The sermon begins around 29 minutes in.
As many of you know, several weeks ago my email contact list was hacked and many of you received a message– purportedly from me – saying that I needed you to buy me an iTunes card for someone else. The message added: I had wanted to call you but my phone didn’t work so if you would just open the email link and give your credit card number then all would be good. The email even had a bible verse at the conclusion to indicate my bona fides “good faith.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be good.
From the texts, emails and phone calls I received – there were a lot of people who received this bad news. It is despicable that there are those who would prey on the generosity of people and use my name and reputation to try to get to you.
Look, if you ever receive an email from asking for an iTunes card – delete it immediately! If, however you receive an email from me asking for a Starbucks card – hmmm – maybe don’t be so quick to delete. That might be from me!!
I joke at a very serious matter and I am very sorry if you received that email.
Despite all the firewalls and protection that we set up, still these viruses get through and infect and spread from one computer to others. It is devious and subtle and subversive.
But flip this scenario on its head, spin it 180 degrees and I wonder if the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ does not work, in a way, in the same way. It begins in a manger, where nobody was really paying attention. It is a living word that sneaks into the world despite all the firewalls and protections that are set up to maintain the status quo of comfort and respectability and it spreads from one person to another. The powers that be will do almost anything to stop it – but like the bad virus – it is impossible to protect yourself from it.
Faith is trusting that in Jesus Christ you see who God is and what God wants for you and for everyone – is like being infected with the good virus of the love of God. It is like being shot up (so to speak) with the good news of redemption
Being infected by the strain of inclusion and hospitality. This subversive but graceful virus spreads to your friends and those on your mailing list.
This might make you want to use more of your hand sanitizer – but Christ actually calls you to get your hands dirty – in the stuff of life.
Consider the incarnation of God in Jesus – it is devious and subversive and seeks to put a bug in the system, and overthrow the status quo, and disrupt our comfort … it is like the mustard seed weed of the parable that spreads no matter what you do, until it gets big so that birds can build their nests in it. The gospel is like the speck of yeast in the loaf that through some mysterious chemical reaction changes everything.
Jesus, the baby, sneaks into the world when no one is looking.
In Luke, animals are around, and a few shepherd and angels that nobody sees (expect the shepherds – but no one is paying attention to them.) In Matthew, some astrologers who aren’t even Jewish catch the sign in the sky,
This cute little baby is destined for the rise and fall of many – he is like a virus that will come to mess up the political and religious empires: the Facebook and Google of his day.
And some think we are deluded, or sick to think this Jesus guy is for real. They think we are the ones in need of help because we act the way we do – and point to things like hope – lighting candles of welcome in the gloom of the barriers; and talk about forgiveness, and pursue justice for all instead of personal gain, and seek to open ourselves more instead of going tight.
Listen again to the first verse and a half of the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…
Wow, that is some firewall of protection.
From Rome, the Emperor Tiberius ruled. He was a great general and commander who replaced Caesar Augustus and ruled from 14-37 of the common era. The historian Pliny the Elder described him as “the gloomiest of men.” But Tiberius was one of the most powerful of men of history.
Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect. If you have been reading your newspapers you will know that archeologists found a ring with his name inscribed in it. Jesus stood before this guy in Jerusalem. It was Pilate who thought he was protecting his political self-interest by handing Jesus over to be crucified.
Herod, king of Galilee – Jesus called him “that fox!” was the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded.
Annas and Caiaphas – the high priests who had to protect the temple and their own skin from the Roman powers. They were the ones who would go into the Holy of Holies once a year to make sacrifice to the people. Caiaphas is implicated in Jesus’ death as well. Talk about a firewall – the holy of holies – was as good as it gets.
It is so fascinating to me to think that Luke sets up his gospel in this way. Into real history God comes. Into the impregnable security of imperial Rome, God is sneaking in. Through the impassible screen of the Holy of Holies, a new kind of virus is spreading.
The powerful always think that they have God on their side. But God doesn’t want to maintain the status quo. But God always seems to want to mess things up.
Sneaking in despite all this impressive power, despite all these powerful people with their amazing credentials – “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Out of the wilderness, from left field, from nowhere – from the place where no one goes and no one comes from – the place that the powerful could care less about (except for Herod who builds forts atop great heights to remain above it all seeking to protect himself) appears John.
And he is not above it all but in the midst of it all (where we should be too!) And he is telling anyone who is listening, he is trying to get into your contact list: “Clean up!” It is time – your sins are forgiven.”
Whoa! Stop right there! What? It can’t be that easy. I spent years polishing my sins, I take pride in my sins – I am my sins.I am told by almost everyone that I am not good enough, that I do not belong. That is what I have learned from church, from the powers that be, from the media – I have internalized that message. It is who I am. I deserve the mess I am in, and darn it all I am going to stay in it!
What John is preaching is a subversive – anyone can get it, and get in.
Get a new mind for a new age – because that is what “repent” actually means. Metanoia. Noia= of the mind and meta= after or beyond. So get beyond what you think – maybe get beyond what you see – maybe get beyond what you have always thought – and get a new mind for a new age, get ready for the in breaking of a new thing.
This good news virus, the hopeful virus that sneaks through, tells you that you are worthy, that you are forgiven, so spread this news!
And then this virus makes you act crazy: preparing the way for the one who is to come – the one who will break bread with sinners and love children and say the kingdom of God is here!
This virus will make you want to straighten path that are crooked. And fill valleys that those who are separated can get together. And blow up mountains so that there “ain’t no mountain high enough, and ain’t no valley low enough to keep me away from you!”
This hopeful virus will make you sick of crookedness in high and low places: from the White House to your house. It will make you take an undocumented person into Sanctuary. It will make you offer groceries to over 200 people a week. It will make you stand up and say NO to the “Stand your ground” bill – that will allow anyone to shoot anybody in Ohio! It makes you pursue racial reconciliation. This virus makes you want to give money away and be generous.
It moves you from complaint to action – building power. It makes you organize so that “the world as it is” becomes “the world as it should be.” It makes you calm down and not get overwhelmed by the present moment.
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God in you. We want everyone to get the sickness …. so they can get well!
Think about your firewalls – what you do to protect yourself from the hopeful virus of God’s redemptive love for you. You might as well let it in.
Because you really can’t keep it out.