Jesus, sermon

Wisdom

David died and was buried in Jerusalem. 

So Solomon – not without drama (read the first chapter of 1 Kings) – sat on the throne; and his kingdom was firmly established. By firmly established the writer means he had killed all known threats to his reign.  (read chapter 2)

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; but he was not unpolluted by his people, who sacrificed and offered incense at the high places even though they weren’t supposed to.  They did it because the temple had not yet been built and they had no where else to worship.  

If you know the history of Israel, you know it was a chronic problem this failure to tear down the Ashera poles and altars in the high places …

Nonetheless, when Solomon went to Gibeon (the highest of the high places) to sacrifice, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I should give you.” 

Maybe it was the story of Aladdin or maybe it was because I grew up watching “I Dream of Jeannie,” but when I was a kid my sisters and I often supposed what we would wish for if we had 3 wishes.  Our first wishes were always for stuff, our second wishes were always for more stuff and our third wishes were always for 3 more wishes.

But Solomon was different.

He replied, “You have always been good to my dad because he yielded his heart to you; and you have kept him in your great and steadfast love; You’ve kept your promise to put one of his sons on his throne. And now you have made me king, though I am only a little child and I do not know how to go out or come in.   

Solomon was not literally a little child (like Josiah was when he took the throne at age 8), he was probably 20.  What he likely meant was that he was young and inexperienced and didn’t know a thing about governing.

“Therefore,” Solomon continued, “give me an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

In his podcast last week, Scott Jones harkened this passage back to Genesis 3, and he wondered how God would have responded had A & E asked for knowledge instead of grabbing it, since He seems pleased with the request here.  

But this is different.

Solomon didn’t ask for knowledge of good and evil – that ship had sailed – he already knew all about evil.  He had likely seen the evil deeds inflicted upon his father by his brother Absalom; he had likely heard stories about the evil his father inflicted upon his mom’s first husband, Uriah. He didn’t ask for a knowledge of good and evil, he asked for the ability to discern between the two.

Knowledge = awareness of facts

Discernment = ability to judge them well

The second big difference has to do with motive.  Adam and Eve bit into forbidden knowledge because they wanted to be like God.  We all want to be like Jesus, but this was different, they wanted to be on a par with God.

Solomon wanted the ability to judge between good and evil so he could govern well. He knew he was out of his league with this kingship, he knew he had big shoes to fill and he wanted to make his dad proud.  He wanted to make the Lord proud, too.

So he asked for the one thing he knew he needed in order to do a good job.

James understood the importance of asking with the right motive. He wrote: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

It wasn’t so much Solomon’s request for the ability to discern between good and evil that pleased God, it was the motive behind it.  He didn’t want wisdom so he could show off it off, he wanted it so he could do right by God’s people.

“Because you have asked this,” God replied, “and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, I will indeed give you a wise and discerning mind.”

Wiser than anyone’s before you and after you.

I remember laying in my trundle bed one Sunday night after hearing this story in church.  It must have been before I was six because we stopped going to church when I was six. My older sister asked me what I’d rather have – riches or wisdom.

“Wisdom,” I said, seemed like a no-brainer.

I was surprised when she said, “Not me, I’d rather have riches.”

Had she not listened to the end of the story?

To Solomon God said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

And.

 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, I will also lengthen your life.”

If you walk in my ways, if you keep my commandments…

If you continue to take me seriously.

When Solomon awoke he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

It wasn’t long before the Lord gave him an opportunity to use his newly bestowed wisdom.

You probably know the story well.

Two prostitutes came and stood before him.

They both lived in the same house.

They each had a son within 3 days of one another.

During the night one son died because his mother laid on him. 

The mother of the dead son switched the babies.

“Did not,” she said.

“Did so.”

And so they argued before the king.

“Bring me a sword,” he said.

So they brought him a sword. 

“Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then Solomon gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

Hooray.

Wisdom discerns between those who would destroy life and those who would protect it.   Wisdom discerns between selfishness and sacrifice.

And Wisdom sides with life.

Psalm 111:10 reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”

Proverbs 9:10 says it, too:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.   So what, exactly, is the fear of the Lord? 

Rudy is one of the hub’s favorite movies so we watch it from time to time.  You know Rudy?  True story of a young man whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame in spite of having no real athletic ability, size or academic talent.

He studied hard at a community college, prayed hard, kept applying to Notre Dame and kept getting rejected.

