Saturday, September 30, 2017

Unless You Abide

I’m just back from a luncheon at my alma mater.  That’s an odd title, don’t you think?  Alma mater?  We use it for the school from which we graduated.  But it means “old mother”!  I’m sure there is a fascinating historical story as to where that name came from.  Some connection to an institution of higher learning that someone just fell in love with.  “She made me who I am today!”  There was probably a statement like that somewhere.  And there is truth to that.  I am who I am because of the university I attended all those years ago. 

But then, my alma mater isn’t the only shaper of my life.  I have, it must be said, a number of old mothers.  Other institutions that have made me who I am.  Not just institutions.  Events, certainly, circumstances and choices made, decisions and actions whether considered or spur of the moment also are a part of the make up of the person I am.  People, relationships, of course, those old mothers and fathers along the way who gave me advice, or good (or even bad) examples.  Old mothers and young ones too, fathers and brothers, intimate soul friends and casual acquaintances who helped make me what I am and am becoming.  It would be hard to name them all, hard to recall all those who touched me, informed me, taught me, loved me.  Hard to tell who did what, where they connected and how long it has been since our lives had intersected.  We weave in and out of people and places and times and are indeed a compilation of all of it, a conglomeration of influences, of roads taken and doors closed.  It’s hard to describe it, the tapestry of our lives, the sustaining and life-giving vine from which we grow and produce the fruit that we sometimes, in our forgetfulness, take credit for ourselves.  But a vine seems as good as any metaphor.  At least that’s what Jesus thought, when He set about trying to describe life to His followers during that profoundly deep conversation He had tucked away in an upper room in the midst of a busy city on the night before all hell broke loose in the world.

John 15:4-5 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

That’s what He said about vines and about life – no, about Life – on that night.  Well, He said more than that of course.  A lot more about pruning and harvesting, about glory and commandments, about love and about joy.  Lots more, but this will suffice for us today.  We are starting a new preaching series at Southport this weekend.  We’re taking a look at what we call our “discipleship path.”  We know that it is the mission of the church to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  But how does one become a disciple?  What route does one take?  What are the markers along the path? 

Our path includes these signs – Connect, Grow, Serve, Give and Go.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring each of these to help us understand what is involved in the process.  One thing we’re clear about is that this isn’t a linear process.  You don’t start with step one and then move to step two and so on.  We find our contact points at different places and move through one and then another and sometimes back again.  We don’t finish growing, for example, before we start serving, and we certainly won’t wait to give until we’ve traversed through three other stages.  These are identifiers, markers on the road, not to see how far we’ve gone but to make sure we are still on the path.

Jesus wanted to be sure that we stayed on the path.  Things were about to change.  What they had gotten used to over the past few years of excitement and mind-blowing understandings, was all about the change yet again.  The One they had come to rely on, to follow in wonder and fascination, like a mother hen with her chicks, like an alma mater, would now no longer be present in the flesh.  They would learn, we are learning to navigate by the Spirit.  It was hard enough to keep up with Him as He strode around turning the world upside down, redefining everything they thought they knew.  But now they were going to have to walk by an inner light.  By His teachings, by His Word, His example, by their shaky memories of Him, and by this thing called Spirit.  They weren’t sure they were ready for it, to be honest.  Just like we aren’t so sure ourselves.  And, frankly, He wasn’t sure they were ready either.  So, John says, He sat them down for an all night study session just before the final.  And now, having worn them out with words and Word, He says abide. 

Abide in Me, and I’ll abide in you.  Actually, He said I’ll abide in all y’all.  It was a plural you.  Which means that not only was He saying stay with Me, He was saying stay together.  You’ll need each other.  You’ll need more help than you think you need.  You can’t do this on your own.  Abide in me as I abide in all y’all.  One might have a assurance of connection that others need any given moment.  Lean on each other, He says, as the Spirit guides and directs and informs and shapes.  Be bound together.  Keep one another on the path.

