The Wealth in our Wallets instead of the Well-being of the World

This afternoon I watched the United States join two nations… Syria and Nicaragua… in being the only three nations in the entire world that are no longer signers of the Paris Climate Accord.

As I listened to the justifications, what I heard over and over again was the mention of a few economic sectors that will be impacted negatively and are disadvantaged because we are choosing to prioritize a different future for the world.  Our President spoke about a drastic and unfair “redistribution of wealth” through the International Green Fund and how instead we need to put America First. His focus is solely on the wealth and wallets of the few, instead of the well-being of the many.

Well, if we are really going to put Americans first, perhaps we should think about all of these ways that Americans will be impacted if we do not make drastic changes to halt climate change.  The link is the official report of the National Climate Assessment and includes data from thirteen different U.S. government agencies.  The impacts include health, agriculture, energy, coastal migration, extreme weather, and are broken down by sector, region, and show the risks if we do nothing.

One of the most disheartening aspects of the argument to withdraw is that we need to stop worrying about other people and focus only on ourselves and what is best for ourselves. And yet, as I understand the Christian faith and my calling to live our the love of Jesus Christ in the world, my duty is to love my neighbor and to set free the oppressed and to care more for the well-being of others than I do myself.  Even if we stick with the idea that we, as Americans, are leaders in protecting the environment, the thought that we can just take care of ourselves without helping to bring others along doesn’t even find a home in scripture.  For as Jesus teaches the disciples in the gospel of Luke, we have been given this world as a gift and we are called to be its stewards.  “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

In this chapter filled with parables, we are called to remember the worth of even the sparrows, to guard ourselves against all greed, to sell our possessions and give to those in need, and to make wallets that won’t wear out.  And then, ironically, Jesus lifts up the fact that the crowds “know how to interpret conditions on earth and in the sky” (12:56).  We know when its going to rain or when a heat wave is coming.  Except, it appears that our government can’t see the conditions on the earth and in the sky.  We refuse to acknowledge our impact on the world around us.  We are willing to put our own personal gain above the well-being of the world.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.” – Luke 12:34

Lord, have mercy on us.

The Hope of the World is Us

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The President of the United States is currently weighing whether or not to withdraw our nation from the Paris climate accord. Political leaders within our country are skeptical about the science behind climate change and its causes.  One congressman said this past week: “As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us.  And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

I’m a Christian, too.  And I think God has placed this problem squarely in our laps.

For the last five or six months I have been blogging fairly infrequently, because I’ve been working hard to put into words why it is important for people of faith to care about what is happening to our planet.  My new book, All Earth Is Waiting, will come out this fall along with a daily devotional for the season of Advent. I’ve spent countless hours pouring over the scriptures and asking how we are called to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world today.

One of the primary scriptures for the book is from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In chapter 8, we find these words:

The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.  Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice – it was the choice of the one who subjected it – but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

The earth is waiting for us to let go of our selfish ways and begin acting like the children of God. It is waiting for us to hold in our hearts a vision of an interconnected world and to remember that every part of this planet tells of God’s goodness. It is waiting for us to see the sacred worth of the elements, the flora, and the fauna; to live gently as stewards and protectors. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our hope and it has and will transform our lives.  But once it does, we are supposed to truly live as God’s children. Paul reminds us in this passage the world is waiting for us. Only then will creation be set free.

 

Transferred into the Kingdom

Over the last two weeks in worship, we have talked extensively about how we should give thanks for one another…  

Because of our differences, we give thanks.

We gave thanks as we broke bread together.

We gave thanks around the waters of baptism.

We should give thanks always and everywhere for the people of this world who help us claim our inheritance, who help us overcome division, and who teach us how to practice what is true and holy, just and pure.  

 

Today, we explore one more of Paul’s letters.

Today, we are reminded to give thanks to God who is the reason we all share in the Kingdom.  

 

Let us pray:

 

This past week, the annual Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University was given by Krista Tippet.  

Many of my Sunday mornings, as I drive in to church, I listen to her broadcast, “On Being,” and I listen as she asks people from all sorts of traditions and backgrounds what it means to be human.  

