• Abiding & Radiating: Discipleship Like Dr. King

    mic 25757acMessage for Epiphany 2 on John 1:29-42 on January 15, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. You can see this preached on video here beginning at minute 24:55 with the Gospel reading. 

    “What are you looking for?” Jesus begins his ministry with a question in John’s Gospel—not an exorcism as in Mark, not a sermon like in Matthew, not in the Temple reading from Isaiah, as in Luke. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks 2 of his first followers who hear John the Baptist announce him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

    It’s a good question—if we cannot articulate what we need—then maybe, we will miss the power of Jesus altogether. So, “What are you looking for?

    Our culture and advertisers will certainly try to answer this question for us: we need more stuff, a bigger house, more status or income, we absolutely need more likes and followers on our social media pages, and also more separation from those who are different from us-by class, skin color, political party, or even ideas.

    But Jesus’ question really pushes us beyond the superficialities of a consumer culture, an image of God as a cosmic Santa Claus, and the politics of anger and division, and asks us, “what hunger is driving you—not on the surface, but deep down in the core of your being?”

    • A sense of meaning and to know your purpose
    • To know your loved and you matter
    • To really experience forgiveness
    • To let go some of the old negative tapes or stories from the past and stop letting them limit your present and future
    • Strength and guidance for a difficult situation,
    • Healing from pain or illness,--all the losses that come with aging
    • Comfort and ability to deal with loss and grief,
    • Parents- a month without illness—to know my kids are going to be okay;

    There are a lot of significant ways we can answer this question in a conversation with Jesus, and the answer will be different at different times and stages of our lives. Which is why it is interesting to note how the two disciples answer it. It looks like they almost blow it!

    They answer Jesus’ question with another question! “Where are you staying?” What? You’re talking to the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, and you’re asking for his Airbnb?

    But, actually, as you might guess, it’s not as much about directions and lodging as it is about a relationship. The disciples are not just asking where Jesus is staying for the night, they are asking, “Where are you abiding? Where will you remain, where will you endure, where will you continue to be?” The Greek word for “staying” (meno) can be translated all of these ways and is used no less than 44 times in the Gospel in the John. Abiding with Jesus, remaining with him, having an enduring relationship with Jesus is essential as one of his followers.

    Andrew and the other disciple are really saying—"we want to dwell with you, Jesus; we want to be where we can receive what you have to teach us; we want to know where you are staying so we can be close to God by abiding with you, Jesus.” And that is what they do.

    And isn’t that deep down, what we all want? To dwell in God, to live in God through Jesus’ presence, in every breath, in every day, to experience his power moving through our words, our actions, our relationships, our work, or school and parenting and grandparenting? So, Jesus says to them, “Come and See. Come and be with me. Come and abide with me. Participate in the life of God through a relationship with me.”

    • For to abide with Jesus is to belong God.
    • To abide with Jesus is to be brought into the circle of love with the Creator of the universe and to be made whole and healed.
    • To abide with Jesus is to be forgiven by the Lamb of God, to receive hope for our future.
    • To abide with Jesus is to experience the deepest peace there is, and to know that we and those we love are ok for eternity.

    When we abide in Jesus, we receive the meaning and purpose we desire: We can hear the guidance we need, we receive the strength we seek, the comfort that we crave, and the love that nourishes our soul. For Jesus abides with God and God abides with him. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth--to bring us into that same intimate relationship Jesus shares with God.

    And like any relationship the more time we spend in that relationship, the deeper it becomes, the more intimate the conversation, the more revealing the love, the deeper the bond. Because Jesus dwells within us, we can just close our eyes and picture him sitting next to and carry on a conversation. This is what I do—it’s not complicated for fancy.

    I saved a devotional reading from a few years ago which reads:

    When you go to your place of prayer, don’t try to think too much or manufacture feelings or sensations. Don’t worry about what words you should say or what posture you should take. It’s not about you or what you do. Simply allow Love to look at you—and trust what God sees! God just keeps looking at you and loving you center to center.

    This is “abiding in Jesus.” I practiced this kind of abiding this week during my morning prayer. One morning I had this very strong physical sensation of the indwelling presence of God—Jesus, the Spirit, the Creator—I was praying with all of them together—and I experienced this strong feeling of love, center to center. And then I heard this instruction, loud and clear: “Do not try to seek out in the world the love you already have right here. Your job is to radiate this love out.”

    This is why Jesus’ ministry starts with a question—because without it, we have life backwards—we try to fill ourselves out in the world with the success and money, and stuff, and food and alcohol, and unhealthy habits or relationships, and all the things the culture says will make us happy, and then we try to yoga, exercise, pray, and serve and earn our way to God, and we wonder why it seems like we’re following the formula but always come up empty.