Connect on our discipleship path is about the recognition that we first of all need to abide in Him.  Abide, what does that mean exactly?  It’s not a word we use all that much these days.  Someone shows up at your door and says, I’ve come to abide, we’re likely to think they’re a little goofy.  Abide in Me.  It is more than just hanging out, more than just spending time together.  When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, he’s asking us to invest in Him, in His Word, in His teaching, in His life.  He’s asking us to put our lives in His life.  To trust in Him.  To place our bets that His guide to life is the only one that works, the only one that brings us the joy we seek, the life we long for, the hope we can live by.  Abide.

How will we know that we’re abiding?  And not just fooling ourselves?  Not just giving lip service or excuses or good intentions, but real honest to goodness abiding?  The fruit, that’s how you know, you begin to bear fruit.  So, what?  We do stuff?  Abiding in Jesus and we do stuff?  Good stuff, we presume, helpful stuff, stuff that gets you noticed, gets recognized, volunteer of the year, that sort of thing.  Right?  Well, maybe, could be.  But no, not really.  It’s not really about the stuff you do, though that’s great, and we’ll talk about service more next week.  But fruit bearing has more to do with impact than with effort.  It has to do with ripples, with transformation.  Ah, I see, you’re thinking.  Ripples.  Right.  Transformation. OK, no, I don’t see at all.

The fruit that Jesus wants us to bear has to do with changed lives.  We’ll know we are abiding in Him and He in us when lives begin to change around us.  Starting with our own.  And then ripple out to influence others around us, as we plant seeds and offer invitations.  The reality is we may never see it.  Life change takes time.  But that’s the life to which we are called.  To invest ourselves in changing lives. 

I am grateful for all the alma maters in my life, who invested time and effort and energy in me.  And I’m still in process!  I sat on the lawn of next to Good Hall on the campus of the University of Indianapolis reflecting on how it has changed since I was student there.  And realizing I had probably changed that much or more in the same time.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t there for me, though.  I was an add on, a plus one this time.  La Donna, when she was a student at Indiana Central University (now UIndy) wrote a paper on the architectural history of Good Hall.  She even recommended some work that needed to be done on the building.  Well now not quite forty years later, they are working on the building. Restoring the past and planning for the future, they call it.  And she was invited as a special guest because of the work she did.  And I got to tag along and get lunch out of it. 

Did she know back in 1980 the impact she was going to have on our alma mater?  Maybe, I don’t know.  She’s signed up for changing lives too.  Trust me, I know this.  Sometimes it takes a while. 

It’s funny to be back in the neighborhood of that school.  We had lots of conversations with various folks, and are looking for new and renewed connections to make there.  Maybe to give back as those who have received.  Or maybe to just abide for a while.  Who knows what fruit might grow? 


Saturday, September 23, 2017

In This Corner

I’ve got a song in my head.  Don’t you hate that.  Those little ear worms they’re called.  It just gets stuck in there and you can’t get it out.  A commercial jingle perhaps, a popular song played incessantly on the radio (yeah, that’s how old I am, I still listen to the radio), some barely remembered childhood ditty.  Or a hymn.  I know, that puts me in rare company.  But it happens, I get a hymn stuck in my head.  Sometimes I can’t remember the words and have to hunt them down.  Or I can’t find the beginning to look it up in the hymnal.  So, I hum along until there is enough to figure it out.  Or I give up and resort to Google.  Thank the Lord for Google.  “Alexa, what’s the song that goes ...”  I don’t have an Alexa.  Or a Siri.  But I’ve got Google.

The problem is, even when you find it, then you’re stuck with “why that song?”  I hadn’t heard that song in years.  What was I thinking that brought it back from the dim recesses of my memory?  Are you ready?  The song that I’ve been humming here alone in the office.  Mumbling over the words, getting some, not sure about others.  But enough to type in the search bar.  Are you ready?  Here it is: “Brighten the corner where you are! / Brighten the corner where you are! / Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar; / Brighten the corner where you are!”

