Saturday, August 31, 2013

Out On a Limb

Two kittens shut down the B and Q lines of the New York Subway system for about two hours this week.  I was on each of them last March when Maddie and I made our Spring Break trip to the wilds of NYC.  The B and Q are two of the main lines that run from Brooklyn where my brother lives into the heart of Manhattan.  A two hour disruption is going to cause a problem, no matter what time it is.

Thursday at 11am two scared kittens were spotted running down the tracks right next to the third rail.  That’s the one that carries the power, 600 volts - not transformer power, but enough to use up all nine lives.  So, they decided to cut the power to the whole line.  And for almost two hours the commuters and subway officials waited while a few went on a subway safari to rescue the flustered felines.  Alas, the kittens managed to stay out of reach long enough that the disruption was no longer tenable.  So, since they weren’t in visible danger, they returned power to the rail and then started the local trains and eventually the express trains, but issued an alert inviting the drivers to keep a look out for the strays.

Naturally, in this day of instant commentary on anything and everything, the opinions were many and various.  From the animal lover who praised the compassion of the administrators - or questioned why they gave up so soon just to keep the trains running on time (with the inevitable Mussolini quote tossed in), to the commuters who were patient or not, and the conspiracy theorists who speculated that terrorists in cat suits were behind it all, not to mention the anti-government voices who blamed Obama for letting the cat out of the bag.  Bah-dum-bum.

The argument centered around one point, really.  Were they worth it?  And before you get all heated up, let me make a shift here.  We’re not really talking about kittens on a subway track.  We are talking about a little guy out on a limb.

Luke 19:1-10  He entered Jericho and was passing through it.  2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."  6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.  7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."  8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much."  9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." 

Everybody sing .... “a wee little man...” ... “Climbed up in a sycamore tree...” ...  “YOU COME DOWN” ... “I’m coming to your house today.”  Why did we shout that bit?  Jesus doesn’t seem to be shouting here.  Maybe it is simply enthusiasm, and we got carried away when we were kids.  

Who knows?  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is getting the point here.  And the point here is that even Luke had to learn to bite his tongue when Jesus comes to town.

If you read through the gospel of Luke you discover that there is a certain attitude to people with means, with resources, ah heck, just say it, the rich.  Luke didn’t like them.  Or he thought Jesus didn’t like them.  In story after story in the gospel of Luke, the rich come out badly.  So, when Luke begins chapter nineteen with this introduction you are forgiven if you expect it to end badly. “There was a man named Zacchaeus; he was chief tax collector and was rich.  As if being chief tax collector isn’t bad enough.  A chief tax collector isn’t like the guy sitting in the booth collecting your sales tax, or your business tax, or your inventory tax or whatever.  This is the guy who shows up at your door and takes everything you’ve got left.  And he usually shows up with muscle, Roman muscle.  He’s the guy, some historians think, that recruited all the other guys who are also now as hated as he is.  He’s the Regional Director of tax collectors.  But, for Luke, as bad as all that is, here’s what’s worse: he’s rich.

So, you know this can’t end well.  You just know it.  Except that a strange things happens.  When Jesus comes to town, Zacchaeus decides he wants to see him.  And here’s what’s weird, he doesn’t send a memo and ask Jesus to stop by his office.  He doesn’t have his people call Jesus’ people.  He runs (runs!) down the street and climbs a flipping tree!  This pillar of society, OK, a despised pillar of society to be sure, but a man of status and standing and whatever else makes you the top of the heap, runs down a street and climbs a tree.  He acts like a little kid!  What is up with that?

Jesus seems to accept it all, and then to invite himself to the house of a guy who would climb a tree just to see him.  A curious thing is that we don’t know why.  Jesus says he “must stay” at Zacchaeus’s house today.  Must stay?  But what is even more curious is that we don’t know Zacchaeus’s motivation.  All Luke says is that he wanted to see Jesus.  “Trying to see who Jesus was” vs 3.  Why?  Was it a change of heart?  Was he worried about competition?  Was it hope or fear?  Or a little of both?  We don’t know.  And apparently that doesn’t matter.