    The question invites us to Jesus first. Jesus says, come and see, come and stay, come and dwell, come find what you need, what you are looking for. Come abide first, fill up with God first, experience Jesus’ complete, all-encompassing love and forgiveness first, satisfy the spiritual hunger, the emptiness, the meaning, the sense of purpose, the identity the forgiveness and love, and when we’re full, when we are center to center, then God says—"go radiate disciple! because our relationship gets lived out in the world that needs My light refracted through you. I need My love and forgiveness and justice reflected and lived out through you—your experiences, your skills, your insights, your talents."

    Abiding with Jesus is a relationship that gets lived out in the world. For to abide in Jesus is to abide with all beings that God has created. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.”

    This means everyone belongs, every person, every nation, every ethnic group, every gender, and sexuality, and religion, and culture. We all belong to God, even our enemies, which is why Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies. In First John, it says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”

    This is the essence of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whom we celebrate tomorrow. He spent his life and ministry as a preacher and civil rights leader, holding us accountable to the truth, that everyone belongs equally. In a country founded on Christian principles, we have treated some of our citizens as if they don’t belong—as if they don’t belong to God and don’t belong to us.

    In his Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Struggle that Changed a Nation, King wrote: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All [humanity is] caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

    Or we could say this is the inter-related structure of being created by the same God, abiding in relationship with God through the same Jesus Christ. When we abide there, finding ways for a just life for all is not threatening, but naturally flows from the love we have already received.

    Today, Jesus also asks those who are oppressed, disenfranchised, caught in generational cycles of poverty, or systemic racism, the same question he asks us, “What are you looking for?” Like us, people are seeking meaning and purpose, love and comfort, strength and guidance; and they hope for what we assume: to be treated with justice and fairness by our institutions, to have equal opportunity, to belong as a full citizen. In an environment where differences between us are exploited and used as the basis for hateful rhetoric and actions, how much more are we called by God to embody in our daily life, the unity we share with all people who have been created by the same God and abide in the same love.

    When we ground our identity, our well-being, our very life, in abiding with God in Christ Jesus, we do not need to merge who we are with our own cultural group, political views, or economic class to feel safe and valued. On the contrary, we live from the security of our relationship with God, this deep abiding love and peace, and we follow Jesus in embracing all people, in advocating for policies that bring freedom and inclusion for all of God’s children. Dr. King taught us that the work of justice and love in the world radiates from the inside, out—from abiding with a loving God who made all of us—to living it out in the world. This is the only way nonviolent action and change are possible—through radiating love that comes from God!

    As ones who abide with Christ, we attend to our individual relationship with God (our right arm points straight up) and we live out this unity in just, open and equal relationships with all people whom God created (our other arm moves horizontally to form a cross) +.

    + This is the life Jesus radiates out into the world through us.

  • Nothing to Prove: The Power of Love

    Nothing to Prove The Power of LoveMessage for Lent 1 on Matthew 4:1-11 given on Sunday, March 1, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

    Have you noticed that we do not feel temptations when we feel strong, confidant, capable, and in healthy relationships? No, temptation and testing happen when we are at our weakest—when we are vulnerable, going through transition, full of doubt, riddled with insecurity, questioning our purpose, or feeling unworthy.

    Perhaps you have heard of checking in with yourself using the HALT method: H–Hungry; A–Angry; L–Lonely; T–Tired. These are the times we are likely to give in to temptation and do things we will regret later. It could be anything from losing our temper, impulse buying, over-eating, controlling others’ behavior, not exercising, having that 2nd, 3rd or 4th drink, saying something we shouldn’t, getting into others’ business—you get the idea. Perhaps we all have a “go-to” behavior when we are “hangry” (hungry and angry) as my daughter calls it, plus lonely or tired. It is so easy to give in to an immediate comfort, or to release steam rather than take care of the real, normal human needs we have underneath.

    The devil certainly seems to be going after Jesus when he is at his weakest. He is testing Jesus with everything he’s got at the worst possible moment. If Jesus took the HALT test – he would come up with red flags everywhere:

    Hungry—Jesus has not eaten in 40 days. I have hard time fasting for 1 meal, so I can’t imagine 40 days. Severe symptoms of starvation start around 35-40 days, so suffice it to say, Jesus was mad hungry.
    Angry—The Holy Spirit leads him out to the wilderness. Jesus was just baptized and is supposed to be starting his ministry, and now he’s got to spend over a month fasting and fighting off the demons and wild animals of the wilderness? I would be more than a little angry if it were me.
    Lonely—No doubt. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around until the devil shows up. Jesus finally has someone to talk with and this is the companion he gets?
    Tired—Forty days without food in the wilderness would wear anybody out—I would imagine Jesus is just exhausted at the end of this ordeal.

