Wrestling til’ Daybreak

08.02.20

In seventh grade there was the group of boys who have already become ‘men’ – puberty for them was a thing of the past. Then there was the other half, like me and most of my friends, who were still a decade or two away from puberty.  Then, there was Matt, Matt experienced puberty prior to learning to walk.

No where was this categorization more obvious than in Physical Education class. Everyday, class would begin the same, when seemingly a 1,000 seventh grade boys would cram into the small locker room to change into our required gym clothes.  Not only was this a challenge because of space, but also, because the past puberty seventh grade men would just walk up and rip the lock off their locker, while the pre pubescent seventh grade boys would be in a panic, scrambling to remember their combination – at the end of class, we would all crowd back into the same locker room to take the required shower all together in the no privacy group shower room. It was terrifying.  Coaches would stand at the exit door to make sure everyone had wet hair before leaving. In between the beginning and the end of class, there was the actual class.  Small, beanpole, frightened boys playing games such as Dodge Ball against huge and hairy men. 

While the Friday Seventh Grade Dodge Ball games were enough to send shivers down the spine of a 7th grade boy….we were unaware of the true evil coming our way – until we did, it all began on a late fall Monday, in third hour.

The Wrestling unit.

The coach had quickly educated us on the first move, this was holding down your opponent or freeing yourself from your opponent. Followed by coach pairing us up with our opponent for the entire wrestling unit. His method of choosing partners is best described as ‘sadistic’.  From the beginning pair up, his strategy was painfully obvious – man against boy. The most terrifying of all pairings came at the moment when coach, sporting an evil smirk, yelled, ‘Anthony’, then taking a long pause to build the suspense, his evil smirk gradually widened as we turned and looked at all men waiting to be chosen. There was only one man left, I had been keeping track. He looked at me, and the fear in my eyes, and then turned to Matt and said ‘Matt, you will be Anthony’s partner.’

Coach was now in his happy place.

As Matt and I were called to the wrestling mat, instead of walking to the center of the mat, Matt walked directly to me. He bent his head down to my ear, remember that Matt was a giant, whispering, ‘I will be in thee floor position.’ At this point it was all semantics for me, on the floor or kneeling, the outcome would be the same.  I had resigned myself to a death on a Monday in late fall on the mat in the wrestling room during third hour.

As we took our positions, I unsuccessfully attempted to hide my fear, coach blew the whistle. Matt quickly rolled out of my grasp – exactly the way Coach had instructed, his next move, however, was a bit more unorthodox.  He rolled to his back, pressed his shoulders to the wrestling mat and yelled, ’Anthony pinned me!’

Coach still had the whistle hanging between his teeth, but now his evil smirk had change to a look of pure confusion.  His joy was gone, his sadistic anticipation of a bloody match, had evaporated in an instant.

Matt stood up, looked at coach, and said, ‘I don’t do wrestling.” He then walked away from the center returning to his seat on the edges of the mat.  

It was a surreal moment as coach raised my hand in the air and instructed me to return to my seat.  The next day we coach announced that we had completed the wrestling unit and would be moving on to the second part of the basketball unit.

Matt was now a hero for all the seventh grade prepubescent boys.

Wrestling is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to 3,000 BC.  It was introduced into the ancient olympics in the year 708 BC. My, career in wrestling, began, and ended, on a mat in the wrestling room of West Junior High School of Norman, OK, in the year 1973 AD, during third hour on a late fall morning.

The grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, was a hard and successful worker, but not really a fighter, or a wrestler, he was more of a runner (as in run away), he was a natural manipulator, an even better deceiver, but, he was not a fighter.  However, he was about to face the most epic of all wrestling matches.   

Jacob was on his way home, it had been 20 years since he had run away from a fight at home, a fight, with his brother which he was sure to lose.  During that 20 years he had married 2 sisters, had children by both wives and servants, had amassed a fortune, and realized that he was a good business man. He had also, for the first time, met his match in Laban, his deceptive and manipulative father-in-law….who had warriors to fight for him.

Jacob had weighed the odds of facing his scheming father-in-law, or, facing his brother Esau, who had surely been nursing a very justified grudge for the past 20 years.

As he secretly snuck out of Laban’s house with his wives, children, servants and possessions, he headed home, on the way, Jacob attempted to soften the anger of Esau by sending daily gifts. As he approached the ultimate face to face confrontation, Jacob delayed the inevitable for one more night.  Continually calculating the potential risks, Jacob split up his family, people, and possessions and hid them safely to minimize his losses. Then, after enlisting the use of all of his strategies of manipulations, Jacob went back to the overnight camp and prepared for a night alone.

Even with all of his selfish faults, Jacob was a very determined man.  His very name meant ‘one who holds onto his brother’s heel’ – which is what he was doing at his own birth.  Even in the womb he was determined to get, and be, the most of every category.

Back at camp, as Jacob was alone, there was a man who gave Jacob no option but to engage in the epic wrestling match of a lifetime.  It was dark so Jacob could not see who he was against, but the possibilities were endless. It could have been the ghost of his father, Isaac, who Jacob has deceived, or his bother Esau, who Jacob had deceived, or his father-in-law,  Labah, who Jacob had deceived. That was just the top three most obvious choices.  He did not realize it but he was actually about to engage in an all night wrestling match with God.  If the fight had been during the daylight, Jacob would have never engaged, he would have recognized the odds were definitely not in his favor, Jacob would have employed his most successful maneuver, he would have run away.  It was dark though, and Jacob unknowingly, engaged in an epic struggle.

God, being a father, fought like a father. He withheld his own power to match that of his child Jacob. This was not just a struggle of Jacob with God, it was also a struggle for God against Jacob.  In many aspects, Jacob had been in this wrestling match his entire life.  Battling the powers within himself that were constantly at war with what he knew was right.  Choosing to mistreat and mislead loved ones, leaving them with no choice but to compete with each other for his love and attention; the very ones who should have been able to rest in his love and acceptance, his wives and his own children.  Then there were those who love for Jacob was betrayed by his determination to ‘get more’ – his father and his brother.  This was not Jacob’s first wrestling match, but it was his first honest interaction that mattered, this struggle was pivotal and essential in the life of Jacob.

There is something very different in a wrestling struggle and a mere street fight.  In a fight your goal is to destroy your opponent, to a the point that he cannot even rise up as the fight is over – in a wrestling match, your goal is to prevail, to take inventory of all of all your resources, your strengths and your mind, and then use those resources to out maneuver, to out wit, and to out discern your opponent.  In the dark, when you do not know who your opponent is, reading the situation and the powers against you is much more difficult – all you have is your own resources doing all you can to prevail.  

As a sliver of daylight became visible on the horizon and the two men were still struggling, God,  released his power through a gentle touch.  A touch that displaced Jacob’s hip – a touch that broke Jacob, a touch that reveled to Jacob that this was no ordinary opponent.

Let go of me,’ God said to Jacob.

‘I will not until you bless me,’ Jacob replied.

Jacob was beginning to recognize the fullness of this situation.  While getting a blessing had been the goal of his life, he was fearful yet interested in the possibilities of this moment.  This was a transformative moment for Jacob, his struggle now turned inward, no longer being about prevailing but, instead, it now was about coming to terms with himself.  Understanding that his life was meant to be more than just about Jacob, but, quite possibly his life was about something larger.

The Jewish understanding of the concept of ‘blessing’ was not the self-centered, fortune cookie vision, that we have now. A blessing was given so that the blessed would bless others. God was going to bless Jacob so that, in order with the promise that had passed from his grandfather, to his father, and now to him. 

Understanding the full meaning a blessing, and understanding the cultural and religious understanding of the day, is essential for us to understand the transformation taking place in Jacob. A truly selfless spirit had to exist to receive such a blessing, and, until this struggle with God, Jacob did not have such a spirit. This struggle was the nudge, or push, that connected the dots for Jacob, he had an epiphany as the sun rose that morning. He was finally ready and willing to receive the blessing that he had been seeking his entire life.

Jacob used his greatest power, the power that he had been endowed with in the womb, the power to hold on.  As the night-long exhausting wrestling match depleted Jacob’s strength and power, he held on to this opponent. To which his opponent said,

‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’

God to Jacob

It was all very fuzzy but Jacob thought he heard the words ‘striven’, ‘God’, ‘humans’ and ‘prevailed.’  Jacob had no problem with the word ‘striven’ that had been the storyline of his life, a constant struggle with someone, but the words ‘God’ and ‘Prevailed?” 

‘Have I just wrestled with God all night? and, did I win?’

