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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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Romans Notes are posted

Or if you want to see for yourself
go to our website (
click Christian Formation
click Adult
Romans is going to come up

Friday, September 16, 2016

Romans Sunday School Notes

The class notes for Romans (Introduction and chapters 1&2) will be posted on the church website soon. This will provide a more manageable document for use in personal study
thanks for your patience

Thursday, September 15, 2016

(Hebrew) words matter

The model of salvation I was raised with might be termed "the Great Escape." Basically, the purpose of life was to be good, and trust Jesus, and when you die you got to go to heaven. "Going to heaven" was the number one goal of life. Along the way one encountered a different emphasis from this or that faith tradition, some said "being good" was bad, faith alone, while others put an extra emphasis on "being good" and seemed to generate lots of angst. However, what was not in question, was salvation was a prize awaiting us after we died and went to heaven. Dying and going to heaven confused me some, because it seemed logical to wonder why we are trying to stay alive when heaven was better. What was the point of life if the goal was to escape?

The Bible teaches an invasion model of salvation. Jesus' parables, reflecting Israel's Bible, paint a picture of a conquering king who intervenes to rescue His loyal servants from the Enemy Ruler. Salvation/rescue is not taking people out of the world into heaven, but bringing Heaven into the world to govern in peace and abundance. In this model, being good is about citizenship and preparing for the Lord's return. It does not earn salvation, but it is a prerequisite for accepting it. Call it cooperation! God is "making all things new" and we are His servants in that process.

Therefore, in the scripture it is common to see God's acts of salvation as (new) creation. This is something that runs throughout Scripture. The kingdom is compared to birthing a baby, growing seeds, new day dawning and literally 'new creation.' The creation image is one of making (or remaking, like Jeremiah's potter) and God is the Master of 'starting over.'

Today in Bible study we were looking at the end of Exodus 8 and the sign of the flies. This plague narrative is more drawn out than some others and part of what I showed was the Hebrew words which were connected to the creation account in Genesis. There are so many themes (e...g. seven days, water, darkness) and so many words (adamah=soil//adam) that lead me to see the stories as interwoven. The ancient Hebrew exegete would take note of words in different parts of the Bible and bring those texts together. I find it fascinating. So as we looked at these connections, we came to the word desert. Today's star of the class (let's call her Jo) asked what the Hebrew was for desert and if it was connected to creation, so on a lark we looked it up. The Hebrew word is midbar and it means wilderness, desert, pasture. It has a literal sense of "driving", that is like driving cattle into the place of pasture. It also means mouth. Mouth?!?!

So we had some discussion about this and then we looked at the root. In Hebrew most words are formed from a three consonant root. The root develops into a family of words, many of which are not obviously related in English. The root 'DBR' is the verb dabar which means speak, say, promise, etc. So this makes sense of the mouth. A different Hebrew vowel creates the noun dabar which means word, thing, matter, acts. (Side note, how different is this from English, in Hebrew the same word can mean "word" and "thing," "word" and "act." Ponder that.)

So the word desert has the same root as speak, and be assured the Hebrew reader would notice that. Which brings us back to the question of creation. How did God create? He spoke. He created with a word. (and John 1 will expressly state that: in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.... all things came to be through Him and apart from Him nothing came to be that came to be) So the desert (root:speak/word) will be the place where rag tag Hebrew slaves are shaped and formed into a new people. Creation as salvation!

But this reminded me of a lecture by a local rabbi, she said in the silence of the desert one hears the word/speech of God. This is a fundamental spiritual principle which is lost on a consumerist society. We have no "quiet" place to hear God. Noise and images bombard us everywhere. The desert waste is actually an image of the human soul, stripped bare (or reduced to the essentials). In our journey of faith we are invited to go to the place of emptiness, which is frightful. Our lives are to be "full" (I heard that on a commercial). We need more stuff, busier lives, eat, drink, party! A stunning number of my peers (who are crossing over into their 60's) are still embracing the life of our post high school years. They trumpet the message "I never grew up," but it does not communicate a childlike innocence as much as a childish embrace of distraction and entertainment.

