Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reflection on Luke 8:26-39

The friend asked him if he could pick him up a couple of things while he was at the Lowe's. That was all. It was a simple request. He would even provide the money in advanced. But, the guy went off anyway. Like the click of a door knob in a house filled with leaking natural gas, the guy just went off on his friend; accusing of taking advantage, accusing of intruding on his life, accusing of simply existing.

“Dude chill. I just asked you to pick up a lighting switch and some bulbs at Lowe's for me. What’s up?” the friend asked.

And that is when the guy broke down. Where to start? With the finances becoming impossible? With the constant calls of the bill collectors like a constant mantra that says, “You are a loser.” With the kids? With the parents always wanting you over more? With the wife wondering when you will be home sometime when she knows full well that you are trying to keep everyone afloat? With the fact that you are so depressed that you can not even move from the television? And, that is not the end. That is just the introduction to the class “My Sucky Life 101.”

His problems are legion. One thing he can handle. Just set your mind to it and you can fix it. Maybe two things could be handled without too much difficulty. But, 96 different crisis for one life is just too much. He is going crazy…literally being driven mad by stress. He knows things are bad. People treat him specially now. Like someone with a mental illness, they are short and polite with their conversations with him, and they make sure to walk at least five feet from where he is standing. They do not want to be hit by some random piece of sucky life orbiting around his body. He is quarantined away from the world.

Now, there was a man in the country of the Gerasenes who was also quarantined away by the community because he was beleaguered by demons. Now, I do not know exactly what the ancients meant when they said a person was overwhelmed by a whole legion of demons, but I imagine that having multiple internal voices telling you that “you should do this,” “you should get that done,” “you suck because you forgot that,” “don’t forget this” is at least a low grade version of being possessed by a legion of demons. I mean, is not the definition of being possessed by a legion of demons: “having little control over your life because outside forces have invaded and are now dictating your actions.” Become a day late with one payment to a credit card and you are well on your way to demon possession.  You know what it means to have your actions dictated by the outside world.

“Just chain us up now because we are likely to blow at any time.”

“Wait, did I just refer to myself in the plural? Symptom number two!”

The problem with demon possession, in both the literal and the non literal senses is that it not only stresses out the brain and the body, but it focuses life on just one person…"myself." This is not a moral judgment; just the reality. It affects everyone one around. They must adapt their lives to either aid you or stay clear of you. People start to depend on your legion of problems to either build a fulfilling life of helping you, or depend on you as a person upon whom all blame can safely rest so that they do not have to deal with their own demons. It is very debilitating. When I look around at many people today, I see debilitated people. I see people who are tied to a legion of demons either by direct possession or in a supporting role of some sort.

Into this world of debilitation, Jesus comes along.  He sees the man who is driven mad by his legion of demons.  Rather than staying clear of the orbiting bits of suckiness, Jesus steps right into the man's life, stretches out his hands and “heals” the man from his legion of problems. More than heals, Jesus saves the man from his legion of problems. Jesus casts the demons into a group of swine who then immediately drown themselves, and the man is free.  He is free from the burdens and stress that a legion creates.  He is free to simply sit at Jesus' feet and listen.  Free.

And, you thought that having a hog farm built right next door to your property was problematic! You cannot possibly want to get rid of it; that stinky place just may be your future salvation!

Now, when people see that the man has been healed and is now sitting at Jesus' feet (in his right mind), one would assume that people would be amazed at what had happened.  Of course, one would be wrong to assume that.

Instead, people responded to Jesus' healing of the legion of demons with fear and anger. They drive Jesus out of town, asking that he never come again and heal. It is strange, but the truth of the matter is, healing has a tendency to upset everything. What if everyone was given a break on their loans by being given 0% or even 3% or 5%?  The nation's economy would collapse! Or, at least people fear it would! It would be as if a preacher came and drove your town’s entire herd of swine into the sea.  Healing comes at a cost.

We should have guessed this.  Since a person's illness affects everyone else around, it would be stupid of us to assume that healing and salvation would not affect everyone equally as hard.  When a person with alcohol addiction goes off for treatment and then comes back, they very often find that their problems have not gotten better, instead they have just begun.  There were people who needed him or her to be sick so that they could be the responsible people and help him or her.  There are the people who needed him or her to be sick so that they could lay the blame of all of their own problems on him or her.  Healing disrupts people's lives and sometimes causes many new problems.  Healing comes at a cost.