He finally asked his mentor, Father Cavenaugh, for help. He wanted to know what else he could do besides study and pray. He wanted to know the mind of God.

The priest’s response says it all; “Son, in 35 years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts:  There is a God and I’m not Him.”

That’s the fear of the Lord.

Realizing that, “I’m not Him,”

I’m not smarter than He is, I’m not kinder than He is, I’m not more compassionate than He is, I don’t care more than He does.

I don’t care nearly as much as He does.

Once we realize that – as Solomon did, we begin to depend on His intelligence, His goodness and His compassion and we ask for it in service to others.

The lectionary’s alternative OT text for today is Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You who are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Okay first of all, wisdom is a woman.

I love how she has prepared a sacrifice and set out wine.  It ties in so well with our gospel.

“Come eat,” she says to the simple.

None of us has to has remain a fool because we are all invited to eat at Wisdom’s table.

But we must eat.  It’s not enough to just come and admire her beautiful china or read her beautifully crafted words, we must ingest what she has to offer.  We must chew and swallow and let it become part of our cells.

And we must be careful because folly is a woman, too.

Further down in Proverbs 9 it says,

Folly is an unruly woman who is simple and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Welcome to the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sounds like pornography – sounds like an addiction to anything.

Both wisdom and folly call to the those who have no sense but one serves up Christ and the other serves up contraband.

If you need help discerning between the two, do as James advised when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

We can confidently say that a prayer request for wisdom is one to which God will always reply, “Yes!” There’s no, “no” or “wait” when it comes to a request fro wisdom, it’s always “Yes, yes, yes!, Right now!”

Because Wisdom keeps us out of trouble. Which brings us to our epistle.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in college, my heart was broken by a young man who was not wise, who was not filled with the Spirit.  I’m talking debauchery.  

So my friend Sandy took me and my broken heart to the Peanut Barrel – some of you MSU alums might remember it – to get us drunk.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I do remember thinking, after a couple glasses of wine, “John who?”  And for one glorious moment I thought I had discovered the key to not feeling the hurt – just keep drinking wine. Every day, until time has healed the wound.

But then wisdom spoke up and said, “Yea, but then you’ll have to deal with a drinking problem.”

Dang it.  That’s wisdom for you, always calling us back to the high road.  Always keeping us from being a fool.

And wisdom is right, of course.  Psalms, hymns and gratitude are much better than wine at comforting a broken heart.

God has always given wisdom lavishly.  Even in the midst of their obstinance, God, through the mouth of Isaiah, promised the voice of wisdom to the ancient Israelites. 

 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left,” He said, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Likewise, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.

In our gospel reading He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

If we tie the gospel reading to the OT texts, the bread He’s talking about here is wisdom.  

And the wisdom that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus said to the tempter after 40 days in the wilderness, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When He said that He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which says: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Manna was food for the body.

Jesus is food for the spirit.

I like how Thomas Nash put it in in his book entitled Worthy is the Lamb: “As the bread-like manna sustained ancient Israel en route to their earthly Promised Land, so too, Christ, the ‘true bread from heaven’  leads us to our eternal paradise … Thus Jesus became not only the perfect Passover Sacrifice for our sins, but also the perfect Passover meal to sustain us spiritually unto heaven.”

At the churches I’ve attended in the past, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated only once a month, but I like our weekly eucharist.  I need weekly sustenance for the long, hard journey to heaven.

I’ll end with a quote that Scott Jones shared on the podcast I mentioned earlier.  It’s taken from Dale Bruner’s commentary on the book of John.

“The sacraments are not a second way of salvation, they are simply Jesus’ one way of salvation scaled down, physicalized, individualized, simplified and concretized [in other words, they are object lessons]. From heart to hands, from soul to body, from group to individual, Jesus was eminently wise when he instituted the sacraments for His disciples.  He knew that we need not only spiritual things but also physical things in order to grasp Him more easily, to come to Him more specifically.”

As I listened to the quote, I thought of all of us, lined up in the aisle, our attention focused for the moment on receiving Christ.

I like the image I saw of us – young and old – simply participating in the weekly reminder that Jesus is our spiritual strength; the weekly reminder that salvation is a gift, placed in our hands, not taken.

“Come,’ wisdom says, “eat.”

Amen.

#SundaysSermon

Lectionary readings:

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

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faith, life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There’s not much to do when the heat index is 105 degrees so we went to a movie, a documentary, actually, about Fred Rogers.  

