2017-11-19 Searching for a Biblical Christmas – Careful What You Seek 3/8

Searching for a Biblical Christmas – Careful What You Seek 3/8
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
November 19th, 2017
Luke 1:26-38

So, last night, after the play, the idea came: what if we just left the tables up. And one person said: well, it’d be different. And it is. And maybe we like it, maybe we don’t. But, for today, this is how it is. And I’ve got two responses. First: any complaint you can submit in writing and I’ll be glad to read that and I’ll probably buy a bird and we can…

The second is: this is life. You show up and you think it’s going to be one way and suddenly it’s another way. And you have choices to make about how you’re going to cope with that. And either you cope with it or you don’t. And church is where we practice for life, right? Church, those hymns that we sing, you know why we sing them, right? So that when you’re in hospital or your mother is in hospice, or your spouse is in hospice, or you’re in hospice, you have a song to sing because singing changes us. So, we’re practicing for life.

So, it seemed okay to have chaos this morning. Is it going to work? And what worked was how you made room for one another, and how you talked with one another, and how you scooched over, and how you helped each other find a seat. And the biggest challenge that’s in front of you right now is where to put your eyes when you sing hymns. Because, when normal Sundays, we’re all facing forward and so we’re looking at the back of someone’s head and that okay. But now we’re looking at each other and when you’re singing, on Christ, the solid rock I stand, do you look into someone’s eyes? Is that creepy? Or what do we do? It’s awkward and it’s life, right? What do we do with our eyes? Okay, I’ll look up.

So, we’ve been talking now. We’re looking for that Old Testament foundation for Christmas. And we’ve spent two weeks talking about a terrible king, Jehoiakim, who ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoiakim was simply the last in the line of kings who were more interested in making themselves and their friends rich. And living in lavish residences and building new components to a palace with cedar walls and living luxurious lives at the expense of the nation.

All of this got God’s attention. And God used the prophet Jeremiah to bring ten charges against Jehoiakim. And if you weren’t here for the last two Sundays, I’m going to review them for you. Wealth is an identity of the nation; failing to pay workers for work performed; false bravado; sexual aggression; nepotism and cronyism; changing allegiances for convenience; lying; having tantrums; creating a culture of accumulation; and failure to care for the servants of the nation, especially veterans and their families. All of these together got God’s attention. When leaders choose money or loyalty to one another over providing care and stability to the nation; God is displeased. The same arrogance that led to Jehoiakim’s rise, led to his demise.

Funny thing about arrogance when it’s combined with greed; it consistently brings dishonor. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God declares a new kingdom is coming. A new king is coming. A righteous branch, who will reign wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land. This all happened about 600 years before Jesus was born. And we’re laying out those Old Testament roots for Christmas. When Handel wrote The Messiah, he pulled a lot of imagery from Jeremiah. So when you hear The Messiah sung, maybe some of those words will strike a chord in you because you know the back-story now. Jehoiakim was the footnote of a thousand-and-a-half years of history.

Jehoiakim is the footnote of Judaism today. You can refer to Jehoiakim in a Jewish community and everyone there knows exactly what you’re talking about. You’re talking about the last in the line of failed kingship. You’re talking about selfishness. You’re talking about greed. That is the Old Testament foundation for so much of what Christmas stands against.

We leap forward 600 years. We encounter two people: Herod, who is extremely similar to Jehoiakim. This kind of character seems to repeat throughout history. And they seem to find their way into leadership positions. We could go through the list again and point by point it would line up between Herod and Jehoiakim. Greed, sexual lechery, bravado, nepotism, cronyism, deception, lying, explosive tantrums etc., etc.

The Romans did, actually, a fine job of taking care of their veterans. We will give them that. But we know how God feels about that kind of leadership because of Jeremiah. Dishonor and violation displease God. Herod, too, will become a footnote in history, of what it means to be arrogant, greedy and evil. His slaughter of the innocents, following Christmas, is just the tip of the iceberg of what arrogant tyrants are capable of.

But, this time, God has decided to do something different; which brings us to Mary, the polar opposite of Jehoiakim; the one whose son will be this new king. It was almost a year ago, a year ago in advent, when we talked about the three ways we can explain Mary’s pregnancy. Maybe you remember them or maybe you’re aware of them. There are only three. The one way is the way that Luke lays out, that for the pregnancy of a virgin; we can understand the attraction of that witness because it removes the potential for slut-shaming in a shame culture.

Or we could wonder if she and Joseph have been active outside the bounds of marriage. It’s unlikely, but it’s one of three ways it could happen. Or we could roll around in our mind, like a big lopsided marble, our wondering if, perhaps Mary had been the victim of sexual violence and lecherous behavior. Given what we’ve witnessed in our culture, twenty centuries later, with the number of women who hash tagged “me too” and the number of men possessing power over women who have been identified as lecherous, aggressive and violating. It’s not hard to believe that possibility. And it’s not hard to see why, if that’s the gosh-awful truth, it sure would be tempting to incorporate a popular image from the Origin stories, of many kings of the day. Mom was a virgin, who was impregnated by divine mystery.

