Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflection on Matthew 11:2-11

I am thankful that you are reading this reflection during this Advent season; this season of waiting. “Waiting,” I’ve been saying that word a lot for the past few weeks haven’t I? Not only is it the liturgical season of waiting for our Lord; taking the time to quiet our own lives so that we can pay attention to what God is doing, but it is also the secular season of waiting in lines forever in order to check out at the store. Let’s be honest with ourselves. This isn’t a season of waiting; this is a season of impatience.

People are impatient about a great many things. Is this the Christmas tree that I should buy…the one and only Christmas tree that will bring the spirit of Christmas back into my life…or will it just cause me to sneeze? Is there another? Is this the party that I should go to…the one party of the season that will spark a sense of good will and love for one another in my soul…or will it be just another awkward social function. Is there another? Is this the gift the right gift…the one that will bring tears to her eyes and allow her to see how much I love her…or will she simply smile, say thank you, turn away and focus more on the Christmas meal than on me? Is there another?

Waiting patiently without apprehension and doubt is a difficult thing. We hear these same words coming from the mouth of John the Baptist. He is doubting the coming of the messiah as he sits lonely, waiting to be executed, from behind the bars of his prison. Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” As his execution date approaches I think he is really asking, “Jesus, are you the one who is going to save everyone? Are you the one who is going to save me? I proclaimed your coming. You were supposed to turn the world upside-down with the Holy Spirit and Fire. But, Herod still has a firm hold on the land. Are you the one who will save or should I wait for another?”

His words still echo from our lips today: “Are you the one who will help me out of this financial pinch, or should I wait for another?” “Are you the one who will cure my illness, or should I wait for another?” “Are you the one who will save me, or should I wait for another?”

The horrible possibility lingers in our mind that our expectations of Jesus will go unfulfilled. A natural but uncomfortable feeling of impatience mixed with doubt settles in and starts to take hold of our lives.

Jesus tries to take the reigns of John’s life back by changing John’s expectations. John wanted the social-political world to be turned upside-down. John wanted the ruthless to be separated from the faithful and the chaff burned up in an unquenchable fire. Perhaps, John had his hopes set on something different than what God desires. Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Jesus is not who John expected him to be, but that does not mean Jesus is not active in the world. Do not take offense at Jesus just because he is not necessarily who we want him to be. Jesus is active in the world. If we listen and watch carefully, we will see it. If we take the time and wait before jumping to conclusions about God’s intentions, we will see it.

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to open the huge presents under the tree; obviously, big meant great. I expected those huge presents to literally transform my life. However, I cannot even tell you what those huge presents were now that I look back years later. They occupy no space in my mind. I can tell you about the small golden necklace that my grandma gave me which I still have to this very day. My expectations concerning which presents would be the most important were totally wrong. My expectations have been adjusted.

I think Jesus is putting John through a similar reorienting process. Jesus is not great because he causes drastic social reform, breaks people out of prison who do not deserve to be there, or protects us from everything in the world that would harm us. These are unrealistic expectations. Consider the fact that even those people who Jesus did heal still became sick and suffered for years in the first place. Jesus does not protect us from every suffering. If fact, Jesus promises us just the opposite. He warns us that if we follow him we can expect to be treated as well as he was. Jesus did end up of the cross in the end. But, what we can expect is that Jesus will take horrendous experiences, such as the cross, and mysteriously transform them into something redemptive and good. This sort of divine work is not easily seen. It is also not easily understood. Perhaps, we should grasp onto the invitation of Advent to take the time to wait, listen, and watch closely for God’s work. In time we will see God’s work and we will be amazed.

I am reminded of a 40 year old mother who lost her only, very young baby from sudden infant death syndrome. Weeks after the death she entered the late infant’s room and started to sort through everything bought for the child. The tiny suit would never be used to take the infant to church. Looking away she tossed into a box for rummage. The crib would not be needed to protect the child from harm in the night. It did not do that when her child was alive. She tore the crib down like it alone had let her down. There would never be toddler years on the tricycle. There would never be teaching him how to drive. There would never be a last kiss before he walked forward to be with the new woman of his life. All she was left with was an empty room.

The empty room loomed for months. Increasingly, it just didn’t seem right that the room be empty. With the support of some friends, she decided to take in a foster child.

Ten foster children later, God has gifted the woman with the blessing of kissing four boys on four separate occasions as they handsomely moved forward in their crisp suits to be with the new women in their lives. She didn’t expect that her baby would die before it was time. She also never expected to impact so many children with that empty room. God didn’t cause her suffering. God also didn’t stop it. But, that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t at work. Just as Jesus transformed the cross from something horrible into something redemptive and good, Jesus transformed the horror of that empty room into a room of redemption and love for both the woman and her new children.

Wait for the Lord, and you will encounter the Lord’s goodness.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Matthew 3:1-12

The other day as I looked out the bathroom window, gazing at the birds dancing around on our hillside, I saw at the top of our driveway a skinny, little man. He was wearing a lion cloth in 20 degree weather, had an old locust leg stuck between his front two teeth, and he was yelling something. I opened the window a crack to hear this warning come screeching down the hill at me:

“Prepare your driveway for the Lord, make it straight.”

Now, if any of you have seen my driveway, you know this is a tall order. It is steep and it curves sharply three quarters of the way down. Currently, it is covered with ice and several delivery people in the past have found themselves to be surprise guests because the thing rendered them helpless to leave. It is no picnic to walk on either. Randele has hurt her knee on it. Aaron has hurt his behind, his back, his arm, his leg, basically everything on it. It has a couple of major gullies in it that really should be filled in by someone with gravel. I know, I really should fix the thing. I should extend it straight across our property, make it flat, make it easy and safe to access. But, I haven’t. It is going to take a good deal of effort, effort that I just don’t have right now. Besides, I don’t mind if my way is a little difficult to access. It is nice having some solitude. In fact, I love it. I love the privacy that my steep, icy, gully-filled driveway provides. "Prepare the driveway, make the driveway straight;" who does this little man think he is? Elijah? John the Baptist? And, why does the Lord need a straight, clear way to get through anyway? He is the Lord after-all, can’t he fix my driveway himself?

“Go away skinny, soon to be a human popsicle, little man!” Fix your own way! Make your own way straight! Now go home!”

As I slammed down the window, I watched him just stand there, staring down at me and I realized the truth of the matter; in his loin cloth this little man was almost naked. He had nothing. He was surviving on trust in God alone. This whiner is the wilderness already trusted in God’s provisions more than his own. He was eating grasshoppers out of the abundance that God provides for heaven’s sake. The Lord’s way into his life is already practically arrow straight and perfectly clean. There’s not a lot to get in God’s way in his life.

I guess the slamming of my window is really the same thing as not redoing my driveway; I don’t feel a need to make a straight path for others that might lead right into my soul. Heck, I don’t allow a path to go there myself. I just don’t want to think about what I may find if I look too close. How about we not take a deep look at ourselves this advent, OK? Forget this clean out your soul and wait for the Lord to enter in junk. That sounds good to me. How about we just make ourselves happy with giving nice gifts and receiving nice things over the next few weeks? Sound like a plan?

Keeping one’s path cluttered like this makes me think of a mother who wore a ton of makeup. With the makeup on, this woman presented herself as a perfect woman, with perfect skin, perfect poise, and perfect hospitality. The woman could have costarred as the wife on Father Knows Best. The only thing that didn’t appear to be perfect was her daughter who constantly dressed in black.

“Why don’t you get rid of that depressing clothes and become a real woman?” the mother shared with her daughter one evening.

“Why don’t you get rid of all that make-up so that I can finally get to know you? At least I dress as who I am, a daughter in mourning for her mother. Who are you mom? You’ve never let me in.”

All the daughter wanted was for the mother to make the path straight. She just wanted to be closer to her own mother. Without a doubt, the make-up was covering more than blemishes on the skin. It was a wall. I understand; it’s hard to clear the path. But, I am also beginning to understand that keeping the path cluttered helps no one.

With that said, why don’t we imagine something new for a second. Why don’t we imagine that we clear whatever or whoever is cluttering the path and keeping the Lord out of the deepest regions of our life and see what happens? Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts of an axe, a sharp winnowing fork, and fire be blessed? What are you carrying with you Jesus?

The skinny, little man shouts down the hill:

“How else is the Lord going to clear out the garbage? The axe is to cut away the root of your problems, so leave them exposed, don’t cover them back up. The winnowing fork is to throw your impurity into the air so that it blows off to the side and only pureness falls to the ground again. The fire, of course, is to burn the impurity away. Now be quiet and take it like a man! This isn’t going to be the only time he does it! This will be a daily thing from now on. I like to call it repentance and forgiveness.”

You can call it anything you want skinny man…hacking me up with an axe…I think that I would like to call it hell. But then again, what is more like hell, being stuck for the rest of your life with secrets, pain, and regret, or enduring the temporary pain of that stuff being cut out so that you can live in the freedom of the Lord.

