Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life and Death

I got a Facebook message this week from a member of Aldersgate.  She wrote to tell me thank you for last week’s worship, which I appreciated.  It was a complex subject (for those who weren’t there we responded to the question “what is the stance of the UMC on same sex marriage?”) and we were all a bit nervous about it.  But having dealt with the Atonement a couple of weeks ago and then Justification or Salvation before that, a difficult social issue seemed par for the course.  So, I was glad to be thanked for navigating some difficult waters.  (If you want to know what was said, check the website, we’ve got the sermon posted now)

But then the next thing my Facebook messenger said was “Maybe it is time for something lighter!”  We are all breathing a bit heavy under the load this summer here at Aldersgate.  Maybe we do need something a little less intense, a little less ... I dunno ... serious?  Important?  No, not important.  It’s all important.  But perhaps a little and death?  Yeah, maybe that is it.  Some of these issues, some of these doctrines seem so out there, so heavy.  We need something lighter.  Something like worship.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Worship, a little diversion.  A little music and prayer, if we’re in the mood.  Something to while away an hour on a Sunday morning.

Let’s talk about how we worship.  The question that was submitted was “What is the meaning of all the seasons and colors and symbols of the Christian Year?”  OK, that’s easy.  Just a little lecture on liturgy, on variety and texture of worship.  Yeah, let’s just sit back and think about this for a moment.  No big deal. 

Let’s see, maybe a text about making worship pretty.  Hmm.  Oh, I know.  Let’s do this one:

Exodus 35:1-19   Moses assembled all the congregation of the Israelites and said to them: These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do:  2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.  3 You shall kindle no fire in all your dwellings on the sabbath day.  4 Moses said to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the LORD has commanded:  5 Take from among you an offering to the LORD; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the LORD's offering: gold, silver, and bronze;  6 blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats' hair,  7 tanned rams' skins, and fine leather; acacia wood,  8 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense,  9 and onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and the breastpiece.  10 All who are skillful among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded: the tabernacle,  11 its tent and its covering, its clasps and its frames, its bars, its pillars, and its bases;  12 the ark with its poles, the mercy seat, and the curtain for the screen;  13 the table with its poles and all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence;  14 the lampstand also for the light, with its utensils and its lamps, and the oil for the light;  15 and the altar of incense, with its poles, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the screen for the entrance, the entrance of the tabernacle;  16 the altar of burnt offering, with its grating of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils, the basin with its stand;  17 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its bases, and the screen for the gate of the court;  18 the pegs of the tabernacle and the pegs of the court, and their cords;  19 the finely worked vestments for ministering in the holy place, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron, and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests.

Um, well.  OK.  Just skip over those opening verses and we have a meeting of the building committee.  Or maybe the Altar guild.  You know the folks who are responsible for making sure that things are in order on a Sunday morning.  You know, the folks who add a little something, an accent, a bit of color, some texture to our worship experience.  Not essential, we think, but nice.

And yet here is Moses implying that there is something serious going on here.  True, he doesn’t say you have to bring this stuff.  He says “whoever is of a generous heart” bring in these things.  But he does seem to imply that it is necessary.  For the worship experience of the community as a whole, we need these things – precious metals, colorful fabrics, lush furs, aromatic oils and gemstones.  Then we construct a space to contain it all.  Not just in a hodgepodge, but in an order that guides our thoughts and our experience toward the creator of beauty in appreciation and awe. 

Moses doesn’t say you have to bring something to add to the worship experience, but that maybe you want to.  All who are skillful among you, he says.  Generous on the one hand, skillful on the other.  It is like he is trying to find where you plug in.  Because plugging in is important.

The connection between the question listed above and this idea of worship is that we want to find meaning in the space we create for worship.  We want it to tell a story, or make a connection, to send us on the journey of faith.  So, we have devised a system whereby we can be reminded of where we are on that journey.  I’ll run through it quickly on Sunday, but basically it is built on the highlights of the life of Jesus Christ - anticipation, birth, revealing (epiphany), temptation, passion, death and resurrection - half the year, and then the Christian life - or living out the implications of Christ’s life - the rest of the year.  In other words we lay our lives alongside Christ’s life in a continual rhythm of worship and discipleship.

Which I guess, then begs the question as to the importance of this thing after all.  This worship thing.  This if you’ve got a few moments on a Sunday why not show up, if you’re not otherwise occupied, thing.  At least that is what it has come to be for us, most of us these days.  But if we go back to the awkward couple of verses that introduce our passage for this week, we seem to sense a different level of significance.