Jacob to himself

As Jacob considered the implications of his opponent’s statement, an opponent who had now withdrawn himself, Jacob began to have, as he allowed, an experience of transformation. He could see beyond himself, he realized his role in the course of the world, he was humbled and depleted, he was broken, he was being rebuilt.  He now walked with a limp, but there was also a change in his countenance, no longer was he dependent on his own wits to survive, life was much bigger now. He was not perfect, there would still be a lot of rough edges but this was at least a partial metamorphosed Jacob. As can be seen in the name he gives to this place, ‘Peniel’, meaning ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ It was a transformation that his life was no longer about prevailing, he wasn’t a prevailer, he was a runner – he had not prevailed, all he had done was to hold onto God, and in the struggle, he had been preserved.

He was now ready to face life, all the unknown, with no guarantees, no assurance of victories or personal gain, no recognition of importance or worth, but now, he was facing life with hope, sustainability, mercy and humility, all grounded on love.

In in order to understand the pertinence of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, to our own lives, let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years.  We end up at a wilderness place with thousands of hungry humans along with an exhausted Jesus and his weary disciples. Jesus has been denied even the shortest of breaks as he has, once again, has seen the oppression, the suffering, and the misery of the people.  His compassion and mercy compelled him to address their needs.  His passion makes it impossible to ignore. His, was a gut response to the needs, it pushed him to release, to heal, to free. There was an everlasting line of needs, one after the other. Jesus lived in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on earth, a dwelling place that he calls all believers to live in,  a place where the physical needs of others are of priority to address, when the earthly reality is that the Roman Imperial system, as well as the existing religious system, did not see physical needs such as health, hunger, disease, poverty, shelter, abuse, and education as issues of priority.

So, when the disciples suggested that it was getting dark and that it would be best to send the crowds home, Jesus was perplexed.  There were still needs to be met, plus, now the people were hungry.

‘You feed them,’

Jesus to Disciples

‘We do not have anything to give them,’ the confused followers said, ‘we didn’t plan on feeding anyone, let alone a crowd this size.  We don’t have anything! What good can 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread for all these people?’

While what they didn’t have was the earthly focus of the disciples, the kingdom focus of Jesus was on what they did have.  They had a starting point. Jesus took that bread and the fish, and broke it all apart and distributed the small, tiny pieces into the baskets to be passed among the people.

The disciples had to be horrified at the thought of passing these basically empty baskets among the hungry crowd, to a crowd expecting something great to happen. The disciples had to be frustrated.  Jesus needed to rest, the crowds were hungry, the line for help was endless, they were in the middle of no where, it was time to go home.  The disciples were upset, they were struggling, they were in an epic wrestling match.  It was daylight, they could see their opponent, it was the whiny and complaining crowds with all their needs, their suffering, their oppression, their ancestral passing down of this oppression based largely on pigmentation, their nationality, their societal placement, the color of their skin, their enslavement, their poverty, and now their hunger.  They were not prepared and now it was on Jesus, and the disciples to provide.

‘When would this end?’ They questioned.

The more their frustration simmered the more they realized that the crowds were not their opponent, much like Jacob, they were wresting against Jesus, they were wresting against God.

Jesus was the problem, God was the source of this ridiculous situation. If Jesus did not have to stop every time a hurting person appeared this would not have gotten so out of hand.  If only God were to instruct Jesus to dismiss the needs sometimes, if only he would moderate the passionate compassion of Jesus.  Afterall, there were more important and pressing things to get to.

As with all of Jesus miracles, the miracle of creation to this moment of needs and hunger, we do not know the technical details of the abundance of food that filled every person in attendance that day, but we do know that the day ended with an abundance. It could have been a magical moment when the tiny broken pieces strangely multiplied, or it could have been an even more miraculous transformational moment as the people put themselves aside realizing they didn’t have to take more than they needed, or possibly seeing the contribution of the fish and loaves spurred them to realize they also could contribute.  Regardless of the how, the reality is that there was not only enough food there was actually an abundance.

The disciples then realized that their struggle was not with the crowds, nor was it with Jesus, it was with themselves. It was about a struggle with trust that came with living outside of the Kingdom of heaven where earthly things are allowed to hinder us from answering the call of God. Keeping us from addressing issues of injustice, oppression, deep inherited baggage that is more than humans can bear, hunger, sickness, racism, hatred, dismissal, disregard, poverty, and all suffering. All the things that tangle our roots and restrict our sight.

A wrestling match can bring us to transformation if we hold on. A struggle can show us what we have instead of what we do not have.  What is your struggle, what is God bringing into your vision?

With an attitude of willingness to be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, let us pray.

More than Survivors

07.26.20

In the 1991 movie City Slickers, on his 39th birthday, Mitch Robbins (played by Billy Crystal) asks his boss:

Did you ever reach a point in your life, where you say to yourself, ‘This is the best I’m ever going to look, the best I’m ever going to feel, the best I’m ever going to do’, and it ain’t that great?

Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) City Slickers, 1991

His wife insists that he go with his buddies on a cattle drive to ‘Find his smile.’ On the cattle drive, Mitch has a moment with the cattle drive foreman, a crusty, burly, and very non-social, cowboy named Curly (Jack Palance).

Curly : Do you know what the secret of life is? [Curly holds up one finger]  This.

Mitch : Your finger?

Curly : One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean (expletive).

Mitch : But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly : [smiles]  That’s what *you* have to find out.

This, in different forms, is the question we all ask –  ‘What is my one thing?’

Jesus had come to the close of the first two parables of Matthew 13.  Much of the crowds left shaking their heads, muttering ‘Darn Hippee!. The remaining 6 parable, however are for his followers, those who have made the decision to listen and understand. The crowds had largely rejected the message of Christ – the followers had recognize the truth in his words.

Jesus begins by taking us, to a sower who is sowing a tiny mustard seed.  It is the smallest of seeds yet will grow the largest of bushes that basically be a tree.  In its, soon to be, tree state, it will serve as a home to birds and their nests, at the same time, this small mustard seed will also be a source an essential spice for cooking and nutrition.  Within this tiny seed is everything it needs to do all it will be called to do and be.

A woman is making bread, a lot of bread – probably for a celebration. She has 60 pounds of flour which will make about 60 loafs of bread.  She mixes the elements required by her recipe, including a small amount of leaven in with the flour.  Over night, the life in the leaven, rises the dough sufficiently for the bread to be ready for the celebration. A tiny amount of leaven enables the dough, and the cook, to be ready for a feast.

A treasure hunter finds a treasure chest in a field, it is the treasure he has sought his entire career.  The hunter went and sold everything that he owned using all the proceeds to purchase the field, and indirectly, the treasure. Nothing he owned held any value compared to the treasure in the field.  He has sacrificed everything, now he sits in his field with his treasure. The field with the treasure is truly sufficient.

Another individual is a merchant who searches for, and sells, exquisite fine pearls, finds a single pearl which has a great value. He sells everything that he has in order to purchase the pearl.  He is done, he has sacrificed everything he owned in order to do the greatest thing he could do.  He now stands and watches the world with the pearl in his pocket.

A large dragnet is thrown into the sea and dragged along in order to catch all fish.  When the huge full net, containing fish of every kind, is dragged to shore, the destructive fish, those that would destroy the entire catch, are discarded & destroyed.  The net, has done its job, it has gathered all the fish.

The job of the scribe is to find & interpret the law & truth.  He is not only passionate his job, but he is passionate about he truth itself, it is his treasure. He pursuit is not just academic, it is life.

The problem with the question, ‘What is our one thing?’ is that it is too narrow, too shallow.  It merely seeks an answer for our survival.  ‘If I can just get through this day, this week, this year, this pandemic, these protests, the election, this phase, this feeling, this crisis, this…..’ It is merely a survival technique designed to get through life. Jesus’ parables paint a picture of life that is not one of survival.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul wrote very non survivalist statements to the churches in Rome:

‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.’

‘You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.’

‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness’.

‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’

‘If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’

‘we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’

The question is not about our passion, our goal, our hopes, our dreams, our fulfillment, our dependency, our escape, our plan B, who are we, who do we want to be, what do others think of us, our success, it is not really about a ‘one thing.’ The question is a treasure question, a pearl question, a leaven question, a mustard question, a good and evil question, a pursuit of truth question.

It is a,

‘Where am I?’ &

‘Is it where I need to be?’,

question. 

Jesus said:

‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Matthew 6:21

As Jesus was asked to teach the ‘how’ of praying, he did not send them to their knees with eyes closed and head bowed, no, instead he took them to  where they needed to be as they began to speak to God.

Pray this, ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10

He took them to a place where prayers begin, with God at his place, the place where a making a request is accepting the responsibility and willingness to be the hands and feet of the answer to the prayer.

It is not a location that can be identified by our GPS, it is much more real and pertinent than that.  We are called to live, IN, the Kingdom of Heaven now.

Jesus said to Martha, ‘I AM the resurrection, I AM the Life.’

He told his disciples, ‘I came so that you may have life abundantly.’

He said to those who were attacking him, ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’

and, he said to Martha, ‘You are worried and distracted by so many things.’