I have a distinct image in my head of a grown man in a suit skipping down the sidewalk, like a boy on the first day of summer vacation. He had just left the room of his dying father in the hospital. Was he glad his father was dying? Of course not. His father had just forgiven him for running the family business into the ground years and years before. For 15 years, the man had been too ashamed to see his father. For 15 year he had not received a hug from his father. But on this day of repentance and forgiveness he did. That was something to skip about.

Come Lord Jesus, come. If I can’t do it very well, help me to make your path straight.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reflection on Isaiah 11:1-10

In the faint light, he saw the shadow of a body lying on the ground. It wasn’t moving. A glint of liquid pooled around the body's side. As he moved closer, he saw the drips of blood ripple the pool below; small waves on pavement. The pool was greatly disturbed by the body moving slightly. Was he alive yet? There might still be a chance. With his strong African American hands he pulled the knife from victim’s side. At that moment headlights bathed him in a drowning light. Drowning was an accurate description. His life sunk to the depths quickly as he found himself behind bars with no one caring to judge him according to truth…according to righteousness. How he wished he could have a judge who judged with the wisdom, might, and truth of the Lord. How he wished someone would simply listen to his story before he passing judgment. But, the judge won’t. His life has been clear-cut of all growing life, and he can see nothing left to grow back and give hope.

She walked into the store in her ripped jeans and asked for an application. There was no point. She knew she wouldn’t be given the job. No one gives jobs to losers. No one gives jobs to slobs. No one will be willing to listen to her story of how her boyfriend abandoned her and her child. No one will want to take the time to find out how she has sold everything she owns for the welfare and benefit of her child. This employer will surely be like all the others. After one look at her ratty clothes the empolyer will make the decision. How she wished people would judge her not by what they see, but by the truth; by righteousness and equity for the poor. Her life has been clear-cut of all growing life, and she can see nothing left to grow back and give hope.

It is a dog eat dog world you know. Does truth and righteousness and equity mean anything anymore, or must we resort to evil when all goodness has been clear-cut from the world? But, if we commit evil in order to restore goodness to the world, and the world is left with only us and our horrendous actions, has the world really been cleansed of evil? How we need a judge who is completely clean from bias and evil.

What do you do when justice seems so far away and the forest of goodness has been clear-cut from your life? Repay evil with evil? Give up and become a stump in a dead forest? Maybe you listen to these words; words of truth concerning our Lord:

"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious."

I think we all desire our Lord Jesus Christ: the sprout of new life who can peer through the surface and see the truth, the sprout of new life who never forgets the hurting or disowned, and never judges according common knowledge. Christ is the sprout of new life who brings real justice, real peace, and real truth.

Just today I looked around the confirmation class and noticed that one of the students who had gotten off of the bus was not in class. I got in the car, drove downtown and found her in the gas station with a friend. I told her to get into the car and as we drove off I just about reamed her out for trying to skip class. But, the Spirit of God urged me to remain silent. After a moment, the silence was broken when she told me that her day at school and her life for that matter was terrible and painful. She just could not stand to be around others because she just may have broke down. Had I reamed her out, truth would never have been spoken. Thank the Lord for the Spirit of truth, who sometimes holds our mouths closed so that we may not pass judgment too early. Had the Spirit not kept me quiet, peace and healing would not have been allowed to happen. How we all need a righteous judge.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Matthew 24:36-44

This morning I want to break one of the commandments. I’m going to break the seventh commandment. I will give you one hundred golden points for you in heaven if you know which commandment that is for us Lutherans without looking at the next sentence. Stealing, good job. I’m not sure what you will do with your meaningless golden points in heaven but drag the heavy things around with you everywhere you go. But, you’re the one who wanted the stupid things, so that’s not my problem now is it?

Back to stealing. I really want to do it now and I don’t care if you see me. I want to steal this great, apocalyptic, end times text from Matthew back from people who would do it harm. You know, those people who would make you fear the coming of the Lord by telling you to shape up or you will be left behind when God rips away your righteous loved ones from right beside you. Rip, there goes…who was that? Oh, it was Dad, there’s his tighty-whities right there on the floor. Rip there goes the mother-in-law. Oh well. The Lord wants her? Who understands the ways of the Lord? Rip, the dog too? No, no, not Spot. Come back Spot. Why did I constantly tell you, you where such a good dog? No, bad dog, bad dog, lay down now! Come back, I’m feeling lonely here.


“Yes, Lord I assume?”

“You should have paid more attention to me. You should have been a great person. Instead, you were dumb. Now you can suffer the wars of Armageddon.”

“I’m sorry Lord. Please forgive me. I’m lonely. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom?”

“Nice try, but too late. I’ll be nice though and send back your mother-in-law for company.”


Ok, everything you just read right there: total bologna. I even love my mother-in-law. If I could have a wish granted this morning it would be that every time a faithful person would read these apocalyptic words from Matthew the person wouldn’t be put into a state of fear from these images that false prophets have placed into our brains. I don’t want people to imagine their loved ones being ripped away from them into the air. I don’t want people to believe that an unloving, unforgiving Jesus is furiously shooting darting glances back down at us as we perish in world war three. It kind of goes against our basic beliefs in grace by faith doesn’t it? Rather, I wish that people could see the hope and joy that comes from waiting expectantly for our loving Lord. The Lord’s coming is not something to fear, but something to celebrate…something to prepare for.

It’s sad to me that these false prophets of our times might cause people to wait expectantly for the coming of their first baby with more hope and joy than they would their own Lord. Not that waiting for your very first child should be joyless. It should be just the opposite and that’s my point. New parents, as soon as they find out that they are expecting start to prepare their homes out of hope and joy for the coming of their baby. The plodding walk of everyday life is suddenly turned into dancing. Their feet cause them to spin and twirl through the house searching for pieces of clutter that no longer matter. They need to create a space in their life to love their new child. In the dancing search to clear the way for this anticipated new love, they may find old, dusty but beloved gifts that might be cleaned up and used once again. Rooms are cleared out, cribs are built, walls are painted, and people are invited over to celebrate. Of course, they don’t know exactly when their little bundle of love will come to them, but that does not hold up their excited preparations.

I don’t know if you realize this, but love is coming to town. Love is come to your house. We don’t know when, for “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Never-the-less, the Lord is coming and already the very idea is turning our plodding footsteps into dancing. Space needs to be cleared. The murky, moldy concern on the floor that you’ve been wading through for the past few weeks…you know which one…it can be mopped up. Those grudges over there where the Lord’s bed needs to go don’t need to be taking up space. On the frig most of the “important” tasks really aren’t all that important. The marker board can be wiped clear for more important, Christ-like tasks. Take time now to haul all your garbage out. Let it roll off your back and onto the curb. Do you feel yourself getting lighter already? Do you feel your feet moving lighter? The Lord is on the way! Love is coming to your heart. The Lord hasn’t arrived yet, but your light dancing is a clear sign to all that hope has already moved you.

If there is any sadness in this apocalyptic text, it’s not that people will be ripped away from us and flung up into the air not to be seen ever again, rather that our sister may not see that love has come to town. The phrase, “one will be taken” is not about people being lifted away into heaven. It should more rightly read, “one will go along with and one will be left,” like the disciples go along with Jesus when he calls them to follow. Our sister, unfortunately, just continues to sit there and grind her wheat or plunk away at her computer doing her work.
As Brian Stoffregen notes in his online gospel commentary, "Work is important. You need to provide food and shelter for yourself and your family; but there is something more important than your work: the Son of Man could come. God might show up without an appointment. He could arrive unexpectedly. What would you tell him if you were busy at work? 'Don't bother me now, I've got work to do. Come back during my break, then we can visit. Make an appointment with my secretary.'" Some things in life are much more important.

The Lord is coming. Love is coming to town to stay with you. It’s a deeper and more devoted love than anything you have felt before. And, it’s cause for dancing. Do you feel the anticipation, like waiting for the arrival of your first child? The feet are already starting to move and dance as if the Lord were already here aren’t they? This Advent, don’t fear doing a little house work in your soul. It’s about time that we clear out our souls and our lives and allow space for God to enter.

Quoted Commentary from Brian Stoffregen can be found here:

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Reflection on Luke 23:33-43

For people in the United States, Christ the King Sunday is a little disorienting. We aren’t quite sure what to do with it. We have no king in the United States. We have people who would love to be king, but we have a chance of dethroning them every four years. Many of us really don’t understand what it is like to serve one person, making sure that we don’t get on their bad side, and trying to figure out how to make them happy. When I asked myself, “Who is king in my life?” a question worth asking oneself every once and a while, I came up with “chocolate.” Seriously, nothing else is quite able to move me from laziness on the couch as effectively as that sumptuously smooth and sweet little dark delight residing in my cupboard. I say that as a joke…only partially though. Who is king in my life? Is it money? Is it prestige? Is it my wife? Who or what controls my life? Who or what controls the life of our church?

