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Friday, October 21, 2016

I'm Ok, You Aren't

The Gospel of Luke, 18:9-14, provides a wonderful parable illustration from Jesus concerning those (peitho - to persuade, to argue a point, to convince, to believe) who are convinced that they are in right relationship with God and view others with disdain.

To be "righteous" (for a Bible Believing Jew) is to be in proper relationship with God. It does not mean those who think they have earned salvation or those who think they are perfect. Righteousness has to do with our standing with God. The twin components (faith and fidelity, trust and loyalty) are always in play. To be saved by faith meant to trust God, to entrust oneself to God and to be trustworthy (obedient to Torah). Jesus (and Paul) teaches the same thing (though now relationship to Jesus factors into how one trusts God and how one is loyal/obedient). While we might be tempted today to see this parable as a harsh judgment on "self-righteous people" (or works righteousness) I think we ignore the second descriptor (viewing others as naught) at our own risk. The Lord identifies both as the problem. Those who believe they are saved while negating the salvation of others are invited to listen. Notice the actual wording the first man uses.

So what is Jesus' point? He illustrates it rather clearly. Two guys go to pray. One says, "Thanks God that I am not like the rest of humanity. I fast and tithe." Who is this guy? Sadly, he is identified as a Pharisee, so many of us see it as a problem for others. While Jesus may well have identified the man as a Pharisee, He is not saying this is what all Pharisees are like, and more importantly, He is not saying only Pharisees are like this! The point is the attitude. Thank you that I am not like "them" is not limited to Pharisees. Too often Christians embrace this mindset as they pray (I'm not a Muslim, a Hindu, and I have even heard a Catholic!). The man is an example of us all.

Right relationship with God is described by Jesus as Love. Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself He famously said, and you will have eternal life. How does that translate into flesh and blood? Well, true love is a complex thing, but clearly it does not include thanking God that you are not like all the dregs of the world. Clearly, Jesus never did that (HE said He came to save the sick and lost, not talk bad about them). Love means seeking the best for others, loving them without limits---forgiving, healing and rescuing them from the demonic, the world and from themselves. The Pharisee's problem was he was so jazzed up about being "the elect" that he stopped seeing the humanity of others---calling them thieves, rogues, adulterers. It is easy to dehumanize others, to look down upon them and hold them as naught. It is especially easy to do this about alien religions. And while I believe there is no salvation outside of Jesus, I do not know that I can agree with how that is translated by any number of other Jesus Believers. I think we may not be Pharisees, but we all have moments where we pray like the one in the parable.

The second man, a tax collector, just stood there repenting. Over and over crying for mercy. Jesus said that this second man went home in right relationship (justified) with God. Once again, the point is that when we come before God we must know our place. We are the recipients of grace, the free gift of God's favor, mercy and love. We do not earn it by our actions, and we certainly don't deserve it because we answered a salvation quiz correctly! It is because God is gracious and kind and we don't need to ever forget that. Our sin awareness keeps us in a right frame of mind in approaching God.

I am blessed with a high capacity for guilt so praying "Lord have mercy on me a sinner" comes easily. Even so, I also know that I have my own tendencies toward marginalizing others. I have my own list of folks whom I thank God I am not like. As I get older, that list has gotten smaller, but today I pause to reflect on the fact that there is anyone on the list at all. Yet another reason to say "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner."

Thank you God for your mercy and loving kindness. That is the proper focus: God. Not on me and my comparative superior place in the human race, but on the Creator who loves us all, even the ones who are headed in the wrong direction.

Jesus warns us, your attitude toward others impacts your relationship with God. Pray accordingly!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

10 Lepers

Lepers were identified as unclean and became outcasts. The pain of social isolation was far worse than the skin malady. You can read Leviticus 13-14 to understand the background. ( for more information see--- )

Lepers had to shout "unclean!" and stand at a distance from others. Human touch and intimacy was severely limited, if possible at all. Some contemporary folks are tempted to say this is stupid, not realizing that if we no longer cast out lepers, we still have lots of marginalized people in society. Lepers are still among us, just in a different form...

