Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Luke 9:18 - 27; Romans 8:1 - 11

There are lots of things you thought you understood and had figured out. In the end, you discovered that what you thought was true was not really true. For example, I heard a true story this weekend. A home owner - who shall remain nameless - heard a lot of ruckus and as they looked out there was three people, dressed in black and wearing ski masks out in the yard. He thought it was a group of teens that had been burgling houses in the area was about to break into their house. But that wasn't reality at all. It was just a bunch of Presbyterians sneakily skulking around placing pink flamingos in the yard. Things are not always what we think they are.

Easter - It's the grandest switch in history. The authorities thought they had killed Jesus. The Romans were glad to be done with the uprising his life caused. Pilate had washed his hands. Soldiers had beaten him within inches of his life then executed him using the most painful, tortuous method known in history - a specialty the Romans were very good at.
Just to make sure he was dead, a Roman soldier thrust a spear in his side and fluid from his lungs mixed with blood flowed from the wound. He was taken down and pronounced dead. If anyone knew what death was it was a Roman Soldier.

The Jewish religious leaders thought they had quelled the challenge to their authority. This young rabbi from Galilee who had stirred up such a fuss would bother them no more. After he had been taken from the cross, he had been placed in a stone sepulchre, a large stone was rolled in front and the tomb was sealed and guarded by a squad of the Praetorian Guard.

Even his followers spent the days immediately after Jesus' crucifixion mourning his death. They wrapped his body. They embalmed it with spices. They placed it on one of the carved rock ledges of the tomb. They saw the stone rolled in front of the tomb and sealed with Pilate's royal seal. They witnessed the placement of an armed guard, placed there because even the authorities had heard Jesus' claim that he would rise again.

The disciples, for fear of reprisals and arrest themselves, they were hiding out in an upper room with the doors locked.

That was Friday. Little did they know that what they thought had happened was quite different than what really did happen. Yes, their rabbi and lord had died. But dawn broke that first day of the week and things changed. Sabbath was over. It was time to go and do a more thorough job of caring for the body of him who they loved and followed. In sorrow the women went, not knowing they'd find the tomb empty and the grave clothes rolled up.

Various stories began to circulate trying to discredit the news. Jesus' disciples had stolen the body; Jesus really wasn't dead, he had only swooned; in their grief the women and the disciples just imagined they'd seen Jesus. Many of those stories still circulate today. The authorities claimed the disciples had stolen the body. Others tried to spread the rumor that Jesus' followers had gone to the wrong tomb by mistake. None of those rationales hold water really. Nor do any of the more recent arguments of skeptics. In fact, those who have seriously investigated the Easter event have found that it is the only answer that makes sense of what happened in the following months, years, decades and centuries since

Many people have attempted to disprove Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Frank Morrison investigated thoroughly, looking at all the historical evidence and ended up writing a book entitled "Who Moved the Stone?" The stone that had been moved from inside the tomb, in spite of the Roman seal and the armed guard was the one telling proof that could not be denied. He became a convinced believer.

Lew Wallace, the governor of New Mexico and a staunch atheist, set out to do the same; to disprove the resurrection. What he ended up writing was an incredible story of the risen Christ called Ben Hur. More than a historical docudrama, the story was a sort of autobiography of his own life. Before believing in Jesus and his resurrection he we disbelieving and angry, struggling against God. He didn't believe in the resurrection. After his own historical investigation of the evidence however, he not only came to believe in the evidence intellectually, but it changed his life.

CS Lewis, a literature professor and philosopher attempted to investigate with the intent of disproving the claims of Christianity and he was "Surprised by Joy." He became perhaps the most convincing apologist of the Christian faith in the 20th century.

Lee Strobel, a lawyer, used to examining evidence and seeking the most logical and plainest answer to that evidence ended up writing "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Easter"

Perhaps the plainest proofs of all was the changed lives of the disciples. History tells us the fates of some of them: James was beheaded in Jerusalem. Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead. Luke was hanged in Greece. Peter was crucified upside down. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during a missionary trip. Jude, the brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. No longer cowering in fear, they became bold witnesses willing to be martyred for their absolute certainty that life had been snatched from the claws of death.

The power and courage to spread Jesus' gospel came not because of the example of Jesus' death but because of his victorious triumph over sin and death. Life came from death.

God's plans and purposes were then, and are now, upside down and contrary to the way humans plan things. To become the greatest, one must become the least. To be exalted one must humble him/herself. To receive the blessings of heaven, one must become poor in spirit, meek, and starving for spiritual fulfillment. To find your life you must lose it.

It was not the powerful, or the religious, not the self-pious or the in-crowd with whom Jesus identified. It was the leper, the cripple, the poor widows, the lowly fishermen and shepherds. The king of the universe who created all things became a human being and humbled himself, becoming a servant and giving his life on the cross.

But that didn't stop him or his powerful reign in the hearts and lives of his followers. In fact, his death, as much as his tormentors thought had ended him, became the pathway to his exaltation as Lord and Savior. A humiliating, torturous death and a humble burial in a borrowed tomb were no less fit for God than was the manger stall at his birth. In God's economy the simple, the small and the foolish things of the world become the power of God to salvation. Life is found through death. God has turned the tables on death.

Aslan said it best in the LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE - She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

The deeper truth of the gospel is that, indeed, a willing victim did give his life in the place of traitors. The stone table cracked. Death began working backwards. It is not the way you think it is. Living comes through dying.

