Thursday, December 18, 2008

"You May Have Won"

I don’t know whether it is the Christmas season or the current economic crisis, but my email inbox has been inundated with these promises to pass on mounds of money "with no strings attached" if I simply reply to the email. Most of them end up in the spam folder, but some get through. Lots of them get through. And there are basically two types: "You are a winner!" which then tries to get us to respond because the check is waiting – and "I chose you, dear friend" which then tries to tell us someone died and left scads of cash and to help disburse it they need my email reply to get the ball rolling.

Well, I’ve done enough reading and have lived long enough to recognize a scam when I see it. But I thought about adding up all the cash being offered in the past few weeks, discovering that if they were all legitimate it would be enough to give GM some hope. It is so much money that I guess I understand how some people get sucked into it. Maybe, they think, maybe this one is real. Maybe there is someone out there just waiting to pass on hundreds of thousands of dollars to a random email address. Maybe. And they just happened to choose mine. Maybe I did enter a contest in a foreign country I’ve never been to. Could happen. Couldn’t it?

The worrying thing that is that are so many for whom that is a logical argument. Or maybe an act of desperation. Things are tough out there. Every day it seems we read of another company going out of business, another spate of layoffs, another sign of recession, another front page full of disheartening news. Desperate times seem to call for desperate solutions. Today’s paper carried an article that hinted that our good mayor, while not giving approval, is not taking legalized gambling off the table as a possible remedy to our malaise. And while my United Methodist stomach turns at the very thought, I understand desperation. Might as well start responding to these email bail out offers.

Isaiah understood desperation. The people in latter part of this multi-themed prophetic tome anyway. There are at least two moods in Isaiah - the first half, when things were going well for the people as a nation, was a mode of warning and judgement. Pay attention, the prophet said over and over again. Look at what you are doing to one another. Look at how you are living, look at the source of your wealth, look at the foundations of your society. Does your socio-economic system reflect your status as a people of God? The second half of the book speak to a desperate people who have lost all, who are hungry and afraid and homeless, they are refugees, without status or rights. Now the mood shifts, the tone of the book is starkly different. Now it is a word of hope, it is a promise. And a call to live - even in desperate times - by a different standard. Take a look at our Old Testament reading for this Third Sunday of Advent:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. ... For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Things are bad, take my word for it. The prophet comes to these people and says...what? Good news. Good news for the oppressed, good news for the brokenhearted, good news to captives and prisoners, good news to those who mourn. Great. What is this good news? What do they get? Garlands, oil, a mantle. Uh. What? Where is the promise of wealth and goods? Where is the "you may have won" email that tells us we could be set for life with no more effort than hitting reply? Where are the goods?

God comes to people who are desperate and tells them to decorate? It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem enough. Decorations are nice and all, but they hardly serve to make things better. They hardly can be counted on to change the world. Can they? Why do we bother, in the end? Are we just shouting in the darkness?

Well, yes, in a way. But shouting in the darkness is a noble profession. It is a calling. When we shout, when we decorate our homes and our churches, we are not saying that we are unaware of difficulties, we are not saying that we are oblivious to bad news, but we are saying that we choose to live by good news. We are saying that we choose to live by hope and not despair.
But what keeps this from becoming a rose colored glasses scenario is the prophetic call to act in hope. Look back at Isaiah’s words. The Lord brings the good news, the Lord through the prophet - proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor. But then we are the ones who bind up hearts, we are the ones who set people free, we are the ones who rebuild. We work because we believe. We build because we hope. And because we hope we are blessed.

Just like Mary. The Gospel reading I chose for this week is Mary’s song of deliverance called the Magnificat.

Luke 1:46-55 And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

What is interesting to me is the change in verb tense from Isaiah to Mary. OK, go with me here. In Isaiah it is all present tense, taking place, going on now. It has an air of a call to action, let’s get busy, there’s work to be done. Wonderful, good news kind of work. But Mary speaks (or sings) in past tense. It is already done. You can count on it.

Now that may sound odd to us, given that hungry aren’t filled, and powerful are still on their thrones. But I think the good news here is that the outcome is never in doubt. We may wonder how we get there in the end, but we never need to doubt that we will. That is our blessing, the confidence of hope. Even if takes longer than our lifetime, God’s promise will be fulfilled.
So, let’s decorate, let’s build up, let’s rejoice - because we have already won!


Two-way Street

One of the thoughts behind this late night bible study was that we would engage in a dialog through this medium. As I look back over the postings on the website ( for those who are wondering where to find it) I see that there have been times when a few would respond, but it isn’t all that common. A few will send a response directly to me, but the rest don’t see it.

That’s OK really, there isn’t a dialog requirement to receive these email messages, or to pick up the printed copy in the Connection on Sunday mornings. It is written in a style that doesn’t really demand a response, I realize that. But the possibility is there for anyone to weigh in on a topic. Those who receive this via email, simply have to hit reply and everyone on the list will receive your insights. Those who read this on Sunday morning can also send an email to me ( and ask me to add it to the conversation. Or drop me a note, or give me a call or stop me in the hallway. I’m open to response - positive or negative. Honest. At least I like to think I am.

I really do want to know what you think. I like to hear from readers or hearers. Any of us would like to know that the things we say or do are being received, responded to, thought about. I’ve often heard La Donna muttering under her breath "I don’t know why I keep talking to you people, no one listens to me anyway." This is usually after an unnamed teenager has neglected to pick up socks or take down dirty clothes or something like that ... for the 100th time.

We like to know we are being heard. We desire communication - two-way communication. Which means, of course, that we have to learn to listen as well as to speak. And maybe even listen more than we speak. What is that old cliche? God gave us two ears and one mouth...

I know Advent isn’t really about communication, yet when I read the passages for this week, I couldn’t help but hear that theme underneath. I think the proclamation is in part at least about hearing and being heard. Take a look:

Mark 1:1-8 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

John appears every advent to remind us that we haven’t been paying enough attention. He shouts to wake us up. He dresses oddly to capture our fascination. He storms up and down the river bank asking us to take the plunge. He doesn’t seem to be here to listen. He is hear to talk. To announce. To shout. A one way communication, you would think.

Except he is asking for something from us. He is asking us to join the road crew. We’ve got streets to level and curves to straighten. Whether we think in personal terms about cleaning up our own hearts and bodies, straightening out our behavior patterns; or in communal terms of justice as we make straight the pathways to wholeness that have bent in ways that keep certain people out - either way there is work to be done. A response needs to be made. John wants us to be participants in our own salvation, the one who comes doesn’t overwhelm us, doesn’t transform us against our will. We are partners, contributors in the conversation of hope and transformation.

Yet, as my kids will argue, it is all about marching to the tune of the one in charge. Right? It is not about conversation, it is about obedience. About following orders. Get to work, clean this up, take care of that, do this, don’t do that, and on and on and on. Hardly a two way street, some argue. This is the Lord’s highway we are straightening. And we all know that it is the Lord’s way or the highway! Right?

Not according to Isaiah. We have to get the whole picture. This conversation doesn’t begin with Jesus or with John. It began long before that. Jesus was a response. Listen to this:

Isaiah 40:1-11 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" 10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

God heard the cry, and now comes with a response. God has listened and now speaks, and the word God speaks is Jesus. Oh, that wasn’t the word that the first hearers of Isaiah’s words heard. They heard home. The people of God were in exile, cut off from the land they loved, the land that God have promised to them. The land where God took up residence. They felt alone, cast adrift in an unfeeling, uncaring world. They cried out to God, they confessed that they had forgotten to live as God’s people and were now paying the price. Their society had begun to cater to power and influence and wealth and many suffered because of it. They forgot to look out for the ones on the margins and now they were all on the margins. The systems in which they had placed their trust no longer were strong enough to support the life they took for granted. So they cried out. And God heard.

