Sunday, January 29, 2012

God is on the loose and casting out demons

Mark 1:21-28

He was a divided man.  You could see it in his disheveled hair, his wild eyes, his fidgeting hands.  He just couldnt stop moving, correcting himself, going this direction then that trying to keep his body and his mind under some kind of control when all they wanted to do was race away just out of reach, where he couldnt get a grasp of his own self.  Sometimes it meant that he just couldnt stop shaking, that man who was there in the synagogue.  He couldnt stop crying out, speaking at all the wrong moments, saying all the wrong things, shouting out when everyone else was composed, pulled together, perfectlyappropriate.  The rest were calm and focused and attentive to the worship leader, but he was, he was, possessed.

Something else had a hold of his body and mind.  Something else was fighting for control of the thoughts he was thinking, the moves he was making, the words that danced on the tip of his tongue.  Something else had entered into his body, his life, and whatever it was it was holding him captive, gripping him, so tightly that he couldnt break free from its bounds.  It was evil, both the way it tormented him inside and the way it separated him from everyone else.  The way it separated him from God.

Some people pitied him, sorry for whatever he had done to deserve this hell on earth.  They looked down their noses at him, wished it would go away for his sake and for theirs, but never getting close enough to see if there was anything they could do.  Everyone feared him.  What held him was other-worldly.  It was demonic.  It was unclean.  Was it contagious?  Could they catch it?  If they were near him would his fate jump from his life to theirs?  Would they be infected?  Would they be shunned the way they shunned him?  Would they be relegated to a life divided, a mind divided between two wills, a body divided between two masters, a spirit divided from God?

He pitied and feared himself.  He couldnt remember a time that it wasnt like this so terrible, so horrific, so completely out of control.  He longed for a way back to the way things used to be, knowing life wasnt perfect, but at least it was one life, one mind, one spirit.  When he could close his eyes to dream even just for a moment dreams that werent painted with demonic colors he could imagine his life without the spirit, even just for a moment, and it felt free.  It felt light.  It feltdivine.

Unclean spirits.  Demons.  Possession.  Exorcisms.

We dont quite know what to do with these things, do we?  Maybe I should just speak for myself.  I dont quite know what to do with these things.  Its not every day conversation for me except when one of these difficult passages shows up on the preaching calendar.  I knew a pastor once who claimed he could smell evil spirits when they came near, but thats not the kind of thing you hear everyday, especially from us nice controlled, reasonable, level-headed Presbyterians.  These sorts of things, these sorts of accounts feel just a bit outside of my reach, and when I come face to face with Jesus ministry of casting out demons I get a little squirmy, a little uncomfortable; I feel a little lost.

This report of an unclean spirit challenges my modern or post-modern sensibilities.  It throws me for a loop, and then unfortunately, often, it gives us an excuse to just skip over this important act of God in Jesus the first miracle Jesus performs in this gospel.  While there must be something important here, there must be something incredible going on, its so foreign to my understanding its tempting to skip over it, ignore it, and stuff it in the back of the drawer.

Understandings of the demons in Scripture range from the literal to the symbolic.  But however each of us understands the unclean spirit, there's one thing on which most of us can agree.  The demon that possesses the man in the synagogue is disrupting the life God intended for him.  The possession is in direct conflict with the will of God in his life.  Thats what unclean means.  Uncleanliness in the Jewish tradition was not a physical dirtiness, it was a spiritual corruption.  It meant that the creation that God had made and called good had not suddenly turned bad, but that there was something that was marring it, something that was smudging it, something that was separating the good creation from the perfect Creator who had molded it.  There was a layer of ICK between God and Gods beloved creature, and things were not as they were supposed to be.

In the case of an unclean spirit, however, you understand that, literally to metaphorically or somewhere in between or somewhere undecided, it means that something is holding onto the man before Jesus, something is vying for control of his thoughts, words, behaviors, and spirit. Something is working hard to distort the will of God, successfully it seems, and things are not as they should be in the kingdom that Jesus proclaims has come near.  Thats a demon I can get my head around.  Thats a demon I have seen and known. 

 I have been possessed by demons of jealousy.  I have wanted what others have so badly that I have forgotten who I am and with my own thoughts and unquenchable desires have muddled and tarnished the image of God within me.  I have tried too hard to be something other than what God created me to be, working against Gods impulses in my life.