Recently, I picked up a copy of her book, “Becoming Wise,” and like she starts so many of her interviews, she starts by exploring her own background and faith tradition.  

 

One of the interesting things about Tippet’s story is that she served as an aide to the American ambassador in Germany while it was divided.  

She writes:

More riveting to me in the end than the politics of Berlin was the vast social experiment its division had become.  One people, one language and history and culture, were split into two radically opposing worldviews and realities, decades entrenched by the time I arrived.  I loved people on both sides of the Wall that wound through the heart of the city.

I keep thinking about the division of Berlin… the division of Germany after WWII… and the division of our own nation in this moment.

Especially in regards to our letter from Paul this morning.

 

As Paul writes to the Colossians, Gentiles who lived in what is now modern-day Turkey, he writes to encourage them in their faith… to help them grow into this new relationship they have found with Jesus.

And as Paul talks about the transition, the shift they have experienced in their life by accepting Jesus, he uses this really interesting phrase.  

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  (1:13)

Transferred us into the Kingdom.

As Neta Pringle describes this word – transferred, she writes that:

His image conjures up pictures of refugees, rounded up after battle and taken to the victor’s land, of Israelites marched far from home to live in Babylon – a kingdom so different, so far from home in both geography and style.  Here the rules are different, the ruler is different.  All assumptions about the way in which life goes on – indeed about its very meaning- are different. (Feasting on the Word)

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like those who found themselves on the eastern side of the wall in Berlin suddenly found themselves living in a different country, under different rules.  

Transferred into the Kingdom… much like after an election a nation wakes up to a world where different people are in charge and different priorities come to the front.  

You don’t always have to physically shift your location to feel like the world has changed all around you.  For better or for worse. 

 

Except, Paul is not writing here about a temporary shift in power that comes and goes with various political leaders and world events.

Paul is writing about a cosmic shift…

God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.  

And not just the people of Paul’s day and time.  Not just the Colossians, or the Ephesians, the Philippians, or the Romans.  

All of us.

We have been rescued from the powers of evil, sin, and death.   

We all have been transferred into the kingdom of forgiveness, redemption, and life.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Today in worship, we celebrate that Christ is King.  That he is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. 

We celebrate that through his death on the cross, the blood of Jesus rescued humanity from its captivity to the powers of this world.

In the cross, in the resurrection, Jesus declared victory over the powers over evil, injustice, and oppression.

And friends, in that great and glorious act, we have been transferred into God’s kingdom.  

We have been transferred into the Rule and the Reign of God.

We are no longer merely citizens of this place, of Iowa, of the United States… Jesus is Lord.

Thanks be to God!

 

To emphasize this new reality, Paul continues his letter by breaking out into song.  

While we don’t know the melody, while it isn’t a familiar tune to our ears, these lyrics in Paul’s letter would have been as familiar to the Colossians as Amazing Grace is to us. 

They might have even started singing along.

 

And this song reminds the people in familiar words that when we look at Jesus, we see God.

They remind the people that in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were made.

They remind these new citizens of God’s kingdom that everything… every nation, every King or President, every Prime Minister or Governor, every Mayor and every Councilperson… everything is from God and finds purpose in God.  

From the clouds in the sky to the microorganisms in the dirt beneath our feet, God in Christ holds everything together.  

And Jesus is in charge of it all.  

From beginning to end, Alpha and Omega, this kingdom will never end.  

Thanks be to God!

 

And like any change in leadership… whether temporal or heavenly… the rules under which we live change a bit.

So this letter to the Colossians is a reminder that them and us that we are called to grow in love and faith.

Paul encourages us to bear fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.

And we are reminded that just because Christ has already won, does not mean that evil death and sin are forever gone.  Paul’s letter, in fact, is full of the reminder that we will be made strong in Christ and is meant to help us endure with patience the trials and tribulations that will come.  

That is why when we gather around the baptismal font and we welcome new ones into our midst we make these familiar pledges:

We pledge to renounce the spiritual forced of wickedness and evil powers of this world.

We repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.

And we must hold one another accountable to the rules of God’s kingdom.  

All because we confess Jesus Christ as our Savior.