And God will bring them home. Not necessarily to the home that they envisioned, but the home that God envisions. The community that God calls us to create. The relationships that fulfill us and connect us. This is the home we seek, all of us. And it is the home we find in Jesus. The child in the manger and the savior on the cross speaks of home to us. A home where we are loved and healed and heard.

The glory of Christmas is that while there is a silent night, there is a need to listen and to shut out the distracting noise of the world and our own brokenness, it is fundamentally a dialog.

The Lord’s highway is a two way street.


Two by Four Faith

Yikes, it’s Advent. That the proper liturgical formulation for this season. Yikes, it’s Advent. It is an admission that no matter how closely we pay attention to the calendar, no matter how much we follow the development of the Christian year, we are still surprised when Advent comes. Even though last week I commented that I had been decorating for Christmas at church, it still surprises us. Because, if you recall, last week I said it was too early. Too early is our normal greeting for this time of year. "It’s too early" we exclaim to all we meet. It can’t be time for this, we opine. I’m not even sure what opine means, but it seems to fit this season. And not because of the greenery!

We are just not ready, we have too much to do, our lists grow longer, our accomplishments are fewer. For everything we check off, six more slip onto the list. How does that happen? This is where the whole legend about elves came into being - people found their Christmas to do lists growing almost before their eyes. Who is doing this? Must be elves. We’re not ready.

Which is precisely why we need Advent. The creators of the Christian calendar knew that we all would need a swift kick to get the new year started. So, it begins with a call to get ready. Because we aren’t ready. Worse than that we’ve forgotten that there is anything to get ready for. Or we thought that what we are supposed to be getting ready for is a celebration of the past. We are preparing for a historical observation of something God did at one time. And we are still grateful for it, we are still defined by it, we still try to live differently because of it. But it is to an extent old news. It is a case of "been there, done that" when it comes right down to it. Or is it?

What is it that we are waiting for? What are we looking for? The first reading for this first Sunday of Advent reminds us that what we long for is not a historical remembrance but a new reality, a new encounter. Take a look:

Isaiah 64:1-9 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

"O that you would tear open the heavens and come down," they plea. We know you are present, our faith tells us that you are here. But we need to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Shake us up so that we can be certain again. We’ve begun to wonder, we’ve begun to doubt. So, do it again Lord. Do it again.

There is where our historical observance comes in. There is where telling the story becomes so important. Not just so that we can look back with a sigh and long for the good old days, not so that we can wistfully wish for the blessing that they had back in the day, but so that we can learn to recognize it when it comes again.

That is the task of Advent, to pay attention to what is and what might be, not simply to look back at what was. The people of God were in exile, the foundations of their nation had been shaken, that comforts that they had begun to take for granted were taken from them. The human institutions that they had constructed no longer held the security that they had begun to take for granted. So, they began to look elsewhere and they realized that their faith was shaky as well. They needed a boost. So, they looked back and they looked forward at the same time. The mountains of our society were shaken, so shake the mountains, O Lord. The foundations of our nation were shaken, so shake the foundations, O God.

They needed an Advent upside the head! We remember, they claimed, we remember how you used to deal with us, and we want that again. We want to remember as you remember. The words seem like they were reminding God, but really they were reminding themselves. The look back was not just to give them a warm feeling about what once was, but a way to spur them to living differently.

Advent is a reminder to get out of our sense of complacency. Though it is hard to be complacent when things are difficult. When all is going well, then we need the two by four of Advent to wake us up. But when things are difficult we use Advent as a prayer, as a reminder to hope.
Believe it or not, that is the call of Jesus in our gospel passage for the week. It is a call to hope. We sometimes have to listen hard to hear something hopeful in these descriptions, but it is there. Underneath sometimes, but still there.

Mark 13:24-37 But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Nervous? Well, yes, because there is much to do and a deadline to meet. But at the same time there is the promise that the master is near. Not as a threat, but as a promise. We are not alone. What we see in front of us is not all that there is. History is heading somewhere. We may not know where exactly, except that it is someplace called the Kingdom of Heaven. Or as Jesus was fond of describing it, it is Life. And that is what we long for in the end, life. Life in all its fulness and meaning, life in all its joy and promise. That’s what is coming, that is what is promised.

And we forget every now and then. We forget that we are looking for anything, that we are hoping for anything. Until Advent comes and knocks us upside the head with a not so subtle reminder. Watch!


Saturday, December 6, 2008

If It'a Been a Snake

"What socks?" The socks that are lying right there in the middle of the floor! "Where?" Right there!! An excerpt from an actual conversation with a teenager. They both have had eye exams, they both have adequate vision. Yet they can walk past dirty socks on the floor, they can climb the stairs and step around the piles of their stuff lovingly placed there to assist them in taking them up to their rooms, they can overlook the piles of clean clothes left by their mother for them to put away.

If it had been a snake it would have bit you! I don’t know where that cliche first came from, but I suspect teenagers were involved. OK, that’s a bit harsh. The truth is we all can ignore what is in front of our faces from time to time. Sometimes we genuinely don’t see what is so obvious to everyone else. Maybe we are distracted or occupied by deep thoughts of some kind and we simply miss it. Other times we don’t want to see what is in front of us, we choose our blindness when what is in front of us is uncomfortable or ugly or seemingly beyond our capacity to affect. We can only take so much of helpless, before we - out of self-preservation perhaps - turn away and try to convince ourselves we didn’t see what we saw. Or convince ourselves that what we saw was not our responsibility, not our business.

Our cultural fixation on "live and let live" has driven us to turn blind eyes to all sorts of situations, all sorts of needs because we don’t want to "impose" - we don’t want to get involved. So, we have learned to not see the snakes that are just waiting to bite us.

At least that is what I think is going on here in our Scripture text for this week. This is a very familiar passage. So familiar it has become a part of our language. So familiar that I think we don’t see the snakes that might bite us in the story that Jesus tells us. Listen again:

Luke 10:25-37 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" 27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 28 And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live." 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30 Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" 37 He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Of course we know the story. Everyone, Christian or not, has heard of a "Good Samaritan." There is even a "Good Samaritan Law" on the books in Indiana and other states to protect someone who stops to help in a crisis situation. So, it would seem there is very little that would need to be discussed here. Everyone agrees on this. Jesus tells the story in such a way that even a lawyer can see what is right! Sorry, that was mean too. Some of my best friends are lawyers. Anyway...

Well, lets take a look at our friend the lawyer. Which in this case might better be described as a religious scholar, than what we think of as a lawyer. Since there was no distinction between religious and secular law in Israel at that time, a lawyer was someone who knew the scriptures well enough to argue for right and wrong. He was a scholar who had studied the Torah (which is Hebrew for "law") and was called upon to settle disputes, or to represent the interests of someone wronged.

It is interesting that Luke’s lawyer asks a subtly different question than the ones in Matthew and Mark. There the question is "what is the greatest commandment?" Here it is "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" In the end it is the same question, but the approach is completely different. The former sounds like a religious scholar/lawyer kind of question. What is greater...? Or "what commandment is first of all," in Mark’s version. They might have meant most important or it might have been which is precedent setting - "which law trumps other laws" that sort of thing.