I have been possessed by demons of pure anger.  I have held grudges that built walls that restricted the flow of Gods love through me.  They have artificially blocked my experience of Gods love flowing to me.  They have held me back from reconciling.  They have held me back from forgiving.  They have divided my mind, body, and spirit so that as Paul says in the letter to the Romans, I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hateFor I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.

Have you known these demons to possess you?  Maybe your demons are other demons.  Some people describe their unhealthy cravings for alcohol, drugs, or gambling as demons.  Others speak of ungodly and all-consuming desires for money, for power, for prestige that contort their understanding of what God has said is important, the divinely-given vision for what leadership looks like, the Christ-like call to servanthood.  Demons of deceit mar Gods will for openness and honesty.  The demons we know from the inside or out threaten our relationship with God; they distort our understanding of the reality God has created, the kingdom Christ has brought near.

Going beyond the individual experience we can see demons in the world in attitudes and institutions that perpetuate racism.  There are demons that possess society distorting Gods will for wholeness for all people, for abundant and healthful and grace-filled life for all of Gods creation.  There are demons that we allow to divide our spirits, to compartmentalize our faith so that the church is all too silent on issues of fair wages, just working conditions, and accessible health care.  There are demons that we allow to divide our witness as followers of the God who welcomed those who were cast aside, ignored, and even stoned by the rest of society.  There are demons that possess our minds, convincing us that somehow someone else will take care of the poor, the lonely, the widow, the orphan, those far and those near who are enslaved by economics, enslaved by greed, even enslaved by real people not just overseas in deserts and jungles, but 20 miles down the road in the human trafficking trade and probably less than a mile down the road in our own town.

These demons are real.  They are present in the world.  They present among us.  They are present in our lives.  They have everything in common with the demon that held the man in the synagogue in that they grip us, they toss us around, they replace our impulse to live a life in close communion with God, in the realm of God, by the design of God, right here, right now.  They separate us from God and from the created order as God intended it to be.

These demons are real, but they will not be tolerated.  Thats what we see in the gospel according to Mark.  Jesus doesnt deny the demons existence.  He doesnt ignore its reality or smooth over its effects.  But he also doesnt accept that what he sees is the way it has to be.  Jesus refuses to let the man live a divided life.  He refuses to allow him to be held captive by anything that stands between a child and his God.  He refuses to let this mans world continue on the trajectory it is following and right there in the middle of the synagogue, surrounded by people who are watching, waiting, and wondering what he will do about this disturbance, this disruption, this denigration of Gods will and Gods creation,  Jesus commands that unclean spirit to come out.

It isnt pretty.  It isnt easy.  It doesnt come without convulsions and crying, but he does it.  He sends the unclean spirit away with audacity and authority, and it works.  He does the same for us. The demons that plague our lives, the demons with which we sometimes even conspire, are not a part of Gods will and desire for us.  The demons in our neighborhoods and our nation are not a part of the reign of God that Jesus carries into the world, and hes not afraid to cast them out.  He does the same for us and he asks the same of us.  

This is how God is on the loose.  This is the One we commit to follow.  Its not safe.  Its not easy.  Its not comfortable.  Its rarely neat and tidy.  It means letting Jesus cut out and throw out those things that grip us and hold us back from following him fully and completely, those things that stand between us and our God.  It means taking a look at whats right in front of us and calling the demons demons.  It means, looking at those things in our lives, in our culture, in our society, in our community that hold us back from being  a part of Gods kingdom of grace and welcome and justice and refusing to tolerate their existence in our midst.  It means we cant ignore hunger.  It means we cant deny the disparity between rich and poor.  It means we cant excuse corruption that holds people or corporations to different standards of decency.  It means we cant remain silent when we have gathered what we need, when we have moved on to what we want, when there are others lagging far, far behind. 

This is how God is on the loose in Jesus our Christ.  This is how God is on the loose in the world.   So, if we really mean what we say when we say we want to follow him, if we really mean what we say when we say we want to be his disciples, then it means we have to stand up and take action.  We have to be a part of the reign of God that counters everything that stands in the way of Gods grace, and love, and peace.  We have to call demons demons and we have to be a part of casting them out, healing what divides, and letting the reign of God come pouring down.  May it be so for us and for the world.  May it be so.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

God is on the loose and calling us to follow!