All because we promise to serve him as our Lord.

 

When Krista Tippett talks about life in Berlin, she also talks about the day the wall came down.  It was her twenty-ninth birthday.  

She writes that “no one imagined that it could fall or the Iron Curtain crumble…. The wall finally collapsed with a whimper, not a bang, as fear lifted all at once from an entire nation.  I had walked through Checkpoint Charlie hundreds of times, respecting its absurdity as authority.  On the night the Wall fell… the entire city walked joyfully through it.  The border guards joined them. It was truly nearly that simple.”  

 

While we live under the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ, we work and pray for the day when all people will joyfully walk through the walls of division and hatred.  

We work and pray for the day when fear is lifted for all people.  

We work and pray for the moment when the powers of this world that keep us apart let go of their last grasp upon our hearts and we are finally free to simply be in Christ.  

And until then… we live as people who see all things and all people in their true light… as the ones who already belong to Jesus.  

Thanks be to God. 

Two Texts: Pope Francis, the Environment, and Relationships

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This summer, Pope Francis issued a letter to the world, “Laudato Si’” or Praise be to You which calls upon all people to care for our common home, our sister, Mother Earth.

And while it made the news this summer, one of the first thoughts I had was that, as United Methodists, we had a letter of our own like this about six years ago. In 2009, a pastoral letter was issued from the United Methodist Council of Bishops called: God’s Renewed Creation: Call to Hope and Action. (http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/council-of-bishops/documents/grc_letter_english_1010.pdf)

If you would like to see or have a copy of our letter, you can pick one up at the table in the back as you leave today.

 

In both, we are reminded of the relationship between living organisms and their environment… that we need to understand our ecology: the interconnected system of water, air, soil, plants, animals, and ourselves.

From the fight over water rights in California, to our own conflict here in Iowa over nitrate levels, this summer has been full of stories about how the environmental choices we make in one location impact the whole of creation in another. And I’m not just talking about the decisions of a farmer. Each of them is simply responding to the demands of the market, which is impacted by our choices as consumers. We do not always appreciate how precarious the balance of our ecologies can be, until the weather and climate change.

As our Bishop’s letter states, “we no longer see a list of isolated problems affecting disconnected people, plants and animals… the threats to peace, people, and planet earth are related to one another.”

Or as Pope Francis writes: “the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation…”

Everything… from the availability of quality water, to the loss of biodiversity, to the inequitable distribution and consumption of energy, violence, warfare… is interrelated.

 

And rather than debating the merits of specific proposals or policies, Pope Francis points us towards the foundation for a different way of being.

 

It all boils down to three relationships

  1. Our relationship with God
  2. Our relationships with our neighbors
  3. And our relationship with creation itself.

So today, aware of the multitude of articles and stories this summer on climate change, water, drought, and the environment, let us explore the text in our scriptures that lays the groundwork for our ecology… Genesis One.

 

We learn in this story of a creative and life-giving God. Everything has a purpose. Everything is connected to another. The sun, moon, and starts give light and determine the seasons. The plants provide food for the animals, who provide sustenance for humanity.

Everything is a gift and nothing was made by our own hands.

Therefore, the foundation of our relationship with God should be one of gratitude.

Gratitude for every breath we take, every drop of water we drink, every creature in the multitude of this diverse, beautiful planet.

 

Our relationship with our creator is also fundamentally related to our relationship with the creation, because we are called to take care of this earth. Historically, we have heard verse 28 as the call to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves on the earth.” We look at this image of the creation and our central image in it and believe the world revolves around us.

The language of dominion and subduing has led us to believe we are called to control and use and have power over the world. It is ours to do with it whatever our hearts desire.

 

But when we really look at these verses in context, I think we have been sorely mistaken.

The Hebrew word in this place is not so much the idea of dominion or rule, but rather that of holding sway over… influencing… guiding. Pope Francis holds both the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts together, reminding us our call is to “till and keep” the garden of the world…. We are to cultivate and work this creation… while at the same time caring for it, overseeing it, protecting it.