But Luke’s lawyer asks "what must I do?" Which is the kind of question Luke would hear more clearly. There is more than a legal issue here. There is a participation, there is a connection, there is a life direction kind of issue here. Some have argued that what he was really asking was "what is the least I can do and still get in?" I don’t know if that can be inferred, but you couldn’t blame him even if it was. It is a very human kind of question. "Is this going to be on the test?" That is how students ask the question. "Do we have to know this stuff, or are you just talking?"
He might have been trying to slide by with minimal effort, but I prefer to think that he really wanted to know. I know Luke says it was a test. Maybe it was a test with a hidden hope underneath. Maybe he was put up to the test, but made it a personal quest on his own.

Whatever it was, Jesus took it seriously and turned it around to the questioner. This was Jesus’ M.O. He rarely handed things around on silver platters. He always wanted us to work a little bit. Maybe with interpretation, maybe with application, but there was always something left to do when Jesus stopped talking.

In this case it was the question itself that came back. "What do you think?" My kids hate that, but I do it all the time. Here the lawyer answered with the Great Commandment. Case closed. Jesus gave him lovely parting gifts and it was all over.

Except the lawyer wasn’t satisfied. Luke interprets for us: "But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’" It’s that "justify himself" bit that bugs me. It bugs me because I do it too. "I’d like to love my neighbor," goes the thought process, "but I’m just not sure what’s safe. I’m just not sure what’s needed. I’m just not sure for whom I am really responsible. I’ve got kids, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got my hands full." There are rules, you know, how to treat certain kinds of people. Well, if not rules than expectations, standards. Help your own first, goes one school of thought. Charity begins at home. The lawyer’s lawyerness kicked in here. He decided to try and divert judgement on his behavior by asking a question for which there was no easy answer. He wanted to tie this verdict up in court and avoid having to act on it. At the very least he was hoping for a pat on the back and "well, do the best you can" from Jesus. Instead he got a story.

You know the story. You know the way Samaritans were viewed, especially compared to priests and Levites. You know that Jesus was trying to move the debate beyond an academic justification issue into an "open your eyes" kind of issue. He was trying to move it from a label and an insiders verses outsider kind of thing toward a taking responsibility for the need in front of you kind of attitude. This isn’t about changing the world, but about healing the hurts. In Micah’s words this isn’t doing justice, it is loving mercy. Both are necessary. But if we spend all of our time out trying to chase windmills, out trying to make the world a better place for everyone someday, we will miss the opportunity to make it better for one close by right now. In fact we could argue that without acts of mercy, or kindness, there can be no move toward justice. If we allow needs to go unmet then we are asking for trouble on a larger scale. There are needs aplenty, just open your eyes. If it had been a snake, it would have bit you.


Hand in Hand

I spent part of the morning decorating the sanctuary for Christmas. I wasn’t terribly happy about it, to be honest. Not that it wasn’t fun. Those of us who gathered enjoyed the community and the work, and the fun. Except for maybe David Carter’s puns. Just kidding, David, they were hilarious. Sort of.

Anyway, it was a good time and I’m sorry so many people missed it. It was a pretty small crew. So, it wasn’t the company that I was grumpy about. Nor was it the work (even though I left early to pick up a kid - sorry about that gang). No my grumble has to do with the timing.
Maybe I’ve been married too long, but La Donna has driven into me this sense of order and Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving just seems wrong somehow. It had to be done, I realize, but it just seemed too early. We’ve had snow and cold and the stores have had the decorations up for a month or more now. So, what’s my problem? Dunno. Just doesn’t feel right. Something is out of sync. Even when you can’t explain it, you respond to it. It is as if your soul can feel it. "This just isn’t right," we think - maybe without words to describe it.

I’ve moved from early Christmas decorating, into something more powerful. That feeling that nothing you are doing seems to work. The relationships you thought you understood, now seem to be out of reach. The community you thought you were a part of now seems alien and foreign to you. The world in which we live seems to have taken a turn that we didn’t plan on or approve of or completely understand. We are told if we just work harder, just focus more, just pay attention then it will all make sense, or we can work ourselves back into a right relationship with all there is, or at least enough of all there is to feel comfortable again. So, we try. With all our own strength and knowledge, we try. It seems to work for a while, but not for long.

It is to this frustration that Jesus speaks in our Gospel passage for this weekend. It is this belief that we can fix our own disorder, we can make things right by doing more, by working harder that he so wants to change. It is his desire that we find our way to hope, that we live in sync.

Take a look at these familiar verses:

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Contextually, Jesus was referring to the burdens placed on the people of God by those in leadership who expanded on the law. When God gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai it was a pretty simple thing. Ten Commandments carved onto two stone tablets - straightforward, clear and concise, just what we expect from laws! Right? Uh, no. Ever read the simplified tax code from the US Government?

God tried to keep things simple. There were laws about how to worship and laws about how to live in community - and what else do you need? Well, heaped on top of these ten laws were literally thousands of interpretations and applications that also must be followed in order to stay right. It became so onerous that no one could remember them all let alone obey them. So, every one lived out of sync with God’s law, at least according to those in charge. Most people wanted to be right, wanted to follow the law, but it was impossible. So, they lived with the burden of not being right, not being pure enough to worship, not having access to God, except through those in charge who guarded the gates religiously. (Sorry - I blame David)

Jesus came along and said "take my yoke." One of the concepts we struggle with in this passage is the fact that there is a yoke to take and that there is rest to receive. Which is it Jesus? Yoke or rest? A yoke implies work, and rest implies ... well ... NOT work. We like the rest thing, aren’t too sure about the yoke thing, to be honest. Even if it is easy and light.

Someone called this passage the Great Invitation. That makes four "Greats" that I can identify. There is the Great Commission - "Go and Make Disciples" (Matthew 28:19); the Great Commandment - "You shall love the Lord" (Matthew 22:37 et al); the Great Requirement "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8); and now the Great Invitation - "Come to me" (Matthew 11:28).

But the real question is, to what are we invited? Is it work or is it rest? Labor and struggle, or vacation and getting away from it all? Is this about heaven or about earth? Yes. To all the precedes. Yes. And no. The invitation is to a relationship. "Take MY yoke," says Jesus, "and learn from me." He is inviting us into a partnership, to labor alongside him in the fields of the Lord. He wants us to take on his spirit, his heart. He asks of us to be "gentle and humble in heart" as we live and work in this world. It is not a task so much as a way of living, a way of being alive.

So, it IS a yoke. There IS a burden. But it a yoke that is easy and burden that is light. Does that mean that there is no effort here? That it is something we do without thinking, without straining? Not necessarily. "Easy" in this case really means "well-fitting." The yoke that Christ offers is a yoke that fits us, it is right for us. It doesn’t rub in the wrong places and make us sore. There is effort, there is struggle at times, but it is good effort, it is healthy struggle and we feel the better for it. The burden of walking in the way of Christ is light because it is right, it is good, it builds us up rather than takes us down.

Christ doesn’t offer us an effortless life, but one that means something. We don’t get a struggle free life, but one that accomplishes something, and makes a difference in the world. Those around us are better because we are there. We are better, happier, more whole. That is the promise.

Sounds good, but doesn’t sound like rest to me. Unless by rest he meant something other than what we first imagine. Unless he meant something like the antidote to restlessness. That what he was offering was not so much a sun drenched beach upon which to kick back and nap, but a sense of belonging and of purpose that allows us to know that we are right, we are in sync with our deepest selves and with our loved ones (which is always a bigger crowd than we acknowledge) and with him. The offer of rest is another way of describing salvation, which has less to do with the gates of heaven and more to with the fields we plow when we are yoked to Christ. Certainly there is a promise of eternity and an invitation into the presence of God, but that promise and that presence are what make the burden of living so light and what make the yoke of Christ so easy. We will find, says Jesus, rest for our souls. Our backs are into the labors of love, our shoulders are bent to the tasks of justice, our hands are busy with the works of kindness, but our souls are at rest.

