Holding on to Truth in a Post-Truth World

 

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (Read the whole passage)

Have you ever been asked by a curious family member or friend, or even skeptical  or non-believing co-worker or neighbour why you show up here on Sunday morning? Have you ever been challenged to explain by a person who simply cannot and will not understand why you believe the outrageous claims about God that we Christians make? Maybe they were inviting you away for the weekend, or to play golf on Sunday morning, or out for Sunday brunch and you had to explain that you could not come along or it would have be later on in the day because you go to church. Maybe you were talking to some friends having a conversation over coffee when the topic of religion came up and you simply said nothing, because nothing seemed better than embarrassing yourself.

Most of us have probably experienced, at some point in our lives, that sheepish feeling of not knowing what to say or do when confronted with the challenge to explain why we believe in these things that we cannot explain or prove. Maybe you tried to give faith an explanation that you thought made sense or that seemed reasonable, but in the end all that came out is something like, “I can’t explain it, but I just know that its true somehow”. Reasons and explanations seem to only fall flat in the face of unflinching skepticism…At least this foolishness of faith can be somewhat justified because it is only a couple hours each week on Sunday mornings when the rest of the world is sleeping in anyways. Yet, at the same time the power of coming to this place is something that wish we could share, instead of humming and hawing when someone asks us what we do on Sunday mornings.

Unfortunately, the problem and the foolishness of the Gospel is that it does not jive with all the competing truths out there. It doesn’t make sense that God who created the universe would come to live with us as a peasant carpenter in the backwater of the known world two thousand years ago. It doesn’t make any more sense that God would willingly die at the hands of the people God created. And the thing that makes the least sense of all is that once creation had clearly done its best to finally get rid of Jesus by crucifying him on the cross, he comes back three days later.

Believing in the truth of God found in Jesus Christ is a minority opinion these days. Today in Canada there are more people sleeping in on Sunday morning than are showing up to church. This is not of course surprising in our post-truth world with alternative facts. We at one time are free to believe any crazy story we come across, while being skeptical of everything we hear. Evidence and facts are easily changed. Holding to truth to like the truth of Jesus’ work of saving dead sinners by making us alive is a fools endeavour.  There are many other truths that could portray us in a better light and give us a whole lot more power and importance.

And yet here in the foolish Church we have been proclaiming for weeks now the second coming of God in Christ during Advent, the birth of the divine Christ over Christmas, the revelation of Christ the Savior on Epiphany and soon we will proclaim the death of Christ the King on Good Friday. We have been singing about how Jesus is God, and we have been reading about how God has come in flesh and we have been praying about God working in ways that we cannot understand…. Yet, with all the ways we tell the story, it seems the Church doesn’t take the time to stop and ask, “Does this make sense?”

In perhaps one of the few places in scripture that might be considered an attempt to answer the skeptical question of “Does this make sense?” Paul writes, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. Paul seems to be saying that this whole faith thing does not make any sense… except by faith. Only by experiencing of the power of God is our willingness to believe in this foolish proposition of the cross possible.

Look no further than what Jesus does today. As if Jesus is trying to show us the foolishness in action he preaches a sermon on a mountain to his disciples and crowds arounds, saying that things we would call curses are actually blessings.

And Paul takes the foolishness of faith even further. He says that we, the ones who are called by this foolish God to spread the gospel… he says that we are not wise, we are not powerful and we are not noble. We not only believe in a foolish God, but this foolish God has chosen us to be followers… a ridiculous choice.

But it is this ridiculousness that catches our attention. Its maybe even this ridiculousness that makes us show up to church on Sunday morning when most others are getting an extra sleep in day each week. This ridiculousness draws us here despite everything so that at least for a couple hours we can hear again the foolish story of God’s love for us.

In our world where truth is whatever we decide we want it to be… as people of faith we hold to a truth that roots us in a God who is not made in our image but we in God’s. And this God continues holding to the same story, even when it sounds foolish and silly. And because of that, we come here and we share with each other this ridiculous story about a peasant carpenter turned wandering homeless preacher. This story that tells us of a God who does everything backwards to the way we are told to do it. And the more we hear God’s story, the more it starts to break down and strip away all the fake truths and alternative truths of our world. And this foolish truth at odds with all the other truths start to root and ground us in our post-truth world. The Gospel gives us something to hold on to, when there doesn’t seem to be anything else. This story of radical grace and radical love from God that begins with the call to follow of a wandering preacher tells us that God is doing things that don’t make sense to rest of the world. Instead of offering proof, God offers love. Instead of offering explanation, God offers freedom. Instead of answering our questions, God invites us to follow.

