About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Soon and Very Soon

2015-05-31 Psalm 29 and Romans 9:12-17

Soon and Very Soon



So, we read Psalm 29.


Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.


We read this scripture and then I hear the choir sing, "Soon and Very Soon." I hear Carla playing the piano like nobody's business. I see Scott working up a sweat. Waving, pushing, pulling. I hear the Choir giving it their all in one last  strong and glorious ascription to the Lord in holy splendor. I hear, I see, I feel it in my heart. And I think, "O, heavenly beings, you ain't got nothin' on these people."


I am also very aware that today is the day we're celebrating the end of the school year. The kids are so happy. I think the teachers among us might be even happier. Nothing but sleeping late, Netflix, and video games for 12 weeks. I'm sure the kids will be relaxing, too.


And I'm also aware that we've got fried chicken, beans, and cornbread waiting down the hall. Which reminds me of that Lyle Lovett song where he sings, "If a preacher preaches long enough, even he'll get hungry, too." Which is cute. But if you've never noticed, there aren't a lot of skinny preachers.


We ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name, through the holy splendor of song and strings, casserole and cake. Don't you hope Christians get credit for all the potluck suppers?  I mean, if God used to take pleasure in burnt offerings, don't you think fried ones should get some notice, too? Oops, my Southern is showing. You deep fry anything, it tastes better. Twinkies. Okra. Butter.


OK. Walk it back, now. Church. Bible. Sermon. Funny how your mind can take you places. Especially when you're talking about food. But your mind can also take you places when you're thinking about God. Because God - by nature - is a distracting subject. God is distracting. God is supposed to be distracting. God should distract us from all the things, all the sins, all the temptations, all the internet sites, all the countless cartels of corruption clogging our corpuscles.


Isn't that the common wisdom? If you fill your mind with good things, if you fill your head with thoughts of God, there won't be any room left for the bad things. Right? That's the way conventional wisdom goes. But isn't it funny, how our minds always find a way to add on an extra room? God made us incredibly creative little creatures. No matter how full the table, there's always room for just one more uninvited guest, isn't there?


The Apostle Paul called this the world of the flesh, the deeds of the body, a spirit of slavery. Now, bear in mind, that when Paul spoke of flesh, he didn't necessarily mean skin, as in that which is over-exposed in summer and under-covered on certain TV channels. When Paul spoke of flesh, he used a word that has no precise English translation. He meant something like, that which is not from God or that which does not originate with God. When Paul said, "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live," he didn't mean your body is evil. After all, God created us, as well as the earth, and puppies and kittens, and the moon and the stars, and called these earthly and heavenly bodies "good."[1]


What Paul means is what each of us know. That we're always trying to fill our minds and our lives with good things, but that the bad things - fleshy, room-occupying, time-wasting things - always match or exceed our abilities. We're like a hamster in a wheel. The faster we run, the further behind we fall. We try to be good. We try to think right thoughts. We try to do unto others without ever thinking first of ourselves. But the harder we try, the more aware we become of how far short we fall. We need a hand to reach in and free us from the tyranny of the wheel of our own minds.


The Apostle Paul says we finally and forever more find freedom in Christ. Jesus is the force of Spirit, a holy Spirit, that liberates us from the effect of the flesh. Paul says we are debtors to the Holy Spirit, that we're in its debt, because in the Spirit, God frees us from sin and death and running in circles. In the Holy Spirit, Christ frees us from trying to do what we can never do and be who we will never be. In the Holy Spirit of the Risen Christ, God says, "You are no longer a slave to your own unwanted thoughts and desires. You are now adopted as one of Me."


Now, this spirit of adoption had particular and different meaning back in the time when being able to trace your family lineage back to Abraham meant you were part of God's chosen race. Paul and Jewish-Christians of his day took this very literally.


But what Jesus meant when he spoke of his true brothers AND sisters was ANYBODY who was willing to take up their cross and suffer with him that someday they might also be glorified with him.


Something we often forget - we who worship happiness and comfort - is that Jesus, and Paul, always put suffering first. Suffering always preceded glory. Suffering was necessary to glory. Tell that to your children next time they complain you're not letting them have enough screen time. Suffering with Christ is always the necessary precursor to glory of Christ. There is a cross at the front of the sanctuary, not a recliner.


Now, a word of warning. The freedom of Christ doesn't mean you're off the hook. It doesn't mean you're free to go indulge the flesh - however you want to translate that. We're still indebted. We're still in debt to the power that shows us there's more to life than our own selfishness. We're in debt to the Holy Spirit that shows us we can live in connection with God.


Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength says the Psalm. Give credit to God. Give praise to God. Give worship to God. Knowing that there will always be empty space in your head. For some  more than others. There will always be room for the stuff you don't want. It will always find its way in. You can't hide from the world. But give praise and worship to God for showing us that the stuff we don't want in our heads is not the only stuff. There is God. There is Christ. There is the Holy Spirit. The hope of scripture is the promise that after we suffer, after we suffer through the spiritual and mental wrestling matches, we will find that which is of God. It will be clearer. It will be purer. Soon and very soon.