In my organic ministry class this summer, I have been reminded over and over again that any good farmer cares for the soil as much as they do what is planted in it. One must protect the earth in order to work it. And one must listen and pay attention to what the environment demands and respond accordingly if you ever want to influence what might grow there.

That is far different than a more domineering perspective…. a stubborn resolve to use the earth and grow whatever your heart desires whenever you want to.

 

I learned about this in my own garden this summer…. (talk about tomatoes)

Even if we stick with the language of dominion, the root of dominion is in the Lordship of God. We are to be lords as God is Lord over creation… in love, in creation, in fostering diversity, in nurturing life.

 

This earth does not belong to us. It is a gift. As we remembered two weeks ago when we recalled the Jubilee in ancient Israel, God tells us that the land is not ours… it is God’s and we are merely strangers and sojourners upon it.

Yet in God’s gracious and loving spirit, we are allowed to take and use what we need for sustenance. We are allowed to care for this earth, and pass its gifts down generation upon generation.

Because this planet belongs to not only Adam and Eve, but all descendants, all humanity, then our relationships with one another are intertwined with the gift of creation.

Just as every plant and animal, microbe and molecule is a gift… so too is every person on this planet. The very idea of Sabbath calls us to let the earth and its workers rest, so that all be renewed. And the promise is that even if we rest and cease working, there will be abundance and plenty. God will take care of us.

The gifts of this planet are to be shared. Not only with people of today, but future generations as well.

So that all might find joy. So all might be at peace.

Pope Francis begins his letter with a description of the type of lifestyle that people of faith should aspire to… a tribute to his own namesake, Saint Francis. “He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology… he was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace… Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it means to be human.”

May we be people who are concerned for nature.

May we be people who always seek justice for the poor.

May we be people who are committed to society and work towards its common good.

And may we be people who find inner peace as we do so.

 

Amen.

The praise of crickets

Today, I discovered this recording of crickets, overlayed with the same recording slowed down.  Their song is a hymn… voices in harmony… like the sounds of a human chorus. It got me thinking about Luke 19: 37-40.

Even if we don’t notice, the whole creation is lifting up a song of praise.

Even if we can’t hear or comprehend, the world is singing out.

Next time this verse comes up in the lectionary, I might just play this entire piece as the backdrop for worship.

A Love Letter from God

Dear Church,

I’m not often in the habit of writing letters. My apostle, Paul, loved to write letters and you have quite a few of those contained in the scriptures. I guess I did write seven letters some time ago – to seven different churches… but I digress…. This isn’t something I do a whole lot of.

Let me properly introduce myself. I am God.
The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
One in Three and Three in One.
I know that sometimes that gets confusing. I know its down right difficult to understand. I designed those brains of yours. I know it is not easy.
So, here is a simple word of advice… don’t try to understand my Triune nature… you can’t. It’s not a puzzle to be solved or a question to be answered. It is a mystery. And that is okay.
Here is what you do need to understand however:
The basic truth about me is love.

I love you and I want you to love me and I want you to love one another.

That’s it.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

A long time ago, the ancient world understood that I was triune… that I was three and that I was one… because they understood me as love.

As the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, I am perfect and wholly and beautifully complete. Love between and throughout and within. My unity means that I am love.

And all of that love within me poured out into creation.

One of your modern day pastors put it well… although I’m going to put it into my own words:

I love you enough to be the Creator who created the whole universe and every creature, I am the one who created you and gave you the very breath of life.

I love you enough to be the Redeemer who has saved and redeemed the world from sin, sorrow, and separation so that you might be joined to my love forever…

And… I love you enough to be the Spirit/Guiding God who is at work in you inspiring, strengthening, guiding, advocating, and illuminating you in your being. (Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler)

Everything that you know of me… everything that you have experienced of me…. Is love.

Think about it.

The very act of creation was the love within me as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit bubbling over and outward.

Your very life is an expression of my love.

From the very beginning I have been calling your brothers and sisters, and now you, by name… beckoning you into a relationship with me.

From the beginning I created you to be in relationship with other people – loving them, caring for them. And I know this because I created you to be just like me… capable of loving and uniting yourself with others.

And through it all… no matter how many times you turned away and your love faltered and puttered out and got angry… I stayed there.

