Friday, October 13, 2017
Friday, October 6, 2017
Friday, September 29, 2017
They may be the oldest words in the New Testament, song lyrics from a hymn whose tune is long forgotten. Paul quotes them to the congregation in Philippi knowing that they would be as familiar to the the Philippians as Amazing Grace is for us. They likely come from the very first generation of the church, the age when the disciples first preached the good news about Jesus. What they tell is that his good news is unlike any they ever heard. Unlike all the kings and emperors who went before, this King’s good news is all about one who emptied himself of everything–kingship and majesty, power and glory, and ultimately even life–for our sake. This Jesus was indeed King, but unlike any king we had ever known or could ever on our own imagine.
Everything in our world conspires to tell us that what counts in life is possession: getting and holding. We cling to our possessions, power, security, truth, prestige, and privilege. We embrace what is familiar and comforting. We grasp hold of our loved ones. But deep down we know it is all impermanent. Time has a nasty way of subverting all our attachments. And that means that our attachments give rise to a life time of pain, because we love the impermanent. That mismatch between transcendent love and the mortal, impermanent objects of our love is the source of all grief.
Jesus first says and then demonstrates with his own life that the way out of this trap is to let it go. Let it all go. “[He] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” And the curious, amazing, awe-inspiring, and bewildering thing is that release does not lead to loss, absence, poverty, or even death. Letting go leads to life.
This is what he showed us. Now he urges us to go and do likewise.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, none are as successful as Jonah. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah and all the rest preached to their own people urging them to repent. They all failed. Jonah, on the other hand, was sent to go preach to the citizens of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Assyrians were the bullies of the late bronze age near east. They were famous for their savagery in war and cruelty in domination. It was the Assyrians who conquered and utterly destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. These were the people to whom Jonah was sent on his prophetic mission.
We would expect Jonah to be used for archery practice or worse, but that is not what happened. The people of Nineveh listened to him and repented. They changed their ways. They changed their minds. They put on sack clothes and ashes as a sign of their transformation. Jonah had succeeded in his mission beyond his wildest dreams, which you would think would make him overjoyed. But it did not. Jonah was angry, angry at God.
Jonah had expected God to wipe out the Ninevites and when that did not happen, Jonah goes out to pout. God creates a little trellis of shrubs to shelter him, which makes Jonah quite happy. But the next day worms ate his cabana and Jonah had a temper tantrum. At the end of all Jonah’s whining, God asks a good question, “is it right for you to be angry?”
When we talk about repentance we get hung up on that word and all its baggage in our language. “Repentance,” for us usually means feeling really bad about things we have done that we now regret. But that is not what scripture in either the Old Testament or the New mean by it. In Hebrew, the term literally means to turn around. And in the Greek of the New Testament it means to transcend or transform one’s mind. In both cases repentance is not about guilt or shame. Repentance is about change.
The people of Nineveh heard God’s message and they repented. The Ninevites changed. God saw the genuine repentance of the Ninevites and so repented of his anger. God changed. The only one who cannot change is Jonah. He is stuck in his judgment and his anger. He is already certain that he has all the answers, so he cannot perceive a new way of being emerging all around him.
Friday, September 8, 2017
It is one of Jesus’ most familiar and comforting promises. Whenever just two or three people are gathered together in worship or fellowship he will be present bringing his peace and hope. This verse has encouraged Christians in humble setting, perhaps far from home that despite everything they were connected through Christ.
Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus meant at all. Comforting as it may sound, Jesus’ promise comes at the end of a rather demanding call to action. Jesus promises to be with his children, not whenever and wherever we gather, but whenever and wherever we gather to resolve disputes and bring peace.
Sacraments are those practices that Jesus told us to follow where he promised he would actually be present. They use the ordinary stuff of life–water, bread, and wine–as the touchstones of encounter with our risen Lord. In addition to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, there appears to be one more. Whenever we work together to resolve conflicts, Jesus promises to be there alongside us, actually, tangibly present. And not simply present with one side or the other, Jesus does not take sides. Jesus is present with all sides as we seek to resolve our conflicts together.
Our world seems rent asunder by conflicts, arguments, old hurts, accusations, and rage. We see it in our communities, our families, and our nation. Precisely where there is brokenness there you will find Jesus at work inviting us to join him. This is our invitation and our vocation.
I know where we can find Jesus! Shall we meet him there?
Friday, September 1, 2017
Okay, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God. So is that it? Jesus dies, gets resurrected, ascends and game over, nothing more? No. Actually it is just a beginning.
God’s rescue plan for humanity seems to have two parts. After various earlier remedial plans (like the law) God intervenes directly into creation forever reconciling us with God. When we say Jesus saves us, that is what we mean. Once we were estranged, but now we are forgiven, embraced, and welcomed as part of the family of God because of what Jesus did and is doing for us. But the problem is that we are still us. We are now in God’s good graces, but most of our lives are still messes. Collectively our world is still a mess.
The second part of God’s plan is largely up to us. Not completely up to us, we do get assistance from the Holy Spirit along the way, but it is fundamentally our task. We need to grow up. We need to grow up into the example and stature of what a human being is supposed to be as shown to us by our elder brother Jesus. That means that we need to change. Specifically we need to change our behaviors and in doing so rewire our characters so we are a bit more like Jesus. In the West we call this process, “sanctification,” which sounds awfully ambitious. Few of us want to be saints. But at its essence, it simply means growing up. Jesus shared and showed us the pattern of living a real human life. He explicitly said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. And now it is our turn to follow that example, learn that pattern, walk that way, learn that truth, and live that life.
This is our task and our work for a lifetime. God cannot do this for us without depriving us of our freewill. The Spirit helps us along the way, but sometimes it is going to be difficult.
The Bible often sounds like it is going overboard on personal ethics. The New Testament is much simpler than all that. All we need to do is become a bit more like Jesus and then we be living true life indeed.