The Hebrew words, the actual Bible, lay out a secret message to all who will hear. To leave slavery (Egypt) entails a long, scary road into the desert. It is a place where we go reluctantly (Mark says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.... which as we saw above is the meaning of desert in Hebrew). It is fraught with danger (demons and wild animals, and it is inhospitable, too). It is empty. The quiet is deafening. We are left alone with ourselves in the desert. Yet in that quiet, that dark quiet, we are able to hear the word. God speaks. And His word is communication. It is also an act of creation, like in the beginning. He speaks us into a new way of life, into new persons inhabiting a new creation. That is salvation. That is God's plan for us all. The journey starts with the first step of faith.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Holy Cross

Jerusalem has been leveled twice. That means that there is all manner of dirt covering over the sacred places we read about in Holy Scripture. It makes it more difficult to locate sites as hills and valleys are reshaped by the debris of other times. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, had his mother in charge of the excavation of the site of the crucifixion and burial. A huge basilica was built as well as a circular church over the tomb, where the daily office was prayed. The celebration of the Word took place in the basilica and then the congregation would go to the circular "Church of the Resurrection" for the liturgy of eucharist and communion. Between the two buildings was a walkway from which one could see the top of Calvary. On Good Friday the faithful venerated the cross and each day the congregation gathered there for the last prayers of the day.

The buildings were dedicated on September 14, 335 (the seventh month of the Roman calendar; so it corresponded to 2 Chronicles 7:8-10 and the dedication of Solomon's Temple). Today we commemorate those structures built to worship and praise Jesus Christ and His self gift on the cross.

Different times, different cultures, different understanding of the Christian life--that is the diverse reality of the world and the church. Some would be offended by the ancient church, others aspire to its piety. I wonder what it would be like to live in constant contact with the geography in which Jesus lived and died, and rose. What would it be like to have a congregation eager to gather many times a day to pray the office, to celebrate word and sacrament in the Eucharist, and to end each day together in prayer at the site of His self sacrifice? It is easy to romanticize a more communal faith, lived in simpler conditions. My guess is the majority of Christians have never had great success in carrying the cross and following Jesus; although I fear many have done much better than I.

Today the church is in disrepair. Unbelief is on the rise and the rejection of church/religion in the name of self determination is popular. Faith is too often an individual, private affair and worship communities are losing active members. The culture is secularizing rapidly. Sacred sites are suspect. Jesus' claims are troubling. Those who would pray and worship are even considered a danger by a growing number. The Christendom instituted by Constantine has always been a mixed success. Perhaps as it dies among us we are being purified into a more faithful, cross shaped discipleship. Society will take on the hard edges of pagandom and the values of Jews and Jesus will be less powerful in shaping societal behavior. But sin is sin and no age was sinless.

So today we remember the cross. We read that God loved the world so He sent Jesus, and Jesus, when He was lifted up (like those serpents in the desert of Israel's wandering) became the source of salvation. That is why God the Son became incarnate. He wants to save the world. All of it. That is why we love His cross, we love Him, and we follow, whether in the holy land of Israel, or in the land in which we live, made no less holy by the same Lord.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Turn Back

Luke 15:1-10

It is a hazard of trying to do the right thing. We struggle and it is not easy. We are tempted to quit, give up, just go with the flow of our own desires. We know what we should do, and we know what we want to do, and we battle with ourselves, fight against our selves, trying to stay the course. The spiritual attack known as acedia tempts us to give in; we feel a bit worn out, listless, not really caring about all this "spiritual stuff" and unsure the "invisible God" is really there, or really cares.
 [ see for more information-- ] Doing what we are supposed to do, motivated by trust and love, is a battle. It is so easy to give in, and we do give in, regularly. The 'giving in' is called sinning. At times, we question if the list of sins is accurate. After all, there are lots of cool citizens who tell us the morality code we embrace is outdated, even harmful, and our own longings certainly confirm that we would prefer another way...