With the love of a father and a mother, I sometimes used harsh words. I sometimes used thorough punishment.

But just like you know that the mouth in the soap or the spanking from your earthly father or mother was meant out of love… so too, my actions have always been out of love for you.

I want you to hear this very plainly: I love you.

I know that you are messed up and make mistakes and that there are a thousand reasons I shouldn’t.

But guess what.

I. Love. You.

Just as you are. With all of your issues and flaws.

I created you. I breathed into you my life. And no matter how many nicks and scratches you have – You Are Mine. And I love you.

Don’t you remember what John told you?

I’m sure that you can even say it by heart…

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” NKJV

It’s true!

I loved you all so much that my very life was outpoured and given out and broken for you. There is this fancy word for that… kenosis… but it really just means that I emptied myself for you… just like the wine that pours out of the jug – the blood of the new covenant poured out for you.

I didn’t go through all of that just to point a finger and tell you how awful you were… I did it to show my deep, abiding, steadfast, forever love for you.

I did it to put you back on the right paths, to give you a chance to start fresh. I did it because I loved you.

Because even though you are awesome just the way you are… I also love you too much to let you stay that way. (Anne Lamott)

The life I poured into your life… it wasn’t a one time offer. Every day, every hour, every minute you can come to me… pray with me… talk with me… and my Spirit will encourage you and enfold you in my love an grace and help you to find peace in this world.
My love transforms. It changes lives. It is powerful.
And you know what, church?
I put that love inside of you, because I want you to help me to spread it.
This great and awesome mystery of my love is not something for the pastors and the academics to hole up and discuss… it is meant to be shared. This mystery is YOURS.
I want you to baptize others into this love. I want you to welcome others into this love. I want you to let this love be a part of your life… every single day.
Do you remember my faithful friend, Paul, and all of those letters he wrote?
Well, something that was very important to him was to begin and end every letter with encouragement.
Take one of his letters to the people of Corinth for example. He wrote to them:

…brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. 13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Isn’t that nice?

With simple words, he reminded them to live with one another just as I live. Ordered. Listening. Responsive. Peaceful. Open. Loving.

Those words describe how I am… how I can be three and one all at the same time. It describes what it takes to live in unity.

And then he closes his letter by praying that my love and grace and communion – my fellowship – might be with you.

That is the most powerful thing that anyone can write.

Because in doing so, he is reminding you that only in my love are you fully alive. And his is praying that my love might pour out again on you.

You see, that is my mission. That is all I want to do. To pour out my love upon the whole world and to gather it all up in that love.

And I created you to do that also. I created you to pour out my love and grace and fellowship upon other people. To invite them into that love. And to love them the way that I loved you.

Church – can you do that?

Let me rephrase the question… because I know you CAN do it… I gave you the power to do it.

Church – will you do that?

Love, God.

twinkle, twinkle, little star #reverb10

Last night…. well, this morning… I drove home at 3:00am in the morning from a friend’s party.  It was about four degrees outside and the sky was absolutley clear.  The air was crisp and clean and the stars were so bright and vivid that you felt you could reach out and literally pluck them from the sky. I almost had to pull over the car just to look and gaze upon the sight… but I knew if I stopped at that hour I would most certainly fall asleep!

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

It has not been difficult in 2010 to really grasp a sense of wonder at this world.  Everywhere I look around me I see these miraculous and beatiful signs of God’s power and the beauty of creation.

The other evening we had seven deer in my back yard eating acorns.  I stopped at the bathroom window and watched them with amazement for fifteen minutes instead of brushing my teeth.

I was driving to my parents house and I saw a bald eagle soaring through the air and in between the trees.  Good thing it was a straight road or I would have driven off it!

My nephew’s little tiny smiles and giggles knock me over flat.  My neice’s expressions stop my heart. The things my older nephew comes up with make me want to wrap him up in my arms and never let him go.
The sunset one evening as I walked around the local park was so spectacular that I pulled out my phone and captured it to remmeber forever.

The waves crashing in one after the other on the west side of Oahu absolutely stunned me. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was blazing and the white churning sea dazzled.  I could have sat there and watched them for hours.

