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Do We Really Want Jesus to Captain the Boat?

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 7/25/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: John 6:1-21. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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I’m imagining us together on the boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Headed toward the far shore. Rowing against the wind. Struggling in the dark.

I’m remembering all the powerful works of God we have seen together. We know that God is real. We trust in Jesus to teach us. We’ve seen him feed us among the five thousand. 

But right now, it feels like we are alone. How are we going to make it through this storm? What will keep this boat from capsizing?

It says that when they saw Jesus walking on the water, walking across the Sea of Galilee – at night, in the middle of a storm – the disciples were terrified. They could not believe what they were seeing. They had left Jesus praying on the mountainside. Who was this, walking towards them on the water?

But then they heard the voice of Jesus speaking to them from the storm. “It is I; do not be afraid.”And it says, “Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

Teleportation. I love that. For anyone who is a fan of Star Trek, I’ve got news for you: Captain Kirk did not invent the transporter. God did. Beam me up, Jesus. And in this particular case, Jesus seems to have transported the entire boat that the disciples were in.

You see teleportation in the Book of Acts, too, when Philip is whisked away by the Holy Spirit after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. Does this stuff really happen? It says, “…they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

It seems fantastic, but there’s a ring of truth to it. Because that’s how God works sometimes. He takes us from where we are at, to where we are meant to be in an instant. 

Have you ever seen that happen? Have you seen enemies become friends in a moment of understanding and grace? Have you seen intractable situations transformed by unexpected insight and wisdom? Have you seen a community at loggerheads come suddenly into agreement – finding a way forward that none of the parties to the dispute had previously considered?

I feel like I’ve seen this kind of teleportation. I’ve seen the presence of Jesus change realities on the ground. I’ve seen him move the boat forward, through the storm, despite the fact that all our efforts just don’t cut it.

This sounds familiar.

We’re in the boat now. We’re in the storm. We are struggling in the dark, rowing towards our destination. We know where God wants us to be, to be a community filled with love, life, and power. A church that lives and shares the gospel of Jesus. A boat that moves wherever the winds of the Holy Spirit blow us. But it feels like the wind is against us right now. It’s not clear how our rowing can possibly get us to the shore of God’s shalom.

The good news in this story is that our rowing is not the decisive factor. Our efforts are not going to overcome the wind and the waves. But there is a presence hovering over the waters. There is a friend walking toward us. We have a captain who is returning to the boat, who will steer us safely – and quickly – to shore.

The early Quakers knew this experience, too. They had been in a great boat of institutional Christianity, with lots of people rowing in all sorts of different directions. But some English men and women could sense that there was something missing, that none of the oarsmen were making any headway, despite all their learning and accomplishments. Worst of all, they didn’t want to invite Jesus into the boat.

There was a group of people called the Westmorland Seekers, many of whom later became Quakers, who concluded that the best thing they could do was to put down their oars and wait. Wait to hear the voice of Jesus. Wait to feel the desire to bring the Teacher on board the boat. Wait for his presence to immediately bring the boat to land.

Francis Howgill was among the Seekers and later became an important Quaker leader. He describes his community’s experience of being moved and transformed by the Spirit of Jesus in this way:

The Lord of Heaven and earth we found to be near at hand, and, as we waited upon him in pure silence, our minds out of all things, his heavenly presence appeared in our assemblies, when there was no language, tongue nor speech from any creature. The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. 

We came to know a place to stand in and what to wait in; and the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said one unto another with great joy of heart: 

‘What, is the Kingdom of God come to be with men? And will he take up his tabernacle among the sons of men, as he did of old? Shall we, that were reckoned as the outcasts of Israel, have this honour of glory communicated amongst us, which were but men of small parts and of little abilities, in respect of many others, as amongst men?’ 

And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love, in the covenant of Life with God…

Francis Howgill was an old man by the time he heard George Fox preach and the Quaker movement really started to come together in 1652. Howgill was 34 years old by then! Most of the Quakers leaders were in their twenties, or even their teens. And you can hear it in Howgill’s words, can’t you? The passion. The fire. The sense of all things made new. Can you remember feeling that way? Do you remember when God gathered you up, as in a net, and drew you to land?

The young certainly don’t have a monopoly on such experiences of God’s power. After all, Moses was an old man when he stood before the Burning Bush of God’s presence for the first time. But there is something about being young, isn’t there? An openness, a sense of possibility – a holy desperation for what is real, and true, and solid. A hunger for the whole wheat bread of life, and a refusal to be tempted by the trinkets and baubles that the world offers us.

As we get older, it’s hard not to settle down, make compromises. To accept the ways of the world and learn how to get by in it. We might even feel that we have become successful. But as C.S. Lewis writes in his wonderful book The Screwtape Letters:

Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

Have we become prosperous?  Have we become satisfied? Have we allowed ourselves to become knit to the world? Have we become so enamored with the act of rowing, that we have forgotten that the whole point of our little boat is to get the ship and its passengers safely to shore?

Have we forgotten that our Lord is walking towards us on the water, calling out to us, “It is I; do not be afraid”?

Every passing moment is another chance to look out on the water and, in the words of John, to want to take Jesus into the boat. Do you want him here with us? Do you want him to lead us?

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Do not be afraid, little crew of this little boat – our Teacher is stronger than the storm.

We just have to look up from our rowing and see him. We must hear his voice over the hissing of the storm. We have to want to take him into the boat. And immediately, he will be with us to teach and guide us. Immediately, he will bring us to shore.

The Day of Pentecost Has Arrived – What Should We Do?