Remember that one?  Written by Ina Duley Ogdon, granddaughter of a Methodist Minister, in 1913.   “Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do, / Do not wait to shed your light afar; / To the many duties ever near you now be true, / Brighten the corner where you are.”  It became one of the signature tunes of the Browns, a sort of country/folk trio of siblings in the mid 1950's.  Jim Ed and his sisters Bonnie and Maxine.  “Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear, / Let not narrow self your way debar; / Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer, / Brighten the corner where you are.”

No, I don’t remember any of that.  I looked it up.  Trying to figure out why.  Why I’ve been humming that song this morning.  I’m supposed to be writing about faith.  Preparing to preach.  Proclaim the gospel.  We’re finishing up a sermon series on Deuteronomy six, launching a family ministry approach to youth ministry, then children’s ministry, then anything and everything else.  It’s all about family.  Equipping the family.  The nuclear family in all of its wild and wonderful manifestations these days.  But also the family of the church, the family of God.  We’re supposed to help one another do this thing we call making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  That’s what we’re doing.  And what we recognize is that none of us can do it alone.  None of us can make disciples of ourselves alone, let alone our kids and grandkids, or our neighborhoods, for heaven’s sake.  We’re just not up to it.  None of us.  We need help.  We need a family around us.  We need to not fall into the trap of thinking that faith is an individual exercise, a private thing.  It is a corporate experience, a shared expression.  We’re supposed to talk about it.  That’s what Moses said anyway. Remember?

Deuteronomy 6:4-9  Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

It was Moses, doing his “Father Knows Best” impression, trying to get the people of God to face the realities of living in a complicated world.  You’ve got to stay focused, he told them, knowing they were just barely paying attention.  They were like kids at the candy counter, looking over his shoulder at all the wonders of the promised land that lay just in front of them.  Like school kids waiting for the last bell before summer break, they were anxious to get running.  They didn’t want to have to sit and listen to another lecture from old “can’t find  his way to drugstore if you dropped him off at the curb” Moses.  But he tried anyway.  Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  No other. None. There are gods on every street corner in the promised land.  Gods on late night TV, gods in your junk mail folder, gods on billboards, gods stitched into your designer jeans.  Just ignore them all.  And tell your children to ignore them all.  Remember the One who brought us out of slavery.  The One who loved us at our most unlovable.  Remember that One.  OK?  Then tell the kiddos to remember Him too.  Tell them in the morning, tell them at night. Tell them at the dinner table, tell them on the road. Tell them.  Tie something around your hand, if you need to, to help you remember.  Tie it next to your eyes.  Don’t rely on Siri, or Alexa.  Just tell them.  Write it down.  On your house.  

On your house.  One kid whispered to his mother, “What’s a house?”  Shh, honey, Moses is talking. Around the door, Moses droned on.  Write these words.  With big letters, so you see them.  So you remember, every time you go in and go out.  “What’s a door?”  Shhh.  Write them so that you can see them and everyone else can see them.  It’s an announcement, a proclamation.  Let everyone know whose you are.

Neighborhood covenants aside, is this really what was intended?  Who was the writing for?  The usual interpretation is that this is a private thing.  A reminder thing, like the phylacteries tied around the arm or hand, the little leather boxes tied to the forehead.  Everyone else just saw a kooky religious affectation.  They didn’t know, couldn’t know, weren’t to know what was in those boxes.  

So the mezuzah was invented.  A little box that was nailed to the doorframe.  A small, almost missable item tucked away in the corner.  Wood or metal or ceramic or stone, something that could be hollowed out to hold a little bit of parchment, of paper on which was written the shema, the statement in Deuteronomy 6:4.  Hear O Israel.  Held in that box, that mezuzah.  Each time they arrived home, their hands would rest on that box and they would pray that prayer.  They would remember.  Each time they left in the morning, to work or school or to run errands or just play, they would touch that box, so that their going out and their coming in was bounded by the memory of the God who rescued them, who claims them, who loves them, and who they love in return.  With heart and soul and might. 

