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From Him, Through Him, and To Him August 27, 2017

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Romans 11:33-12:8

Proper 16

August 27, 2017

 

Focus:  God tears down the prideful but builds up the humble.

Function:  That the hearers offer themselves as a living sacrifice through service to their neighbor.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

From Him, Through Him, and To Him

 

One spring, two ducks and a frog became close friends on the small, local lake where they lived.  As summer came and the heat of the sun began to dry up the lake, the ducks grew concerned.  They could fly somewhere else to find a new home, but what of their friend, the frog?  After thinking for a while, the ducks came up with an idea.  They decided to share a stick by each grabbing an end in their beaks.  The frog could then hang on to the stick with his mouth as they flew him away to a new home.

While they glided over a nearby farm, the farmer looked up and was amazed at the ingenuity.  “Hey, what a great idea!  Who came up with it?”  And as the frog opened his mouth to yell out, “I did!” well, let’s just say he croaked.

There’s an old saying that pride comes before the fall.  And this is something that Pastor Fritsch spent some time last week exploring in his sermon on how the Scriptures teach us to think about racism.

We looked at the Tower of Babel, where the goal of the people was to build a tower so high, that they would make a name for themselves.  That the world around them would look to them and their power.

And it’s always been this way.  The early church around the fourth or fifth century came up with what we now call the Seven Deadly Sins, based largely on Paul’s writings in Galatians 5.  But of these seven sins, they identified pride as being the chief sin, and the one that leads to all the others.

And this is still the way it is today.  While we as Lutherans don’t normally talk about the Seven Deadly Sins, we do currently live in a culture that’s built on pride.  From the view of capitalism, companies take pride in their work and in their products, and even in their bottom line.  We see their statements of self pride become ads, slogans, and even t-shirts we pay them to wear for them to advertise for them.

On a social level, pride in equality, pride in our differences, pride in our progress.  On a national level, pride in our military, pride in our government, pride in our institutions.  Patriotism or national pride.

On a more personal level, we are taught from childhood that we should take pride in ourselves and our own accomplishments.  We are taught individualism, that we have to stand up for ourselves.  That we have to work for what we want.  If you want something in life, you have to take it.  That we should be proud of who we are.  That we are all special. We are taught that whatever we believe to be true is true.  We must believe in ourselves.

We can debate any particular one of these.  Maybe there’s a place for some, maybe not.  And not everyone is taught each of these things.  But my point in listing them out like I did was just to show you how much pride is a part of our worldstory in this culture.  Really, in any culture.

But our epistle reading today calls us out of pride and into humility.  The last part of chapter 11 is a helpful reminder: we’re not God.  We can’t even figure out all the secrets of nature and our existence.  We don’t know what’s inside a black hole.  We can’t cure every disease.  We can’t even agree on whether or not the earth is overpopulated. Or apparently, flat.

There are limits to our existence, limits to what we can accomplish, limits to who we were made to be.  The turning point verse of this particular pericope today is 11:36 – “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be glory forever.  Amen.”  The more I pondered that one phrase, the more richly I saw it.

FROM HIM – Things flow out of God.  All things come into existence because of God.  Here we can truly cherish the beauty of creation and the beauty of life.  These things are gifts from the Father, from God Himself.  Your hands, your hair, your feet, your lungs, your ability to breath, and walk, and run, and laugh, and cry.  These things are all from Him.

And while sin and pride may not come from God, He does have the answer to them.  He watched us, He watches us, as we revel in ourselves, in our own pride, in our own ability, in our own institutions.  And as we live day by day not even giving Him a thought, what did we get from God?  Was it wrath and destruction?  Far from it!  From God, we received life and salvation.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior.  A gift, from God.  His response to our sin and our pride and our death is forgiveness, forgiveness that flows from the pierced side of Jesus Christ, from the nail scarred hands, and from the scourged flesh.  But coming down from that cross is not wrath, but love and life in Jesus.

THROUGH HIM – John introduced his gospel account, the third verse by saying that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.”  John connects Jesus to creation.  It wasn’t just the Father’s act, but it was an act of the Trinity.  We were made in the likeness of God, in His image, through His speaking.  He spoke, we live.