The choice to believe, to love and to return to the right path is a daily struggle. The spiritual disciplines: active in a community, worship, reading Scripture, praying, fasting, disciplining the body and soul--by God's grace--draw us into obedient faith and loving compliance. We align our lives with our calling, set apart for God (sanctified, made holy) we live godly lives (imitate God and act holy), we "become what we are." The disciple is disciplined, the follower follows. Life is better for others and our own self. Actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes identity. We change.

Well, we change, but also we stay the same. There is still something wonderously amiss with our souls. Our mind, heart, desire and will remain twisted. Internally we are still a mixture of light and dark, even if our behaviors are better and even if we desire to serve our God. One of the ways that things get twisted is actually based on a very straightforward logical argument. It goes something like this:
1. Doing the right thing is hard.
2. Doing the right thing is required.
3. Therefore I should do the right thing even though it is hard.
(But here is where the demon makes its play)
4. If I need to do what is right then so should others.
5. If I must fight the battle then so should others.
6. If I cannot quit when doubts, frustration, hopelessness and other thoughts and feelings (and other people or spiritual entities) are pummeling me; then neither should another quit.
7. Therefore, people who are not doing the right thing are doing the wrong thing.
(and here is where we go off the tracks!)
8. People who do bad things are bad
9. Bad people drag us down and should not be our companions.
10. Judge them, shun them, cast them out!

It is really not a crazy idea that I should avoid being with people who are making my own struggles to be good and faithful even harder. It is not wrong to see sin is sin and see that others are sinners. It is, however, only part of the story.....

Luke 15:1-10 (paraphrased)
Some real lowlifes were attracted to Jesus. These were people who lived on the edge, not nice or trustworthy, some of them were helping the Roman oppressors tax the Jews into poverty. They were sell-outs. Others were morally reprehensible. They were engaged in decadent lives and mocked those who struggled hand-to-mouth, trying to be faithful in the face of all manner of challenges and problems. The guys who took their religious faith most seriously were shocked and offended to see Jesus with such a group. How could a holy man (they wondered if Jesus was really as holy as advertised) be interacting in that group? Don't we say that if you play in mud you get muddy, if you hang with unclean sinners, you pick up uncleanness?

Jesus did not back down. "How does real life work?" He asked. How do you go about your daily tasks? When something is lost, like a sheep or a gold coin, where is your attention? Are you focused on what you have, or what is missing? And once you realize it is missing, don't you hunt for it? And when you find it, aren't you happy? Even happier about the lost one you found than the others you never lost? of course, it is how human beings operate...

Well, when YHWH, Lord of Israel, my dad, created the world, He made it to be in perfect order and peace (shalom!). That was the goal. However, He wanted realtionships. He want to love and be love. So He handed the world over to humans, gave them freedom and told them to get on with it. Unfortunately, since the Eden event, things are not going so well. Sin begets sin. Darkness increases. Even the best of us is not good much of the time. So we are, like a wandering sheep, all lost. Some wander further than others, but none of us can claim we haven't strayed from time to time. And, Jesus said, that is the point. It is one thing to say 'be careful who you are friends with'. It is another thing to disdain and write off others because they wandered off . Remember, no one is totally clean. We all have to answer for something. So, don't think because you are better than others that you are somehow that different than others.

My Father (says Jesus) is God, but He, like you, looks for the lost things, that is why I am here! Be clear, He is always looking, He looked for you, and him, and her, for everyone. All of you were  lost, some of you were found. But being found means letting my Father in. See with His eyes, love with His heart. Don't see others as unworthy of being loved, cared for and do not ever think there is anyone lost not worth seeking... Because my Father is like that, I am like that. You are all precious to Him, more precious than any sheep or coin, but you understand the parable, right?