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/23/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: Acts 2:1-42. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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Today is Pentecost Sunday. Seven weeks after Easter, Pentecost is the day that Christians celebrate as the birth of the church, the day when the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised came and filled his disciples with wisdom, power, and boldness. It was a day when thousands came to faith in the Lord Jesus, and became a new community in him.

Pentecost isn’t a holiday that Christians made up, of course. It had been a Jewish festival since God brought them out of Egypt. It’s one of the celebrations that God commands Israel to observe in the Torah. 

We Christians know this festival by the name Pentecost, which is a Greek word that means “fifty.” Called by its Hebrew name, Shavuot, this festival falls fifty days after the Passover. It commemorates the giving of God’s law to Israel at Sinai.

Just as Passover celebrates God’s physical salvation of his people from slavery in Egypt, Shavuot is a celebration of God’s spiritual salvation of his people. By giving them his law through Moses, God made those who were not a people a holy nation. Those who had been powerless slaves to Pharaoh became a people blessed and set apart by God.

Shavuot is a reminder that physical liberation is essential, but not sufficient. Spiritual liberation must occur. We must have an inward encounter with God, coming into a living relationship with him, if we are to be truly free. God did not create us for liberty without holiness. God has called us, his people, to a whole new way of life. One where we are weaned off the false Gods of the world and given power to live as a nation of priests – following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

In the old covenant, it was the law of Moses that made this possible. The statutes and rules given by God, written down on tablets of stone. The festivals, the sacrifices, the distinction between clean and unclean – these were all ways that God was preparing Israel for a life of holiness – set-apart-ness – creative difference from the fallen world that God would redeem through them.

It is not an accident that Jesus was crucified in the season of Passover. Passover is the remembrance of how God saved the people of Israel with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, smashing Pharaoh’s army and parting the Red Sea for his people. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was an even greater triumph, bringing salvation to all of humanity, liberating us from all the Pharaohs of the world, freeing us to worship God without fear and be remade in his likeness. In Jesus, all people – Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – can finally become truly whole, truly holy, integrated and complete, just as God intended from the beginning.

In the cross of Jesus, God parted the Red Sea one last time. God tore apart the barrier between God and people, the curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy of Holies. God broke down the ultimate dividing wall, making himself available to all people directly. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God triumphed once and for all over the power of sin, death, and the devil, and brought us all out of the grasp of Pharaoh, Caesar, and Mammon. It was a new Exodus, made available to the whole world.

But the journey wasn’t complete yet. Just as the people of Israel made their way to Mount Sinai to receive the law, the people of God in Jerusalem were about to receive the new law, the fulfillment of the law: the presence of the Holy Spirit. Filling them. Transforming them. Creating in them a new humanity in the image of Jesus Christ.

The day of Pentecost, Shavuot, is about that spiritual liberation. It’s about the transformation of heart and mind that comes after passing through the Red Sea of terror and death. It’s about the new creation, a new life in God – nothing like the life that came before. 

Because now we are his. Now we are his holy people, set apart and different from the world. A people knitted together so tightly in the Holy Spirit that we have become one body in Jesus. One flesh. (No wonder Jesus so often used marriage imagery to describe the kingdom of God.) One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One heart.

This transformation that took place in the lives of those one hundred and twenty disciples that morning was so intense, so powerful, that it raised a ruckus in the city of Jerusalem. These friends of Jesus couldn’t be ignored. 

They were filled with life, and truth, and power. God gave them words to speak to all the people present in the holy city for the festival – people who had come from around the whole ancient world. The Holy Spirit gave them words in the many and varied languages of those who needed to hear the message.

And they heard it. Thousands of them. It says that on that day alone, three thousand people came to have faith in the Lord Jesus and become part of the disciple community, the body of Christ. 

They heard the message that Peter and the apostles preached. About the messiah who came and was crucified by the people who he came to save. About the way that God raised him up, and in his resurrection conquered death once and for all. They heard the message: that the time of salvation was here at last, for any who would embrace the message.

They heard. And it says that “they were cut to the heart.” They could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit on these disciples of Jesus, who had been clothed with power from on high. They felt the resurrection power in their midst, just as clearly as you can feel heat radiating from a bonfire. The burning bush was back again. Sandals off! Everything had changed. 

And those who heard the message and experienced the presence asked the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

What should we do?

Peter said to them:

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Repent. Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It all comes together. Jesus began his ministry with John the Baptizer by the river Jordan. A ministry that was a call to repentance, pure and simple. Change your life! Embrace God’s call to holiness and justice! Abandon your hopes for greatness as the world measures it, and cling to the promises of God.

That was the message of John the Baptist: An invitation to join the flight from Egypt. An invitation to make our way through the Red Sea, through the waters of repentance. To trust in God’s promise and power to save.

We have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. What should we do? 

Repent. Be immersed into the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins, and we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Come to the waters. Come to the edge of the Red Sea. Pass through and enter the desert of transformation with our God. Embrace God’s physical liberation – the practice of righteousness and justice – resurrection! – and you will receive the Holy Spirit: the power of God who gives all truth, love, and ability to do the will of God.

What should we do? What are we, as Berkeley Friends Church, to do with this call that we have from the lips of the apostles and from the heart of God’s Spirit?

For those three thousand who came to faith in Christ on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, their whole life had led them to this moment. They knew that in the presence of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, nothing could ever be the same. They knew that the world was about to turn. The only choice for them to make was whether they would turn in God’s direction. Would they stay behind in Egypt, or would they risk the desert with the pillar of fire and smoke to guide them?

What will we choose?

Do we recognize the moment we are in? There is no time but this present time. This is our day of visitation. The Holy Spirit is here for us. “The promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Will we embrace the promise of God? Will we trust him?