Mark 1:14-20

A couple of years ago I signed up for a Twitter account. Twitter, if you’re unsure, is one of the many social media networks that is, bit by bit, changing the way we receive and react to information in our world. In 140 character messages users, who range from your neighbors to world leaders, send out information to their friends, their acquaintances, their fans, and the world about what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, where they are, and in too many situations what they ate for lunch that’s now giving them indigestion. Personally, I bounce on and off of Twitter. I can only take so much information for so long, so I go through waves of using it and not.

The whole system works by encouraging people to “follow” one another. If you’re familiar with Facebook this is sort of like “friending” someone. Each user of Twitter can customize what tweets they see by choosing whose messages they want to appear in their feed. You can follow your friends and make plans for coffee, talk about your afternoon, or react to that bad call the ref just made at the football game. You can follow acquaintances you have bumped into because of shared interests in politics, sports, or career paths. Do you want to know what life is like after Star Trek? Follow TheRealNimoy. Do you crave a sound byte of wisdom to get you through the day? Follow the DalaiLama. Do you want to know what the soup of the day is? Follow Keys CafĂ©.

You can even follow Jesus - - - or at least one of a myriad of funny and not-so-funny jokesters pretending to be Jesus who tweet on his behalf every day. Like one of my favorites “JesusofNaz316” who tweets things from the absurd, like “Blessed are they that have highly unusual names, for they shall likely land jobs at NPR.” To the wise like “Be ye thankful for nurses and nurses aides.” To the occasional thought-provoking and faith challenging like “Grace is not a thing to acquire. Grace is an action to perform.”

Yes I follow Jesus - - - on Twitter. Do you think that’s what he meant?

But sometimes I’m not sure our more conventional and accepted means of following are that much better.

My week from last Saturday Jan 14 until the end of the day on Wednesday Jan 18 consisted of no less than 5 meetings thick in Presbyterianism. In those days I was a part of conversations, meetings, and church business sessions on just about every level of our church organization. There was a presbytery meeting one day, a congregational Nominating Committee another, two straight days of synod business (the organization of the church that covers the upper Midwest), and our session met on Tuesday night. At the same time this week my eyes and attention were turned toward a meeting of some Presbyterians from all over the nation taking place in Orlando. Every level of our denominational structure was before my eyes and thoughts and prayers as some point this week, and if you saw me and you thought I was looking dazed and confused that was probably why.

There is a lot going on in Christ’s church at every single one of these levels. There is a lot that is going on that seems good for Christ’s mission, but at the same time there is also some anxiety about the next step in the life of the church, the future of the church in the 21st century, that is causing some stress in the system. As I was involved in some of these discussions, as I “followed” others on Twitter, I kept coming back to our Scripture passage for today and heard myself asking, “Is this what following is all about?” Put another way, is the institution of the church trying to follow Jesus in best sense of the word, in the way the disciples followed him or is the institution more worried about saving itself?

Don’t misunderstand me here. I am not suggesting that we throw our structure out the window and go it alone. I could ordinarily be accused of being sinfully proud of being Presbyterian. We are in no way perfect, but I believe whole-heartedly that the Holy Spirit is working in and through us. I believe whole-heartedly that most of what we try to do in our life together is in the name and manner of Jesus our Lord. I believe our structure, however complicated and convoluted it may seem sometimes, is a good a faithful way to support disciples of Jesus. However, at some point in each of my gatherings or conversations this last week, I found myself asking “Is this what following is all about? Is this making fishers of people?”

My question led me to look further at what it means to be disciples even just by looking at how the first disciples were called and how they followed. The first thing I noticed right off that bat is that Jesus didn’t call the disciples to build a church. He didn’t call Simon and Andrew, James and John and tell them to go build a building, write a constitution, and organize committees. He didn’t pull them away from their nets and their boats, their families and their co-workers for the purpose of creating an institution. He called them to follow him, and he promised that they would gather people.