"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" Their cry is called 'the Jesus Prayer' in the Orthodox tradition. It is at the heart of Christian spirituality since the early church. It is a perfect prayer. It identifies Jesus as Master and recognizes His authority. It is a declaration of faith in His Person and His name, which means YHWH saves/YHWH heals.The cry for mercy also has a deeper meaning. The Greek word, eleos means mercy, pity or kindness, but in the Septuagint (Greek Jewish Bible) it translates the Hebrew word chesed/hesed--which is the fundamental descriptor of God's covenant attitude toward His people. No single word can summarize hesed which means God is ever "faithful, loving, gracious, kind, righteous, just and merciful". To ask Jesus for "eleos-mercy" is both to remember the covenant promises of God and to declare His never ending fidelity.

Last week I said that we do not love God enough. It is true. But the Good News is He loves us enough. He loves us and He is faithful and we can cry out to Him for mercy in all its manifestations--forgiveness, healing, help, re-creation, renewal, etc. Most importantly, His hesed-mercy is the offer of  relationship. So I invite you to spend five minutes each day quietly praying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Pray it in love. Pray it in confidence. Pray it every day.

There is also a model for ministry here. We are the Body of Christ. Our face is an icon of Jesus. Healing salvation addresses the many dimensions of human being, but first and foremost focus on encounter with the Holy Three God. That is why response matters.

The response in the story was ten percent (a tithe!), only one of the ten who were healed returned to praise God. The word "return" has a deeper meaning. In Hebrew, to "turn around" is the metaphor for repentance. Repentance is a return to God (like the prodigal son). Healing of the body or soul is a sign of God's faithful mercy love and an invitation to repent. Healing mercy is just the beginning, and walking away from God is simply embracing healing in the short term. Eventually we all die so all healing is temporary. The real goal of healing is salvation, an eternal relationship with the Holy Three God and all humanity. The proper response to healing of any kind, is praise and thanks. It is relational and expresses our love. "Glory to God in the highest!" is another ancient prayer worthy of daily recitation.
The leper is an outcast. We are all lepers to someone.
Human alienation needs redemption and Jesus offers it.
So cry to Jesus for mercy and open your heart to receive redemption.
Hear the cries of others and bring  Jesus' healing and redemption to others.
But remember that redeemed humans need to thank and glorify God. That is why we do eucharist--our worship is literally thanksgiving and praise.

Jesus has shown us mercy loving kindness
Jesus has used us to bring mercy loving kindness to others
Let us love the Holy Three and love one another.
Let us praise and thank God our Father for His loving mercy kindness!
Let us live eucharist!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Seed and Ground

Today we read Luke 8:4-15. It is a parable about a sower tossing seed (in that way they did in the ancient Near East, just throwing it everywhere) and then explaining what happened to the seed as it fell in different places. The parable, a real life comparison, makes clear that much of the seed ends up in places where it can not thrive--a beaten path, shallow ground or among weeds--but some will land in good earth and grow, producing grain for future crops and meals.

I was struck by the gentle wording at the end. Luke is softer and kinder than Mark, and even Matthew. [Where Mark's Jesus says "you have no faith," Matthew's says "you have little faith" and Luke simply has Jesus ask, "where is your faith?" (e.g., Lk 8:25 and parallels)] So, Luke's editorial angle is enlightening here as well. The "good soil which produces" is offered as a metaphor of the productive disciple. All three Synoptic Gospels have this story. Mark 4:13-20 ends with Jesus saying "the ones who hear the word and receive/accept (paradechomai) it" while Matthew 13:18-23 shifts it to "the one who hears the word and understands it" (syniemi-literally to send together, i.e., to put it together). Matthew's focus on teaching and hearing the word makes sense of his emphasis on understanding. Luke, however, uses a more personal image.

Those [seeds] that were sown upon the good soil (kalos=beautiful, pleasing, good) are the one who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest (note, however, that the Greek word is again kalos) and good (agathos=good, upright, honorable) heart.