The Easter message we need to hear is that it is in dying that we too find life. As followers of Jesus, he called us to deny our self, take up a cross and follow him. When Peter made his bold assertion of faith in Jesus at Caesarea Phillipi, Jesus blessed him and changed his name. However he made sure Peter understood the way things really were to be. When Peter tried to talk Jesus out of going to the cross, he was rebuked by the Lord who told him, " are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man." (Matthew 16:23)

Then, in almost the same breath, Jesus turned to all the disciples and told them this: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mt. 16:24,25)

In order to live - truly live, we must die to self. We have to know that the ideas of culture, the things of mankind, are contrary to the reality of God's kingdom. That is true physically and spiritually. Our mortal bodies must put on immortality. To do that, the mortal has to die. Jesus said (John 11:26) I am the resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will never die, and even if he dies, yet shall he live." That is the promise made sure in the Easter event.

We can make Easter about all sorts of things can't we? It can be about chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts. It can be about new clothes. It can be about a once a year pilgrimage to church. It can be about ham dinners or spring flowers or the newness of life in nature. But the reality is that Easter is about the fact that life - real life, eternal life - comes only through dying. It comes because of the death of Jesus, which he then triumphed over by rising from his tomb alive. It comes because - as the Bible tells us, this same spirit that brought again our Lord Jesus from the dead is at work in us. (Ephesians 1:19,20 cf)

Recently, there are many here at Calvary have experienced the chilling, seeming finality of death. A spouse, a father, a son or daughter, a grandparent has been taken from this earthly life. All the things we knew and loved about that person are no longer physical realities. We can't hug them and tell them we love them. We can't call for their advice or for a favorite recipe. They are no longer there to take care of the checking account or working to bring home an income. They are not sitting across the table from us at dinner, or laying beside us at night.

The natural assumption is that death has triumphed; that death is the reality of the way things really are. But that is not so. Just as the angel told the women when they came to anoint the body of Jesus, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen just as he said!"

You see, that is what we do isn't it. We look for life in what we think that reality is. And yet there is a deeper reality, a deeper magic if you will, that reminds us "we who are in Christ and who believe in him will never die. Even if we do, yet shall we live."

This same principle applies to our earthly life and purpose. We can spend all our time and resources pursuing earthly pleasures, filling ourselves with good things, enjoying the status of wealth and prosperity, health and power. Our lives, quite frankly are often defined by earthly accomplishments and attainments. But the way Jesus defines the quality of one's life is by dying to self and taking up a cross as we follow him. Real life in Christ takes a different turn as we begin to follow him. We begin to care more about the things and the people he cares about than we do about the things the world considers important.

Robert Ramey, in a small devotional booklet entitled "The Cross Bearers" made this point clearly. He said "cross-bearers look for the crucified in the lives of the poor and needy."

Mark Labberton makes it as well when he says we have fallen asleep in worship and we have not been tuned into the things that matter most to the heart of God.

In our sermons about the seven deadly sins, we said that all of them, pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, gluttony and greed are not deadly because earthly things are themselves bad. They are deadly because they believe the lie that says self is most important; that self is God; that taking care of and primping over and gathering stuff for ourselves at the expense of others and of devotion to God is sin - deadly sin.

The cross shatters the power of those desires. The empty tomb fills the believer with a different power and a different life. Paul says that "he had been crucified with Christ." (Galatians 5:19) But he also said that we (believers and followers of Jesus) have been raised with Christ. Because of that, we are to set our minds on the things that are above where Christ is seated and not on the things below.

That is why Jesus said if we want to find our lives we must lose them for his sake. if we want to follow him we need to deny self, take up his cross and follow him. We need to care about the things and the people that Jesus cares about. We are to die to self in order to live to Christ.

I know you don't want to come hear me work my own issues. But I have to share a couple of examples from my own life. And just because I have experienced lessons of this truth in the past, doesn't mean that I don't continue to struggle against my own selfish ambition and desire today. I do struggle. It is a daily choice I have to make as to whether I will deny myself, take up the cross and follow Jesus.

Please forgive me for sharing two examples from my own life though. Perhaps you can identify with them and be encouraged that even your pastor deals with such things.

When I graduated from High School, I had the world by the string. I applied for and received offers of scholarships from two very prestigious music schools in the state of Colorado. I took a lesser scholarship to what I considered a better school - The University of Northern Colorado. In particular, not only did they have an excellent jazz program, they were also known as a very strong school for music education.

During my freshman year, I was pursuing what I considered was my life's dream - to be a professional jazz musician. One late February night of 1969, I was confronted by the risen Lord in a pretty dramatic fashion and experienced what I can only describe as a call to full-time vocational ministry. At the time I assumed it would be in music ministry. To make a long, long story a little shorter, I sought out some counsel and guidance from a few very trusted mentors and friends and I decided to apply to the McCallister Conservatory at Wheaton College. I felt that there I would be able to combine an excellent music program with a more thorough Biblical and theological background. After submitting an audition tape I was accepted and in the fall of 1969 I flew back to the Chicago suburbs. I was sure I was going to be the big fish in the pond at this small liberal arts college. I had never sat less than first chair in any band I had been in and I was certain I would be a star. When I got there, I found the competition was intense and that there were some incredibly talented musician at the conservatory. I knew I had to practice harder than I had ever practiced. I was placed in the Concert Band (not the Symphonic Winds) and ended up sitting several chairs down from the top. In addition to all my classes, I spent hours in the practice room determined to climb back up to the top and show how great I was and how lucky they were to have me. About mid-year, something happened and I completely lost my embouchure. My tone was fuzzy and my range was no where close to where it used to be. By mid-term, the conductor called me in and told me he was going to cut me from the concert band and move me to a lower band. I was devastated.

