Sunday, November 29, 2015

All the Trees, Luke 21

All the Trees by C. Craig Topple
Commerce Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2015

Slide: Signs

The 1997 hit romantic comedy - fools rush in -
features Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry as two young people who meet by “fate”,
they have almost nothing in common,
and try to decide if they are meant to be together by relying on signs.
Any kind of sign, a necklace breaking, a flight delay,
a full moon..what does it all mean?  
Searching for answers a priest on the street says to no one in particular....”there are signs everywhere.”
Matthew Perry’s character engages him, “What? What was that?”
There are signs everywhere, he says, then he points a billboard sign...

“Signs signs everywhere there’re signs blocking up the scenery breaking my mind,
do this don’t do that can’t you read the signs!?”

Lots of these signs around
Well, can’t you read the signs?
Jesus says, signs, signs everywhere there’re signs…
pointing to destruction: signs in the sun, the moon (did any of you see it last night?, the stars!
On the earth there is distress among nations which is confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Sounds like global warming to me.
Sounds like Isis to me.
Sounds like Fox news, CNN, or any other 24 news channel trying to get in our heads to me!

“Shall I go on?” Jesus asks: More signs?
Look at the fig tree.
Look at all the trees ...and their leaves....

Is Jesus saying we need to be able to read signs from nature better?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Belong, John 18:33-37

Commerce Presbyterian Church
November 22, 2015,
File:Christ the King Statue 1.
Slide: Christ the King Sunday

“That’s far out, dude! “
“Woah, that’s out of this world?”
Who says those things? (pause)

Is this kind of what Jesus is saying when he says to Pilate My kingdom is not of this world?
My kingdom is far out!
It’s out of this world!  

Today is Christ the King Sunday.
when we talk about what it means that Christ is King.

Original (3248 × 2160)Adventure Time oc- Princess
Slide: Princess Land
Is This when we play like my daughters love to play, magical kingdom, mostly it is princeses,
not too many princes around, yet,
Sometimes Mommy is the Queen.
And on occasion I’m the King, but that doesn’t mean I have any power.
Brinca, our dog is usually the servant, but I will fill that role sometimes too.  

That is about as close I get these days to experiencing any kind of monarchy.

Yet, here we are, affirming Christ the King
Thorns - crown detail.jpg
Slide: What type of King

If Christ is King then he has a kingdom,
he has subjects or followers - those who live according to his rule.

What does it mean to affirm Jesus king of our world?

It’s more than saying, “I believe in Jesus,” but I can still do whatever I want.
It’s more like, “I am a subject of Jesus and I seek to do what he wants.”
Iwe are not in control, Jesus is.
We do not determine how to govern, Jesus does.

doesn’t that sound fun?

Sounds a bit threatening:
I mean, Zia was playing this game with play-doe with her mommy and wanted her to do something...She began to assert her will,
“Mommy, I am the boss of you!  Do what I say!”

Is that how Jesus rules?

What happens if we don’t subject ourselves to Jesus?
When Trasie didn’t do what Zia wanted, Zia began to whine and cry.
does Jesus whine and cry when we don’t submit to his rule?
[whining]Come on Commerce!

Or, more menacing:
What happened back in the day when subjects of the king didn’t do what he said?
“off with their heads!”

What kind of King is Jesus?

What do we know about Jesus as king?

  • Jesus was not into forcing people to come along with him, it was always an invitation.
  • Jesus was not into threatening people into subjugation, those he seemed to challenge most, were leaders, people in power, who were oppressing the most vulnerable of society.
those who were ruling unjustly.

And those leaders didn’t like what Jesus was about,
so here is Jesus, this king--on trial.
Slide: Jesus before Pilate
beaten up, abandoned, his crown of thorns on his head--standing before a powerful ruler for the state --Pilate.  
Is this your king? Is he mine? he dejected? depressed? hopeless? he defiant, bold, resilient?

“They say you are a this true?” Pilate asks, then clarifies a bit,
“Even if you were a king, certainly, you would not be ruling over me.”
...I am not of your nation, not of your people.  
I submit to a different set of laws and rules, says Pilate.

But, Jesus changes the dynamic.  
Pilate thinks of the way earthy rule works.  
A particular person as king of a specific people in a specific region.
But Jesus expands this vision--my kingdom is not of this world--it’s far out!   