One tension in Christianity is the tendency to express grace by emphasizing sin so that the human being is described only as fallen, bad, evil, unworthy, etc. "There is nothing good in me and my sinful flesh." Of course, we all have sinned and we all have good reason not to rely on our own righteousness before God. Yet, within the constraints of our humanity, the Bible often speaks of good and righteous people. We are not perfect, but we can be decent people. This is a reminder that there is something good in me and about me, even in my sinful flesh. If we do not deserve God's grace and kindness, we can take joy that He finds something lovable and attractive about us. Not perfect! But desired by God none the less.

The language of the text is a reminder that our hearts are the "earth" (the Greek word ge --where we get our word geography --means, as in English, both the world and soil). To complain that others "treated me like dirt" is ironic and paradoxical. The Bible says we are formed of the earth ('adamas) and shall return to dirt. Jesus says, in parable, the Word of God, like seed, is sown throughout the 'earth/world' and each of us is the 'earth/soil' where it lands. Our "good/honest, good/beautiful" hearts are good soil and if we "stand up under" (persevere) clinging to the Word, we will produce great fruit. Great fruit is what happens when God's Word enters an open heart. Great fruit is what happens when a person refuses to quit (even if it gets bad) and stands firm in love and faith and continues to hold onto the Word.

You and me, we are dirt. We are soil. The Lord's Word has been planted in us. Let us pray and commit to be good dirt.

I write today because this morning we also prayed a canticle from Isaiah which is so beautiful and powerful that I just wished I could share it with a larger group. Perhaps God wanted me to post this? Note the Word/Seed image of Jesus' parable comes from the Jewish Bible (Canticle 10 in the Book of Common Prayer Morning Office is Isaiah 55: 6-11)

"...for as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, so is my Word which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed , and prosper in that for which I sent it."

 There is great power and consolation in those two words, spoken with such firmness: It WILL... I have every reason to trust God. The Word is sent, the seed is dispersed. There are all number of reasons why inside the church there is not fruit. Satan snatches it away, shallow people unwilling to go deeper with the Lord, folks worried and concerned with daily life---yes, church people are often times no better, even worse, than some outside. But, there is also no doubt that there are good hearts and steadfast folks and God's Word is productive there. I pray you and I are such good soil. I pray this meditation on the Word will produce greater production. The Word will not return empty. It will accomplish what God intends. We just have to be open and steadfast.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Increase our faith! Faithful Servants...

Luke 17:5-10

Jesus said, "When you have done all you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless servants; we have only done what we ought to have done."

What ought we do?
Jesus said repent, believe, follow Me, love everyone, help the poor---this is discipleship. Worship is a universal human duty. We do not need to know Jesus to know that we should be good or worship God. Christianity has a revelation about that God, known by human reason, and it conveys the Truth. In Jesus we have a relationship with God, because Jesus is God incarnate.  Jesus is our Lord and Master. We are honored to serve in His household. It is a gift and blessing to be His slave (the honor of servitude in the Greatest House!). Our mission is to carry Jesus into the world.  (Luke 9:1-2) "Jesus gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal."

Humans are no less broken and in need of the Father's love in Jesus today than they were 2,000 years ago. We all still need rescue. Jesus rescues us, but He wants more for us and from us. He sent His Holy Spirit to make us His Presence in the world. The poor and lonely, sick and suffering, broken and demon oppressed need Jesus as much today as they did in ancient Judah. Jesus sends us, His "worthless servants" to carry salvation today.

When I say "I am a worthless servant" I am saying "it isn't about me, its about Jesus." "I am just doing what I am supposed to do" means I am just doing what I am supposed to do, nothing special. It is called duty, a word which has lost its power in our generation. (In our day, following one's heart and seeking one's desires is held up as the highest value.) However, if we are worthless servants, our service is of great worth; for it is the work of God's saving and redeeming love. We are not worthy to carry such a treasure, but the Holy Spirit sanctifies us for our task. It is a blessing to carry Jesus wherever we go!