As we let those questions float in our heads, my mind wanders to our brothers and sisters in Christ in South America with whom I just spent time. I think in particular of a young pastor from South America with an infectious smile, insatiable need to joke around, huge stomach for good beer (he’s a real Lutheran), and a love for the poor people he serves. He preaches in seven churches throughout his country every weekend for zero pay from the people. He works a second job in order to keep himself and his family alive. When asked if it is a goal for the churches to be able to support a pastor on their own he looked back with an almost disgusted look on his face and answered, “These people are very poor, they need their money to survive. If the church collects any money it goes toward our ministry which teaches the men and women a trade so that they can better their lives. We aren’t here to take money from the poor.” Obviously, money is not his king.

Neither is personal safety. He and the other pastors have had death threats by covert government officials because the pastors have no problem making noise when government policies only benefit the rich and hurt the poor whom they serve. In thanks for their opposition to a free trade agreement with the United States, which would primarily only benefit a rich few and hurt those they love, their government gave the gift of a bomb thrown through the window of their church offices. I wonder who this pastor's king is that he would suffer so readily for the sake of others?

What exactly does your life look like if you follow a king who is dressed perfectly, has the best things that life can offer, has respect of everyone around, flies around in a helicopter, and has a personal chef. What are your own aspirations in life if this is the king you follow? Now, what exactly does your life look like if you follow a king who has been stripped of all clothing except for a blood soaked purple robe; has been beaten so strongly that his flesh looks like raw hamburger; has had nails driven through his wrists and feet like a knife stabbing through the cartilage of the holiday turkey; has been mocked by everyone under his feet, upon whom he declares a royal pardon, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing;” who turns to you as you hang condemned and ashamed next to him, stares into your guilt and shame riddled eyes and says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” What exactly does you life look like if you follow a king like that? Does it look like that young pastor’s life?

Though there is nothing wrong with being mad at God, I think that there is a lot of misdirected anger at God when things in life don’t appear to be going our own way. Many people expect that life will become easier as they devote themselves to Christ. Somehow, they expect that their prayers for certain selfish things will be answered more readily. Somehow, they expect that hardship will pass them by more often now that they are devoted followers. Somehow, they expect to receive the life of a king with all of the luxuries that follow. What they didn’t expect was that they would get the life of our king. When love of others, especially the disadvantaged in life, and forgiveness of the sinner are the primary marks by which your king is known, you may not find that the life which follows is easy. The life which follows may include threats to your life as you oppose self-centered politicians. The life which follows may include mockery for refusing to follow the crowd. The life which follows will put you with certain sinners whom you normally would not associate. Your life may include all of these rewards and many, many more! WooWhoo!!! But, your life will also be filled with a gift more precious than that of gold, helicopters, prestige, respect, and even chocolate. Your life will be filled with God’s unfailing, forgiving love.

After all had been stripped away from Jesus and he was nailed naked, bearing all on the cross, resentment and anger was not what remained on his lips. God’s forgiving love was the last thing that remained. No one could take that from him. No one can take that from you. A forgiving love was the last thing that remained with Christ. If a forgiving love is what he held tightly to in the end, then I would say Jesus is a king worth following with your whole heart.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Reflection on Psalm 149

“Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of the faithful,” the Sunday School director enthusiastically announced to the children in worship. “Let the children of Zion be joyful,” she continued as she handed out tambourines made with paper plates and dried beans hidden inside. “Let them praise their maker’s name with dancing; let them sing praise with tambourine and harp,” she shouted joyfully as the children danced around in circles, up and down the center aisle of the church; spilling beans out of the cracks of their obviously professionally made paper instruments. From my pew, I laughed as beans bounced and rolled underneath the pews for a joyful discover by the sexton later.

And then, the infamous second part to Psalm 149 came. The teacher handed out aluminum, double edged swords to each child proclaiming loudly, “Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two-edged sword in their hand, to wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples…” The children ran around the sanctuary like little puritans who had just slain their first witch, waving their bloody swords above their heads, and shouting “Praise God, Praise God!” It was “Lord of the Flies” come to kindergarten Sunday School. The scene was what some older Lutherans may have considered “slightly uncomfortable.”

OK, the teacher did not actually hand out swords to the children. The teacher actually skipped the whole scene of the faithful joyfully seeking vengeance with the two edged sword. Apparently, she thought the image from the Psalm was uncomfortable and inappropriate for children. I, on the other hand, saw the vision of the children quite clearly as I continued to read the Psalm from the church bulletin. The words just popped out at me, I could not help it. There they were for every adult to see. And, in church the words melodically sang from our lips.

“Let the praises of God be in their throat
and a two-edged sword in their hand,
to wreak vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples…”

There is just something wrong with that. These words are not only inappropriate for children; heck, these words are inappropriate for adults. Has anyone who has sought vengeance on behalf of the Lord really done a good job at it? Think crusades. Think abortion clinic bombers. Think jihad. Politicians are constantly quoting God in order to legitimate their own bloodshed. Radio talk show hosts are constantly trying to convince us that God is on our side. Do we really know that? How would we know who God’s targets are anyway? Does God whisper into politician’s ears the targets they are to go after? Even if we went after God’s targets instead of our own, does God accept the death of six year old children as merely a sad consequence of seeking the greater good? Does God speak in terms of collateral damage in order to soften the fact that a child molded and shaped with God’s own hands was prematurely put to death? The words from this Psalm are not appropriate words. They should not have been spoken.

If a non-Christian were visiting church while this text was read, they would be horrified. They would think that Christians were terrible inciters of violence. “What happened to ‘vengeance is mine says the Lord?’” they might think. “What happened to Jesus’ forgiveness?” they would ask. Leaving the service early, they would have to assume that we were some sort of cult.

How would you reconcile these words with others in the bible?

Romans 12:19-21:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Unless, I tell you that I hate them, then disregard the overcome evil with good thing and kill them for me because I’m too lazy to do it myself, sincerely God.

Luke 6.35:
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Unless, God gets up on the wrong side of bed, then God is anything but kind to the wicked. In that case, ignore the love your enemies bit and kill like hyenas.

I have problems with this Psalm. I am not certain if you noticed. But I feel obligated to wrestle with it anyway. That is why I am paid as an ordained minister after-all; to wrestle with biblical texts and present the carnage to everyone afterwards. And, as I wrestled with it on the hardwood floors of my office this week, I actually pinned it down and took a good look at it. In doing so, I noticed something very small, but powerful in it. It was so powerful that the Psalm actually did a reversal, threw me back, and pinned me to the floor.

I noticed that the Psalm actually does spell out who the enemies of God are. And, it is not simply any old nation or people whom God randomly chooses to be upset with. This text is not one that can be used to justify war against wicked and evil people. Actually, it says nothing about the wicked and evil. With my eyes opened to the truth, I fearfully realized, for the first time, that God’s enemies are those who forget the poor. Read close verse four and you will see that God adorns the poor with victory. Presumably, it is to the poor that the Lord provides a two-edged sword to wreak vengeance. The Psalm started to swing its sword at me, and I did not like it.

I would have loved to push this text off on the junk landlord we had after college who took two months to replace a window that blew out in a blizzard. We had virtually no money at the time, and the local power company was charging us to pay for heating the entire world. I wanted justice then. I deserved justice then. He was making us even poorer, and he did not care. He was buying muscle cars with my rental checks. Yes, this text speaks clearly to him, but it also speaks to me today. Since that time I have proven my American worth by putting my wealth, not in muscle cars, but in equally useless stuff. I have so much stuff that I have to find a special room to store it all. All of that potential to help the poor has been locked away in closets and rooms around the house. “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In a very real way, I have locked away my heart in those closets and rooms also. That is sad.

Listen, do you clanging swords? They’re coming for me. I’m dead. That’s it! I’m dead. I wrestled with this text and the text won. It has taken its two edged sword and driven it straight into my treasure; straight into my heart. I should not be surprised. The writer of Hebrews warned us that “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Here comes the army, time to face the music.

As most patients will tell you, though it is painful and has a difficult recovery, heart surgery is not a bad thing. Heart surgery can save your life. Heart surgery has a way of putting things into perspective as the bad blockages of the past have been cut away or bypassed completely to allow new blood to flow. Heart surgery is a good thing. Perhaps, we could all use a little divine heart surgery from time to time; cut away the apathy to allow love and compassion to flow freely once again. Another word we Christians use for divine heart surgery is: forgiveness. This divine heart surgery is not forgiveness that simply says, “yeah, yeah, don’t worry about it, continue to live as you like, God will take care of it in the end.” This divine heart surgery is the kind of forgiveness that completely cuts out the rot, and allows us to live in healthier ways. And, according to God, a healthy prescription for recovery is seeking care and justice for the poor.