A favorite verse for many people also uses this language.  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13.  Now, granted, this verse is usually taken out of context.  What Paul was actually saying to the Philippian church was that through his trust in God alone, he could face any challenge this sinful world had.  Beatings, imprisonments, going before Caesar to tell him he’s not God.  Enduring times without food, times with plenty of food.  Times of great need, times of abundance.  With faith in God, Paul knew that whatever came, good or bad, through faith in God, Paul could point them to Christ.

And that’s the last turn of the phrase.  TO GOD – Where do all the verses of Scripture point us?  Where does all of creation point?  All of these things are meant to point us to Christ.  To God.  As we talk about liturgy, every part of the divine service used by Lutherans around the world points us to Christ.  Nearly everything up here points us to Christ.  Bonus points if you catch me after church and tell me what doesn’t!

Everything that we are as the people of God is to point others to Christ.  Think about that for a moment.  Why are we commanded to love our neighbor?  Is it so we can all get along?  Is it so they can live a happy life?  Is it so we can benefit a little bit, reap the rewards of a good relationship.  I have sweet tooth by the way, just gonna leave that here.

Not at all.  We are to live our lives loving our neighbor not for our good, but for theirs.  We love our neighbor to point them to God.  To Christ and Him crucified for them.  This is where Paul is going, both in the Philippians verse and here in Romans.  This is why chapter 12 is all about not pride, but being humble.

Paul calls on us, as brothers, as children of God, to sacrifice ourselves.  Not in a gruesome, bloody way, but in love.  True love is giving of yourself for the benefit of another.  I’ve become convinced recently that that’s the definition of what it means to be a man.  To give of yourself.  Self-sacrificial love as Christ gave Himself up for us.

Whether it’s racism last week, pride today, or any other topic, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Our worldstory, our very identity as Christians is not as Americans, but as children of God.

And it’s a humble identity, as we realize that everything we do points others to Him.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian (10:31) church, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  And so he continues to instruct his fellow Christians in this section.  He comes as clearly as he can in verse 3 that we should be humble, that we should put others before ourselves.  That we should love our neighbor.

It took me a long time to overcome the individualisms that I’d been taught.  It almost stopped me from being a pastor.  And I mean that, I had spoken to the seminary, to the proper people about leaving my first trimester.  I had a foot out the door.  I just couldn’t understand original sin.  I didn’t get it.  It wasn’t fair or just for me as an individual to be blamed, held accountable, and punished on account of something I didn’t even do.

And even today, I know that individual pride still lurks in my life, and still clings to me as I try to live to the glory of God.  I see it in my life, in my home, in my work, and I truly rejoice that God sent His Son to die for all of us.  That in Christ all of our sins are forgiven, all of our punishment, paid for.  All of our death, defeated by an empty tomb.

Paul spells this out.  What does this look like?  What does it look like to be the people of God?  We are the body of Christ.  Each and every one of us is a part, a member, of the same body.  Paul gave this speech more than once, to more than one church.  Maybe you’re a hand, maybe you’re an eye, or an ear.  Each person has their own place within the body.  Not as a thing of pride, or a “You owe me one.”  No.  As an interdependent family.  We, as the people of God, trusting in Him for all things, live life together, as a church, as a community, doing all things to the glory of God.

Whatever vocations you have, God is working through you in those various roles in your life to share His love, His provision, His forgiveness, His Son with the people around you.  And so Paul encourages us to do our vocations precisely as they are.  If serving, serve, if contributing, be generous, if leading, do it with zeal, with passion.  Do all to the glory of God.

 

 

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Humility and Compassion August 28, 2016

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Luke 14:1-14

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2016

 

Focus:  God humbled Himself, taking on flesh, to die for us.

Function:  That the hearers care for others.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Humility and Compassion

 

Sometimes when you read a text from Scripture, it just doesn’t seem to go together.  And our text from the gospel according to Luke today is just like that.  You can read it through and hear Jesus teach things, but they seem disconnected.  We have a healing on the Sabbath, and then some teaching on being humble, and it closes with some advice about who we should invite into our homes and spend our time with.