What’s interesting is if we allow history to speak here and we pause at these two, this footnote of history, Jehoiakim as the polar opposite of Mary. Jehoiakim was grabby. He was tight-fisted. He possessed everything to be in power and power over. Mary was open-handed. She was able to let go of control enough to wonder and to let God work in her and through her.

Jehoiakim ruled by decree. A tyrant, who gave orders and removed anyone who spoke words he did not like; Mary was open-minded. She was able to listen and hear what the message of the angel was for her. His lack of character provided tools to get what he wanted for himself. Her character provided tools for God to get what God needed done. Dishonor is what we see in King Jehoiakim, a historical footnote of selfish, greedy arrogance. What we see in Mary is faith. Pistis is the Greek word; wanting God’s way; wanting God’s kingdom more than my own way; even if it costs me something. His choices led down a predictable path to the destruction of his own nation.

Her choices led down a difficult path of discipleship, bringing into existence a new king and a kingdom. And I’m not sure how to say this, so I’m going to fumble through this part. But, somehow in this process, in ways I can’t entirely explain and probably shouldn’t, exactly what happened to Mary and how she became pregnant was no longer what determined who she was. I think one of the most important components of the Christmas story is it marks the beginning of the process of her discipleship. And contrary to what uptight church folk have said through the centuries, that is not determined by her sexuality. Historical Christianity has had an unhealthy obsession with female sexuality. And I find it interesting that from the beginning the Christmas story sets aside sexuality.

Reading about Jehoiakim in Jeremiah; in Josephus, the historian; in the recorded Rabbinic history; even reading Jesus’ reference to Jehoiakim, we could say undertone, but it’s too palpable to be an undertone. It’s an overtone. It’s a touchable presence. What I’m talking about is Jehoiakim’s futile desperation to find his voice. His life seems to be an anxious search for resonance. Becoming wilder and more frantic, almost un-hearable, to the point where Jehoiakim becomes: a caricature, a comic exaggeration of himself, a buffoon. The Big King.

But, Mary, in this process, finds her voice. And as the story progresses, her voice resonates of the deeper things, like what it means to have a soul. And what it means to be a disciple. So, of course, we want to know, we want to let Jehoiakim pass out of our thoughts. And we also want to wonder, how did Mary find her voice? We want to know exactly. What is the process that she followed?

There are churches you can attend — not this one — that will give you the steps of discipleship. There is a church not far from here, that has it all laid out for you in a pamphlet. Of course, you have to be baptized in that church, by that particular pastor. And then you have to take four courses on spirituality, taught by that pastor and you have to take four courses in scripture, taught by that pastor. And you have to take two courses in celebration of tongues. So, you have to speak in tongues. And then, you’re declared a disciple and you get a different nametag. And you’re identified as unique.

It’s not been my experience of what it means to form disciples. What I know to be absolutely true… I’ve seen all sorts of methods, I’ve seen all sorts of programs, but the truth of the matter is, there’s a whole lot of mystery and it’s an unpredictable, disorganized, messy, transformation of us. That’s discipleship.

Scripture tells us some things about Mary, though, in the midst of her unpredictable moments; her messiness of life. Her life was going this way. She got up that morning expecting it to be the same as it had been every week prior and things changed on this day. Scripture tells us some things about Mary that I think might help us as we think about our discipleship; things that contributed to Mary finding her own voice.

The first thing that Mary does is that she finds in herself something that is distinctive. She listens to the angel who tells her: you are called and you are gifted in some unique ways. We’ll read a little bit later that when Mary is singing with Elizabeth, one of the songs that she sings is: He Took Notice of Me. I thought I was a nobody. He told me I was somebody. She let that voice be the voice that she heard. Not the voice of her critics. You know your critics. Do you have them? Do you listen to them? They beat you up from the inside. Mary heard. This is, I think, what it means to be faithful. Pistis, wanting God’s way for us more than we want anything else. And she was able to hear a higher calling for her life and it gave her purpose and it gave her meaning.

The second thing that happened for Mary is, she got smart and said: isolation is going to wipe me out. I’m going to go and be with Elizabeth, her older cousin, two towns over. There may have been some big sister-ing that went on with Elizabeth, her older cousin, maybe mentoring, although, the mentoring process is equally messy. And anybody… Anytime anybody says: I’m going to be your mentor, watch out, it never works that way. The mentee has to find the mentor at the right time when they’re ready to listen.

She stayed with Elizabeth and there was a whole lot of listening that went on. And there was some singing that went on. But, mostly, though, I’m guessing Elizabeth was the conversation partner Mary needed to process what she was going through. But, Elizabeth was pregnant in a very unexpected circumstance. Mary was pregnant in a very unexpected circumstance. They might be able to say some things. They sang together. I think that’s one of the strengths that the church has to offer us is we’re always going to run into somebody who might see things the way we see things. And we can hear from them what we can’t hear on our own.