These sinful people I am with have done really bad things, and some of them are bad people. But the worse they are the more they need me. They are all hurting inside (no matter what they say) and they are dead. Dead and hopeless, except for me. So I am here. I am here for them and with them (just as I am for you). And if they respond, if they turn back to me,and let Me rescue them, then they will be alive. It is hard to do the right thing. It is even harder for people who have embraced doing the wrong thing for many years. But the Father made them for love. The Father made them for relationship. And if one of them turns around, comes back, well, like a shepherd finding a lost sheep, heaven will be filled with joy.

The purpose of the church, among other things, is to seek out people who do not want God. The problem is the church can sometimes be less than welcoming and most Christians are occupied with other things.... Whether we are Christians or not, wandering and getting happens, so Jesus is looking for me and you, all the time. When we repent (turn around) there is more joy in heaven then we realize, because we do not understand how beloved we truly are.... And if we ever experienced and believed in that love, we really would want those the furthest away to turn around and return to the Lord.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Frustrated God

As Christians, our heart's desire must be to love and worship God. Jesus commanded us to teach, heal, exorcise, forgive sins, and love. The Holy Spirit empowers us, when we are open. This is why the church exists.

God's will is love and salvation, but like all of us, God does not always get what He wants.
Jeremiah 8:1-17 makes clear, His people reject Him, reject His law, and feel no shame about any of it. The result for Israel is catastrophic. Jeremiah's reaction is gut wrenching. Hear him cry: 

"My sorrow cannot be comforted...
My heart is sick and weak...
I am broken, I am heartbroken, feeling the pain of those I love. They are desolate, so am I.
Where is the doctor? Where is the cure?
Where is the Lord's saving love?
I cry day and night for the dead whom I cherish."

Jeremiah called Judah to repent. They responded with insults and abuse. They abused Jeremiah, but still he loved them. Clearly YHWH's heart of love has melded with Jeremiah's. Maybe that is how you become a prophet?

God is not coercive. He withdraws from those who reject Him through social injustice and false gods. Judgement and Wrath! His absence opens the door to other things. The Babylonians invade. People are massacred, with survivors exiled or scattered. The King sees his family slaughter and is then blinded. The kingdom is no more.

Jeremiah loves an undeserving people. He feels their pain as his own. He is like the Crucified Messiah Jesus. Jesus also called them to repent, but they did not listen. Rome invaded with unspeakable horrors. God does not always get His way. Life, love, healing can be rejected. We can embrace the Darkness but there are evil things lurking there.

1 Timothy 2 contains the revelation which is central to my own understanding of God. It is my starting place to interpret Scripture: "God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Everyone saved. Sadly, we can thwart God's desire.

Jesus is the only mediator with God.
Jesus is God reaching out to those who reject Him.
His cross is God's saving response to human evil. Human evil is very real.

Human evil in Germany wiped out almost 40% of the 16 million Jews worldwide. Today there are about 15 million, 3/4ths in Israel or America. Today Jerusalem faces a fourth threat of annihilation. Nuclear weapons in the hand of hostile neighbors is a living nightmare. YHWH God faithfully loves His chosen people. Unfortunately, we know what sin and unbelief can do.

But this is also a message to us. Like Israel, the church is called to trust and faithfulness. Like them we are His beloved. Like them, we are unfaithful sinners. Like them, we will suffer for the choices made. Be clear, God's Kingdom is light, love and peace. The alternative is none of these.

Like Jeremiah we must love everyone. We must love the peoples of the earth, especially those whom we do not like. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus said, Jesus did... We must repent and call others to repentance. We must proclaim Jesus the only Mediator. And until He comes, we preach, teach, heal, cast our demons and reconcile sinners to God. The darkness grows, we are to be the Jesus light.