But, just as illness starts a domino effect of more illness, healing...tough as it may be...can also start a domino effect of more healing.  Those who depended on him or her to be sick, can learn to help others who truly need the assistance.  Those who depended on him or her to be sick, can start looking at their own problems and find true healing for their own legion of problems.

Healing may come at a cost, but healing is healing, and wholeness is wholeness. There is no need to fear Jesus' presence. There is no need to fear Jesus' healing. Trust the healing and then allow the dominoes to fall where they will. Share what Jesus has done for you. Go and share that Jesus has brought healing.

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 7:36-8:3

Simon is better than the woman. There is no doubt about it. Simon the Pharisee is a much more upright, much more blessed, and vastly more moral than the woman who comes, interrupts the dinner party, and makes a spectacle of herself as she wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair and anoints his feet with oil. Simon follows the law. Simon is in debt to no one. Simon is blessed enough to share what he has with an extravagant meal. Yes, Simon is better and much more righteous than the woman.

He knows it too. As he stares at the woman who is groveling over and stroking Jesus’ feet, he secretly indulges in the passing judgment about how petty and filthy the woman is. How dare she presume to come into the dinner party? How dare she presume to touch Jesus with her unclean hands? What a sad, sad child? Pity!

I am not trying to put Simon down; the same kind of thought has crossed my mind before. Sure, I know that as a Christian I am to be loving and accepting of people; even accepting of the unlovable and underprivileged. But, I do have to admit to the fleeting thoughts of Simon; the ones that say, “why don’t you clean yourself up,” or “why don’t you just go get a job and stop mooching off of others,” or “what gives you the right to be here and make a decision,” or “whatever made you think that you would fit in here,” or simply, “look at her, gross.” The thoughts may be fleeting, but they are not trivial.

I once knew a man whom the world would consider “blessed.” He had many things and shared his wealth freely. He was very intelligent and was not shy with sharing his knowledge. The man was a walking encyclopedia and would help you with anything that you desired to know. His hair was slicked back perfectly, which seemed to suit him as he was a devoted usher in the church. He served on the church council regularly and on several community boards. He was an honest and righteous man.

There was only one problem. You could never get close to the guy. He would give you the shirt off of his back, but he would not stick around to help you put it on. He would feed you with valuable information, but needed no help in return. He was tall and looked down on everyone he was around, literally and figuratively. He was God’s gift to the world, and he knew it. A person did feel attended to by the man, but did not necessarily feel loved. To this man, and to us when we live his life even so slightly, Jesus has a message for us:

Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "speak." "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

A person who does not need God, is exactly that; a person who does not have God. The woman, who has been granted the loving forgiveness of God, has God’s love to share. God has chosen her and she is overwhelmed that she has the opportunity to participate in that love and grace. The woman participates in the very source of life, Jesus the Christ, as she celebrates the joy of forgiveness. She is close, and intimate, and has love.

So what of the righteous? The problem of the righteous is not that they have transgressed any moral law, they truly are righteous after-all. The problem lies at a much deeper level. The problem lies in their inability to participate in the new life of Jesus Christ. Yes, they want forgiveness, but they do not believe that they need much of it. They love little because they have allowed themselves to be forgiven little.

Lutheran Theologian Paul Tillich, from his book The New Being once asked,

Why do Christians turn away from their righteous pastors? Why do people turn away from righteous neighborhoods? Why do many turn away from righteous Christianity and from the Jesus it paints and the God it proclaims? Why do they turn to those who are not considered to be the righteous ones? Often, certainly, it is because they want to escape judgment. But more often it is because they seek a love which is rooted in forgiveness, and this the righteous ones cannot give. Many of those to whom they turn cannot give it either. Jesus gave it to the woman who was utterly unacceptable. The Church would be more the Church of Christ than it is now if it did the same, if it joined Jesus and not Simon in its encounter with those who are rightly judged unacceptable. Each of us who strives for righteousness would be more Christian if more were forgiven us, if we loved more and if we could better resist the temptation to present ourselves as acceptable to God by our own righteousness.