And that is the third thing. I wonder how Mary processed her frustration because she was a simple peasant girl, she was poor. And I’m wondering where she processed her feelings about what happened to her, whatever it was. Maybe the only thing that happened to her, she was born poor and she wondered why those folks have it all and we got nothing. We work harder than they do. Or maybe there was abuse and Mary had to process that, so there would have been anger. I read Mary’s song, which follows our text today. Mary’s song is a song about justice coming. God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. God has brought down rulers from their thrones. I wonder who Mary’s talking about there. Could it be Jehoiakim?

God has lifted the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things. God has sent away the rich, empty. Mary’s song, go home and read it today, for our culture, and see what it says to you.

The fourth thing that Mary did in her unpredictable moments, the text tells us: she treasured these things in her heart. She engaged in contemplation. Which feels weird to us because we truly do believe and our practice reveals, we believe that our importance comes through our busyness? We have an increased function of frenetic activity. We can’t get farther than eight inches from our phone. We’ll plug it in bedside. And if we really want to sleep, we turn it upside down so the light won’t wake us. But that’s about as far as we get, except when we take a shower. I don’t want you to tell me how many take it into the toilet with you.

That’s us. We think, by connection, we’re important. What about the importance of being disconnected from this world so that we can contemplate a different way. We can pull back. We can wonder. We can think. We can lose ourselves in God. Is that possible through your iPhone? I haven’t found it yet.

None of these by itself is discipleship. But all of these are the choices that Mary is making. These are the ways that she processed what was happening to her. And these are the ways that she will process what will happen to her son. These are the ways she made decisions about the kind of Mom she was going to be. And you can be certain that was Jesus practiced a lot of it came from what he learned from watching his mother.

All of them, together, lead us to our discipleship. Discipleship, really, is how we are. How we are the imitation of Christ, yes. But, more than that, it’s how we are with each other. How we treat one another. How we act around one another. How we are with strangers, how we make room at the table.

Now, I tell you and I don’t like to end patting you on the back, but I have to tell you, I’ve come, this last year, to realize your discipleship runs deep because of how you are with one another. The People Group, how they are with one another. The WOW Group, Women of the Word. UMW, the bible study on Tuesday mornings, how you are with one another. The Youth Group here, how you are with one another. When you come for a meeting on a committee, how you are with one another. Pick who you imitate.

Jehoiakim seems very familiar in our current culture. Arrogance and greed always lead to the same outcome. Or you could imitate Mary because discipleship always leads to the same outcome. Pick Mary.

2017-11-12 Searching for a Biblical Christmas 2/8

Searching for a Biblical Christmas 2/8
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
November 12th, 2017

So we are in this series of talking about how we get to Christmas. And we’ve started talking about Christmas eight weeks out. That was last week. It’s seven weeks to go. Hey; oy vey; Amazon, here I come.

We’re looking at the oldest mention in scripture of the coming Messiah. It is from the book of Jeremiah. About 600 years before the birth of Jesus, there was a prophetic voice, the prophet, Jeremiah. And last week we talked about the desolate one. You heard it in our text today, the desolate one. That’s who Jeremiah is talking to, the desolate one, who dresses in crimson while his people are suffering.

We talked about King Jehoiakim last week, about God’s nine complaints against him, using wealth as identify, committing fraud, using sexual aggression whenever he so pleased, cronyism, nepotism, bluster, quick to violence, changing allegiances when it suited him, lying, having tantrums and creating a culture of money and accumulation. God complained and God said, I’m going to do something about this – I’m going to bring a new king and this king shall be called righteousness. So we talked about that last week. I thought we were done. And then I went back and continued reading in Jeremiah. We’re not done or maybe I should say Jeremiah isn’t done.

We happen to have the privilege of living in a very large landlocked secure nation that is, for the most part, self-reliant; most of the time, that’s a gift. In other ways, one of the things that we’ve missed out on is having to cooperate to survive. Israel is a very small nation; it has to cooperate to survive. Israel is and always has been stuck in the middle.

Six hundred years ago, when Jeremiah was writing, there was this power fight going on. To the North, it was King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. To the South, it was King Necho of Egypt. And it was just this shifting power fight. Israel was a small nation and survival of a small nation always had to do with covenants, allegiances and tribute money.

Jesus picks up on this when he tells that parable about the master who is leaving and gives one servant ten talents and the next servant five talents and then one servant one talent. And I’ve heard this story preached many, many, many times. It’s hardly at all about the talents and it’s hardly at all about the count. The question of this parable that Jesus tells is where do your allegiances lie as the winds of power shift around you? Who do you believe is the king? Who do you believe has real authority? That’s the point of the parable.

In other words, will you put up the picture of the king, your king, on the wall and be loyal, no matter what happens? Or do you hide in the back alley and do stuff on the sly and only after the new king is declared, then you put up that king’s picture? Where do your allegiances lie? That’s the question of that parable. And remember, the master returns and is praising the servant who turned ten talents into ten more and praising the servant who turned five talents into five more, because they were doing business in the name of the master, even though the master wasn’t visibly present. They were busy, evidently, quite clearly busy, because ten became ten and five became five.