That is what is really curious about this story.  The amends, the change in behavior, the giving away half of what he owns and paying back four times the amount if (notice the if there, Zac isn’t admitting anything) he has defrauded anyone, all happens after Jesus puts himself on the guest list.  He came down from a tree and changed his life.   

Or at least it appears so.  Actually, where our translation has “I will give” and “I will pay back”, the original text says “I give” and “I pay back.”   So, is he already generous?  Is Jesus coming to dine with him because he is already a good guy?  Well, the crowd doesn’t think so.  They start to grumble when Jesus makes his announcement.  “Why are you going to his house?” they wonder, “don’t you know he is a sinner?”

He’s not worth it.  That’s what they are saying.  Don’t waste your time on him, keep the trains running, Jesus.  Stay on target.  Keep out of the gutters, off the side streets, out of the trees.  Stick to your own kind.  His kind, the sinner kind, isn’t worth bothering with.

Jesus says, his kind is your kind.  He is one of you.  A son of Abraham, like you.  A child of God, like you.  If I ignore him, I ignore you.  But I didn’t come to ignore the ones who will go out on a limb just to see me.  The ones who will risk reputation, such as it might have been.  The ones who will put aside “proper behavior” and become like a little child just to see me.

We don’t know what was in Zacchaeus’s mind when he ran and climbed a tree.  Which I guess means in part that since our motives are at best mixed, we’ve got a chance too.  Jesus just might invite himself into our houses with a surprising urgency.  No matter what anyone else seems to think, we are worth the effort, worth the disruption, worth the inconvenience of loving. 

Our Wednesday bible study asked the question of this passage: where are you in the story?  Standing with the crowd, shaking our heads at those people who aren’t worth it?  Or standing next to Jesus, inviting ourselves into the homes of those others think are sinners?  Or perhaps, out on a limb, hoping for a glimpse of Jesus and whole new way of living?

By the way, seven hours later they found those kittens, named them Arthur and August, and decided they were worth it.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Lay It Down

I’m in the middle of one of those weekends.  You know, the weekends where you say “Wow, I hope I never have another one of those anytime soon!”  But then you do, more regularly than you’d like to admit.  Seems like life kinda goes that way these days.

So, on Thursday La Donna and I took Maddie to her college for move-in day.  It was less emotional than I feared, but the absence is beginning to get to me, I must confess.  On Friday I went with my older brother and sister to tell dad that we were going to have sell his house in Paris in order to keep them where they are in Warren.  It was a difficult conversation to say the least.  Saturday I am driving my son Rhys for his second year of college.  And the echoes in the hallways will be noticeable.  Sunday I meet with the whole congregation at Aldersgate and attempt to share with them (or at least those who are interested enough to stay and listen) where I am convinced God is calling us to go as a community of faith and worship - and then hope and pray they want to get on board this gospel train.  Then that evening I put my sister on a plane to fly back to California.  

It will be like shouting into the Grand Canyon.  Well, sort of.  Not really.  La Donna is here, as are the upstairs cats and the crazy dogs.  The house will still be full and active and loud.  Sometimes excruciatingly loud.  Just come ring the doorbell and see what I mean.  Or hear it.  But still... We talked about taking a leaf out of the table so it won’t seem as empty.  Adjustments can be made, lots of folks have made them.  We’ll be fine, I know that.  After all this is how it is supposed to be. 

This is what we worked for, getting the kids ready for the next stage, helping family make transitions into a new reality, moving with a community into a future that can be as dynamic, as rich as our past has been.  There is excitement about the new, there is hope and there is joy.  We left Maddie there at Wittenberg and she was already talking about what was coming next.  About the friends she had already met.  About the classes that she was looking forward to.  How could I begrudge her any of that?  I can’t, I don’t.  Not in the least.

So, then why is it so hard?  Why is change, why is growth, why is something new - exciting and wonderful as it may be - why is it so hard?

John 15:12-17   "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.  15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. 