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 7:11-17

The widow now had nothing. I am not sure that anyone else around her realized this; but as she walked beside the men carrying the body of her dead son, she wept bitterly for her son and for herself, because her son’s death also meant her own death. No, this is not the part of the world where she would need to jump into the fire along with her dead relative, though she might want to. Nor, will she be put on a floating iceberg and sent out to sea to meet her fate. The fate of this lone widow will not be that dramatic. She will simply go home after the funeral, find the last bit of money and food that her son had left her, and slowly die from starvation and neglect because there is no one left to care.

Her husband always saw her, with his beautiful eyes and strong presence. But, he is no longer around. Her son always held true to the commandment, “Honor your Father and your Mother,” but he no longer sees her either. Her problem is that she has faded into the shadows of her world, and she will no longer be noticed.

Is it possible for things to get worse? As anyone who has lived a real life can attest, yes, of course things can get worse. In the middle of the funeral procession, the traditional movements are disrupted by a man from the crowds. As if things were not bad enough, now even the funeral will be sent into the gutters with the lunatic ravings of an approaching itinerant preacher. This is like when your cousin Earl stands up in the middle of the funeral service and asks “if anyone today has accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, please come forward.”

The man walks up, and quite literally stops the funeral procession in its tracks as he reaches up on top of the funeral bier and touches the dead body. This act is disgusting on a couple of levels for these people of the ancient world. There is the interruption of ritual of course which is disgusting socially, but touching the dead body is enough to send you into dry heaves. It is like intentionally touching a piece of road kill. Everyone looks away immediately, except for one person. One person does not look away. One person does not let people get lost in the shadows.

Let me quote the text at this point because I want to get it right:

"When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, 'Young man, I say to you, rise!' The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother."

The Lord saw her. The Lord loved her. The Lord provided for her by giving back her son. Two people were brought back from the dead that day, all because the Lord “saw her.” In the Lord, no one will get lost in the shadows for good. The Lord sees, the Lord loves, and the Lord saves.

That could be the end right there. I would feel confident in sitting down right now if it were not for a confirmation student.

When this story was read in a confirmation class some years back, the students were asked whom they identified with in the story. Some said the woman of course, others said the Jesus, or one of Jesus’ disciples, or simply one of the crowd watching, but one beautiful young woman piped up smartly, “I think I’m the dead guy.”

Of course everyone laughed, and she did too, but only after a split second hesitation. In the world of caring for others, it is those quarter of a second hesitations that matter. They are the gaps that reveal truth before the mask that is acceptable to everyone else takes over. She really did identify with the dead guy.

After confirmation, she was asked if she was serious about being the dead guy. She stood, thinking, deciding if it is OK to take off the mask that protects both herself and us from the truth. She took off the mask and spoke, “I feel bad, because I let people down a lot. Sometimes I am not there when people need me. A lot of times, I am the dead guy.”

If more people were to take off their masks also, she would know that she is not alone. A lot of times, we feel like the dead guy. We know that we should rise, but we do not…no let me revise that, we know that we should rise, rise to the occasion, rise up in our standards, rise up to the challenge, or simply rise and be heard, but we cannot. We are dead. We have lost the spark of life. We are the dead guy.

“As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Now rise, you have been healed by Christ. Rise and walk,” were the words spoken while hands rested on the forehead of the teen. The words were healing ones that feed a dead soul. The words were healing ones that allowed a smile to come upon a dead face. The words were healing ones that allowed the teenaged woman to skip away and be who God was calling her to be.

There are people out there who need you to not be dead. I am reminded of a friend in seminary who was amazed at the sudden revelation while in class that there are people in a church somewhere praying right now that she would come. There are people praying right now that you will come. But, dead people cannot walk. Come and find healing for your soul. Let Jesus raise you from the dead.  Be healed and rise.

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 Romans 5:1-5

Trinity Sunday, ah yes…the Sunday where every preacher becomes a heretic. Why is this? Because it is the only Sunday where we feel compelled to explain to you the unexplainable…where we feel it is our duty to shape mystery and divinity into a tangible thing so that you can get a grasp upon a truth that we ourselves do not have a grasp.

I love Google searches because you can find some really great heretical stuff out there just by typing a couple of words. I typed, “Trinity is like…” into the Google search box and I came up with only a little over 21 million hits. Like I said, Trinity Sunday is the Sunday where every preacher becomes a heretic, and apparently each one of us is so proud of our heresy that we put it on the web for everyone to see.