Jesus invitation is much more than a ‘one thing’, it is not a ‘what’ question but a ‘where’ question.  He is calling us to a life lived in his Kingdom now so that we can reveal the Kingdom to a world that has become at home with the evil in the net. 

So, he prayed,

‘God, may your Kingdom come here.’

Jesus tells us these metaphors, these parables, to help us understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is, the location of the Kingdom here on earth.   It is in the dirt, it is in the kitchen, it is in the field, it is in the pocket, it is in the net, it is in truth.

We are called to the same place Jesus lived on this earth, the Kingdom of Heaven, a place where he frequently suffered but was never despondent, where he was rejected but always held his resolve, a place where he was always at peace even in the midst of chaos and turmoil, a place where he was consistently attacked but never without hope, a place where he was applauded but never arrogant, a place where sacrifice was his calling not survival, a place where he was a conqueror even though it looked like defeat.

In the Jewish tradition – when a boy or a girl reaches the age of 13 they are ready to be a full part of the Jewish community, they are ready to take part in the religious practices and traditions.  This is officially recognized at the celebration of Ba(z)mitzvah for the girls, and Barmitzvah for the boys. It is at this time that their elders will proclaim to them ‘You are now a Woman,’ ‘You are now a Man!’  Much preparation has taken place before this celebration.  The paradox sets in two days later as they return to school where their teacher is still treating them as a child with rules and restrictions that are for children. Here they are, a Man, a Woman, and yet they are still stuck in the world of their childhood.  They are now an adult, yet their adolescent body is screaming ‘I’m barely a teenager!’ They now begin their journey, a journey of an adult in a world of children.

This is what living now in the Kingdom of Heaven is, living in an imperfect world, that ultimately cannot harm us eternally, yet the impacts and restrictions all around intertwine into our life.

We have been caught up in the net, but the evil is still in there with us. We are constantly making the choice of which world we live in.

We choose to be the adult on the playground in the kickball game of life.

As we have journeyed through the prophetic ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah, I have been horrified by the correlation between then and now. These prophets were screaming truth, at the top of their lungs, and no one was listening.  They were yelling that the religious leaders and the oppressive politicians were in collusion with each other at the expense of all humanity.  The people had settled in and accepted it, they believed the false prophets that were selected, honored, and adored by the religious and political leaders. These false prophets knew that their position could change in a moment if they failed to affirm the leaders decisions, statements, and agendas.  The people stood firm in their support of this deception and danger because it was what the way of the leaders were leading.  All the while, disaster loomed heavy outside the broken down walls of Jerusalem.

As I have immersed myself in the absurdity of this historical reality, which can be impossible not to see that the same tragic absurdity that Isaiah and Jeremiah were addressing is still a dangerous absurdity in our world today.  We have religious leaders who have been selected and appointed by the politicians. We have politicians afraid to step out of line or they will be humiliatingly discarded by their own system. We have words, and concepts, like life, unity, strength and force, safety, military, science, law enforcement, God, Bible, Constitution, Love, and faith used to nurture hate, death, disrespect for life, division, hopelessness, non-accountability, racisim, degradation of human life around the globe, and so much more…it is all waiting for us right outside the gates.

We label those as liberals who do not use our exact words about God’s truth while failing to ponder the depth of God’s greatest call on us.  We label those as radicals who do not conform to our exact interpretations of creation yet we refuse to make the sacrifices needed to care for God’s creation.  We reject those who don’t interpret God’s concern for children in the same way as we do, yet we refuse to accept the personal sacrifice of time, resources, and money required to fully take care of children and, for that matter, all humans.  We have called heretics those who are not in agreement with us on constitutional issues and interpretations, even when those views are often in direct opposition to God’s truth and to the revelation of God seen in Jesus.

We, are not only failing to separating our roots, we have justified the enemy that has sown the seeds of weeds and have welcomed him in along with his tangling weed roots.

Quite honesty, as I have seen this, it has worn on me. Beginning last fall, I could physically feel it.  Last thanksgiving my son Isaiah made the comment to me that he felt like he had an anxiety knot in his chest. I realized that was what I had.  Add to that, a God given blessing of seeing first hand the situation at the border, the pandemic, the protests, the division and arrogance – I allowed my roots to tangle with the roots of the evil inside the net. I have been hesitant to mention these correlations on Sunday mornings to you, and you guys are wonderful! God has often kept me awake all Friday and Saturday nights, or awakened me early Sunday morning, until I very changed the message to the very message he had been calling me to all week.  I had allowed the roots of the weeds and my roots to become very tangled, and I was physically feeling it.

As believers, our dwelling place is in the Kingdom of Heaven now, we are the hands and feet of the Lord’s prayer that God’s will be done on earth – NOW.  Not in an arrogant, hateful, judgmental, condemning way – but in a fruits of the spirit way, in a Micah 6:8 way, in the greatest two commandments way.

We are at the plate, but now as an adult on the childrens’ playground, we know we have the power to conquer, heck, we have the power to kick the ball up to the playground teachers holding their coffee at the other end of the playground, however, we also know that Joey, in right field looking at his phone, will get a bloody nose if we kick it over the first baseline with all the power we know we have, so we act with mercy, justice, love, showing fruits of the spirit, and kick with an intentionality that allows Joey, who hasn’t yet realized that we are an adult and that we are no longer the child, who yesterday, forgot the difference between 1st and 2nd base – we kick it so Joey will have time to realize the ball is slowly rolling his way, put his phone in his back pocket, and run to pick it up throwing it majestically to second base, were Elizabeth, the strongest, coolest, and best athlete in the fifth grade catches the ball, giving Joey his moment as she yells, ‘Good throw, Joey!’  So as the whistle is blown, Joey walks back for afternoon classes, he has had a moment of glory even while the evil is still in the net, not knowing it was thanks to us, but knowing it was a great already a great day.  A moment that will sustain him through the coming humiliation of not remembering that his notebook, containing his homework now being collected, is scattered all over the playground where he left his binder behind the backstop.

We live as we would like others to live, we live in the Kingdom of Heaven while in the midst of the elementary playground.

We suffer in this world that does not match up with where we really live.  We can choose to ignore the realities of this world, the evil that is still in the net, we can live with our noses in the air refusing to soften our power at the plate – because, quite frankly everyone else enjoys the cheers of a homer at the expense of Joey in right field.  Or, we can notice Joey and have mercy and love, we can act with justice for Elizabeth who sometimes does the opposite of yelling ‘good catch, Joey’ , we can show them both, and everyone else on the playground, where we live by how we live in the midst of the net full of evil….Just like Jesus did.  

So, as I have struggled with the ‘anxiety knot’ God has been working with me.  Reminding me as I observe the the evil still in the net, I must not forget where I live, I must not let my roots get tangled in with the roots of the weeds.  The weeds live there, I do not, our weeds do not belong intertwined.  My politics, my vocation, my education, my life must not tangle with the roots of the weeds, tangled roots pull us away from where we really live. In the end, our politics, our education, our vocation, our relationships, all the stuff of life, must be directed by where we live, in the Kingdom –  we can’t allow those things to dictate that we live in the net

The apostle Paul called this ‘Suffering with Christ’ – living in a world that does not match up with where we truly live.

It is the difference between surviving and conquering.

Curley asks, ‘What is Your one thing?’ 

The Spirit asks, ‘Where are you at?’

Paul, a resident of the Kingdom of Heaven, living on the planet earth, put it this way:  

‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Romans 8:38-39

Let us pray.

Deeply Rooted – Pulling Weeds

07.19.20

A farmer planted a field with wheat seed but, as he and his workers slept, an enemy came into his field and planted weed seeds in the same exact places there the wheat seeds had been planted. The strategy was to plant the weeds close enough so the roots would intertwine with the wheat roots. As soon the seeds began to sprout the workers noticed that many of the sprouts were not wheat – they were weeds.  The workers immediately ran and told the farmer about the weeds  – volunteering to start pulling weeds themself. 

The farmer recognized that an enemy had secretly entered the field and sowed the weeds. I’m sure that the workers first thought was not ‘Who would do such a thing?’ Or ‘Who could possibly be an enemy to our master?’ Instead, I imagine that they asked ‘Who would have seeds to grow weeds?” Who would be so vengeful, so calculated, so hateful?

The farmer assessed the situation and told the workers to allow the weeds to grow up with the wheat. He knew the roots of the wheat and the weeds were already tangled.  Pulling the weeds would result in pulling up much of the wheat.

So they waited until the harvest was ready and then pulled the weeds first, bundled and burnt them, and then, they will be free to pull the wheat.

The workers were to wait until the roots of the wheat would be untangled from the roots of the weeds.

I began to study wheat roots this week and quickly became overwhelmed. The roots are intricate and designed to seek out moisture in dry and cracked soil, but the most interesting and applicable thing about wheat root is in the seed itself.  The wheat seed is created with the ability to grow different 2 root systems during the growth process.  The first roots are set to support the system in the immediate stages of development.  This system of roots remains fairly shallow and would be easy fodder for the roots of weeds.  However, once the infant wheat seed stabilizes, the seed begins to grow the second series of roots which grow in a more vertical manner (which helps them seek out moisture), making them more capable of freeing themself from the weed roots.