I loved Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, I watched him everyday.  I credit him for shaping me into the kindhearted individual I am – or at least was. 

To quote Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias), “I’m not as sweet as I used to be.”

I loved Mr. Rogers as a kid, but I didn’t realize his brilliance until I sat in that air conditioned movie theater on Saturday.

Mr. Rogers planted a seed deep in my heart which sprouted into a belief that God loves me,  even though he never mentioned God.  In fact, I didn’t know that he was an ordained minister until I was an adult.

All I knew as a kid was that a kind man who cared about kids, who cared about me, was out there and my little-kid brain extrapolated that into believing a kind God, who cares about kids, who cares about me, is out there, too.

We evangelicals of the 80’s and 90’s had it wrong.

Back when I was a fully indoctrinated evangelical, I was taught that God’s name had to be blatantly emblazoned upon a thing in order for it to be “Christian.”

Christian music had to mention His name, repeatedly.

Christian authors were suspect if their writings didn’t include doctrinally approved Christianese.

But then I started to listen to God more closely.  He said He is Love.  He said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  My adult brain began to extrapolate that to all that is loving, true and life-giving.

A song about forgiveness is a song about God.

A writing that is noble, pure and true is a writing about God.

A movie that spurs me on toward love and good deeds is a movie about God.

On the way home my daughter said, “My favorite part of the movie was when the minister said Fred’s show preached a better sermon than anything you hear from a pulpit.”

Amen.

“Fred’s work,” he said, “was love your neighbor and love yourself. It was a communication right into their hearts.”

Right into my heart.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

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faith, Jesus, Light

Alignments

Apparently I blew some minds Sunday morning; completely blew the doors off the place.

That’s what one of the congregants texted our out-of-town pastor after the service:

Well…the way the preacher completely blew the doors off the place talking about todays reading in Genesis is firm proof women should be preaching.

Another commented:

She blew minds.

I don’t know whether he received any negative feedback, but it’s real nice that he shared the positive.  It’s kind of a relief after you’ve blown some minds.

One of the members, who was late to church, told me he was sorry he missed my sermon.  I told him I’d post it for him.

So here it is:

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday closest to June 8 (track 2):

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Whenever I walked past my parents’ library as a kid – the room off the front entrance that had shelves and shelves of books – a certain spine would always catch my eye:  Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm.

Why would anyone want to escape from freedom?, my inquisitive young mind would wonder.  

I finally asked my mom about it.  She explained that the author – a psychologist – theorized that people don’t really want to be free.  It’s too scary for them.  So they escape freedom by putting themselves under the authority of another. That way they no longer have to take responsibility for their lives.  Fromm said individuals do it and whole nations do it.

Ancient Israel did it.

Israel had always been led by prophets and judges.  Samuel, who was both a prophet and a judge, was getting old and ready to retire.  His sons, who would inherit his leadership position, were lame.  So the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, “You are old and your sons don’t follow your ways; we want you to appoint a king to govern us, like other nations have.” 

Samuel was bummed and a little hurt, but even so he took their request to God.  “Listen to what the people want and don’t be bummed,” God said, “they haven’t rejected you, they’ve rejected me from being king over them, just as they have from the day I brought them up out of Egypt. Listen to them and let them have what they want, but solemnly warn them. Tell them what it will be like to live under an earthly king.”

So Samuel told them they could have a king if they really wanted one, but, he warned, “He will reign over you and make you do his bidding: he will make your sons run in front of his chariots and many of them will be crushed; he will force some to be commanders, he will use some to work his fields and make his weapons. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his cronies. He’ll take one-tenth of your grain and wine and give that to his cronies, too. Basically, he’ll make you his slaves. And when he does, you’ll cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord is not going to listen to you. You will have to lie in the bed you made.”

The people didn’t care, they wanted what they wanted. They were determined to be like other nations – with a king to govern them and fight their battles.

So Saul was appointed king.

And all that Samuel warned would happen, did happen.

The lesson:  Be careful what you wish for.  Be careful what you stubbornly insist upon. And trust God to fight your battles.

That passage from 1 Samuel 8 was the track 1 lectionary reading for today.  I thought it was the one we were doing until the June schedule showed up in my inbox last week.  But it’s okay because the story in 1 Samuel 8 ties in nicely with Genesis 3, especially if we read to the end of the chapter.

Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening and they hid. The Lord called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid.” 