I love one of the first hits, it sounds so promising in its opening statement:

“Perhaps the most difficult concept of Christianity to explain is the mystery of the Trinity. How can our God exist in three separate and distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet be one God?

If Christians find it hard to grasp this possibility, imagine the problem it presents for those of other faiths. Moslems, in particular, cannot understand how Christians can profess to believe that there is only one God, yet worship Him as three individual beings. They claim that Christianity is not monotheistic, but polytheistic.

Can our belief in the Trinity be explained in understandable terms?

Perhaps it can!”

I would just like to say one thing; any time you start using pitches from used car salesmen to promote your theological assertion, you know that you that what follows must be great. And it is great, because did you not know that God is like three-in-one shampoo. I bet you did not know that. I did not know that either. That is right, each part of the shampoo does a different task, but it is the same substance. Tada! All of your questions about the Trinity answered, plus your hair is now shiny and clean! Just fail to mention that this is actually the heresy of tri-thiesm, because there are actually three gods living in that shampoo to do the different tasks of washing your scalp…if you do not mention that, it works perfect!

Oh, is three-in-one shampoo last year’s model for explaining the Trinity, well then, let us look in the new lot. How about the Trinity is like water! Of course, God quenches our thirst, it makes total sense. Plus, water can exist in three forms, as a vapor (steam), as a liquid (that wet stuff), and as a solid (what you use to cool your drink, ice). This is great, I totally get God now. I had no idea that it is actually God coming out of my pours when I get hot. No, actually sweat is not God; this famous heresy is known as, modalism. Yeah, that is right; the heresy that says that God can only be in one place at one time, not as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” but “Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.”

Did you know that God is also an egg, an apple (which solved lots of problems for people who do not like God in the old testament, just peal the tough Holy Spirit off the outside and core the creator God out from the inside and you only have sweet juicy Jesus left), a three layer bar…Oh, I could go on and on with apparently twenty million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety five more examples.

There was actually one that I kind of liked. The Trinity is like the ocean. The ocean is God and the waves that rise to form are Jesus. Jesus never separates from God the Father, but is distinct. And the ocean permeates the air with its salty moisture, drawing you to its shores just as the Holy Spirit draws us together.

This too is not a great example, but I kind of like where the end is going, with the salt air being like the Holy Spirit drawing us close to God. Of course, God is not an ocean, or a wave, but God does draw us into a relationship. This is what the Biblical witness has to say about our Trinitarian God.

It is interesting that Paul never tries to attempt to describe God so that we can understand God as something (nor does any other biblical writer). They never try the God is an apple bit. But they do talk about God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit a lot, and it all has to do with a loving relationship.

God the Father has made us right; God has set us straight, through the love of Jesus, so that we might live in peace with God. Wow, that is amazing. Notice how trite all of this talk about God being like a shampoo is compared to that. God wants to live in peace with you. God the Father has made things right between the two of you through the cross of Christ and the alluring draw of the Holy Spirit. God desires to live at peace with you and with all creation. This is not understanding the Trinity; this is living with the Trinity. Maybe the Trinity is like someone in your home who you dearly love; you will never understand them or what they do, sometimes they make you infinitely angry, but at the same time, they comfort you, they help to direct you, you can get a lot done together, and most of all, without them the house would not be full of love.

You see, the Trinity is not about understanding. We do not understand the ones we love. But, we have a life and we have hope because we have a loving relationship. Understanding is not the point. God choosing to live with us is the point. And, God is present here with us. As Paul says, “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” God is present now, and so are you, and it is a beautiful relationship.

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 John 14:8-17

When I was a senior in high school, my parents left me. Now, I do not want you getting the wrong idea here; this is not going to be a story about abandonment where I come out the survivor of cruel parents after living years on the hard paved streets of the city. No, while I was a senior in high school, my Father graduated college and was moving on to go to school at the seminary to become a pastor. I was a senior. I had friends. I had a life. I was not going along with. So, my parents left me behind.

I remember the days right before they left. I wandered around the house filled with a strange sort of pain and fear. I was already missing them terribly, my heart was beating fast and the tears held back just around the corner of my eyes. Plus, I had all sorts of question. They could not go because…I was not quite sure how to pay for gas other than at the pump. What if I could not just slide in my card. Who was I to talk to? What was I to say? Or, what do you do when you run out of checks; how do you get more? How much do you tip a waitress? How do you drive in downtown Omaha? I had all of these questions that I needed answered, but the questions were all basically the same question: How do I possibly live without you? I am going to be so alone.