But.  Just but.  What if this was more than a reminder for those who knew and didn’t want to forget? What if this was an opportunity?  To proclaim, To live outwardly.  To let the world know.  What if this was the one instruction where we were called to take the risk of sharing faith?  Instead of just keeping it to ourselves.  Announcing it out loud?

Jude 1:1-3 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. 3 Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

Jude is a little letter tucked in the back of the bible, like a grocery list you wrote and then forgot about, a note you were given and wanted to keep and now couldn’t find if you wanted to, until you stumble across it by accident.  A little letter with no great, memorable verses.  Just a place-holder. Except he says, I was going to write to you about stuff we know, inside stuff.  Personal stuff.  This faith that we love so much.  But something happened.  The faith seems to be getting lost in the noise of the world.  Swallowed up by other stuff.  So I wanted to write to tell you to contend for the faith. Contend.  Like an athletic endeavor, compete, strive, run the race.  But like a struggle, a battle, a boxing match.  In this corner we have you, and the faith that you used to train yourself.  In the other corner?  Everything else.  All those things that gave Moses nightmares on the threshold of the promised land.  Good things, bad things, just things, distracting things, time wasting things.  Just things.  In that corner.  And you are called to fight.  To struggle.  To hold on.  To make a difference. To brighten the corner where you are.  We are called to be people of light.  Bringing light to a dark world.  Which doesn’t mean keep it quiet, keep it hidden.  Put it in a box for you to remember as you come and go.  It means lighting up.  Writing with big letters.  Announcing to the world whose you are.  

Yes, Jude, we’ll contend.  We’ll strive. But we won’t fight.  There is far too much violence in the world.  Instead we’ll brighten the corner where we are.  We’ll guide them across the bar on which they’re stuck.  We’ll clear the skies, we’ll rescue one heart.  Maybe one, maybe more, but we’ll brighten the corner, where we are.  Write them on the door where you live, brighten the corner where you are.  Contend for the faith.  In your corner.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Tablets of Your Heart

Summer’s back.  Even though fall is on the doorstep.  It’s gotten warm again and going to get warmer.  Like summer doesn’t want to let go just yet, a last gasp before the season changes.  Not that I want to complain about the weather.  We’ve been blessed here in Indiana.  Yeah, it’s a little drier than we would like.  Yeah, we would prefer the cooler fall breezes to the hot muggy summer stillness. But given the story elsewhere in this country, and the world, it seems churlish to complain.  And yet we do.  

Maybe it’s the tone of the times.  We’re quick to find what’s wrong.  Quick to point out a lack, a brokenness, a failing, instead of a promise or a hope.  We grumble about a lack of some unnamed and indefinable greatness, instead of celebrating the blessings that surround us with every breath.  It’s like we all live angry these days.  Thinking someone else has the easy life, the best choices, and we’re left with the remnants.  We want to take our country back, is a line I’ve heard quoted by too many people in too many settings with undertones of violence and hatred lurking in the background.  Back from whom?  Back from where?  Just back.  Back in my favor.  Back to when I was on top.  Back to when the ones suffering weren’t me and mine. 

Maybe there is a better way to live.  Maybe there is a better chip to carry on one’s shoulder. Something tied to one’s forehead.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

We’re still here.  Standing with the people of God on the threshold of the promised land.  Getting last minute instructions from the one who led us here.  Slowly, but we’re here.  About to become a nation. A settled people.  Building houses and communities.  Drawing lines, fences and neighborhoods and allegiances.  Getting jobs and making a living and grinding through whatever life decided to throw at us.  That’s us, that’s where we’re about to go.  Home.  Or what will become home.

Except Moses wants us to remember we’ve already been home.  All through this wilderness we call life, we are home.  Because we are in the arms of the loving God.  And to help us remember that, to hold on to that he gives us a prayer.  An affirmation of faith, and a call to living in hope and in joy. Hear O Israel.  The shema.  The most precious words of the people of God.  Hear, O Israel.  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  Or the Lord is one.  Or the Lord is the only One.  And then because of that, we love only God.  Only God?  Yes, only God and that which brings us closer to loving God. Only God and that which glorifies God at work in us and through us.  Only God and that which reminds us what a blessing it is to live encompassed by God’s grace.  Only God.