That’s it. He didn’t tell the how to ordain, who to ordain, or even TO ordain people at all. He didn’t tell them the kind of building to make or who would own it. He didn’t tell them what committees they would be on or even that there would be committees. He invited them to follow him, to go where he went, to do what he did, and to bring other people along. And he did all of this without even mentioning the church. In fact, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples spend precious little time in any sort of house of worship, be it a local synagogue or the temple in Jerusalem. They visit occasionally, but it is not the scene of most of their action. Most of their ministry takes place not among people who are already on board, who already believe in the promises of Jesus, but among those who have yet to hear and experience the good news of God’s love.

This isn’t to say the local church and even our regional, national, and international partnerships are bad. Jesus certainly does NOT deny the importance and the gift of the community. When disciples are sent out in his name to heal and teach and forgive sins, they are sent out in pairs, presumably to support each other, to work together, to hold each other accountable. Jesus pulls his disciples aside as a group in order to spend time with them and build their community, again for mutual support and teaching about the kingdom of God. He entrusts to them the work of building up that kingdom and sets them out to work on that task together, but he doesn’t give exact directions of how their life in community will be and doesn’t make the maintenance of that community the center of everything he teaches.

I think the church can be a very very good and effective tool for supporting ministry, but ultimately the church has got to be about enabling the people of God to be disciples of Jesus, his followers called and sent. Everything we do in the church, locally in our Property, Education, and Membership Committees, regionally as a presbytery supporting pastors and congregations or as a synod building larger partnership, nationally and internationally in denominational structures, everything we do in the institution of the church has got to ultimately be about equipping people to follow Jesus and display his grace in the world.

The church can’t exist simply to maintain itself. We have not been called into being just to add numbers to our rolls and gather together once a week. We are called to follow, not like Twitter by keeping our ears open for the next little thing he says, noting it and then walking away. We are called to follow with our very footsteps, our lives actions and activities, God who is on the loose, moving in this world, healing those who are broken, forgiving those who have fallen short, loving those who are unlovable, touching those who are untouchable, welcoming those who have been excluded, ignored, and shunned by the world and society in which we exist, the world and society which we are tempted to replicate even in our churches. We are called to invite people to join us, not boost our egos by adding to our numbers and get magic credit in the sky or even to ensure our institution lasts forever. But we are called to share what we have experienced in Christ’s grace and include more in our community to learn from each other, to support one another better as we take seriously the call to be disciples, learners, witnesses, and servants of Jesus our Lord, Jesus our God.

Last week we heard the account in John’s gospel of Jesus calling some of his first disciples. In that story, Jesus got his first disciples the way many people find new people to follow on Twitter, they were recommended to him by a friend. John the Baptizer recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God and two of his disciples then became disciples of Jesus. In Mark’s gospel this week the first disciples come to Jesus when he calls to them while they are hard at work, casting a net into the sea. They are fishermen. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee when he saw Simon and his brother Andrew, apparently standing on the shoreline. With little else to convince them of his importance or divine nature, he simply says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

It makes a great children’s song, but I often wonder why they bothered to follow. Fishing for people may sound interesting, but it doesn’t put food on the table. Simon and Andrew first and then the brothers James and John after them, walked away from their livelihoods to go be with Jesus. James and John left their father in the boat with the hired men to follow some guy who just called to them on the beach. They risked everything they had - - their source of daily food and income as well as their inheritance down the road. In one moment and with one decision they left stability behind and walked away instead with someone who promised them people over food.

It’s a strong and daunting model of discipleship. Following Jesus is anything BUT just clicking on his name and reading what he has to say every day. It isn’t anywhere as easy as scrolling through his thoughts, retweeting them in our feed if we think they are particularly good on any given day, but virtually forgetting them when the phone is turned off a few minutes later. When Jesus calls disciples to follow him, when Jesus calls US to follow him he expects us to drop everything we’re doing, get out of the lives we might otherwise live, and follow him.