It’s not too late. Repent. Be immersed into the name of Jesus Christ. Receive forgiveness. Receive the Holy Spirit. We can become something new in God.

We have to. The present form of this world is passing away. Something new is coming. The world is about to turn. 

Repent. Be immersed into his name. Receive forgiveness and transformation.

What will that mean for us? Where is the pillar of cloud and fire going to lead Berkeley Friends Church? When he makes all things new, what will we become? What will happen to us when we pass through the waters?

We don’t have to worry about that now. God has a plan for us, just like he did for Israel. Just like he did for the early church. God has a plan to bless us and make us a blessing to the world. We don’t have to make it happen. For now, just turn around. Repent. Be immersed. Receive the Holy Spirit.

In the words of George Fox, from his Epistle X:

“Stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves, and then mercy comes in. After thou seest thy thoughts and temptations, Do not think, but submit, and then power comes in. Stand still in that which shows and discovers, and there doth strength immediately come. And stand still in the light, and submit to it, and the other will be hushed and gone, and then content[ment] comes.”

We have already received salvation in the cross of Jesus. We have participated in the liberation of Passover, the flight from Egypt, the journey through the Red Sea. Through his resurrection, Jesus has conquered the power of sin, death, and the devil. Pharaoh has been undone. We have been set free.

Now comes the journey to Sinai. We are in the desert. Nothing stands between us and the holy mountain, the endless love of God. Will we dare to approach?

We have heard the message. We know what God asks of us. We have received the promise of the Holy Spirit. God is present with us – we are his people, and Jesus stands in the midst of us.

Do we want to be led? Has the message cut us to the heart? Are we asking God, with a broken heart, “what should we do?”

What should we do? God, you are here. Lead us. Guide us through the desert. Make us the people and the community that you created us to be.

Birth is Messy, But We Have a Mother We Can Trust

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/9/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: 1 John 5:1-6. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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This morning, we’ve heard about what God is like. God is like a flashlight, shining in the dark. He’s like a loaf of bread. He’s like a best friend, a mama, a daddy. That’s what God is like.

Scripture provides us with a lot of comparisons, to imagine God’s character. Jesus says that God is like a mother hen, caring for us, her baby chicks. The prophet Hosea described God as a mother bear, ready to fight for her cubs. That’s what God is like.

But the authors of scripture don’t stop with just describing what God is like. They don’t stop at simile. The apostles tell us that, in Jesus we have moved beyond the realm of metaphor. We have transcended the old world, when to look upon the face of God was to die. In Jesus, we have seen God and lived. The apostle John writes that, in Jesus, God is come in the flesh and in glory – “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The apostle Paul reaffirms this idea in his letter to the Colossians, when he writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The image of the invisible God. 

The image of something is not “like” something. It’s not like saying, “God is like a flashlight.” An image is not metaphor, it is faithful representation. To say that Jesus is the image of the invisible God means that he truly demonstrates who God is. When we look at Jesus, we behold God. When we imitate Jesus, we become like God. When we follow Jesus, we walk in the footsteps of the Lord.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

Who else is the image of the invisible God?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, in the first chapter of Genesis, it is says that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” In the image of God he created us.

The church teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, at once both God and man. We don’t know how this works, but we have seen and experienced it to be true. Through the incarnation, Jesus has conquered the world – the powers of sin, death, and the devil.

Throughout the centuries, different groups of Christians have emphasized different parts of Jesus’ identity – human and divine. Some have made him so Godlike that it’s hard to see him as a brother – his humanity gets erased. Others have brought him so down to earth, that it can be hard to see how he’s different from any other historical “great teacher.”

But the church affirms that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Jesus is the living word of God, come in the flesh. He is also a human being, just like you and me.

Just like you and me.

Jesus is us. He’s the best of us. The fullness of us. The completeness of us. He’s what we were created to be. Fully human, fully divine – united to God in a family relationship. Sheep of the shepherd. Branches of the vine. Children of the father. 

To know Jesus is to become like him. And to become like Jesus is to become fully ourselves. Dwelling in the divine, and embodying him. Becoming sons and daughters of God by adoption. God wants to make us like Jesus.

This is why, in our reading this morning, John says that “everyone who has faith that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” When we know and love Jesus, we know and love his father. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Before, we did not know God, but now we know him, because we have met Jesus. And Jesus gives us this commandment: That we love one another. 

God’s commandments are not a heavy burden. When we listen to God, when we follow his commandments, he frees us to love one another as brothers and sisters. He empowers us to become children of God. We participate in Jesus’ triumph over the powers of darkness and death. Standing in the faith of Jesus, we experience the victory that conquers the world.

The last verse of John’s words to us this morning are a little strange. He says that Jesus came by water and blood – “not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.” What is John talking about here?

These are the kind of verses that generate a lot of discussions among theologians. How does this passage relate to Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, in John 3, when Jesus teaches that everyone must be born of water and the Spirit? Is John talking about the relationship of water baptism and spiritual baptism – the spirit and the flesh? Is this a reference to the water and blood that came from Jesus’ side as he died on the cross?

Maybe.

But when I read these words this morning, I am reminded of what birth is like. Real, actual, non-metaphorical birth. When George, and Francis, and Amos were born, it was messy. There was a lot of water. There was blood. It was kind of scary. It wasn’t clear what was going to happen, even though we had trained people with us to help us. Because birth is uncertain, even dangerous.

And so when I hear John saying to us that Jesus is “the one who came by water and blood… not with the water only but with the water and the blood,” I can only say, “amen.” That’s how birth is. Watery. Bloody. Scary. Amazing.