One student at Concordia College, my college, seemingly went off the deep end when he sold his new Christmas gift of a sports car, his stereo, and most of his clothes; moved out of the dorms; and moved into the homeless shelter two blocks away, offering both the money from his sold items and his extra time to the shelter. I’m sure that his parents were proud; especially about the sports car. I write that sarcastically. But, God was proud. God’s heart surgery on this young man was wildly successful. The forgiveness the young man received actually transformed his life. If only all heart surgeries were as successful. May we pray that they might be.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reflection on 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5

Luther was the one who inspired the idea of reformation in us local clergy. But, it was not because of Luther’s greatness. After-all, Luther was just a single monk who taught in a German school for theological education. He was nothing special, unless you would count his ability to swear and drink you under the table. Sure, he had his following, but does not every college professor who is a little off-color. Those professors are always the ones with disciples drooling at their heals. No, we local clergy were not inspired by Luther because of his greatness. Instead, we were inspired because God caused a complete turn around and invigoration of the faith through this one simple, swearing, drinking, short, fat man. We were inspired because of his weakness. And, we thought, if God could use Luther, then God could use us also. God could use us to start a reformation of the faith right here in our little town if God so desired.

I’m not sure what Pastor Bob Martin put in the coffee at his rustic home as we gathered by the lake, but it was invigorating. We were having visions of grandeur for our churches: churches filled to standing room only; churches filled with members who dripped with excitement about sharing God’s love and forgiveness of the sinner with their neighbors; churches filled with people who wanted nothing more than to go out and help their neighbor, fight social ills, seek justice for the forgotten, and fix the plight of the poor. We talked as if we were filled with new wine, it was actually old coffee reheated for a third time, but at that point is there really any difference between the two? With our coffee concentrate for fuel, we were convinced that God could do it. If God could use a slob like Luther, God could use us. “Oh God, reinvigorate your ministry” we prayed together. “Revive your work. Make it spring forth from here and spread throughout the land, and use us simple sinners as your tools to do that.” That was on a Saturday. On Saturday we were excited, on Sunday we preached inspired sermons (all of us heard comments at the door), and then Monday felt like it just had to pop into existence.

Monday is when the questioning began. What were we thinking? More to the point, what were we drinking Pastor Bob? Who do we think we are? We are all just a bunch of hack pastors in the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. We are not Dr. Robert Schuller with a thriving legacy of a ministry. We are not Rick Warren and haven’t inspired millions with our written words. We are not spiritual powerhouses of the faith. We are just a bunch of rural hack pastors. Why would God choose us anyway?

These feelings were familiar. I have felt them many times before. I felt them for years sitting in the pew before becoming a pastor. Time and time again I would be both inspired by the pastor’s sermon and frightened at the knowledge that I could not possibly be the type of disciple that the pastor was describing. I did not know hardly anything about the bible. How could I do anything productive in the faith? I was scared to talk to other people. How could I share the gospel? Heck, I did not really think that I even understood the good news of God. The pastor was talking to the wrong person in his sermons. I was not discipleship material.

I know that I am not alone here. I have heard similar fears from others sitting in the pews. Most people do not consider themselves spiritual powerhouses, and many are not sure what they would proclaim even if the opportunity blatantly presented itself.

“Chuck, I need the good news man. Tell me the good news. How has the good news affected your life?”

Uhhhh, gee Earl, our church has a great organist…I like that. You would think that after going to church for 40 years I could help you out. I know the phone number of the pastor though. He's a spiritual powerhouse. I am certain that he could help you.”

For years and years many of us have been convinced that we are not good Christians because of our weakness of faith. This has been reinforced by the faith bravado of many powerful spiritual leaders. It seems weird, but sometimes listening to the best preachers out there can actually make a person feel even more inadequate than when they began. “I will never live up to that. They speak so well, so clearly. They are so wise. They know what they are talking about. They are great. And, I’m not.”

But, the amazing secret of the Christian faith is that, our weakness does not matter. Weakness is actually our greatness. Never forget that the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame and weakness in the Roman world, yet Jesus the Christ used it for great things. Weakness is actually our greatness. Listen to these words from Paul, the worst preacher of them all. Remember that people were always falling asleep during his sermons, one even fell out of a window! He must have been terrible. Others were disappointed at his complete lack of wisdom when they spoke to him personally. Listen to this poor man's words, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

You do not have any great words of wisdom to help me better my life? Great. You don’t have any confidence in your spiritual abilities? Perfect! Does sin cling to you like the smell of cow manure? Great! You are perfect for the job of disciple. You are perfect for the job of preaching the good news.

“What are you talking about Pastor Jira? What’s so great about that?”

You don’t know anything. That is not such a bad place to be in your faith, because if you can’t trust in yourself and your own wisdom, then you have no choice but to trust in Jesus the Christ. That is faith. You do know what it is like to feel inadequate. You do know what it is like to not know the answers. You do know what all other people struggling in the world know. But, you know one thing more that they may not. You know what it means to trust Christ because you are not good enough. You trust because you are weak. That is genuine faith. Spiritual powerhouses do not know these things. Spiritual powerhouses have no need of a savior.

Listen to what Paul had to say about this, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God…Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

You are a living gospel waiting to be opened and read by those around you. You are a sin-filled, dirty, and weak spiritual person. But, when you are opened up people will be shocked to discover that you are great precisely because you are weak. You have no choice but to trust in Christ’s love and forgiveness. Your weakness is the very thing that makes you great. God prefers to use sinners like us for the kingdom of God.

God used a man like Bart Campolo. He is a Christian who is under no delusions of grandeur. He knows full well that he sins and cannot save himself. If my memory serves me right, his story goes something like this. While driving a group of city street hardened men to a Christian camp he was quite less than a spiritual powerhouse. Trying to be the men's "spiritual guide" he tried to cover up the fact that he was upset that they were running late, speeding through traffic, and secretly cursing the traffic around him. He did not want the men to see how angry he was at himself for showing up late for the event at the camp. The final breakdown of this "spiritual guide" occurred when the tire of the van blew. When the tire blew, he did too. He started cursing, throwing tire irons, and generally had a major fit in the middle of the highway. The men just stared out the window at their spiritual guide who was uttering some very unspiritual things. Getting back into the van, ashamed of himself, one of the men leaned forward and asked,
"You call yourself a disciple of Christ don't you?"

"Yes," he replied timidly.

“If your are a disciple of Christ and God can use a person like you; than that’s a God I can be a part of. Because of that fit you threw, I know that I would be welcome as a follower also."

So, who knows, maybe God can use us for a reformation of the faith. Who knows? It is up to God. God has done it before. God used the weakness of Luther to cause an explosion in the sharing of the good news in his time. God does use the sinner for reformation. And, at the end of his life, this is all that Luther had to say about what God had accomplished through him:

"Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles... We are beggars: this is true."

We are beggars: this is true. It is a very weak position. It is also the one God uses to cause a reformation of the faith.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reflection on Luke 16:1-13

If you did not understand a single word that Jesus just tried to teach you in that parable of the dishonest manager, and if you zoned out half way through the scripture reading and went to your own private beach in the sun, you are not alone. I’ve struggled with this confusing text for two weeks trying to dredge meaning out of it. Looking to the experts for the answers, I searched bible commentaries. All of them said the same basic thing. Only they used very eloquent and scholarly words to say: “I have no idea what the heck Jesus is talking about.”

So, as we explore this confusion together this morning, let’s start where I always start when I’m lost; we’ll start with something that I understand. And the something that I understand with great authority is how to be a rotten sinful person. So, here we go!

We have a rotten sinful person who could look a lot like me if you need a visual, and could be alive today, and could be the manager of a large business owned by a rich master like Bill Gates or Ted Turner. The manager is entrusted with all the money of the master’s business. The manager is the big shot. So, when he saw the company had purchased nice, sleek, silver pens that wrote just right and made you look like you were someone who signed important things, he didn’t have any problem taking one or two or nine home with him. He’s the manager. And, when someone paid a little extra that was owed to the company, a mere $30 extra, he knew no one would notice such a small amount going into his stomach for lunch. And, when he saw that all the other big managers were buying for a company car the new Bugatti Veyron supercar which can go from zero to 60 in less than 2.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 253 miles per hour; only 300 made with a 10 month waiting list, he knew he would be seen as a real player if he got one. He was under the power of money and what it could do for him and he liked it.

Then the day came when the owner, his rich master, discovered a few holes in his profits. The small 1.4 million dollar hole that the sports car took out might have been it.

“You are fired. Tie up loose ends and be out of here by the end of the week.” The words hummed through the former manager’s defeated soul.

“Shoot, I’m going to lose everything: my house, my sports car, probably my wife and kids, my dog…he won’t even want to be around me I’ll be so depressed, my honor, my respect…dang…the only thing that can pull me out of this mess is to write a song about it, buy a guitar, and become a country singer. ‘I lost my house, my sports car, my wife…’” No, he doesn’t do that, he comes up with a much shrewder plan: he decides that he needs friends, special friends, the ones with an extra room and beer in the cooler for when he is officially discharged from his former life of wealth. And, how is he going to pull it off? He’s going to forgive part of the debt that his soon to be best friends owed his master. “Here, you only have to pay 50% of your bill. Hey, you over there, you only have to pay 80% of your small bill.” In other words, he’s going to build his future doing the exact same thing that got him into trouble in the first place: squandering his master’s profits on himself! I think we call that irony, or just plain idiotic.