Didn't the Lord want me to serve him by using music? I began to pray and question where I could best be used. I began to realize that music had been a source of pride and self-advancement for me and that if I was really serious about giving my life to the Lord, I needed to be open to some other area. My music career was over.

About that same time, I met some friends who had begun going downtown Chicago every weekend to serve in an urban setting. They had established a coffee house ministry in an old abandoned house scheduled for Urban Renewal. It sat right at the nexus of three of the most disparate sections of the city. To the North was Old Town - a hang out for the hip sub-culture and a gathering place for runaways, drug users, and prostitutes. To the East was the Carbini Green Housing Projects where 20,000 people lived in low-income, rat infested, tenement apartments. Gang violence, muggings, drugs, race riots were common occurrences in and around Cabrini Green. To the west was the near north side of Chicago known as the Gold Coast where the extremely wealthy lived in high rise condominiums and ate in fancy restaurants. It only took me one evening walking the streets and talking to people; inviting cold, lonely runaways back to our house; sharing the gospel along with a simple meal, or a hot cup of coffee for me to be hooked. Sometime I can share some of the incredible stories we experienced there.

The point was that once I gave up my prideful hold on my plans and said, Lord whatever you want me to do and wherever you want me to serve - that is where I want to be. And that decision changed the course of my life and ministry.

Since then I can enumerate 15 or more times when I have had to make a conscious decision to step back from pursuing my own goals, dreams and ambitions and say - Lord, what is it YOU want of me. I want to follow you. Perhaps the most graphic example was 13 years ago after we had come to Enumclaw and fallen in love with this church and this area. We were so excited and so determined to come. I was going to turn this church on its head and it was going to grow and become a large, even more influential church. We were so excited about coming here. Less than three weeks later, as I was making final plans to leave New Mexico and move to Enumclaw, those plans seemed all of a sudden shaky at best. In the midst of all the stuff that occurred after my accident, I once again came face to face with the realization that coming to Enumclaw, couldn't simply be my plan and my selfish ambition. It it was to happen it had to be the Lord's doing. I had to let go. I had to die to self.

The most amazing thing is that often, when I have done that, the doors have been opened to follow original plans. But I had to let go of them first. My life and my choices were not my own any longer. I had died. And it was through dying to self, through dying to my own selfish choices and ambitions, that I have found life.

I don't know about the places in life that you struggle to let of. I can't begin to tell you where you need to let go and die to self. It may be your family, your career, your reputation, your financial security, or even your health. The Easter message is that things are not always as they seem. It is in dying to our ambition and lock on our own goals and dreams that we find a newer, a deeper, and a different kind of life - one that is guided by and strengthened by the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from death to life.

Some of you know the bitter sadness of death and loss in your life. This year has been difficult as you have lost friends or loved ones. Their absence, their dying maybe seemed to signal the end of life as you knew it. For them, the message of Easter is that they, through death, have been brought to life eternal. For you, the pain of loss and the process of grieving have meant that you have had to hang on to Jesus in ways that you never did before. And your life is different. But you have found that even through life's most difficult trial, you have found a deeper life in Christ.

Before us today stands an empty cross. In the first century, the cross stood as a symbol or Rome's absolute authority and power. It was a graphic reminder of the cruelty that human beings can inflict on another person. It is a symbol of death, and many people today, want nothing to do with a cross. But things are not as they seem. The cross is not a symbol of death. It is a symbol of life. It is a visible reminder to us of the victory Christ Jesus accomplished through his death, and ultimately his resurrection. He conquered our deepest fears and our most cruel enemy. Today, as a signal that you want to die to self and live in Christ anew, I ask you to take that piece of blue ribbon that you were handed as you came in and place it on the cross before you leave tonight. That ribbon is a symbol of your life and your ambitions, your accomplishments and your pride. It represents the sin that keeps you from knowing and living in the new life that Jesus promised. As you place it on the cross, know that it has been put to death so that you may know what it truly means to live.

On Easter morning, when the disciples thought all had been lost - the came to the glorious truth that all was not as it seemed. The symbol of death was now a symbol of life; The cross was empty, the tomb was empty. Jesus was alive. Jesus is alive. He is Risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not Your Usual Palm Sunday Sermon