I think of Jesus on the cross, and the victory that he won there: Over the world, over the power of sin, death, and the devil. Was that a kind of birth?

What does this birth mean for us? What does it mean for us, as his brothers and sisters by adoption? What does it mean for us as we obey his commandments? As we become more and more like him. How is God calling us to be born, “not with the water only, but with the water and the blood”?

This sounds scary. It sounds painful. But we don’t have to be afraid, because the one giving birth to us is God. The one caring for us, acting as midwife, is the Holy Spirit. We can trust our mother. We can trust the midwife. We can trust our brother Jesus, who has shown us the way and gives us power to be born again, triumphing over all the confusion, and pain, and obstacles that hold us in the darkness.

We know we love God when we love one another. We conquer the world when we trust that Jesus is the Son of God. 

Because Jesus was born, we can be, too. Because Jesus died, we can live. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can become sons and daughters of God, coming through the water and the blood. 

The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is the truth.

Like Sheep Among Wolves

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 4/25/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: John 10:11-18. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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Sheep are herd animals – so much so that, in English, we even use the same word for the singular and plural – one sheep, two sheep, a flock of sheep. When we think of sheep, we’re usually thinking about a group of them, not a single individual.

Just like there is really no such thing as a lone sheep, there is no such thing as an individual Christian. Jesus doesn’t just call us as individuals, he calls us to community. We are gathered into one flock, under one shepherd.

That’s why we’re gathered this morning. This is a flock meeting. Our shepherd Jesus has called us together. We are learning that we can trust him, because he lays down his life for us. He guides us in the way we need to go. He protects us from the wolves.

Sometimes we don’t take the wolves seriously enough. The wolves are real. The wolves do tear, and devour, and scatter. Selfishness, addiction, confusion, pride, racism, and greed. The wolves are the spiritual powers of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and despair.

We do not live in a neutral world without moral consequence. We are in a spiritual warfare between the forces of light and darkness, good and evil, sheep and wolves. In the words of the apostle Peter, in chapter five of his first epistle:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers and sisters throughout the world.”

In Jesus, we stand triumphant over the power of sin, death, and the devil. The key words here are, in Jesus. As sheep, we aren’t capable of fighting the wolves ourselves. We survive their predation by hanging together as a flock. We escape the wolves by trusting our good shepherd to protect us. 

Sheep need shepherds. We need those who care for and protect the flock. We need those who help us determine which way the flock should move, and to warn us when wolves are threatening the community. And with the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has raised up good shepherds among us. Men and women of spiritual depth and power, who thanks to God’s grace have been made trustworthy to care for the flock, as sub-shepherds to Jesus. These individuals should be honored and heeded and encouraged.

But a lot of discernment is in order. Not just any shepherd will do. There are so many hired hands, false shepherds who would gather us for the fleece. They would lead us out of self-interest and vanity rather than love. And when the wolves come, they will abandon us to our fate.

The church has a long history of discerning between false shepherds and true ones. From the first generation of Christians, the apostles and fathers of the early church warned against those who would turn human tradition into a new law – telling us, “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” There have always been those who would sell us easy, mechanistic spiritual laws rather than the challenging freedom that we find in Christ.

There were those who would tell us that God is so holy that Jesus could never have come in the flesh. Others said that Jesus is merely a human teacher, but not divine. All the ancient heresies of the early church period were the work of false shepherds. All of the paths that they offered tickled the mind and puffed up the ego, but led to spiritual death.

The early Quakers faced off against false shepherds of their own. In their day, it was the state church’s priests and bishops, who inherited their office as a title and made a living off of the mandatory tithes that all were required to pay them, under penalty of law. These were men who turned the gospel into a business. They used the mantle of Christ as a way to extract wealth from the flock of God – shearing the sheep with abandon, but having no interest in protecting them.

False shepherds aren’t just a thing of ancient church history. They’re a present-day reality that we must be on guard against. The false shepherds are on the loose in the form of prosperity gospel preachers and secular hustlers. People who want to sell us on the idea that if we just put the right “energy” out into the world, that we will get back whatever we desire. People who say that if you are poor, or sick, or unlucky, it’s because you haven’t got the right attitude, or that you don’t have enough faith.

The false shepherds are the political pundits and leaders who sow fear to boost their ratings and cement their power. They’re the social media influencers who use our outrage and horror to fuel engagement. The false shepherds step forward as leaders, only to lead us on paths of destruction.

They hand us over to the wolves. Wolves like militant nationalism, stock-market speculation, gambling, addictive video games and social media, pornography, and hard drugs. These false shepherds entice us into patterns of compulsive behavior that cheapen and destroy our lives.

But there is good news. There is a shepherd who is not false! We recognize his voice, because he lays down his life for the sheep. He won’t let any of us be lost. He is here to protect us. We can rely on him.

Jesus is the good shepherd – not just to us, but to the whole world. Jesus says that he has sheep who are “not of this fold.” In the context of John, Jesus is probably referring to the Gentiles – flocks beyond the people of Israel, who were traditionally thought to be beyond the reach of God’s love. Who are those outcast sheep today? Jesus is coming for them, too.

There will be one flock, one shepherd. As Jesus reconciles us to God, he gathers us together as one planetary community. No one is to be excluded. Every single one of us is invited to hear the voice of Jesus and become part of the one flock of God.

I’m tempted to say that Jesus calls us to be good shepherds, too. To imitate Jesus and lay down our lives for the flock. To go forth and preach the gospel, and bring those other sheep into the one flock – to gather all the peoples of the earth into the family of God in Jesus.