Ah, so that’s how we deal with all of this, with more love.  Well, yes, of course.  But it isn’t all that simple.  Look closer.  Look deeper.  

First of all we have to completely redefine this love thing, or else a sentence like “this is my commandment, that you love one another” just won’t make a lick of sense.  How do you command an emotion?  How to switch on a response to another human being?  Love just happens, right?  We fall in love, we get hit upside the head by love, we are made helpless by love, right?  I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books, that’s how it happens.

Unless you happen to be talking to Jesus.  This is my commandment.  Commandment.  He clearly has a different understanding of love than the one we tend to operate out of.  He seems to imply that love is a choice that we make, an act of will.  We decide to love, or to be loving.  We decide to bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Wait.  What?  Bear fruit?  Jesus uses this image a lot in the Gospel of John.  It is the measure by which we show our relation to him.  It is determining factor in whether we belong or not.  It is the output of our connection, our salvation that comes from him.  Jesus, again, is never very interested in the warm feelings in our hearts as much as he is in what we are doing with our hands and our feet, or what is coming out of our mouths.  And he wants us to understand that these things we do, these words we share are not just ways of passing the time, this isn’t just busy work we need to engage in until it comes time to be gathered up into the kingdom.  No, these things we do make a difference in the lives of those around us.  That is the fruit that will last.  It lasts not because folks will remember you and what you did, but because a life was changed, a new story was written, a new trail blazed.

This is the kind of work we are to involve ourselves in, this is the kind of love we are commanded to love.  Love like his.  This is the kind of fruit we produce, fruit that lasts because it makes a difference in people’s lives.  This is the mission we have been given by the one who called us, even before we knew we were called.  “You did not choose me, I chose you.”  He was at work in us before we ever turned and acknowledged that presence, that passion, that hope.  

And then, though I hesitate to say it, when we embrace that call and live into the mission of loving, of bearing fruit, God will bless us in our doing, will give us what our hearts desire.  I hesitate, not because I don’t believe it, but because so often hear it wrong.  “God will give you whatever you ask.”  Lord, Almighty, how we twist those words to justify all sorts of bad theology.  Prosperity gospel, name it and claim it, seed faith, all these and more are the misinterpretations of what Jesus is trying to tell us here.  He is saying when we desire God with all our heart, God will fill us.  When we desire to love like Christ calls us to love, then the Spirit will equip us with the capacity to love.  When we want nothing more than to be Christ’s friends, which means to see the kingdom as he sees it and to work with all our soul to make it real in our communities, then God will grant us the vision to see it.

But still, even when we see what is best, even when we move out in faith, even when we want to change and grow and be more like Christ and our community more like the kingdom, even then, we hurt.  Even then, it is hard.  Why is that?

Because something has to die.  Because we have to die - to self, to sin, to preference, to the good life as the world defines it.  Lay down your life.  It seems beyond us.  Lay it down.  It is asking too much, don’t you think?  Lay it down.  So, what, we are supposed to go out and die?  Supposed to find risky situations and throw ourselves into the fray with a thought for our own safety?  Lay it down.  Well, maybe, but probably not.  We are not called to be daredevils for Jesus.  Yet we are asked to lay it down.

The preacher and teacher of preachers Fred Craddock once talked about this idea, this laying down your life idea.  He said, yeah, there might come a time when we have to put our whole life on the line, to lay it all down.  But that isn’t how most of us live out our faith.  See it like being asked to empty our bank accounts and trust funds and IRAs.  He said maybe you would have to plunk down the whole amount in a sacrificial move, Jesus asked for that from time to time.  But for most of us it is not putting down the whole amount in one grand act.  It is putting down a quarter here, a dollar there.  We spend our lives, we lay down our lives, by surrendering this thing, or that thought,  we let go of this comfort or that pleasure.  We lay down this routine, or that preference so that we might be seen as more open, more accommodating.  We let go of good things in order to grab hold of great ones.