Calvary Presbyterian Church
Enumclaw, WA
March 28, 2010 Dan Oliva

“Lust: Not Your Usual Palm Sunday Sermon”
Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Well, it is Palm Sunday weekend, but I have to warn you: if you came here expecting a regular Palm Sunday sermon, you will be sorely disappointed. We are finishing up our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, and today is the last of the Seven. However, if you do want a regular Palm Sunday sermon, I made some copies of my sermon from last year – you can snag one in the foyer if you want. So far we have looked at six of the seven deadly sins – pride, greed, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony – hmm, which one are we missing? Oh, that’s right – lust. Today we are talking about lust.
Now, the topic of lust is not a fun topic, is it? Talking about sex in church is often uncomfortable, and always awkward. One of the most awkward church moments that I can remember, happened one Sunday morning when I was in college. I was back in Yakima, and we were at First Presbyterian that morning. I think they had been going through a sermon series on hot button issues, and that morning it was the final sermon of the series – and it was on sex. I don’t remember any of the points the pastor made that day, but I clearly remember him stepping into the pulpit and opening with, “This morning is the last sermon in our series, which seems appropriate, because, ladies, as you know, for us men, everything has to end in sex.” There was this incredibly long, awkward silence. Painful silence. He actually rallied pretty well – he made a show of scribbling on his notes and said, “Hmm, OK, scratch that opener for the 11:00 service.” Talking about sexuality in church is awkward – so I don’t want to start off with that kind of joke (which I just did, I guess). Instead, let’s start with two Scripture passages – Matthew 5:27-30 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Today I want us to talk about lust – and not just because it’s on the list of seven deadly sins. I think it’s important to talk about lust because lust is a temptation and sin that we all struggle with – not in the same way, but it affects all of our lives. Most men struggle with lust – I actually made up a little chart to show you (80% of men say they struggle with lust, 20% are liars). Lust affects women, too – sometimes as a temptation, other times as a force or power in your lives. I want this message to speak to everyone here, though I will probably tend to speak from a male perspective (I can’t help that).
So let’s start with Matthew 5. Jesus starts out in verse 27: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’’ He’s quoting right from the Old Testament, Exodus 20:14. He’s quoting the law, and most people in the crowd were very familiar with the law. He goes on, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” You know the law says adultery is wrong, but there is more to it than just that – your understanding of the law is shallow and inadequate! Jesus teaches the crowd (and us) a deeper understanding of sexuality, and we need to understand what that is.
Notice the last word of verse 28 – the word heart. Right away, Jesus is making an important distinction. For the first-century crowd, they would have understood the heart to be the source of a person’s identity, the core of who someone is, the center of a person’s will. So right away, Jesus tells us, “This isn’t about do this action or don’t do this action. It’s not about actions. First and foremost, this is about the condition of your heart – the condition of your inner world, your identity.” This echoes what we’ve been saying throughout this series – when it comes to sin, it’s not about actions. Sin isn’t just about wrong actions, it’s about our nature, a problem with who we are inside. Something inside, in our nature, is broken, and it shows up as sinful actions. Jesus tells us when it comes to adultery, sexuality, or lust, what needs addressing first is our inner world, our identity. Deal with our inner condition first, and our external actions will follow. So don’t hear this sermon today as “Just don’t do it!” or “Stop doing this list of things.” It goes deeper than that.
Now, in the midst of our reflection on the sin of lust, we have to be sure to talk about the positive aspects of our sexuality. The church does not do a good job when it comes to talking about sex – usually it is reduced to telling our kids to wait until marriage, and that’s about it. Instead, we can affirm that we are created in God’s image, that we are whole people – emotional people, spiritual people, physical people – and that means sexuality is a part of who we are. To deny that part exists, or to attempt to shut that part off – that seems a little ridiculous; no wonder we are so often broken and fractured in this area. Listen to these words: “My lover is knocking: ‘Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.’ I have taken off my robe – must I put it on again? I have washed my feet – must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the lock. I opened for my lover, but my lover had left; he was gone” (Song of Songs 5:1-6)
Any ideas where these words are found? Shakespeare? Adult section of the bookstore? No, they are in the Bible, in the book Song of Songs. Deep, passionate, love poetry, plain and simple – words between a man and a woman about the physical, sexual joy in their relationship. Pretty racy stuff in the Bible! And what these verses teach us – the Song of Songs and other places in Scripture – they remind us that sexual desire is part of being human, that it is a gift from God, that it is OK to acknowledge that part of our lives.
That means we need to hear Jesus’ words clearly. He is not saying, “If you have feelings of attraction towards someone, you have committed adultery with them.” Sometimes we hear it that way, and we get discouraged. Jesus isn’t saying that. The New Testament scholar Dale Bruner translates Jesus’ words as, “anyone who stares at a woman.” Now, at first that seems like just playing with words. In college, we had a running joke that when it came to lust, it was the second look that got you – so you’d better make sure the first look counted! I don’t think Bruner means it in that way. Instead, this isn’t about normal attraction felt at first glance – it’s about “sustained, willful looking” – whether that is literal or in our hearts. Those initial feelings of attraction – that is not lust, that is the sex drive given to us at Creation; it’s when we sustain and allow it to dwell in our hearts, willfully keep it alive in our hearts, that is a drive given to us
at the Fall. Martin Luther, writing in the 16th century, offers some good advice: “Do what one of the ancient fathers counseled long ago: ‘I cannot keep a bird from flying over my head. But I can certainly keep it from nesting in my hair or from biting my nose off.’” Pretty good advice for us today! Lust, then, is allowing desire to nest in our lives. What else does lust involve?
When I preached on sloth, I mentioned Dante’s Inferno, his poetic journey through Hell. Remember the slothful were found in the fifth circle of Hell? He finds the lustful in the second circle – he stands on a dark ledge, looking into a giant whirlwind, in which the souls of the lustful spin and spin, for all eternity. Why are they punished this way? The darkness is symbolic of their lack of divine light, and the secrecy of their sin; the whirlwind is an expression of a life in which they abandoned themselves to their passions and appetites. Eternally tossed in the darkness of a whirlwind – that is a horrible image of punishment. But it helps us understand what lust is – a life led by passions and appetites, specifically our sexual appetite. There are other kinds of lusts, too – house lust, car lust, career lust, coffee lust, book lust – but today we’re just focusing on sexual lust – the times when we allow our lives to be guided by our sexual appetite.
One aspect of lust is sex as entertainment. Lust is sex as a consumable good, a product to be consumed by an individual. We see all kinds of examples of this, it has become mainstream in our culture. Drive through Bonney Lake, and you can order your espresso from a bikini-clad barista (or so I’ve heard). Get your coffee with a dash of sexual gratification. Or head out to dinner in Seattle or any major city – right next to Red Robin and Olive Garden is a Hooters restaurant – order buffalo wings with a side of stimulation.
Lust places sexuality in the same category as consumable products, and when that happens, we wind up objectifying others, dehumanizing others, and violating the sanctity of other people’s humanness. And when we treat someone else as an object, when we dehumanize someone sexually, what we really do is seek to have power over them. Lust and power, lust and control, are two sides of one coin, and when they go together, the results are pretty scary.
Lust and power show up as pornography. Images in magazines, catalogs, and of course on the web. Soft-core pornography, hard-core pornography, adult pornography, child pornography – pornography combines lust and power into a consumable product. You can look at it at your leisure, in the privacy of your own home. You can have what you want, who you want, when you want it. Sexuality gets completely separated from anything that has to do with relationship; women (and men, though the vast majority of pornography is about women), women are exploited and reduced to objects, reduced to a collection of body parts, reduced to a product that is consumed to suit someone’s needs. Do you see how destructive this is? Do you see how pornography is not just a personal, private thing? That the excuse “It’s not hurting anyone” doesn’t really fly, because it begins to shape how you view everyone around you, it begins to affect every other area of your life.
