Monday, March 09, 2009

A Cruciform Life

I haven't posted anything for a while... busy...
anyway... this past week was the busiest preaching week of my life; At Ebenezer on Tuesday night, Berean on Sunday Morning and then at my friend Jonanthan's installation at First Baptist East Greenwich. So I'm gonna start posting some of them... just to get something up...

Below is my sermon for Ebenezer entitled 'A Cruciform Life'

2 Cor 5:20-6:10

Have you ever seriously considered putting into daily practice something that you've read in the Bible... like stoning someone? AJ Jacobs in his book The Year of Living Biblically does. He decides that for one year he will try to live the Bible literally, growing a beard, not cutting his hair, not wearing clothing of mixed fibers, observing sabbath... that kind of thing. One of the funniest moments of the book is when he tries to practice public stoning of people who work on the Sabbath. He doesn't really want to hurt anyone or even cause a scene... so he picks up some tiny pebbles in central park and tries to sneak up behind people and casually flick the pebble at their backs... but he keeps missing. So he changes his method and decides to subtly drop the pebble on peoples feet...this works a little better, but he immediately apologizes for stoning their shoes. Walking along he is approached by an elderly gentlemen who asks him why he is dressed so funny... he is wearing a robe and a prayer shawl and sandals. He explains that he is trying to live the bible literally and that he is looking for people to stone for breaking the sabbath or adultery or something. You want to stone adulterers. Well, they are really only pebbles he replies and he shows the man a handful. Well, I'm an adulterer... want to stone me? Yes please... that would be very helpful. Try to stone me and I'll punch you in the mouth and the scene erupts into a little stoning war as they throw pebbles back and forth at each other.
Trying to practice what we believe... even if it isn't stoning... is a challenge... love thy neighbor...
This is the season of Lent and we are focusing on two beliefs that are central to our faith... the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection on Easter Morning and we focus on how it is that we practice what we believe.
Wendell Berry in a poem entitled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, writes one line , one phrase... actually... that really caught my attention when I read it... practice resurrection. before reading that poem I had never really thought of resurrection in that way... sure I believed in it but... how would one practice resurrection. How would the resurrection impact the way I practiced my faith.
But as ripe as that topic is... That is for Easter... Tonight I want to consider Crucifixion
I've been wondering about practicing crucifixion.

The church at Corinth, which Paul is exchanging correspondence with, is a bit of a mess.
There are many issues that Paul has to deal with... We find the list of problems detail in the first letter to the Corinthians.
Factions are forming around who has been baptized by whom...Peter, Paul, or in the name of whom... Jesus... cliques about whose baptism is... correct... those who baptisms are (quote unquote) correct consider themselves to be of higher status than the others.
A man is living with his father's former wife
while other groups are espousing abstinence from marital intimacy
both again based on their... enlightened faith... both those who have an anything goes view and those who have an abstinence only perspective...feeling themselves superior
there are groups fighting about meat sacrificed to idols... some say that their faith means that it does not matter where the meat has come from... others thinking that practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is a sin... both thinking themselves better than the other.
Some speak in tongues and think themselves superior... some prophesy and think themselves better...
The wealthy members are starting communion with cocktail hour and are inebriated... with little food or drink left for the poor members to share in the agape meal... at the Lord's supper that they are supposed to share. They assume their economic status enables them special benefits that the poor members are not worthy of.
Some of you may have heard your grandmother's say in reference to someone who thought highly of themselves... a peacock struts cuz he can't fly... well there were a lot of peacocks strutting about the Corinthian church. But theologically I would say that in Corinth there is a resurrection celebration... a resurrection attitude... without the crucifixion... without the sacrifice... And a resurrection practice without a crucifixion practice leads to this superiority complex which for Paul has no place in the church of Christ.
This is what I am talking about when I say... practice crucifixion. I am not suggesting in any way shape or form that we do bodily hard to one another... that we start practicing violence against others, even those we don't like, disagree with, or who have hurt or threatened us. I don't mean we stock up on nails...
but I do think that we have witnessed in the culture around us the same phenomena that Paul saw in Corinth... the resurrection celebration without the cruciform life....
For two decades now we have witnessed an increase in the wages of those at the highest levels of business, while the working folks, the blue collar people, have not reaped these increases... our wages have stayed the same or even declined.
But we have been trying to appear as if we wealthy and blessed... haven't we..
its in the name brand on our clothes, or the size of our houses... or the size of our vehicles...
we need the right kind of shoes or the right kind computers or the latest in gadgets....the biggest tv's and the smallest cell phone
Because it makes us feel good, special... others will admire us and aspire to be like us
because of the things we own...
13 trillion dollars... that is the consumer debt in our nation right now... 13 trillion dollars owed for the right car, the right suit, the right shoes....the right stuff....
And it has even invaded the church... this idea of resurrection celebration without a cruciform life.
Go to any book store... Barnes and Noble, Border... look at the religious section and you will see Christian books that tell you how to have a successful life and more times than not that successful life is defined as the world defines it... with houses and pools and clothes and money...
status... a sense of importance... dignity
all gathered up from the things we own
especially satisfying if we can have it and others will see it and covet it... want it too...
Thomas Merton says about this...
I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experience, for power, honor, knowledge, and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.
Now listen to this...
I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible...
We are mummies wrapped in rags, trying to gather to ourselves things that give us worth... empty shells ... wrapped in rags... thinking that these rags will somehow give us worth... make us real.

