Saturday, August 20, 2016

Set Free on the Sabbath Day

That’s better mama.  It’s a thing we say in our house.  A sign that something has been fixed.  Something has been accomplished.  That’s better mama.  Something was wrong, out of whack, in the wrong place, something just wasn’t right and we made it right, we made it ... better.  That’s better mama.  Rhys said it first.  When he was little.  When he didn’t want to fix all his own problems. When he was under our care completely.  When all his problems were relatively small ones, relatively fixable ones.  He would come distraught about something, or confused by something, or uncomfortable with something and she’d fix it, like moms do, all the time.  And he’d smile that little sunshine smile and say “that’s better mama.”  And it was.  Much better.

I miss my mama.  Actually, I’ve missed her for a long time now.  No, not just since her death or even since her dementia.  Not just since her moving to Tennessee, either.  It’s been longer than that.  It was that moment when I realized that I couldn’t run and crawl in her lap and let her make everything right again.  When the things that go bump in the night became real things instead of the workings of my imagination.  And there was probably a time when I said I don’t need that any more.  When I was glad to be out on my own.  Solving my own problems, making my own way in the world, responsible for my own debts, my own growth, my own sense of better.  There was a time when I was pretty sure I didn’t need her to make things better any more.  I know more now.  And the depth of my own need is one of those things.  But at the time ...

It hurt her, I know that now.  When I launched off on my own, stood on my own two feet, it hurt her. It made her proud too, I also know that.  It was the way it was supposed to happen.  It was what we were building toward.  What she was making me better for, to be independent, to be capable of living in the world.  But I know it hurt her when I said I don’t need you anymore.  I don’t mean I was rude about it.  No prodigal son running off and throwing family back in the face of those who had provided for you.  No, it wasn’t an angry act, not a line in the sand act, not even a conscious act really. It just was.  I just was.  On my own.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, for her, for me, the one who made things better and the one who was made better.  

Luke 13:10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." 15 But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

He could have waited a day.  A few hours really, until sunset, and the Sabbath would have been over and he would have saved a lot of grief.  Would have satisfied the hardliners.  Would have made things easier on himself.  Maybe even the woman he healed that day, we don’t know but she may have been under attack by the same folks who were grumbling at Jesus.  And yeah, it was a bunch.  Not just the leader.  He’s the one who voices the complaint.  But the last verse reveals the rest.  “All his opponents.”  That’s a side you don’t want to be on.  But why not wait?  Why not make it easier on Himself and perhaps on her?  On the followers later?  On us, to be frank.  

It seems spontaneous.  He was there teaching on that day.  Probably because that’s the day that folks might be willing to listen.  Oh, I know He could draw a crowd any day, and did.  But maybe it wasn’t the usual crowd He was wanting.  Maybe it was the ones who only think of faith things once a week. Who think that maybe all this stuff doesn’t really matter to them, doesn’t really affect them.  They’ve got lives to live and bills to pay, they’ve got family issues to solve and health issues to learn to live with.  They’ve got plans to make and miles to go before they sleep.  So, they make a deal with the Almighty, they’ll give Him an hour a week, and think that should cover it.  Maybe those were the folks He was hoping to speak to, to connect with, to offer more.  

But then in the midst of the teaching, she walked by.  Hobbled by.  Did she come to hear Him?  Or was she just there, doing her Sabbath duty?  Had she stopped looking for help?  Maybe she just figured this was her life.  This was what had been dealt to her and she was just living with it.  Who knows?  But Jesus saw her and called her over.  Woman you are set free from your ailment.  Set free. Not you are healed, not you are forgiven, not you are made well.  This time Jesus says you are set free.  I know, I know, we shouldn’t make too much of it.  It’s all the same in the end, isn’t it?  Just words.  It all means the same.  “That’s better mama.”

It is better.  She is better.  But is that all she is?  Notice too that Jesus says “you are set free” and then touches her.  Seems like he should have said “you’re about to be set free.”  Or “hang on, freedom is coming.”  Or “give me a sec, I’m gonna set you free.”  Fix you up.  Make you better. Unless.  Maybe there are two things going on here.  Maybe there is a setting free and then a healing.  Maybe the ailment isn’t her physical condition.  Maybe the physical condition is simply a sign of a deeper bend in her soul.  That’s why in conversation with the complainer, Jesus says that Satan had bound her for eighteen long years.  Maybe in year one she wasn’t as bent over.  But the weight of the bondage almost broke her in half.  What Jesus saw was a soul in torment twisting a body in pain.  And wanted to set her free.  Right now.  Not one more minute.  Sabbath day or not.

Which caused the problem.  There are six days to work, couldn’t he have waited a few hours?  No, he couldn’t.  For two reasons.  First of all, there was this woman, this child of God in bondage to pain, and He couldn’t let that go on one more second.  He just couldn’t.   And second, it was the Sabbath day.  

