Harder

I don't like to change my mind, but it is even harder to change my actions.  And a change of heart is harder still.  Often the best way to make some headway is to come at things sideways.  Sister Emily was right to encourage us to tell the truth but to tell it slant.

Frederick the Great of Prussia is known as the potato king.  People leave potatoes on his grave to honor his memory.  And this is fair enough, because King Freddie introduced the potato to Germany on a massive scale.  The potato provided people, notably peasants, with a cheap form of food that they could grow for themselves.  When the king first offered it to his peasants, did they rush out to welcome his innovation?  No.  Of course they didn't .  Peasants are shrewd.  They are suspicious of new things.  They ignored and neglected King Frederick's foreign 'taters.  So the king developed a plan to introduce the potato to the German people.  His plan was based on peasant shrewdness.  He planted a large field of potatoes near a peasant village.  He set an armed military guard over the potatoes.  By day, the guards fiercely protected the spuds, on the pain of death to any intruder.  But at night, the guard let down their guard, under the very command of the king.  The peasants knew anything worth guarding, was worth stealing.  Obviously, they acquired the potatoes, grew them and enjoyed the improvement for their family.  The King shifted the people's thinking.

Jesus shifts thinking all the time, often with his stories and sometimes with his actions.   In Mark 12, Jesus waits in view of the temple deposit system.  All day long men come to make prominent, gold clanking and silver tinkling gifts.  Then comes the thin tinkle of two copper coins from an old woman.  "Her gift is greater than everyone else's."  From a human account point of view this is silly.  Three coppers coins is more.  Two silvers coins is more.  One gold coin is more.  But Jesus is accounting by the Kingdom of Heaven standards.  

This is super good news for us, because the little bit we contribute is counted as more. Less can be more. It shocks us to shift our thinking.

Happy August 16, 2015 Psalm 1:1-3

The pursuit of happiness is part of American life (see the constitution) and may be the vainest chase there ever was.  God's word shows us what to avoid and gives wisdom to guide.  More importantly, we can have the living wisdom of God in Christ Jesus.

Jesus teaches prayer

It is common, in some circles, to hear that there are no particular requirements for the words of our prayers.  We can pray however we like.  This advice is meant as encouragement.  It is true as far as it goes.  It does not go very far.

When his followers asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus gave us a very clear answer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

We give this prayer the name 'The Lord's Prayer.'  It is his prayer because Jesus gave it to us.  It is also the disciples  prayer because he gave it to us.  It is his gift to us.  Jesus was not giving us just a set of words to recite in prayer.  He gave us a pattern of prayer.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning orients us to God: Our Father, who art in heaven.  We are praying to God the Father with Jesus, his Son.  The middle is a set of six requests.  The end is worship: For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.  The pattern is meant to shape our prayer.  By shaping our prayer, it shapes our heart. 

First, notice that Jesus honors the request of his disciples.  He is not simply teaching us a prayer, but how to pray. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, it is while Jesus is praying.  He immediately gives them a clear answer: "When you pray, say...."  Jesus answers a lot of people with parables.  Parables are oblique answers to a question.  But when we simply and directly ask Jesus to teach us how to speak with his Father, he gives us a clear and profound answer.

You can find the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11 and Matthew 6. This is the first post on prayer and on the Lord's prayer.   There will be further opportunity to dive deeper and understand Jesus' prayer more fully.  

Power of Design

I never thought about flags until I saw this.  Flags give us a chance to say something.  They only work well if they are kept very simple.  But wow do they really work when simplicity guides their design.  I admit, that until recently, I have thought the whole emphasis on design was an attractive sort of silly.  Sure, it is nice to buy a pretty toaster or soap dish at the big box store, but it did not seem to matter.  Roman Mars' has helped me understand that thoughtful design makes a big difference in how we live.  Really good design makes a big difference without us noticing the hard work that went into the design.

If you like Mars here, you can check out more of his stuff here: 99percentinvisible.org 

He seems the master of making some of the craziest stuff interesting: water fountains, old mail, fortune cookies, pizza.  Ok, so I was already interested in pizza.