I say goodbye to my sweetpea, so that along with the whole world I can say hello to the young woman who just might change the world for the better.  Lay it down.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Worry and Strive

Was it only two Fridays ago, or three?  I don’t remember.  When the skies fell, when the rain poured down and we wondered if we ought to be building an ark, when the cry “man the lifeboats” was in the back of our minds and we were sure we saw Leonard DiCaprio floating by.  You remember.  I sat here in our house perched on a hill and didn't think much about it, until my wife pointed out that the patio off the walkout basement was flooding.  We went down and watched it rise bit by bit and then went to bed hoping it wasn't coming in to soak the floor and the stacks of boxes down there (most notably, thousands of comic books I've been saving since a teenager).  I didn't sleep much, worrying.  Ran down to check at 1:30am and again at 4am.  Just in case.

My daughter Maddie is excited about college.  She tweets about it regularly.  Has been texting with her new roommate, also called Maddie (who’s idea was that, I wonder?)  She has even started to pack, well, to make piles anyway.  People keep asking how I’m doing with her going away, and my standard answer is the Scarlett O’Hara approach - “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”  Then she comes to me saying she finally opened up her college email inbox and found three alerts from the security telling them to watch for a suspicious person on campus who seemed to be up to no good.  Just watch, the email said.  And worry, it might as well have said.  Because I did, and I am.

Mom and dad are settling into their place at Heritage Pointe in Warren, just down the road.  It is a good place, and they are doing good things.  Dad is unsettled, but seems to be understanding, wishes they could be together, and more independent.  But not bad, really.  Except the bills are coming in.  Insurance is balking at switching from Tennessee to Indiana, Medicare is like starting all over, it seems.  And I worry.  Is this the place they need to be, have we done right by them, can we afford it?  I worry.

We are on the brink of something at Aldersgate.  A seizing of the future, a claiming of the heritage.  Something new and different and Spirit-driven.  It is exciting, amazing to watch the pieces begin to fall into place as though it is a part of some divine plan somehow.  And scary.  Darn it all, scary.  That is the nature of change, as wonderful and sought after as it might be, it is also worrying.  So many questions that come to mind, so many doubts, so many fears.  So many voices saying “better safe than sorry”, saying “been there, done that, didn’t work”, and most of all “why?”  Why mess with something that works, sort of?  We’ve been fine for years, before you got here, we’ll be fine again.  Won’t we?  Will we?  I worry.

Luke 12:22-32  He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-- you of little faith!  29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.  30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

Jesus gives many commands that seem impossible to follow.  Or if not impossible, than really, really difficult.  But then there are others that are just unreasonable.  Out of step with the way we live in this world.  Disconnected from the kind of community that elsewhere he wants us to create.  How are we supposed to be the caring community if we don’t worry about what is going on in the world?  Hundreds killed in domestic violence in Egypt in one bloody weekend.  Thousands living hand to mouth in drought stricken Africa, where they don’t have to luxury of debating whether climate change is man made or not, they are just dying from it.  Even here in the greatest country in the world, we fear that our differences are simply too great to live together in community any longer, with a society that seems to think violence is not just an appropriate response it is the only one, in a weaponized culture that wants bigger and more powerful ways to take out an enemy, who can live without worry?

Because both Matthew and Luke chose to record these words of Jesus, we have trouble just dismissing them.  And yet, if we are honest, we have to admit we can’t do it.  Live worry free, that is.  Which seems to be what he is saying.  We’re supposed to watch birds and study flowers and somehow that sets us free from the anxiety of living in this world.  We are supposed to let go, let go of those things that bind us, and just live free and unfettered by the concerns of a messy world, of a world that seems to be the antithesis of the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed.  Just let go.  Right?

“Instead, strive for the Kingdom.”  Strive.  The word is zeteo, and it sometimes means look for, seek out search or look for; but also try, attempt, strive for, want, ask, ask for; and even demand, require, expect; consider, deliberate, examine investigate.  Whew.  Doesn’t sound like letting go to me.  Sounds like digging in.  Sounds like following, like committing your life to something bigger than yourself.  Sounds like being willing to move ahead even when you don’t have all the answers or even all the questions.