Lust and power show up as pornography; they also stand at the center of our cultural identity. We live in a society where women are expected to have bodies shaped to stimulate sexual
desire in men – that is a clear cultural expectation in our culture right now. How many women here would agree with that statement? That’s kind of messed up, isn’t it? Do you know the advertising campaign from Dove? It’s called the Campaign for Real Beauty – which is already troubling: “We are campaigning for authentic beauty … so that you will by our products so you can appear more beautiful.” Their campaign, though, is filled with images of “normal-looking” women – women of different shapes and sizes, women who haven’t been Photoshopped, or at least not too much. That’s a good thing, right, or at least a step in the right direction. But last week, a study came out where they interviewed a bunch of women who had watched these Dove commercials and seen the magazine ads – and the overwhelming majority of women actually felt WORSE about their own appearance! Most had the response of, “That’s what I look like?” This kind of response, this kind of study, is not a sign of health in our culture – these are the results of lust and power being defining aspects of our culture.
I also need to mention that lust is a great promise-maker, but a horrible promise-keeper. Lust makes all kinds of promises, but they are all lies. Lust promises fulfillment – when men turn to pornography and masturbation, when women buy into the cultural expectations of sexual appearance or continuously seek out the feeling of being noticed by men around them – those are ways of seeking fulfillment. But in the end, it is simply a short-lived rush – a momentary gain, at the expense of long-term fruit like trust, authenticity, and community. When we only seek immediate gratification, we never find true fulfillment – lust makes us an empty promise.
Lust also promises that it is OK to live out our fantasies, and that if we do, we will discover ecstasy, we will discover paradise. If only I could be with her, if only I could have him … This is just another lie. Lust drives us to that momentary pleasure, but it doesn’t last, and in its place we find emptiness, we find shame. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard found this out when he decided to actually live out his fantasies – he went to a brothel one night, and the next day he wrote in his journal, “Last night I paid a woman in order to experience my own despicableness.” When we buy into lust’s promises, we come face to face with our own sinfulness, our own brokenness.
One more promise lust makes is that it promises the same thing as love. Lust masquerades as love, but again, its promises are empty. Simon Blackburn, a professor at Cambridge, wrote a book on lust and clearly captures the differences between love and lust (I’m not sure if he is a Christian or not, so he is a little … blunt): Love is a couple holding hands in the park, lust is a secret tryst in the bushes; love receives the world’s applause, lust is furtive and ashamed; love pursues the good of the other person through self-control and patience, lust pursues its own gratification without control or reason; love thrives on candlelight and conversation, lust is equally happy in a doorway or a taxi; love is a couple gazing into each other’s eyes, lust looks sideways for opportunities; love leaves a trail of knowledge, time, courtship, truth and trust, lust leaves a trail of clothing in the hall. Blackburn ends with this proclamation: “Living with lust is like living shackled to a lunatic.” Does that resonate with any of us here?
What Blackburn is getting at is actually very biblical – love stands in total contrast to lust, they are not the same thing. Hear these words from 1 Corinthians 13 (the “wedding chapter”): “Love
is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Do you see the difference? Lust is self-focused, love is other-focused. Love rejects the cultural expectations generated by lust; love rejects the consumerism and exploitation created by lust; love rejects the false promises lust tries to offer. Instead, love focuses on the other person; it acknowledges they are created in God’s image, and therefore have dignity and value as a person, as a fellow human being, as a child of God.
Before we end our time, I want to offer a few practical ways to deal with lust in our lives. You may be asking, “This is all well and good, but what do I do now? What can I do to combat the power of lust in my life?” Let me give you some practical things to think about.
First, we can stop rationalizing, stop justifying lust in our own lives. Maybe we are like St. Augustine, who once prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from lust … but not yet!” We can stop cultivating lust in our life, stop making space for it in some dark corner of our soul.
Second, we can plan some good strategies for dealing with lust (Yes, it begins with a change in our hearts – but there is a place for wise choices). In college we would share as a group of guys, and someone would say, “I just don’t know how it happened! My girlfriend came over to my dorm room, and we sat on the bed to just talk, and it was late, and we were tired, so we lay down, and then we got cold, so we got under the covers, and we were just going to talk … and then it got kind of warm, so we took of some clothes … and suddenly we had gone too far, I just don’t know how it happened!” OK, let’s use our common sense here! Think about when you are tempted, and how you are tempted. Is it when you are on a spiritual high, or on a spiritual low? Is it at home when nobody is around, or is it at work? Avoid those kinds of situations where you’ve been tempted before. If you find yourself surfing porn on the web, put your computer out in the family room, or have the screen facing the entry door of your office, or install software that updates a trusted friend with your browser history. Plan some strategies, use some common sense.
Third, we can get involved in advocacy to work against sexual exploitation. If exploitation is part of our culture, then the problem is more than individual, it is systemic, and one way to seek God’s justice is to stand against the problem. Get involved in groups that hold businesses accountable for their advertising campaigns. Get involved in church ministries that speak out against pornography and the pornography industry. Get involved in International Justice Mission, which charges into the darkness to rescue little girls enslaved for prostitution. If you are involved in fighting against sexual exploitation on a global scale, it is a lot harder to embrace it in your own life, and you begin to see it in other areas.
Fifth, you can tell someone. This may be the simplest idea, but it can also be the hardest. Opening up to a spouse or trusted friend – bringing those dark areas of your life out into the light – can be on the of the hardest things you’ve ever done. But it may be one of the most healing things you can do. Of the seven deadlies, lust may be the hardest to overcome by
ourselves – would you agree? Last summer I was hiking down from the top of Mt. Si, near North Bend. Four miles up, then four miles down – and it’s pretty steep, about the same as the front side of Mt. Peak. I was about a half mile from the bottom, and up towards me comes this middle schooler, and over his shoulder he is carrying a bicycle. Now, Mt. Si is not a bike trail. There are steps, roots, rocks, and steep slopes. But here he comes, gung-ho excited to ride down from the top of Mt. Si. He tells me he’s been planning it for awhile, he’s got it all figured out. I laugh but tell him he is an inspiration to us all. And then, just a few minutes later, as I get to my car, I hear a whoop as he comes screaming down the last bit of the trail. Did he make it to the top? Of course not. Not for lack of zeal or desire, he just couldn’t do it on his own. When we are faced with lust, we cannot overcome it on our own. The community around us – our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ – can be a great source of strength and healing. Sharing with someone, sharing in a small group, even sharing in our large worship gatherings – in telling someone, we bring our sin into the light, we take away lust’s power, and we give others the chance to be Jesus to us.
Finally, but no less important, throughout our reflection and our struggles with lust, we can remember that we worship a God who is loving, patient, and forgiving. The writer of Lamentations proclaims: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Isn’t that a wonderful promise for us today? We all deal with lust, it affects all of us. Our sexuality is broken in one way or another, no matter how much we think we have it together. But it is not hopeless, it is far from hopeless. We worship a God who can change our hearts, who can change our inner being. No matter what we’ve done in the past, no matter how many times we’ve fallen down, or given into temptation, God loves us, and wants to work in and through us. His compassion, his love is new every morning.
He sent his Son to reveal that to us – his Son Jesus, who walked that long road to Jerusalem, entered the city on a donkey with palm branches waving, but wound up on a cross, crucified and dead. And all this week, Holy Week, we will reflect on that sorrow, that darkness, but next weekend we will celebrate the fact that the tomb is empty, that Jesus rose from the dead, that he conquered death, he conquered sin, once and for all – your sin, my sin. No matter what lies in your past, be encouraged by the cross and the resurrection. Be encouraged that God can make all things new.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sermon Postings