But, Moses warned, we’ll forget.  We’ll forget if we don’t pay attention.  If we don’t stay focused. So, he told us to talk about this command to love and to live in love.  And he told us to tie it to ourselves. And he told us to write it on our doorposts.

Wait.  Tie it to us?  Like ... tie it?  With rope?  Like we’re lassoed?  God’s on a horse and we’re a runaway steer?  Tie it to us?  I know, kind of odd.  And there was debate about this, as you might suspect.  There were those who were sure that what was meant was that we take it seriously.  Tie it to your hand meant that every time you do something with that hand - and what do we do without our hands, think about it - we’re to remember that those hands are meant for doing God’s work, for doing loving acts for God.  Tie it to our foreheads meant that whenever we think, we think first about God and what God would have us do.  Tie it to our heads meant to be bound by the decision to love God and to act out of that love first and only.  It was a metaphor, some argued.  A way of impressing on the hearer the importance of remembering.

But as with most metaphors, someone decided that maybe it should be taken literally.  Somewhere along the line they decided that maybe Moses was serious.  Maybe we ought to get some rope.  Well, it wasn’t rope.  It was leather.  Leather straps and a little leather box.  It was called a phylactery.  And it was tied around the head and around the arm or the wrist.  Moses said hand, so there was debate about that, as you might suspect.  A little leather box that held a treasure inside.  On a little bit of vellum, or sheepskin made into paper, was written “shema yisrael, adonai elohenu, adonai ehad.” Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  

At first that was all that was written.  It was enough.  It was the Word.  The reminder.  Later on more words were added.  The shema got rather complex, actually.  Verses and stanzas.  A poem, really.  A litany or prayer.  But a way of remembering who they were and whose they were.  Words and words and more words.  And it should have worked.  Should have.  But didn’t.  They forgot.  We forgot.  

There’s a story in Second Kings about forgetting and then remembering.  King Josiah found the book of the law, tucked away in an attic of the temple.  A closet no one went into any more.  He didn’t find it, but it was found and brought to him.  He read it and he wept.  And then he read it to his people and they wept.  They wept because they had forgotten.  Forgotten that they belonged to God.  Forgotten that they were called to live a life that honors God in all things.  Forgotten that the country they grumbled about because it wasn’t serving them the way they thought it should, wasn’t really theirs anyway.  It belonged to God, as they belonged to God.  And the life of emptiness, of striving after the things that don’t satisfy isn’t their life anyway.  The good life they saw on their TV commercials and slick magazines wasn’t the life they were supposed to aspire to, to strive for. They wept because they didn’t need to make their country great again, it was already great because God had made it that way. And they lost it, or turned away from it, or let it slip through their fingers while they were chasing after something different.  They wept because all they ever really wanted was already theirs.  The affirmation and the blessing they longed for was already theirs.  The peace and contentment and love, the love their hearts ached for, was already theirs.  And they forgot.

The wisdom literature of the people of God tries to help us remember.  To help them remember.  In pithy little statements, it says remember.  Hold on.  Stay close.  Cling to God.  Over and over it tells us.  In a variety of ways.  Like this one:

Proverbs 3:1-6 My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; 2 for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. 3 Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Get some rope.  There are just some things that matter.  Some things that you ought to tie to yourself. Maybe literally.  Loyalty and faithfulness, says the writer of wisdom.  The commandments of God, says Moses.  Some things just need to be woven into the fabric of our existence.  They need to be the essential elements of our story.  The identifiers of who we are.  We need to write them on the tablets of our hearts.  Carve them into our souls.  And then, because even then we will forget, we learn to live in a community of who knows our story, who lives in the story that defines us.  So you can tell me my story when I forget, and I can tell you yours when you forget.  Then maybe together we can remember who we are for longer than a breath or two.  