Jesus calls us not only to set aside wisdom and power, but to set aside our mistrust, our cynicism, and reluctance to believe any so-called truth. And Jesus does it by simply saying, as we heard two weeks ago, “Come and See” and last week by saying “Follow Me, I will make you fishers of men”. This is the power of the Gospel that Paul was talking about. The power to turn our worlds inside out with a few simple words. This power allows us to trust in possibilities and opportunities of God’s working in the world in ways we cannot know. This power challenges our desire to be our own God while at the same allowing us to let of go of the burden trying to be God.

And so when we keep coming back here on Sunday morning, where we foolishly gather to hear the call of God to a new way of being in the world. Except that the more we come to hear this story about a God who comes to be born, to live, to die and to show us new life in resurrection, the more this story starts to be the only thing that makes sense during the rest week. Yet still our answer to those skeptics who ask us, “Why do you bother with that faith thing?” is the same. “We don’t know why, it just makes sense somehow”. And maybe this is why Paul doesn’t explain it to us but reminds us that the Gospel will only ever sound like foolishness. And maybe this is why God doesn’t offer any spin or alternative facts, because it is an unchanging foolishness of the call to “Come and see”, to “Follow me”, its in the foolishness of God’s unexplainable love, that truth is found.

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We have no idea what we are looking for

John 1:29-42

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, begins a time of the church year that is ambiguous and vague. We have just come from Advent, Christmas and the Day of Epiphany… 3 seasons that tell us stories of Christ’s birth and early years. A then the Baptism of Jesus came last week as an introduction to his ministry. But now we enter into 6 weeks of time in-between time. Christmas and Epiphany are over,  but Lent has yet to begin. And so we are left with this season of green time where we hear stories related to Jesus’ ministry and teachings like the ones in that long season of green that starts after Easter and Pentecost, yet the stories are not fully devoted to ministry and preaching. And the stories of Jesus that we hear are also connected to the revelation of Epiphany ad they show us who Jesus is by revealing his true identity as God’s Messiah sent to save, but they are also not Epiphany stories proper.

And so in this in-between time, we receive our first in-between story.

We take up with John the Baptist again, who showed up a couple times in Advent, and now again last week. John, his disciples and the crowds are loitering at the river, when Jesus comes along. This sounds like the baptism from last week, but there is no mention of Jesus’ baptism today. Instead, this sounds more like the background to the baptism, a behind-the-scenes look at Jesus and the disciples loitering around the river Jordan.

As John is preaching, once John sees Jesus come along, his points out who Jesus is. The Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world. The crowds are there to hear John preach, but he points them to Jesus instead.

But people don’t seem to be picking up what John is saying and they continue doing what they were doing. So the next day, when the same thing happens again, John has to point out Jesus again. As Jesus walks by John and John’s disciples, John reminds all who can hear, that this is again is the Lamb of God, the Messiah. But this time instead of every going back to their business, two disciples stop and decide to check Jesus out.

We can almost imagine the scene. There is John preaching near the river, while Jesus wanders about the crowds almost unnoticed. Maybe he is looking for someone, for people who will show the tiniest sign of recognition.

Andrew and Simon finally step forward and when Jesus seems them he asks a question.

“What are you looking for?”

Andrew and Simon seem baffled by this question. The do not have an answer.

But surely they aren’t the only ones. Maybe Jesus has been asking people for days.

“What are you looking for?”

Coming from Jesus, this question surely has the tinge of a deeper meaning hinted at. You can imagine that every time Jesus has asked someone till now all he has gotten is someone shaking their head staring and the ground or pretending like he is invisible.