The knowledge they thought they wanted, the knowledge they thought was going to make them more like God, the knowledge they had to disobey God to get, didn’t turn out to be so great.  All it did was make them afraid – an emotion they had never felt before.

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 

Now listen carefully to what the man said in reply, “The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Did you hear how Adam blamed God for his sin and threw Eve under the bus?

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Eve blamed the serpent. 

And because Eve called the serpent out, there is – to this day – enmity between the him and the woman, just as God said there would be.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this, (God and Eve were in agreement on who was to blame)
upon your belly you shall go,
and eat dust
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;’”

The Septuagint uses “hatred” rather than “enmity”.  

“I will put hatred between you and the woman…”

Given the current sex slave industry and the long history of abuses against women, I think hatred is pretty accurate.  The enemy hates women. He is holding an insidiously long and bitter grudge against us. 

Because Eve aligned herself with God by blaming the serpent and Adam aligned himself with the serpent by accusing God, God did something that often gets overlooked:  

(I’m about to blow some minds here. I’m about to say the sort of thing that got Jesus in trouble in today’s gospel reading. Ready?)

He booted Adam from the garden, but He may not have booted Eve.

Listen closely to the rest of the chapter and see if you agree:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Let me read that again because the actual reading of Scripture might be challenging what you’ve always been taught:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (plural pronoun.) And the Lord God said, “The man [singular noun] has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He [singular pronoun – not “they”] must not be allowed to reach out his hand [singular – his hand, not their hands] and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him [singular] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man [singular] out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

See what I mean? The man was booted, the woman was not. 

Which means she left voluntarily,

and that sheds light on what God said would be her consequences:

“To the woman He said,
‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

Some use this passage to teach that God commanded man to rule over woman.

But God wasn’t talking to the man, he was talking to the woman.

And He wasn’t giving a command, He was giving a warning.

The word translated desire is t@shuwqah (tesh-oo-kaw’), which originally means “to stretch out after” or “to turn to”

God was saying, “If you stretch out your arms after your husband, if you turn to him and away from me, if you align yourself with him, if you make him your king, he will rule over you.

If you make man your king he will rule over you.

It was a prophetic warning, not a punitive command. 

It’s like the prophetic warning Samuel gave the Israelites: If you insist on a king other than God, you’re going to be miserable.

Perhaps Eve wanted a companion with skin on, or perhaps she wanted to escape the responsibility of taking care of herself or perhaps she just wanted a husband.   Whatever the reason, she voluntarily escaped paradise to chase after her man. And she certainly suffered pains in childbearing.

Child-bearing and child-rearing, because her pains extended way beyond labor.

One of her kids took after her and yielded to God and one took after his dad and rebelled against God and in the very next chapter Cain murdered Abel.  

Child-rearing doesn’t get more painful than that.                                                                              

So let’s recap, Adam aligned himself with the serpent and got himself booted, Eve aligned herself with Adam and she was out, too.

The lesson: As long as man tries to rule over woman and woman tries to make man her king, relationships will never be what God intended them to be.

It’s all about alignments.  

Which brings us to our gospel reading:

Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.

When His people heard about the stir He was creating, they went to take custody of Him saying He had lost His senses.

The temple leadership even came from Jerusalem and declared, “He has aligned Himself with Beelzebul.” 

Jesus replied by saying, “That doesn’t even make sense, “How can Satan drive out Satan?”

“Truly I tell you,” He continued, “people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” 

We all know that blaspheme against the Spirit is the only unforgivable sin, but have you ever thought through why?

Strong’s definition of blaspheme is:  “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, make false and defamatory statements about…”.

When Jesus was on trial, and while he was on the cross, people mocked Him and hurled all kinds of abuse at Him.  And He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)  

You can hurl insults at Jesus out of ignorance and then, when you come to your senses, you can humbly ask for forgiveness, confessing that you did not know what you were talking about.  And you will be forgiven.

But you can’t make false and defamatory statements against the Holy Spirit and be forgiven.  

Here’s why:  

When Jesus lived among us, He limited Himself to doing only what we can do.  Because He limited His power, it is understandable that people might not have understood who He was.  But, when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, He does so with the full, unlimited power of heaven.  He is quite capable of making Himself clear.  Therefore, anyone who rails against the Holy Spirit knows what they are doing.  Their blaspheme is not out of ignorance, it is out of pride.   And pride is the one sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness requires the humility to ask for it and pride won’t ask.