Philip joins me in these questions as Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to leave. Jesus is going to the cross. Jesus is going to die. Jesus is going away to the Father, and the disciples will again be alone. Who is going to show them the ways of God? Who is going to direct them in what they should do and to whom they should give help and where they are to go? Jesus, you have not finished showing us everything! “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Show us God before you go. Jesus, do not go; we are going to be so alone!

Like every parent, my parents did not just up and move hundreds of miles away without somehow preparing for all of these unanswered questions. Just outside of my new bedroom, were a new set of parents who had graciously taken me in for the year. I moved in with a wonderful family and from them I learned lots of things such as: how to tie a tie. I learned how to sew a button back on my shirt. I learned that Aussie Shampoo will ruin my hair leaving it dry and like wire for more than a month. I learned all kinds of things from these gracious people. My parents were not stupid. They left me people right next to my bedroom door who would guide me in the same ways that they would.

Disciples of Christ, you too have not been left alone. The Holy Spirit, the paraklete in Greek, the advocate, the one who walks beside us, is right here with us. Jesus has not left us orphaned. Jesus has given us the gift of a next door neighbor! But, this is good next door neighbor. The Holy Spirit will not let its dog leave gifts in your lawn, the Holy Spirit will not cut down your apple tree, nor will the Holy Spirit be the drill sergeant of life next door.

The Holy Spirit is the one who will live beside you, walk beside you, love you, and remind you that you are God’s. The Holy Spirit will remind you of the Father, and of Jesus so that you will not go through life alone.

I am not sure that all Christians realize that they have a next door neighbor. Sure, they have been told that in sermons and such, but who listens to them…nice nap fests that they are. No, many Christians do not realize that they have a heavenly next door neighbor. They have let their property line bushes grow tall and thick and they cannot even see over the property line. The neighbor is still there of course. The overgrown bushes are not the neighbor’s fault. But, the bushes do allow us to feel lonely. We feel as if we have no gifts from God. We feel as if God has no use for us. We simple feel scared to try anything for the sake of the risen one, because we cannot see the encouragement and hear the wisdom from our neighbor.

But, if we allowed the bushes to be trimmed we would see that “the one who believes in [Jesus] will also do the works that [Jesus does] and, in fact, will do greater works than these...” There is no need to live in fear. There is no need to live as a sheltered Christian. The Spirit has taken up residence right next to us and will guide us in the ways and works of God.

Did you not hear Jesus say, “I will do whatever you ask in my name…If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”? This is not a divine promise to grant you all of your wishes. It is much better than that. It is the divine expression of a parent that says, “I would do anything for you. You are not alone. You are not worthless. You are special. You are a gift to the world. You have gifts to share with the world, and I would do anything to make you and your gifts shine.”

The Holy Spirit has taken us residence next to you, and together you and the Holy Spirit will make your street a better place to live.

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.

Relfection on Revelation 21:1-6

A minister dies and, resplendent in his clerical collar and colorful robes, waits in line at the Pearly Gates. Just ahead of him is a guy dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter addresses this guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replies, "I'm Joe Green, taxi-driver, of Noo Yawk City." Saint Peter consults his list, smiles and says to the taxi-driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff, and enter into the Kingdom."

So the taxi-driver enters Heaven with his robe and staff, and the minister is next in line. Without being asked, he proclaims, "I am Michael O'Connor, head pastor of Saint Mary's for the last forty-three years."

Saint Peter consults his list and says, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

"Just a minute," says the preacher, "that man was a taxi-driver, and you issued him a silken robe and golden staff. But I get wood and cotton. How can this be?"

"Up here, we go by results," says Saint Peter. "While you preached, people slept -- while he drove, people prayed."

Ah yes, the “St. Peter and the Pearly Gate Jokes.” There are a million of these things, but they mostly all go the same way. Someone goes up to heaven, is given some sort of test at the gates of heaven, and either does or does not get in based on the comedic twist of the joke. Sometimes the people who get in are not the people who we would expect…sort of the comedic world’s version of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first;” such as in the joke about the resplendently dressed minister and the taxi driver…but other jokes agree completely on those who will not have any chance of getting into heaven. In fact, this high paid group of people would be lucky to even see the pearly gates in the first place. This group of people of course are: lawyers.