Now, last week we also talked about the word righteousness, that Greek and Hebrew, the two words, dikaiosýnē and tsadik, the gift of access to the king. We’ve been gifted, we have received access to the king and now we must act accordingly. We must walk different. We must talk different. We must respond to the world different because we see ourselves; because we are now representatives; emissaries; for our master, for our king. Our loyalty we must wear on our sleeve.

It’s a little bit funny to read the story of Jehoiakim because it becomes apparent really quickly that he thought he was the man. He thought he was the negotiator, he was the smooth-talking king of kings between the kings and he was sure that when all the kings gathered he would be lifted up and made high. He thought he could walk tall, he would strut big, and he was playing the powers like the pawns on the chess board.

And what makes it funny – and I’m going to tell you this up front – in the end, he is so played. They pull his levers like you wouldn’t believe. The kings of Egypt and Babylon play him like a cheap guitar. So any conversation about Jehoiakim is not over until we ponder how we handle when we feel stuck in the middle, between two unconquerable powers.

Maybe that’s how you feel – stuck between your mom and your sister. Maybe that’s how you feel every time you go to work – you are in middle management, some people who started the same time you started have been bumped higher, faster. You’re stuck in middle management. How do you cope? What do you do? You’re stuck. We may strategize, we may make a plan, we may formulate commitments but we can’t control how other people are going to act and react. We’re stuck in the middle. We’ve all had that boss, the one who it doesn’t really matter what you do, it doesn’t really matter how great it is – they get what they need, a sense of power and authority, through attack. You’re stuck. You’re stuck.

And there is only so much we can control. And how are we going to cope with those feelings of powerlessness? Do you come home and take it out on the kids? Do you smack your employees around verbally? Are you rude to the wait staff at the restaurant? Are you obnoxious to the checkout person at Home Depot? Do you come home and retreat to your favorite porn sites where you’re in charge? Or do you take the bottle and start in with your alcohol? Or do you just double down and God bless them, I’m going to stiffen my lip and I’m going to control my way out of feeling powerless? Oh, you’re a real beauty to be around, let me tell you.

The Apostle Paul was going to pick up on this same problem later on. It’s a different set of leaders then. He’s writing to the early church and the frustration they’re feeling under the boot heel of the Roman Empire, the powerlessness that they felt and the hostility that it caused in the church. Paul writes, there’s always a lot of things about your life you can’t control. And sometimes, life is pretty awful. But you can control you and you can control how you act. You can always be intentional about where your allegiances are placed and how that is displayed in your life. What are you wearing on your sleeve? Because when someone knows where your temper buttons are, you’re going to be played. And just in case you think all you need to do is get yourself together and put enough positive motivational stickers on the mirror so you’re talking to yourself good in the morning, master of the universe, if you could just get this together.

We have this story of a small nation king who is played like a cheap guitar because arrogance always leads to the same outcome. People suffer. People celebrate when the arrogant person dies and there is laughter at foolishness. Wise people watch. Wise people become students when arrogant people become footnotes of history.

We have a few people like that, that if I say their name, you’re going to go, oh yes. The first one that comes to mind is Napoleon Bonaparte. Everybody things small man’s complex but if you look at the history books, Napoleon was 5’8” – that’s not small. It doesn’t matter, does it, because of how we know him. He’s a fool who let arrogance get the betterment of him and he invaded Russia. And he thought he could overpower the Russian army and beat the winter. And he was wrong on both accounts.

In 1862, Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg let an exaggerated sense of self-confidence take the moment and arrogance won the day. In 1876, General George Armstrong Custer let arrogance and racism and hostility lead him to underestimate his opponent. In 1941, Adolf Hitler thought he could invade Russia and beat the Russian army and the Russian winter. And it didn’t work out any better for him. Racism and hostility and arrogance. In 1954, Henri Navarre at Dien Bien Phu – racism and hostility caused this French General to underestimate the Vietnamese army.

That is Jehoiakim. We’ve lost this sense of what a historical footnote he was to be learned from, because arrogance always brings the same result. And Jesus seems to be a very good student. Jesus knows and understands the writing by the prophet Jeremiah. He also seems to know the small print between the lines because he studied the rabbinic history. The rabbis have a lot to say about Jehoiakim and his place in tradition.

And Jesus quotes Jeremiah. Jesus interprets Jeremiah. He uses Jeremiah’s calling out of Jehoiakim to pass judgment when Jesus talks about true honor versus false honor, when he comes down hard on anybody who hires workers to do a job and then doesn’t pay them an appropriate wage and when Jesus says: is the temple a house of prayer or a den of robbers. There is another time when Jesus refers to Jehoiakim. Last week, I shared with you the nine complaints that God brought against Jehoiakim through the prophet Jeremiah. Wealth his identify, fraud, sexual aggression, nepotism and cronyism, using bluster, quick to violence, changing allegiances, lying, having tantrums, money and accumulation as an identify in the nation.