Wait.  It was the Sabbath day?  He had to heal her on the Sabbath because it was the Sabbath?  That doesn’t make any sense.  The Sabbath day is for resting.  For not doing anything.  Sitting like a lump, which somehow honors God.  Right?  Hmm.  Doesn’t feel right all of a sudden.  The Pharisees had good intentions.  Really, they did.  They took one of the ten commandments and tried to put a fence around it.  Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  Because God rested, we need to rest.  Don’t work, just .. Sit there.  So, the Pharisees came up with a whole pile of rules as to what constitutes work, and sneezing real hard broke a half dozen of them.  They split the proverbial hair on this one. Even though splitting hairs was probably forbidden too.  

For Jesus, however, it wasn’t about not working.  It was about not working for you.  Take a look at the commandment (this is the longest one, by the way, all that explaining.  Exodus 20:8-11).  Verse 9 says “Six days shall you labor and do all your work.”  Your work.  Caring for others wasn’t your work, it was your way of honoring God.  For heaven’s sake, Jesus said, you’ve got provision for animals in your observance, why not a child of God? 

Jesus had a different view of the Sabbath than the Pharisees.  They were all about keeping yourself pure.  He was all about honoring God.  Serving God.  Worship and praise with our lives and not just our words.  Six days are yours, give God this one.  Because this one is for honoring God.  For setting free.  

In Jesus’ view the woman needed healing because it was the Sabbath.  Honoring God is setting people free.  Because God is in the setting free business.  So what else would you do on a day set aside to honor God?  Woman ... Man... you are set free from your ailment.   That’s better mama.


Friday, August 12, 2016

South Wind Blowing

It’s been hot lately.  I know, duh, right?  But still, hot.  Humid.  I got in my car one afternoon after it was sitting in the parking lot and the car thermometer thing said 103 degrees.  Yikes.  It cooled down as I drove home, into the 90's, cooler, way cooler.  I have a little section on the weather app on my phone, it tells the time and the forecast and few other things and then has this section titled “feels like”.  It’s 88 degrees my phone cheerfully tells me, but it feels like 96.  Wow.  How do they know what it feels like?  I don’t, but I know when I read it I feel worse.  It’s a head thing, I guess.  A sign of things to come.

The signs are all around.  I tripped over some of them in the hallway.  I got texts about them, questions too.  Signs of the next diaspora.  Maddie’s heading back to college.  You can’t miss it.  She just said to me with a certain amount of despair, “I’m not sure it will all fit in one car!”  We’ll make it work, I said.  “You sure?”  Yeah.  “Well,” she sighed, “I talked with Meesh and she is bringing even more than me, so I guess that is good.” Yeah.  Good that there is someone else filling up the apartment you are moving into and not just you.  There are signs.

That’s not the only movement upstairs these days.  No another space is being made ready.  Rhys is coming home next week, so his mom thought he needed the bigger room.  Up to now that room had been the place where she dumped centuries worth of family heirlooms (read junk) and papers and photos.  Now, she’s transferring that to the smaller room which is also her home office where she works on her online course with the graduate students who are teaching her new levels of patience and exasperation.  

I just keep my head down.  I’ve learned to read the signs.  We all have, we all do.   It’s part of living in the world, living in community with people who have feelings and expectations and hopes and dreams and such.  Paying attention to the subtle signs that all is not well in the world around you, in the world of those whose lives impact yours on a regular basis.  But how good are we at reading those signs?  That’s part of the question that Jesus is asking in our text this week.  At least it seems to me. Take a look.

Luke 12:49-56 49 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." 54 He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Jesus seems upset, having a bad day perhaps.  He isn’t usually one to resort to name calling.  Makes you wonder what is going on here.  I mean, I understand that fire thing, once in a while burning it all down and starting over sounds like a good idea. Wash your hands, just walk away, Jesus.  Let them be, don’t resort to arson.  Take some deep breaths, count to ten.  Breathe, just breathe.  There now. Feel better?  That messiah thing gets to you every now and then, I would suppose.

Ahem.  Before I go too far and see lightning bolts on the horizon, let me quickly say, I don’t think that’s what going on here.  I mean, sure Jesus probably had bad days.  We were told he wept over Lazarus’s death, or the despair in the folks around him.  He wept over the city of Jerusalem. Remember that day?  Palm Sunday, he was riding into the city, and came around a corner and saw it all displayed there before him, the skyline shot.  And it just got to him, because he knew he had the power to save them, to bring them life and wholeness, joy and peace, but they wouldn’t, they just wouldn’t.  And it felt like a weight on his shoulders, in his soul, and he wept.  So, yeah, he had his days. And maybe there is an element here of that.  Of the frustration of trying to get people to see what is right in front of their faces.  Literally.  I mean he was standing there.  The answer to all their uncertainties, the hope of all their hearts, the fulfillment of all their unspoken needs.  And they didn’t see it.  Didn’t see him.  See him for who and what he was.  What he brought to them.  They didn’t see it.  And he wanted them to burn.