So at first we wonder what Luke is doing.  Why did he put these three things right next to each other?  But as we reflect on the text, we can see that Luke didn’t actually put these things together, Jesus did.  They all happened at the same time, one right after the other.

So then we wonder why Jesus is all over the board here, bouncing from one topic to another so quickly.  And this is why it’s truly helpful to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God.  Too many believe that once you’ve read it once, you never need to read it again.  This isn’t some awful movie that you watch once and never want to see again.  It’s more like your favorite film, something like a Sound of Music or a Star Wars, where you want to see it time and time again.  And I know there are probably several people here who could sing that musical soundtrack without any help at all.  And yet, you still enjoy them.

The depth of Scripture is unparalleled.  You can read the same text every day for the rest of your life and you’ll still be learning, still growing in your understanding of how God is saving His people.

And so we look at our text from Luke again today, and a little closer.   Look at each of the three paragraphs, the three sections, and notice how they begin.

In the first paragraph, the very start of this chapter, we see that Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee to eat with him and his other guests.  This, as it turns out, is the same context for the rest of our reading.  He’s not going anywhere.  It’s the same people, the same meal.

Now we’re not given a time, but at some point early in Jesus’ time in the house, He sees a man who has dropsy, which according to Mayo, is intense swelling of the hands, feet, and other limbs.  This man is clearly sick, his life deeply impacted by this illness and the limitations it presents.  And Jesus sees Him, and does what?  What’s His response?

Notice it isn’t immediately healing him.  Which makes you wonder if this sick man was there of his own doing, or if this was all a set up by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into breaking the Sabbath again.  Because instead of just healing him, Jesus begins to question, to teach, those around Him.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

And they respond with silence.  Silence, so as to allow Jesus to continue on, to just do what they knew He would.  Heal the man so we can cast you out.  And so He does, He heals the sick man and sends him away, and then goes right back to teaching, to challenging these Pharisees and lawyers.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

It’s their trap, but Jesus spins it back on them, and traps them with it.  They don’t know how to respond.  In fact, they do know how to respond, but it proves them wrong, and so they keep their mouths shut once again.  We see a lot from Jesus here.  We see His compassion for the sick, but also His compassion for the misguided.  Because He’s teaching them, and He stays around.

You see the text continues.  Jesus remained in the house, and we watched others, He watched the guests take their place at the owner’s table.  And how each wanted the seats of honor, likely the seats right by the host.  Or maybe for you, the seat at the wedding reception table that gets to go get their food first!  But Jesus sees the pride of these people, how they seek after, covet the affections, the attention, the gifts of the guy throwing the party.

And so He counters them, again, teaching.  He tells them the parable of the wedding feast.  If you seat yourself in a seat of honor, what will happen if someone else arrives that the master of the banquet wants to give that honor?  He will ask you to move, and you will walk away embarrassed, ashamed, to the lowest place as most of the other seats are already filled.  But if you humble yourself, shed that ego, think less of yourself, and sit at the lowest place, what will happen?  Maybe nothing, you just end up sitting there, enjoy the party, meet some new people.  Or maybe, the master of the banquet singles you out, and raises you up, asking you to sit near him.  Rather than being embarrassed, you’ll be built up, encouraged, your relationship with the master grows all the more.

So He’s spoken to the religious leaders, and then to the guests at large at this party, and then the third paragraph here we come back to see Him address the man who invited Him, presumably, the owner of the house.

And again, He teaches.  He teaches this man who to invite.  He tells him not to invite friends, family, or wealthy neighbors.  Why?  Because they’ll pay him back.  They’ll return the favor.  Instead, he’s encouraged to invite those who can’t invite him back, those who can’t return the favor.  The poor, crippled, lame, and blind.   These people can’t give him anything because they don’t have anything.  He’s encouraging him to spend his time with the least of these.

And so as we dig deeper into this context, we do start to see how these three teachings all fit together.  It’s not three unconnected events.  It’s not even just three teachable moments for the Christ.  It is a series on compassion and humility in a place where compassion and humility were gravely absent.

