually-important tasks in a day to do, I am still overwhelmed…
 
I have made many, many mistakes since that night when I was 15, but I can say I have never again vandalized anything.
 
Being forgiven made an impression on me. I carry the experience with me.
 
This morning we stood before God and confessed that we are guilty.
 
We have not loved God with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
 
We have actively hurt others, by what we’ve said and done, and sometimes we have hurt others by not saying anything and not standing up for them when we should have.
 
We are broken and sinful as individuals and as a society – evidenced in the way we steal our sister’s vacuum cleaner and take our brother to court rather than figure a way to work it out.
 
This morning we confessed we are guilty in a room that looks a lot like a courtroom.
 
In fact, the church architecture we still use today is modeled on the Roman Basilica of 1500 years ago, which was a structure used for the court of law…
 
The connection is clear…
 
In the same way a judge stands in front of the person on trial in court and pronounces their punishment or their freedom…so here in this place the pastor stands in front of those on trial and pronounces God’s decision.
 
I was talking with a woman from the congregation this past week who said she has been so anxious the last couple months that she hasn’t been able to sleep. I asked why and she told me it was because she was serving jury duty. The case, she said, involved a police officer and two young men the officer shot, and the jury’s job was to find out if the police officer had just cause to fire his weapon.
 
This woman from our congregation said, “On the jury we talked about it…and we all wanted to make the right decision. We all wanted to do what was right. I haven’t been able to sleep because these are REAL PEOPLES LIVES at stake.”
 
When we confess our sins to God our life is at stake.
 
Our confession is not just a convenient way to start a worship service. We come to acknowledge we have been wrong, we have hurt others, we hurt ourselves, and we deserve punishment.
 
Instead we hear:
 
“I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins” … because Almighty God, in his mercy, has given his Son to die for us.
 
The message of the cross is that Jesus takes our place.
 
We stand to be sentenced. The mountains and hills of creation are about to pronounce us guilty and Jesus comes to stand in for us and take our guilt so that we walk away free…
 
This seems like foolishness to the world, Paul says, because the world likes people who are guilty to be punished.
 
But God doesn’t want to punish us… in the same way no Mama called to arbitrate between her children wants to punish anyone…she just wants her children to take care of one another…
 
All God wants…all God has ever wanted… is for this people to be free to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him.
 
On the cross, God makes it possible.
 
On the cross, God becomes poor in spirit, so that we receive the Kingdom.
 
On the cross, God mourns, so that we will be comforted.
 
On the cross, God comes to make peace with us.
 
The truth is: we spend so much of our lives worrying about what other people think of us.
 
What do my friends think of me?
What do my co-workers think of me?
What do people who see me, or hear me speak, think of me?
 
When the only person whose judgement matters is God.
 
And God, because of Jesus, judges us as forgiven, loved, free.
 
The evidence is in. Its an open and shut case. Thanks be to God.

Desire

“What are you looking for?”

 

It’s not a sermon.  It’s not a thesis on the meaning of God.  It’s just a simple question.  And these are the very first words from Jesus’ lips in the gospel according to John.

 

“What are you looking for?  What do you want?  What do you desire?”

 

With these words, Jesus shows that he has his finger on the pulse.  He understands the core of what it means to be human, because being human is about desire.

 

Originally, Jesus asked the question to two of John’s disciples.  They’re out walking with John when John points to Jesus and says, “LOOK! here is the Lamb of God who take away the sin of the world!”

 

The two disciples hear this and leave John to follow Jesus.  They come up to him but before they can speak, Jesus turns and asks them: “What are you looking for?  What do you desire?”

 

In religious circles, we sometimes think of desire with some uneasiness.  We might not talk about desire much because our first thought may be of sexual desire, which we often don’t want to talk about, even though it is how God has designed two people to make a third person.

 

Or maybe we are uncomfortable with desire because we think about desire in terms of wanting material possessions.  We might feel guilty for desiring these things.  I sometimes desire a $10,000 guitar, but that’s not the most faithful use of the resources entrusted to me.  SO maybe I get to the place where I feel uncomfortable talking about any kind of material desire, but a person must desire and get for themselves food, clothing, a place to live, and all the rest that makes for a healthy life!