“Whoever does any work,” says Moses, whoever has other stuff to do, other distractions or responsibilities, other duties to perform or activities to fill a busy calendar, “shall be put to death.”  Um, a bit harsh, surely.  Well, I’m not advocating a return to the death penalty for missing church.  But maybe we have gotten a little lax about how important this worship thing is.  It is worth our generosity.  Moses doesn’t ask for leftovers, scraps that we have lying around going unused, he asks for gold, for purples and crimsons, the expensive stuff that isn’t easy to get.  It is worth our skill.  We spend a lot of time working for our own benefit, making our space comfortable and nice to look at, why not do the same for God?

I know it sounds ominous to talk about worship being a life and death matter.  And it is, or was.  But maybe what we need to hear is not a threat to get yourself to worship or else!  But instead to hear a God who knows what we need, what we need to make life worth living.  That without this essential component to a healthy and rich and colorful life, we are dead.  At least dead to the possibilities.  Dead to the depths of living and loving that God intended us to know and experience.

Maybe worship is a life and death kind of thing after all.  Maybe it is intended to be a rehearsal for living life.  In which case maybe we ought to take it a bit more seriously.  Maybe we ought to spice it up, color it up, texture it up, sensational it up.  You think?  Or maybe we just need something lighter.


Friday, August 17, 2012


The nest in the bush outside my office window is empty now.  Frankly, it is a bit of a mess.  It looks rickety and fragile, made up of sticks and bits of trash that must have been blowing around our parking lot.  A bit of an eyesore, really. I should probably go out and clear it away, it would beautify the courtyard immensely.

A few weeks ago I didn’t notice the construction quality of the next in question.  My attention was captured by the activity captured inside.  Three tiny baby cardinals were vibrating with the excitement of living as their doting parents - the gaudily bright dad who stood guard on the thin branches of the peak and the more muted mom who made trip after trip to fill the gaping mouths spread wide as though to swallow the world if given the chance.  If I stood too long watching at the window, the whole scene would freeze as the parents cast a wary eye at the potential threat to their domestic tranquility, and even the babies stopped their frenzied waving trying to draw the attention of mom with her latest offerings and waiting, opened mouthed but still as statues, until the danger - me - had passed.

So as not to cause too much stress on the cardinal family, I didn’t stand daily vigil at my window, or set up banks of cameras to record every activity and growth spurt.  I checked in from time to time, noticed when the babies grew a little bit, saw their fuzzy grey fur begin to grow into feathers, saw them start to move around, climbing on top of brother or sister for a little higher view, or primacy of feeding place.  But respecting their privacy I missed the whole learning to fly moment, the struggles and strains to make your own way in the world.  To be honest, I got busy and forgot all about them until the day I looked and saw the abandoned property notice tacked up on the remnants of the home that once was.  And I feel like I missed something significant.

On Saturday we will load up Rhys and drive him to Greencastle, Indiana to begin his career as a college student at DePauw University. (Which is the reason why this is appearing sooner than usual.)  And a part of the wash of emotion is a feeling like I missed something along the way.  When did we get to this moment?  Surely there was a lot more to come before this pushing out of the nest time, did I get busy and miss him growing up?  So many moments come to mind as I contemplate this threshold upon which we stand as a family.  And though there are lots of them, they simply can’t add up to this.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that we stood at a gate at Chicago O’Hare and greeted a bright-eyed little bundle who proceeded to change our lives forever?

No, it wasn’t yesterday.  It was eighteen years ago, and so much has happened since then.  But, I can’t help but ask, is it enough?  That’s my overriding worry, I must confess.  His mother worries about underwear and laundry soap and school supplies, so I worry about other stuff.  Like is he really ready to grow where he is planted, wherever that may be?  Will he bear fruit and not be torn down or rooted up, not be choked out by the weeds of this world.  Because there are weeds.  We did the Round-up thing for eighteen years, kept him as weed free as we possibly could.  But now he will be out of our reach.  And the weeds are rampant.

You probably picked up on that segue-way there, didn’t you?  I did have to eventually get around to a bible study to justify the title of this blog post.  Take a look at the passage I chose for this weekend, one that is both sobering and comforting at the same time.  At least it seems so to me.

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.'"

First of all, a warning to those who worship at Aldersgate.  The sermon which will grow from this text will be very different from this reflection.  We are still in our summer series of questions and answers in Sunday worship, so there is a question that I am responding to that lead me to this parable.  But sitting here next to an abandoned nest and a Saturday journey, it rings in my soul differently.  That’s the amazing thing about scripture, it seems to me.  It doesn’t change and yet we hear different things, because while the words are the same, the hearers have changed, our needs have changed, our hopes and dreams, our fears and doubts have changed.  And a Word that is “living and active” can accommodate those changes and meet us where we are.

