A quick introduction to Matthew 22 for our home based fellowship groups at Lake Murray Presbyterian Church for October, 2017. Also testing out my camera for its video capacity.
I like Willie Nelson's version of patriotism--he can see the strengths in the country, but he certainly isn't blind to the flaws we have. I especially like the line "..bring us your foreign songs, we will sing along." We are so much better as a country when we can embrace the great things about people who come here into our own life together. Food is a kind of trivial illustration. Tacos and General Tsao's Chicken are pretty much American creations by immagrants. Great song (though not a great recording) to celebrate the Fourth of July.
The Good News of Christianity grows out of the bracing news of God's judgement. The prophet Jeremiah preaches hope in the middle of God's Judgement. Grace and judgement are not opposites. Both are part of God's work to save.
Sometimes Jesus says things that are designed to make us unsettled.
"Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned" (John 15).
Very blunt, this. Thrown away. Withered. Burned. Rather than try to see how Jesus softens the blow of these words with the Gospel, I began to wonder, "What if we take the words of Jesus, even these words, as the Good News?" It is easy to soften the force of these words. Right before Jesus talks of withered and burned, he says, "those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit..." But are his difficult words simply meant as a useful goad to faith in Jesus disciples? It is clear that Jesus is speaking to Christians with these sharp words, not to people who don't follow him. Are these words merely intended to 'awaken anxious inquiry' (J. Calvin)? Jesus' words certainly can act as a bracing call to self reflection. Can they be strange words of hope, too? Are these words Gospel? Perhaps they express Christ's absolute confidence that our lives can be productive in the Kingdom of heaven. No one bothers to prune a vineyard if they don't believe it has the strength to bear fruit. At the turn of each season, I see large fields of vegetable crops that have passed their prime production. The farmer no longer waters or sprays fields that have no hope of useful production. He just plows the plants under, and looks toward the crops of the next season.
But in Jesus comparison, God is still an attentive keeper of his vineyard. God has every confidence that we can bear fruit. Jesus' startling words call our attention to God's hope and expectation that our lives can mean something in the world. God not only expects us to bear fruit, he provides the strength necessary for us to do so:
"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit,..."
FATHER We do not just join Jesus as he speaks to God. We address God on the same terms as Jesus himself. The issue of God and gender provokes a great deal of debate. The church has banked on a great deal of unbiblical sexism and misogyny, much of it propped up by the Christian practice of speaking to and of God as father. Here, we want to notice the direct teaching of Jesus. Together, we address God on the same basis as Jesus does: a Son speaking to his Father. This carries all the weight of a child speaking to a parent. Good parents pay more attention to their own children that to other children. Parents have a special obligation, duty and joy in attending to their own children. So by the grace of Jesus, we speak to God as a child to a parent. But that is not quite precise. Jesus teaches us to speak to God as a Son does to a Father. First, we should observe the way this teaching breaks down the ancient (and still modern) concepts of gender, privledge and power. Jesus teaches men and women to address God as if they are the beloved Son. The great American theologian, Johnny Cash, uses a similar verbal move in "The Man Comes around." He describes the end of the age as "When the father hen calls his chickens home."
This peculiar collison of words helps us understand the relationship into which Jesus calls us. Very early in Luke's Gospel we see the infant Jesus identified as the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32, 35). As a twelve year old boy, Jesus clearly expresses an understanding of the LORD God as his Father (Luke 1:49). In teaching us to pray, Jesus teaches us that we approach God on the same basis and standing as he does. Here is how that matters as we pray: when we pray, we join Jesus in Speaking to God. As he prays, "Father....," we pray, "Father..." Our Father. We don't pray in a way that is similar to Jesus; we come to God in the same way Jesus comes to God.
In this sermon, I seek to explain and illustrate the Biblical principal of covenant. At about 13 minutes, I use a comparison of two pieces of metal joined by two different methods-bolting and welding. That is what you hear clanking as well.
Check out my buddy, Rocky's stuff: http://yorocko.com/
I think Rocky may be my other half, if once we were a single semi-evangelical presbyterian lazer, shot through a beam splitter. He zigged left of center; I zagged right of center. We are both about half a bubble off level. He bounced to Southern California; I bounced to South Carolina. We are both bouncing off the walls. He and a friend publish a monthly mix of new music. I quote Johnny Cash cover tunes. Neither of us is a musical genius. Check him out, pass him on.