Not burn up.  This isn’t that kind of thing, not a threat, but a promise.  I came to bring fire, he says, it is what I’m all about.  John said that way back at the river, on baptism day.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!  You have to put that exclamation point there.  Probably should be capitalized: Fire!  Maybe all caps, knowing John: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE!  

Jesus came to bring fire, but no one really understood him.  He was accused of consorting with demons, of working with the Lord of the Flies (Beezelbub), that’s who deals with fire, isn’t it?  The disciples thought it was a punishment - shall we call down fire and burn them up, when a city refused their missionary efforts.  There’s a great evangelism model, offer them Christ, but burn them up if they say no.  

How I wish it was already kindled, Jesus says.  Already at work, purifying and empowering. Equipping and transforming.  How I wish it was already at work, bringing this world closer to the kingdom I can see every time I open my eyes but they haven’t got a clue.  They are frozen into the ice of this cold world, how I wish the fire was burning so they could see it, warm up to it, live into it. “ I’ve got a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”

Wait, what?  Fire and water don’t mix, Jesus.  Pick one metaphor or the other.  And you’re stressed? Some argue that this baptism is His suffering and death.  Sure He’s under stress.  Sure this weighs on Him.  Who would expect anything less?  Except, He doesn’t really say stressed.  The Greek word is hemmed in. Constrained.  He is limited by the flesh He so willingly put on for us.  Until He goes through His own personal fire, He is limited by time and space, He can’t reach us all.  Before this baptism is completed he is here and not there.  Afterwards He is here and there, and there, and over there, next to you, and within you, behind you.  

So, choose.  Choose to be set alight.  Choose to burn with passion for love of the Lord and the world He died for.  Choose to be fully alive even when it feels like you are on fire.  Even when others say no.  Even when others, important others, close others, say no and tell you to say no.  Choose even though the choosing causes division, disagreement, even disappointment.  Choose.  Because the time is now.

Can’t you see it?  That’s His final question.  Can’t you see it?  You see so much, you’re good at watching the sky and knowing whether those are rain clouds or not.  You know this, red sky at morning, sailors take warning.  You can read the signs.  You know when the market is going to go up, or when the bottom is going to drop out.  You know when the best time to buy a new car or when the mattress sales are going to happen.  You’ve got it all figured out.  You can read the TV schedule, a cookbook recipe, you can instagram and snapchat, you’ve poked all sorts of folk on facebook and have caught a boatload of pokemon. But can you see what really matters?  Discern a good time to pray for a friend, know when to offer a helping hand and when it’s a shoulder to cry on?  Can you find that passage that says just what you daughter needs to hear?  Can you send your son off with a blessing that sticks with him as he walks?  Can you meet a grieving widow and a new mother, can you console a friend who’s lost a job without resorting to platitudes?  Can you invite, can you offer a neighbor to mentor them in the faith, to walk with them through a difficult time?   There is a wind blowing and it isn’t just bringing some heat and humidity.  It is the wind of the Spirit, it is a opportunity to grow, to widen our circles, to build on the foundation that is Jesus our Christ.  It’s time to ride this wind.  Can you feel it?  Can you read it?  The fire is burning.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Good Pleasure to Give

And another thing.  We’re making lists.  Maddie’s returning to college next week.  Rhys is coming home for a while the week after that.  We’re heading to Tennessee to work on the house and try to get it into a condition that it could be sold, or at least viewed.  La Donna is finishing up the course she’s been teaching at IUPUI, online, graduate level and it’s crunch time.  I’m still trying to catch up from being gone a few weeks this summer dealing with mom’s death and then dad’s needs.  I’m feeling way behind, to say the least.  I suddenly remember something I was supposed to do and panic and write it down so I don’t continue to forget.  Or forget again.  I add it to the list.

We’ve got lists.  And add to them all the time.  Rarely take things away.  Oh, once in a while we accomplish something that we can check off.  But mostly it is add to, revise, start new lists.  It gets overwhelming. And each new addition feels like an added burden, another load to carry, another expectation to fulfill.  Running away sounds like a good option some days.

We feel weighed down.  Burdened, with expectation and the unexpected.  Every knock at the door brings a sinking feeling that something else will need to be done.  I got home from a quick trip to see dad in Frankfort, that heaviness of heart that while we are doing what needs to be done, still feels like it should have been different, it should have been easier.  But no sooner did I arrive home and start to gather things from my car, Maddie appeared at the door.  “You just missed a call.  An emergency.  Someone needs help.”  