We see a man in need of compassion, and the leaders refuse to give it to him.  They remain in their ego-filled high place, while this man with dropsy is looked down upon.  Christ comes along, has compassion upon him, heals his sickness, and sends him off back into his life.

We see this same message of humility then shared with the guests.  That rather than thinking too highly of themselves, they should be as servants, taking the lowest place, that they might receive honor and be lifted up.

And then to the host himself, Christ again speaks of compassion and humility.  The host’s home is filled with egos.  It’s filled with people seeking to glorify themselves and who look down on others.  So Jesus encourages this man to have compassion on the ones they look down on.  To care for the sick.  To befriend the lame.  To feed the poor.  This may not glorify you in the eyes of the world, certainly not the Pharisees, but it brings glory to God in heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, that repayment at the resurrection has something to do with seeing the least of these at the heavenly feast.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is Christ.  Let’s recall your catechetical instruction.   We talk about Christ as having two states.  What are they?  The state of humiliation and the state of exaltation.  And which came first?  As we plow through the creed, “came down from heaven…incarnate….made man…crucified also for us…suffered and was buried.”  These things, that Christ took on flesh, came into this world to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  Not a champion rider on a horse bringing destruction, but as a humble servant willing to lay down His life for His friends.

And that’s precisely what He did.  He laid down His life for all of us.  Christ died upon that cross that we might live.  He died that we wouldn’t have to die.  God died for you.  That’s humble.  And in the most embarrassing of ways, asphyxiated to death in front of the world to see.

But then out of this humility the Father in heaven exalted His Son: “rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”  Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Christ was exalted, all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And so Christ comes to teach, to share what compassion and humility look like.  Many times I hear that sermons need to always spell out the application.  What does this text look like in my life?  Why should it matter to me?  I admit, I don’t often do that.  And I know it.  It’s intentional that I leave it out.  I want you to be able to hear the Word of God and to be able to figure out how it applies on your own.  That’s part of maturity in our faith.

With that said, it’s still good for me to give you the applications from time to time, as a guide, as an example, to help you in your ability to see how the Spirit works through His Word today.  And this text is quite simple.  It’s the same message Christ was teaching to the people then.

Have compassion on others.  Don’t look down upon them because they’re not like you.  For example, don’t look down upon an entirely different generation because they don’t seem to have life figured out like you do.  Have compassion, get to know them, walk alongside them, teach them.  But also be humble and realize there’s much they can teach you as well.

It’s also a good reminder for us to care for the least of these.  This isn’t just helping with charity events like Channel One or Feed My Starving Children.  Those are good things, helpful things.  But in your daily life, finding ways to invite others into your home who are hungry, or lonely, or grieving.

A great example of this is major holidays, times like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.   Go around your neighborhood and invite your neighbors to celebrate those days at your table.  Most will turn you down, having a place to go already.  But you may find someone who doesn’t, a widow marking her first Christmas alone.  A young couple a thousand miles away from home and the only family they know.  A man who looks so rich but is actually poor because of all the debt he has taken on trying to be something he’s not.  And you don’t have to wait for the holidays.  Invite someone over this weekend.

That’s just a couple of an endless number of examples you could come up with about compassion and humility.  But we also remember that it’s not by our compassion or our humility that we earn our salvation.  Christ has already done that for us.

Pride and Perfection October 5, 2014

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Philippians 3:4b-14

Proper 22

October 5, 2014

 

Focus:  God is our source of life and strength.

Function:  That the hearers humble themselves to the point of serving.

Structure: This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

Pride and Perfection

 

Let’s begin with a question.  I want you to take a few moments to think of some of the things in your life that you’re proud of.

Perhaps you take pride in your achievements, your job, your home, the things you’ve worked hard for.  And maybe that pride isn’t about stuff.  You’re proud of what you’ve made of yourself.  Maybe that hard work is what you’ve poured into raising a family.  You’re proud of who your little ones have become.  You’re proud to say you’re a Lutheran or a Christian.  You’re proud of any number of things.  Tuck those in the back of your mind for a few minutes.