The Holy Spirit is baffling. That seems part of God's plan. Christians believe God's Spirit caused the inspiration of scripture and works to let us understand scripture as we read it. The first idea is called the doctrine of inspiration. This second point is the doctrine of illumination. We could think of the ancient monks who not only coped the words of scripture with immeasurable care and precision, they often drew pictures, or surrounded the text with design (The Book of Kells may be the most well know example). These were not just decorations. The art work is intended to help the reader understand the scripture more clearly, and to inspire devotion. The drawings are given to illuminate the meaning of the scripture. We believe the Holy Spirit illuminates the meaning of the scripture, as the ancient artists illustrated the scripture.
But the working of the Holy Spirit in Scripture itself is very puzzling. Luke tells us about Jesus' baptism (Luke 3): the heaven was opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. The strange descriptive 'bodily' surely must mean that the Spirit made himself visible to the eye. But the dove is a peculiar image. It might remind us of the dove that Noah sent our from the ark. It returned with a fresh olive leaf on its second journey. So the dove is an image of assurance. Or it may call to mind the doves that the very poor could use to participate in the sacrificial system of Ancient Israel. The dove is a clear but always unresolved assurance of God's presence. The Holy Spirit is definitely the presence of God, but never in a way that we can define absolutely. Like fog or smoke or the flames of a fire, the Spirit is present but in ways that are difficult to name.
Or we might take the curious work of the Spirit when Peter and John visit the new church in Samaria (Acts 8). Even though Jesus told his disciples they would carry the Gospel to the Samaritans, they likely looked on going to Samaria like we might consider being missionaries to aliens on another planet (thanks to Stan Mast for the wonderfully kooky link to books about Christian missionaries to other worlds!) The Spirit once again moves the church in surprising ways, and not for the last time. Peter and John lay hands on the new Christians. The work of the Spirit is so powerful that a local magician, Simon, attempts to purchase this power from the disciples. Why do we get no description of this manifestation of the Spirit? We do not learn what actually happens. Not only is that a curious choice by the author, it is spiritually puzzling. Does the Holy Spirit not want us to focus on the particulars of how God works in one group of believers? Is the passage meant to drive us to ask the Holy Spirit for gifts particular to our lives?
The 100th Psalm teaches us both how and why to give praise to God.
This article combines two things I usually have no interest in--GQ magazine and Justing Bieber. But it a remarkable article on the Hillsong church in Manhatan.
I've heard some of the music from Hillsong. Clearly they are doing something remarkable as a church. It might be loads of fun to criticize them: cult of personality, worship-tainment, acceptance of the world. Without exception, I find that my enjoyment in criticizing others, especially in churches, reveals far more of my shortcomings than there's. Here are some questions of myself and church my tribe, that the article raised.
- Do I care as much for the people of my local community as the church leader's do for the city of New York?
- How often do I precipitate a conversation of faith so powerful that people are moved to tears, and are glad about it?
- Can my church name sin and honestly welcome people?
- How often do we hold out some aspect of a life shaped by the Gospel, that it makes the world about us simultaneously attracted and angry? Whether the characteristic is holiness or justice, mercy or righteousness, how often do we get a response?
I've only given it a quick look, but Hillsong's beliefs don't fundamentally differ from the the expression of faith of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). The one notable exception is the same disagreement we have with most Baptist. We emphasize God's choice to save us as more important than anything else. So where does their useful passion come from?
Thanks to Rocky Supinger for sharing this article. You can check him out at yorocko.com
When Jesus teaches prayer, he begins by having us to assume the same relationship with God that he has. He tells us to join him in praying to God, his Father. He easily could have taken his start from the Psalms. The Psalms often have us direct our words to God (Ps. 54,55) or to the Lord (Ps. 18, 104, 105). In fact, the disciples around Jesus probably knew many (all?) the Psalms by heart. Jewish people of the first century had a pretty clear pattern of prayer ("They devoted themselves....to.. the prayers" Acts 2:42). So when they asked Jesus how to pray, both he and they knew they were asking for something distinct. Jesus teaches us to adress and call upon God's attention by saying "Our Father,..."