Of course, you know what happens next. The master gets wind of this in no time flat (surely from one of the grateful indebted people who fell at his feet and thanked him profusely for his mercy). With dribbles of gratefulness still gleaming on his toes, he strolls determinedly right up into the face of his former manager, and says, “You my friend are a very commendable person, but you’re still fired.”

“Commendable?” Jesus, what are you talking about? “Commendable?” We are supposed to hold up this thieving scoundrel as a role model of faith? Jesus, you’ve been known to bend the rules, no ritual hand washing…eating with sinners…working on the Sabbath…but stealing is a commandment. It is one of the Big Ten. Heck, this guy is so stuck on money that he’s crossing the boundary of the biggest commandment of all, number one: “You shall have no other gods.” Money and God…you can’t have both, don’t you remember Jesus? But, come to think of it, is the guy still crossing that boundary? Wait a second here, maybe Jesus hasn’t gone off of the deep end.

Now, I’m going to propose something here that’s a relatively fresh insight, and I’m not saying that this guy doesn’t have a problem with commandment number one, but it seems to me that the guy has suddenly lost his trust in his money; at least temporarily. All the guy cares about now, after being fired, is having the basics: a place to sleep and some food to eat. Granted, this is still selfish stuff; he still did what he did to save his own backside. But, look at what his selfish actions caused to happen. Because of his selfish actions, the poor were forgiven some of their debt; some as much as 50%. Oh, you didn’t realize he dealt with poor individuals. When money is your god it is hard to see who it affects. I am not poor by any means, but I do understand that 50% forgiveness off of my mortgage would be nothing short of a miracle from God. And, look what else happens here: the shrewd manager may have lost some of the master’s money, but the manager makes a great name in the community for his former master, a former rich man who is now known as a caring and generous rich man. You can’t pay for that sort of publicity.

Probably for the first time in his life, the former manager did something that actually benefited others more than it benefited himself. And, he was commended for it. Of course, it was something small and it was stained with sin and human imperfection, but it was something that benefited others more than it benefited himself.

God can use our stained selves and our selfish actions for great things. God can take selfishness and shape it into justice and food for the poor. God can take selfishness and mold it into a grace so sweet that people sing the praises of God our divine master.

It is true that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. Even our finest actions are stained with sin and selfish reasons. Here’s an example. A lot of people express to me that they feel good after helping someone else out.

“Why do you work to help abused children find a safe home when it is such hard work?”
“Someone needs to protect and help heal the child, and it makes me feel good.”

“Why do you serve soup to the poor everyday when you could be out shopping the wonderful nearby stores?”
“The people need fed, and it makes me feel real good.”

That’s fine, those things make me feel good also, but doing something helpful in order to gain a good feeling is still selfish. The selfish act still puts my need to feel good and appreciated before the only one who is good: God, thereby trampling on the first commandment. We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. But, Christ is able to take the stained good action from us, wash it clean with forgiveness, and deliver it to the needy as a pure act of grace and love. Thanks be to God alone for that one.

Now, we could worry obsessively about sinning while doing something good for our neighbors, decide not to risk sinning, sit around the house surfing the internet and eating chocolate cream filled tasty cakes, or we could take the dishonest manager’s lead and sin a little. Go ahead and sin a little. Feel good about giving out some of the money that God has entrusted to us, use some talent that God has gifted us, and waste it on any person in need who could really use it. Tell them, “It’s not me you should thank, its God,” when they offer their deepest appreciation. And, invite them to worship so that they can fall down at the feet of the one who really made our selfish, sinful act into an act of divine grace; Jesus Christ.

Go ahead and sin a little for the good of others. The sin staining you and staining your actions has been buried and put to death with Christ. Don’t worry, all the person who is depending on you sees when they look into your eyes and witnesses your loving action is Christ Jesus come down to care for them. They have been remembered. They are loved by God after-all. Thanks be to God.

Go ahead and sin a little for the good of others; God can use a sinner like you for great things. So what if you’re not perfect or not yet ready or not good enough? Still struggling with the same sins you were struggling with when you were 16 or 3? Fine. If God can use someone like the dishonest manager, God can use someone like you. Not careful with the talents and wealth God has given you? That’s fine; spill them all over the place; spill them where the poor may be clothed and fed and the sinner might find much needed forgiveness. Be careless and spill God’s love everywhere. Christ Jesus uses careless sinners like us everyday. Thanks be to God.

Reflection on Luke 15:1-10

During worship, we come together as a gathering of the found. People have all kinds of reasons why they come to church. Some come because they have friends in the church that they like to gab with. Others come out of a deeply rooted sense (fostered by their parents no doubt) that going to church is the right thing to do Sunday mornings. Some come because of the amazing preacher. Still others come because they know that there will be a tasty fellowship treat following the service just up the sidewalk, turn right, up the stairs, and through the red door into the parish house…it starts around 11:15…all are welcome. Of course, there are much nobler reasons for coming to worship, and most of you are no doubt people with a noble reason.

Despite even noble reasons, I would like to make the claim that the true reason that we are gathering here this morning is because we were found. We are a people who, for some reason, have made a habit of getting lost, and miraculously God has come to the rescue. We are a once lost, now found people who get the opportunity to be reassured in the Christian community weekly that God will not forget or forsake us. God has forgiven us. Not even sin or death can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We are a once lost, now found people whose famished and hungry souls get to be restored and reenergized with the body and blood of our Lord. We are a gathering of sinful, broken people who have been found. We are truly nothing more than that. We are not great people. Our actions are not necessarily more righteous than anyone else’s. I know an atheist who is making a profound impact on the lives of the poor in Africa through the Peace Corp. She is a good friend. I cannot say that my actions are any greater than hers. That being said, we are also nothing less than the found people of God. We are a people who God has taken the time to find and gather in God’s holy name. That is why we rejoice with God this Sunday morning. We have been found.

Let that truth ring lightly through your souls while we consider something else this morning. There are a couple of completely obvious things in our biblical text from this morning that I want to make sure are not overlooked because of the fact that they are so obvious. The first is that both the sheep and the coin in our parables get lost. One sheep did wander off while the shepherd was encouraging the rest from behind as shepherds do, and the woman’s dowry coin (the wealth that was solely hers, no one else’s) did rip off of her headdress and roll into a dark corner in her home. Getting lost is not something to be taken lightly. As I read the words of a close friend’s e-mail to me late last Saturday evening, “everything is dark, God is no longer in my life,” I knew that getting lost is not something to take lightly. It is terrifying to roll into a dark corner and not be able to see the light. In the darkness you can do nothing but grasp around. Hopefully, “Oh my God please,” hopefully, you will grasp onto something familiar and safe; something that will pull you from the darkness into the light. But, the truth is that you are just as likely to grasp onto something sharp and harmful, or wander further into the deep. When in the dark, the right way and the wrong way look the same. They are both black.

But, you are not in the dark. Everyone gathered here today has been found. We are a once lost, now found people who know deeply to our core the second truth that these two parables reveal to us. Everyone is precious to God. Everyone is worth finding. Might I even be so bold as to say that Christ somehow does not feel complete unless Christ finds everyone who has been lost. I am not saying that Christ is dependent on us. But, I am saying that Christ experiences a loss when we wander away.

Look at the examples Christ himself uses. The shepherd is no shepherd at all if he loses his master’s sheep. He is a worthless shepherd if there are sheep missing.

If you look at the woman who loses her dowry and you will see this aspect of God even stronger. As I said before, a woman’s dowry was her only wealth in the ancient Israelite world. To lose even one coin would be to lose a part of her self. Of course, she frantically searches the house to find her lost coin, because in a very real economic way, her worth is not complete without it.

Shepherds are not complete without all of their sheep. Women of the ancient world were not complete without their entire dowry. Parents are not complete without all of their children. Siblings are not complete without their brother or sister. God is not complete as long as God’s children are lost. God definitely recognizes when a child is missing from the dinner table. Our own parents would be devastated if we didn't show up at the table, so it is not hard to understand how God is not complete unless every last one can be found.

God is so passionate about us that God sent God’s only son to risk his life and find us; to save us from the darkness; to bring us out of the blackness of sin into the light. We are a once lost and now found people; nothing more, but also nothing less. Nothing more, because we are not wonderful and great and perfect; we are simply human. This was the Pharisees mistake when they questioned why tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus. Somehow they made the mistake of seeing themselves as better than other sinners. But, we are also nothing less than the children of God who complete the body of Christ when we are found. God is complete when we are found.

We are a once lost, but now found church. Our foundness and oneness with God does affect us in a very real way. We feel the same emptiness and pain that God feels when God’s children are lost. The loss of a child affects the whole family. The emptiness of that spot at the dinner table compels us, not out of obligation, but out of love to find and search and invite. We are a found church, but that also makes us a finding church. We are a church that searches in the dark areas and reaches out a hand so that people can find the light. We are a church that welcomes the tax collectors and sinners and gladly eats with them at the Lord’s celebration of return. We are a church that does not give up in searching and finding because God does not rest until every last child is found. Who do you know that should not be given up on?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Reflection on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

If you are standing outside when the foundations of the earth shake, you will notice something curious and unsettling; the term solid ground is an illusion. You will notice that the solid ground in fact moves like an ocean as waves of soil is tossed a foot into the air and then settles back down only to be tossed up once again. Houses rise and fall like boats on the rough seas and people pray that their houses will hold through the storm. When the foundations of the earth shake, the only thing that stays secure is the foundation itself; rocky crags and granite mountains proclaim their solid majesty while the soil dances around them.

