Sermon, transcript, Lent 5

It occurs to me that the quality of the questions that we ask of anything dictate the quality of the answers, right? I remember I’m asking my dad something one time when I was a kid and he gave me this really sarcastic response, and he said, “Well, if you ask a stupid question, you’re going to get a stupid answer.”

I remember, also, my teachers used to say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” My dad disagreed. The quality of the answer is dictated by the quality of the question, right? One time I was working with the vestry. If you’re new to the church, the vestry is kind of like a leadership body of the church that takes care of the building and the money and leads the church, along with me. We once, they whiteboard, we wrote down all the questions that are usually asked around a vestry meeting. Okay? And they were what you might expect. How do we meet the budget? How can we get more people to come to church? How can we get more people to join the choir? How can we get more youth leaders? How can we get people to work in the nursery? All these sorts of things, right?

We wrote that all up on the left side of the board, and then what I did is I went over to the right side and I said, “Okay, what are some questions that we might ask specifically about God?” So they said, “Okay, what’s God doing in my life?” “What is God up to in the neighborhood?” That’s my favorite question. “How is the Holy Spirit moving in this parish?” Okay? God questions.

I will say for the vestry, it was very easy for us to develop the church questions. We probably had 20 of them, and we probably had about six of the God questions. One thing I noticed was like, guys, look at this. Look at the church questions. For the church questions, God does not need to exist. They looked like the questions that any kind of non-profit would be asking, or even for-profit. How can we get more customers? Right? But for these God-centered questions, God absolutely must exist or we’re just wasting our time. I thought that was fascinating.

What we decided to do as a vestry is to start asking more of the God-centered questions and less of the church-centered questions. Now, of course, canonically, we are required to make sure that a budget is presented and that we are transparent with our finances and all that sort of thing, but all of that should be in service of these God-centered questions. It turns out that churches that habitually ask the God-centered questions tend to meet the church-centered questions automatically. That way we can keep the main thing the main thing and not get too worried about the church because we should be worshiping the Creator, not the creation. Right? So the questions we ask dictate the kind of answers you get.

Have you heard of this business speaker named Simon Sinek? He writes about leadership and he has this thing he calls The Golden Circle. It’s got to be gold, right? Imagine three circles, two smaller circles nested in a larger circle. He talks about, of the outside circle, it is what are we doing? So an organization asking itself what are we doing? Okay? This is where most organizations, including churches, answer and define themselves. What are we doing? Well, we’re gathering on Sundays so that we can be at church. Okay? Well, that’s okay. It’s not very compelling, right?

Sinek says we should go inside that. Not just the what, but we should be asking the how. How is it that we do it? Oh, well, we do it by being a basically an anarcho-collective where everybody is giving of themselves. There’s some leadership, but it doesn’t really rest too heavily in one hand or the other. Everybody gives of their time and their talents and their treasure to support the thing. That’s the how it happens.

But the why, this is where Sinek says we’ve really got to go. The why. Why do we do it? So we have the what, the how and the why. He says that visionary companies, visionary organizations, start with the why and move outward from there. If you start from the what and move into the why, it lacks that drive, right? So we’ve got to start with the why.

Have you ever asked that? Why do you come here? There are so many brunch options in Charlotte. Why are you here? Just about everybody here left a beautiful bed. It’s getting kind of overcast out. You could stay in bed. It’s one of those days. Just curl up with The New York Times or something. Why are you here? This is the question. Why are we here?

I would submit to you that we’re here to become children of God. To become Christ’s, you know that the word “Christian” was initially lobbed at the followers of Jesus as an insult. It meant little Christs. Hey, look at the little Christ walking around, ha, ha, ha. There’s some ancient graffiti that shows a man with a donkey’s head being crucified, and it says this is Crispus’s God. There was a guy named Crispus who was a Christian, and people were making fun of him, his peers. It’s Christian. It’s this derisive term but we co-opted it. We took it. We’re like, yes! In fact, we are meant to be little Christs. How does that happen?

So we have the why. We’re meant to be little Christs. How does it happen? What is it? How does it happen? I would say that it’s all outlined right here in the Nicene Creed. If you would open up to page seven, at the top of page seven, we are in the clause of the creed that deals with Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father. God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Begotten, not made.” Begotten, not made. What does that mean?

Well, when we make something, we create anything but it’s not us, right? I happen to be, I think, very skilled in making egg dishes of any kind. Eggs. How do you like them? Poached? Soft-boiled? Hard-boiled? I can do that. I’m very good. And we keep chickens, so now it’s like this total circle. These egg dishes are a creation. I make them. Okay? But when you look at it, you can’t say, that’s Josh. It’s got some Josh in it, right? I made the things happen. I made decisions about what spices and all that sort of thing. That’s making.