But I know it is a struggle... We doubt God could choose us. We doubt Jesus could entrust us. We doubt ourselves, not believing the power to proclaim, teach, heal or exorcise is in us. We feel we need more faith. Apparently, the apostles thought the same thing. "Increase our faith!" they asked Jesus. His response is surprising.

Basically the Lord says, "you don't need lots of faith,if you have a speck of it that is enough for miracles." It isn't about us and our faith, it is about God the Father. He has the power, we just need to trust Him and get on with it. Faith, it seems, is like pregnancy--you either have it or you don't. Just look at God, listen to God and trust!

I personally think the problem isn't faith, it is love. We do not open our hearts to the Holy Three and the love of God is not allowed to have its way with us. We do not love the Lord enough. God is not at the center of our life, sometimes He is barely at the periphery. We don't pray much. We don't read Scripture much. We don't care about our Lord most of the day. We are busy with many things. Cut off from God, our hearts are not a burning flame of love. So we cannot long to see broken people made whole either. We do not burn with fire for the ministry. It's not a problem of faith, it's a cold heart.

We are servants, sent by Jesus to preach, teach, heal, exorcise, forgive---but all of it is really one thing: Relationship with God. Calling people out of the Dark Kingdom into God's Light. Trusting the Father and believing He loves us. Loving the Father and desiring a real relationship.

Believing in God's love is a mustard seed.
Believing in God's love for others is a mustard seed.
Believing God gives us power and authority is a mustard seed.
Belief is a mustard see.
But the mystery of the mustard seed is the little seed grows into a huge bush.
Belief is a mustard seed, when we act in faith amazing things will happen.
Stop worrying about how much faith you have.
A little bit is all God needs to do amazing things!

Jesus makes clear. Faith is not the problem, love and obedience is. If you love deeply and do what Jesus sent you to do, then a speck of faith is all it takes. The power to forgive and heal, to snatch folks from Satan's grasp and bring them to Jesus is in you. If you open your heart in love then you will find you already have all the faith that you need.

Lazarus and the rich man

Luke 16:19-31 The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
(from last week, computer was down and couldn't post it)

This Sunday I will meet with our youngest members at Children's Church and read this Gospel to them. It is a wonderfully straightforward tale and doesn't require a great deal of skill to understand. There are two guys, one rich, the other poor. The rich one is very rich, the poor one is destitute. The poor man's desire "for the scraps off the table" implies that there is thoughtless waste. It is an arrogant disregard for the needs of others on display here.

What is Jesus' point? What is Luke trying to communicate to us? Jesus seems to operate from a starting principle that God the Father is unreasonably gracious and kind to us. The Father is the ultimate source of every blessing-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Jesus expressed His desire for His followers to "give to others as you have received." The model for human actions is God; godliness is our call. Jesus said that this was the revelation of Scripture (the Jewish Bible). Love God and love your neighbor are active verbs, it means seeking the best for the other. That is expressed as worship and obedience to God and helping others. Taking note of the humanity of another, especially one in such wretched conditions, was a possibility for the rich man. He chose, instead, to ignore the situation.

We all, rich or poor, will die. This human existence continues and the parable ends with both men on the other side. There we see a reversal of fortunes. Is it solely because he overlooked the poor man that he is in the Hellish conditions? Doubtful, one can assume that the rich man had a heart set on other things than God. However, the explanation, "you had it good then and he had it bad, now he has it good and you have it bad" does carry a frightful implication for any of us living the good life. Is it the case that most Americans (even many of our poor are rich by historic world standards) are headed for an eternal roasting? I do not think that is the point of the parable. It is important to remember that the story functions as story, not as a didactic, step-by-step explanation of damnation. I do think, though, it is meant to shake us into an awareness about the needs of others and the eternal significance of our choices.