Walking humbly with God is offering yourself to the yoke of Christ. As a church what better can we do than be about the business of walking hand in hand with the one who calls us? As a church what better can we do than invest ourselves and our resources in that which brings us into the presence of God? What better can we do than to commit ourselves to the maintenance of the body of Christ?

What better can we do than to prepare ourselves for the advent of the Lord, especially when it seems too early!


Justice Song

What do you sing about these days? An odd sort of question, I realize. Maddie was complaining the other day about getting a song in her head that she couldn’t get out. You know that feeling. Maybe you heard a snippet of a song, or something that sounded like a song, something that reminded you of a song. And now that song keeps playing over and over in your head. Even when you don’t want it to. You find yourself humming the tune, you find yourself mumbling the words. They are just there, rattling around in your skull, driving you crazy. Or if not you, everyone around you as you keep singing that song over and over. Because it is stuck in there - and it begins to define you in a way.

I had a friend who thought everyone should have their theme song, like in the movies. If you look at a movie soundtrack you’ll see titles like "Jack’s Theme" or "Liza’s Song." And this music would play whenever that character was central to the scene. Well, this friend thought that we should all have our theme music to play that would define us, that would announce our presence and point to us when it is our turn to enter into the dialog or to shape the action.

OK, I’ve had some weird friends over the years. But still it is an intriguing idea. If you had the ability and the opportunity to write your own theme song, what would it sound like? What would it say?

We start a three week stewardship series with the reading for this week. The whole series is titled "What the Lord Requires" and is based on Micah 6:8: what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Each week we will examine one requirement as outlined in this verse. The stewardship connection is not just that it is that time of year, but that stewardship is our response to the requirements of God. Stewardship is how we manage God’s affairs in our living.

So we start where the verse starts, we start with the biggie: do justice. Read what Isaiah says in our reading for this weekend.

Isaiah 42:1-9 Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. 5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: 6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. 9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.

This is the first of four passages called the Servant Song of the book of Isaiah. There is some considerable debate about who is the servant referred to in the first verse of chapter forty-two. On the one hand it seems to be the ideal follower of God. Maybe there isn’t a particular reference at all, it is just anyone who seeks to follow, this is the kind of life he/she will lead, this is the kind of person she/he will be. It is an example passage.

Some argue that this was a passage read after the coronation of a new king. It was a reminder to the king and to the nation that a leader serves not for his/her own benefit, not from his/her own power, but as a servant of the Lord who called and equipped him/her to serve. It was a celebration of a new administration launched in hope. Sound familiar? If only all our leaders saw themselves first as servants, what a difference that might make in governing.

Others, who read a little further in these verses determine that the servant is the whole people of God. When Isaiah speaks of calling, of being the light on the hill, we know it is whole nation of Israel that was called to that task. It has echoes in the words of Jesus when he tells us that we are salt and light, the church is the light on the hill, inviting all the world to come and know what we know, to know who we know. So the servant is the community of faith.

Then, of course, we Christians can’t help but read these words and imagine Christ. Jesus was the servant of the Lord who showed us what a life of service was like. Jesus was one who lifted up the fallen, who received the Spirit of the Lord to bring forth justice. This is a prophetic passage, spoken and written hundreds of years before the one to whom it refers came to be.
Finally, it is hard to read these words and not hear the call upon our own lives. Each of us (as well as all of us, mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago) is called to serve the lord, to work for justice. Each of us, this is a call passage, an invitation to a way of living.

So, you might be asking, which is it? Which one is the right answer? Well, all of them. That is the glory of the bible, it functions on so many levels all at the same time. I believe that historically it referred to the king who ascended to the throne of Israel and to the nation who that ruler led. And sometimes they listened and sometimes they didn’t. I think it also carried the seeds of prophecy, paving the way for the coming of the Christ. Did Isaiah know he was talking about Jesus of Nazareth? Probably not, but God knew. Just as God knows that we have the opportunity to live as servants to God and to the people. This is indeed a calling, an invitation to live in certain ways, to work for certain ends.

And what might those ends be? Did you notice that the word "justice" appears three times in the first four verses? It seems pretty important, don’t you think? Especially when we read that we or he or someone "will not faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth." We can’t rest, the task isn’t finished, Christ’s work isn’t done until justice is established in the earth.
So, what defines justice? Well, that is more than I can resolve for you in the small space left here. But a glimpse is given in the passage. To establish justice is to open the eyes of the blind - whether those blinded by material things or limited education or poverty or prejudice or... It is the work of the servants of the lord to help folks see what they overlook. To establish justice is to release those who are imprisoned in dungeons or darkness - whether those dungeons are human made barriers to freedom and wholeness, to sustenance or beauty; or practices that enslave minds or resources and keep people trapped in a cycle of poverty or on the brink of illness or disease from the lack of sanitary systems we take for granted; or the lack of resources or knowledge that will enable children of God to know how valuable they are to their creator and to this world. That is the work of establishing justice in the earth - to be in the business of systemic change, lasting change that makes life better for all. These are the new things that are about to spring forth, the new things that we are to tell about. These are the songs that we are called to sing into being.

Someone once said that God didn’t say let there be light, like is says in Genesis one. God sang it. God sang the world into being. And we are now called to sing the songs that will bring forth justice. And to keep singing, and singing, and singing. Like that song we can’t get out of our heads, we are fill our vision with justice. This is our theme song, says Isaiah 42, the music that plays whenever we take the stage is a song of justice.

What songs are you singing these days?



OK, it has been a while since I put anything here. Sorry about that. Sort of fell asleep at the switch. Anyway, let me catch up with the last series of postings on my other site ( and then I'll do Advent later.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Construction Project

"We really need to do something about this carpet." That was the seemingly innocent statement made by my wife that ended up losing me nearly a week and a not inconsiderable chunk of change. We carted furniture around, we pulled up a smelly old carpet, we mopped and cleaned, pried up the tack strip, and we waited for floor guys and paint guys, bought a rug, and then moved it all back (adjusting the position of the new rug and furniture a few times until it was just right). We are still settling into the new space, but it is done.

Construction can be an unsettling process. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of figuring out how to get to the church around the Getz Road construction that was supposed to take two weeks and is now finishing three with no visible end in sight. On the one hand we are glad things are being done, but sometimes we wonder if it is worth the struggle to get it done. Sometimes we wonder if we wouldn’t be better off just putting up with something less than ideal so that we don’t have to deal with the change. And the change and the changing can be difficult. We aren’t always sure of the new thing that is coming, will it be better than what we had or not?

Personally, I like carpet. Wood floors or wood laminate floors just don’t have the coziness that I like. So, the change might not be what I really want. Let alone the upset and the effort and the deprivation (I had to put away my big TV and my Laz-y-boy chair for the duration and watch in the basement on camp chairs! Oh, the humanity!).

OK, enough whining, for the moment anyway. We all know that change is difficult. We all know that building something, even something of value is a complicated, sometimes frustrating process - often enough to make us question along the way whether the effort is worth it. But what does it have to do with our scripture and the fourth statement of the Creed?

What is that fourth statement? I believe in "the holy catholic Church." Ah, the church. That explains it. Doesn’t it? Since church is about change. Church is about building, isn’t it? Not a building, but building - the verb not the noun. Not everyone would agree. Especially on the change issue. Some folks want to focus on the stability, on the constancy of church. We want something to count on being the same, now and always. It was good when I was kid, why should it change now? Let’s just let things be, some would argue. Why stir it all up?

