Monday, December 21, 2015

Jesus' Wish List

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Hebrews 10:5-10:

Several years ago, Jimmy Kimmel asked the viewers of his late night show to prank their children and to tell them they could open one present they had gotten for Christmas a few weeks early, but rather than giving them something they wanted, to instead give them something they wouldn’t want.  People did and posted it on YouTube with the message “hey Jimmy Kimmel, I gave my kids a terrible present.”  Take a look at some of these gifts…   I can’t decide whether Jimmy Kimmel is a genius in exposing some of our thoughts about Christmas or if instead he is going straight to hell.  I think the kids subjected to this, especially the little boy who thinks it’s the worst Christmas ever, definitely are going with the second of the options.  We find it funny not only because of the reactions from the kids, but the sort of uncomfortableness we feel that this is what Christmas is, and what it seems to be about, getting presents.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, concludes our sermon series which has actually been entitled Christmas is Not Your Birthday.  We act like it’s our birthday, and I’m not obviously talking about if December 25th is your actual birthday.  Be we think it’s about giving gifts and getting gifts, especially for kids, and especially for stores.  When people talk about rethinking Christmas and perhaps shopping less, one of the things that comes up is that we are told that stores are dependent upon Christmas sales for their very existence.  That’s one of the reasons black Friday is named what it is, because it’s the first time that many of them have gone into the black.  But is that really our duty and obligation as Christians, to make sure that we shop enough, go into debt enough, as they say to buy presents we don’t need with money we don’t have, in order to keep the economy going?

Now this year I haven’t really talked about practicing Christmas differently as I have in years past, and perhaps that is the reason that this year no one has accused me of not liking Christmas, of wanting to suck all the fun out of Christmas as people have done in year’s past.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  I love Christmas, and I believe we can love Christmas, and everything that goes along with it, including giving and getting gifts, and still think that perhaps we are missing something, that maybe there could be something which could connect us to the season just a little bit more.  Or, as the Grinch comes to realize, “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas, perhaps, means just a little bit more.” And so today we conclude our Advent sermon series by looking at Jesus’ wish list.  Which might be part of what we can get out of Jimmy Kimmel torturing young children for our amusement, is that we ask children and each other what they want for Christmas.  But even when we claim that we want to keep Christ in Christmas and that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that rhymes so it has to be true, have we ever actually asked the question “What does Jesus want for his birthday?”

One year my father played Santa Clause for a department store in Phoenix.  Now some of you have met my father, and so you know how perfect that is for him, and for those of you who haven’t seen my father, one year I got him a shirt that says “Santa’s Stunt Double” which will tell what he looks like.  As he prepared for that role, he came up with a list of what he, as Santa, would want for Christmas.  To his great disappointment no one ever asked him, but his wish  list was very similar to the song popularized by Amy Grant entitled, Grown-Up Christmas List, which says, talking to Santa as an adult, “So here's my lifelong wish, my grown-up Christmas list, not for myself, but for a world in need: No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts, every man would have a friend, that right would always win, and love would never end, this is my grown-up Christmas list.”  Perhaps that is also closer to Jesus’ wish list as well.

Although the King James Bible included a heading giving attribution to the Letter to the Hebrews to Paul, there is no actual reason to do that, and lots of reasons not to, but what the author of Hebrews is talking about, in a passage much longer than what we heard this morning is about sacrifice and the law.  What he has said is that sacrifice doesn’t ever truly work to remove our sin, our brokenness.  It was something that we had to keep doing year after year, because bull and goat blood could not ultimately take away our sin, could not restore us into right relationship with God.  For that to happen, we needed something more, and so God sent Jesus to the world because God loved the world and wanted to be in relationship with the world.  The passage has Jesus saying to God, “in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.”  That is not a quote we have of Jesus in the gospels so we don’t know in what context he might have said this, but it’s entirely likely that he did say something like it because a similar sentiment is found in the Hebrew scriptures.

In the 51st Psalm we read, “For You (meaning God) do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”  This is a common sentiment in the Psalms.  The prophet Samuel says "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” And finally, the prophet Micah says ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’  He has told you, O mortal, what is good;” concluding with my favorite passage, “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The problem isn’t necessarily with the sacrifices, but with what is done with them, how they are used, with the heart of the person who is making the offering.  Is it in true contrition, or simply an act done so they can go out and do the same thing again.  That is why the follow-up to Jesus’ statement is “I have come to do your will.”  The passage concludes by saying the that God has abolished the first order, that is the law, and established the second order through Christ, that we are reconciled and forgiven through Christ, but that’s not the end point.  That’s the beginning point, because once we accept that, then we have to do something about to say, Jesus, what is on your wish list? What can I do for you?