It’s in our upbringing, it’s in the way we were raised.  There’s a special place in our heart for our own independence, our own ability to stand on our own two feet.  We’ve been taught that if you want something, you have to go and get it for yourself.  We’ve been taught that we can’t count on others to help us, we have to be able to fend for ourselves.

These ideas are so deeply rooted in our society.  They’re deeply connected to who we are.  They’re deeply connected to our dreams and our desires.  This could never be clearer than looking at our stories.  Who among us doesn’t love a feel good story about someone who didn’t have a chance, who was down and out, but then picked themselves up by the bootstraps and fought and clawed their way to a better place?  How many of our books, songs, and movies have that for a theme?  That’s part of the superhero craze.  We look up to them, we enjoy the stories, in part because it speaks to our heartfelt need for independence.  They’re doing what we wish we could do.  No matter how many times they get knocked down, they always get back up again.  They always keep fighting.

That’s where our text begins with the Apostle Paul.  As we turn to Philippians chapter three, we find Paul talking about his ability to do it on his own.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

 

Here we find the great Apostle Paul rattling off his greatness.  Listing the ways in which he could be proud.  Eighth day circumcision means he’s followed the law from the beginning.  From that point in his life, he was part of God’s covenant, part of God’s people.

More than that, he came from the tribe of Benjamin.  The twelve tribes of Israel consisted of Jacob’s twelve sons.  By his favorite wife, Jacob had Joseph and Benjamin.  Because one of his sons Levi was given a different role as priest, he didn’t get a tribe.  So one more had to be added to keep the number at twelve.  To do that, Joseph’s descendants were split in two.  His two sons Ephraim and Manasseh both got tribes.  Thus, Benjamin was the favorite remaining child to have his own tribe.  And that’s where Paul comes from.

And as for keeping the law, of course!  Paul was a Pharisee.  These men were so strict about keeping God’s law they even made up more laws to follow.  And Paul was so ardent about his faith, he was willing to persecute those he thought were mocking God’s name.  Blameless, Paul would call himself.

This is his checklist; here he lists his worthiness before God.  If anyone can get in own his own merit, on his own two feet, it’s Paul.  But listen to what he has to say about his pride, about his keeping of the law, about the things he’s accomplished for himself:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

 

“Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  All of this stuff, all of my pride, all of my boasting amounts to nothing.  Apart from Christ, I am nothing.  I have nothing.  I can achieve nothing.

When I looked up the word “pride” on dictionary.com, there was only one antonym listed, only one opposite.  Humility.  And that’s what this whole letter is about.  That’s what Paul’s entire letter to the church in Philippi focuses on as its theme.  Pride vs. humility.

Pride, historically, has been considered one of man’s worst traits.  And since we’re already on the internet, what would this sermon be without a reference to Wikipedia?  In its entry on the seven deadly sins, here’s what it has to say:

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).”

 

Paul certainly saw it this way.  In his writings, Paul makes pride and boasting the same.  He makes pride and self-centeredness the same.  And this idea of pride being a negative trait actually has its roots in God’s Word.  The words “pride” and “proud” show up 87 times in the Bible.  Only six of those are positive.  The rest talk about us separating ourselves from God, of pride being our downfall, or of God’s pending destruction of the prideful.

Only six times is pride used in a good way.  And they’re the same.  Just like Paul says about boasting, the only good that comes from pride is when it’s rooted in Christ.  He’s proud that the gospel has created faith in the people of Philippi.  He’s proud that the Spirit has used him to communicate Christ’s love.

For several millennia in both church and world history, pride was considered a vice, the downfall of man.  It was seen as us separating ourselves from God.  But in America today, you hear the word just about anywhere you go.  We’re proud of our accomplishments, we’re proud of our athletes, we’re proud of our grades, we’re proud of just about everything.  And as the one song says, we’re even proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.

We like being able to say we did it ourselves.  We’ve done this great thing.  We’re independent.  We don’t need anyone’s help.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Everything we’ve done amounts to nothing.  If you work hard and amass a bunch of stuff, Solomon will make you depressed, because he’ll tell you in Ecclesiastes that’s it all meaningless and you can’t take it with you.  And that’s life, apart from Christ.