 

March 9, 2014 on I John 5:11-12 Basic Good News: Salvation

This sermon begins a series--"Basic Good News."  In it you can learn how I try to lead the congregation from the pulpit.  The idea for the series came from my finding a small booklet that contained five verses for a new Christian to learn.  My intention was to give young Christians a foundation, and to fortify the foundation of all the congregation.  I also hoped to equip the members of the congregation with scripture they might share with others, as a way of sharing the Gospel.

The Lord is with Joseph.

Genesis 39:20-40:23

“The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love.”  How can we tell?  What does that claim even mean?  Our reading makes the bold assertion twice, that the LORD was with Joseph.  It is nice to think of God mysteriously warming Joseph’s heart, whispering encouragement and hope for the future.  His circumstance and situation certainly do not obviously show God’s presence and love.  Certainly, we read that God gives Joseph favor with his jailer.  Joseph ends up running the jail, but he is still in the jail as a prisoner.  He is jailed for a sexual assault that he did not commit.  Joseph believes the LORD is with him, so he tells the baker and the cupbearer to share their dreams with him.  He believes he will be able to offer an interpretation, because interpretation belongs to God.   And Joseph believes God is with him.  We can believe the Bible narrator who assets that the Lord was with Joseph.  At least Joseph thought so.

God is present with Joseph in work. Running a jail is hardly glamorous work.  But Joseph does prosper.  His own jail keeper comes to trust Joseph.  If we look at Joseph's imprisonment in the light of his whole life, we see Joseph’s work at various jobs as part of God’s work to reconcile Joseph’s family. Joseph is trusted and successful in many positions: Potiphar’s steward, head trustee in the jail, advisor to the Pharaoh.  In his work, Joseph has something useful to do. Even more he is part of God’s reconciling work, even though Joseph does not know it.

Joseph does actually give the Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer a sound interpretation of their dreams.  He tells them what will happen.  One will be restored, the other executed.  In the arena of his work, Joseph has wisdom to understand things that are hidden.  Somehow, he finds the LORD is with him.

It can be very hard for us to know in our heart that God is present, or to see his steadfast love.  Perhaps in our work we can experience God’s presence.  We may trust that our work is part of God’s reconciling work.

 

Simple forms carry weight

Gillian Welch masters the beguiling simplicity of a gospel hymn.  Nothing in the song sticks out as robust or complex.  None of the words have more than two syllables.  The words touch on the most powerful themes of Christian faith: the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross as the key to the identity of the Savior, the foolishness of earthly wealth, redemption as an event in history.  The singing is easy to listen to, but Welch and Rawlings have carefully worked out their harmonies and timing to give remarkable depth of sound to their singing.  They start by singing the words of the first verse together, then begin carefully varied repetition in the chorus.  The variety keeps us interested without drawing attention to itself.  They manage to pull a huge amount of sound out of two guitars, without ever beginning to sound ornate or fussy.  Right after the two minute point Mark Rawlings lays into a solo that is quick and full of notes, but his technique allows him to pull each note out of the guitar as a single unique sound.  The sound never blurs or smears.  They have put a huge amount of information of various kinds into 3 minutes of old-fashioned simple music.

P.S. The name of the band is NOT simply.  Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch make up a duo called Gilliam Welch.  It's confusing, but who cares.  The music is great.

Simply Stated complexity

Think of some of the most calming experiences we can have: wind on a pond, watching a campfire, the smell of fresh baked bread, the rustle of leaves on a tree.  We experience these relaxing moments as simple.  Each one is filled with complexity.  Bread baking technology is thousands of years old.  The simple aroma of fresh baked bread combines hundreds of complex chemicals.  The aroma connects deeply into the memory of smell.  A breeze generates an infinite variety of angles and light retractions on the surface of a pond.  The same breeze in a tree overhead moves thousands of leaves. Each leaf is similar.  No leaf is exactly the same as any other.  We calmly watch leaves gently falling from a tree into the pond.  The interaction of air and leaves is far to complex for us to know which leaf falls next, or where exactly it lands.  All this complexity should overwhelm our senses.  But it doesn't.  A pond, a tree, a breeze combine to give us a moment of simplicity.  Simply stated considers the greatest complexity of all—God—and expresses that truth with simplicity.