Fridays from Fairmont

Friday, October 13, 2017

Once upon a time, two church ladies got into a fight at the congregation in Philippi.  We don’t know what they were fighting about.  All we have is Paul’s response to their argument.  He does not seem too concerned about what they were fighting about either.  He makes no judgments, no pronouncements about who was right and who was wrong.  Instead he tries to use that moment to teach them something about the new way of being human taught to us by Jesus.
“Be of the same mind in the Lord,” Paul tells them.  That does not mean to simply come to an agreement.  Lots of people avoid open conflict while hostility simmers under the surface.  Paul wants them to do better.  Paul wants them to adopt a new heart and a new mind.  Paul wants them to take on the mind of Christ.
There is only one way to change your heart and mind: practice.  It takes habituated, disciplined practice to reprogram the patterns of your consciousness.  That is the hard work of Christian formation and that is precisely what Paul urges these women to do.  Instead of focusing on the rightness of their arguments or their injuries real or perceived, he urges them to focus on other things: whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, and whatever is commendable and worthy of praise.  These are the things to which Paul urges them to affix their attention.  Because if we can change the way we think then we can change the way we live.
Jesus did not come to merely save us from our sin.  Jesus came to teach us a new way of being human, his way.  And it all starts when we change the habits our hearts.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The parable of the Wicked Tenants is an allegory; which means that the major elements in the parable symbolize something outside the story. In this parable, God is typically viewed as the vineyard owner and the tenants of the vineyard are the religious leaders of Israel, those entrusted with leading Israel to faithful obedience but who do not. The slaves, or emissaries, sent on the owner’s behalf stand for the prophets calling the people of Israel to faithfulness. Jesus, is the owner’s son, whose message is also rejected before he is killed.
Seen in this way, the parable of the wicked tenants becomes an allegory about the disobedience of the people of Israel and God’s turning toward a new people, the followers of Jesus Christ. The Christian church is now in the position of the tenants, those responsible for producing fruits of the kingdom and the parable begins all over again.
A temptation and ongoing danger in regard to this parable is to misconstrue its meaning as God has turned God’s back on the Jews in favor of the Christian community. This inaccurate interpretation has fanned the flames of antisemitism through the ages. Keep in mind that the early Christian church was almost entirely Jewish so the issue for them was not Jew versus Christian. The issue for us is the same as it was for the early church; in what ways are we or are we not, as tenants of God’s kingdom, fulfilling God’s purposes? Join with us as we reflect together on a God who fiercely and faithfully continues to reach out to restore relationship with us.

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.

Can we?

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.