If we are saved by faith, then certainly Jesus means that such faith includes the loving service to others. We do not help the poor because it gets us into heaven. We feed the poor because that is what God does with all of us. Heaven will have no place for anyone who ignores the needs of others. Jesus' disciples need to hear the words of Jesus and live them. We need to have an eye open for the hungry at our own doorstep. It is what Jesus would have us do.

In conclusion, though, I share something about the parable which takes us deeper. It is present in the title of the blog today. Did you catch it? Lazarus. It is a name. It is the only person Jesus gives a name in any parable. I remember thirty years ago when we studied the Gospel of John that the professor mentioned that there were common elements in John and Luke, though they were not parallels like the Synoptics. It raises the question of the relationship of the two Gospels. One of those is the the names Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In John 11 (and 12) there are two sisters (its "their" village!) who have a sick brother. He dies, and Jesus raises him a few days later. In John's Gospel this triggers a decision to kill Jesus and Lazarus. The man being raised from the dead does not elicit faith but the opposite. The 'punchline' of the parable is interesting "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."  I have always thought this was Jesus referring to Himself, but I wonder now if it isn't more likely it is Lazarus. In Luke the two sisters are featured in a brief story. Martha complains Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet while she is busy with all the tasks. Jesus declares Martha is distracted and Mary chose best and will not be denied. Lazarus, the brother, does not appear.

What does it all mean? It is fascinating to speculate but in the end, we do not know. However, it is probable that there is a relationship of sorts. Prayer and study take us so far, at some point we let the Word of God have its way with us in secret places....

Thursday, September 22, 2016


We are studying Exodus and were in chapter nine today. The word "tomorrow" came up in verse 5 which triggered a memory for a participant from the previous chapter. (When Pharaoh begs for deliverance from all the frogs and Moses asks "when?" and he says "tomorrow.") The question was who set times in Exodus: God or Pharaoh?

As we looked we saw God uttered "tomorrow" each other time. As I counted the verses there were seven in all. Seven! 8:23, 29; 9:5, 18 and 10:4 all refer to God's plan to act tomorrow. There are five total. However, it is the next two which make things interesting.

Exodus 13:14 "And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
The sixth reference is to the Passover. The sixth day, Friday, is the day man is created. It is also the crucifixion day. (This is part of the deeper meaning of 666, it is the number of man.) The Passover is the culmination of the new creation of Israel in the Exodus, it is when God creates the new man--Israel--His son. Passover, according to Jesus, is an icon of His own crucifixion and the covenant in His blood. The death of the Son of Man on Good Friday is the culmination of the new creation in Jesus. Day six and new creation are a deeper meaning of the text.

The seventh use of tomorrow in in 16:23 "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath unto the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay by to be kept till the morning.'" Sabbath is the seventh day. It ends the week of creation. It is a time to refrain from the busyness and business of life and be present to the deeper meaning of reality. This verse is found in the chapter on the Bread of Heaven, where God rains down manna upon the people. Manna, of course, is connected to eucharist (see John 6, "I am the Bread of Life"). The Passover meal (in the Synoptics) is where Jesus says His flesh is bread, His blood is wine. With the seventh appearance of the word we come to closure on the new creation. The chapters "Bread from Heaven" (ch16) and "Water from the Rock" (ch17) immediately follow the Song of Moses, which celebrates the escape from Egypt, and form the triple grace of salvation: rescue from death by Egypt, hunger and thirst. The next appearance of 'tomorrow' is the beginning of the new day, the battle with Amalek, where Moses stands on the Mountain and as long as his hands are raised the Israelites win. Perhaps this is Day 8, the new week and the battles of living the faith?

So what? I think the deeper revelation is new creation. With 'seven tomorrows' culminating in Passover and Sabbath, I believe we hear whispers of the Christ events of our salvation. This is the Scripture which Jesus fulfills/fills up. These deeper verbal hints and pointers lead us to encounter the New Creation/Salvation in Jesus. It is why the ancient church said that the literal meaning of Scripture is not the most important, that a Divine Word has deeper meanings. 

It is why I never grow weary of studying to find the depth of artistry in revelation and the amazing confirmation of the faith in the word.