It is not a bad thing to want your dignity.
It is not a bad thing to want to be respected and to be treated with worth and value.
Many of the people that comprised the church at Corinth were slaves. People who had been devalued, used, and treated as expendable... without worth. A horrendous thing that I can hardly imagine.
So before we rush to judgment on these peacocks strutting about... I can understand why they would want and need a place where they could find value... be reminded of their worth... be treated with dignity...
and that the church was that place... that is a wonderful thing.
But Paul's sees a danger in their dignity.
It comes at a price.
For they need to feel better than others... to be better than others to have this dignity
and in this way they are but reflecting the world around them. A world... a society in which I put others down so that I can lift myself up.
They are doing it with spiritual language... lifting themselves up with speaking in tongues and prophesying, those are the rags they wrap themselves up in...
but in the end, Paul sees that it is no different from the world that they are trying to escape.
It is an empty dignity.
Which is why Paul teaches them true dignity... true value when he talks about himself... what he finds pride and dignity in for himself... we are...
2 Cor 6:8-10
genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Value, dignity and worth... Paul says... does not come with the things that we have... He is referring to spiritual gifts... I think it applies to our culture's focus on material wealth....
Instead, Paul tells Corinth... dignity comes in living the life of Christ... a life of service and sacrifice.
We find our value and our dignity in the cruciform life... when we let ourselves be crucified...
to go back to Thomas Merton... the cruciform life is the life of unwrapping our mummified selves from the things that we have or own that we thought gave us value and worth...
ripping off the rags that we thought gave us substance... but that instead constrain us and hold us back from the life God would have us live.

If you are still finding it hard to accept that before celebrating resurrection... we must practice crucifixion... listen to these words of Jesus...
Matt 6:25-34
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life , what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matt 10:37-39
38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I submit to you... Dr. King once said... that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live...

Mark 10:38-45
Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"
now.. he is referring to his crucifixion....
39 "We can," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, ...and then he goes on to say....whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

It seems plain to me that in all these words of Jesus one thing is clear...
He expected those who would follow him to live cruciform lives...
that they would allow themselves to die to their old life... that they would part from their dearest possessions and risk the comfort and the ease of their present lives....
that they would rip off the rags of a life they had constructed for themselves
that they would allow their own hopes and plans and desires and agenda's to be nailed to the cross
with faith in what God would resurrect in them and for them... if they would let themselves go to the cross with Christ.
This is where our value, our worth, our dignity will be found... not in spiritual gifts or in possessions gained... but in the giving of our lives to the kingdom...
in the sacrificing of our lives for the sake of others...
in the cruciform life
in practicing crucifixion....

2000 years ago... on the shores of Galilee
Jesus issued a call to Peter, James and John...
fisherman... not destitute, but certainly not wealthy
to leave everything behind... family, friends, business, comfort... to let that all go
to give that all up for the kingdom

Are ye able, said the Master,
To be crucified with Me?
Yea, the sturdy dreamers answered,
To the death we follow Thee.

Surrounded by the hungry multitude...
5000 of the hungry and the poor and the forgotten
desperate for a meal... jesus called... not to the wealthy
but to the poorest of the poor themselves...
what have you to give... a loaf of bread
a piece of fish... will you let that go... give it up... for the kingdom

Are you able to relinquish
Purple dreams of power and fame,
To go down into the Garden,
Or to die a death of shame?

In the busy streets of Jericho
crowded on market day...
the sound of vendors selling their wares
Jesus issued a call to Zacchaeus too
who lived in wealth and oppulence at the expense of the poor
will you sell it... Jesus called... will you give it up this life to which you are accustomed... for the Kingdom

Are ye able? Still the Master
Whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer,
Now as then in Galilee.

2000 years later the call still echoes
to nurses and night-watchmen, to janitors and lawyers...
day-care workers and teachers....
faithful disciples all... Jesus call still rings
to you and to me in this season of lent
are ye able... the master still calls... to be crucified...
to give and not count the cost
I know its a frightening time...
with lay-offs and pay cuts and down-sizing
with no jobs and rising prices
but the master still calls... are ye able to be crucified.
Will you be crucified for the children living in poverty
for the homeless on the streets
for the woman diapering her baby in paper towels
or heating her home with the oven...
are we able, for these 40 days to show our communities... our state... our nation
the value of a heart broken for others
the worth of a meal shared
the dignity of loosing my life... for the dignity of my sister and my brother?

May Our Easter celebration at the end of these 40 days be
the time when we can say with Paul
2 Cor 6:4-8
as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report;
2 Cor 4:8-10
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Rom 8:36-39
"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons , neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

and then our Easter worship will be a time in which we sing with confidence
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
A beacon to God, to love and loyalty.

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