So the religious leaders came and blasphemed the Spirit and then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived on the scene. 

Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.

A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It’s all about alignments.

You can put your trust in politicians or you can make God your king.

You can continue to walk with God in the cool of the evening and wait for a man after His own heart, or you can flee paradise in pursuit of the only man in sight.

You can align yourself with the religious establishment, keep them happy by toeing the doctrinal line, you can keep your mouth shut about God and keep your family and friends happy, or you can align yourself with those who do God’s will. 

The Israelites aligned themselves with a secular, political king and ended up exploited and enslaved.

Eve aligned herself with the only man in town and ended up living east of Eden, forever unequally yoked.

Jesus aligned Himself with His Father, His mission and with those who are not ashamed of the gospel and saved our sorry souls.

Today’s Scriptures beg some questions we can all ask ourselves:

To what or whom am I looking for security?

Whom/what am I chasing?

With whom am I most closely aligned?

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; 
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, 
more than watchmen for the morning.

Amen.

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life

How can my heart not be filled with hope?

Christina was the only black girl in my elementary school.

I didn’t notice that she was the only black girl, I only noticed that she was a nice girl.

So we ran around together at recess – swinging on swings, playing four square and tetherball.

I had no inkling that being friends with her was any different than being friends with anyone else.

Until a holiday gathering at my aunt’s house.

I didn’t hear what my grandma said, but I heard my mom reply, “Julie has a friend who is black.”

As if it were unusual.

As if my small, ordinary friendship with Christina was part of a large debate.

As if it were something for which to be proud?

That overheard, twenty-second interaction between my mom and her mom sowed a seed.

A subtle notion that befriending a black person was a charitable thing to do.

I’m listening to the talks from the MLK50 Conference in Memphis held earlier this month, which marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one I listened to this morning is excellent:

“How could my heart not be filled with hope?”

I thought about the subtle insidiousness of open-hearted seeds sown benignly that are not benign at all.  

I thought about how impossible it would be to root out every pretty weed that springs from them.

Every pretty weed that looks like it could be a flower.

Impossible if not for Christ.

A friend from my distant past – so distant that he didn’t know I am a Christian and it’s been over 35 years – recently sent me a message.  In it he wrote, “…white Christians are done on this planet…they can flail against the wind all they want…no avail regardless or your politics.”

God’s aim is to restore everything back to the way He created it to be. Acts 3

He’s been setting mankind straight ever since He sent Jesus to show us what He’s really like, what He really cares about.

He’s setting us all straight and He’s started with His own house.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17

Christians – no matter our color – are not done on this planet, but we are undergoing a transformation.  So I guess it would be accurate to say white Christianity as it currently thinks and acts is done on this planet. And I hope so.

But Christians aren’t done.

And thank God, because if we were, what hope would there be for my message writing old friend?

#bestow

 

 

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life, Light

My Heart Melts Like Butter

“Nobody’s ideals form them like their loves form them.” – Ann Voskamp

I paused on page 117 of The Broken Way, the morning sun streaming through my bedroom window and across my bed, putting a spotlight on my slumbering, gently snoring beagle.

I thought of an old friend, who turned down open-hearted friendship in favor of fellowship with close-minded ideals.

I felt something stir.

Hope.

Longing.

Love.

Maybe Love would one day draw him.

Maybe, in the end, Love would form.

I read on to a new chapter.  Mean girls and devouring women.

Unexpected tears rolled.

Not sobs, not even a cry, just a few stray tears churned up by a benign sorrow.

p. 189: “I’ve made wide berths around women for years and skirted the communion of community because who knew when smiles could turn into fangs if you turned your back?”

You and me both, Ann.

I closed the book and put in a load of laundry. Socks and underwear.

I love any piece of writing that churns a memory, an emotion, a “me, too.” I love writing that keeps me pondering long after I’ve put it down.

I’ve had far more male friends than female friends in my life.

I thought about my friendships in general, about how I was able to keep my heart wide open, how I was able to turn the other cheek and expect good things as a non-Christian child, yet watched my heart increasingly close as a Christian adult.

We Christians often think that our children’s hearts are in danger of being corrupted, wooed, enticed away from God by the world, but I think it’s much more likely that they will be pushed, shoved away from Him by members of His church.

Waiting for the dryer to dry I jot down that thought.

I love writing that inspires a thought, even a post.