There is a number ten. It comes to us in the book of Second Kings, the 23rd and the 24th chapter. The book of Kings is about military movement – a lot of military positioning and strategy mentioned in Second Kings. And Second Kings records the name of the king and refers to his army or his soldiers as his servants.

So the book of Second Kings would say, King Nebuchadnezzar and his servants moved here. King Jehoiakim and his servants moved here. Chapters 23 and 24 in the book of Second Kings talk about Jehoiakim, his indifference to the suffering of his servants and their families. Identifies it as evil in the eyes of the Lord for the nation to neglect its veterans. Very clearly take care of the servants of the king.

Well, there’s more story here and I feel compelled to share it with you. What happened was that Jehoiakim was installed as king under the approval of King Nebuchadnezzar, because King Nebuchadnezzar was in Babylon and King Necho was in Egypt and Israel and Judah and Jerusalem were the two nations in the middle. And so Jehoiakim got the approval of Nebuchadnezzar. He promised to be a good neighbor, promised to pay his tribute money for protection from the Egyptians.

Then Jehoiakim, about a year into his term, decided he didn’t like that arrangement and so he marched down and started talking to the Egyptian king, Necho and said: I tell you what, I’ll pay you the tribute money – you protect me from the Babylonians.

Jehoiakim was big on bluster and bravado and he was good at feeding his own ego. He called it patriotism. Love of the nation, he called that. He booted out all of the experienced military and government officials who told him what he did not want to hear. And he elevated his friends and the sons of his biggest contributor far beyond their skill set. He effectively destabilized the military and the government by doing this. And then he shifted allegiances again and he stopped paying tribute to Egypt and he marched to the North and said, I’ll pay tribute to you, oh Nebuchadnezzar. Then he turned and with lots of bluster he made threats against the Egyptians and thinking he was safe under the protection of King Nebuchadnezzar in the North.

And King Necho of Egypt saw him for what he was and said, you are a dishonorable king, I challenge you to battle, bring your soldiers. And Jehoiakim had to go. And remember, Jehoiakim had elevated his friends into leadership based on their loyalty to him not on their skill set. Combine that with inexperience and his poor leadership and you know exactly what happened on the battlefield. It was a disaster.

King Jehoiakim’s soldiers were routed on the battlefield. After the war was over and they’d come back, he took some of the widows of the soldiers that had been killed on the battlefield as conquests and he took care of them and their families. The remainder he ignored. He was indifferent to their pleas for things like bread. And so now, we know where Second Kings is coming from.

Not long after that, it was King Nebuchadnezzar from the North who marched south and got into a battle with the Egyptian king, Necho. That didn’t go well for either of them. But King Necho got the better of the day. And on the way, marching back home, King Nebuchadnezzar said, you know what? I am getting tired of this Jehoiakim. And he marched on Jerusalem. Marched through valleys and marched through cities on the way – wiped them out. People fled into the hills, into the rocks, into the shrubs.

As the Babylonian army approached Jerusalem they tried to button down. But many of the inexperienced leaders that had been elevated by Jehoiakim abandoned their posts and fled. They had reason to be afraid. Historian, Josephus recorded — along with the rabbinic literature of the day — that Jehoiakim and the nation of Judah had 10,000 soldiers. Nebuchadnezzar was marching with 20,000 soldiers.

They laid siege to Jerusalem. The siege lasted for about a year. Food ran out in the city. People were starving. They hadn’t stocked up because they had believed the bravado of their king. Finally the Babylonian army is breaking through the wall of the city. They get it broken open. And it’s the night before they’re going to invade the next day. And Jehoiakim and a few of his core people decide to do something really brave. Under the cover of a moonless night, they bravely tried to run away.

Jehoiakim was captured. He was brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, who called him a wicked wretch, a coward and a covenant breaker, who had forgotten his former commitments. Turns out that King Nebuchadnezzar had allowed Jehoiakim to be made king and part of the reason was, Jehoiakim had made a secret covenant that in exchange for being given power over Judah, he would rule the nation in such a way, he would prepare the nation to be handed over peacefully and absorbed as part of the Babylonian empire. This is treason which he tried to get out of through all that finagling he did with King Necho in Egypt.

King Nebuchadnezzar now saw him as dishonorable and marched him in front of his people in fetters, in chains and then forced him to walk, shackled, north into Babylon and then ordered him executed and his body was dumped outside the city walls with no funeral. Nebuchadnezzar said this is the honor deserved by one such as this.

Unfortunately, it’s still not the end of the story. King Nebuchadnezzar also saw the people of Judah had been influenced by rationalizing the perversion of Jehoiakim. He regarded the nation as wicked and ordered its destruction. The population was carried off, enslaved in Babylon for generations and Judah, the nation to the south, existed no more. The nation was destroyed by dishonor.