The intense feeling of reconnection and the amazing discovery that I love spending time with my parents as an adult child and a friend.
The warmth of a cat’s body curled up and nestled into yours when you are sick or sleeping, cold or lonely.

The thrill of a storm lurking on the horizon and the shades of gray and green that pass over the sky as the wind picks up and the rain starts to pour and the lightening streaks against the sky

You just have to look.

You only have to pay attention.

There are so many things to wonder at in this world.

Hebrews Part 2: Cut to the Heart

This morning, I want share with you a little video clip that will become for us a parable about what it means to trust in God’s word.

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If we each took some time, we might each find ourselves relating to one of these characters just a little bit more than others. We could ask who we each as individuals are, or we could ask who we as this congregation is most like.

The character that I relate to the most in this clip is probably the father.

You see, we have good intentions but are so wrapped up in the things around us that we are just going through the motions. We’re doing something just because we think it’s the right thing to do. And then, in our attempts to be faithful we stumble and we fall back into old patterns.

The father in our holiday dinner is trying his hardest to bring his family to the table and to offer thanks for what they have received. And after his wife makes a meager attempt to give thanks – I think Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus were on her list – our dad himself flounders around with his thankfulness. He hasn’t really thought it through all the way. We are disappointed by his focus on things and in the end we have a feeling that he has set a bad example for his kids to follow.

More often than not – no matter how good we are or how hard we try, we are like that dad. We are like the rich young man in our gospel reading from Mark. We can cross all the t’s and dot all the I’s, but then Jesus shows up and cuts straight to our hearts. Deep inside, are we really ready to leave it all behind and trust in the God of the universe?

We are going to journey a little bit farther into the book of Hebrews this morning. Last week we skimmed over the beginning of this letter. So I want to touch on it again. In chapter 1 we are reminded that God has been reaching out to us throughout all of history… first through the prophets… and then through his Son.

The Son of God – Jesus Christ – has finally brought God’s message of love and salvation to us. He is greater than even the angels – who helped us to hear this message in the past.

In chapter 2, we find the same question raised that we did when we studied Isaiah – presented with God’s glory and majesty and power… we start to compare ourselves to that glory and find ourselves utterly unworthy and feel as tiny as ants. If you remember in Isaiah – this leads to confession and it is why we confess our sins together in worship after we praise God in our call to worship and opening hymn.

But in Hebrews – there comes a slightly different answer to this question. The author of Hebrews goes back to Psalm 8 and while we might question why God cares so much – we are reminded that God made us just a little less than the angels – that all we see is a gift and it has been placed in our hands. While we don’t always see the power in this statement – we do have control over this world. We have control over how we treat one another. We have control over our children and the animals that surround us. We have harnessed natural resources for power. And In this day and age as we see the impact that humanity has made on the climate of our world – we even recognize our power over the wind and the rain and the sun.

We have lots of power… however sometimes that power spins out of control and we do hurt one another, and we are hurt by one another and by the planet. What gets us through those times is knowing that Jesus humbled himself and took human form and became himself a little less than the angels for a time. Christ entered fully into our human experience so that the one who saves and us who are being saved might all become one. Christ took our lives upon himself – so that he might redeem us, restore us, heal us, from all of the mistakes we have made with our gift of control, power and free-will.

God in Christ came to save us and calls us to follow… but first, there is a warning.

You see, God has tried to save us before. In chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, we are reminded of the failure of the Hebrew people to respond.

Our writer in Hebrews is very familiar with our Old Testament and he quotes from Psalm 95… Hear these words again from the Message Translation:

“Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in the “bitter uprising,” that time of wilderness testing! Even though they watched me at work for forty years, your ancestors refused to let me do it my way; over and over they tried my patience. I said, ‘They’ll never keep their minds on God; they refuse to walk down my road.’ Exasperated, I vowed, ‘They’ll never get where they’re going, never be able to sit down and rest.’”

Because of their stubbornness, because of their unwillingness to trust in the God who was leading them, because of their foolish attachment to the “golden years” of slavery in Egypt – the Hebrew people refused to accept the gift that was right in front of them! All they had to do was trust in the power of God enough to cross over a border into the land of the Canaanites. And they would have found themselves in the land of milk and honey.