I’m especially tempted because it’s true. We are called to do all these things as friends of Jesus. That’s the Great Commandment: love God, and love neighbor. It’s the Great Commission: go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven. This is what it looks like in practice. We are called to imitate Jesus.

But I don’t think that this is what Jesus is saying here, in this passage in John. Jesus is not saying, “I am the good shepherd, come and be shepherds like me.” Jesus is saying, “I am the good shepherd; you are my sheep.”

We are his sheep. He gathers us into one flock. We hear his voice. He guides us to springs of living water. He feeds us on the bread of life. He restores our souls. He makes us one body in him.

We are the sheep, and Jesus is the shepherd. Our job is not to replace Jesus as the shepherd; our job is to be obedient, faithful sheep. Loving one another. Caring for one another. Listening to the voice of the shepherd as he leads us.

This sheepy-ness is the protection that we have from the false shepherds, from the hired hands that do not really care about the flock but seek leadership for their own reasons. This is our protection from the wolves: Reliance on Jesus, our one shepherd leading our one flock.

We humans are so wired to think we need more than that. The Jews wanted a king. The early church wanted archbishops and popes and ecumenical councils under the authority of emperors. The story of the people of God is one of continuous self-seduction with our sub-shepherds.

The Good news of Jesus is not the reign of sub-shepherds. God does not offer us a new temple, or a law, or sacrifices, or a political order. God offers us his son, Jesus, our good shepherd. God says, “this is my son, the beloved – listen to him!”

As the psalmist says, “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would hearken to his voice!”

Jesus is the good shepherd, and we are his flock. One shepherd, one flock, and Jesus will gather us together. We can participate. We can be the flock, but he is the shepherd. Know his voice. Listen to him. Hear him. Follow him.

We must stop looking for another answer, another leader, another ideology that will save us. Jesus is telling us, that’s a dead end. As long as we’re seeking something more than Jesus, all we’ll find is hired hands – gurus and preachers and politicians and TED Talkers and activists and CEOs – people whose interests are served by leading us for now, but who have no intention of laying down their lives for the flock.

Jesus lays down his life for the flock. Jesus is the voice we can trust. Jesus is the pillar of cloud and of fire that Israel followed in the desert. He is the water from the rock and the manna from heaven. He is the answer. On Christ the solid rock we stand; all other ground is sinking sand.

So let’s not be distracted by arguments over Paul or Apollos or Cephas – human leaders through whom we have heard the word of God and come to believe. All of our true leaders point us to Jesus, the good shepherd. Listen to him!

Trust him. Follow him. We can walk without fear, because he is guiding us. The Lord will fight our battles. The good shepherd has already triumphed over the wolves of this world. We don’t have to accomplish anything on our own. Wait on the Lord, hearken to his voice, and watch as he accomplishes it.

Why is the Cross a Symbol of Christianity? It Didn’t Used to Be!

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 2/28/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: Mark 8:31-9:1. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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The early Christian church didn’t use the cross as a religious symbol. The cross didn’t appear in the Christian art and artifacts that we have from before the reign of Emperor Constantine in the 300s AD. For the first three hundred years of the church, Christians used the image of fishes and shepherds, doves, and even boat anchors – but never the cross. The cross didn’t become a logo for Christianity until after the Roman Empire began to be Christianized and crucifixion was banned as a form of execution.

So why not? Given how central Jesus’ death on the cross is to the Christian faith, why wasn’t the cross a cherished symbol from the very beginning?

Maybe we ought to ask Peter. In the text of Mark that comes just before our reading this morning, the soon-to-be-apostle Peter has just confessed the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Jewish messiah. This is the correct answer, and Jesus doesn’t deny it. But Jesus silences Peter and orders the disciples not to tell anyone.

That’s weird enough. But what comes next is even more unexpected.

The Jewish messiah is supposed to be the person that sets the world right, kicks out the foreign invaders, and re-establishes the kingdom of David in Jerusalem – this time forever!

But immediately after Peter confesses Jesus as that very messiah, Jesus launches into a frank discussion with the disciples. He tells them, to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi, that he is not the droid they are looking for. He is the messiah, but this messiah is not the conquering king that the disciples expected. He is the suffering servant that Isaiah prophesied, saying about him:

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

    crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

    and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

    we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:5-6)

Mark says that Jesus, “began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Now, Peter thought that Jesus was going to lead him and the other disciples to victory. He thought that they were going to be doing the killing! They were going to be ruling in a kingdom of justice and peace, like the reign of Solomon, but even better. What was this craziness about being killed?

So Peter says, “Hey, Jesus, lemme talk to you for a minute.” And he speaks to him privately. I imagine it went something like this: “Come on, teacher. I know you must not mean what you are saying – you’re always talking in parables after all. But just in case I misunderstood – you know that you can’t be going up to Jerusalem to die, right? We are going up to conquer

When we get to the holy city, we are going to set all those priests and rulers straight. We’re going to get God’s house in order. And then we’re going to kick those wicked Romans out once and for all. Maybe crucify a few of them for once! Am I right, or am I right?”

Peter thought he was giving Jesus a private pep talk, but Jesus isn’t having it. He turns away from Peter and faces all of the disciples, and he says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

“Get behind me, Satan.” Wow. Can you imagine how crushing it would be to have Jesus say that to you? And not just in private, but in front of everybody? I feel sorry for Peter.

But for all his good intentions, Peter was the mouthpiece of the evil one in that moment. The Tempter was speaking through him, just like in Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the wilderness beyond the Jordan. The devil said to him, “If you will only bow down and worship me, all the kingdoms of the world can be yours.”