I’ve got a rope.  It’s a lifeline.  It’s my story.  It’s in your hands.  Hold on.  We’ve written it on our hearts.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

When You Rise

A long day today.  This is my Course of Study weekend.  Course of Study is when the local pastors in Indiana get together at the University of Indianapolis for a variety of classes in their on-going training to do the job most of them are already doing.  My job is to teach preaching.  I’ve been doing this for many years now, and every year I’m amazed at the passion and dedication of the local pastors.  I enjoy this task, even though it takes time that I sometimes don’t think I have.  But I make space for it because it is important.  Important because I think preaching is one of the most important tasks that we do.  Important for the life of the community, important for the growth of each disciple and the whole family together.  But it is also important for me to do because I have spent a lot of time reflecting and learning and studying about this unique thing that we do called preaching.  The main reason I do it is because I love it.  I love learning about it, studying the history of preaching, listening to other preach and talk about preaching.  It is my thing.  But it’s not a thing to keep to myself.  This gift of knowledge and experience is not a gift to the recipient, but a gift for the community.  We are given gifts from God in order to share them.  Gifts of the Spirit are designed to build up the church, not simply to build up individuals.

Sorry, I usually give you a little more warning before I climb into the pulpit.  I usually try to sneak it in when you aren’t looking, when you’re laughing at the goofy stuff or puzzling over the obscure stuff.  Here I just blurted it out.  Share your gifts.  There, done, time to watch college football.  

Except there is a little more to it than that.  A little more that we are trying to explore, to examine.  At Southport UMC we are launching a new take on ministry.  Specifically student or youth ministry, but all ministry in the end.  It’s called Family Ministry, and on one level it means that we are trying to equip families to do the task of discipling their young people.  It isn’t something that the church can do in the limited time we have contact with them, it is something that families need to do all the time. Need to be in the business of sharing faith with their own kids, grandkids, neighbor kids, kids at church and kids out of the church.  There’s an urgency in sharing this faith.  And it comes not from a fear of institutional collapse, but from a passion for the Word of God.  

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 Now this is the commandment-- the statutes and the ordinances-- that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children's children may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The heart of this passage is the heart of the Jewish faith.  It is called the “shema” because that is the first word in Hebrew, and is the word for hear.  Hear O Israel.  It is a command and a hope.  It is the desire of all the people of God to live in love with the God of salvation, the God of their ancestors.  It is the summation of the law.  All those long lists of statutes and ordinances - it isn’t just the ten, those are only the start - are summed up in this statement.
So, the “shema” follows an introduction and a promise.  Pay attention, the people are told.  Pay attention to all the statutes and ordinances, and to help you pay attention, let me put it in an easy to remember format.  Pay attention so that it will go well with you in the land we are about to occupy. So that the nation we are about to become is a nation worthy of God.  Pay attention, otherwise we will fall back into slavery, to self, to sin, to the things which divide us.  Pay attention to this: Hear O Israel.  Love.  Love with everything in you.  Love with your whole being.  Love with that spark of God that dwells in you.  Love with intentionality.  Heart - Soul - Strength.

Notice, as an aside here, that Jesus changes it a little bit when he presents the summation of the law.  Jesus says Heart and Soul and Mind and Strength.  Where does the mind come from?  Is Jesus more concerned than the ancient Jews were about thinking?  Well, no.  When a Jewish thinker or teacher says heart it was never to be interpreted as a strictly emotional aspect.  To love God with all your heart is to love God with all that makes you human. It meant emotions and intellect.  It was all wrapped up together.  But by the time Jesus came along, the Greeks had influenced thinking in such a way that heart and mind were seen as different things.  Even things that could be separated.  According to the Greeks, you could become a being of pure intellect, divorced from feelings which only get in the way.  That’s the Stoic line of thinking.  Other Greek thought schools were less harsh on the emotive side of our humanity, but definitely still saw it as a lesser aspect of who we are.  Jesus, aware of all this thinking, wanted to put back in harmony heart and mind and so when He sums up the law He includes both as equals.  Like His Jewish ancestors he puts the two back together.