My kingdom consists of people from every tribe and tongue
You could be part of this kingdom,

My kingdom... is out of this world,

Really, there are many aspects of how Jesus rules different from the earthy rule we are most accustomed to.
You can probably name more ways than I can.
But, I want to focus on one way in which Jesus’ rule is different from earthly rule, found in this passage.  
Jesus, probably barely able to keep his feet standing there before Pilate says something remarkable; something quite particular about his kingdom…
“Were my kingdom of this world---my people, my followers, they would be fighting to keep me from being handed over...fighting to free me.  
But, my kingdom is not of this world. Therefore, they are not fighting.  

As many times as I had read this story of Jesus before pilate, I’d never really paid much attention to Jesus’ line there: My followers would fight, but my kingdom is not of this world.
What did he mean by that?

Was this comment about not fighting just in that moment--because it was necessary for him to go through this persecution and death?
Or is a general posture of those who are members of Jesus’ kingdom.  
Those who are his subjects do not fight?

Maybe it was just Jesus coming up with something to make himself look more threatening than he really was in that moment of dejection and imminent crucifixion?
Hey, Pilate, if I was from around here, my people would be doing battle with you, you’re lucky!

In Matthew it is written that when they came to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword to do battle. But, Jesus commands him to put it away.
My kingdom is not of this world.

How much does non-violence have to do with being a subject in Jesus’ kingdom?
Most kingdoms spend most of their time and resources building up armies…stock pile weapons.
what about Jesus far out kingdom?

This week in response to a question about what we should do about ISIS, I heard someone give an immediate concise response: “kill them all.”
Who was this person?
Was it said jokingly or was there an element of sincerity?
Was it a male or a female?
Was it an older person or a younger person?
Did this person hold a master’s degree or didn't hold high school diploma?

More importantly, was it someone who claims to a be a Christian or someone of a different religion or no religion at all?
Kill them all.
Was it you? Was it me?

“My followers would be fighting to preserve me, but my kingdom is not of this world.”

When you feel threatened, or someone seeks to do you harm, what is your natural response?

In response to the terrible attacks of the twin towers on 9/11/01,
The majority of a country that claims to be followers of Jesus said, “Kill them all!”  
I was right there with then President Bush when he declared war…
14 years later that war continues...and what has come as a result?

After the tragic events in Paris less than two weeks ago,
the drum beats calling for fighting are growing louder and louder.  
For those who follow the stock market, the prices of weapons manufacturers shot up last week: (RTN, BO)

Now that the president has been given unprecedented freedom to exercise military force since 9/11, something that used to be a decision of congress;
Questions of the media to the president are:
“We have such a powerful military, we have strong allies, when are we going to kill them all!” --paraphrase of Jim Acosta’s question in Turkey press conference.

While the response of the president indicated increased military efforts to “kill them all”
No answer would satisfy that kind of blood thirst.

What kind of response are you hoping for?

It’s easy to fall in ranks when members of your tribe and nation are shouting louder and louder to resort to violence.
Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald observed:
These are “potent instincts in human nature—our tribalistic instinct, our desire for vengeance, our desire to otherize people and then destroy them. When you see carnage in Paris—I’m sure it’s true for you, I know it’s true for me—all of us have that impulse to say, "The people who did this are monsters, and we want to destroy them." (Glenn Greenwald as quoted on Democracy Now! 11/19)

There is potential aggression in all of us when we feel threatened or scared; to defend ourselves or defend that which we think is not being defended properly, and to prevent it from happening to us...even if it means keeping vulnerable refugees out

as I stand before you who profess Jesus and Lord on this Christ the King Sunday to preach, I have to ask: “are we subject to a different kind of rule?

My followers would fight to defend, to preserve, to protect, but my kingdom is not of this world.

Slide Jesus before Pilate (b)
Jesus says something else remarkable in this moment before Pilate:
“for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

A wonderful reminder, if anything I ever say from the pulpit or anywhere else doesn’t sound true, spend time with it, search your heart, listen not for my voice but for the voice of the one who came into the world to testify to the truth.