Today this word says to me that there are weeds.  No burying your head in the sand with Jesus, unfortunately.  No, it’ll be ok, don’t worry about it, no big deal, with the Son of God.  An enemy has done this, he says.  There are enemies, there are dangers out there.  It would be naive and risky to think otherwise. We are not called to live with blinders on, to live incautiously.  Jesus sent his disciples out with the words “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.”  Weeds and wolves, watch out.

But while this is a sobering word, it isn’t the last word of the parable.  Or even the most important word.  That most important word comes in the response to the question raised.  The question is “do you want us to root up those weeds?”  That is our human inclination.  We need to tear out anything that we think is evil, anything that goes against our vision of what life ought to be about.  And we do this for very good reasons, to protect those we love, to be secure and safe, to do God’s work!

And that is where we get into trouble.  We want to do God’s work.  But God consistently says, “I’ll do my own work, thank you.  You do yours.”  The master says, no, leave them, because you can’t always tell how much damage you are going to do by trying to uproot what you think is evil.  I’ll take care of that.  I’ll order the reaping.  That isn’t your job.  It is mine, says the Lord.

So ... now what?  What does that mean?  We live passively?  We don’t care about weeds or wheat?  We just live inwardly, protectively and wait for someone else to sort it all out?  By no means, to quote St. Paul.  It means we remember who is in charge.  Or rather Who is in charge.  And we trust in that presence and that power.  And we do our job, which is to love.  Transformatively.  Powerfully.  Confidently.  Unstintingly. We love, without reservation, without determining who might be worth our time and attention, who might be worthy of our love.  We are called to live as though everyone was worthy of loving, of our love.  Here’s the hard part: does this mean we might get hurt from time to time?  Yes, it does.  Loving is a risky way to live.  But, and pay attention here, it is a better way to live.  So much better.  In spite of the occasional hurt, or maybe even because of it.  It is better to live loving and trusting than suspicious and hateful. 

Nests are supposed to empty.  Thresholds are supposed to be crossed.  God is in control, lean back on that.  I know I am.  And I think I’ll leave the rickety construction in the bush outside my window as a reminder that it isn’t the security we build for ourselves that provides the real protection, that the homes we create are temporary and transitional.  I don’t know where the birds have gone, but I will trust that they are singing songs of joy and hope, that they are flying as they were made to fly.  And should they come back to roost, or do their laundry, I’ll greet them with joy.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hope Wins

I remember hearing years ago some theologian, no don’t ask me who, who wanted to argue with Paul.  Well, frankly that isn’t such an unusual thing, lots of folks - theologians and normal people too - want to argue with Paul.  But this one wanted to take issue with one of Paul’s most famous and often quoted verses.  The greatest of these, this author posited, is not love, but hope. 

I must have read that in seminary, which was  - ahem - over thirty years ago.  And I still remember it.  Maybe it was because someone dared to take on the unassailable saint when he was flying at his highest (there are certainly other Paulisms that are much more vulnerable).  But I really think I remember it because I think it is true.

Or sort of true.  Truish.  Faith, Hope and Love abide, these three.  And the greatest of these is ... Yes.  Maybe it is a trinity of equals and depending on the need of the moment, depending on the strength of the wielder of this gift, this training, this presence we name faith, hope and love.  Faithopelove.  Pronounce that!  Maybe our mistake was not it deciding which was greater, but in trying to separate them at all.  As if we could live a life of faith without love, or that we could love a transforming, healing kind of love without hope, or that we could hope for the Kingdom, for new life and new love without faith in the source of that new reality.

OK, how did I get here?  This isn’t what I set out to write about for this weekend.  I’m answering one of your questions.  Actually a couple of them.  This is one of those multiple occurrence questions.  One asked “What does it mean to be saved?”  And another asked it this way: “what do we mean when we say that Jesus died for my sins?”

At first I was troubled by the question.  It is such a central concept to our faith that I was concerned that there are some out there who might not understand this salvation thing.  But then, the more I thought about it, the more excited I became.  What a great opportunity!  To come back and talk about one of those foundational concepts of what it means to be a Christian.  I can’t think of anything more fun.

I know that says more about me than about the faith.  But still.  Early in my ministry I was invited to preach a revival.  Believe it or not.  And I loved it.  Probably wasn’t what the folks were used to, but they responded well and said they enjoyed having me there.  So, now I get to do it again.  Get ready, Aldersgate folks!  It’s revival time. We’re getting saved!