Your soul, then, is that aspect of divinity within you.  We were all, Genesis tells us, created in the image of God.  Soul is that image, that part of us that God-breathed.  And here’s an important point, you can’t ultimately separate those things.  Our humanness and our divine spark, or our heart and our soul together is what makes us what we are, who we are.  This is not a way of separating us into component parts, but a way of describing us - the singular us - in different ways.  Then strength is the doing.  It’s one thing to love in heart or mind or soul, but it is only real when it comes out in our actions.  How do we live our love of God?  To love God with all our strength is to do something because we love, not just think something.

Having presented the “shema” our text then turns to a call to do something with it.  And what do we do with this law, this understanding?  We talk about it.  We bind it to us.  We write it on the doorposts. Do you get the impression that they thought this was important?  That they wanted to be sure that this wasn’t forgotten?

In the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the tying the law to us, and then the writing on the doorposts.  This first week it’s just the talking about it.  Look again at verse seven.  Recite them to your children.  Talk about them at home and away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Talk about them.  Especially to the children.  Recite them, over and over.  And then talk about it.  Talk.  

What do we talk about?  We talk about a lot of things.  Researchers tell us that on average people use in the neighborhood of 16,000 words a day.  Some much more, some much less.  What they haven’t studied yet is what do we talk about.  How much of our words are used for trivialities?  Stuff that doesn’t ultimately matter all that much?  And how much of our 16,000 words are used for what matters the most?  We have gotten to the point where faith is one of those things we don’t talk about. We don’t want to force our views on anyone, even our children.  We want them to be able to make up their own minds.  But if we never talk about faith before them, upon what will they base their decisions?  Who would choose faith if you didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where faith mattered? We are losing a generation because we haven’t listened to Deuteronomy 6.  We haven’t talked.  And it is perhaps time we started.

Family ministry says we are going to help families talk about vital issues of faith.  We plan to equip parents and other family members to do better in sharing their faith.  In talking about what matters when they are home and when they are away.  To help them talk about deep matters of the heart when they lie down and when they rise.  

How’s this going to happen?  Well, come and see.  And help us figure out ways to continue the conversation of faith.  Help us do this thing called making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  


Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Appearance of His Face

Fall is in the air.  At least for now, it won’t last.  This is Indiana after all. We’ve still got dog days to go.  Hot, humid, surprisingly summer into the months we usually consider fall.  At least I think we will, who knows really?  Maybe not.  Maybe fall is upon us.  An endless stream of cool days and chilly nights as the season turns toward winter.  Just nice and gentle and autumnal.  Easy peasy, lemon-squeazy.  Yeah, right.  The remnants of Harvey are on their way toward us, even as Irma builds in the Atlantic ready to hit landfall again.  Hopefully in a different place than the battered Gulf coast of Texas.  We can wish all we want for consistently cool and calm climatic experience, but it isn’t going to happen.  What’s the phrase?  The only constant is change.

Change.  It is the way of things.  For good or for ill, change is all around us, it is the air we breathe and the water we drink.  Turn around and everything is different.  We can say we hate change, but it is part of our reality.  Change happens to all of us.  We are constantly in the process of shedding the old self and putting on the new.  And this is a physical reality as much as a spiritual one.  We shed our cells at an amazing rate and they are replaced with new ones.  Every minute about 300 million cells are replaced in your body.  You are in a constant state of change.  Do I seem different?  Wait a minute, and you will be.

Our Gospel lesson is about change this week.  But not what you would normally expect.  This isn’t a call to change for the better, it isn’t a turn around or repent passage.  It is about a different kind of change all together.  Take a look:

Luke 9:28-43a Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-- not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God. 

The appearance of His face changed.  The appearance.  He didn’t look like what they were used to looking at.  He looked different.  He looked ... more.   Transfigured is the word that we have become used to reading here.  That sounds more holy somehow, more theological than to say simply that he changed.  But the Greek word here is μετεμορφώθη (metamorphothe) from which we get metamorphosis.  Or change.