Did you know that heaven and hell are actually right next to each other?

They are separated by a big chain-link fence. Well, one day hell was having a big party and it got a little out of hand. God heard the ruckus and arrived to find his fence completely smashed by the wild partiers.

He called the devil over and said "Look, Satan, you have to rebuild this fence." Satan agreed. The next day God noticed that the devil had completely rebuilt the fence...but it was 2 feet further into heaven than before.

"Satan!" beckoned God. "You have to take that fence down and put it back where it belongs!"

"Yeah? What if I don't?" replied the devil.

"I'll sue you if I have to," answered God.

"Sure," laughed Satan. "Where are you going to find a lawyer?"

Not only do these jokes reassure us about who will and who will not get into heaven…certainly we will be the ones getting through the gates, but they also agree on one important claim; you have to do something good or answer something correctly in order to get into heaven. I know, I know, they are just jokes and people do not take them seriously…so chill Pastor Jira. That is true, I love telling these jokes as much as the next fella, but their very existence says something very fundamental about what we believe.

I recently saw this fundamental believe etched into stone in a student art gallery. The piece was beautiful. It was two human forms. One was struggling up the side of a mountain, grasping to climb even higher, and the other was on the top of the mountain, yet the figure still could not get high enough. The figure was still reaching further, into the air, not quite reaching what it was searching for. “The Human Struggle” read the placard next to the piece. The figures struggle to reach and grasp onto that which is the highest truth. Yet, even the figure that made it to the top, still grasped at air.

Most people will not believe you when you tell them that we do not go up to get to heaven. So convinced are we that heaven is above…so convinced are we that we must struggle to reach God, that we completely miss what the Bible has to say about God, and the new heavens and the new earth. Not surprisingly, but surprising to some, the Bible does not offer us the image seen in the jokes.

But, the Bible does offer us this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

Did you notice what happens here? Did you see the direction of things? The “new Jerusalem” comes down. And along with the city, God comes down to live with God’s people. The image harkens back to the old days, when the temple still existed in Jerusalem. The inner sanctuary of the temple was where God dwelled; it was where God lived. Seeing Jerusalem on the horizon as you came near was so exciting for the ancient Jews, not because it was a great and wonderful city, but because as you approached you knew you were coming close to God. You could literally see the temple where God was; God, who lived right there, dwelling right there, right here on earth with us. The ancients knew that you do not build temples to go up to God. God destroys such staircases to heaven, ever heard of the tower of Babel that God destroyed? You build temples for God because God comes down. God’s kingdom is and will always be right here…down here…and God will be our God and we shall be God’s people. God will walk with us. God will wipe the tears from our eyes.

You can climb as high as you wants, you can try as hard as you desire, but all that will happen is that you will reach the top and all you will grasp is air. You cannot climb or somehow work your way up to God. God is not there. God has chosen to come to us. We do not go up, God always comes down.

So what? Who cares? Maybe some of us are directionally challenged. What does this matter?

When you have tried and failed, and tried, and tried, and failed again and again and again, it matters when you here that you do not need to go up; God comes down to you.

When you try to make something of yourself, and someone always pushes you back down, it matters that God comes down.

When you have no control over the pain, it matters that God comes down.

When you are stopped by police and are blamed, not because you did anything wrong, but because you happen to have a little darker complexion, it matters that God comes down.

When you happen to be a lawyer, it matters that God comes down.

When God comes down, God’s kingdom comes along with. Divisions between people mean nothing in God’s kingdom, people are healed no matter what in God’s kingdom, and people are forgiven no matter what in God’s kingdom. How can we possibly forget the fact that God comes down when we celebrate it every December 25th? We do not go up to God, God came down to us in Jesus Christ and continues to come down today.

This is the great gift of the reformation! Listen to how Martin Luther phrases everything, “God created me;” “Jesus…is my Lord;” “I…cannot believe…but the Holy Spirit calls.” In all of those phrases it is God who does the action, God who does the saving, and God who gives the faith. We will only grasp at air when we try. But all hope is not lost. God will find God’s people and will live with them. For a world that seeks and never finds, this is a great gift. What an amazing word of grace. No wonder Martin Luther was willing to put his life on the line. It is beautiful word. Let us go out and share it!

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.