And so Jesus calls everybody together. Peter, the disciples, the crowds – everyone. And he tells them: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself and take up the cross. Embrace shame and execution. Accept death. Because that’s the only way to truly live. If you are not ashamed of me, you will walk with me in this path of the cross. But if you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you when I come into my kingdom.”

So ask Peter about the cross. Ask him why it wasn’t a religious symbol for the early church. Because it was a stumbling block to him. It was a scandal to everyone who heard Jesus’ words that day. 

The Roman cross was a horrifying evil, and for centuries the Christian church did not center it as a symbol. It took the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the ending of crucifixion as a punishment for the church to begin to see the cross as anything other than unalloyed horror.

That’s how we should view the cross, too. That’s the key to understanding Jesus’ words to us in the gospel of Mark. Because Jesus wasn’t using the image of “taking up your cross” as a pious metaphor. He was being literal. He was talking about the shocking, excruciating, public execution that he and many others would endure for their faith.

It’s easy to lose sight of that today, seventeen hundred years after crucifixion was consigned to the dustbin of history. It might be easier for us to hear Jesus telling us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and get strapped into the electric chair.” Or, “those who want to be my followers have to be ready for the gas chamber.” 

To be a disciple of Jesus is to face the firing squad. It is to be counted as a mortal enemy of this world. It is to face the wrath of society. It is to become a scapegoat. It is to become that suffering servant with Jesus, just like Isaiah foretold, one who “makes many righteous” and “bears their iniquities.”

We can’t step back from this message. As friends and followers of Jesus, we can’t look away from the cross, as truly horrible as it is. We can’t pretty it up, and make it just about some pious, private, “spiritual” reality. To walk with Jesus is a public and literal act. It means embracing his path of downward mobility and suffering for the love of those around us – especially those who hate us.

The early church was right. The cross isn’t a symbol of glory; it is a signet of suffering. It is what Christ suffered in order to give us life, to show God’s love to us when we hated him.

Jesus is saying to us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his life. We are each offered the same bargain. But Jesus reminds us that the devil is a liar, and his bargain is a scam: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

What Jesus offers us is life and truth. “Those who want to save their life will lose it,” but in the way of the cross, “those who lose their life for [his] sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Will we be ashamed of Jesus and his words? Will we cling to the life that we have? Will we scratch and claw and kill to defend it? 

Or will we embrace the way of our crucified messiah, the suffering servant, who has promised us that “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power”?

Still Waiting for the Kingdom of God? Time’s Up.

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 1/24/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture readings for this sermon were: Mark 1:14-20 & 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This is Jesus’ announcement as he begins his ministry, a ministry that becomes public and active after the arrest of John the Baptizer.

The time is fulfilled. John has been carried away by Herod’s soldiers and locked in a dungeon. The greatest prophet of them all, the one in whom the spirit of Elijah lives again, has been removed from the field. The Way Preparer has completed his ministry; he must decrease as Christ increases. The time is fulfilled.

The kingdom of God has come near. John, and Elijah, and Moses, and all the prophets of God have prepared the way, calling us out of the shadows. And now the Light is arriving. The reign of God has come near to us.

Repent, and believe in the good news. Repentance was John’s message. Turn back from your evil ways. Turn away from all the compromises you have made with the spirit of this age and the kingdoms of this world. Repent! Experience a full life change. Prepare yourself for the coming presence and reign of God.

The ministry of John has been fulfilled. The time is fulfilled, and now it is time not only for preparation, but full participation. It is time to believe in the gospel – the victory announcement of God, proclaimed to us by Jesus in his three years of ministry, coronated on the cross, and vindicated through the power of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Believe in the gospel. Believe the news that we have received from Jesus – that God has triumphed over the power of sin and death. The battle has been won. The spiritual armies of the King of Kings will soon be arriving to judge, and heal, and reconcile all things. We must prepare ourselves.

The battle has been won. God is already victorious. The spiritual forces that have kept us in bondage have been thrown down. And the messengers of God, his prophets, his apostles, and even his own son Jesus, have raced to us as messengers. They say to us: “Don’t be fooled by the continued operation of this city you live in, that still follows the rules of the old regime! Their armies have been smashed in battle, and the true King is returning to settle accounts! Rejoice, o daughter of Zion. Behold, your king comes to you! For the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ!”

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand – even at the very gates. Repent, therefore, and believe in the victory announcement that we have proclaimed to you.

This was Jesus’ announcement to the very first disciples – Simon and Andrew, James and John. This was the victory announcement, the good news of God’s victory and coming kingdom. He said to these wide-eyed fishermen, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

These were humble men, for sure. But they had something to lose. Following Jesus meant leaving their family business behind, abandoning everything – livelihood, parents, everything that provided them with a sense of place and identity. They gave everything up to follow Jesus.

They believed the victory announcement. They believed in the gospel. They believed that the armies of God were on the march, and that the king would be returning very soon.

The early church operated under this same sense of urgency. This morning we read from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he urges his fellow disciples to regard the present age as the type of order that exists in a conquered city only as a sort of inertia. The former rulers have been defeated in battle; but for a period of time, amidst the confusion, the local officials and police continue to enforce the old laws.

As followers of Jesus, as people who have believed in the gospel of God, we know that – as Paul puts it – “the present form of this world is passing away.”

We have heard and believed the victory announcement, and what a different perspective this gives us! For those who believe in the gospel, we are practically living in a different universe from the vast majority who take the present ordering of society for granted. For Paul’s hearers, this order was the Roman Empire. The power of the legions and the might of the imperial economy. The culture of honor and shame, of rulers and enslaved.