So perhaps we should consider just who is asking this question. Jesus, the one who John has proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God is asking. Jesus, the one who we believe to be God, the second person of the Trinity is asking. And where one person is, so the other two are also. The God and King of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is asking, “What are you looking for?” So, what would there be to answer? Happiness and Wealth? Love and family? A Long life? Peace in a violent and sinful world? Food for starving children? Cures for cancer and heart disease? An upgrade on your room in heaven?

Well, the disciples don’t ask for any of those things. Rather, they ask a question of their own. But not a brilliant question that provides food for thought. Something mundane, maybe even ridiculous. Something that if we were asked in our modern way of speaking might sound like, “So, uh, where are you staying?”

But at least Andrew and Simon recognized that answering Jesus, saying anything at all was important. They saw something when John told them who Jesus was, and they have the vaguest sense again that responding in some way to Jesus is important.

Despite 2000 years of history before us, and a much better idea of just who Jesus is, I doubt we would answer that question much better. For all of our church buildings and committees, our Christian nations and empires, our indoctrination in the faith…

If Jesus were to show up and ask us, ‘What are you looking for?”

We would probably ask if he wanted to serve on church council or if he has a mailbox number for offering envelopes.

The thing is, we just don’t know. We don’t know what we want when it comes to faith and meaning. We don’t know what we are looking for.

For whatever reason, the disciple’s answer Jesus’ question with their own strange question. But they are no less clueless than we are.

All Advent we waited for Messiah. At Christmas we rejoiced at Messiah’s coming. In Epiphany the Messiah, the Christ, God in flesh was revealed to us. But now that Messiah is here, we don’t really know what to do with him. Like the disciples, we find it hard to grasp the magnitude of the Messiah, of Christ being with us, here and now. It is one thing for the long awaited guest of honour to arrive, but is another to know what to do once the dinner party is over and the guest is still hanging around.

Even more so, it hard for us to know what to do with God in our lives. Hard to know what this faith business means on Monday morning to Saturday night. What does that mean for us? What do we say? Where do we go? How do we respond?

If John the Baptist had heard the disciples answer to Jesus’ question he might have shamed them not getting it. But that is not Jesus’ way. Instead of correcting or condemning, Jesus gives a simple answer. “Come and See”.

Come and See.

Jesus gives an invitation that is more than invitation. Instead of calling from the pulpit or the river as John is, Jesus comes near, he looks the disciples and us in the eye. Jesus does this in order to pull us into the story of Messiah, Jesus opens our eyes to the new thing that God is doing in our world, in our lives.

Jesus is NOT looking for us to know the answer to his question. Jesus knows that we haven’t faintest idea of what we are looking for. Jesus knows that we are wondering life, about faith and meaning, about suffering death, about hope in the hopeless, about finding the lost, about light in the darkness. We are wondering about the Messiah. Jesus knows that we are full of questions, not answers.

But Jesus does not condemn us for not knowing what to do with Messiah. Instead he offers 3 gracious words, words that grab and hold us. Come. Come, with me and I will go with you in this life. They are words that show us God. See. See, here I AM, here the God of all things is here, close and near with you.

Come and See.

Come and See.

Jesus doesn’t expect to answer his question, he answer it for us.

“What are you looking for?”

“Come and See” Jesus says.

Come and See the Messiah, the God made flesh come to dwell among us. The God who comes to look us in the eye, and take our hand in his. The Messiah who doesn’t just come for Christmas dinner and then goes home, but who has come for good into our world, and into our messy lives. Messiah, the Lamb of God is revealed by getting down into our confused and messy lives with us, knowing that we don’t know what we are looking for.

Because the Messiah knows what or who he is looking for… Messiah is looking for, and today, has found us.

Come and See, Jesus says, come and see that I have found you.


*Image credit: http://www.northwestchurchofchrist.org/come-and-see

Floating Down the River with Jesus

Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Sermon

Imagine wading knee deep into the water. The water swirls around our feet. It is cool, and refreshing. The movement is gentle and easy. It feels good to be in the water.

We have been floating down the river for a while now. Each year, we hop into the boat together and start the trip all over again in Advent. We float towards Christmas and through Epiphany. It is a journey that is familiar yet also new each time we take it. It is a Journey that begins with end times, that stops to hear John’s sermons and questions. Then it makes its way, with Mary and Joseph to the stable manger. The journey flees with the Holy Family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous actions, and we also come with the Magi to worship this baby revealed as God.

