January 24, 2010 - Done Deal

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Topics:  Fulfillment, Completion, Wholeness, Achievement

Starter Questions:

1.  Do you worry when you hire a contractor the job won't get done?
2.  What promises people made to you weren't kept?  How did you feel?
3.  How does it feel when yo finish something?
4.  Can we be one with God before we die?
5.  What part of God's work is finished in Jesus?
6.  What major obligations have you fulfilled in life?

About once a week for about 15 minutes, I stand up and try to say something reasonable and moving about important things.  Some Sundays I do this better than others, but at the end of the 15 minutes, there is a certain satisfaction from having completed the wrestling, no matter what the outcome.

We all have these experiences to a greater or lesser degree in our lives.  We pay off the mortgage, we defeat the big boss at the end of the Nintendo game, we complete the big jigsaw puzzle, we finish giving birth to a child after long months.

All these events of completion and fulfillment began with an intention, a determination, promises to ourselves or others.  In this morning's passage from Luke, Jesus proclaims the fulfillment of the promise of God.  This is a big deal since God has made such big promises.

The Promises Established

God's Promises
      Rainbow  Gen 9:9  won't destroy earth
      Abrahamic Gen 17:2  make a great nation
      Davidic  I Chron 17:11  davidic leaders
      Mosaic Ex 34:27  follow the law and you will be my people
      Messianic  Isaiah will raise up a leader to bring about a new order

To suggest that the promises of God have been fulfilled just by the hearing of the word proclimed by Jesus, is an overwhelming message.  It could have turned out badly.  Other leaders have suggested that the mission was accomplished when it wasn't.

Our lives are full of things waiting for completion.

This complex idea of Fulfillment, Completion, and Achievement is in every part of our life:
•    In fact, there is a whole school of psychology, gestalt psychology that says that we perceive and think in clumps that open and close our cognition.
•    Commerce and civil is built on understandings of contracts and fulfillment.
•    Relationships have a way of filling in the holes in our lives.  Carl Jung and Jerry Maguire understand "you complete me" is what we say to another in clear moments.
•    In education, we celebrate the finishing of programs of study from kindergarten to college with great pomp and circumstance.
•    Our careers, at their best, are an attempt to achieve something in the world, to have an effect, however small, that gives a sense of fulfillment.
•    We finish races and projects and resolutions with the feeling that this little part of our life is now a package.
•    At then end of our lives, we put our things in order, so that the decks are clear, the lingering leaves, the clutter clears.

Look at the feelings of completion.  When something is finished, we don't have to worry about it anymore. The account is settled, the anxiety over.  We can move on to something deeper, something fuller. Fulfillment is peace. 

Jesus’ Role

It is no coincidence that these completions of our life are some of the most powerful things we can experience.

It is no coincidence that this sense of completion what God is about in Jesus.
 At the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."  (John 15:11)  At his end on the cross, Jesus says, "It is finished."

God in Jesus is determined with the very force of life to bring us into completeness, to fill the God shaped hole in our lives. 

“Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be.”

What we can do

But we are partners in this project of being fulfilled.  This is why we work at the wholeness and completion of our own lives.  This has implications great and small.

•    We keep our commitments and therefore pick good ones that neither overwhelm us nor put us to sleep.
•    We understand how finishing things can relieve anxiety and open us to new vistas.  So we return phone calls, pay bills on time.
•    We trust the fulfillment of God’s promises of security and love and therefore do not worry about the trivia of life.  “Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God.”
•    We can be called to the completion of God’s mission of justice that is complete in every moment, begun in every day.

Well the sermon is almost over, almost complete.  It has been my attempt to show the fullness of life that God has worked at for us from the beginning of time.  I’m not sure it did all that it could do, but I will walk down these steps with a sigh of peace.  I wish that sigh for you in all your life.


complete puzzle

(c) William H. Levering 2009

January 10, 2010 Godly Gifts, Human Fears

Matthew 2:1-12
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"  Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."  When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

What present would you give God?

