September 1, 2019

This week all of the scripture readings came together for me which rarely happens. 

I am going to talk a little about Celebrate Recovery today. I have had the luck and joy of being on the worship team at Celebrate Recovery, and I say lucky because I know that I am not a horrible singer but I am not going to be on a big stage with lights and smoke and all kinds of instruments and in fact I would be lost if you put me there – I know my limitations. However because of Celebrate Recovery and Mark and Marion I get to be on a little stage with lights and sometimes smoke!

I am doing a step study at Celebrate Recovery and I have a confession to make to you. I am not addicted to drugs or an alcoholic, but I will admit to you that I agreed to do the step study because over the span of a couple of years I have listened to others do the lesson or give their testimony – we alternate every other week with those two things, and I thought…I could do this and I think I could make it interesting. I would like to do this. 

How egotistical of me…but honestly, that was my thought. I could speak some kind of truth into these people’s lives. Well in order to do that, the way Celebrate Recovery works – and make no mistake – it does work, you need to have gone through the program before you can do those things, and I thought…well, I can do that. How hard can it be? I’m not an addict. I will probably be kind of bored and also kinda boring. 

Well the joke was on me. I am learning some things about myself. Some good, some not necessarily good but in the context of knowing that God wants us all to be free of our garbage that we all carry, so that we can experience grace and a closer relationship with him and a closer relationship with others. So that we can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next with Him, Amen. ( from the serenity prayer) 

I have been learning a little bit about armor lately. Not the armor of God – that’s a whole other talk. But the armor that we humans wear. The armor that we construct for ourselves as  life happens to us. Armor that is meant to protect us from the hard things that come, whether through circumstance or through how others treat us or even through the bad decisions we make for ourselves.

You know what I mean. It’s not a big difficult concept. Humor? You know how you…well I, make a joke when I am at a loss or in an uncomfortable situation? Armor. Some people project strength and control when inside they are anything but strong or in control. Some use cloaking. You know like the science fiction show where the spaceship goes into cloaking mode so they can slip by the enemy without being seen. They disappear. You can’t be hurt if you aren’t seen. Some even use the church. I am a Christian and I wear this armor so the world can’t touch me because I am wearing my Jesus t-shirt and there is a fish symbol on the back of my car. I would venture to say there are as many kinds of armor as there are people but I’m no psychologist. 

I just know that until we deal with those things that cause us to wear our armor, we cannot fully connect with others. Celebrate Recovery has made me see that not only do we all – including me – wear our armor but we are at least most of us in denial about it which is another big deal in Celebrate Recovery. 

Now this isn’t just a criticism of armor or of denial because I believe that God created us with these tools because sometimes life hands us stuff that we aren’t quite ready to handle so we crawl under that armor or we pull that blanket of denial over our heads until we are ready to deal with reality.

It becomes a problem when we can’t take the armor off or if we never want to come out from under that denial blanket. 

I have an ideal picture of myself that I carry around in my head. The ideal me is thinner, looks much younger than her age, is neat and organized and focused and and unselfish and can sing like Lauren Daigle.

The actual me is well, pretty much the opposite in some cases and miles from the ideal in others. Unfortunately, life sometimes smacks me in the face with a reminder that I am not nor will I ever be that image. Partly because that image is a moving target. The harder I try to become who I wish I was, the farther away the goal gets.

But here is the thing I know. God doesn’t love the ideal me. He loves the actual me. He doesn’t love who I almost am. He loves who I actually am. Jesus didn’t die for some someday perfect me. He waded in to the mess that is the actual me and said “do you want to be healed? Get up and walk.” and then He died for the mess that is me. God didn’t say buy a bunch of self help books and go on a diet and take voice lessons so I can use you. 

He poked me in the back and said I chose you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are mine. Get to work.

There is a word for all that, my friends. That word is grace. Through grace, my less than perfect voice gets to join with a group of fellow messy armor toting humans as voices and sometimes hands are raised in praise of a God who loves us for the actual people we are. 

Through grace I can see how I and someone else in step study who I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with, actually are more alike in our messes that I thought and maybe through that connection we both peal off the armor a little bit and bring the kingdom of God a little closer. 

Through grace I get to see transformation as God works on us and I myself am changed because I see that transformation and I say God, I know it might hurt a bit at times but I want some of that too please, so I submit to you! 

Through grace I see that “these people” whose lives I thought I could speak truth to, are my people. I am them and they are me and we are all just walking each other home as we try to help each other gently remove the armor and replace it with Jesus through grace.

Do you worry that you are too old and too tired ? Here is a quote that spoke to me “The only true rest is grace. Every single other thing in this bankrupt world is about worthiness.” 

Get good grades in school, don’t embarrass your family, dress decent, drive a nice car, keep your house and your yard tidy, Shop at the right stores, go to the right church, live on the right side of town. Be happy, be spiritual, be whatever the next big thing is…it all gets so tiring.

Jesus says to take his yoke because it is light, Jesus will give you rest. Jesus won’t break a bruised reed. 

The book of Hebrews gives a long list of reasons to cling to Jesus. The book of Hebrews compares Jesus to all of the heroes of the Jewish faith. Each one played a part, But the sacrifice of Jesus, His covenant, and His ministry outshine all that the others have to offer. 

We read in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is greater than the angels because He is the divine king .

Hebrews 3 tells us Jesus is greater than Moses because Moses was a servant of God but Jesus is the Son of God.

Hebrews 4 says Jesus is greater than Joshua – Jesus brings greater rest to the people of God (remember what I said about the only true rest?)

Hebrews 7 says Jesus is a greater priest than Aaron because He is sinless and His sacrifice did eternally for all what Aaron had to do repeatedly for himself as well as the people.

Hebrews 7 through 9 talks about Jesus having a better ministry because of the new covenant brought about by the sacrifice of His own blood.

Hebews 11 gives us a long list of people who walked in faith but ends with “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Last week Hebrews 12 talked about the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and tells us “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Our reading in Hebrews today is talking about some of the ways we would live if we are truly transformed by following this Jesus who is greater. To show hospitality to strangers, remember those in prison, keep marriage holy, don’t be in love with money. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Our scripture reading in Luke talks about Jesus speaking a parable knowing the church leaders are watching him closely. He tells them not to take the best seat at the banquet for themselves because they might be humiliated and replaced. He tells them not  to have a banquet and invite only those who can pay them back. But to invite the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

We have tried to make the world, ourselves and our lives, and even our church into what we think they should be. OUR ideal – not the actual and not what God has created them to be. Hebrews says, no. Jesus is greater. Luke says – don’t be all puffed up – take care of the poor, the infirm, and those who can’t see. Jeremiah says our way is full of holes. Didn’t God already give us everything we need to live in a transformational way? So let’s look at what we have from God for our identity.

Genesis 1:26

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Ephesians 4:24

and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:10

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

and finally: John 14:9

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We are not to do this alone. Romans 15 tells us:

15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[b] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

That’s us – we are the gentiles. We are to serve each other that God may be glorified. 

Do you want to know how to be who you were created to be? Study Jesus. Do you want to do the things that please God? Do the things Jesus did. Replace that image in your head of the “ideal you” with Jesus. When you are feeling strong, help someone else – for when you are not feeling so strong, others may believe for you. Be transformed. Jesus is a goal that never moves, never changes, and the rewards are eternal. Amen.

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