This helps us understand why the newly sprouted wheat plants would be in danger if they were pulled up early.

After Jesus had told this parable, and had left the crowds, the disciples asked him to explain the meaning.  He explained that he was the sower of the good seed, the field is the entire world, the good seed are the people of God’s kingdom, the bad seeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows the bad seeds is the Devil, the harvest will take place at the end of the age at judgement, and the harvesters will be the angels.

This parable, at first glance, appears to be a call for us to gather the weeds now, and to then burn them – however, the true takeaway is actually the opposite. Pulling up and burning the weeds is not our assignment in this story, and, in fact, according to our mission of not judging or condemning, we are clearly unqualified, and we will never be qualified.

Our job is to join the farmer in the wait; waiting on roots to be untangled and free.

I am not sure there could be a more difficult and frustrating role, honestly, I am ready to pull some weeds.  Weeds that I have identified as putting our loved ones in danger, that are diluting and perverting the gospel, that are dividing us all – even within same faiths, weeds that are choking our love for God and destroying our ability to love all others as we love ourself.

The truth is that this parable is not about pulling or burning weeds, it is not about children of the evil one, it is not about us labeling humans good and evil, but, it is about the expansiveness of God’s grace, it is about the depth of God’s patience, it is about the full definition of what Jesus meant when he said  that ‘God so loves the world’  – the limitless love of God, it is about God’s complete understanding of the human experience.

It is not about pulling up, it is about untangling and being free. It is about holding off judgement until the last root that is willing to be untangled is untangled.

Let’s begin with a few elements of the parable and Jesus’ explanation.

Let’s start with the sower of the weeds…

The Enemy

The word is used four times in the gospel of Matthew.  Here in 13:35, the Enemy sows the weeds in the field.  Back in 5:43-44, the We are instructed, by Jesus to love our Enemies, and to even pray for them.  The third appearance of Enemy is in 10:36 where Jesus warns the apostles that they will have enemies in their same household, in their families. The final Enemy caution is found in 22:24 where Jesus harkens back to King David where we see these same enemy, the enemy that sowed the weeds, will ultimately be under the foot of Jesus as he is sitting at the right hand of God.

The Sower is identified as…

The Devil

Our next element of the parable comes in the Devil.  Here again, Devil is mentioned 4 times in the gospel of Matthew.  First we see Devil in chapter 4 as Jesus is tempted by the Devil who is tempts him to be allied with the devil instead of God. The 2nd is here in our focus passage where Jesus identifies the enemy Sowing the Weeds as being the Devil.  The 3rd comes in 16:33 when Jesus says to his disciple Peter ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ as Peter attempts to sway Jesus from God’s plan (something Peter does thinking it is the best way to save Jesus). The 4th mention of Devil is found in Matthew 25 as the King is addressing the unrighteous at judgement:

‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46

Let’s, now, return to our field full of wheat and weeds.

The workers have correctly identified that the field now has weeds growing alongside the wheat.  However, the farmer is concerned, if the weeds are pulled in the early stages of the wheat root system development, their shallow roots will be intertwined with the roots of the weeds and the risk of killing the wheat is certain.

Since we are not the weed pullers in this parable, nor are we the enemy or the children of the enemy, so what is the call that comes out to us from this parable of Jesus?

The answer is that we have

Root Responsibility

This takes us back to the first parable in Matthew 13 where we found the absolute necessity of having good soil in order to have deep roots. To til our own soil, making it receptive to truth, discerning those forces that will contaminate the soil – this is our unique call.  Removing the toxins of hate and racism, the impurities that prevent our part in achieving justice and freedom in the lives of others, the poisonous particles that lead us to reject truth moving us to complacency, everything that destroy our soil and inhibit our roots.

Tilling the soil is a very individually intentional process. It starts with standing guard over those elements that are permitted into the soil, asking, are we allowing the politics of division, are we welcoming the religiosity of judgement and condemnation, are we seeking and searching for truth, do we love mercy and justice for all, and, are we rejecting lies and deceit?

Are we taking our soil seriously, or have we outsourced it over to others? Are we accepting all the seeds being thrown in our direction or are we seeking to reject the bad seeds from our soil?

And, after that, we ask, ‘do we have tangled roots?‘ and How do we untangle the roots?’

God tells us to ‘wait’…and, in telling us to wait, God has signaled what he does, as we grow deep roots and we work to untangle from the weeds…

God waits.

God’s grace, his guidance, his mercy, his compassion, his hope, and his love, waits, alongside of us and for us.

When the weeds were sown in among us, he didn’t do a risk assessment to determine how many wheat plants it would be okay to lose if the workers were to pull the weeds right away, making a wheat harvest much easier and less costly later, resulting in higher profit. No, every wheat seed was important and valuable, they all were needed in the field.

He waits.

He doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t ridicule us, he doesn’t condescend towards us, he doesn’t reject us, he doesn’t turn his back on us, he doesn’t replace us, he doesn’t ignore us, he doesn’t dismiss us….He waits.

You see, as God does his job as the sower and the farmer, he addresses the concerns on the surface.  He guards the fields from herbivorous predators and other destructive pestilence.

He, having given us free will, and the power, he waits for us to develop and untangle our roots so we are ready for harvest.

Time to interject Important Note: Jesus told this to those who had the mission of untangling their roots, the very people he was calling to do the personal work.  He further explained it to his disciples who were also called to a work of personal root untangling. And, over two thousand years later, he calls us to the same.  If you are hearing, or reading this, you are not a ‘child of the evil one’.  In fact, one of the first weeds the enemy will try to tangle in your roots is this lie, that you are hopeless and too far tangled, you are not.

See, when we identify growth problems in others, things that we mistakenly judge and condemn as sin, it is actually a much deeper problem – a tangled roots problem.  The same is true for us, tangled root problems.

Throughout this pandemic God has brought world wide tangled root problems to our attention.  There have been two obvious, constant, reminders constantly being thrown before our eyes.  

This past Friday, as I was still struggling through this parable and particularly with God’s primary point for us – Grace Fellowship and all believers, today and in this time – God turned up the volume, literally, the volume on the television news.  The voice was a mayor of a large city in a state where Covid numbers are rapidly rising and surpassing record numbers.  The mayor, looked as though he was in the midst of a campaign rally standing before a large crowd of supporters.  What caught my eye was that he was wearing a mask, something we do not always see in our political leaders.  As the mayor spoke his tone began to change, he dramatically ripped off the mask, and declared that his city would survive without those ‘silly things’.  The audience roared with applause and laughter. 

This mayor, as well as the crowd, has a tangled root problem. They have allowed their roots to become tangled with roots that are not concerned with the health of others which, ironically is causing them to not care about their own health.  They have put their own agendas ahead of truth, they are listening to politicians and to a very agreeable exclusive, and small, group of scientists who are in line with their agenda, instead of those who are risking everything to give us truth.  They have a root problem tangled with roots that is preventing them from loving others as themselves, and, therefore of loving God.

In the northeast Oregon, a church that insisted on continuing in person worship services is tied to 236 positive tests, in West Virginia a church is linked to over 51 positive tests, in San Antonio a church is tied to 50 cases, in Tennessee a pastor said that he stopped counting after hearing of 12 members testing positive following attending in person worship, a Christian camp in Missouri shut down after 82 individuals positive cases were tied to the camp.  All of these outbreaks took place just in the month of June. All of these institutions had taken precautions. All of these had a root problem. Tangled roots caused them to harm rather than to love.

Our White House, this week, demanded that hospitals begin sending their Covid test numbers to the White House instead of the to the CDC. Tangled roots of political agendas, as they often do, have made vital truth even more difficult to find.

The other occurrence that we have seen since the beginning of the Pandemic is the protest all over our nation demanding justice for those American, and humans, of different races.  This is not a new problem, but it is a deeply dismissed and ignored problem. We have responded to the protests by pointing out the rage presented by those dealing with a full ancestry of oppression and racism. They have been killed at a disproportionate rate and have frequently been ignored by our justice system. We respond with comments like, ‘If they would just act differently, if they could be like us…’, if they wouldn’t protest and riot’ – instead of considering the damage of pain and oppression.  Interestingly, we herald the revolutionaries in our own history, who threw tea into the water, tea that would have been one million dollars loss to the owners , George Washington was against this protest. Still he love this story as pivotal in our freedom.

Politicians have recently responded by saying ‘White people have been killed to…’. Which is not only ignorant in its revelation of misunderstanding but also as unChristlike as is humanly possible.

God is waiting for us to untangle our roots,

he is prompting us to recognize our problems beneath the soil by letting us see the problems that are blatant above the soil.  He is lovingly revealing to us the work that is still needed before harvest time.