OUR It is easy and correct to see that Jesus is teaching us, his disciples, to pray together. This is a wonderful encouragement--we are never praying by ourselves. Even when praying feels lonely or boring or futile, Jesus teaches a truth that is larger than the truth we feel at a particular moment. We are not alone. We do not pray alone. Other people are praying as well, and with us. But even more importantly we are praying with Jesus. Jesus is praying with us. We unite our voice with Jesus in address God. When his disciples pray, we are joining Jesus in prayer.
HOPE IN GOD'S LOVE, GRACE AND FAITHFULNESS
In this sermon I attempt to address the very painful and difficult areas of human life, by directing people to look at the character of God as the source of hope. By depending on God's love, grace and faithfulness we can live with hope, even in the midst of great difficulty.
I have a strong suspicion that a sermon of Andy Stanley's influenced my sermon.
HERE'S A GOOD PODCAST: THE INCOMPARABLE.
The Incomparable is a great podcast for all things Geeky. They actually have a bunch of different podcast that go further down the geek rabbit hole than I care for, but their main podcast--The Incomparable--is one I don't miss. Jason Snell gathers a thoughtful and expressive panel for a variety of different topics: books, movies, comics. I don't give a hoot about Manga, so I skip all those. Comics get tiresome to me, but these jokers make them interesting to listen about while I'm fixing the fence in the back yard. But I've been introduced to a pile of good books, and gotten a lot of pleasure in thinking about some great movies.
It is like listening into a thoughtful conversation by intelligent geeks, who I like. It gives me a chance to listen in to how people outside my little church echo-chamber think, as well. These folks are having passionate and considered conversation about things they care about, no holding back.
Early lessons in water safety and life guarding: don’t put yourself in grave danger in an effort to save someone else. It is always better to reach for the victims or throw a life line than to swim out to them. I know several lifeguards who have ‘saved’ a drowning swimmer just by telling them to stand up. A life guard may have to swim out to someone in trouble, but the life guard takes great care not to let the drowning person overwhelm them in their panic. They approach from behind, preferably with a rescue buoy for the frightened swimmer to grab.
Christmas completely ignores this wisdom. In Christmas, we celebrate the Good News that the eternal Son of God became human. Jesus is not a warrior or hero or even a fit lifeguard. He became a week and utterly dependent baby. The Son of God just jumped into humanity in his birth, then swam into the dangerous deep-end at the cross. The Son of God rushes into the grave danger of the world.
Christmas celebrates God’s decision to join us with a reckless abandon. Not only is God for us, God is with us, in the dangerous mess of creation.
HERE'S AN INTERESTING BOOK: Stephen Nissenbam's The Battle for Christmas.
Yes, I'm being contrary with this title. And it is not true. But is was once kind of true. Our Puritans forefathers in New England were hostile to the holiday as part of their hostility to the Roman Catholic Church and disdain for excess. On Christmas day of 1686, Magistrate Samuel Sewell was glad to record that most shops were open and people were going about their business. It is strange to think of commerce as a sign of the dwindling of Christmas. The Christmas season was an excuse for drunken violence and low grade extortion. In 1679 four young men stopped by the home of the Rowdens, pushed their way in, sang a song, then demanded drinks. They came wassailing among the leaves so green. The Rowdens refused to serve the pushy and already drunk young men. The men harassed this old couple and vandalized their home. They broke into a shed and stole apples. Some Holiday spirit. Jump ahead a few centuries, and we find good, old Charlie Brown lamenting the commercialization of Christmas. Blessedly, Linus give us the straight scoop on the meaning of Christmas:
Christmas raises all manner of contradictions. Many people find themselves blue or even depressed because it is the most wonderful time of the year. I decry and get caught up in the excessive buying of gifts. Perhaps these contradictions are inherent in Christmas. The baby at the center of the holiday is a living contradiction. He is both fully human and fully divine. He is one person, but he has two different natures (that is the very old, traditional and trustworthy wayto describe Jesus). Jesus is a living contradiction. Even that claim carries the contradiction of Jesus. He was crucified, dead and buried, but now is alive. Jesus is a little baby at Mary's bosom; through him all things in heaven and on earth were created. Jesus is the Word that existed before creation; Jesus is a squawking, toothless, speechless baby. We cannot make sense of the two things together, but there he is, a living contradiction.