Today we pick up speed and fast forward 30 years, we float down the river Jordan where Jesus is baptized by John. Jesus’ baptism is an unusual story, an uncomfortable scene for Christians. Why does Jesus need to be baptized? For forgiveness of sins? Repentance? What does it say about John as he baptizes instead of being baptized? In many ways the story of Jesus’ baptism invites more questions as we hear it again.

In Advent, we heard John’s preaching on the river bank. His stiff condemnation of the crowds and his warnings of the Messiah. This time, when Jesus shows up, John seems very different. The confidence and boldness are gone. He is indecisive and questioning. Jesus insists on being baptized. And so John relents, without a fight. This doesn’t sound like the John of a few weeks ago.

But John and the crowds do not see what is going on. They are hoping for a powerful Messiah. A warrior who will end injustice and who will remove foreign powers from control in Israel, but Jesus is not those things. It is the beginning of the problems that John, the disciples, the crowds, the Pharisees, scribes and temple authorities will have with Jesus. Some will want an ally, some will want a powerful warlord, some will want Jesus to go away. But Jesus simply refuses to fit their categories. Jesus is going to show us God in ways that don’t see.. that we can’t see… that we refuse to see.

Remember the feeling of standing in the water, feeling the cool fresh flow around our legs? Well the further we float, the more the current picks up. The gentleness is replaced by force and weight. The water doesn’t smoothly pass by. It pushes and grabs, it pulls and drags. The cool gentle stream that cooled our feet now pulls us in and drag us along. The power of the river is more than we could have ever imagined.

Like the crowds who gathered along the banks of the Jordan, we gather to wait also. We are waiting for the world to get better. But it doesn’t.

As we tried to pause and rest over Christmas, Life and Death soldiered on in the world. There were still tragedies, shootings, war and illness. The news of violence still bombarded us from our newspapers, radios and TVs.

The world hasn’t changed all that much since John and Jesus met in the river. Sure, we drive cars, live in heated houses and can talk to anyone on the other side of the planet instantly. But, like the crowds who stood listening to John, our world still is filled with violence and death. More shootings in the news, violence in Turkey and Syria, scandal among political leaders.

The weight of all of this threatens to drown us in the inability to care any more. We hear the reports, read the news articles and it is too much to take, too much to grieve for. Not only is it hard to see what is going on as Jesus is baptized by John, it is hard to see where God is at all.

Today, it might feel like the cool refreshing water of the river has pulled us in and dragged us under. The current is churning and spins us about. We bounce in all directions, sputtering for air, aimed over the cliff, over the waterfall.

This is not what the river journey begun in Advent is supposed to be like.

This is not what God is supposed to allow to happen in the world.

We are not supposed to drown in the waters of grief and apathy!

(Pause)

And a voice pierces the chaos.

“You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased”.

Words of promise, words of hope.

As John dunks Jesus down into and then brings him up out of the water, as breath and air flood back into empty lungs, God speaks. God speaks in a way that hasn’t been heard since the beginning of creation. God speaks and the world is transformed.

We tumble over the waterfall, we plunge into the deep pool at the bottom. We are squeezed and crushed under the weight, we can’t tell which direction is up. Death under the waters seems imminent.

And then all of a sudden, while we are tossed about in the churn, not knowing which direction is up or down, we pop up and out of the water. The rushes back into our lungs. This is where God’s action begins. In drowning, in death. This is as strange a place as we can imagine God to be working. And yet, God speaks as Jesus comes out of the water “You are my beloved children and with you I am well pleased”. What a weird and wonderful God who can push us below the surface in order to make us His own. In order to give us new names as child of God, as Christian, as beloved.

This is why John doesn’t know what is going on when Jesus asks to be baptized. This is why we cannot see God working in the world. It is too radical, too unbelievable.

And yet, this is promise that was made to us in the waters of Baptism, and it is the promise that is renewed each day and remembered each time we witness another child being drowned AND raised in these waters of life. It is a promise made that in the place we lease expect it, in death God is showing us something new, something life filled, something surprising. Something that can come only from a God like ours.