But, when God shakes the foundations, even the mountains quake and crumble. Did not the mountains quake whenever God spoke to Moses and the prophets? When God’s word of truth is spoken, it rumbles existence, and we clearly see that the term “unmovable mountain” is also an illusion. They too can dance in waves like the soil. The foundation of all existence is not a geological bedrock after-all, but the Word of God, whom we know as Christ Jesus. The Word was in the beginning when order was brought out of chaos and the world formed. The Word is with us now, still creating order out of chaos and shaking the false order that humans create. The Word will still be in the end when the world is shaken for the last time, and everything crumbles apart except everything and everyone that Christ Jesus has set solidly into the foundation itself. Jesus Christ is the unshakable foundation who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” If you have been claimed by Christ, then you can be found in an unshakable foundation.

Christ may be holding you fast, your feet may be buried forever in the unshakable foundation of God’s unconditional love, cemented there through your baptism, but that does not mean we always remember this fact. As you may have noticed during both the toddler and the early teenaged years, it is a truth of life that people have a tendency to stumble because they do not remember where their feet are. But, you do not have to be a toddler or a teenager to stumble in our relationship with God. In our consumer driven reality where we are told through enticing commercials that happiness can be bought and courage is kept to a minimum because of the discomfort it may bring to us or to our families, it is easy to forget where our feet are. It is common to forget that our feet are grounded in Christ. Much easier is pretending that our feet are grounded in the comforts of the world or the false constructions of the mind. One of the more unsettling truths for us about God is that God has no problem shaking these false foundations. If you have ever struggled in your faith, it is quite likely that you have experienced what I like to call a "God quake."

Most people experience a God quake when they enter their first college religion course, and are told outright that the god they believe in, the god they have held onto since childhood, is not real. In the least, people are told their god only partially resembles the true God. The first year of seminary, for those who enrole, is a year of complete decimation and despair as God uses the professors to completely tear down the gods we have constructed for our false foundations of security. Some leave the school and go back home trying to put the pieces of their false god back together. Most stay and wait until their life becomes less dizzy. Only then can they look down and see the truth.

Most times when you start to feel uncomfortable in worship because of a word spoken or an action done or unanswered prayers linger, you will discover that you are on the verge of a God quake. The quake will honestly be horrible. It will shake your formerly confident soul. It will make you question your life. It will make you question who God is. It will tear down all of your security and will rip off all of your protective clothes and you will be naked before God. And, only when God has shaken all of our securities away will we be able to look down and see, as if for the first time, that our feet are stuck in the foundation of Christ’s unconditional love. And, we realize, as if for the first time, that only in Christ and his unconditional love can we trust.

When the foundations have been shaken, we see through new eyes; Christ’s eyes. We see strangers who need the kindness of others. We see prisoners who have been forgotten by everyone, because they have been deemed worthless. People who are abused and tortured are no longer seen as statistics or too far overseas to be concerned about. Anything that would destroy the relationship we have with our spouse no longer looks as pressing or appealing. We see that money and the things it buys is truly a weak foundation; it can be put to better use than building false, useless foundations for ourselves. When we see through new eyes, Christ’s eyes, we see people just like us, who are in sin, and have not yet figured out how to look down at their feet. They do not yet realize that they don’t have to sin in order to make it in this life. If they would just look down they would see that they have been claimed by Christ. Christ has cemented them into the unshakable foundations. They simply didn’t see it before! Wouldn’t it be great if someone would point out that truth? Wouldn’t it be great if they heard these words of truth from Christ: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Because of these words we can all say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Jesus Christ is our unshakable foundation. Look down! Look down and see the truth. You are fixed into an unshakable foundation. You have been claimed by God and are eternally loved. Now go in peace, put on the eyes of Christ, and share that love. Thanks be to God.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reflection on Luke 13:10-17

As some of you may know, a number of weeks ago my wife and I took a one night vacation to Wine Country Cabins on Lake Seneca. The cabins were small, uncluttered, and mercifully quiet, with only the sound of the lake gently lapping against the shone. There was a TV, but we didn’t use it. We simply spent some time on our small porch, staring out at the lake, reading a good book. The refreshing calm of that one night vacation was as restorative as a two week vacation with extended family. That night, I truly understood that the Sabbath was not a rigid rule that God came up with just so that God could have something by which we might be tested. Rather, it is a gift to a tired, tired world.

It is a gift of rest beside still waters that refreshes the soul. It is the gift of an entire day devoted to nothing but resting in God’s word, resting in a loving embrace with a spouse, and resting a tired body. So, it is curious to me that the commandment to keep the Sabbath is probably one of the most universally broken commandments in existence. Honestly, I have not killed anyone lately, I don’t have time to steal right now, Mom and Dad are good, and I wasn’t planning on committing adultery very soon. But, ask any pastor if they’ve kept the Sabbath, if they have refrained from working, and see if they give you an honest answer. Even with the best intentions of worshipping God fully, someone will inevitably tell you to remember their Uncle Larry in the prayers of the day. And, while the rest of the congregation is taken to a blissful rest in the powerful and beautiful voice of the organ, the pastor is recalling the whole time: “Larry, Larry, Larry.” Of course, we cannot forget the hospital visit that needs to be make before the day is over. And yes, we cannot forget that little Bill needs new sneekers.

Pastors aren’t the only violators though. On internship I once asked someone if they kept the Sabbath and he answered, “Of course, you see me every Sunday.”

“Yes I do,” I responded, “But, is it a day of rest for you?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. After church I eat a light lunch and then I take a short nap.”

"Good," I thought.

Then he continued, “After that I usually mow the lawn and pull the weeds from the flower bed. I pay the bills and sometimes I get the grocery shopping done that I haven’t been able to do. The grandkids are usually dropped off in the evening and we entertain them.”

I wasn't convinced that he was very rested.

I also remember asking a mother with six children if she ever took a Sabbath Day of rest. She just laughed at me.

And, I think that it has always been that way. From the very beginning people have been testing the boundaries of the Sabbath. There are chapters upon chapters of case law in ancient Judaism in which Rabbis debated what was and was not allowed on the Sabbath. “Is it OK for me to water my donkey?” “Is it O.K. to milk the cow? I’m sure the thing is going to explode if I don’t.” “Can I walk to my neighbor’s? It’s a long walk. Walking isn’t work is it?” “Can’t we at least get a drink of water? What do you want us to do? Just sit around all day and dehydrate?”

Answering some of those very questions, preacher Barbara Brown Taylor in a sermon about the Sabbath remarked that what all of the Jewish Sabbath restrictions have in common is that they ask us to refain primarily from acts of creativity. On the Seventh day God rested from creative, meaningful acts, and we should too. In other words, the Sabbath is the day where we allow God to take care of things. It is the day that we refrain from helping God. Only on the Sabbath do we intentionally recognize that God is capable of managing without us. It is the Lord's day in the truest sense. The Sabbath helps us to remember that God is God, and we are not. This is hard for Christians to hear. Christians are people who care and love others. Meaningful acts are what make us who we are. We can not rest from that, can we?

We have Luke 13:10-17 after-all. Does not that tell us that as Christians we cannot rest? That story basically spell out that we are not bound to those ancient Sabbath laws, does in not? Luke 13:10-17 is the story of the bent over woman. This woman hobbles near Jesus on the Sabbath. She is severely crippled and has been burdened with that state for eighteen years. Jesus sees her, and with compassion, heals her. "How dare she walk near Jesus and allow herself to be healed on the Sabbath," she is chastised by the religious leader. The retort is ridiculous of course, but the religious leader wasn’t truly angry with her. He was, not so subtly, angry with Jesus for working on the Sabbath. And, in response Jesus says those words that all of us Christians take as license to throw away the Sabbath commandment, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (NRSV, Luke 13:15-16)

It is easy to get confused here. We Christians feel the need to be God’s helpers so strongly. "We cannot take a Sabbath. We cannot rest, and here is proof!" Of course, our proof is as unstable as a child standing on a bike, moving down a hill, with no hands. Jesus doesn’t throw away the Sabbath here. Through Jesus’ healing touch, God simply allows one more person the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful gift of a day of rest without pain and burden. Like anyone would do for their donkey, she is untied from her burdened and led to the still waters to drink and to rest in the soft grass.