One day as Hannah Salwen, who was 15 at the time, and her father were driving through Atlanta, where they lived, as they stopped at a light, she noticed a Mercedes stopped next to them along with a homeless man sitting on the curb, and she said to her father, “If that guy didn’t have such a nice car, then that guy could have a nice meal.”  Hannah’s father Kevin was on the board of Habitat for Humanity for Atlanta, so they were already involved in working  with people in need, but Hannah’s statement led to a greater conversation about what they family had versus what the family needed, and how they might be able to give back.  “We stopped and paused and thought about what are the things in the world that could really make a difference… in the world,” Kevin said.  Initially they thought about selling their cars or other things, but then Hannah’s mother Joan suggested selling their home, moving into a home half the size, and giving half the proceeds to those in need.

No one really expect Joan to be the one to make that suggestion, because this was her dream home.  Built in 1912, it was 6500 square feet, had five bedrooms, eight fireplaces, a cooks kitchen, and even an elevator to take you up to what was Hannah’s room.  “I have to admit,” Joan said, “I loved living in this house.  Does that make me an evil person?  I hope not because it’s a beautiful place.”  But selling the home was a challenge.  “It was a test, almost to see: How committed are we?”  Joan said.  And so the Salwen’s put their home up for sale, with an asking price of 1.6 million, they were able to donate $800,000 for charity.  Their money ended up going to help 30 different villages in Ghana, where it was used to build clinics and schools, and to teach the villagers sustainable farming practices.  Jon Coonrods, who is vice president of the Hunger Project, the charity the Salwen’s choose to receive the money, said that in the end the money may help as many as 20,000 people in Ghana.

James, the brother of Jesus, tells us in his letter that faith without works is dead.  Not because we are saved by works, because we are saved by faith alone, our salvation is not dependent upon our actions, but, because, as James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”  If someone comes to you, James says, and they are “naked and lack daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”  It’s like the old Henny Youngman joke about a man coming up to him and telling him that he hasn’t eaten in three days, and Youngman says, “you should force yourself.”  What difference does Jesus make in our lives, if he doesn’t make a difference in our lives?  If he doesn’t make a difference in how we live our lives?

But we don’t have to give a lot for our gift to have meaning and importance.  I will admit that the Salwen story may be a little extreme, and I don’t know anyone here who lives in a house worth 1.6 million, and I am not telling you to go sell your homes.  But what Jesus says is that from those who have much, much is expected, although that’s not a quote we hear being bantered around much lately.  And as Yoda says, size matters not.  It’s not the size of the giving that matters, but from where the giving comes from and the difference it makes.  This week I read a story of a security guard at Disneyland who kneels down in front of every little girl who is dressed up like a princess and asks for their autograph.  Such a simple act, and what do you think those little girls will remember from their trip to the happiest place on earth?  But how many people overlook what that security guard does?

There is nothing wrong with giving and there is nothing wrong with receiving, but it’s about the priorities we set about them that makes the difference.  Is our giving, and our receiving, this year making a difference in the world?  Is it fulfilling our greatest desires or God’s greatest desires?  The thing I am proudest about for Samantha in saying we should collect teddy bears for the fire department was not really that act in itself, but what followed.  Because after we went and met with the fire department, Samantha and Abigail both went home to go through their stuffed animals to see what they might give away, and what they offered up first was not the animals they played with the least, but instead their first offering was their favorite stuffed animal, because if it meant so much to them they were sure it would mean so much to others.

God does not take pleasure in burnt offerings and sin offerings, not only because they are not necessary because of the gift we have received at Christmas through the person of Jesus Christ, but because they don’t reveal our heart.  We have received the gift of Christ and we are called to give that gift to the world, not through words, but through our actions.  In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the parable of the sheep and goats, that at the final judgment that Christ will separate the people like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats, and the decision will be based on this: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” What is Jesus’ wish list? To offer hope and peace and joy and love to the least and the lost, the rich and the poor, the scattered and scared, the hurting and healthy, the sinner and the righteous, to say to them all “behold I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all the people, that a savior has been born,” and then to live that message out every day of our lives in everything that we do.  I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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