We’re sinners, we’ve broken the law.  We’ve failed to achieve perfection in our lives.  But that’s where Christ comes in.  He’s the ultimate example of what Paul is trying to say.  In fact, just a chapter earlier, Paul uses Christ as the ultimate example.  He was perfect.  He could stand on His own two feet.  He could be proud of His own accomplishments.  He could have looked out for only Himself.  But He did just the opposite.  He gave of Himself, He sacrificed of Himself, He lowered Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Christ humbled Himself and became a servant, our servant.  To show us the way.

Another powerful illustration of the vast difference between pride and humility is marriage.  If you focus only on yourself, if you continue to live your life taking care of #1, marriage will be a painful and angry place.  That’s not how it was designed.  If instead, you put your spouse first, their needs before your own.  If instead, you both cast off your pride and serve the other, making yourself into a servant, sure, you’ll still have bumps along the way as sinners, but you will also be blessed to experience the bliss of life together.  And you might just be blessed enough to catch a glimpse of our relationship with God.

These things are why Paul concludes our text today by saying “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  The bad of our past is gone.  Forgotten.  Forgiven.  And now instead, we can look around us and see what God sees.  We can look around us and see people, people whom He loves.  Every person matters.

So maybe it’s time to strike pride and proud from our vocabulary.  Maybe it’s time to stop wanting to live on our own and stand on our own.  Maybe it’s time to realize that we can’t do this ourselves.  Maybe it’s time to realize that Christ has already done it for us.   Maybe it’s time to open our eyes and see Him standing at our side, giving us the strength to go another day.  Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on ourselves and start focusing on each other, as Christ did for us.

 

Giving Up Superiority March 14, 2012

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John 4:5-42

Lent Midweek 4

March 14, 2012

Focus: God is the superior author of all things.

Function: That the hearers live humble lives of service.

Structure: Story/reflect

 

Giving Up Superiority

 

As I was preparing this week, I came across a story that I just have to share with you.  It’s about a man named Bill.  He has wild hair, likes to wear a T-shirt, jeans with holes in them and walk around barefoot. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.  He’s intelligent, a little shy, but very, very bright.

He became a Christian while attending college and across the street from the campus was a well-dressed, very conservative church. They’d been wanting to develop a ministry to the students, but just weren’t sure how to go about it.

So one day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair. The service has already started, so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find anywhere to sit. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.  Bill gets closer to the pulpit, and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right there on the carpet.  While that may be perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, it had never happened in this church before!

The people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.  About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon’s in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this young man, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor?

It takes a long time before the deacon reaches the young man. The church is utterly silent, except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t feel alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. When the minister regains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you’ll never remember. What you’ve just seen, you’ll never forget.”

The congregation’s desire to minister to college students was a good, godly thing.  But their attitude toward college students was a road block.  As Bill walked up the aisle of the church, anyone could have scrunched a little tighter in their pew and given him a spot to sit down.  Instead, they were so concerned about the petty things, like clothing and appearance, and their own comfort, that they were afraid to reach out to Bill.

Oh, and did they ever expect the deacon to lay down the law, to put Bill in his place!  But instead, he removed the road block.  He paved the path for ministry.  He went out of his way, and certainly out of his comfort zone, to make Bill feel welcome at church.  He reached out, he started a relationship.

Did you get the same sense from our gospel lesson?  Did you notice what John’s concerns were in recounting the event?  Did you notice the things he thought his audience would be thinking about?  Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior and Lord, went to Samaria.  And as He waited by the well for His disciples to return from the market, a woman approached to draw some water.

Your typical Jew would have done one of a couple things.  They might have hid their face avoiding any contact or conversation with the woman.  Or, they probably would have just walked off, not wanting to be around her.  But they wouldn’t have done what Jesus did.  In retelling her response, John identifies two problems.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  We see the first issue again, as the disciples returned and marveled that Jesus was speaking with a woman.  But John also pointed out that Jews want nothing to do with Samaritans.