    So, of course, this is when temptation comes. The devil tests him—not with just any old garden-variety wiles, but with temptations that look particularly good—ones that would solve his predicament pretty quickly. Jesus could satisfy all of his own needs himself and give up relying on God.

    • Jesus could solve his hunger with some immediate bread
    • Jesus wouldn’t feel so lonely if just one or two angels would show up for a dramatic rescue
    • Jesus could get a sense of self and power back, eliminating his anger at being led out into the wilderness if he just worships the devil a little bit so he can possess all the kingdoms of the world
    • surely all of this would give him an energy boost and he would not be so darn tired after this wilderness ordeal

    Jesus could put a HALT to the Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired situation that the devil has so convincingly put before him. But, like all temptations, Jesus sees that they may satisfy for the moment, but they are fleeting—they will not deeply satisfy any needs of his for the long haul, not for the journey of ministry, nor for the stretch of eternity—none of which he can do if he gives up now on relying on God.

    How does Jesus resist this even in his weakened state? I prayed about this very question, and the answer I received was surprisingly simple. Just before Jesus is sent into the wilderness he was Baptized—the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit alights on him and God speaks up with a very important testimony. God told him God loved him. God said, “This is my beloved son. You are loved, you are mine, I love you.

    No amount of bread, power, angels, attention or glory could be more meaningful, more deeply satisfying, or longer lasting than being Beloved in the eyes of God, his father. Jesus already had everything he needed—he had nothing to prove, nothing more to gain, nothing more he truly craved. In his human form, Jesus had God-sized hole in heart, and it was already filled with love. This love sustained him while he felt physically hungry and tired, and emotionally angry and lonely.

    The funny thing is, Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry but he has not healed anyone and has not done anything big for God. He was not loved by God as a reward, after resisting the temptations of the devil—he was loved before ever going into the wilderness. He did not do anything to deserve God’s love. He was beloved at the beginning—a priori love! Jesus received this pure, beloved, embrace of God unconditionally, and he believed it, he soaked it up, he survived the wilderness wrapped in love, and so can we.

    We all have God-sized hole in our heart that only God can fill. It is hard to believe and difficult to receive because we know deep down that we do not deserve God’s love—that’s the point though, isn’t it? We do not deserve it. Jesus did not earn it either—we are in the same baptismal boat as Jesus. We are just beloved by God—pure and simple—loved from the beginning—a priori love and grace. We too, have everything we need—God’s absolute love for us—so we have nothing to prove to God or anyone else. And when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired—we forget and think that our favorite food will fill that God-sized hole in our heart, or alcohol, or money, or trying harder, or the perfect relationship, or a bigger house, or like Adam and Eve—the perfect apple, or more knowledge, or the next internet guru life coach, but then we come here and we remember. We remember it’s all about God’s complete love for us—which comes in the shape of bread and wine, forgiveness and peace and community in Jesus Christ, who defeated the devil and temptation FOR us.

    There is a Cherokee legend about the rite of passage when a young teenage boy becomes a man. His father takes him into the woods and blindfolds him. The boy has to sit through the night blindfolded for twelve hours alone in the wilderness. He hears the wolves howl, the bear tread nearby, and all the terrifying sounds of the night around him for the entire night alone. When he survives the night and removes his blindfold, and he sees his father, who has been sitting nearby, keeping watch over his beloved son.

    You are God’s beloved son or daughter. Take a minute throughout your day during Lent and breathe in a daily meditation, “I am God’s beloved child.” Pick up a hand-held prayer cross or a Lenten devotional as a daily reminder this Lent that already have all you need. When our deeper longings are satisfied by how much God loves us, take notice of how that shapes your day—

    • we need less approval from others,
    • we don’t need to get in the last word,
    • we can bypass whatever indulgence tempts us away from relying on God’s love as our source of all we need
    • we can let go and let God manage other people instead of us,
    • we can relax our fear about tomorrow, what the future holds and put it in God’s hands
    • we can HALT and take care of our real needs in healthy ways without guilt.

    The Beatles were right, All You Need is Love—all we need is God’s love. Nothing else will satisfy like God’s boundless, unmerited, powerful, all-encompassing, ever-living, everlasting love.