Here’s why I told you this story. In the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is talking about discipleship. And he chooses, Jesus chooses a very unique metaphor to talk about discipleship. He says, what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not first sit down and ponder whether he is able with 10,000 soldiers to meet a king who comes against him with 20,000 soldiers? If not, while the other king is far off he will send a delegation and ask for terms of peace.

Everyone who heard Jesus knew exactly what he was saying. Jesus is mocking Jehoiakim, tongue in cheek. He’s taking that caution about don’t think too highly of yourself or you’ll be embarrassed and he reframes it and adds a reference known by everyone that recalls to mind a dishonorable footnote of history king who simply refused to engage in the realities before him. Jesus defines honorable as seeing things as they really are and not overinflating ourself or our abilities, because arrogance always brings the same result.

In our text today, in this story, we get a very clear view of dishonor in Jehoiakim and a very clear word that dishonor displeases the Lord. And just by recalling the complaints that God brought against Jehoiakim, we can get an equally clear vision of God’s definition of honor. Instead of wealth as our identity, disciples see wealth as a tool for people who put God first. Instead of fraud, disciples find honor in transparency and fairness. Instead of bluster and bravado, disciples crave calm, tranquil conversations where the truth is told.

Instead of sexual aggression which objectifies another person and seeks to possess, disciples see others as having sacred worth and disciples respect appropriate boundaries. Instead of nepotism and cronyism, the hiring of family and friends, disciples seek what is best for the nation and understand that we are great when we are good. Instead of conveniently changing allegiances, depending on where we perceive power to be and a commitment of values as long as they suit our purpose, disciples have one allegiance – God first; God’s values are the standard of our lives.

In place of lying and defending lies, disciples work very hard to tell the truth. In place of throwing tantrums, disciples don’t have to get their way to be content. Instead of a culture of money and accumulation, disciples seek the Kingdom of God – and the promise of the Kingdom of God is there is enough for everyone. And instead of discarding the inconvenient, disciples lean into meeting responsibilities, even when they cost us something.

Jeremiah is the first Old Testament writer to mention the coming of a Messiah. And the prophet Jeremiah proclaims what will become the core message of the Messiah. And that is that we are at our best when we discipline ourselves toward the highest ideals of God’s kingdom. We are representatives of our king. And honor pleases our king. Whether we’re stuck in the middle of an unwinnable situation we can’t control or tempted to play along with the forces of arrogance and greed and power. Jeremiah told us and Jesus showed us; life makes sense when we put God first.

2017-11-05 Searching for a Biblical Christmas – Competition 1/8

Searching for a Biblical Christmas – Competition 1/8
Pastor Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church
November 5th, 2017

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Eight weeks. Eight weeks till Christmas. Whoever went woo-hoo, we need to talk. You hadn’t thought about that, had you? And how much anxiety; you’ve got to remember to breathe. And Christmas is coming. And people are coming. Do you ever want to skip Christmas?

Yes, what it has become, sure does make it tempting – although — you might want to watch the movie, Christmas with the Kranks. Remember that movie, with Tim Allen, and Dan Aykroyd, and what happens when one family tries to skip Christmas. It brings a lot of unforeseen consequences, especially when their grownup daughter comes back from serving abroad, expecting Christmas to be as she remembered it as a child. And they were just saving the money to go on a cruise. That movie is good. It’s part of our Christmas movie genre. The movies that we all have pirated, and we all have them now, and we get them out and watch them at Christmas, right?

What else do you do on Christmas Day while the turkey is cooking in… ? Well, you put Christmas stuff… Mickey’s Christmas, from 1938. You remember that one? Yes, some others are there. I haven’t given a lot of thought to those movies until just now, but they all form us, and they all shape us. I think part of the reason that it’s so tempting to want to skip Christmas is: Christmas in our cultural religion has lost its connection to hope. It’s become an economic event. It’s become the cultural movie event. It’s become, looking for the warm, fuzzy, and how do I spin-up enough Christmas spirit to get through this? You know what I want to say. Well, maybe you do.

And I’m not about to go off the other end of the spectrum and say: well, Jesus is the reason for the season. Which may be true, but it usually translates into just as many lights, just as much stress, just as many mall trips, and presents, and wrapping paper. But, it’s different. Superior, because we’ve said the words: Jesus is the reason for the season; which makes us better in some way. So, I’m, basically, ready to throw it all away, frankly. I don’t know if that’s clear. But, I think the reason is because we’ve lost the connection to hope. And so, I’d like to spend a few weeks talking us back into what Christmas means.

And you might want to fasten your seatbelts because, today, I’m going to share with you, I’m going to point you to, something that you may have an inkling about, but is nowhere to be seen in our cultural religion. Words like hope show up in Christmas cards. That’s nice. But we have no connection to what that really means.

The prophetic text that Bill read for us today, Jeremiah, is one of the first in the Old Testament where we get an inkling of what Jesus is about. The first mention from the mouth of God that there is one whom he will send; who will mean something different.

