Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lift Jesus Higher

We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ. Our various ministries become opportunities to offer Christ.

Jesus said that if he is lifted up, then he will draw all people to him. And so during this period of Lent, we have been looking at lectionary readings through the lens of spiritual exploration, and what it is that's out there for us and what it is that's in here for us. All around in the spiritual realm, the things that God has for us, and the things that we want to discover in Christ, the things that we want to discover about ourselves and our relationship with God and God's creation.

In this passage of the gospel, [John 12:20-33] Jesus emphasized his lifting up as the way that he would be crucified at the end of his earthly ministry. And throughout his time, he predicted that he was going to be killed in this way and that then he would be raised from the dead, and so that's a part of our preparation as we come to the conclusion of Lent over the next couple of weeks. But he also promised that because of that, there would be a plentiful harvest and that his being lifted up would draw everybody to him.

Transcript of sermon
 Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on March 21, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

He spoke about this in the beginning of his ministry that we talked about last week, in John chapter 3, where he talked about being born again. And then he talked about the people in the wilderness who were being bitten by the snakes, and that Moses had set the pole up for everybody to look at, and if they would look, they would be healed or saved. And that in the same way, Jesus said, "In this same way, the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." And now he says this about being lifted up and drawing all people to him.

Jesus is the draw
And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me. John 12:32 (MSG)

And I think sometimes in the church, we might all have recognized that there's a tendency to want to try to get ahead of Jesus maybe a little bit, get ahead of the cross a little bit, and to find other things that might draw people together and draw people in. And they might do that, but you know, I like to think that when we came together here at church today, we came to praise the Lord. We just came for Jesus. We came because we want to worship. 

And I think it's better if we have fewer people who all want to worship than a lot of people who came for a lot of other reasons besides Jesus.

And I think that our mission and ministry and the other things that we do as the church to help people are not to manipulate them or to make them want to come and be a part of the church. But they are because out of this love that we have growing within us and the gifts that we have that empower us to ministry, that we want to serve Christ and all the people in this way. And so we're not doing ... Some of the other things that we do are not in order to get people to come and be a member of our group, but they're because of we love them and we want to help and serve them.

And then through that, we want to lift up Christ in all that we're doing so that they're drawn in to Christ, and not to us or not to our ... We're not lifting up our group. We're lifting up Christ. We're not lifting up our particular ministries, whatever they may be, but we're lifting up Christ, and those become opportunities for us to lift up Christ. But if we do it the other way around, then we're getting the horse before the cart. And you still need a horse. Well, that's where it belongs, isn't it? We're getting the cart before the horse. If you're going to draw a cart with a horse, you're going to need a cart and a horse, but it does make a difference what order they come in.

And so that's how it makes a difference with us. We're lifting up Christ, and we want to lift up Christ in all we do, and point to Christ, and help people come into a personal relationship with Christ. And he promises that the harvest is plentiful, and that he wants people to follow him. Why? So that where he is that we can also be there, wherever that may be. And that's a promise that he made a couple of chapters later on his way to the cross, when he said that, "If I prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." So, there's a couple of places right together there where Jesus is emphasizing that he wants us around. He wants us with him, and that's why he's drawing everybody to him.

But I also like to highlight that in The Message translation, the word everyone, and in the King James, the word all, will draw all people to me, it's a promise that keeps coming up in the scriptures, that there are texts that can be used to argue against it, and a lot of people do. But Jesus and the apostles and the prophets tend to have this all idea, this idea that all people are being called, all are invited, and that "God's will is that all should be saved," as Peter said. It's not God's will that anyone should perish, but that all should come to this knowledge of Christ. And so, that's the attitude that I think this passage invites us to have is that it's for everybody, that we celebrate our differences and our diversity, and not use it as walls to separate us, but as bridges to unite us and to bring us together, and to look at everybody as a child of God, being saved, being healed, being transformed into the image and likeness of him that filleth all in all. So, lift Jesus higher.

Called by God
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.   Hebrews 5:10 (KJV)  

And then Hebrews 5, that reading talks about the priest, Melchizedek, who came and took and worshiped with Abraham and received the tithes from Abraham back in super primordial times, I guess super primeval times. That was a long time ago, the days of Abraham. We celebrate Abraham and being the children of Abraham's faith, and that was far back in the Book of Genesis. And I was interested to see that that Abraham was born in 1948 AM, Anno Mundi, the year of the world, in the way that they were measuring time, some people measure time in their religion. And so in what they felt was 1948 ...

And I thought that was kind of a interesting little connection there to think about, but that was still a long time ago. It was not the 1948 that we usually go to in our minds. It was a long time ago, and a long time before any of the rituals that we have, any of the prayers in the Bible, anything about the Bible was ever written, anything, any kind of the forms that we follow, or any kind of practices that we have. And so his priesthood preceded the priesthood that was established by Moses by a long, long time, and all of the things that we think of in connection with religion are preceded by this priest, Melchizedek, coming and being a part of Abraham's life.