What is the church for? Stability or change? Constancy or growth? Holding fast or building up? Here’s what our passage for the week says:

Ephesians 2:11-22 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision"-- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of
God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Some of you may be feeling set up. Sort of like I was with the innocent comment about the carpet. You might be thinking I could have chosen a different passage, one that was so obvious in making the point. But, truth be told, it is hard to find a passage about the church that isn’t about building, about change. That is what the New Testament presents. The church is not designed to be a place to go and hide, or go and sit. The church is not a refuge from the world, a bolt hole to go wait out the changes out there. It is a place of transformation. It is a place of healing, but not for healing’s sake. You are healed so that you can continue the mission of the church. It is a place of learning and growing, of serving and building.

Paul writes (I know there is some debate in biblical scholarship circles whether Paul actually wrote Ephesians - but I’m just skipping over that discussion for now. Send me an email if you want to have that debate!) that the church is about demolition and construction. Doesn’t sound very complacent to me.

The first order of business is tearing down the walls that divide us. I know, I know, according to verse 14, Christ is the one who tore down the wall. And that is certainly true. That which divides us, that which makes one better than another, that which singles out for inclusion or exclusion was destroyed by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The paradox is that though those walls were torn down, we keep putting them back up. Yes, we can and should claim the freedom in Christ to see all people as part of the family - beloved as we are. But we would have to be blind to not see that those dividing walls of hostility are still there. Which means that the body of Christ must be in the demolition business. We’ve got to stand alongside Christ to tear those walls down again. And again. And again. It is a never ending task, to be honest. It is also a sobering one when we realize that some of those walls have our fingerprints on them. Some of those walls exist within us as we seek to identify those who we would include and those we would exclude from our own circles. So a part of what has to change is our own propensity to erect walls of division.

If we’ve learned anything it is that deconstruction without construction is a fruitless exercise. Something will come along to fill the hole we have created, and it just might be worse. That is what is wrong with "just say no" programs. Saying no is great as long as there is something to say yes to. So, if the church is about tearing down walls, we also need to be about building something up.

But that something may be beyond our understanding. At least for now. Which means that we need to follow the lead of someone with vision. In the midst of our renovation project, I was grumbling, I was uncertain, I was longing for what had been. Now that it is done, I have said to my wife, you were right. It is beautiful. I couldn’t see it, but she could. Her vision was enough. I was just a part of the process.

Ephesians says that we are the building materials. The vision is Christ’s. And we learn to trust in that vision, and those who lead us in it. Even when we can’t see it. We are being built into the structure that is the temple, is the dwelling place of God. We are being built into the facility that will allow anyone and everyone to see - not us - but the God who uses us as building materials. We set our handicaps, we set our preferences aside for the larger vision of the church.

We are in process. We’ve got to do something about the church. Roll up your sleeves.


Who You Gonna Call?

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Wow, a Shakespeare quote right out of the box. Pretty impressive don’t you think? This is a line from Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most quoted plays. But it is also a play that has a ghost as a main character. There is something, well, if not rotten, then just a bit strange in Shakespeare’s Denmark.

It is interesting to me how many supernatural sorts of television programs and movies there are these days. Pushing Daisies, and Supernatural, and Ghost Town, and on and on. And I’ve been a Science Fiction and Fantasy reader from my childhood, so I love this fictionalized exploration into the unknown. But what about our real world heaven and earth? Are there more things than we have dreamt about? Depends on how well you dream, I suppose.

Well, before I get too far off the track, let me declare the subject for this week’s Bible study and sermon. We are on the third statement of the Apostles’ Creed in our Credo series. "I believe in the Holy Spirit." That’s our content, that is the object of our study. We are going to dissect the Holy Spirit. Umm. We are going to try and pin down... We are going to try to define ... OK, we are going to amble around the subject of the Holy Spirit for a while and see what comes out.

The first thing that we note from the creed is how bald the statement is. We don’t have any subordinate clauses to flesh out this word about the Spirit. We don’t have any external references that will locate us in time or space. We don’t have any descriptive adjectives that will give us handles on the Spirit. It is like grasping the wind, like catching our breath. Like capturing a ghost.

Every now and then you see an older version of the creed and notice that it talks about the Holy Ghost. When I was younger, I thought that the Holy Ghost must be like Casper, the Friendly Ghost. But holier. Actually, I had no idea what it might be like. But certainly not the scary kind of ghost. Something good. Something useful. Something... that was just a little bit more than nothing.

Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the Spirit. We are a bit skeptical of those who go overboard on the whole subject. They strike us as odd, as unnatural. And we don’t want anything to do with that sort of thing. We don’t want to lost control like that.

This might be a big part of the issue with the Spirit, who’s in control? Jesus tells us the Spirit is like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It is just there. Or not there. Out of our control. Which makes it even harder to grasp. And makes us less likely to seek the Spirit when we need it. Or Him. Or Her. Or whatever.

So, what is it that Spirit is supposed to do for us? If we believe in the Spirit, then we ought to understand at least a little, don’t you think? Well, this is what Jesus told us the Spirit was all about during what has come to be called the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. Take a look.

John 14:15-27 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

There is a lot that we don’t know about the Spirit, no question about that. But if we listen carefully to what Jesus tells us here there is a lot that we do know. Or can believe in anyway.
First of all, we can know, or believe that access to or awareness of the Spirit is a function of faith. It involves a relationship with Jesus Christ. "The world," John quotes, "cannot receive" the Spirit. The world doesn’t know the Spirit. Not because they aren’t worthy, but simply because they don’t have this relationship of love that opens the door to the experience of the Spirit. Oh, it is possible to have an experience of God without a relationship with Jesus the Christ. But to know and be known by the Spirit takes something deeper, an act of will, an offering of self to the Lordship of Christ. "I will not leave you orphaned" says Jesus. I will not leave you Fatherless, out of touch with the Father. There is a connection, a link to the Father that once came from the person of Jesus and now comes through the Spirit.

The function of the Spirit, according to Jesus in verse 26 is to teach and to remind. This Advocate (which is the Greek word "paraklete" and is sometimes translated Helper, or Comforter, or Counselor) is that abiding presence which connects to our sense of who we are. We are reminded of what we already know. We are reminded of the teachings that we learned as children but may have forgotten. Or chose to set aside for a time. It is the Spirit that comes and whispers in our ears to remind us that we are better than we sometimes behave. It is the Spirit that comes to remind us even in the darkest of nights that we are not alone. It is the Spirit that reminds us that we are loved - especially in those moments when we feel most unlovable.
It is not just what we already know that is recalled by the prompting of the Spirit. We are pushed further, we are asked to climb higher. The Spirit also teaches, calling us to new levels of understanding and experience. The Spirit works with our spirits to claim deeper truths and new applications, we are stretched beyond our childhood faith as we grow and learn and live into the realm of the Spirit. We have much to learn under the tutelage of the Spirit.

Which brings us back to the question implied in the title of this essay. I know the reference is from a film that is about ridding us of the supernatural. But here I guess I claim it for the opposite. When we wonder who we are or whose we are, who you gonna call? When we need a reminder of what we know to be true, who you gonna call? When we need a boost, to learn more, to be more, who you gonna call.

I believe in the Holy Spirit


That Jesus Thing

Bishop William Willimon tells of meeting with a young couple while he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. They came to talk about marriage. They were in love and therefore sure that any barriers could be overcome. But their parents weren’t so sure. See, he was a devout practicing Jew, she was a Christian. True to her culture the young woman spoke, with some exasperation, "but surely there isn’t any real difference in what we believe. Is there? Except for that Jesus thing."