OK, not really.  Because we’ve been saved.  What we’re going to do is to talk about knowing it and living it.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, but no.  So simple that we have trouble holding on to it.  So straightforward that we think we must be missing something, that we haven’t read the fine print, that there’s got to be a catch. 

Well, there is a catch.  But I’ll get to that in a moment.  First, let’s embrace the simplicity, as described by Paul, if that’s not an oxymoron!  Take a look:

Romans 5:1-11  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Simple, right?  Well, yes, is the sense that salvation is a completed act.  “Since we are justified by faith...” It has already happened.  It is an act completed in Christ, and claimed in faith.  Done.  Signed, sealed, delivered.  The end.  Except it isn’t the end.  It is the beginning.  The beginning of peace and the beginning of hope.

That is the tragedy of the popular conception of salvation, as far as I am concerned.  That for many people it is an end.  I’m saved, the end.  I’ve got my ticket punched, by reservations made.  I’m in, too bad for you.  But as vital as that eternity, entrance into God’s Kingdom element is, it is hardly the whole story.  In fact it could be argued that it is the least dynamic of the changes that occur when salvation takes place.  It is the final note, the echo of the shout of joy that takes place when a life is claimed by the hope Paul writes about in these verses.  There is so much more on offer, so much more to the promise than a final destination.

“Since we are justified (saved) we have peace.”   But not a sit back on your laurels kind of peace, it is instead an active, motivating kind of peace.  It is a confidence that allows us to live fully, to love without hesitation.  Even when it hurts.  Indeed, argues Paul, there is joy in the suffering, not because we enjoy suffering, but we enjoy loving so much that we learn to endure suffering, and we are shaped into a new person able to see beyond the immediate hope into the transformation that is the result of loving. 

Because, and this is the wondrous part, it isn’t even our love any more.  It is the love of God that has been poured into our hearts.  The debate among scholars has been does Paul mean by “God’s love” the love God has for us?  Or does he mean the love we have for God?  Or, does it mean our ability to love like God?  And the answer is yes!  All the above, intermingled and sloshed around until we have trouble telling one from another.  That’s why Jesus had to answer the question about the greatest law by giving us two.  Love God and love neighbor, because we aren’t always able to tell them apart.  Or rather that he knew we couldn’t do one without the other.  We can’t love God in the abstract without loving our neighbor in the concrete, and we can’t love our neighbor because they are so.. so.. human like us without being energized, inspired and transformed by our love of God all of which only happens because we are first loved by God.

This is where it gets painfully deep.  We are first loved by God.  First.  While we were yet sinners.  While we were still dirty and angry and selfish and so ... so ... human, God loved us.  And loves us still, when we run screaming back to a life of darkness and destruction.  We are loved.  With a love that staggers the understanding.  That loves us all the way to death ... and beyond.  To death.  While we were still weak, Christ died for us.

I so wanted to trot out my lessons on Atonement here.  To dazzle you with a discussion on Substitutionary vs Ransom vs Satisfaction vs Moral Theory vs Christus Victor vs etc, etc ad infinitum (let’s use up all of Latin in one go!) theories of the atonement.  But the truth is, we don’t have a clue how it works.  We just believe, we just have faith that it does.  And we go to live it out every day.  Or at least on the days when we love without reservation, on the days when we live fully engaged, fully aware, full of this love that has been poured into us by a Spirit we hardly know and yet have been intimate with in surprisingly powerful ways. 

This is the hope that Paul says does not disappoint.  This living hope, this active hope, this transforming hope that is the gift of and sign of our salvation.  Which I now declare is not just hope but faithopelove at work in us and through us.  And we trust, because our faith and our experience tells us, that hope wins in the now and in the end. 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

No Fear

I’ve never understood the appeal of horror movies.  Something to remind us of the terrors of living in the world, just seems redundant in a way.  Are there things out there that can get you?  Well, yeah.  Ask any parent paying attention to the world out there how comfortable they feel sending their kids out to play.  But do I need to be reminded of it when I go to a movie?  Heck, no.  Do I need to see all the ways that the human body could suffer pain and dismemberment?  Please, no.  Do I need to see buckets of special effects blood and gore splattered across the screen with gleeful abandon?  Urp, no.  A thousand times no.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this space about bodies and lovemaking as reflected in the Song of Songs and how we in the church are squeamish about that subject.  I mentioned how some people call the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated pornographic.  Well, frankly, I believe that horror movies and depictions of violence and destruction are much more pornographic that pictures of human bodies, that blood and gore is much more pornographic than sex and love, even in its physical manifestations.