But they couldn’t let go of the security of the past. They couldn’t let go of the things that they knew. They wouldn’t open themselves up to the possibility of what was lying ahead.

The same could be said of our father in the clip we showed at the beginning. He wanted to show some kind of faithfulness so he was trying to express his thankfulness. But he was so tied to the things of this world like cars and HDTV that he found himself grasping for straws…. Did any of you think that he really meant what he was saying?

As the older son chimes in – his thankfulness extends to things like piracy and music groups and the internet. He is focused on himself and what he can get and how quickly he can get it.

The younger son follows up with being thankful for the food that is right in front of them. He rattles off the items on the table because he knows that if he says something he will finally get to eat them. He might actually be thankful for the food – but he has no spirit of thankfulness for those who have prepared it or made it possible for him to sit down and eat.

In our gospel reading – our rich young man falls in the same boat. He has said all the right words and done all the right things and he has gone through the motions of faithfulness – but is his heart really in it? Does he really believe?

You see, belief is the difference. In the message translation, it might be called “ a deaf ear” and in the text as printed in your bulletins it might be called “ a hardened heart” – but in either case, it is an unwillingness to accept the truth.

There are a couple of ways that the truth escapes us.

First, we might not look beyond ourselves. Like the older son, we see and feel only our own truth and our own reality. If you noticed in the clip, he actually interrupted someone else who was speaking to quickly rattle off his list of items. This perhaps was also the greatest sin of the Hebrew people in the desert, because they were so focused on what was in it for themselves that they forgot the blessings they had received from God and looked only at what they lacked – what they were missing.

Second, we might be unwilling to go past the surface level of things. Like the boy at the table, we see only what is right in front of us and don’t look any farther. We put our blinders on to the reality that is just beyond our fingertips. All he sees are mashed potatoes and red stuff – and he misses the time and energy his parents put into making the meal, the people at the store who worked so they could buy the ingredients, the farmers who raised the crop, the sun and the rain and the earth that nurtured his food, and the God who is behind it all.

Third, we might be fooling ourselves by going through the motions. Here, the father at our dinner and the rich young man have a lot in common. They are doing all the right things – they might even be saying all the right things, but are their hearts really in it? Do the dad really understand what thankfulness is about? Does the young man really understand what the law is about?

In Hebrews we are warned about the deceitfulness of sin – it blinds us, it tricks us into thinking that we can do it on our own.

But what we really need – all we really need – is faith. We just have to believe and trust in God’s promises. We just have to believe and trust and God’s goodness. Today – Please listen – the psalmist implores us – don’t turn a deaf ear!

God means what God says. The promises are sure. The invitation is real. And when Jesus calls out to the rich young man asking him to leave all of his wealth behind – he means it. Because he is cutting to the heart of what is holding him back. The Word of God, both as we see it on the page and as Christ speaks it, knows who we are and it cuts through all of our defenses. As put by the Message translation – the word lays us open to listen and obey – nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word – to the truth. We can’t get away from it – no matter what.

Jesus has compassion on that rich young man… even more than that he loves him. And so he has to tell him the truth. And Jesus’ words cut straight to the heart of the matter. You are just going through the motions, my friend. You have built for yourself a wall of deception through your wealth and you trust in your things more than you do in me. So trust me. Leave it all behind. I will take care of you.

The rich young man hears the truth. He sees the promises. But just like the Hebrews in the wilderness who could almost taste the honey that awaited them across the border, he turned a deaf ear. He walked away. He thought it was impossible – because he wasn’t ready to believe that with God all things are possible.

Which brings us back to the person at the dinner table we haven’t talked about yet. The daughter among the group – who was hesitant to even speak opens her mouth and out pours truth. Her words cut to the heart of the matter, and you can see that each person around that table has to stop for a second. The truth gets through – even if just for a second – the truth gets through that God loves us… even if we don’t deserve it… even if we turn a deaf ear and harden our hearts and ignore him. The truth gets through.

Today – Please listen – don’t turn a deaf ear. Take the mercy, accept the help, trust in God.