The Dialogical God and Cost of Discipleship

Jeremiah 18:1-11
All God talk is a flashlight beam illuminating a small piece of infinity veiled in darkness. God "contracts" to speak to us at our level and enters time and space. We experience "a bit" of God and hear "a bit" of His Word when He speaks to us. It is always incomplete! Jeremiah uses an analogy to describe how God works in dialogue with us. YHWH's action is dependent on us. What we do (and note it is nations, a "we") affects what He does. Grace is not coercive. Mercy is not blind. Israel's God loves us, but we co-create our destiny. [Remember in Genesis that humanity has dominion of the earth.]

Jeremiah's image is of God the flexible potter. A nation has input into His saving work; it will reap what it sows. This is a call to the nation: return to  God and embrace righteousness! There is an offer of salvation, but a demand for repentance. This is a timely message to every nation, especially our own.

Jeremiah's global message is enfleshed in Jesus' instruction to individual persons.
God is faithful, but we have to respond in faith.

In Luke 14:25-53 Jesus describes what faith looks like. Disciples trust Jesus and they are loyal. No one can earn this call, it is a grace, but each one must respond. The words "love and hate" for us have an emotional element. It focuses within the person's 'heart' and feelings. This is not how the ancients use the term. For them life was more external and social (the psychology of inner life was not of interest to them). The Semitic expression to "hate" literally means "prefer." Love is commitment and loyalty to someone. Hate is the removal of loyalty. It is first and most importantly about activities. Jesus is the only Savior. Our family, our friends, our possessions, our lives---none is ultimately worthy of our first commitment. (The word translated as 'possessions' really means 'existence'--all we have and are--our very self). The Holy Three alone can successfully be our center. If the wrong person is in the pilot seat then it does not turn out well.

This is a call to prioritize. Remember, we are messed up (sin). Our thoughts and feelings overvalue and undervalue the wrong things. Other people see that we make bad choices based on bad assessments. That is why they criticize us; but like us they are blind to themselves. This is the sad truth: sinners sin. This is the happy truth, Good News, in Jesus YHWH redeems. This is why all our loyalties must be overthrown for loyalty to the Father.

Maybe this parable can illustrate: God created the tree of life. It is beautiful and the leaves heal and the fruit is unsurpassed; but we must clear the ground so that it has a place to grow. This is the work of faith. It is very hard work, and painful. It is not, however, earning God's love. It is making room for the relationship. God cannot be in the crowd. God must sit on the throne of our heart. False claimants will be displaced.

Jeremiah says sinners can repent and God can ''change His mind" to bless and save us.
Jesus says love God first, then you can learn to love family, friends, and self.

It is a call to loving faith and faithful love.
Trust the Lord because He loves us more than we can imagine.... 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mt 5:13-20 Salt Light

Sunday School
John J. Pilch provides a reference which supports what I read in the Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Malina, Rohrbaugh). I am amazed that I never recall reading or hearing this about salt. As I looked at my three commentaries and two study bibles what I saw was the usual. Salt evokes many connotations. One popular one is that it is an enhancer of flavor and that Christians are to be bring "zest" to the earth. Boring (New Interpreter's Bible, p 181) lists sacrifice, covenant loyalty, fellowship, purification, and preservation in addition to seasoning (each with bibical references with verse and chapter)

Jews cooked with dung mixed with salt. When the salt plates stopped burning they were tossed out (in the parallel from Luke it says "not fit for the dunghill" which makes sense to me now). This added meaning may indicate Jesus' primary reference, but certainly the image of "y'all are salt" is meant to be multi-dimensional. Jesus was the master of parables, and parables are meant to take us deeper (and in many directions). The plural (y'all) is a reminder that being salt is a corporate task. I also am more intentionally aware that Jesus is talking to Jews. He is the Messiah telling Jews who are His followers that their vocation (as Jews) is to be salt (and light--more on that). The Jewish self understanding, found over and again in their Bible, is a vocation. Jesus confirms the truth of this and affirms actively seeking to be faithful in this ministry. Too often we are content to be on the sidelines failing to function as salt. Often times, a (pseudo-) pietistic humility leads us to negate our vocation by saying "we are nothing special." In the first place, this is ignoring the communal component--Jesus is not saying it is "all about me." He is saying it is all about us, we are the salt. It is a fine line between humble faith and humble unfaithfulness. Jesus says "You folks are salt" and my guess is He means it. If some theologies would like to deny this as too man-centered so be it, but their problem is with Jesus' teaching (and as He is Lord I prefer to conform to Him!). I think Jesus take seriously the power within each human person to choose and act. Obviously, He was aware of sin and weakness (as John's Gospel tells us, "He was reluctant to trust Himself to the crowds because no one needed to tell Him about the human heart"). Jesus knows that we are in need of God's help, but He also knows tells us, over and over, that we have responsibility. Why wouldn't He, isn't that a major part of the Jewish religion? Grace and salvation are Jewish to the core, but so is the call to faithfulness and loyalty to the merciful YHWH Father who has shown us such undeserved kindness.