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

And then there is that Little Drummer Boy. It's very romantic if not just a bit crazy to imagine the little drummer boy at the manger, giving what he could.  But really.  Shepherd drummers?  Calming an infant?  The drummer boy could have given the drum!  Mary might have objected at that point, but that little kid held out on God.  Little piker.

Wise men brought not what God needed, but what they valued:

Gold - the stuff of life and comfort

Frankincense - the spice of holiness, used to show the presence of God.

Myrrh - the spice of death, the clinging to life.

What if they weren't just gifts (these were wise men after all)  what if they were also requests for healing.  "Here is what I value, here is what I am afraid of losing.  Here is what I am anxious about.  Can you help me?"

We picture the wise men as impassive, silent, robotlike figures delivering their gifts without passion, without care.

What if their faces were lined with worry.  What if they were real people.  Professors who gambled too much, librarians with dark secrets,  experts with a checkered past, magicians wondering if they are complete fakes, wizards full of hot air.

Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar

Caspar, the friendly Magi, brought gold.

He was anxious about it.  He worried
  • someone would steal it
  • would it be enough
  • someone would steal it
  • was it too much
  • what would his wife say
Later Jesus says

Melchior brought the frankincense.  He was the religious one.  He brought the special stuff used to signify holiness and prayer.

Deep down he was actually feeling guilty:
  • he wasn't good enough
  • he hadn't been forgiven
  •      long ago something horrible

Balthazar brought myrrh.  It was used for embalming.   He was a little morbid and didn't get along with people much.  He was afraid of dying.

He was anxious about
  • getting sick
  •     every cough bothered him
  •     he took his pulse every few hours
  •     he ate honey
  • dying

Jesus heals our anxiety about life death.

(c) William H. Levering 2009

January 3, 2010 - Logos and Phos

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.  
4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  
5The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood[a] it.
6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.[b]

Original Word: φῶς
Transliteration: phós
Phonetic Spelling: (foce)
Short Definition: light
phosgene, phosphor, phosphate, phosphorus, phosphorescent, phosphorescence

Original Word: λόγος
Transliteration: logos
Phonetic Spelling: (log'-os)
Short Definition: word

Two Greek word/concepts central to the view of Jesus shaped in early church.  Expression became such a central characteristic of the godhead that it became the godhead.

We are what we display(?)

Logos -popular and more examined
Phos - more common association, yet less propagated
  • I am the light of the world he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.  john 8:12
  • As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world  john 9:5
  • You are the light of the world  Matt 5:14
Both Greek words are getting at a similar concept:   Outreaching enlightenment.

phos and zoe  - life and light cross

Both are words of extension, of outgoingness and characterize God.

alternatives to the outgoing God:
  • the uncaring God, self-sufficient and complete
  • the indrawing God, sucking energy and service
  • the not God, emptiness
Outgoing God reflected in nature:

    In 1929 Edwin Hubble, working at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California, measured the redshifts of a number of distant galaxies. He also measured their relative distances by measuring the apparent brightness of a class of variable stars called Cepheids in each galaxy. When he plotted redshift against relative distance, he found that the redshift of distant galaxies increased as a linear function of their distance. The only explanation for this observation is that the universe was expanding.

    Implications of Logos and Phos, of the outgoing God

    God is always reaching out to us.
          good times, bad times

    We reflect God when we reach out as well.
         tougher for some (introverts)
         at least reach back to God.


    Cliff Richard — Shine, Jesus, Shine lyrics

    Lord the Light of Your Love is shining,
    In the midst of the darkness shining,
    Jesus light of the world shine upon us,
    Set us free by the truth You now bring us,
    Shine on me. Shine on me.

    Shine Jesus shine
    Fill this land with the Father's glory
    Blaze, Spirit blaze,
    Set our hearts on fire
    Flow, river flow
    Flood the nations with grace and mercy
    Send forth Your word
    Lord and let there be light.

    As we gaze on Your kindly brightness.
    So our faces display Your likeness.
    Ever changing from glory to glory,
    Mirrored here may our lives tell Your story.
    Shine on me. Shine on me.

    "Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past.  It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal validity.  In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits.  It destroys the humble honesty of the search fro truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware."  Paul Tillich (ST, p.1)

    (c) William H. Levering 2009