Jesus’ “follow” is a completely different “follow” than we have come to know - - whether we’re talking about following on Twitter or following a news story or following a conversation or a line of thinking. Jesus’ “follow” is about much more than just keeping track of where something is going. Jesus’ “follow” is active. It’s sacrificial and it demands our commitment to Jesus’ mission of wholeness for all people, grace in the face of opposition, and a reversal of the powers of this world. This is what it means to be a disciple. It’s not about building an institution that occupies a building; it’s about participating in the kingdom of God. It’s about following Jesus into the world where he is working and inviting us along. It’s about displaying his presence in the world so boldly that the nets of his love will be full.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Credo: Saved for love

Going to heaven or getting to heaven is not why I believe. It's not really even on my faith radar. It's not something I think about like ever. I don't wonder what heaven will be like. I don't wonder if there will be angels on clouds or harps and golden halos. I rarely if ever even wonder who will be there or who won't even me. It's just not something I take the time to think about and definitely not worry about. I don't think this is a bad thing but I do think it can be an obstacle in my ministry sometimes because there are a whole l lot of people who do worry about these things. It seems like the "right" answer if it were going to come from my lips would reduce their anxiety, giving them comfort and peace, and maybe just maybe free up some of their mental energy to give back to the cause of working on making the kingdom of heaven visible here on earth.

That seems way more worthy if my time and effort. That's what excites me much more than spending a whole lot of energy trying to teach people the right answer to give to the right question, the right prayer to pray to save their right souls, or the right formula to recite at the right moment to convince themselves or others they know the one and only way to anything.

Salvation in this way just isn't my concern and it isn't at all why I believe or even what I believe. In fact if this is what salvation means I'm not all that interested in being saved anyway.

I don't believe in God because I'm looking for an escape from the fiery pits of hell. I don't trust in Jesus because he's going to snatch me out of the hands of a horned devil. I don't look to the Spirit so that I will be swept away from terror and devastation. I believe and trust and do my best to follow because the love that I hear about seems right. The injustice that I witness is wrong. The gap between human beings of different races, genders, sexual identities, ages, abilities, and resources is far to large and frankly artificial. It's just not right. I believe in God and trust in Jesus and hope to follow the Spirit's leading because the witness and the testimony of the faith that had come from this Triune God says that the way I am experiencing creation is not the way it's supposed to be, but the right thing to do is not to try to escape it and abandon it. The right thing to do is to be a part of the divine will to fix it.

For me salvation is not about trying to get away from the distortion of what creation should be like and could be like; it's about trying to reverse the direction we find ourselves going. I'm not looking for salvation to take me away from this world; I'm looking for salvation for this world (including me), a saving grave that will wake up in humanity the realization that all of God's creation is worthy of love and compassion and care and life, and likewise grace that will wake up in us the impulse to work toward that truth. I don't believe that God intends to save us FROM much of anything, but instead wants to save us FOR a whole lot more than soft white clouds, chubby angels, and all the golden and pearly riches in the world. God is saving us for relationships with one another and with the Divine. God is saving us for a creation where all people know and believe their value, their acceptance, and their status as beloved children of God.

If we are being saved from anything, we are being saved from ourselves and our own desire to work things only for the improvement of our own lives instead of the life of all creation. This less than usual view of salvation, I think, doesn't disregard the reality of sin, but it might just redefine it. Sin is anything, personal or corporate that dishonors or ignores or works against the reality of God's inclusive love. This of I treat others as less than beloved children of God worthy of compassion, care, and life, I sin. If I treat the earth as less than the blessed creation of the Triune God, I sin. If I treat my relationship with God as anything less than one in which I am loved wholly and completely and sacrificially (a word that I might need to expand on later because I'm fairly certain I don't mean it quite the same way as it is often used in Christian circles), I sin. If I treat God as less than the source of everything, the source of love, the source of compassion, the source of truth, the source of all that can make this world right, I sin. If I treat myself with less regard than God has willingly and freely given to me, I sin.

So I'm certain beyond all doubt at all that I sin. A lot. A whole lot. I contribute to the messed-up-ness (It's a technical theological term. Look it up.) of this world all the stinkin' time. Admitting you have a problem is part of the journey toward recovery, right? I admit it in my personal conversations with God. I admit it when I worship and pray corporately with others. I try to admit it directly to the people I hurt with my words, actions, and inactions. I probably fail at this one the most. I recognize that I sin and I offer up my recognition and my desire to change not because I trust that it will get me out of this world any faster, not because I will be suddenly stamped with a "saved" stamp like a "priority" sticker on a package in the mail. I confess how I am a part of what is against God's will for creation because I believe that in doing so God will turn me in a better direction. I believe that God will show me a better way to be a child of God. I believe that God wants to use me to help creation move in a divine direction. I believe that God wants to save me for love.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

God is on the loose and doing great things!