Today, we hear the victory announcement in the context of a waning American empire. We inhabit in a world that depends on the might of NATO and the World Bank, the strength of the dollar, the extractive, fossil-fuel-driven global economy. We live in a city that goes about its normal operations, unable or unwilling to see that God’s triumph has changed everything. Unwilling to repent and believe in the victory announcement.

This past month, I had some health issues that were serious enough that I went into the doctor to get checked out. I really don’t like going to the doctor, so for me to go in meant that I was pretty concerned.

This gave me an opportunity to think quite a bit about my own mortality. About the fact that, one way or another, for me, the present form of this world is most certainly passing away. Whether I live for another fifty years or another five minutes, this life doesn’t go on forever.

It got me thinking. Thinking about what really matters. Got me thinking about how much I love my children, and how I want to be here for them. How I want to raise them to be friends and followers of Jesus. 

I’ve been thinking about the work I do as a servant of the gospel here at Berkeley Friends Church. About my life’s legacy. The legacy that all of us in Berkeley Friends Church might have, when we invite our friends and neighbors to discover the good news of Jesus Christ in these days of great shaking and revealing. I’m thinking about what it looks like for us to be fishers of people.

When I consider my inevitable death, there is so little that truly matters. So much of what occupies my conscious thought melts away as transient silliness. How much money do I have? Am I successful and rewarded at my job? What will the stock market do? Does this or that person like me? How long do I get to live? None of this really matters in the light of eternity. The present form of this world is passing away.

And this is the advice Paul gives us. He says, to quote Princess Elsa from Frozen: “Let it go.”

Are you married? Don’t worry about it. Are you mourning? Don’t get too caught up in it. Are you happy? Don’t let that distract you either. Is business up or down? Don’t get too attached to it. These are not the things that really matter.

Because we live in a city that has just received the victory announcement from the true king. We have learned that the present order has been stripped of all authority. Sure, the city may continue in the status quo for a little while longer, while we wait for the king and his army to arrive from the battlefield. But anything we do in the meantime, anything we build or come to rely on in this old order, is going to be swept away. A new order is coming. It is the only thing worth investing in.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

If this present order were to come to an end this year, if the kingdom of God came with full force, would you be ready? Is your life built on the things that are eternal, or do you have a sandy foundation? 

Are your energies focused on caring for others – tending the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the broken-hearted? Is your life dedicated to sharing the victory announcement, so that everyone has the opportunity to know life – real life – as it truly is, and not missing it chasing this twilight empire that is is crumbling around us?

The early Quakers shared this sense of demanding urgency with the first disciples and the early church. George Fox wrote to his mother and father, warning them not to get lost in the froth and confusion of the present age, but to pay attention to the voice of Christ within them to lead them. He wrote to them these words, which I will sing for you:

Ye have no time, but this present time: therefore prize your time for your souls’ sake.

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

We have no time but this present time. There are so many whose hearts are thirsting for the good news of Jesus. Pray that God will tender our hearts to embrace repentance, so that we will become fishers of people.

As followers of Jesus, we are co-bearers of the victory announcement. But ours is not merely the task of announcing the gospel; we are co-heirs with Jesus in enacting it. We are to become fishers of people, drawing others into the same life and power and immediacy that we have discovered. We are not merely to live in freedom from this present age that is passing away; we are to actively participate, now, in the new order that is coming. Our job is to invite others into that new age.

Because the victory is already won. Our king is already triumphant. Jesus Christ is Lord, and the kingdom of God has come near.

The church often seems very comfortable with the idea that the kingdom of God was present for three years during Jesus’ ministry, and then for the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. But after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, it seems like many of us imagine that we have returned to a world that is fundamentally unchanged – still under the administration of the same powers that nailed Jesus to the cross.

But that’s not the truth. The powers have been defeated on the battlefield of Calvary, and we await the arrival of the king.

Are we as the church of Jesus Christ waiting for another victory announcement? Are we waiting for the second coming to start living in the life, power, and kingdom of God?

That’s not what the early church taught in the streets of Jerusalem and the highways of the Roman Empire. That’s not what Paul taught the communities he founded across the ancient world. That’s not the message of the early Quakers, or any other movement of the Holy Spirit that we can point to.

Jesus’ message to us two thousand years ago is still his message to us today: 

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

“Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

It’s time to get clear on what really matters. It’s time to re-dedicate our lives to the good news of Jesus Christ. It is time to reorient – to repent – so that we can be effective fishers of people, expanding the circle of God’s love, and teaching others to follow Jesus and become fishers themselves.

We have no time but this present time. The present form of this world is passing away.

Jesus is calling – and maybe not so softly and tenderly this time – Jesus is calling us: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

The Real Meaning of Christmas: We Can Be Like Jesus

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 12/27/20, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture readings for this sermon were: Galatians 3:23-4:7. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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We’re celebrating this morning that Jesus Christ was born. We’re celebrating the Word made flesh. We’re celebrating the eternal, uncreated Word of God, who existed from the beginning and is God. We’re celebrating that the one through whom all things in the universe were made became flesh and dwelt among us. The creator of the universe, the most powerful, majestic entity we can’t possibly imagine, became a little baby boy.

God has become one of us. It’s not a metaphor, it’s not a Hallmark card – it’s a revolution: The Word has become flesh, in the ultimate act of love and solidarity with humankind. 

So this morning, we are celebrating his presence with us. His incarnation as a little baby, who grew into a boy, then a young man, and finally our teacher, healer, prophet, and crucified king. The savior of the world.

This season of Christmas is a special invitation for us to pay attention. To remember that God has in fact shown up, definitively – not only in our hearts, but in human history. The life of Jesus is the definitive in-breaking of God’s life and power into our world.