But that’s just me, I realize that.  Maybe I’m just a scaredy-cat.  Maybe it just frightens me too much.  We live in an age where we push and push, get more extreme, go to the edge, try to find more and more to scare us.  We drive around with “No Fear” decals on the back windows of our trucks.  We wear “No Fear” t-shirts.  We stand up against our enemies with swagger and defiance.  We shake our fists at the elements and dare them to try their best.  Bravery is so highly prized that things like prudence and discretion seem like weaknesses these days.  We don’t want to be seen as somehow less than manly, somehow less than confident in our ability to control our every situation.  Fear is the enemy that makes us weak.  “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself!”

It is in this atmosphere that I read the question submitted and chosen for this week.  We turn from specific questions about the bible to more general questions about theology and church and faith.  For the month of August we are taking a wide-ranging look at some of the questions on the hearts and minds of the congregation at Aldersgate Community United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne Indiana.  Are they representative of questions elsewhere?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Or maybe they are unique to this community at this time.  I have spent far too much time trying to figure all that stuff out.  And maybe I ought to just focus on the question itself and quit worrying so much about a larger context. 

Except that it is the larger context that gives meaning and direction, even if it isn’t able to completely discern the origin of the question in the mind of the questioner.  Take the question that set me off on a commentary about horror movies: “What is meant by “to fear Christ”?” 

Of course the simplest answer to this question is that nowhere in scripture does the phrase “fear Christ” appear.  We are not called to fear Christ at all.  So, just let it go, dear questioner.  Not a problem, you’ve been misinformed.

Except that there is that uncomfortable concept throughout the scriptures inviting us, no, commanding us to “fear the Lord.”  Jesus Christ is Lord, that is true.  But since the most common uses of the phrase are found in the Old Testament, I would think that the object of this fear is supposed to be God.  And yet how does this make sense when Jesus came to tell us that God is a loving father who seeks after lost sheep and rejoices over prodigals returned?

Maybe, we argue, it is a concept we have outgrown.  Something that was necessary when the people of God were in their infancy, or even their rebellious adolescence.  But now that we have matured, now that we know Christ, fear is one of those things we can abandon, like a toy we have no use for, like a method of discipline that no longer works.  That makes sense.  We’ve grown beyond fear.  So, let it go.  Let go and let God, we say blithely, ready to trust that all manner of things will be well.
Except it isn’t, not all the time anyway.  Sometimes we are hurt, and sometimes we cause our own hurt because of what seemed like a good idea at the time.  We hurt because of choices.  Our choices, made with ultimate freedom and no fear. 

I went to one of those passages where we are invited to fear the Lord to be the ground of our worship this week.  And I was surprised by what I found.  The fear was translated out.  Take a look:

Joshua 24:14-24   "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;  17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;  18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."  19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.  20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good."  21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!"  22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."  23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."  24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey."

One commentator wrote of how we have domesticated this passage.  We needlepoint Joshua’s words and hang them in our hallways.  They are presented as a happy choice in a world of choices.  Like choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream, or which movie you are going to see.  You choose that which will give you the most joy, the most fun, the most comfortable life.  Yet, Joshua seems to be saying something more, something deeper.  I remember his opening words being “now therefore fear the Lord.”  Revere sounds better, nicer, safer.  But as Joshua points out later in his conversation, serving the Lord is no walk in the park. Or no slow cruise down a straight road.  It’s more of a white knuckled roller coaster ride with the constant concern that the wheels just might be lifting off the track.

Maybe we need to rethink the word fear.  Maybe it shouldn’t be the boogie man hiding in the dark closet kind of fear, but like the warnings trying to keep us alert as we do any of a number of risky things every day of our lives.  Maybe doing away with fear, as we would like to, makes us complacent about our relationship with God, like it is no big deal, “no worries mate” kind of blase approach.  But embracing the fear of the Lord keeps us alert to danger signs, keeps our hands inside the vehicle at all times, keeps us buckled in and safe as we can be when we are hurtling around as high rates of speed inside metal boxes that could take our lives away in an instant if we stopped paying attention.  Maybe our life with God is like that.  So, Joshua wasn’t saying live scared of God, but was instead inviting them to pay attention to the promises they make, to take seriously the commitment they offer to the One who holds their lives in hand.  Maybe Joshua is simply saying this is serious stuff we are dealing with here, don’t assume you can treat this like acceptance agreement on your favorite software.  Instead, he says, you are putting your life on the line.  You are giving your all.  All, for heaven’s sake.  Don’t do that lightly.

We should tremble a little bit when we come to worship, knowing that we haven’t been too good at keeping our end of the deal. We should pray those prayers of confession with a line of sweat on our brows. And not just assume it’s no big deal. Cause in the end, that is what the fear of the Lord says, your life is a big deal. Treat it so.