In an effort to be more "green," we are going to be printing fewer hard copies of past sermons from Calvary and will, instead, be posting them here at this blog site. We have been looking at the "SEVEN DEADLY SINS." The sin of gluttony was the first sermon posted and it titled - MAN VERSUS FOOD. Stay tuned for weekly updates.

Let us know if you wish to be removed from this list and no longer receive postings for this site. Thanks and Many rich blessings for you during this holy season of Lent and Easter.


Friday, March 19, 2010


I am bummed out this morning. I am finalizing my sermon on one of the Seven Deadly Sins - gluttony - and I stopped at Starbucks to get my morning "shot in the dark." (a cup of their richest, darkest drip coffee with two shots of espresso) Lately I have just been going through the drive up window because there are usually too many people I know inside and it takes 30 minutes minimum to get my coffee and head back to church. Today I went in however. I wanted one of their delicious, chewy, frosting-smeared, cinnamon encrusted, raisin filled cinnamon rolls. Alas, they had just sold out. Bummer. I really had my taste buds set for that decadent treat, knowing that it would help energize me to write my sermon on gluttony. I know, the irony is dripping from that concept moreso than the butter and sugar frosting oozing down the sides of the wished for roll. Sigh!

Eve is said to have been tempted by serpent because the fruit of the forbidden tree was a delight to the eyes and good for food. St. Thomas Aquinas says that this appealing food was the devil's bait for our first parents." And so it has been throughout history. Food has been the source of great distress as well as great pleasure and joy.

Geoffrey Chaucer penned these words in "The Canterbury Tales:" O Gluttony, it is tothee we owe, our grief." No truer words ever spoken. Yet it is also in food and our consumption of it that is and has been a source of great comfort as well.

So, now its time to gather my thoughts about how to preach this sermon in a way that won't unfairly point fingers at anyone and yet still bring a sense of conviction about our culture's obsession with food, diet and body image.

And I guess that is really the crux of what I see as today's manifestation of gluttony. We are, as a culture, obsessed with food in one way or another. Think of the ads on television. If they are not promoting some brand of pasta sauce, beer, or quick easy meals in a pouch, the advertisers are promoting diet plans and exercize programs. Have you watched much late night paid programming lately. About all that is being peddled are diffent kinds of cooking devices which promise tastier, faster food. There's the Ronco oven, the George Forman Grill, the Silver Bullet, and many more. And if that isn't what's being hawked, it is exercise videos and ab machines guaranteeing the "sexy bodies we have always wanted."