John 1:35-51

Due to the unique arrangements we had this year for the Christmas season this is the first time I’ve been up here doing this in a while. It feels good to be back, even if it feels a little like the first workout at the gym after a few too many weeks away. It’s familiar, but at the same time new all over again? One of the things I enjoyed about the way we shared our Christmas season with Mt. Zion Lutheran Church was getting to hear sermons in the midst of our worship together. It’s not often that I get to do that when we worship together, here in this space. I was uplifted by Pr. Brian’s proclamations, and I hope you were, too.

On Christmas morning and the first Sunday after Christmas, Pr. Brian used a refrain a couple of times that stuck with me even until today. It stuck with me enough to become the guiding theme for my messages this Epiphany season. I wrote about it in the January newsletter a little bit even. Did anyone else hear it? Do you remember it?

When he was talking about those first verses from the gospel according to John, those beautiful words of poetry we call the Prologue, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God,” Pr. Brian summed it up this way, “God is on the loose.” That’s what Christmas announces to us. That’s what the incarnation is about. God has left the heavenly throne, put on the clothing of human flesh, and is on the loose - - living, breathing, walking, talking, healing, teaching, calling, and maybe most of all disturbing. God is on the loose.

Christmas tells us this is true in Jesus, but Epiphany tells us what he’s doing and calls us to be a part of the action. God is on the loose. The way John describes it in that Prologue is mysterious and exciting, cryptic and intriguing. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:10-11) We’re immediately drawn into the story of the Word’s presence and activity wondering how we will react. Certainly, we assert we will accept him. Certainly we will see his glory, full of grace and truth. Certainly, we insist we will know him when he is right before our very eyes. God is on the loose.

For a few disciples the intrigue and the testimony of John the Baptizer was enough. Having heard John’s account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove and trusting his proclamation “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” they follow Jesus. Accepting his invitation to come and see. One of them, Andrew, came, saw, and believed enough to go to his brother, Simon Peter, sharing the good news of what he had found. Simon Peter was on board from the start. The next day Philip’s recruitment went similarly. With little other urging, he is simply found and invited, “Follow me.”

But the fourth disciple takes a little more work. This on-the-loose God maybe be exciting, scary, or intriguing enough to bring Andrew, Simon Peter, and Philip along easily, but even with the curiosity factor up, even with some attention being paid to this Jesus, Nathanael isn’t quite so easy to convince.

Nathanael doesn’t jump right in with both feet. Nathanael’s got some questions, some doubts. He’s skeptical about this run of the mill, backwater preaching. Everyone else is calling him every messianic name in the book - - Lamb of God, Son of God, Rabbi, Anointed - - but really? This guy? Jesus, from, of all places, NAZARETH? Has anything ever good come out of Nazareth?

Nathanael’s question is a good one. It’s not completely out of line. We all want to see a few credentials before we sign onto something, don’t we? We all want to know who it really is that we’re going to follow, that we’re going to trust, that we’re going to look to for advice, wisdom, ummm, especially salvation from what binds us and a revisioning of the world in which we live. A little sign. A little proof. A little SOMETHING, ANYTHING to show that this guy, this Jesus, the one from Nazareth is really THE One.

Nazareth is not quite the hometown people expected. It’s why Luke in particular goes to great lengths to tell us about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Nazareth, Jesus’, hometown is sort of a nothing. It’s not an important port city. It’s not a fishing village right on the Sea of Galilee. It’s not the home to the temple. It’s not a place where Moses did anything. It’s not even mentioned ONCE in the Old Testament, certainly never predicted to be the place from which God’s Messiah comes. Nazareth, is, well, a bit unorthodox as the starting point for the work of the Son of God. Nathanael is justified in asking his question. Instead of being the exception, in fact, I sort of expect his doubtfulness to be the rule, the normal reaction to this spur of the moment invitation.

We understand it, don’t we? We love our credentials in this day and age. We like to know what the experts and the non-experts think. Some of us will watch hours of television analyzing the big football game before it starts this afternoon, then hours more after it’s all over to see what the commentators think. Others spend all sorts of time pouring over the business and finance sections of multiple newspapers and magazines to read what the experts think about the investments we’re considering. Many of us won’t commit to reading a book or seeing a movie without finding out who liked it or how many stars it got. On Facebook we can give people’s pictures, activities, locations, restaurant choices, travels, hometowns, and businesses a virtual thumbs up to show our approval and support. All because we want to know how something is going to go, what it’s going to be like before we commit to following.