If you look carefully at the words that Luke records from Jesus, he never really tells us to stop worrying.  He just tells us to quit worrying about our own lives.  And what is worrying anyway?  The word there is merimnaho, meaning anxious, distracted, or to worry about.  I think he is talking less about caring and more about prioritizing.  What will we care about most?  What will we let guide our feet and our hands and our thoughts day to day?  Jesus is asking us to commit ourselves to the Kingdom first and everything else will be placed into a more proper perspective.

Wait, what?  We are supposed to spend all our time mooning about going to heaven and then the stuff that needs doing in this life will seem less important?  Or will get done by magic?  Or ... what?  Seeking the Kingdom.  What does that mean, exactly?  And why does he tell us to seek it, no, to strive for it in verse 31, and then in verse 32 he tells us God wants to give it to us?  Is it a treasure hunt or a hand out?  Is it a prize to be won, an achievement to train for, to sweat and strain for?  Or is it a gift unexpected, an answer we stumble across?  

Or somehow both?  Ah, now we are on to something.  Seeking the Kingdom is not living some otherworldly kind of existence.  It is not wishing for streets of gold and pearly gates, and closing one’s eyes to the asphalt and rusty hinges of this life.  It is, instead, living with eyes wide open, striving for connection, for relationship, for wounds to heal and brokenness to bind up.  It is desiring an intimate relationship with God and a community within which to share it.  Seeking the kingdom is looking for rooftops from which to shout, darkness in which to light lights, tears to wipe away and hope to restore.  It is tearing down the walls that keep us separated and diminished.  It is seeing the face of the savior in the face of a stranger, but not one who helps you as much as one you can help.

I know that some of you looked at the title of this study and said, whoops, it’s not “worry and strive” but “worry and strife.”  Well, you’d be right if you were thinking of this world in which we live these days.  But you’d be wrong if you were seeking the Kingdom.  Jesus isn’t wagging a finger at us, telling us to get over ourselves - well, not completely anyway.  Instead he is giving us insight on how to handle the worries of this world.  And that’s by making a change.  A Kingdom change.  Make this world, make your world, more like the one Jesus describes.  Once you get started, you’ll be surprised how easy it is (God’ll give it to you) and what a different it makes.  

And worry?  Yeah, I’ll worry, about all that stuff.  But I will try to not let it distract me from seeking what God out of good pleasure wants to give me.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Teach the World to Sing

Admit it.  You’re singing the song aren’t you?  Well, if you are of a certain age, that is.  It was 1971 when the Coca-Cola company debuted that commercial.  Soft focus, hippie types standing on a hillside singing about perfect harmony.  It was reworked a few years later as a Christmas themed commercial, revived in 1990 with a reunion of the original singers and their children, and then again in 2010 as a NASCAR promotion with actual drivers singing the lyrics as they drove in a race.  It was released as a single and then a part of a collection.  It captured the attention of a nation, and a world.  There were international versions of the commercial, most notably in the Netherlands.  And the group Oasis got sued for stealing the melody and some of the lyrics.  Not terribly harmonious, I suppose. But it captured something in the psyche.  And it sold Coke.

I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.  A week ago today Maddie and I returned from a week at Anderson University for Choir School.  To say that this is a week of singing and worship and singing and rehearsals and singing and fun and fellowship and singing would be to undersell it.  It is something that needs to be experienced to begin to comprehend.  Next year is our 60th Anniversary (and no I haven’t been chaplain for 60 years) and the only reason why I can find for its continued existence is that it is a taste of the kingdom of God.

Wow, that’s a bit much, don’t you think?  It is a group of musicians who like singing together.  Some are from small churches who never get the chance to sing with a large choir.  And to be directed by one of the best composer/arrangers working in sacred choral music today is also a bonus.  These folks have become close friends and companions on the journey of life.  But the kingdom of God?  C’mon.  That’s a bit much to swallow.  Isn’t it?

We move to the final third of our Follower series this week.  We started, as you remember, with the Way.  Jesus said I am the Way, and we found that meant we get to choose, we get to move, we get to say yes to this wonderful adventure of faith.  The Way, Len Sweet tells us is Missional Living.  The Way, he says, is Do.