Ah yes, that Jesus thing. In one sense it is such a small thing. Such a one off thing. A minor point in a complex theology. A single figure in a rich history full of amazing people. What is one person more or less in that line?

Of course, we could argue that this one person was a pretty special person. Wise beyond description, brave in amazing ways, uniquely self-sacrificing, and loving in ways we would dream of being. But a person, exemplary, but a person.

And we would be right. Yet wrong at the same time. This is why the Jesus thing is so difficult to comprehend. There is always a "yes, but" when it comes to Jesus. Or maybe it is a "yes, and." Words fail us in the end. Words capture pieces and pictures, but not the whole of that Jesus thing. Even the creeds wrestle with a description of Jesus. The longest part of the ancient creeds is devoted to Jesus. Not simply because they had a lot to say about him, but because there was always more.

The Apostles’ Creed says : And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Whew. You have to draw a breath after the Jesus thing. But if you think this is something, check out what the Nicene Creed does: 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, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
They wanted to try and define him, they wanted to comprehend him, they wanted to nail him down. But they should have learned from the first attempt to nail him down. This Jesus thing defies definition. This Jesus thing is beyond our comprehension. He defies our attempts to categorize him. Simply because once we have him figured out, then we wouldn’t need him any more. This Jesus thing would become one more thing that we have conquered, one more thing that we have figured out and then left to the side as we move on to other puzzles to solve or other mountains to climb.

So, what is left? We need some handles on the Jesus thing, don’t we? We need some way of grasping, of clinging, even if we don’t have full comprehension. Without a place to grab onto, then Jesus becomes another of those incomprehensible realities like black holes and quantum physics that wrinkle our brows but don’t really impact our lives.

What’s left is poetry. At least that is John’s response. When explanation fails, go for poetry. Or for music. Our text for this week is a song of praise to the nature of Christ. It is a theological doxology. Well, what would you call it?

John 1:1-18 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

We could, of course, analyze these words to wring out every thought. That would be a way of approaching understanding. And there are a few things I want us to notice together. But in the end it is the power of the words that speak most profoundly. Or if not power, then beauty. There is something here in this Jesus thing that catches our breath when we gaze at it. There is something that makes our hearts pound and tears come to our eyes. It may be unexplainable, but it speaks clearly to the deepest longings of our soul.

In this hymn that John has written we discover that it is about us as much as it is about Jesus. Yes, it adds a layer of eternity to the man from Nazareth. And it wrestles with that thorny doctrine called Trinity. (Is He Son or is He God, separate or the same - or somehow both?)
But when the song begins to include us, we move to the edge of our seats. When John sings of the life that is the light of all people, we hold our breath because we have both seen and touched it and have wept for the lack of it. We lean forward toward that light, like a plant seeking sustenance from the sun. We have beheld that glory. And we have known him not. We are both - acceptors and deniers - often at the same time. Too good to be true, we find ourselves saying. Too good not to be true, we hope.

We have tasted, we have received grace upon grace, and sometimes it is enough. Other times we wrestle with the world, with our doubts, with our sin. We do lose our grip from time to time. And we wonder what it is all about. We wonder if it is worth the struggle, the misunderstanding. Don’t we all believe the same thing in the end? Wouldn’t the world be better if we just stopped worrying about what it is that we believe? Couldn’t we give in a little bit on that Jesus thing?

That Jesus thing, according to John, is nothing less than life itself. Life in all its fulness. Life it all its depth and meaning. Life as we long to live it. We can’t be who we are, or who we long to be without that Jesus thing.

Derek C. Weber

Monday, September 8, 2008

Search Me

I don’t even know if we say that any more. "Search me!" Shows you how far out of coolness I am these days. Ah, well. But, I remember saying it all the time. Search me. It has probably been replaced by the ubiquitous "whatever" by now. Search me.

It was a "I don’t know" kind of thing. It was an admission of ignorance, and maybe of complacency. Search me. It refers to what we don’t know. We are starting a two month study on the Apostles’ Creed this weekend. I know, it seems like a long time. But others divide the Creed into twelve statements - so it could have been worse!

I’m just going with nine articles of faith. And this week we start with the beginning of the Creed. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth. So, we are looking at God. Better yet we are studying God, we are analyzing God, we are, in short, doing theology. Cool. What do you know about God? What do you think about God? What do you believe about God? Search me.

One of the problems the church has these days, I think, is that we are no longer sure what we believe. We want to move beyond a childish faith, and we want to incorporate all that human beings have learned about how the world works - and how we work - and yet we keep being told that what we’ve learned about the world can’t fit into what we believe about God. They don’t match, the bump up against each other and something has got to go. Unfortunately, for most of us, what has gone is diligent theological thought. Which isn’t the same as saying we’ve lost our faith. We just don’t think about it all that much any more. We can’t make it work, so we don’t bother. What do you believe about God? Search me. That’s what many have come to these days. It is just easier. Search me.

Of course, search me is also used in another way. The way that Psalm 139 uses it. And maybe it is that searching, or the acknowledgment of God’s searching that might help us reclaim our faith as a reasonable part of our existence. Faith can be reasonable? Does that make sense? Search me.

No, wait. I didn’t mean that. Of course it can. And our examination of the Creed just might help us make it so. Luke Timothy Johnson, biblical scholar, presents in his book called simply The Creed that faith as an existential response of the whole person characterized by trust, obedience and loyalty (faith is what we do not simply what we think), but that he "has come to appreciate how critical the role of belief is in structuring that response." In other words, if faith is about doing, our doing has t be driven by our believing. And the church is the "gathering of those committed by faith to a radical response to God." But that response, Johnson argues, grows out of a communal sense of identity that is hard to grow without something like a creed.

The Creed, then is that statement of belief that defines us as a community of faith. It identifies us for ourselves and for the world at large. We are the people who believe ... And because we believe we live, we serve, we act, we love.

The guiding scripture for this first statement from the Creed is Psalm 139. The problem with starting with the doctrine of God is that it is, in the end, too large a subject to grasp in its entirety. Every statement, every image, every description about God is only a part of the whole. And the whole is beyond our reach. Which is exactly what the Psalmist says. Take a look:

Psalm 139:1-18 O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 I try to count them-- they are more than the sand; I come to the end-- I am still with you.

The Psalm ends with an admission that knowing all of God is beyond us. But it begins with the affirmation that being known by God is the nature of the relationship. In fact the essence of the Psalm is the declaration that the only knowledge of God accessible is in relationship.

The Creed reminds us that we call God Father. This is not to reduce God to a human role, but to lift humans by acknowledging that the parenting role is a part of the divine. So, whether we are father or mother, whether we care for birth children or adopted children or children baptized into the family of God, we reflect an aspect of God. We believe that God cares and so we do too.
The Creed also reminds us that God is creator, and that all of creation has a single point of origin. However we understand that creation to have taken place, we worship God as creator of all there is. We can argue methodology, and we do, but there need be no conflict with the article of faith that claims God as creator.

The Creed echoes the Psalm with a single word - Almighty. What does that mean? Search me. No, wait. It means that there is more to God than I can grasp with my understanding. It means that I trust in the power of God even when I can’t sense it. It means I believe in the power of God even when it seems God has lost a grip on the world God created. It means I will spend my days seeking evidence of that power and that presence with confidence and with hope.

O Lord, you have searched me, and known me. Let me in my own small way return the favor


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weed Patch

"A weed is a flower where you don’t want it." Or so someone said. I don’t know who, but someone who knows these things. Not me. I don’t nuthin’ ‘bout no gardenin’! Which is a sentence that just drove my spell check nuts.