For those who have cable or sattelite TV, one of the most consistently popular channels is the FOOD NETWORK. Featuring good-looking, gregarious hosts showing us how to prepare gourmet recipes and making competition out of food with such shows as Iron-Chef, the next FOOD NETWORK star. Other cable channels are getting into the act with such shows as "Top Chef," "Man versus Food" and "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern." Our obsession with food is everywhere.

And so, as I sat here this morning ruing the fact that I didn't have a huge, caloric, mouth-watering, sinfully-sweet cinnamon roll to nosh on, I booted up my computer. There on my desktop was a picture of a room full of Zambian orphans I met last fall when our Calvary/Rotary group spent a week in Lusaka. I was reminded that for them food is a necessity not an obsession; a luxury even, and not an assumed staple. For many of those kids, a simple meal of nshima (cooked corn meal) and boiled greens, may be the only food they get each day. Even that is not guaranteed.

So I am sitting here wrestling with my own attitude towards food. Am I obsessed with, or even addicted to food? Is my life too consumed with consuming? Am I guilty of the sin of gluttony? Probably so.

As I have thought about this, I have become aware that gluttony is not just the sin of over-eating or being overweight. We often make that mistake and cruelly hurt people with judgmental attitudes. I would submit that runs much deeper. Gluttony is about making food and diet our obsession and that can have serious consequences. We, as a culture, whether we are thin or obese, have made our bellies our god and food has become our means of worship.

As a further evidence of Jesus' identification with our humanity and our proneness to sin, when he was led into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days, Satan's first assault came against the weakest bulwark of defense - hunger. In Jesus' reply to his tempter came this answer: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

Eating is not a sin. It is a necessity of life. Without food we cannot exist. And as a means of common grace, the Lord designed food in such a way as to taste good (not always - depends on who's cooking). It is a good and perfect gift from God. But, just like every other gift from God, our brokenness takes the gift and elevates it to the status of an obsession at the least and a god (small g) at the worst.

I find that to be true in my own life. When I am weakest or most discouraged, food becomes a comfort. It is there. It is tangible. It momentarily satisfies. I like food. I like to cook food. I enjoy consuming it. But I realize how insidiously it can become an obsession and a point of sin in my life. It is not sin because food is evil. It is sin because it can become an all-consuming obsession. Gluttony, in this case, is sinful because it is a pre-occupation with one's own needs.

If we thinnk of it in that way, dieting and healthy eating can be as much of an compulsive obsession as eating. William Willimon in his book "Sinning Like A Christian" suggests that "gluttony is not merely wolfing down large quantities of food. Gluttony is a matter of being overly concerned about food." Relentlessly scanning labels for the fat content or counting carbs, or spending inordinate amounts of income on "organic" foods can be, as Willimon suggests, "as much like the glutton who Aquinas had in mind as the beer-gutted binger at the neighborhood bar."

The earliest writings on the deadly sins recognized this as well. From the 6th century on, the sin of gluttony acknowlelddged five main branches: Gregory the great condemned eating "too soon, too much, too avidly, too richly (expensively) and too daintily." Our obsession with food, diet, and slim bodies, can be as all-consuming a passion as eating too much. SOme of us eat too much, some to daintily.

Jesus taught that a person's life does not consist of what he/she eats or what they wear. Then, just as much as now, people had an instinct to worry about such things. But he reminds us that we should not worry about what we shall eat or what we shall drink or what shall we wear. "The pagans run after all these things. Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6: 25 - 33)

Paul echoed much the same thought when he wrote to the Romans that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approoved by men. Therefore let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food." (Romans 14: 17 - 20a)

The principle he was addressing when he taught this was the problem the church was experiencing when some of its members were eating food that had previously been used in the sacrifice to idol gods. Paul contended that food is neither clean or unclean; good or bad. If it is used to nourish a hungry body, fine. But if it becomes a stumbling block that hurts another person's faith, not so fine. The emphasis is not on whether you eat the food or not. It is whether you make the eating of that food more important than your relationship with God or with some other person. Do whatever leads to peace and mutual edification. Don't just think of yourself. Food only becomes sinful when it draws a person away from God or causes injury and dissension with another person.

The fact of the matter is that the most visible sacrament of God's grace and forgiveness is a sacred meal. It is bread and wine. True, in our observance of communion, no one is ever going to be accused of gluttony by taking a tiny morsel of bread or a sip of juice or wine. But even that could be gluttony if, in taking that bread and cup we are not mindful of the persons who are sharing that with us or of others around the world who have need.

Gluttony is not so much about food or quantities of food. It is about self: self-obsession; self-indulgence; self-satisfaction; self-image. Gluttony is the sin that puts our consumption (or lack of it) over the needs of others.

We live in a world where, as citizens of the United States, we comprise only of the world's population yet we consume over per cent of the world's resources. We think nothing of letting our tap water run down a drain without thinking of people who suffer disease and mortality for lack of clean water. We stress out about food while millions go to bed each night hungry. We spend more on diet foods and exercise in a month than many spend in a year just to stay alive.

It's not a matter of whether we eat too much or whether we deny our appetite for the sake of diet and attractiveness. It is about tempering our consumption by an awareness that God has given us the gift of food to enjoy and to give thanks for. It is about tempering our indulgences with an awareness that what we do, what we eat or don't eat, is not about self but about others/

Paul talks about people whose God is their belly (Philippians 3:19). In other words our gut as well as our six-pack abs becomes more important than our soul or than the needs of others near and far. Filling our stomachs to excess or obsessively denying our self the gift of food becomes sin because in each extreme, self becomes god.