Nathanael got a glimpse of what it means that God is on the loose. Detecting his skepticism Jesus flashes his divine credentials with the display of his omniscience card. When they finally meet, Jesus tells Nathanael where he has been, under the fig tree, where apparently Jesus had not been to see him. It’s a neat little trick that displays Jesus’ divinity, but even he sort of blows it off as unimportant, secondary to who he really is, what he really came to do. Seeing Nathanael under the fig tree when he wasn’t their physically is NOTHING compared to what it really means that God is on the loose. Jesus promises better things, greater things, than that to Nathanael if he just comes to see.

Even though Jesus dismisses the foresight as less than what he can do, I think sometimes we find ourselves wishing for a magic sign or two of God’s presence. I hear all the time people, church members, skeptics, agnostics, the faithful, even pastors, I should say ESPECIALLY pastors, wishing and hoping for a sign. Anything. A little magic zap here on earth so that we can see that God is really here, so that we can know what we are looking for is really around, so that we can trust the one who we say we want to follow really is Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed, the Son of Man, God on the loose. We look for those little signs, lamenting that bushes don’t burn without being consumed anymore, people who are blind aren’t healed before our very eyes, the seas don’t part at the outstretched arms of a man, and a star hasn’t appeared over the stable where a woman has given birth.

We look for the kinds of signs we have seen in Scripture for a time gone by and we lament that they aren’t repeating themselves before our eyes. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t here. That doesn’t mean that the Spirit isn’t moving. That doesn’t mean that God is not on the loose. Our signs aren’t absent; they’re just different.

  • When our church family wraps its arms around those among us who are struggling with cancer – - driving each other to doctor’s appointments, vacuuming each other’s homes, making soup, making phone calls, sitting through long and lonely chemo appointments - - God is on the loose!
  • Last year when over $3000 was donated and raised for this church to distribute to those in our church family and our community who are having trouble making ends meet, who need just a little bit of relief given in a way that upholds their dignity, not as a thoughtless handout, but a thoughtful and prayerful act of compassion - - God is on the loose!
  • When a 3rd grade girl committed her body, her time, and her energy to run 50 miles in order to raise money for our partnership for the Bridge for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities and adults supported her with sponsorships - - God is on the loose!
  • Two adults this year went on national mission trips to assist with hurricane and flood relief, the first two trips for adults in mission from this congregation in several years because - - God is on the loose!
  • When we prayed about a difficult decision to go in new directions with youth and family ministries and when God's presence was confirmed through the addition of Shelley on our ministry team - - God is on the loose!
  • There was over 60 children being ministered to through our summer day camp and the camp in a van we hosted this year. - - God is on the loose!
  • We celebrated 3 infant baptisms and one adult baptism upon profession of faith. - - God is on the loose.
  • And when God's dreams were bigger than the financial support we anticipated, we saw evidence of God on the loose when generosity abounded and our needs were met beyond our expectations.

But the thing is, if these are the signs we can point to in order to see that God is on the loose, that Jesus really is in front of us, in the midst of us...
If these are the signs we have like the sign Nathanael had, then the promise made to Nathanael is also a promise to. God will do even greater things among us. The Spirit is stirring up even more in this church. Jesus is working even greater miracles in us and through us.

  • We are hearing Jesus' call to show compassion and mercy to those whose lives are devastated by acts of nature; we are hearing Jesus' call to provide more opportunities for adults to travel on mission trips.
  • We are hearing Jesus' call to let the children come to him, to witness to children with our own words, with our own adults, our own teens, about God's love for them through a Vacation Bible School.
  • We are hearing the Spirit's call to offer emerging forms of worship and education to include generations and populations from our community missing from our traditional ministry offerings.
  • We are witnessing the young girl who ran 50 miles for others last year, recruit at least 50 young people to run with her this year to more to make an even bigger impact in the name of Christ in the world.

If Jesus has done good things for us and through us in the past, come and see, because even greater things are yet to come. Even greater things are being dreamed and planned and pulled out of us than we ever imagined before.

It is true. We have seen it with our own eyes - God is on the loose. Look, here is the Lamb of God among us. Come and see.