He is calling us to stop tying to pull the weeds from others based on our own judgmental and condemning perceptions and, instead, check out our own roots.

He is calling us to free our tangled roots from all the evil seeds that are keeping us from the greatest commandments from God.  Love.

God is calling us to Revival

If you grew up in an evangelical church, you have surely heard it prayed ‘God, bring us revival.’  God is bringing us revival, now. This revival does not fit the perimeters that have heard it prayed for however, it will not involve emotional church worship services where great music leads the participants to raise their hands, close their eyes, maybe even drop to their knees in tears.  It won’t involve an outpouring of confession of personal sin or even multitudes coming to know Christ.  It will, however, be very personal, very private.  This Revival involves each of us, that are followers of Christ, to begin untangling our roots. To untangle from the roots of politics, agendas, personal rights, hatred, racisim, selfishness.  It will be a revival of God pointing those out to each of us privately. This revival is already underway – it is time that you and I join in.

God rejoices in unity, the enemy delights in division; God desires peace for us, the enemy seeks to sow chaos in our lives; God passionately encourages us to have good soil and deep untangled roots, the enemy seeks to render our soil toxic and our roots shallow; God desires justice, the enemy incites prejudice, racism, and violence; God is merciful, the enemy is vindictive; God leads us in a life of hope, the enemy leads us to ruin; God is love, the enemy is hate.

God waits patiently until the day when he can say to us,

 ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:32-40

Let us pray.

The Perplexity of Me

 07.05.20

I vividly remember a friend in high school telling me that her mom was wanting to switch churches.  Since I also attended the same church I was very curious as to the reason.  The story was that her mom was mad at the pastor because he didn’t speak about sin enough.  She especially wanted him to preach about the sin of smoking. I found this amusing as my first memory of church was going to a small town First Baptist Church every Sunday morning and the doorway which we entered in was also the smoking spot for all the deacons.  Mom and Dad would tell us to take a breath and in we went.

Bobby Schuller, pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church in Irvine, California, tells the story of being a new pastor, and coming up with what he thought was a genius marketing strategy to reach their surrounding area.  Most of the commercial business establishments in the immediate vicinity of their church building were bars, so Bobby thought it made sense to have match books made up with their church name and basic details. The plan was to give them free to the bars and then ask them to, in turn, give them to their customers.  Customers would stick them in their pockets and later, pull  them out and read the cover.  After he handed out several bulk boxes of matches to the bartenders and bar owners, several of his members were  aghast to find the name of their church on the match boxes they were given at the bar. Ironically, it was the effectiveness of his marketing scheme that landed him in hot water with several of church members and leaders.  They accused him of inciting people to sin by giving them matches.

As I have planned out this message, I have attempted to formulate a soften, and possibly humorous, way to announce the theme – However, I have to just be honest. Today we talk about Sin.

There is a high likely hood that even as I say this word, you are thinking of the sins that you most enjoy judging and condemning in other people, or, you are thinking of the sins that you are most ashamed and humiliated by in your own life. 

The apostle Paul makes a very personal revelation as he writes to the churches in Rome:

‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’

Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15b)

Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn, described the manner in which the three major world religions approach the subject of sin:

‘Sin is the concept of a human fault that offends a good God and brings with it human guilt. Sins’ natural home is in the major theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religious traditions share the idea that actual or personal sins are individual actions contrary to the will of God. In the Hebrew Bible, sin is understood within the context of the covenantal relation between Yahweh and his chosen people. To be in covenant with Yahweh is to exist in holiness, and so sin is a deviation from the norms of holiness. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus teaches that human wrongdoing offends the one whom he calls Father. The Qur’an portrays sin as opposition to Allah rooted in human pride.’

(Quinn)

Regardless of our definition, sin is, by all counts, a bad thing, and to be considered a sinner or sinful, is an even worse thing

This was the mission of John the Baptizer, to prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah –  by preaching a message of repentance from sin.:

Let’s define Sin. 

The prophet Isaiah defined sin this way: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, 

Isaiah 53:6a

God sums this up with the word Iniquity.

So, ‘going astray’ and ‘turning to our own way’ is our  iniquity.

‘Straying from God’, ‘turning away from God’, changes what guides our actions, reactions, responses, thoughts, plans, and agendas.  So, ‘Our way’ as opposed to ‘God’s Way’ is what points us in the direction of actions that are right or are that are sin.

Next let’s look at the first Sin to better understand,

Eve, perfect until the serpent tricks her into taking the forbidden fruit, OR, Eve, created with the ability to make her own choices, having already placed herself on the trajectory of taking the fruit as she would sit everyday, eating the the identical fruit as she could get from the forbidden tree, however, the more she stares at that same fruit on the forbidden tree, the more she wants the forbidden fruit.

She has had the choice of which way to look, God’s Way or Eve’s Way.  One way reminds us of truth, the other takes us to a fantasy deceitful world where anything forbidden will taste better.  By looking away from God, Eve has allowed her personal ‘wants’ to take over.

Enter the serpent, his job is pretty easy, he just has to point Eve in the direction of the forbidden fruit, she has already set her mind on it, she has already quit listening for the voice of God in the garden, or even looking his way,  so she can have a better and unhindered focus on this fruit that she does not have, she just needs a little nudge, a little encouragement, a little affirmation, that this bad choice is actually the best choice.

The same way that Eve ended up with a forbidden fruit, is the same was that we end up with forbidden fruit. It begins with our turning away from God, going astray, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes blatantly intentional, choice on our part.  At some point, it is a choice, that often comes in times of stress, boredom, grief, exhilaration, desperation, insecurity, arrogance, self-entitlement, and any other time we are longing for an escape, or we end up focusing solely on me or my cause.

It is then that the action, or inaction, manifests as sin.

And, as Paul states, once actions of sin, manifest in our life, it festers and soon becomes an automatic response.  We become enslaved by it.

Paul explains our sin problem by starting with the law.  

As Adam and Eve, due to their turning away from God, were expelled from the garden, they were separated from God.  This meant that God was no longer there, walking with them, telling them what would harm them and what was good.  This harm would be in regard to their relationship with him, their relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with all of God’s creation.  So, now, on their own, by their own choice, they were without God’s instruction; no rules, no laws – the wild west.

This is how life was for humanity for the next 3,000 to 4,000 years.  They did not know what was harmful, they did not know their actions that were literally killing them, each other, God’s creation, and especially their relationship with God.

They were the walking dead. Digging themselves into a deeper grave with every action and inaction.

Life was chaos, murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, jealousy, revenge, hopelessness, suspicion, hatred, betrayal, theft, destruction, abuse, threats – all without having been told that these things are harmful and wrong.

In our weekly Bible Project we ask questions, a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions.  Then, after we have exhausted asking the questions we begin searching for answers.  The process is often chaotic, especially on zoom, and sometimes overwhelming. It is not a process for every personality.  Since we began with the book of Genesis in January, we have had one consistent question, that has increasingly become a complaint, and most recently an acknowledgement that the lineage of Jesus includes a very shady group of individuals.  That constant, is the horrible actions and relationship of all most everyone we have encountered in Genesis.  They are a mess, they are miserable, they are mean and often vengeful, they are manipulative and calculating, they are dismissive and neglectful, they are bad parents, they are bad spouses,  they are often, very bad people. 

Last Tuesday Mitch Musgrove, in speaking about this issue and the sad state of affairs in the OT,  said,

‘[Throughout the Old Testament] God is painting us a picture of life without God.’    

Mitch Musgrove

So, after three to four thousand years of this misery of existence, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments, the Law.  How to live. Much more extensive than just ten bullet points it covered everything.

One rabbinical tradition is that the Law, the details of what is harmful or what was healthy, was offered to all nations – however, with the exception of the Israelites, all other nations said that they didn’t want to know what was wrong and harmful because they wanted to keep doing the things they figured would be wrong. They could already assume the the law was going to forbid adultery, murder, and theft, so they passed. They instinctually kind of already knew the error of their ways, but, without the law, they could claim ignorance.

So, now the Israelites knew what was already killing them.

They were no longer ignorant. 

However, now that they knew, this new knowledge, combined with their freedom of choice, put them on a perplexing journey. Their rebellious nature wanted to partake of the forbidden fruit – just life Adam and Eve,  and their new affirmation of right and wrong countered their temptation, this put them in a perplexing dilemma. 

Theologian C.S. Lewis said, 

‘No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.’

C.S. Lewis

So, Paul says the same thing that all of humanity has said for thousands of  years and still says today:

‘I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’  (Romans 7:15b)

 The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, explained our perplexity this way:

“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that everyday he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon) 

A. What is Paul’s manner of dealing with this?

First, he stands on the assurance, that, although we may be weak, God is not:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ 

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Second, he adopted a life philosophy: 

‘beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, 11b)

B. The mistake of religious institutions in regard to sin.

First, we have had the audacity to think that we can stop, control, and eliminate sin. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of sin and the Law, but it has led to training believers (of all faiths) to be the exact thing we are told not to be – Judgmental and Condemning.  Both of which we do not know how to do without also being hateful, arrogant, and condescending.  Our approach has turned us into the opposite of Christlike.