What’s happened here, 600 years before Jesus walked the earth, is God is lamenting the loss of good shepherds to lead the people Israel. God is especially frustrated, disappointed, and in fact angry at the current king, King Jehoiakim. You might ask: well, we thought God was about love, what did Jehoiakim do to offend God?

Well, rabbinical literature is quite expressive in its description of King Jehoiakim as an atrocious tyrant. He spent money on himself that was not his. He was critical of others for what they did until he wanted to do it and then it was okay. He was sexually aggressive to any woman he desired. He had woman seized and held to be his play-things. He married multiple times. He had multiple affairs outside of those marriages. He gave jobs, big jobs, to his friends, expecting kick-backs. He would hire people to do work, and then he wouldn’t pay them once the work was completed. He was known to lie. He was un-trusted. He had tantrums.

Jehoiakim committed fraud to enrich himself. And in doing so, God’s charge against him is that he has now made the nation’s focus its economy. And God said: you worship the functions of money, more than you are close to me. The purpose of the culture of Israel in that day became money and accumulation. Jehoiakim made the whole conversation about what he was going to get; what his friends were going to get; and what his enemies and anyone who challenged him was going to get.

Jehoiakim claimed he believed in God. But the people see right through him because he echoed no values of God, in how he acted. He was terrible at diplomacy. He used big talk and bluster. And finally, he said: we’re going to invade Egypt and show them how powerful we are. We will show the world. We will demonstrate our strength. It was a disaster; half the army was routed.

A year later, when the Babylonians, up to the north, were on the march, Jehoiakim tried to flip relationships and allegiances and he tried to unite with Egypt for protection. He went to Egypt and they laughed at him. And they said: we’re going to chase you out of our country. And if we catch you, we will execute you. And he ran. And the Babylonian king arrested him and had him executed summarily. Jeremiah goes on to record that Jehoiakim died with no funeral. The people of Israel did not lament for him. His body has been treated like that of a donkey which has died. His body has been cast out into the heat of the day and the frost of the night. This is the glory of one such as this.

Jehoiakim was bad. He was a bad shepherd of the people. And today we heard God speak: it is you who has scattered my flock, and driven them away from me. You have not attended to them in my ways, so I will attend to you for your evil-doings.

Money as identity; sexual aggression and confusion; taking care of our own; using big talk and strutting; changing allegiances when it serves our purpose; deception; lying; tantrums; and a culture of money and accumulation. These are God’s charges against Jehoiakim through Jeremiah the prophet.

Needless to say, Jeremiah was not a popular prophet. But the purpose of Jeremiah was not only to make charges, identify God’s problem with where the nation was, but also God’s solution. God promises to gather the remnant of the flock and put the people under the care of a new generation of leaders; leaders who will be good shepherds; who will be wise and watch over the people; protect them and keep them from getting lost.

Better yet, this is the first inkling we hear, God is going to raise up through David a righteous branch. And he shall reign as a king and he shall execute justice wisely. And bring righteousness to the land. This righteous branch is none other than Jesus, the one to be born at the time of the Emperor Augustus, when he too was playing games to gain what he could get. This branch, Jesus, comes to reign with justice and righteousness. To provide safety for all of God’s people. To find and gather lost sheep; and to be to them, a good shepherd. 600 years before Jesus was born, this description was given. And this is the name by which he shall be called; the Lord is our righteousness.

I’ve never seen that in a Christmas card, have you? It’s a bit of an odd name. But if we miss it, we’re going to miss the deep meaning of Christmas, given to us by the Old Testament.

We’ve talked about righteousness in New Testament Greek. The word is dikaiosýnē. And you could probably tell me what it means. We’ve talked about it enough times. It’s that word from the royal court, having to do with who is given access to the king. Dikaiosýnē, it’s a gift. Access to the king, God on high, it’s a gift. That’s the implication. And also, the implication because of the royal court: act like you have earned your way in and you’re in trouble. In the royal court, you would lose your head over something like that.

The point of dikaiosýnē is: because you have been given access to the king, you should act differently. You should walk as someone, you should talk as someone, you should behave as someone who’s representing the king because you have had access.

Old Testament word for this is, tsadik, which means exactly the same thing. We see it in the story of Esther, and her questions about access to the king, who happened to be her husband. Access to the king is granted as a gift. You must never act as if it’s a possession or a right or an entitlement.

And Jeremiah takes this idea, this word tsadik, and he makes an interesting application to the king of the day, Jehoiakim. He is speaking to Jehoiakim. And he says: you are not acting in ways adequately representational of the gifts God has given you. You are acting as if you are entitled to the power you wield. But you are dividing, and distracting, and scattering people that you’ve been entrusted to lead. You will be torn down. You will be cast out. You will suffer your own definition of glory.

Jeremiah goes on and says: access to power, real power, is in our relationship to God. The Lord is our righteousness, not you, Jehoiakim. Jeremiah is being defiant. Jeremiah is thumbing his nose at the power of his nation. And Jeremiah is saying: my loyalty lies in the Lord. Not in your ways of unrighteousness, Jehoiakim. I will not make peace. I will not call you good. I will not play nice. You may threaten me. You may attack me. You may slander me. You may arrest me. You may kill me. But, the Lord is our righteousness.