I’m an anti-gardener. No, that’s not quite right. I just don’t like it. I’m not going to take one apart. And I can be quite willing to let my wife La Donna put in whatever garden she wants to put in. I’ll even help. Once in a while. Under protest. Slight and usually unspoken, but protest nonetheless. Just don’t enjoy it, like so many others do. I don’t know why, exactly.
It might have something to do with the fact that my father was a fanatical gardener. Fanatical in that his first question in a new appointment was "Where can I put the garden?" He would spend hours working that garden, and he was really good at it. He knew his stuff. He could grow anything and get it to produce really well. The problem was - well, problem from my perspective, opportunity from his - was that he wanted to share this experience with his children. And usually, it was when we had done something wrong, or needed to learn some discipline or something. We got sent to the garden to weed.

I’m sure we did other stuff from time to time, but what I remember is having to weed. And it felt like punishment. And it still does. Even when La Donna asks real nicely and just wants a little help, when I help in the garden it feels like punishment. It’s a psychological problem, I realize that. But it is still there. Just don’t like it.

So, when I heard the quote I started with, it got me thinking - maybe we just need to learn to enjoy weeds a bit more. That’s our problem, some will argue, we are always trying to put up boundaries. If we just learned that whatever grows is a good thing, then we’d all be a lot happier. Who says dandelions are less beautiful than roses? Let ‘em all grow and quit fussing about it.
So, when I ran across the parable in this week’s Gospel lesson, I thought I found my confirmation. Wish I had found it all those years ago when I was sent to the garden to weed! Jesus says let them grow. Can’t get a higher authority than that, right? Let ‘em grow.

Matthew 13:24-30 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' 28 He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, 'No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

"Let them both grow together," he says, weeds and wheat - or weeds and flowers - or weeds and whatever else you might be growing in that garden of yours. Don’t worry about the weed patch, just let it grow. It is a free and easy kind of living, right? It is a remove the boundaries, just let it be kind of approach to life.

Just the kind of thing all sorts of folks are advocating these days. So, is Jesus a "new age" thinker after all?

Well, there are a couple of things we have to take note of in this passage. Important things that might change our behavior and our attitudes. First of all, this parable does not argue that there is no such thing as sin any more. It doesn’t argue that there is no right and no wrong. The householder, when told about what has happened, when told that there are weeds in his field, says "an enemy has done this." Jesus doesn’t claim that sin has disappeared. He acknowledges evil still at work in the world and in the minds and hearts of each of us and all of us. It is there, and its effects on us can be devastating. And we are in the business of trying to root it out.
Which brings us to the second point of this parable. We don’t always know what we are looking at. One of the problems I had in this whole weeding the garden thing was that I wasn’t always sure which was weed and which was plant. I remember one time pulling out most of a row of carrots because they looked very much like the weeds I was sent to pull out. I couldn’t always tell.

The truth is we all have our blind spots. Remember the story about the speck and the plank in the eye? The point there was that we often think sins we don’t have are worse than the ones we do. We are more ready to correct someone else’s bad behavior than to pay much attention to our own. And in fact, at times, what we want to correct in someone else might be a difference in perspective and not sinful after all. We Christians don’t have a perfect record throughout history on that one. We were sure that women weren’t as valued in God’s Kingdom as men. We were sure that white skin was a better guarantee of entrance into heaven than black or brown or yellow or red. We were convinced that what Jesus wanted was to make every one like citizens of the USA, or the West, or the developed world, and that cultural expressions of faith had to be uniform no matter where you lived.

Now we are embarrassed to have held these views. We couldn’t always tell what was a weed and what was wheat. And the parable also tells us that even when we do know, pulling out the weed can do more damage than leaving it alone. That if hospitality is at the top of our to do list, if loving neighbors with the same energy with which we love God is our M.O.; then our approach to sin has to be different than pointing fingers and tossing folks out.

Because the other clear message of this parable is that ultimate judgement is God’s job and not ours. We don’t know enough, we can’t love enough, we won’t care enough to judge rightly. It might also be argued that trying to take over God’s job here is the ultimate in lack of faith. We don’t think God will deal with sin in the way we would like God to do. So, we’ll step in and handle it. Which is an arrogance that reeks of pride and self-centeredness. Instead, Jesus calls us to trust that God is still in charge. To trust that even though it appears that goodness and righteousness and living a life of love is simply a recipe for being taken advantage of in this dog eat dog world, God’s way is still a better way to be. God’s way is a more whole, more sustaining, more satisfying way to live.

Which is the answer to the question "what do we do about sin?" We live a life of righteousness in a public way so that those who have not yet found their way to God can see in us the power of Christ, the water of life welling up in springs. No, we don’t just turn our backs on sin, we overpower it, we counteract it, with love, not judgement. We transform, even as we are being transformed, through hospitality and grace, not hatred and exclusion. We heal, even as we are being healed, through acceptance and hope, not condemnation and exile. We tend, even as we are tended.

In the end, we are all gardeners, I suppose. The fields are white for harvest.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cold Water Worship

You don't have to be a sports fan to know that a common celebratory act by the winning team of an important game or championship is top out cold water on the coach. It happened again at the end of the NBA Finals when Boston Celtic star player Paul Pierce grabbed the cooler of Gatorade and dumped it on coach Doc Rivers as the final seconds ticked off in their blowout win over the Lakers. The picture of the orange liquid splashing over Rivers made the papers for the next couple of days and the clip was repeated on tv for a while.

The tradition started, I believe with football, not basketball. And, to my mind at least, it made more sense there. Football is played outside, often on grass, where dumping large containers of water or other liquids won't cause such a big mess. Basketball is played indoors, on a wood surface, highly polished and sealed so as to not allow liquids to soak in! Plus the basketball coaches usually dress better than football coaches. Mind you, football champions win in the winter time, outside and so a cold shower of water would be more shocking than one poured on those in a hot sweaty gym.

OK, enough analysis of this little sports ritual. My point is there are occasions when cold water is an act of celebration and congratulations. And it fits in nicely with Jesus' reference to cold water as an act of hospitality. Remember?

Matthew 10:40 - 42 "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Short and sweet, straightforward and to the point. Except that we've got to take another look and figure out just what is going on here. But you knew that, right? You knew it couldn't be as easy as it looked on the surface. One of the speakers at my conference last month was Bishop William Willimon, who told of a class that he took while he was in seminary on Marcel Proust. He snuck over from the theology department and took a literature course, with permission of course. The first day of class the professor introduced his subject by saying that "there are very few people who have ever read Proust, and many of those who claim to have read him are lying and many of those who actually did read it didn't understand much of what they read. Proust is some of the hardest reading that there is, it is incredibly dense, multilayered and almost obscure. Most of you," he told the class, "will have great difficulty understanding what you read. Except for Mr. Willimon, because he has read scripture."

Make you feel any better? Let's take a look at what is in here.First, we need to remember the context. It follows on the Gospel reading from last Sunday when we read the previous verses about shouting and whispering, about peace and swords, about sparrows and the numbers of the hairs on your head. Remember all that? Well, this is the conclusion of that speech.

Jesus is preparing his disciples to go out and tell the good news. It is their first mission trip. But instead of driving nails and cleaning up disaster areas, they are to knock on doors and ask if it would be alright to talk about Jesus. Actually, the particular instructions on how to conduct themselves on this mission are scanty at best. I guess they had to figure out that part on their own. Instead Jesus wants to set the context, to give them the framework within which the mission is to take place. The "how to's" are left up to us.