Have you ever wondered why that is?  What is it about Samaritans that Jews don’t like?  Well, it stems from Old Testament history.  Samaritans are people from Samaria, which we see here on Jesus’ journey.  But Samaria was the capital city of Israel.  Now I don’t mean Israel as in God’s chosen people, but instead the split between Israel and Judah, when God’s people became two separate nations.  Samaria was Israel’s capital, and Jerusalem was the capital of Judah.  Israel was the first to fall, conquered by Assyria.  And though they were carted off into captivity, the Bible recalls that they never returned.  They never repented of their sinful ways.

Judah, however, is carried off a couple hundred years later by Babylon.  During their time in captivity, the Jews, the people of Judah, repent of their wickedness and God sends Cyrus, King of Persia to free them from their bondage.  The Jews returned home to their lands.

There are a couple pieces to this.  First, Jews and Samaritans were at war with each other almost constantly through the books of Kings.  But when you combine that with the fact that Judah returned and Israel didn’t, the Jews turned their bitter feelings toward Samaritans into superiority.  They felt they alone were God’s people.   And they lorded it over the Samaritans.  Not much different from how the Pharisees treated other Jews, especially the “known sinners.”

But like the deacon, Jesus didn’t let the culture around Him detract from His ministry.  He wasn’t about to let the opinions of men harm the soul of people.  Jesus reached out to a woman who was hurting.  He reached out to a sinner to offer her the gospel, the message of salvation that she, and her people, needed to hear.

This isn’t the only time Jesus ever broke society’s norms for the sake of the gospel.  Dining with tax collectors and prostitutes didn’t sit well with the Pharisees.  But He didn’t care.  He was building relationships as a means to share with them the message of salvation.  He didn’t let the Pharisees and the teachers of the law lord their superiority over Him.

God’s Word, and His message of salvation, are far more important and superior than any lines we draw in the sand, any distinctions we make among us.  If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ve likely noticed that our Catholic brothers and sisters are being attacked a lot lately.  Not only because of the recent health care law, but they had another chance before them this week to uphold the superiority of God’s Word.

One of their parishioners, an elderly lady, died last week.  Maybe it was through knowing this woman, or through funeral planning, but one way or the other, the priest found out that her daughter was a lesbian.  When the day of the funeral came and communion began, the daughter approached the rail.  On Scriptural principles, believing her to be unrepentant of sin in her life, the priest denied her communion at her mother’s funeral.

Since word got out, the homosexual community and the media have combined to create a riot.  If it were some other sin that she was stuck in, the story probably wouldn’t have even hit the local papers, let alone gone national.  The Catholic church has since suspended the priest in question, citing other problems in his ministry as the cause of suspension.  But because of the timing of it, the family and homosexual community, however, see it as a victory.

The reason I bring this news to the table isn’t to single out one particular sin.  Rather, it’s an example of how even as Christians, we sometimes allow our own interests or values to replace Scripture.  Abortion and the new healthcare law is being twisted into a woman’s rights issue.  We blur the lines on how many drinks count as too many.  Or how many donuts for that matter.  We concede that it’s alright to miss church a couple times a month, to sleep in or run an errand.  We claim that we have more important things to do than spending time with God in prayer and in studying His Word.  And we allow the opinions of others, and our own feelings of being better than them, to stand in the way of befriending them and telling them about the Savior who died for them.

We should be thankful that Christ didn’t allow superiority to block His ministry, because He’s God.  He’s infinitely better than we are as lowly sinners.  But He came to us anyway.  He gave us the message of forgiveness, love and salvation.  And He nailed it up on the cross.  He gave up His superiority to give us life.

The Word of God is superior.  His law, His love, His gospel are the only real truth in our lives.  As we continue through Lent, as we continue preparing for the cross, we need to give up on our own superiority and instead focus on the relationships.  If we give up the importance of our own schedule, we’ll find the time to be in a real relationship with God in Word and prayer.  And if we humble ourselves, we’ll find that there are indeed a number of relationships available with people of all shapes, sizes, social standing and ethnicities.   Relationships like Bill and the deacon, like Jesus reaching out to the Samaritan woman, or like Jesus reaching out and saving us.