Second, we have failed to truly understand that sin is just the tip of the iceberg, that it is actually something much different, often times something that could be better addressed with compassion, mercy, justice, grace, and love – however, our approach has been to rank sins without regard to the fact that all sin is a result of a deeper turning away from God and going astray.  We have made those sins that rank highest in our ‘most heinous’ list the ones we focus on – we love the word ‘abomination’.  Giving us even more reasons to judge, condemn, hate, chastise, reject, and basically be very unChristlike.

Third, since our sins are less heinous or are more invisible, we have made ‘Being a Christian’ to be an impossible journey, pushing the labeled sinners into the closet.  Once again, making us very unChristlike.

Fourth, we have missed the opportunity to go out on the journey that Jesus sent his disciples on. A journey to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, to cure diseases, and, as we are there, to tell that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.’ 

C. The Reason for God’s Desire that we Live Right 

Jesus said the reason is:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly

Jesus (John 10:10b) 

Sin is the killer of right. 

Sin is the killer of mercy.

Sin is the killer of justice.

Sin is the killer of abundance.

God is the perfect father, who desires the best for us.  He does not bait us into sin, nor does he reject us because of sin. He does not desire us to carry around death but, instead, to live in freedom. He want us to live in Joy, that is why he has told us the things that will take away that joy.

Paul, as he explained the law, stressed that our obligation to the law in only until death, in the same way that a woman is obligated to her marriage vow until death of the spouse. So, as Christ died for us, we are not guided by the law, we live in the freedom of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ died, he died our death, therefore we are free.  It is our privilege then to live in the freedom that he secured for us all.

The redemptive nature of grace is not just an eternal thing, it is a now thing.  God’s desire that that we not live in the flux of a perplexing life met with death at every turn.

Jesus is our resurrection from death. Jesus is our life outside of the tomb.

Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in the act of sin,

‘Go and sin no more.’

Jesus (John 8:11b)

He didn’t say this so that she could be forgiven, or acceptable – he said it because he wanted her to have life and to not have to carry that dead body around anymore.

Jesus says the same to us, in order that we too, can live in, and with, that joy.

Here and Far Away

In the second half of the 1800s, Presbyterian teacher, author, and musician, Julia H. Johnston, sat down to pen a hymn that would explain the Grace the the Apostle Paul preached to the Churches at Roman, the words became the lyrics for Grace Greater than our Sin: 

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt! Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There, where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.

Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Julia H. Johnston

In proclaiming Christ, John said:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

john 1:15

Grace is a difficult concept to explain no matter who you are speaking with.  The apostle Paul found this to be true as he attempted to teach the concept to the churches at Rome.

Paul was writing to churches that consisted mostly of Jewish believers but a growing group of gentiles (non Jewish believers as well.  It was a difficult concept – receiving something for nothing. It was especially difficult when the learners are accustom to a religousity that sets up many dos and don’t, as well as many gos and don’t gos.  He started was our human condition – using references from the teachings that the Jews would have grown up with: 

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”

Romans 3:9b-12

And then Paul expands. 

‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of  the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;  

it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law

Romans 3:19-26, 31

Understand? Everything crystal clear?

Don’t worry it it is all still a little fuzzy, or even hugely fuzzy. It was fuzzy to most of those hearing Paul’s words as well.

Paul, recognized the existing fuzziness, so he illustrated by painting a word picture that most, could identify with.  Ironically, it is an explanatory picture that is possibly even more understandable, and relatable, today.

Paul took the listeners, and he takes us, back to a common figure – Abraham.

Abraham, given the label ‘Father of Our Faith’ by the three major world religions is a difficult individual. Let’s face it, the man used his wife, twice, as a human shield to protect himself.  He gave her away so that his life would be spared.  How is there anything redemptive in a person that would disregard his wife in such a calculated manner.

And, to make this matter more NOT understandable, he is rewarded for doing this – receiving riches from a ruler!

I have to be honest, I spent a lot of time this week trying to redeem the man Abraham, to no avail.

It finally occurred to me, the story of Abraham, is not a story of a saint, it is not  the story of a near saint,  it is a story of a man who needed a lot, I mean a lot, of grace.  It is a story that allows us to see the what grace is and what grace does.

The one thing about Abraham, the thing that puts him into this story, is that he is a man who often sincerely said:

‘Here I am.’

And,  

‘Okay.’

(or at least of verbal or action form of ‘okay’)

That is all that grace needs, ‘Here I am,’ and ‘Okay.’ These are two powerful statement.  “I Am Here’ the opposite of what Adam and Eve said when they hid from God in the garden; the same as what Isaiah said when God called him to be a prophet.  It is a statement of vulnerability.  ‘I Am Here’ just ‘Here’ no where great, and ‘I Am Not Perfect’ but ‘I Am Here.’

It is then, that grace, met by his willingness to say ‘okay’, that God moves him from our ‘Here’ through his own resistance to go to God’s ‘Far Away.’

Grace is not necessary to people who are Saints, it is not needed by perfect people, it is of no consequences to those people who are self sufficient, it is wasted on those who can go through life with a single minded focus that never sways away from God. 

In reality, the raw reality where we all live, none of those people exist, so grace is always needed, always available, and is always the balm that heals our soul.

So, let’s reintroduce ourselves to Abraham:

He gave his wife away to protect himself…..twice.

He owned people, he had slaves. 

He would have definitely have been a target of today’s ‘Me Too’ movement.

He quickly accepted his wife’s hall pass to sleep with another woman.

He sent that ‘other’ woman, and their son, out, surely, to their death.

And, that is just some of what is documented, his first seventy-five years are a mystery.

However,

When his deceased brother’s son needed a new dad, Abraham said, ‘I Am Here’.

When God told him to pack up his family and possessions he said, ‘Okay’.

When God made a ridiculous promise that, in no way, was possible, he said, ‘Okay.’

When he needed to put his own life on the line and risk everything he had to save his nephew, he said, ‘Okay.’

When his son, Isaac said, ‘Dad?’ Abraham said, ‘I Am Here.’

The good does not outweigh the bad by any means.  That is why Abraham gives us the perfect understanding of grace, the grace that he needed, the grace that we need.

The promise from God was made to him that he would be the father of many people and many nations even though his wife was barren and considered too old for pregnancy; He was promised to have a land, even though he was a nomad; He was promised to be a blessing to all, even though his own house was dysfunctional.

Like most of us, Abraham had his safety net, his backups in the case God needed help with his plan.  He had his long time beloved servant Eliezar – Eliezar could be the heir to Abraham, he could birth many people and ultimately a nation – but God said ‘no’.  He still have his loved nephew Lot, but then Lot left, he wasn’t really interested, he had other plans.  

It was at this point that Abraham began to be stressed and distressed.  His back up plans had been rejected or they had withdrawn from being a option.

In the midst of Abraham’s depression, God showed up.  The promise still held, even without Eliezar and Lot.  Only this time, God specified that the son would be a biological son of Abraham.

Abraham said ‘Okay’. It was crazy, it was impossible, it wasn’t going to happen, but Abraham said ‘Okay.’

Now notice, Abraham says ‘okay’ but we are still not to a perfect, saintly Abraham. But, even with what takes place next, God still credits Abraham’s heart felt, and sincere, ‘Okay’ as righteous.

Promise is repeated, grace is extended, that is what grace is, it is not about our actions, it a gift that we don’t deserve.  God received a sincere heart ‘Okay’ from Abraham, grace was offered, grace was given. Even while Abraham was still painfully imperfect. Grace Goes Before Us

Then, there seemed a loophole had been exposed, it seemed that there was a back up plan that Abraham was unaware of.

The servant of his wife, she could be the biological mother and Abraham could be the biological father! It was genius.  And, the best part of this brilliant plan was that it was first suggested by his wife Sarah. How could this fail?!

So he agreed, Sarah agreed, and, of course, the servant Hagar didn’t have to agree.  It would work, and it did work, Hagar had a son by Abraham who was named Ishmael.

But that wasn’t God’s plan.

‘Sarah will be the biological mother of the Son that you have been promised,’ God said.

Then Abraham swallowed hard, and Sarah laughed.

Abraham didn’t say much – after all,  he did still have a back up – there was his son Ishmael outside playing.

But then, Sarah, probably due to the double rejection by Abraham, not to mention how quickly he had a baby with Hagar, Sarah became jealous. Hagar and their son Ishmael were sent away.

Now, no Son, and no back up plan. No safety net.