As you have probably already figured out by now, we are not punished for the sin of breaking the Sabbath. There is no jail time, and I am willing to bet that there probably is not a place in hell designated for those who paid their bills on the wrong day. Rather, we are punished by the sin of breaking the Sabbath. When we break the Sabbath, we miss God’s wonderful gift of refreshment and rest. Just like the child who falls after standing on a moving bike with no hands, there is no more punishment needed to make the point. There is no more punishment needed after we have run ourselves dry of energy, dry of a close relationship with our spouse, and dry of a close relationship with God.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The gift of the Sabbath is offered every week. God will be able to handle things for a day without you. Let God work on you, instead of the other way around. Feel the word of God refresh your tired brain. Feel the warmth of a loved one held close. Feel the nourishment of God’s body and blood restore your body. Feel the peace of silence. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

All biblical quotes are from: The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

This week my wife and I drove into Chicago to be a part of the National Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I don’t know if you’ve been to Chicago, but downtown Chicago is a beautiful city filled with gloriously carved stone skyscrapers from the early 1900s and dozens of shimmering towers from today. The sight of these lit towers from a sailboat on lake Michigan at night simply takes your breath away. The cityscape beckons you back toward the shore; promising that when you step onto the finely carved granite and cement you will find the very thing for which your soul has been craving.

From the edge of the city a thirsty soul can see a rich community of artists. Immediately, the lonely and displaced artist’s soul is beckoned to come closer. There is the “golden mile” filled with fine shops luring you in from the outskirts. Each of these shops offers only the best. Do you desire to appear better? Not looking so hot? The golden mile will fulfill your desire with custom made designer shoes and custom fitted dresses. Do you desire relaxation? The golden mile is filled with five star hotels to cater to your every desire. Massage? Right away. Fine food? Coming sir. Tattoo? Down the street, two blocks to the left, turn right into the alley, the door behind the dumpster. The city promises that every desire can and will be fulfilled.

As my wife and I traveled toward this glorious city of promise, I saw all of these cars streaming into the city. Other people were also drawn in to quench their thirsty souls. I saw all of these cars intimately: bumpers in my windshield; truck grills practically in my trunk; people drinking coffee, not watching where they are going and practically sitting in my passenger’s seat. All of these people were putting up with everyone else, kindly honking their horns at each other, and greeting each other calmly with an interesting greeting of the finger; just so that they can find the promise of the city. And, I thought to myself, “Self…Why aren’t this many people steaming into church?” Isn’t this scene of city traffic the very thing all Christians dream to see just outside the church door? After-all, God has given the church a special promise that will water the soul of any spiritually dry person. It is a fact that every person who enters Chicago will be disappointed by its inability to fulfill the cravings of their life. No matter how well the things the city has to offer is marketed, obtaining stuff will always leave us with just a lot of stuff, rather than a quenched soul. God’s promises, on the other hand, will never leave us dry. So, why are not people cutting off other people on the highway in order to get into church where the thirst quenching promises of God can be heard?

Do not forget how powerful God’s promises are. It is easy for the faithful to get discouraged and forget. It is easy for the words of God's promises to ring dryly in the ear because it has been heard so many times. Do not forget how powerful God's promises are. God promised Abraham land and a great world full of descendants. You know Abraham: landless cattle herder Abraham; non-convinced, questioning God all the time Abraham, childless old, old, old, old Abraham. He had no reason to have faith. But, the assurance of the things hoped for: the promise of land and the promise of many descendants, kept him moving and motivated in life. He strove to reach God’s promised city despite the fact that he knew he would never see it or enjoy the fruits of God’s promise directly. He would not see the great city of Jerusalem. He would not see the earth populated with his descendants. That is how powerful God’s promises are. They draw us in even if we will not directly benefit from them. They draw us in like moths to beautiful blue lights. Of course, God doesn’t kill us, and God isn’t blue, so that’s a bad example. Some better examples: God promises do draw us close like the smile of a newborn child or the beauty of a forested mountain at sunrise or the mystery of a glorious lit city at night.

We still find ourselves drawn toward the promised city of God. The beautiful city comes down to us out of heaven. There is no temple because God is there. God is no longer far far away. God is right there. God’s light shines bright, not only on the people of the city, but it spills out of the gates of the city to the four corners of the earth. The gates are wide open and everyone the light touches is invited in. There will be no more separation or segregation or hating or sinning of any kind. Crying and weeping will be no more. All will be given the chance to wash their robes in the waters coming from the throne of Christ and forgiveness and love will make everything clean and new. Hunger will no longer plague people as the tree of life provides more than enough food for all.

These images from Revelation provide a powerful promise to us and I find that I am drawn to the city of God. How can you not be? How can we not want to be a part of the city without hatred? How can we not get excited about a city where everyone, even the too short or too fat or too skinny or too dumb or too whatever, are all accepted in? How can we not get excited about a place where forgiveness has the last word and all of our hurts and pains and sins are washed away forever? Who reading this doesn’t want to be a part of that? No one, of course! Who reading this doesn’t want to tell others to get in the backseat of the car and come along for the glorious ride? No one, of course!

So I am forced to ask: with the promise of such a glorious city, why aren’t people knocking down the doors of the church wanting to be a part of it? This is a question I take very seriously. This is a question that God’s church cannot afford to ignore. This is a question that our own congregation cannot afford to ignore. And, the only way we can answer this question is by looking first at the messengers of this glorious vision; ourselves. So, here’s a question to us.

Is this congregation a church of wishful thinking or a church of faith? There is a difference between wishful thinking and faith after-all. Wishful thinking anticipates some great thing to happen out of the blue. Expecting to catch a pop fly for the first time when one has never put on a baseball glove before in life is wishful thinking. Faith is the assurance of something hoped for. Expecting a major league player with a perfect record to catch a pop fly is faith. Faith is the assurance of something hoped for.

Here’s the difference between the two types of church. A church of wishful thinking wishes more people would quit whatever they are doing on a Sunday and fill the pews. The church of faith sees that God has opened the table to everyone and therefore invites their friends and family and neighbors to come in and eat. A church of wishful thinking wishes people would get their acts together, and because of this expectation, gets bogged down in correcting little misdemeanors like forgetting to turn off a hall light or misprinting something in the bulletin. The church of faith experiences the forgiveness of God every morning, and shares that forgiveness freely with everyone around. A church of wishful thinking desperately wishes to raise lots of money from bake sales and yard sales, so that they will get enough to pay the pastor and the light bill. The church of faith gives freely from God’s gifts to them for the healing of the world and for the healing of those in need in their community. They understand how truly blessed they are. Any proceeds from a bake sale or yard sale is seen as a gift from God so that ministry to the poor, disadvantaged, or abused can occur. A church of wishful thinking wants to see immediate results from the efforts of their people in leadership. The church of faith prays that God will cause to sprout the seeds that everyone in the church casts on the ground. They expect this to happen in God's own time, just as God’s promises to Abraham sprouted in God's own time.

The church of wishful thinking is a church that is bitter; expects much, but does little; desires a full church, but does not desire God. I am afraid that many churches can in some way be characterized as a church of wishful thinking. The church of wishful thinking will never see a traffic jam outside its doors. No one wants to be a part of such a misdirected church?

But, we don’t need wishful thinking when we have a God who promises a beautiful city where everyone is lovingly accepted, and washed clean; even those of us who have messed up trying to do this church thing correctly. Who needs wishful thinking when forgiveness for everyone is available now and bitterness can be wiped away right now? Who needs wishful thinking when God promises a city where everyone is welcome & division will be no more? Who needs wishful thinking when God is present with you right now, filling the room with life & love? Who needs wishful thinking when the deepest desires of our soul are being filled right now so tightly that we can’t possibly contain it? Who needs wishful thinking when we have faith; a faith that moves mountains, a faith that moves us out of here, a faith that endures forever?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reflection on Luke 11:1-13

When you watched him pray alone in his corner of the garden, sweat running down his face, you knew that what was being said really mattered. When you watched him pray, his eyes were open, staring intently; like he actually expected an answer. When you watched him pray, you saw a trusting child talking to his loving Daddy.

“I want that,” the disciple must have thought looking at Jesus’ relationship with his Father. “I want to pray like that.”

When Jesus had returned from praying the disciple asked, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

This desire for genuine prayer is a thirst that has lingered dryly for thousands of years. We still hear parched souls pleading, “How do you pray?”

A pastor was stunned when a prominent and (by all outward appearances) faithful member walked up after worship and said, "I have really enjoyed the sermon series you and the other pastors have given on prayer. And I really feel called to pray more. The only problem I have is that I just don't know how." (Michael Foss, Power Surge)

The pastor was again stunned when a pastor walked up after a conference that stressed the importance of prayer in any ministry and remarked, “You are assuming," he said, "that we pastors know how to pray. But many of us don't." (Michael Foss, Power Surge)

“How do we pray?” What a silly question thought a five year old girl with pigtails when she was asked by her Sunday School teacher. “You open your mouth and talk,” she said intelligently as she colored her picture of Jesus praying by the rock.

She’s right. Prayer is nothing more than conversation with God, and this simple answer has come out of my mouth many times when people have asked me how to pray. “Just open your mouth and talk.”