Then we looked at the Truth.  Jesus said I am the Truth, and we found that means we get to meet Jesus and in doing so we meet our selves, our true selves and then we are able to find ourselves in a community of true selves.  The Truth, Sweet says, is Relational Living.  The Truth, he says, is Be.

Now we move to the final movement of our journey of faith.  Jesus says, I am the Life.  Sweet, in his book “I Am a Follower” says that this is Incarnational Living.  It is putting it into practice, it is grabbing hold of ths gift, it is embracing the promise, it is letting faith reach every muscle and sinew, every cell and process of our being so that we live fully, live outwardly, live joyfully.  The Life, Sweet says, is Do Be Do Be.

Cute.  Or fun.  But what does it mean?  How does it intersect with the gospel?  With the teaching of Christ?  Well, take a look.  And trust me, there is a connection.  Though it seems distant at first.  Stick with it.

John 5:24-40   Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.  25 "Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself;  27 and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.  28 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice  29 and will come out-- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.  30 "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.  31 "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.  32 There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true.  33 You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth.  34 Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved.  35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.  36 But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.  37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form,  38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.  39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.  40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 

Jesus is on a tear.  Chapter five begins with Jesus coming to town for a party.  A festival, a religious celebration and Jesus wanted to be with the people.  He finds a man crippled beside a pool known for healing properties.  He asked if the man wanted to made well, and all he got in response were excuses.  He never said, yes I want to be healed.  Jesus healed him anyway.  But he forgot to check the calendar, it was the Sabbath, and so the man who was carrying his mat, got in trouble, but blamed Jesus for telling him to carry the mat, which ticked off the authorities and now they were out for Jesus.  So, Jesus response could be seen as something like “Hey, don’t blame me, I’m only doing what God told me to do!”  Read verse 19.  “Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” 

On the other hand, he just might be giving them and us a clue about this life thing.  “Whosoever believes.”  That’s the phrase we know and we quote every chance we get.  Believes.  In this passage we have believes, but it has hears added to it.  Whoever hears and believes.  But what does that mean?  That we believe in Jesus like we believe the sun will rise in the east, like we believe winter follows fall, like we believe my party is better suited to run the country than your party, and my candidate’s mistakes are errors and your candidate’s mistakes are moral failings?  Is faith in the same category as these beliefs?  Or is there something deeper, some trust, some commitment involved somehow?

He then talks about testimony.  John testified about Jesus.  But that wasn’t convincing.  Next he says his works testify about him.  The stuff he did and said, pointed toward who he really was, someone to believe in.  But many saw and didn’t believe.  Finally, he claimed that God gave testimony about him.  God?  Prove it!  That was the response.

We seek proof and then we will believe.  Convince us, show us where it says that.  Point out the words that will assure us that we are on the right track, Give us the formula for life.  OK, he says, come to me.  Believe in me.  Follow me.  It is all the same in the end.  It is about aligning our lives with his.  It is about allowing him to mentor us into life.  Just as he saw the Father and now does what the Father did, so we are to hear and to do, to follow.  Be like me, he says to us.  Follow my lead.  That’s how we prove it to ourselves and to the world.  By doing it.  By living it.  By incarnating Christ in our everyday lives.  By learning the song and singing our parts.  That’s what will convince us and convince the world around us, when we sing in harmony.  And then teach the world to sing with us.  With Him.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Well, it isn’t.  Just ask any number of directors who are trying to teach a choir to sing in harmony.  The tenors who bump up against the basses, and the altos who wish the sopranos would dial it back a notch or two. It is hard to blend, it is hard to lose yourself in the glory of the whole when you are also worried about carrying your part.  It is hard to find the balance, and it is hard to teach even while you are learning.  But that is what we do.  Follow me as I follow the one who teaches the world to sing, in perfect harmony 

In the kingdom we will sing, we will live in community, we will find more joy in the relationships than in our own preferences.  We will sing to the glory of God, and be glorified in the singing.