This is where we first get an inkling into who and what Jesus will be. And what he is all about. This gets in the way of our cultural Christmas celebration because it clarifies for us; Jesus is not Frosty the Snowman, who melts when things get hot. And Jesus is not Santa Claus, a ho-ho-ing gift-giving, right-jolly old elf, coming down our chimneys to shower us with expensive toys and treasures. In fact, these things are exactly opposite of the theology of the biblical text. If we believe that presents are a sign of God’s favor then we have missed a component, a character of our king.

Jesus is a shepherd. He gives more attention to the lost sheep and lambs than those who are safely at home in the flock. The Lord is our righteousness. There’s nothing cute, or joyful, or cheerful, about it. Probably doesn’t fit into our fantasies about what it means to spin up a good dose of Christmas spirit. But if we ignore it we’re going to miss who Jesus really is. And we run a huge risk. In fact, I think we’ve missed it for years; missed what Christmas means.

Jeremiah is asserting what Jesus lived. There is no barrier. There is no terror. There is nobody. There is nothing that can keep us from God’s love. And we should live as loved, loving people. And therefore, there is no reason to back down or to cower or to give in to unrighteousness. And to me, that’s an awesome reason to have hope.

The message for the season is: righteous living is about our relationship through our access to God; nothing more; nothing less. And what I want to ask you to think about this morning is: what would it look like for your household to have a Christmas that honors Jesus? What he’s about. I figured this out, if we wait until advent to start, it’s too late. We’ve already made our trips to the stores. If we’re smart, we’ve already done our shopping. It’s all in the bag.

I have to hurry here, because sometime this week, the easy listening station is going to start playing Christmas carols, 24 hours a day. Sure, go buy presents at the store, but make a commitment that the purpose of your Christmas is not to carry the economy of our nation. Sure, overdo it a little bit at Christmas dinner, but be clear that small portions and eating slowly and the contemplation of the things for which you are grateful, feeds the soul much more than the belly.

Sure, go to a party or two, and maybe even drink the best wine with your friends. But, what if the purpose of the Christmas party was to raise money for a life-changing charity? What if it’s no longer about getting? Maybe, if you think about it, and you plan ahead a little bit, this is going to be the year when your household finds its Christmas spirit, when you go to feed the homeless on the hardest day for shelters to find volunteers – Christmas morning. Most of them don’t serve a meal.

Maybe this will be the year that your family begins a new tradition of giving significant resources. The previous years have gone to things that you know are going to get thrown away by April 3rd. Significant resources in someone else’s name; making a gift to save the family, or Amcor, Heifer Project, or UMOM, in the name of another person. And that’s your gift to them. I gave $500 in your name, to Heifer Project. I gave $500 in your name to the women’s shelter. The Lord is our righteousness.

Maybe this will be the year when, if you’ve been prone to having tantrums when your siblings are in town, this will be the year when you make a commitment to have a different behavior set. You don’t go immediately to verbal violence or to spiritual violence or to physical violence. Or maybe this will be the year when social action against greed and selfishness on behalf of the vulnerable becomes important in your life, you understand the meaning of Christmas.

To experience the righteousness of Christmas is to keep being drawn deeper into a close relationship with God. It’s to discover that social justice and personal peace are parts of a Godly way of life. It’s what happens when we put God first.

Jeremiah knew that you can’t be a good shepherd and abuse the sheep. You can’t be a righteous leader and misuse your power. And Jesus felt exactly the same way. This is why the both invited us into a right relationship with God; one that takes seriously the need to look beyond ourselves and what am I going to get out of this. And execute justice and righteousness in the land.

So, go ahead, put Frosty on your roof and leave cookies for Santa. But don’t miss this opportunity to focus your attention on the coming of Jesus; the one who shows us that the Lord is our righteousness. If you miss it you’ll be skipping Christmas.

Nov. 15 – Enews

Over the river and through the woods…
It’s almost Thanksgiving Day!
God has blessed Chandler United Methodist Church in many ways and those blessings are shared to others throughout the community.
Find out more about all that happens at Chandler UMC by reading this week’s e-news: 11-15-17

 

November 8th E-news

The Holidays will soon be here along with all the busy-ness that the season brings.
Find out more about what is coming up at Chandler United Methodist Church in the November 8th E-news.

This coming Sunday, November 12th we have an afternoon of music provided by the East Valley Chorale.  Come and enjoy an inspirational afternoon.

Check out the information regarding the upcoming Adult & Family Dinner Theater set for November 18th.  Tickets will be on sale on Sunday, November 12th during Coffee Fellowship.

The Ladies from Methodist Women’s Fellowship are busy too with the preparations for the Annual Christmas Tea coming up on December 2nd.

And our Chancel Choir and friends are currently working on special music for Lessons & Carols.

Read the e-news and find out more: 11-08-17