But he concludes with these words about welcoming. Now they read as though they are the responsibility of the others. "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me." It is up to them to get that. This is, it appears, an escape clause for the disciples. If it doesn't work then, that is their problem. No one can force any one to listen and all of that. It is up to the recipient to get the response right. It is up to the convert, or the potential convert to figure out how to respond. And if they miss it, too bad for them. We'll just move on. They don't want what we're selling, well, tough luck.

It is true that we can't force positive responses to Christ. And that in the end, free will means the freedom to say no as well as the freedom to say yes. And that each person has to bear the ultimate responsibility for their own soul. But there is too much in what Jesus says and does to allow us to get away with the "take it or leave it" approach to evangelism. Too many examples of the responsibility of the community to care for one another, too many times when Jesus points out that our salvation is wrapped up in the salvation of our neighbor.

Which means we need to read it again to see what Jesus is really telling the disciples, and us, about this sharing of the faith thing, this spreading of the gospel challenge that is before us. "Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." What if the burden is not really on the one who responds (the one who "welcomes you") but on the one who seeks to present Christ to the world? What if Jesus is not giving the disciples a free pass on this hospitality thing, but is in fact significantly raising the bar? Your task, he says, is not just to go out and mumble some sort of invitation – like "You don't really want to come to church with me, do you? Didn't think so. I'm leaving now." But instead your task is to be Christ, is to represent God as you meet and greet and engage in conversations with all and sundry.

Well, we think, that isn `t my job, it is the job of the professional Christians - the pastors and evangelists. They are the ones charged with representing Christ. Am I right? Nope. That is why Jesus goes on to itemize in this passage: whoever welcomes a prophet...whoever welcomes a righteous one... whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones... Scholars have debated the differentiation in this passage, some concluding one thing and others another. But it seems to me that Jesus is trying to get us to forget this idea that there are those who are charged with being Christ all the time and the rest of us only have to worry about it for an hour or so once a week! Prophets could be the called out ones, the pastors and teachers set aside by the community for a task. For Paul the prophet was a traveling preacher who didn't settle in a area but came through to stir things up and then move on. Righteous ones could be the leaders in the life of the church, the ones whose lives were examples of the faith and whose wisdom was sought out before any decision was made.

But the little ones? That was everyone else. Everyone. New Christians and lifelong saints. Young people and elders. We are to be the means by which those outside come to know who Christ is. We are to be the face of Christ to the stranger, to our neighbor, to our family.

Now there are two different responses to this passage, it seems to me. One is to become bearers of cold water. Because Jesus raises hospitality to eternal significance, we now take the task of hospitality more seriously. We re-examine our structures at church and ask how are we doing, we enlist more and more people in the taskof welcoming, until the church understands that it is everyone's responsibility. We take hospitality as seriously as Jesus did.

The other response is to receive hospitality like Jesus tells us to.The scripture literally is about receiving hospitality. So, how do we accept the cups of cold water that are given to us? Can Christ be seen in our gratitude as well as our generosity? Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, says Jesus.

So coach, how did you like that? Thanks be to God for cold showers on hot days!


Monday, June 23, 2008

Whistling in the Dark

Dad served a church in Logansport called Wheatland Avenue United Methodist Church. As an aside I always wonder about the choice to name a church after a place rather than a statement of faith or history. I noticed in Anderson that the Church of God always names their churches after a place, you will never see Faith Church of God, or Trinity Church of God. It is always a place. Here we are! This is us. We are located here.
Well, Wheatland Avenue UMC was on Wheatland Avenue, duh. But I remember that church more for the trauma it induced in me than almost anything else. Every now and then, dad would send me to the church for something, late at night, in the dark. Creepy dark. Old churches are spooky places in the dark, did you ever notice that? There are all sorts of creaky sounds, that might be someone sneaking up behind you. All sorts of the wheezy sounds that might be the hot breath of some creature looking for a meal. All sorts of shadows, no matter how many lights you turn on, that might be demonic presences or rats scurrying out of the glare into the darkness. It was a troubling place for someone with an overactive imagination, like me.
So, I did what any self-respecting Christian boy would do in that situation. I came into the church singing hymns at the top of my lungs and didn’t stop until I was back outside again. "Amazing Grace" has a power that the creatures of the night can’t defeat! I know this. "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" is just the antidote to feeling alone and vulnerable. "Up From the Grave He Arose" strikes fear in the legions of undead looking for throats to bite. So, I knew I was safe as long as I could sing the hymns of faith. And upon the completion of my mission, I would pause before entering the house to catch my breath and make sure no one knew either of my fear or my singing!
We call it whistling in the dark. It is that activity that keeps the fears from overwhelming you and enables you to continue to function, to complete the mission at hand. Some complain that it is a process whereby we ignore just how serious the problems really are – "you’re just whistling in the dark!" But I would like to submit that it is something more than that. It is calling on a power that helps you face those fears. It is acknowledging the severity of the problems, but choosing to live in hope anyway.
At least I think that is what Jesus is trying to help us do in our Gospel passage for this week. Jesus is never one to say "Oh, this will be easy! Don’t worry." He is almost frighteningly honest about the kind of opposition we might be facing. But he gives us our mission anyway. And a simple mission it is - be like Him.
Matthew 10:24-38 "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 "So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to
linethe earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
This passage begins and ends with that missional call to be Christ in the world. "It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher," he tells us, and "whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Like he did. Be like me, he says. And then proceeds to tell us how difficult it is. "They’ll call you names," he says. This refers back and forward to an encounter with the religious establishment who tried to claim that he had power over demons because he was one himself! Even when you are doing good, you get attacked! Thanks for that, Jesus. And the other end of the conversation here is even more serious. Not just name calling, but a willingness to give our whole lives away – just like Him.
And then, to compound the call, he tells us that even those closest to us are likely to think we’ve gone crazy. Just like Him. Remember when his family showed up to take him away because they thought he was nuts? Well, it might happen to us too. There is no guarantee that when you decide to live your life for Christ that everyone around you is going to cheer you on. He’s asking us to choose sides, even if it means choosing against parents or children. Wow, tough stuff.
Throw us a bone here, Jesus. It can’t all be loneliness and fear. It can’t be us against the world, we aren’t strong enough. Are you ready? Here is the word of comfort: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 10:28 Um, OK, thanks Jesus. But wait, keep listening. He tells us that this power, this ultimate power beyond the universe is leaning in our direction. "You are of more value than many sparrows!" What a blessing! Seriously. If God, this God who has power of life and death and eternity cares about sparrows, for heaven’s sake, then we truly have nothing to fear.
This is the point that Jesus wants us to hear. It is not about the shadows that make us jump, it is about the light that brings us comfort. It is not about the enemies that lurk, it is about the Friend that stands with us. It is not about the unknown that causes our knees to tremble, it is about the faith in the One who shores us up. God is on our side - not in a I’m right and you are wrong kind of way. God is on our side in a there is nothing we cannot do for the Kingdom if we try kind of way. God is on our side in a life is deeper and richer and more satisfying despite the risks kind of way. God is on our side in a whistling in the dark, shouting from the rooftops kind of way.
So, start shouting. "What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops." 10:27 Jesus tell us that even though we feel like we don’t have all the answers, we can go on as though we do. Because we know where the answers are. Even though we don’t know how it will all work out, we know it will work out in God’s time. Even though we only have glimpses of truth, we can proclaim what we have heard with confidence. We live in the dark but we proclaim the light. We only hear whispers, but we shout with our whole lives our faith in the one who loves us with a love beyond description.
Those old hymns do have power, it is the power to remind us of our faith in God through Jesus the Christ. Keep singing.
Derek C. Weber