Perhaps gluttony is the one sin in the list of seven deadly sins that makes us feel most uncomfortable. We can cover our pride and our lust. Our greed and envy may not be noticable. But the results of gluttony tend to be more external and in a culture that deifies thinness and beauty, it is too easy to automatically and unfairly condemn another of the sin of gluttony because of how they look and what their weight may be.

In fact, the point of any of these sermons is not to look at the possible sin of another and pronounce judgment. The point is for us to look inwardly; to examine our own heart and sould. To say to God, "test me and see if there is any unclean way in me." We are to look at the log in our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck in someone else's eye.

You see, often the effects of gluttony are not obvious or external. As we have said more than once in this series of sermons, there is a condition of the soul where attitude and desire dwell. That is our sin nature. That is where gluttony germinates and ferments - in our souls. But there are also outward expressions. We call those sins. The young girl who either starves herself or binge eats and then purges is wrestling with the same condition of sin that makes food and consumption and self the center of all her actions. In the same way, the person who spends $100.00 for a meal of almost microscopic portions without, in some way, thinking of and responding to the problem of world hunger can be as equally guilty of gluttony as the woman I read about the other day who has set a goal to become the world's heaviest woman. You'd never know it now, but there was a day when someone told me that I had become so obsessed about running and losing weight that my actions were just as dysfunctional as the person with anorexia or bulimia or overeating. Beneath was the same obsession: self. Even when I was obsessed with thinness, I was guilty of gluttony because I was still worshiping the God of self.

There seems to me then to be at least three ways the sin of gluttony attacks us.

First, when we realize that "we are living to eat, rather than eating to live." In 1986, I volunteered to lead a week of outdoor wilderness camping for our Presbytery at Camp Chimney Spring. This was not exactly a roughing it kind of trip. Though we did backpack in, all the food, cooking supplies and a mess tent had been brought in to a site via jeep. That was our base camp and from there we took daily hikes in the surrounding Sacramento Mtns. The majority of those campers were Middle-school aged boys. Besides being crudely obsessed with jokes and bodily noises, they were obsessed with food. I remember one day becoming so annoyed with these boys because all they could think about was not the meal in front of them but the next meals ahead. No sooner had they gotten their breakfast plates than they were bugging me to tell them what we would be having for dinner that night or for breakfast the next morning. Their whole life, it seemed was centered around eating. Food for them was not a matter of survival but life itself. They lived to eat. They didn't eat to live.
(I was the same way as a teenaged boy.)

Second, when our obsession with food leads us to the extreme opposite conclusion: that what is most important in life is a thin, muscled, "attractive" body. Food and diet can become such an obsession for some that it is not over-consumption that is the manifestation of their gluttony. Instead, their obsession is measuring up (or down as it may be) to some culturally determined standard that says in order for a person to truly be valuable, they must be thin. Now it is true that there are good medical reasons for eating healthily, but it is easy to even let those reasons become obsessive. My father was 79 years old - nearly 80 - when he went in for open-heart surgery. He had a valve replacement and a single by-pass. He did well and recovered quickly. His surgeons advised him to change his diet by cutting out fats and salt from his daily menu. Two years later, when he was 82, I remember him saying how much he hated foregoing so many of his favorite foods - salted nuts, cheese, red meat, ice cream. I told him, against doctors orders, "Dad, you are 82 years old. I don't think it's going to make too much difference if you eat a steak now and then, or have a plate of peanut-brittle. I think we can get too hung up on, what Gregory called "eating too daintily." Food is still the obsession and self is still the god.

Third, when our consumption or avoidance of food becomes such an obsession that it causes hurt to others. Paul was referring not so much to overeating as he was to eating or drinking foods that were stumbling blocks to others. Food offered to idols is not a particular problem in our culture today. However, there are things we consume that might cause others to stumble or betray their conscience.

But one way we probably are guilty of the sin of gluttony is the way we as Americans consume without regard to the rest of the world. When we take food and water for granted and over-consume without thinking of and responding to those in the world who have little or nothing to eat or safe water to drink, we are abusing our freedoms at the expense of others.

I am not suggesting that each of us stop going out to eat dinner at nice restuarants or that we despise food. I am suggesting that each time we sit down to eat, we think about those others in the world who don't have. Maybe set aside change from your pockets (or bills for that matter) at each meal and then each month use that money to send to World Vision or Church World Service or Food For the Hungry - agencies that are working to feed the hungry.

Good gifts that God gives us can become sinful when we allow them to control us and when they become our gods. The antidote for that is self-control and temperence.

Self control or temperance causes me to stop and to give thanks for what I have and to never take it for granted. That is why I pause at the beginning of each meal – whether in public or private – to give thanks for God’s grace and abundance.

Self control keeps my body image in check. It helps me to remember that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that I am not my own, I have been bought with a price. Yet at the same time, it helps me keep from excessively dwelling on its health and well being. My body is an earthly dwelling. It is temporal. It is not meant to last forever. And no matter how much I exercise it or starve it, it will one day wear out and die.

Self control is that trait that understands “all things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.” (I Cor. 10:23) It remembers that food does not bring us closer to God. We are no better off if we eat, and no better off if we do not.” Temperance removes the focus of food and our self, and remembers others; it takes into account how our actions will affect others.

Finally self-control or temperance causes us to remember that food is God’s gift to us and like all good gifts of God, it is to be treated with responsibility and stewardship just as we are to do also with our bodies. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness therein, the earth and all who dwell in it. (Psalm 8).