Light is present at the beginning of creation. The separation of light and dark is existential. In our world of electricity and ambient light it is hard to understand how dark dark would be in the ancient world. The emotional value of darkness was compounded by the association with Satan and the demonic. Most of us still have some primordial fear of the dark, even if less terrified than in our youth. In Exodus 10 God uses darkness as a 'sign' of His presence in Egypt, though Israel has light. And in Exodus 13 Fire of God serves as a night light. Judgment and Salvation, darkness and light. Numerous passages of the Torah explain the requirement to keep light burning in the Temple. (In our church we do the same as a sign of Jesus present in the reserved eucharist).

Psalm 4:6 "lift up the light of your countenance upon us O God"
Psalm 18:28 "Yea, thou dost light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness."
Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"
Psalm 43:3 "Send out your light and your truth..."
Isaiah 2:5 "let us walk in the light of the Lord"
There are dozens more references to God as light, His word as a light for our path, and other uses of the image. For our purposes, however, it seems most likely that Jesus is making reference to 
Isaiah 42:6"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations..."

The nations are the Gentiles. Jews were chosen by God the be a light shining, a perpetual witness, to a fallen world under the spell of darkness. Whatever else we are as Christians, it is an extension of the mission given to Abraham's children. In the Messiah, we are not Jews but share in the Jewish birthright. We become adopted children.

The purpose of the "good deeds" which manifest the light is to glorify God. No "filthy rags" here. As always, the Bible has a "rest of the story." Certainly, there is nothing we humans can do which is worthy of God (hence 'filthy rags' theology), but like any parent, God appreciates our efforts in the context of our limitations. Our five year old's hand drawn card is beautiful to us for reasons other than artistic. As children of God we are imitators of God. The one thing we can do is be motivated by the desire to glorify Him. In the end, I believe that "Jesus is the light of the world." Only Jesus can be. He is the sun. We, however, like the moon, can reflect His light. It is our job to do that. The light is not generated by us or in us, but it is a bright light none the less. The more we seek to give God glory, the more that light shines. It is all we who love the Lord can do. All things come from Him, we only return what is His. I conclude with a word from St. Diadochos of Photiki (Philokalia, p. 256) from the 5th Century. Ironically I read it this morning in my personal prayer time.

"I know a man who love God with great intensity, and yet grieves because he does not love Him as much as he would wish. His soul is ceaselessly filled with burning desire that God should be glorified in him and that he himself should be as nothing. This man does not think of what he is, even with others praise him. In his great desire for humility he does not think of his priestly rank, but performs his ministry as the rules enjoin. In his extreme love for God, he strips himself of any thought of his own dignity; and with a spirit of humility he buries in the depths of divine love any pride to which his high position might give rise. Thus, out of desire to humble himself, he always sees himself in his own mind as a useless servant, extraneous to the rank he holds. We too should do the same, fleeing all honor and glory in the overflowing richness of our love for the Lord who loves us so greatly."

We should all do the same. Love God and seek His glory, His alone. It is the role of the church. It is salt and light. It is the only way to live!