But then, as Abraham is without a back up plan, and Sarah apparently is without a viable womb – Sarah birthed a son.  To everyone around it was a miracle, a crazy miracle.  The kind of miracle you read about in the line to pay for your groceries.

To God – it was his plan.  It was the most basic requirement of his promise.  A Son.

Abraham and Sarah now have a son.  Neither needs a back up plan or a safety net, they are the biological parents of this promised son.

There is one more thing, and this thing is about Abraham. It is a necessity for Abraham. 

It was time for Abraham to grow into God’s grace. It was time for him to be a man of Faith and to live a life of faith.

God called on Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac 

Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, was fascinated with the story, and person, of Abraham. In 1843, under a pseudonym, Kierkegaard wrote a book titled Fear and Trembling based on Philippians 2:12, ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. He focused on the inter anxiety, and turmoil, that Abraham must have experienced as he said “okay’ to God’s call to sacrifice the only son he had left and the son that he so deeply loved.  

Kierkegaard, in this book which many thought was an autobiographical account of his own faith, developed the concept of ‘Infinite Resignation,’ which, he says, is the final element in the process of ‘working out your salvation.’  It is the giving up your backup, the one thing that you have held back from God, the one thing that you are unable to surrender to God, the one thing that you withhold from God, the one thing with which you are unable to fully trust God. 

‘Abraham?’

“I am here.’

a conversation between God and Abraham

God knew it was time for Abraham to move from here  to ‘work out his Salvation with fear and trembling.’  He told Abraham that he was to offer his only son, the son that he loved, as a burnt offering, a sacrifice.

We don’t hear Abraham say, ‘okay’, but he did obey.  He got up early and headed to the place, with Isaac, that God would show him.

On the way, as they stopped to prepare, Abraham looked, far away to where he was to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  It was far away.  Far away from Sarah, far away from home, far away from him.  There was no way he was going to get there. However, he still said, ‘Okay.’ 

‘Dad’

‘I Am Here Son.’

‘What will we Sacrifice?’

a conversation between Isaac and Abraham

It was a long journey, far away always is.  The two must have talked about everything, everything except the sacrifice. That was a personal journey for Abraham, Sarah nor Eliezar could share it, Isaac definitely couldn’t.  It was a lonely journey to ‘far away.’

Abraham was ‘working out his salvation’ as he traveled far away, he separated God’s promise and God’s provision.  He asked himself if he trusted God enough, did he have faith enough to trust the promise and surrender the provision?

According to Kierkegaard, ’Infinite Resignation is the last stage before faith, so any who one has not made this movement does not have a full faith, for only in Infinite Resignation does an individual become conscious of his external validity, and only then can one speak of grasping existence by virtue of faith.’.

Simply put, one must give up all of his, or her, earthly possessions and must also be willing to give up whatever else it is that he, or she, loves more than God.

Abraham received God’s grace when he said ‘I am here,’ as well as when he said, ‘Okay,’ to God. He received ‘Grace upon Grace.  It was then that he began his journey of faith, a faith that would carry him through life.  Grace was given long before he reached the point of surrendering everything.

It was then, at the mental surrender, he was truly a man of faith, it was then that the world could look at him at the Father of Our Faith

As Abraham was about to plunge the knife into the body of his dear son, an angel cried out, ‘ABRAHAM!’

‘ABRAHAM! ABRAHAM!’

‘I Am Here’

an urgent conversation between angel and Abraham

Abraham, far away at a place that he never wanted to go to, held the knife steady and said, ‘I Am Here.’

Sure, we know that this was a test from God. Isaac was never going to die.  Abraham probably considered the possibility as well, but to even go through the motions, he had to ask the question, ‘Is this for real?’ He had to make the decision the sacrifice would be offered.

In offering his son, Abraham made the sacrifice.  He was now living by faith in God.

The comparison with God’s giving of His son are there, the painful resignation to surrender that which is most valuable is obvious.

We, however, have much to surrender. All of us, if we have said “I Am Here’ and ‘Okay’ are on a far away journey.  We are called to a sacrifice, God is showing us the way. Not only those things that we hold dear, but also those we hold dear. We have been asked to isolate at home and, when we are out, to wear a mask for the health of others.  It was just a preparatory sacrifice as God, now asks us to sacrifice our long held prejudices and judgements.  Our own way of looking at others, especially those who are different from us and that we do not understand.  We are being called to take the initiative, to not only understand, but to love beyond words.  To become uncomfortable with the status quo of our faith in this current reality, to become unsettled with the contradictions seen in our faith and in the reality of the world – to see the disconnect between the life of Christ then and the life of believers now. 

This turmoil that we are in, in a world that cannot control the disease and the disgruntled protests in the street – It is All Part of God Moving Us Far Away – to a place of Sacrifice.

It all seems very far away. But God’s grace took him there.  This was not something great historically about Abraham, we see little else about him after this story.  But, the life he now lived was fully, and completely lived in faith.  

This far away faith journey was for him, it is what Christ meant when he said ‘I came so that you may have life, and have it abundantly!’

God is calling us, are we ready to say, ‘Here I Am’?

Our Sunday Prayer Together

for Sunday, June 14, 2020

 O Lord,  these times have revealed how little control we have, we have seen how powerless we all truly are. We have grasped for hope, as we often grasp for air. 

In this time, we know we are vulnerable targets of lies and deceit.

Our hope is in you, O Lord, our hope is in you. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that, sometimes it is easy to look away.  False prophets shout for our attention, they seek to turn us from you. They sound like they are from you, but they are not, they claim to have your truth, but they do not. 

May gratitude steady our focus. May thanksgiving bring us back. May we always remember your works,  May we always remember your love.

So, today,  in the midst of a world consumed with fear. A world that refuses to see. A world that still cannot fathom our weaknesses.

On this day, we give thanks.  On this day, we give you, O Lord, our thanks. On this particular day, we thank you for fathers, which reminds us also of our gratitude for mothers. For their perfections and their imperfections – for we have learned from them both. For their sacrifices – most of which we never saw.  For their concerns – few of which we ever appreciated. For Fathers and Mothers we thank you. 

We thank you for the scientists,  the health care professionals,  the essential workers. We are grateful for their expertise, their sacrifices, their perseverance through uncertain times. They have analyzed data, they have have studied pathogens, they have guarded the vulnerable, they have cared for the ailing. They have delivered food to our homes, met us at curbside when we are hungry, worn masks to keep us safe,  They have taken care of us as if their own lives didn’t matter.

O Lord, we also thank you for technology. We thank you for the useful applications which have permitted us to be together even though we have needed to stay apart. We give thanks that the frustrations experienced with technology have been countered by the access provided to each other. God, we recognize that you, using technology, have pierced the darkness of our isolation, you have let us see the light of your presence in each other.

O Lord, may gratitude be our path in these strange times. O Lord, may gratitude point us back to you. O Lord, may gratitude guide our emotions, actions, and  reactions. O Lord, may gratitude carry us through our fear.

Amen

Being Loud

Message – Being Loud 

06.21.20

The gospel passage read today is the most passionate telling of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus Christ.  For in this short passage, using these few words, we see the motivation that propels Christ for the remainder of the gospel of as told by the disciple Matthew.

Jesus, after the beatitudes, and after being amongst the people, sharing in their pains and hardships, witnessed the oppression they were under, he had seen and addressed their sickness and disease, he had seen that which he could not ignore.  The pain of the human condition.

It is surely not an overstatement to say that this had been an overwhelming and exhausting journey that had now been experienced by God in the flesh

As Jesus retreats to the circle of his disciples, he expresses his summation of the the human experience.  

‘The people are harassed, they are hopeless,’ he proclaims.  

Other translations use words such as distressed and dispirited, fainting and scattered (ceased to be a people), carrying problems so great that they do not know what to do, confused and aimless.   

These two verbs, harassed and hopeless, come from the root words skulló (skool’-lo) and rhiptó (hrip’-to), in their raw form  mean to flay and cast aside.  Cast aside we can understand but the word ‘flay’ may be unknown  to you – it basically means ‘ to skin’ so in a verb form would be ‘skinned’.  Think flaying a fish.

While Jesus probably did not mean that flaying was literally taking place, the people would have understood as it had been known to be a practice of torture of living humans as well as a show of disrespect to dead humans.  This practice has been identified as existing as early as 800 years prior to Jesus birth.

The use of theses words, and of combining them together create a very potent and powerful image that represent, by Jesus, the pain and agony he had seen and experienced in his time with the people.

Jesus was devastated and pushed to action.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the bible, The Message, describes the countenance of Jesus as ‘his heart was broken.’

It is significant that Matthew would document that Jesus uses these two images combined to present a visual the disciples would understand as he, of all the disciples understood the oppression of the Jews as he had been an employee of the Roman government.  He knew how they used fear to control and manipulate the people.  