In our scripture reading this morning, the apostle Paul speaks to us about what a massive breakthrough the incarnation is. He compares it to children coming of age and becoming adults. Before the advent of Jesus, Paul says, “we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.” 

We were like minor children, who were not ready to think for ourselves, or take any real responsibility. We were babes in the woods, and to keep us safe and on track, God gave us the law.

Paul describes the law as a “disciplinarian” – we might say a “babysitter” – who bound and guarded us as children until we were grown enough to come into our inheritance.

Jesus is that inheritance. As Paul says:

…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

The fullness of time has come, and now we are children of God. Children of God. What makes us think we can dare to claim that relationship with God? Who are we to think that we can participate in divine sonship with Jesus? It is because, as Paul writes, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!”

This grace does not come from us. It’s not a matter of our own righteousness. It’s not any goodness inherent to us, or anything we have accomplished by ourselves. It is the presence of the Spirit of Jesus. It is his incarnation, the Word made flesh, who has opened the door for us to become sons and daughters of God. 

In the shocking words of the early church theologian Athanasius, “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

Can you believe that? Can you even wrap your head around that? Let me know if you can, because it is really hard for me!

Jesus is the only begotten son of God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He was in the beginning, and there was no time that he was not alive and participating in the life of God. And this son, this Word of God, this man Jesus who gives us life from the Father and shows us who God is: We can be like him?

That’s what Paul says. That’s the witness of scripture and the teaching of the pre-Nicene doctors of the Church. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ: In this world, we are like Jesus.

As Paul says, now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the disciplinarian. There’s no babysitter anymore. We are no longer under the law, because Christ has brought us to maturity. We have become grown men and women in Christ Jesus, and we share in the sonship and daughtership. As Paul writes, “You are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir through God.”

What kind of ridiculous love is this? It doesn’t make any sense. Who are we that God should stoop down to lift us up in this way?

This is big stuff. Honestly, it’s scary. I’m not surprised that most Christians shy away from the full implications of this message. The message that Jesus has opened the way for us to become sons and daughters, heirs to the promises of God. Participating in the divine nature. Made one with God, brothers and sisters with Jesus, standing together with him in the glory of his Father.

It’s a lot to digest. And it raises the question: Are we walking worthy of the grace that has been extended to us? Is it true that, in the words of the apostle John, “in this world, we are like Jesus”?

In this world, are we like Jesus? Do we bear his stamp and imprint? Does his life flow through us, and touch others as he touches the world? 

I guess I understand why most of us Christians would prefer the babysitter. We would prefer to be unaccountable minor children in our father’s household rather than sons and daughters. Because unaccountable children, children who are told what to do, and where to go, and how to learn – that seems about right-sized to me. Stepping out onto the same playing field as Jesus? That feels way above my pay grade.

But the fact is, God has called us to be heirs. He has given us the power to be co-heirs with Jesus, sons and daughters of the promise. “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” 

Through Jesus, God has become our Father, too.

So where does that leave us?

Some of you may know that Robbie, Chuck, and I are in a Life Transformation Group together. And as a part of that group, we answer a set of accountability questions each week. The first of these questions is this: “Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?”

And pretty much every week, we say, “no.” That seems too big for us. It seems like too big of a stretch to say, “Yes, I lived up to the character of Jesus this week.”

And on the one hand, this is just being realistic. This is humility. This is realizing that each of us has fallen short this week, and Jesus never will. So saying, “Oh yeah, I was totally a reflection of Christ’s face this week,” feels a little ridiculous.

But the truth is, we are called to the ridiculous. The cloud of witnesses that we trust call us to something much more radiant and powerful than what Paul calls the “elemental spirits of the world” – the ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are commonplace in this world, but which are alienated from God. We are called to the ridiculous, improbable life of holiness and participation in the divine nature.

Paul says that we are heirs along with Jesus. The apostle John says that “in this world, we are like Jesus.” And Athanasius, along with similar statements by many other early church teachers, says that “the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

So we have got to live in that tension, as friends of Jesus and children of God: 

On the one hand, we are not worthy. We mess up. We can’t live up to God’s intention for us on our own. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness and transformation. 

And yet at the same time, “the Son of God became man so that we might become God” and “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

We are living in this tension of our own utter inability to live up to the calling of the law and the prophets, and the teachings of Jesus, and the witness of the early church. We just can’t do it. We’re not strong enough.

Yet God has sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts. God has given us the power to become sons and daughters of God, according to the promise.

What does it look like for us to receive this promise, to receive the power and presence of Jesus to transform our lives – not because we are able, but because he is?

When I was a kid, it was a really common taunt to say, “that’s not a threat, it’s a promise.” And this morning I have been thinking about that taunt, and how it sounds coming from the mouth of God.

Because for so many of us, the Christian story has often sounded like a threat. It’s been a story of ridiculous, unfair expectations – a story of a God who sets us up to fail and then punishes us severely when we do. It’s a story where we have to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps, and become the holy people that God calls us to. We have to do all the right things, or else.

But the gospel isn’t a threat, it’s a promise. 

The kingdom of God is not a meritocracy. It’s not about redeeming ourselves through our own effort. The gospel is not something that is done by us, but rather it is what God has promised to do in us and through us.

The promise of God is that we are being given the Spirit of Jesus, who cries, “Abba! Father!” Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. If we abide in him, we can bear the fruit of God’s love. In the face of all the threats that this world throws at us, God has promised us victory and transformation – a new and bottomless life as his sons and daughters.

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” Clothe yourself with him. Invite his spirit to fill and surround you. And we will discover that:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.