It’s what God called “worthwhile, not worthless words.”

It’s what I hope to someday write.

Good job, Ann.

#churn

 

 

 

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faith, Jesus, Light

Low & Mighty on Passover Eve

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Exodus chapter 12 describes, well, the exodus, the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  On the night they were to leave God instructed them to roast a lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat in haste with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

And so it is that the Passover is celebrated faithfully, year after year.

In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover.  It was Passover Eve.  Not Christmas dinner, but Christmas Eve dinner.  The rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding banquet. The Last Supper was not the actual Passover Seder, it was the night before.

John’s gospel tells us a few more things about that evening:

  1. Jesus was aware that He would soon be returning to His Father.
  2. He was aware that each and every one of His dinner companions had been given into His hands.  That’s what the phrase, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” means.  “All things” is better translated as “each and every one.” Each and every one of them was gifted to Him, even Judas.
  3. He loved His charges with an agape  love. One aspect of agape is “to be full of good-will toward.”

And so it was with love and good will that Jesus sat down to His last human supper.

In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.

A Chinese boy set out to learn all about it. He went to study with a talented old teacher.  The old gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight.  Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it.  After an hour the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.  This procedure was repeated for weeks. Finally the boy became frustrated – when would he be told about the heavenly properties of jade?! – but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher.  So he held the stone and listened. Again and again. Then one day, when the old man began their lesson by pressing a stone in the boy’s hand, the boy cried out instantly, “Hey wait! That’s not jade!”

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (italics added)

It seems out of place, that third sentence, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him,” since John doesn’t speak again of Judas until later in the chapter, but it isn’t out of place, it’s the reason Jesus got up from the table.

He knew He was about to be betrayed, He knew human nature full well. Perhaps at that moment He remembered back to the disciples’ argument about which of them was the greatest, perhaps He remembered all the way back to when Adam and Eve disobeyed so they could be like God, perhaps He remembered even further back to when Satan wanted to be greater than God. He may have also looked ahead to all the ways evil men would infiltrate the church and exploit Him for selfish gain.

It was His awareness of our propensity to competition, our desire to be “better than” that got Him up from that table.   It’s what caused Him to take off his outer robe, tie a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin and press a precious stone into His disciples’ hands one more time.

So they would remember what He feels like.

You know the foot washing story and you know Peter. When Jesus got to his ten piggies, Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

In other words, “You’re too good to wash my feet!”

Jesus answered, “You don’t get it yet, but you will.”

Peter insisted, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

And so Peter, being Peter, said, “In that case, wash all of me!”

So Jesus laid it out for him. Again.

“One who has bathed does not need to wash.”

Wash and bathe in this passage are separate greek words.

“Wash” is nipto – to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially.

It was customary back then – as it is now – to wash their hands before a meal.

“Bathe” is “louo,” it is a word used in the context of washing a dead person or cleaning blood from a wound.

Peter was already bathed as a dead person when he was baptized, when he was crucified with Christ and raised to new life.  He never needed to be bathed in that way again.  Just as a person doesn’t need to keep going forward at every altar call.  Once is enough.

All of the disciples had been bathed in the waters of baptism, except one. Scripture doesn’t tell us how and when Judas was called to follow Jesus, but it is telling us right here that he was never baptized, never raised to new life.  Even so,  Jesus loved each and every one of the 12 His Father had given Him.

“So Peter,” Jesus was saying, “zealous, enthusiastic Peter, you don’t need to be bathed, you only need to be washed.  Bathing is for souls, washing is for feet.  Feet that get dusty trodding through this sin-filled world.”

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our souls need to be bathed only once – through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – it’s our bodies and minds that need daily cleansing from the stink of sin.

After Jesus washed their feet, put back on his robe and returned to the table, He asked:

“Do you get it?

I just pressed something important into the palms of your hands.

I’m not too good to wash feet and neither are you.

Peter had it backwards. It’s not a matter of being too good, too high and mighty; it’s a matter of being good enough, of being low and mighty.

Servants are not greater than their master, so if I’m good enough to wash feet, then you be good enough, too.

Once you understand this concept, and do it, you will go through life blessed.

Isaiah said so, too: ‘take care of one another and then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;…

The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,’

Take care of one another and you will flourish.”

As someone who is chronically dehydrated and has osteoporosis, I like Isaiah’s wording – strong bones, well-watered….

Be low and mighty enough to serve others and you’ll like your life.