So what happened on that mountain six days after a conversation about suffering and death? Something.  Hard to say, except by repeating the words that we read there. The appearance of His face changed.  What they were used to seeing they no longer saw and something they hadn’t seen before suddenly became evident to their frightened eyes.  And what did they see?  Something well nigh indescribable.  Luckily, there were aids to their seeing all around them to help them define what it was that had happened in front of them.

First of all there were those other guys.  Luke says it was Moses and Elijah.  I always wondered how they knew who it was.  Did they come with name tags?  Where there prompters running around with signs?  Or was it one of those “they just knew” kind of things?  Maybe Moses had his famous staff - the staff by which he parted the sea and then struck the rock to get water.  Maybe Elijah had his wilderness clothes on, a John the Baptist motif that showed he was a man of the desert, a man uneasy with so-called human civilization.  Maybe it was a wild look in his eyes.  Maybe Jesus called them by name when they appeared.  We don’t know, because not a lot of attention is paid to the two of them. They were there as props, they were scenery for the lead actor, they were in supporting roles on this day.  It wasn’t about them.  They represented the law and the prophets, the story of the people of God, the heights of the Chosen People.  But they were there to draw attention to the one who was the Word of God, who was the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Luke is the only one who spoke of the conversation among the glowing figures on the mountain top. They appeared in glory too, did you notice that?  It wasn’t just Him, they glowed too.  But it was the conversation that drew Luke’s attention.  They were there to talk about His departure.  Checking His ticket, reminding him of the security details, perhaps, no liquids, take all the metals out of Your pockets, take off Your shoes - Moses said that I would think.  He knew about taking off shoes.  No, maybe it was something else.  Something more.  Departure in Greek here is ἔξοδον“- exodus”. Moses knew about exoduses.  Exodi?  He knew what it was to change everything you knew and everything you were, even for an uncertain future.  He knew how to embrace that change even through your fears.

Which seems to be what this odd little moment on top of the mountain was all about.  Embracing the change, trusting in the One who brings us through, more than that, who calls us to change, to become more.  To become like Him.  At least that was what it seemed like the Voice was saying.  The Voice that spoke because Peter got the lines wrong.  Peter wanted to stand against change.  “Let’s set up camp here,” Peter said. “Let’s just sit,  let’s just be, let’s dig in our heels and hold on to this moment because who knows what the next one will bring.  Let us make a declaration that our understanding should never change.  We’ve come this far, aren’t we there yet?”  No, the Voice says, you’ve got a ways to go yet.  You are still becoming.  Becoming what, we ask?  Becoming Him.  This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to Him.  Pay attention to the change. To the metamorphosis.

In what context do we usually use the word metamorphosis?  I remember science class and we were talking about butterflies.  The process of changing from a rather ugly worm-like caterpillar into the fragile but breathtakingly beautiful butterfly is metamorphosis - change.  Or maybe it was in earth science and we are talking about metamorphic rock.  Melted by the heat of the earth’s core the rock flows from one form into another.  But here’s the question, which is the true form of the rock or the creature?  Or is the before and the after both a part of the whole?  Is it a matter of perspective and a matter of timing?  Where you are and when you are allows you to see one truth as opposed to another.

What happened on that mountain was not so much a change into something different, but a revealing of the essence of the One who was changed.  Jesus became who He was on that mountain, even though He was who He was as He climbed up and then down again.  He is always who He is, He is always present in the fullness of His being.  We can only see a part of Him, the part we need at any given moment.  We only experience a piece, a dimension of the reality that is the Christ.  And we get used to that, it becomes familiar to us.

But every now and then we catch a glimpse of something larger, something deeper and more profound.  Every now and then we hear a word that reverberates in our soul for weeks if not a lifetime.  Every now and then a tear comes to our eye as we stand on the precipice of glory.  Every now and then a lump comes to our throat as we encounter the depths of love and sacrifice.  Every now and then we climb a mountain and see what it is that we are following in what is most often the darkness of this life.  Every now and then we move a little closer, grow a little taller, move a little closer and listen a little better.  Every now and then we catch a glimpse of the appearance of His face.