Luke 12:32-40  "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Jesus is aware of our burdens.  Sometimes He just wants us to relax a bit.  “Come to me,” remember that one?  Oh how we love that verse.  Rest, yes please Jesus, give us some rest.  Except the rest he is talking about isn’t what we have in mind.  It’s clearer in these verses from Luke’s Gospel.  “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Great!  Give it to us!  Hand it over, make it easy, lay it on us.  We’ll unwrap it like a present from under the tree.  Give us the kingdom of rest.  Of joy and of pleasure.  Our heart’s desire.  Hand it over.  Now.  C’mon Jesus.  You said it was God’s good pleasure to give it, so give it.  We want God to have a little pleasure.  

Yeah, it doesn’t happen like that.  It doesn’t just get handed to us.  No matter how many sinner’s prayers we pray.  No matter how many faith seeds we plant in someone’s pocket.  It doesn’t?  No.  Oh, I see, we’ve got to work for it.  We’ve got to earn it, or be worthy of it.  It’s one of those tricks, promise them something free and then show how much it costs.  Bait and switch, fine print, hidden fees.  That sort of thing.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Suckered by Jesus again.

No, that’s not it either.  This isn’t about earning something.  We couldn’t pay enough to earn our way into the kingdom of God, it’s beyond our means.  Nor is this about being worthy.  We can’t make ourselves worthy of anything.  But we are made worthy by the sacrifice of Christ.  So, we are already worthy.  There are no hidden fees, no shipping and handling, no sales tax.  Because it isn’t a thing.  The kingdom that it is God’s good pleasure to give us isn’t a thing.  You can’t wrap it up and put it under the tree.  You can’t hand it over.  It is something entirely different.

A couple of months ago we gathered on a sunny hot Sunday morning in the quadrangle of DePauw University to watch our son Rhys graduate with his bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science.  It was a proud moment, a moving moment.  All the requisite memories flooded through our minds and hearts as we sat and watched him stride across the platform and receive his degree.  And the president, who was on his way to a new station, making this his last graduation on this campus, seemed to enjoy handing it over.  It was his good pleasure to give those degrees.  A beautiful moment.

But wait.  What was given in that moment?  What was handed over to each graduate as they made their way across, some somber and sober, some giddy and enthusiastic?  But what did they get?  A degree?  No, they got a symbol, a piece of paper with some writing on it.  They got the word, they didn’t get the degree.  They didn’t get the kingdom.  A degree isn’t something you can hand over.  It is something you experience, something you learn to live into, something you grow into.  What we watched was the recognition that Rhys and all his classmates had found themselves in relationship with a body of knowledge and a way of seeing the world around them and now were ready to go and live in the implications of that relationship.  Sure, some of them had a firmer grasp on the relationship with their degree than others.  Sure, some will walk away from all they had gained and it will be as if it never really happened.  Yet others will live out this transformed life that they had claimed.

This is the kingdom.  It is more relationship, more experience, more a way of seeing and being than it is a thing that can be handed over or a destination that can be arrived at.  God wants us, desperately wants us to have it, to live it, to claim it as our own identity.  But it can’t be shoved in our pockets or deposited in our accounts.  So Jesus wants to help us.  Like the professors that shepherded the undergrads for four years, Jesus wants to draw us pictures and tell us stories until we begin to get a glimpse of what is on offer.  Until we catch the vision, adjust our seeing, our living, our wanting.  

So, here’s a tip, give it away.  It?  What it?  All of it, Jesus seems to be saying.  All of it.  Just give it away.  Well, um, next option?  OK, how about this, live in relation to your stuff as though it didn’t matter so much.  As if it didn’t define you, become you so much.  A little more take it or leave it, and little less gotta have it.  Hold all that you own in an open hand, as if letting it slip through your fingers wouldn’t be all that bad.  As if you could give it away and still be you.  Still be content.

On the other hand, hold tightly to the things that matter.  To relationships and covenants, to love and joy and living in the moment, being present with those you love, not distracted by the stuff that weighs you down.  Pile up those treasures and begin to live.  Treasure people, treasure moments, treasure laughter and joy, vulnerable hearts and firm handshakes, hugs and kisses.  Treasure them, with your heart.

Because one day...  One day what?  One day everything will change.  In the blink of an eye.  In the beat of a heart.  One day everything will change.  Those you love.  You.  Everything.  And we can live in fear of that.  Many do.  Or we can live treasuring each moment, and discover something amazing.  Grace will apron up and serve you when you least expect it!  That’s the bonus, the icing on this cake.  See, you think you have to work, you have to earn it.  You think it is on your shoulders, like all the other responsibilities on your list.  But it’s God who serves, grace abounds, joy breaks out.  It’ll happen, Jesus says, watch for it.  Watch for it.  God can’t wait to serve you.  Yes, you.