The lectionary for Maundy Thursday (you’re reading the homily I gave last night) skipped over the details of Judas’s departure, but you know how it went down. It picked up again at verse 31:

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'”

Judas’s departure set Jesus’ finest hour in motion.

His finest hour as a man – enduring physical and emotional abuse, bearing false accusations silently, as a sheep before its shearer.

I watched a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber Wednesday night.  At the end of it,  John Legend, who will play Jesus in Sunday night’s live presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, asked Andrew for advice on playing the role.

“It’s all about redemption after all,” Andrew replied.

John mentioned the angst and fear and doubt Jesus experienced as He faced the cross.

“And yet He went through with it,” Andrew replied.

“Yes,”  John smiled slightly, “He went through with it.”

He was glorified as the Son of Man by going through with it.  By laying down his life for his friends – there’s no love greater than that.

His finest hour as God was defeating sin and death, which no man can do.

His Father’s finest hour? Showing a restraint in the face of His Son’s suffering the strength of which no human father could match.

John didn’t mention the bread and the cup in his account of the Last Supper, but our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 did.

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Passover feast was a perpetual ordinance for God’s people to remember their deliverance from the physical bondage of slavery.

And now a new perpetual ordinance has been instituted, to remember our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and death.

My body broken for you. My blood shed for you, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Jesus, Our Passover Lamb.

Our gospel reading ends with a precious plea:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

At my church the children come forward and crowd in the aisle between the rows of pews for “The Lamb’s Liturgy.” The pastor gives a brief lesson and then touches each of their heads and blesses them before they head off to Sunday school. It’s my favorite part of the service. I love to see them walk back down the aisle, their little heads blessed, their faces Hopeful, expectant that the future has good things for them.

The tenderness with which the pastor blesses our children is the tenderness with which Jesus beheld those at the table, on the eve of His great suffering:   “Little children, dear ones, my charges, my responsibility, my baby chicks, my friends…

I’m leaving and you can’t come with me.

So just love one another.

By this everyone will know that I taught you well, if you love one another.

By this my Father and I will be glorified.

By this our strength will be shown.

Because no one can live low and mighty apart from us.”

Amen.

#betrayed

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life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jesus didn’t involve Himself in politics when He lived among us and that’s one of the things I love about Him.

His people wanted and expected their Messiah to be their champion, to render powerless any political authority over them.  And since Jesus had no interest in politics, He was disqualified and rejected.

And so with the intention of entangling Jesus in His words – a political strategy still in use today – those who rejected Him sent a delegation to ask: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Jesus answered, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.”

So they brought him a denarius.

“Whose likeness and inscription is this?” He asked.

“Caesar’s,”  they answered.

“So render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.  (Matthew 22)

Let’s marvel at the little phrase, “and you do not care about anyone’s opinion,” because it’s one of the things I love about Him.  He didn’t care about being politically correct or about being popular. He knew who He was, He knew His mission and He knew the truth.

His mission had nothing to do with politics and power.

Case in point: James and John. They wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in glory, so they asked if they could.

When the other ten heard about their bid for power, they became indignant with James and John.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s not about power and prestige, it’s about heaven.

Jesus sent a bunch of guys (72) out ahead of Him to every town to which He was about to go. “I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves,” He said. He sent them with the authority to bring peace and healing to households.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

That’s His mission – not to defeat political, or even spiritual, enemies – but to write names in heaven.

So I cringed a little, one recent Sunday, when I passed this sign on my way in to worship:

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Not because I disagree with it but because it’s political.  And Jesus wasn’t.

I want people of all nationalities to feel welcome everywhere.

But the sign, in typical political fashion, oversimplifies the issue.

It’s not about where a person is from, it’s about how a person behaves.

I decided to ignore the political implications and embrace the sign at face value. I began to hum along with Mr. Rogers each week as I approached it.

“Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”

And then last Sunday our pastor announced that the sign was found tossed in the bushes.

And a message had been spray painted on the back of the church.

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And I wondered two things:

1. What does the sign have to do with worshiping devils?

2. Are we glad our paint-can-wielding neighbor is our neighbor?

I wondered whether we should put up another sign, spray painted in the parlance of the perp, “No matter how you express yourself – as long as you do so legally, peacefully and respectfully – we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

Because the issue is, after all, behavior.

As the pastor set the Eucharist table he said all are welcome – even our graffiti spraying neighbor.

That’s what I like about him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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