When you create art, when you create music, anything that we create, we make it, but it’s not us. Begotten is totally different. It is when God creates. That’s not the right word. We can’t say create. Begets. Begets what? Begets a true God. Okay? So Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is not a creation like an egg dish. It is a true God. Okay? So what’s meant to happen?

What happens then is that we’re meant to become Children of God. We’re meant to move from this made state to this begotten state. We are meant, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be not merely creatures of God, but to be Children of God. To become begotten, not simply made. That is the how.

So we have a why. We’re to be begotten of the Father, to become Children of God. How? Through the Holy Spirit. What? Well, that’s different. That talks about our behavior. What is it that we’re doing that our behavior would look like a Christ. This is one of the big secrets of the church is that we’re called to be Christ. Okay? Most of us are sitting in the stands but Jesus is saying can you come down on the field with me? We’re going to play. No longer being mere spectators or admirers of Jesus Christ but actually becoming transformed into Him.

How this happens, by the way, is outlined in our two passages of Philippians and the John passage. If you look at Philippians… here Paul, he’s in prison, he’s in Rome and he’s writing to this church in Philippi trying to explain to them how to live a Christian life and to be encouraged.

He talks about the things that he has. The things that he has. He has this sort of religious pedigree that’s pretty darn impressive. Not only that, but he’s been a persecutor of the church because he’s zealous. Okay? Imagine what it would have been like for a first century Jewish person to hear what the Christians were saying. That would have been, for them, heresy.

So it was only natural that someone with a lot of zeal for God would be persecuting the church. So all these things, but he says whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus My Lord. He says he regards them as rubbish. Rubbish. In comparison. These are good things. Even the persecution of the church, for him, would have been a good thing.

But in comparison, it’s rubbish. The word in Greek, by the way, is “skubalon” which means rubbish, but it’s of the raw sewage variety in Greek. It’s actually an expletive in Greek. All of these things are rubbish in comparison to what we’re getting as we are being transformed into Christ.

So here we see Paul as loosening his grasp on these things that he once held so dear, and that brings us to the John passage. Famous scene. They’re in Bethany, the house of Martha and Mary and Lazarus. They’re having a meal, and then Mary takes a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard. I want you to imagine, do you guys know what those diffusers are, with essential oils you put in and it makes your house smell nice. I want you to imagine a gallon of that stuff poured in with no water and just going like crazy.

It would just completely fill the room, probably make your eyes water. It might make some of you start coughing inadvertently right now. It would be like, whoa. This is the stuff that you use to make perfume so it’s super intense, and it would be diluted and shared out. It was worth three hundred denari. What’s that? That’s three hundred days worth of labor in the fields. This is a year’s worth of labor.

Judas, of course, says, hey, why don’t we just sell this and give to the poor, and there’s this little parenthetical thing, oh, he says this because he’s a thief. He doesn’t really care about the poor which means, I think, that the writer is saying, this is a completely legitimate question but because Judas is the one asking it, it’s not legit. But if Peter had asked it, I think it might have been a different question.

What’s Mary doing here? She’s got Jesus. She knows he’s coming. She starts searching her house. What can I give Him? What can I give Him? She uncovers in the closet this nard. It’s like, that was going to be our retirement. Okay. Boom. Gives it. And she anoints Him as if he’s about to be buried. Jesus accepts this gift. You see, like Paul loosening his grasp on his pedigree, and like Mary searching her house, these people are taking the good things that they have in their life and simply offering it to God to say here you go. What do you want to do with this?

This open-handedness, and guess what? God will take those things. Every part of you, even the part that you have distorted into a sinful warping of God’s desires. Even those good things that you have distorted will be taken by God and transfigured and given back to you. This is the healing that happens. This is the how of how we become begotten and mot merely made.

That’s what I want to leave you with as we finish out Lent. Thank God it’s almost over. It’s the last week or so of going through the closets of your life, finding what you can bring to God. Here’s a hint. Let’s say you go through and you find something, and it’s this relationship that’s broken or it’s this dysfunction of your desires or something. If you are embarrassed or shamed by bringing it to light, that’s precisely what needs to come.

Shine light. As light gets shone, as God begins to work with these things, they will become, a) less of a hold on you, and b) they can actually be transfigured into something holy. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To take the thing that is the thorn in your side, the thing that trips you up consistently, to become your greatest strength that God uses for the establishment of His Kingdom?

This week, go through the closets of your mind. Be fearless. Be faithful in knowing that God is going to take what you bring to Him to be transfigured, to move you from made to begotten, to become a little Christ. Amen.

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