Many voices cry out to influence:

Listen for truth:

And does the voice of Jesus sound like truth when he said:  

Turn the other cheek,
Pray for your enemies.
Love your enemies.
Do not worry.
Do not fear,
Forgive, not seven times, but 70x7 times

Those are the orders of this commander named Jesus.

Over this past summer, a young man set foot in a church in Charleston, and after sitting with those people for over an hour opened fire and killed many.

As threatened as many of us may have felt in that moment:
There weren’t many who cried out for vengeance, “Kill them all”. Maybe it was too close to home
Who would the “them all” be in that instance?
Who is the “them all” in any instance?

In response to the Charleston attacks, people across the country marveled at how the victims of that tragedy were so quick to forgive the assailant.
“We have no room for hate.
I forgive you.” declared one relative of a victim to the assailant:

Another, the daughter of Ethel Lance, said,  “I forgive you...You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. [God] have mercy on your soul.” (Quoted from Washington Post, “I Forgive You,” by Mark Berman)

My kingdom is not of this world.  
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

I want to close with another image of Christ the King.
If followers of Jesus are not to be about fighting, and seeking revenge, what are they supposed to be about?

In the gospel of Matthew it is written:
The Son of Man will come in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he will say: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."

There is a certain sense of security that comes when we follow a leader.  
There are many would-be-leaders right now hoping we will go along with them.

When I went over the sermon with Trasie she asked,
Why would we subject ourselves to Jesus rule?
It is, after all, kind of far out!
But Trasie told me, following Jesus who empowers her to forgive, who challenges her on a daily basis to seek the serve others...this gives her a real sense of security.
Security in her relationship with God.
Trusting that her King Jesus is sovereign, and can lead for her own sake and for the sake of the world.

My Kingdom is not of this world--it’s out of this world!

Being a king for Jesus means:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not count equality with God as something to be grasped,
but he emptied himself...
And took the form of a servant.

Let us pray.
Holy God, in Jesus you have revealed the truth of your kingdom…
You call us and call us to follow, but it is not an easy path.
Your call to forgive, goes against our tendencies to fight back when we are threatened or hurt.
Your call to be a people who serve, goes against our tendencies to take care of ourselves, first.
Your call to align with Jesus and his kingdom so often doesn’t fit with the political affiliations presented to us.
Take my heart, take our hearts, and minds, and mold them into your will, for our sake, for your glory and for the sake of this broken world.
Thank you, that through your son Jesus, we can belong.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Birthpangs, 1 Samuel 1, Mark 13:1-8

Commerce Presbyterian Church
November 15, 2015
Slide: Birthpangs
Warning: this sermon is a little out there…
so I ask you put a little extra effort to staying with me if you want to follow along this morning :).

This morning’s sermon is about living with one intention: a desire to please God.
Turn to your neighbor and say: I desire to please God.

"I desire to please God. "

How many of you sitting in this room now, would have predicted the path you have taken in life that has led you to this present moment?

How many of you could have said, yes, because I made that decision to do something--
I don’t know,
go on that date--would have resulted in you being a grandmother to those people who call you grandma…
All he did was ask you on a date.
[You didn’t know years later you’d be going to a church in Commerce because you said yes! ]

For most decisions, most actions we take or actions taken by others,
I’m sure we could not have predicted where they might have led,
or what might have come as a result.

It’s kind of frightening in many ways isn’t it?
We like to think we have certain control over things, but if we think about it, we realize how little control over our lives we actually have.

Life is unpredictable.  
I don’t want to say uncertain, but rather, unpredictable.
We cannot predict what our actions may lead to.
Some people call this unintended consequences.
That even when we have the best intentions when we do something, things we cannot predict will come as a result--.

paris vigil.jpg
Slide: The tragic events in Paris weigh heavily on hearts across the world this weekend.
We try to make sense of what has lead to such insane actions and actors.  
We ask why?
Why such senseless violence?
What has stirred up such a hornets’ nest?
How do we make it stop?  
There are many theories as we seek answers and explanations.  
Whatever actions that are taken--no matter our best intention--will result in unintended consequences.
And it is very likely, Isis is an unintended consequence of previous acts of “intervention”-- intended for something else.  

Which is why I think many of us are very cautious about the use force 14 years into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

We pray for the victims.
We pray for our enemies--as Jesus tells disciples to do.