And that's who the Bible lifts up, that Jesus is a priest after that order, the old time one, the real old one, the one that precedes all the others. And that is very personal and it is deeper than ... And so that includes, really, all of everything that came afterwards, but it goes back deeper, to something deeper that we're invited to really be a part of when it's brought up that way.

And there's not much to know about him, but John Wesley brought that up as a high point. He said, "The Holy Ghost seems to have concealed who Melchizedek was on purpose, that he might be the more eminent type of Christ." 

And I can add a word that was in The Message that he was designated by God, that we use the word called in the King James, but in The Message it said designated. And that's kind of an interesting way to think of it too, that our calling is a designation, and God has called you and gifted you to something then, that the Holy Spirit has designated you to do that job.

The Holy Spirit has designated us and called us and specified that this is our assignment, and that's what God would like for us to do. And if we do, then it's not just because of a whim that God might have that day. It's because it will be what will fulfill you in your life and make your life, and not only you, but the people around you and the people who receive the benefit of your ministry.

Everyone will know God
None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.  Jeremiah 31:34 (GNT)

And then the prophet Jeremiah spoke as an oracle of God, spoke the Word of God, that "everyone will know me." That promise, there it comes again, everyone will know me. "None of them will have to teach a neighbor," it says in the good news, "to know the Lord, because all will know me from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken it."

One of my favorite commentaries, Daniel Whedon, wrote, he translated it this way with a little paraphrase, "I will break down the barriers of separation and bring back the lost harmony." Yeah. I love to think about it like that, because that's part of our salvation is that the disruption in our relationship and the discord that we experience and we see around us, in our own relationships and on the news and every place else, there's that sense of discord. But there's that sense of where people will put people in different categories and then hate that group, whatever it may be, and there's so much of that. And it becomes so intense and so violent and so connected with religion, so that people start getting a sense of that's what they should do. It's their Christian duty to hate someone and to express that hatred in whatever ways they can get by with. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that we're invited into love and fellowship with one another, and that God expects us all to be a part of this, that we all, that everyone, everyone will know God. Maybe eventually, and it may not have happened yet, but it's happening. That's in the process. And we're a part of that process as we come to know Christ and as others around us come to know Christ, and we all relate to each other, and as people who are coming to know God better in that process.

And it's not just something that Jeremiah thought might be a good idea, but Jeremiah said, "I, the Lord, have spoken." And we have a hymn that sometime you might like to look up. It's in our hymnal and it's online and everything, but it has this, the hymn's name is "God Has Spoken by the Prophets." And I think that's a good thing to think about when we think about who's saying what, and whose opinions that we're following or implementing in our lives. What has God actually said? What did the prophet say God said? And here's something the prophet said "God said." The prophet Micah and the prophet Amos said some sayings like that too that we bring up a lot that go along those same themes about loving and about taking care of people. And they'll say, "And God said this. God will do this."

Restore our joy
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.  Psalm 51:12 (KJV)

The purpose of it is not for our condemnation, as we see from what Jesus said right after John 3:16 in John 3:17, in the very next verse that often gets marginalized or left out of the conversation about where he said that "He didn't come to condemn anybody, but to save or to heal everybody." And so, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit," as it says in the King James. Now that passage from the Psalm 51 that we began the service has several other verses that we might be familiar with from some of the songs that have been made out of them are from. Otherwise, they're used in so many of our services and our liturgies, "Create in me a clean heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Blot out all my inequities. Cast me not away from my presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me," are just a few of the things in that verse that have become a part of our whole praise and our whole worship and our whole relationship with God.

God wants to restore us to joy, and just to restore the joy that was intended in our creation that we would have. "Uphold us with his free spirit." I love that idea of the free spirit, because we all probably know some people we would describe that way, as a free spirit, and it just ... It's a very attractive trait, I think, when we find people to be free and in a way of just freely loving and freely giving and being happy and making others happy around them. And the Bible here invites us to think of God that way, and that that's who's upholding us, a spirit that is sovereign and free and loves us just freely and wants us to be happy. 

Enter the Relationship
“Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”   John 12:21 (TLB)

And so the invitation, going back to the gospel message, again, as it began, we're invited to enter into a relationship with Christ. And then to extend that invitation to everybody around us, to enter into this kind of a relationship that the people who came looking for Jesus, they said, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." That's really what people need and want above anything else that we have to offer.

John Wesley, in sending the Methodists over here in the first place to form the missionary group into a church, he said, "Offer them Christ." That's our mission. That's what we offer. That's what we have to offer that the world doesn't have to offer, but the church, not just our church, our denomination, but the body of Christ, the church has to offer, is Christ. Who he is, what he thinks, how he loves, how he wants everybody to be in love and harmony and union with each other, and be blessed and to be filled with joy, and to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." And all the things that he sends us to teach and invite and encourage, that's what people need. That's what people want. 

They want to meet Jesus, and so let's help facilitate that. Amen?

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