 

Desire can get a bad rap.

 

But as Margaret Silf says in her book Wise Choices,

 

We tend to think that if we desire something, it is probably something we ought not to want or to have.  But think about it: without desire we would never get up in the morning.  WE would never have ventured beyond the front door.  We never would have read a book or learned something new.  No desire means no life, no growth, no change.  Desire is what makes two people create a third person.  Desire is what makes crocuses push up through the late winter soil.  Desire is energy.  The energy of creativity, the energy of life itself.  So let’s not be too hard on desire.

 

Jesus understand the place of desire in our human experience and Jesus asks us: “What are you looking for?  What do you desire?”

 

His question isn’t surface-level.  The answer isn’t a new video game, a cooler car, or a vacation home.

 

His question is: When you think of life – of the short amount of time you have – what are you looking for out of life?

 

Do you want to serve?

 

Do you feel called to teach?

 

To heal?

 

Do you want to travel?

 

Do you want to learn?

 

If so what do you want to learn about?

 

What kind of people do you want to work with?

 

Understanding our deepest desires helps us understand who we are.

 

Understanding our deepest desires may help us understand how God is calling us.

 

I think God even communicates with us though our desires.

 

In my own life, I have felt God use my desires to help bring me closer to him.

 

After I graduated from college, I had a strong desire to help people.

 

My parents had provided for me generously throughout my life, had sent me to college and I thought about how I wanted to help others who may not have had that advantage.

 

I volunteered to serve for a year in Baltimore in a homeless shelter for men.  Some of them were veterans.  Some were living with HIV and AIDS.  I helped them by cooking for them, cleaning, making sure they were making it to their appointments with doctors and case managers, and wlaking with them through the ups and downs of their days.

 

As I became friends with them, several of them invited me to church, and I would go with them.

 

At that time in my life, I had decided I didn’t much need the church.  I had a relationship with God, I read my Bible, and I could do it on my own.

 

But I met the churches that these men were part of.  Communities who loved them, gathered around them even though it didn’t seem that many of these people were much better off, and prayed for them and with them, and I saw the church was this amazing way God is active in the word…I saw the church as God’s presence in the world.  God met me there and invited me to walk more closely with him.

 

Jesus asks all of us:  “What are you looking for?”  And then he uses your answer as an invitation to relationship.

 

Of course, if we were to turn that question on Jesus:  “What are you looking for?”  — We might wonder what he would say.

 

He would smile at us.  He might laugh!

 

He IS God’s answer to that question.

 

Jesus comes because of God’s desire for us…because of God’s desire to be in relationship with us.

 

In this passage we see there are so many ways he reaches out to us.

 

Look how many names for Jesus there are:  Jesus, which means “savior,” Son of God, Lamb of God, “Rabbi” which mean Teacher, “Messiah” which means “Annointed…”

We were talking about that this past week.  I asked if anyone had nicknames.  Paul Beauller said, his kids call him “Dad” and his grandkids call him “Granddaddy” and when he was in the Air Force he had a nickname too.

 

What was it, I asked.

 

Paul said, “Everybody called me ‘Sir’!”

 

Jesus has many names so that many can understand him.

 

What names for Jesus resonate with you?

 

“Wonderful Counselor” resonates with Ellis, who is a lawyer… easy to see why that resonates.

“Shepherd” resonates with Caroline.  Her husband was a pastor and she writes cards and letters to shut ins, calls people at home, and tends the flocks…it’s easy to see why “shepherd” resonates for her.

 

That Jesus is our ‘Lamb of God’ recalls the story of the Angel of Death passing over the homes of the Israelites who had followed God’s command to put the blood of an unblemished lamb on their doorposts.   All the Egyptian children were struck down, the Israelite children were spared, and Pharaoh said, “Get these people OUT of my land!”

 

Jesus saves our life.  Because of him, death cannot claim us.

 

Jesus comes to be with us.  He looks for us.  He finds us.  He remain with us and stays with us.

 

And this is not a question.