But, in giving this answer I think that I have let a lot of people down because I think that I answered the wrong question. People really do know how to pray. We really do understand that prayer is simply conversation with God. The problem is the same problem you have when you try talking about something extremely interesting and intelligent with Uncle Frank who is your Father’s cousin’s uncle’s grandfather, and whom you’ve just met and are now stranded with alone on the back porch. What do you say? You don’t know this man. You wouldn’t share your deepest needs with the guy. So, you talk about dumb stuff like the lawn and the hornet’s nest in the attic. The problem is that you don’t yet trust the man. And, when we ask, “How do I pray?” I think we are actually asking this much deeper question; we are actually asking, “How do I trust?” “How do I get into a deeper relationship with God?” This is not a question that can be answered through a flippant remark from a five year old girl with pigtails. But, it is a question she does know the answer to. Children inherently know how to trust very well, so it is not surprising that Jesus answers with a very childlike answer.

“When you pray, say: Daddy, let your name be holy. Send us your kingdom. Give us food everyday. Forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And, please do not test us.” Every child trusts that their parents will give them a stable home (send us your kingdom). Every child trusts that their parents will feed them (give us food everyday). Every child trusts that they can mess up big time and still be loved (forgive us our sins). Every child fears having their love being put to the test (do not bring us to the time of trial).

How do we pray? How do we trust God? Jesus answers, “just try it, and you will not be disappointed.” “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you,” he promises as incentive to try.

But, this is not an easy thing to do for many of us. Trust is an act of courage. Faith is an act of courage. We don’t know how it will turn out. We aren’t in control of the results. Trusting someone else means that ultimately, we are not the shapers of our own lives. But, that’s the whole point of prayer, isn’t it. We are not in control. The world isn’t ours to conquer. Our lives are not our own. Our lives were purchased with a price, the death of God’s own Son. Our lives are not our own. You are owned by God. You are God’s precious child. True prayer does not allow us to take that fact lightly. So, Jesus urges us to take a few steps back in maturity and do what children do so well; trust our heavenly daddy.

Because she believes that trusting our heavenly father is so essential to life, Catherine Foote helps children who have suffered under abusive fathers pray to their very different, loving heavenly father through this prayer:

Daddies hold their babies,
daddies hold them soft.
Strong daddy arms
hold babies up
and gentle is the hold.

Daddies laugh with babies,
daddies smile with love.
Warm daddy eyes meet new eyes
and easy is the laugh.

Daddies care for babies,
keep them covered safe.
Big daddy hands reach baby hands
and tender is the care.

Daddies and their babies,
eyes and arms and smiles and love.
Then a daddy hurt a baby
Baby cold with fear,
Baby crying new tears,
Baby frightened, lost.
No more smiles for baby,
No more shelter here.

And God, they call you Daddy,
God, they say you care.
Do you hold your babies?
Do you dry their tears?
Do you match them smile for smile?
Do you shelter safe?

God, that daddy stole your name.
God, that daddy made me mad.
God, I want a daddy back
(daddies hold their babies).
God, please daddy me.

(Survivor Prayers: Talking with God about Childhood Sexual Abuse, pp. 44-45)

We all need our heavenly daddy. We all want our heavenly daddy. That’s why we ask the question, “How do we pray?” in the first place. So, how do we pray? It takes courage to trust God. But, Jesus promises that when we “ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reflection on Luke 10:25-27

Everyone is so busy these days, have you noticed that? There is always somewhere to go, or something to do, or something that we feel like we should be doing. I recall vividly a conversations I had with my pastor before I became a pastor myself. Looking at the nice summer day outside the church door, I made the completely ignorant comment; ”At least, since adult classes, confirmation, and Sunday School is over, you get to enjoy these nice days.” I swear that I saw reflected in this kind, Godly man’s eyes the urge to lovingly strangle me. He knew what I now know and you know also from your own lives; just because some cars clear off the busy freeway of life does not mean there are not others speeding up the on ramp, trying to butt in. And so, even through the summer, we continue to speed around, swerving as we go, hoping not to hit anyone.

This can’t be healthy; all of this rushing and speeding from place to place. We miss a nice little thing called rest. You remember what rest is like don't you? I had a dream about resting once, then I was abruptly woke up: "Did you remember to squeeze the toothpaste toward the front end of the tube?" "No, I’ll go do it now honey.” There is always something we’ve forgotten or need to get done. And, I don’t think that rest is the only casualty of our modern lives. Another casualty of speeding around from place to place all the time is that we never seem to have time to “Go and do likewise.”

You know what I’m talking about. As we are driving along, we see someone walking along the side of the road, probably stranded and homeless, and in true Christian fashion we take our car and swerve over the center line a little so as to keep the person from getting sideswiped; that’s very thoughtful of us. The example of the Good Samaritan pops up in my head every time I do this, and I feel like I should do be stopping and doing something. “Go and do likewise” rings around between my ears. Now, we know logically that there could be any number of good reasons that this person is stranded, walking on the highway. Their car could be broke down, or they could be running away from an abusive situation, or they just may be someone down on their luck who could use a little help. Of course, my brain quickly weighs these options and quickly comes to the conclusion that the person is likely a 87 year old mass murderer. The walker is just a ruse to get me to stop. Plus, my Bible is sitting on the passenger’s seat and there couldn’t possibly be any room.

I also like to play the “Well, I can’t help everyone in the world” game. Do you like to play that one? An example: we hear that care givers of aids patients in Africa need hygiene kits to keep them safe from the disease; simple things like latex gloves and the such. But, we have also heard that people are starving in India, and the food pantry is low on food, and the fine arts center could really use your help to expand their stage. So we shout, “Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.” It is true that we can’t help everyone. However, we can help at least someone. Not realizing this fact because of the overwhelming nature of life, the "Well, I can't help everyone in the world" game usually gets wild and goes something like this:

“Can you give just a quarter to help feed the infants.”
“Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.”

“Daddy can you please get me a glass of water?”
“Well, I can’t help everyone in the world.”

The best excuse of them all though is: “I have something important and I just don’t have the time.” This is the excuse of people who actually do care. The Levite and the priest were surely thinking that they should help the person bent over and bloodied on the side of the road. The cleanliness laws of Judaism do allow space for compassion on people who are bloodied and in need of help, so don’t imagine for a second that they wouldn’t have stopped if only they had the time. But, they have lives devoted to caring and were surely on their way to something very important. We, caring people, are always on our way to something important.

A sociological study done at Princeton Theological Seminary proves this point. In this experiment, seminary students (people who presumably love their neighbor) were informed that they were to give a talk that would be tape recorded in another building. “Along the way to the place for the talk, the subject encountered a ‘victim’ slumped in a doorway. The question was, under what conditions would the [students] stop to help the victim.

Half of the [students] were assigned to talk on the Good Samaritan Parable; the others were assigned a different topic. Some of the [students] were told they were late and should hurry; some were told they had just enough time to get to the recording room; and some were told they would arrive early” (Harman).

Now, one would assume that those students who had just studied the parable of the Good Samaritan would most definitely be more likely to stop and help. But they weren’t. “The only…variable that made a difference was how much of a hurry the [students] were in. 63% of subjects that were in no hurry stopped to help, 45% of those in a moderate hurry stopped, and 10% of those that were in a great hurry stopped” (Harman).

Becoming too busy is a sin. You know that already. You have felt its effects. It’s not a sin we are necessarily punished for though. As the writer Ann Lamott puts it, we are not punished for the sin, we are punished by the sin. I think this is the case with being too busy. When busy, we get that frantic, brainless feeling. When busy, we become entangled in ourselves and start to feel stuffy. When we are busy, others get punished by our sin also, because they are not cared for as they should.

It was no surprise to me when I studied the Greek word used for “Go” in “Go and do likewise" and found that it doesn’t simply mean just leave point A and get to point B. It is not that bland of a word. It has the flavoring of life to it. The flavor would make it sound like, “Go and truly live” or “Go with a fulfilling purpose.” The idea is that, when we “Go and do likewise” we are doing something that is nourishing and refreshing to both ourselves and the person we are helping. Surely you know what I am talking about. You know how refreshing it feels to slow down in life, pull off of your busy freeway, and do something meaningful for someone. It is like fresh cool water purifying your once stuffy soul.

A friend told me of an African pastor who was one of these refreshed souls. While attending a church in the bush of Africa, my friend stood in the crouded room for two hours, waiting for the service to start. The pastor of the African church had not yet arrived. The pastor did finally arrive, calmly sauntering in. After services were over, my friend asked if the congregation would be mad at him for being late.

“Of course not,” was his response. On his way to church he encountered an ill man who needed his help. “’Why would they be mad about that?” the African pastor asked.

“In America, people usually aren’t late, it is considered rude,” my friend mentioned.

“In America, you have watches, in Africa we have time,” he said in that peaceful way that spiritually fulfilled people do.

“Go and do likewise.” These words of Jesus are not a command as much as they are a gift from our savior. They are a gift of a new way of life that allows us to say "no" to being busy and "yes" to a life full of richness and purpose. It is the gift that Jesus had himself. Jesus had the time to save us. Nothing distracted him. No amount of business got in his way. God always has time for us. Share in that peaceful and enriching gift. “Go and do likewise.”

The study cited can be found at, Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology
Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error by Gilbert Harman of Princeton University

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.