A God who comes into the world as baby born to a unwed teenage mother,

a God who lives a poor carpenter in 1st century Israel,

a God who died on a Roman cross as a common criminal,

a God who was raised from the dead and who in turn calls us to be drowned and then raised,

New life can only come from a God who does not act like we believe God should.

The radical God of water and Baptism comes to us in ways that are so unimaginable and so crazy, that we can hardly make them out. The journey that God is promises is not easy or gentle. The results of God’s work in the world is rarely what we imagine or hope for. Yet, as this unexpected God meets us in our world, and on our terms, we cannot help but be drawn in to this unexpected God whose story has become our story. Whose story we tell over and over again.

As we float down the river of Advent and Christmas, as we pass by Jesus and John in the river, we see again and anew the marvel of God’s love for us. We see a God who not only pushes us below the water to die, but who pulls us out again so that we may rise into new life. And today, we hear a God who speaks through chaos

“You are my beloved Children. With you I am well pleased.”

Amen.

A lament for 2016 and hope for 2017

Matthew 2:13–23

16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

(read the whole passage)

It’s still Christmas, the 8th day. Yet, the magic of the season that we normally carry with us through New Year’s never really landed for us this year. The tragic stories of this past year kept coming at us, even on Christmas Day. More celebrity deaths, more conflict around the globe, more political messes. A fragile ceasefire is finally holding in Syria on the eve of 2017.

And so with the hopes that this year might be different, that a new and different number on the end of our dates will bring something different to the world.

So it can feel like an ominous sign when Matthew gives us the darkest of Christmas stories today, the commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem, is not an easy story to hear. Our hearts can ache simply hearing about the death of children, we just know, somewhere deep inside of us, that this is unbearably sad. There is no need to compare it to the tragedies of human history that have followed since. We know what the slaughter of children was like for that town of Bethlehem, because it has not stopped. Children die each day, all over the world, of hunger, war, disease and poverty. This is not just an entire community in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah.

Today, on the 8th Day of Christmas, Jeremiah speaks for us all:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s words first expressed the grief of the people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. They are words that the people of Bethlehem would have known. But they now carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The words that have been stamped upon the heats of parents again and again through time. Last year it was the parents of Aleppo, the mothers whose babies suffer from Zika, mothers whose grief is too much to bear even when their daughter is 60 years old and has lived a life in the Hollywood spotlight.

The darkness is still lingering in our world.

Yet….

Yet….

Yet… Jeremiah’s words do not go unheard. The weeping of Rachel and of all the mothers of Israel is not ignored. God speaks to this suffering. God speaks to the people that Jeremiah first wrote to, God speaks to the mothers of Behtlehem and God speaks to all who know tragedy, pain and loss.

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.

17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.

God has not forgotten the cries of his people, and God’s messiah, Christ has come into the world for a purpose.

The newborn Messiah does not escape to Egypt. Instead, the Messiah travels the path of his people. The Messiah goes down the roads they have traveled and gathers his people along the way.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and back to the promised land.

And just as the exiles of Jeremiah’s day returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the Messiah is also on his way to Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon are just the beginning of the Messiah’s journey and the Messiah becomes Israel’s journey.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is truly only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  The destination of Messiah, from the moment he laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah is going to the land of the dead.

This is the hope, this is the promise that the Lord speaks to the people of Israel. This is the promise that is beneath the star, that is born into the stable, that is in the little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise is not just a baby, but a baby that will die. But not just die, but that will rise again. But that will not just rise again, but who will bring us back from the land of the enemy, who will call us to rise from our graves too.

Today is the first day of a new year, hopefully a different year after the difficulties of the last one. Matthew’s Christmas story is an ominous beginning. And while we may have hope for 2017, things look bleak. The world seems to be headed into a period of darkness, or put another away, the relative stability of past decades may be something we are leaving behind.

And still, it in to this troubled world that God comes to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness. 

17 there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
   your children shall come back to their own country.

Christ, the Baby Messiah, born in a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos from the despair of grief and loss, from tombs where we do not belong. And Christ shall bring us back to our home, back to the love God.

This is is the promise of Christ’s coming. This is the Hope that the Angels proclaimed. This is the Good News of Great Joy that was given to the Shepherds, and that has been passed on to us this day.