Going Deeper 4-8-2019

From our second reading, these words of St. Paul: I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Radical.  I find myself using that word a lot in my preaching and teaching.  Radical.  This morning I hope and pray to help us consider and be moved by this truth: Grace-- which is exceedingly radical, calls for a radical response.
We heard of the radical nature of grace last Sunday… the radical mercy and love of a father welcoming home the rebellious runaway prodigal.  The parable Jesus told was in response to the radical nature of grace on display when he welcomed tax collectors and other sinners, much to the chagrin of the self-righteous religious leaders of His day.
In our Gospel story this morning we witness the radical love of Mary, whose brother Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus—a love expressed in the anointing of Jesus’ feet with a perfume worth a year’s wages.  And in our second reading we heard a description of Paul’s extraordinary response to God’s gift of righteousness, expressed in a willingness to share in Christ’s suffering and in a desire to strain forward and to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Think about it: just how radical is Paul’s statement: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”?   Let’s look more closely at these words.
“Everything” is a big word, right?  It’s all-inclusive.  This is of “surpassing value.”  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important to Paul than knowing Jesus.  This is not merely knowing about Jesus.  This isn’t about merely believing in Jesus.  To know Jesus is to have a relationship with Him, an intimate relationship which surpasses everything else in value.  There is nothing more important.  Radical.
There is even radical meaning in Jesus’ name and titles.  The name Jesus literally means “one who saves.”  Jesus is our Savior.  May we never take that for granted!!  The title “Christ” points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God to send an anointed one who would rescue and restore God’s people.  And to call Jesus “Lord” means we are submitting to His authority over our lives.  Jesus has rescued and saved us at an incredible cost, and our response is to be a radical submission to Him.
As I have admitted to you before, there are times when this kind of thinking makes me quite uncomfortable, even fearful.  I mean, how sufficiently radical has my own response been to Jesus?  And as a Pastor, how sufficient has my teaching and preaching been in terms of truly inspiring and guiding a radical response within the members of our church family, and within our congregation as a whole?
These concerns are compounded when I consider the words of the Lord in Revelation 3: And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God's creation: "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.'  You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  I reprove and discipline those whom I love.  Be earnest, therefore, and repent."
So, how about you?  How do those words make you feel?  Fearful?  Guilty?  Inadequate?  Or is it just me?  Perhaps all of us recognize a need to “Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”  Once again I remind you, repentance is at the heart of what we are to do during this season called Lent.
Now, here is a really big question, one that is as significant as any other question: HOW DO WE MOVE FROM LUKEWARM TO RADICAL LOVE?  Is it through guilt and fear, or in reaction to feelings of inadequacy?  Maybe that kind of stuff works to a point… God knows that church leaders and others have used it a whole lot over the generations.  But does it really lead to true transformation?  Does warning people about being spewed out of God’s mouth shape them up?
I don’t believe it does.  The only true value of fear and quilt is in preparing us to experience more and more profoundly the radical truth of grace, mercy, and love.  Here’s the next statement from our Revelation 3 text, right after “Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”… Please hear these words of Jesus:  “Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."
More than anything else in the universe, our Creator and Abba desires that we experience the profound and transforming power of His love and grace.  Like the Prodigal, we run away from our God and squander His gifts.  We get distracted by the lures of this busy, busy, ridiculously busy world.  And too often we make messes of our lives.
Yet with the Prodigal we repent and turn our hearts toward home.  We return to our Father and even before we can express all of the details about our guilt and fear and feelings of inadequacy we find ourselves embraced by grace.  Our Father covers us with a new robe and invites us to a joyous celebration.  And that, my friends, is how we are to live our lives… in joyous celebration.
How does that look?  The ideal is that we’re filled with such gratitude and so deeply touched by such radical love that we simply respond with radical love, and our lives are radically changed.  We are moved to both worship and to service, our lives increasingly marked by radical growth.  Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, we seek to more and more fully become what we already are by grace: children of God.  And the example we follow is Jesus.
Please note: this is what God clearly desires.  But God does not force it to happen.  Jesus stands at the door of our heart and knocks and calls out… but He will not ever kick the door down.  He lovingly calls us to open the door and welcome Him in.  He desires that we have fellowship with Him, and come to know Him more and more. 
The truth is, I obviously cannot force this upon you.  This is something you need to do for yourself… and not just once.  This is an ongoing process that is never perfect, but one that can increasingly grow and mature.  I urge you: open the door to Jesus and be radically changed… for the better and forever.  Grace-- which is exceedingly radical, calls for a radical response.
Amen.

 

   June 2019   
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