You can join me in my contrary mood about Christmas with Stephen Nissenbam's The Battle for Christmas. I should admit, that while the book is interesting, I still haven't finished it. Let me know if I should. Or for more fun, jam out with the Peanuts gang:
We have entered the season of wacky Bible readings. A few weeks ago we read Luke 21:25-39 in church. Jesus talks about signs in the sun and moon, a figure on the clouds called the Son of Man, then breaks out into a parable about fig trees. To wrap up, he tells us not to get drunk. This kind of Bible passage is hard to understand. It is hard to understand because Jesus is speaking in coded language, and we don't follow this code very easily. Coded language is meant to communicate. Think of the quarterback calling at the line of scrimmage. The other team does not know what he means, but his own teammates do. Jesus speaks in coded language that draws on the rich pool of language in the Old Testament.
When Jesus mentions 'the Son of Man,' all of his listeners would immediately know he was referring to a particular passage in the Book of Daniel. None of his Jewish listeners would have missed this reference. It is much like asking church folks to fill in these blanks:
- Daniel and the Lions______________________.
- Jonah and the __________________________.
If you actually ask a Christian congregation to fill in these blanks they can: Den and Whale. (Though one time I had a kid fill in the second blank with the word broom tree. This is technically correct, but I'm pretty sure he was being a smart mouth.)
Jesus' listeners understood the reference immediately. They did not have to go look anything up in the play book. And more importantly, they knew 'the Son of Man' is a code for a reason to hope. God is interrupting the normal and violent patterns of this world to bring his kingdom.
Every one around Jesus understood Jesus reference to fig trees. They were as common and familiar to his crowd as blackberries and backyard tomatoes are to us. Everyone knew that the fig leaves unfurling meant that summer was pretty near. Summer brought sweet fruit. The leaves were sign of something better on the way.
Sometimes we want to turn Jesus' coded language into bizarre predictions about the future. Sometimes we just dismiss them altogether. Both are a selfish mistake. Rather than trying to make Jesus' language fit our expectations, we should open our ears and hearts to the hope he shares for the future.
Seriously. Seeing Star Wars in 1977 caused me to experience the power of a story. I managed to talk my dad into taking me. "Take me to see Star Wars. Please take me, all the other kids have seen it, please take me." "Well, what's it about?" I realize now that no one in the United States could not have known the answer to this question in the summer of 1977. But I gave my convincing answer. "It's about a war, but in the stars!" It worked. Dad took me. I was young enough to be kind of confused, but still entirely consumed by the power of the story. I can tiell that the experience shaped me because the movie dominated how we played all summer and into the fall. And winter and spring. And the next year. Mike thought Darth Vader was totally awesome. Mike probably grew up to like the bad guy wrestlers, er, wrasslers, like Rowdy Ronny Piper. Bart had the completly awesome, life sized model of the death star. It wasn't life sized, in point of fact, but imaginitively, it was at least as big as the moon. I figure any story that shapes the majority of children's play, that is a story with power. So I'm taking the fam to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
If you happen to care, please notice that the Christmas season is full of story. Mary gets some serios news. Joseph, too. Jesus gets some presents. John the Baptist screams at folks in the desert, and they kind of like it. Rudolf lives inn a nightmare north pole, where being different shames his father. (For real, have you watched the 1964 Rudolph movie recently? The north pole is super weird.)
P.S. When The Empire Strikes Back came out, my folks rounded up my younger brother, a cousin and drove us across the Ohio River to a theater in Kentucky. My parents are awesome. When Return of the Jedi came out, my Dad checked me and my two brothers out of school and took us to the 1 p.m. matinee. He didn't tell us he was coming, he just showed up, and BOOM, we are sitting with a tub of popcorn, sharing a jumbo coke and some Goobers. My mom did not even find out about this until four years ago.
We all need a plan for difficult days. Psalm 77 teaches us to cry out, to push and to remember.
Check out Del Ryder and the Crystal Seed by Matt Brough (a Canadian Colleague). My 12 years old twins and fourteen year old all liked it. So did I. Its a great story, and has key themes you can talk about with kids--friendship, trust, loyalty. Or just read it because its a great book.