It is out of this event, that God led Jesus to a mission of doing and not just a mission of telling.  It is at the point that the ministry becomes as much about now as it does about our life after this earth.  His message is not just doubt God’s act of love and sacrifice being the way to heaven but even more desperately about the way being an avenue to hope, peace, and love now, on earth.  It was the whole of his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, and for his prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’

The impression of the human experience, the pain and agony in the lives of God’s people can only be described as pivotal. This revelation, while intellectually not new, but from the perspective of the flesh was seismic. God the father had used this moment to shape the ministry of Christ and to mold his passion.

He was there for the people. Any sacrifice he would make would be for the people.  His life was now being given to the people.

Jesus, now moved the disciples from mere learners to active doers.  For the only time in gospel of Matthew the status of the disciples is changed to apostles, they were now living out what they had seen Jesus do and teach.  Jesus was  sending them to do what he did when he encountered the misery of the human experience.

Jesus sent them out because it was a need that could not be ignored. 

Jesus sent the disciples, now apostles with a specific call, used very specific words and a very specific order.  He used the root word ‘Go’ but in a form that meant ‘As you have gone, also, tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’

You see the ‘Go’ to tell was not their mission, it was a ‘Go to Heal’, and while you are ‘Going and Healing’ , tell them about the Kingdom.  This is significant because it shows us the passion of Jesus for our ‘now’ as much as for our ‘later.’

They had seen Jesus at life, a life of caring, a life of compassion, a life of hope, a life providing peace, a live of love.  When he was in front of the crowds and when he was just with them.

Jesus told them, on their ‘Go’ if they were welcomed in, if they were permitted to do the work of Jesus they were then to bring a ‘peace’ to the house. 

They were called to ‘GO’ and to ‘BE’ the ‘IMPRINT’ of Jesus.

This is our multi-dimensional God, the one who cares for us now, and forever.  

Modern Evangelicalism has made the call of Jesus a one dimension calling.  It is a ‘Say’ calling, tell about Jesus win converts for eternity.  It is easy and quick. 

Jesus statement of the lack of laborers has been used to propagate this one dimensional calling of Jesus.  Other aspects, aspects such as care, compassion, mercy, peace, and even love have all taken a back seat to the ‘tell’ the ‘say’. 

This is the call, to be ‘Doers’ because God is a compassionate and loving God, we know this because Jesus, the election, exact imprint of God, was a compassionate and loving human being.

The ‘Say’ the telling that the ‘Kingdom is Near’ becomes a natural privilege as the compassion and love have already been communicated by our lives. The communicated message then, just ties up the loose ends.

This is an act of living out the great commandments:

Love God

Love Others as Yourself.

Jesus directed his now apostles to go the the lost Jews.  He gave a strict instruction to not go to the Samaritan or the Gentiles.  This was not a slight on either of these groups, they will have their moment with the compassion of God.   Now, however, is the time of need for the Jews.

This time is not just because of the pain of their lives, it is even more needed because their division keeps them from being unified, from the greater power that comes with community.

Much like now they are also divided.  Like now they have slapped labels on each other.  Labels like liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamental, traditional and contemporary, boring and exciting, among just to name a few.  Just like today, these labels kept them from helping and encouraging  each other in their times of need.  They kept them from strengthening each other in their times of misery.

Jesus send the apostles to unify them.  Much like he proclaims his goal of unity in his prayer just before he was arrested.  

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you  sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:22-23

They couldn’t help each other because they did not consider themselves brother and sisters with each other.  They had failed to remember the common element of their faith was to look for the promised Messiah and therefore they had missed Jesus.

Their politics, their chosen religious leaders, their own agendas had all kept them from seeing and addressing the pain of all their other same faith neighbors.  They could not see beyond the roadblocks of themselves.


Let explain it through a real life, this week, story.

Illustrative Story of justifying actions of cop and responding with accusation against the cope.  This is the problem – instead of us taking a knee to understand the pain expressed about this incident, we have ran to our own corners to defend our politics and stance.  It is not about Mr. Floyd, it is not about this police officer, it is about centuries of a people in pain that we have refused to make the sacrifice of our own roadblocks in order to cure and heal.

We are in a time where the entire world is sharing in a suffering that we do not have the power to overcome.  I am sure that Covid is not a judgement of God but that God is going us the opportunity to be apostles of God’s compassion, his mercy, and his love. In the midst of this shared struggle we are divided with many even dismissing the reality of the deaths and the pain.

Add to this more of the same racist tragedies have taken place with African Americans suffering unneeded loss and pain.  Our politics and out complacency ha has kept us from responding since the founding of our nation.  This, along with Native American, and many other people groups have been oppressed and persecuted.  The church outside of these communities have said little.  We have gone to our sides, we have said ‘NO’ to Jesus shock at the suffering and pain.

We have refused to consider the pain of the past of the African Americans  forced to come to America resulting in a passing down pain and misery generation to generation. We seldom accept the responsibility for the brutal treatment of the Native American, who also cannot help but down their pain.  When children began arriving at our borders unaccompanied by their parents we immediately complained about parents who would send their children on such treacherous journeys alone without any consideration of how bad their lives must be to permit their loved ones to go. We continue to listen to false religious prophets who lead us from compassion and concern and toward hatred and dismissal of the very pain that led Jesus to transform his disciples into apostles. 

Our call is not to speak but to ‘BE”. Our call is too be appalled at the human persecution of any group of people to such an extent that we cannot help but be appalled and outraged. Our call if to “BE” the compassion and mercy of Jesus revealing his love, peace, and hope to those who are oppressed and mistreated. Our call is to live our life out loud, it is time that we take an honest look and say “this is not right!’.  Our call is to live the life Jesus sent his apostles to live.  A life where our mission is to heal the hurting, to rescue the harassed and mistreated, to show mercy and compassion, to love and bring peace.  It is to let the imprint of Jesus be unavoidably seen in our actions, our heart, and then, our words.

Existential Eavesdropping

05.24.20

As Jesus completes his final words to his disciples, he begins to pray.  Intentionally, Jesus prayed within hearing distance, for the disciples to eavesdrop.  It wasn’t that Jesus’ prayer was just an extension of the talk he had just given his disciples, because, it was probably the most sincere and passionate prayer that Jesus had ever said to God.  Like so much of the responses, reactions, and even actions that the disciples had witnessed while  watching Jesus for the past three years, this prayer was real, and, it was a lesson.

Jesus was praying for his disciples, as well as praying for himself, and even for us.  The enormity of this teaching moment, however, is that they were witnessing a intimate moment between the father and son, an intense moment of a human with God.  It was truly an existential moment for everyone able to eavesdrop (this includes those that were there as well as us over 2,000 years later.

Our passage and the entirety of John chapter 17, often referred to as The High Priestly Prayer, is introduced by John in the first verse with the words:

‘After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven’

‘These Words’, the words we see in the dialogue detailed in chapter 16, in  the midst of a tragically heavy moment, are actually a bit humorous.  In many ways it reminds me of our Tuesday Bible Project as we ask questions and often end up with even more frustrating and continuing questions.  

Listen to a few of ‘These Words’ of Jesus and his followers:

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’

‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little   while, and you will see me’

‘When a woman is in labor, she has pain’

And his disciples honestly asking each other, 

What does he mean?’

To which Jesus replied, 

‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant?’

And then, as we get closer to the prayer, Jesus begins to speak in a clear manner, 

 ‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’

The disciples said,  

Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 

Jesus answered them, 

‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will  leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

In words we have questions, In words we find answers.

Now we know – The disciples were ready to eavesdrop on the existential prayer..

And….Jesus prays, ‘Father, the hour has come…..’

It had been almost three years since Jesus told his mother that ‘it is not yet my time’ and now, almost three years time, it is time.  It was time to return to the place and position he had held since before creation, it was time for Jesus to complete his mission and purpose on earth, it was time for Jesus to glorify God. 

It is time

Jesus prays for himself, for all that is about to happen on earth and in heaven.

Jesus prays for those who have walked with him as they face the coming hours and days of horror and confusion, but even more for the remainder of their earthly lives as they approach the world with the unacceptable truth.

Jesus prays for us, followers who did not experience first hand moments with the Jesus, God in the flesh, but nonetheless, have stepped onto, and into, the Way that is Jesus.

Two Words 

This morning we focus on two words that are prominent features or this intense prayer uttered by Jesus, and overheard by his followers.

Glory and Unity

One Proclamation

‘This is Eternal Life’

Let’s begin with the word Glory, or as a verb glorify or glorified

Praying for himself, Jesus said, ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’

Praying for those who had a first hand experience with Jesus and would become the leaders of the followers, he said, ‘I have been glorified in them’

Praying for us, he said, ‘The glory that you have given me I have given them

As the apostle Paul sought to explain Jesus to the Hebrews he used the word Glory this way:

Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being

Hebrews 1:3

Glory is on of those words that we are free to use but not so easy to define.

In Medieval times artists would depict the holy glory of biblical character, especially Jesus, with a halo around the head immersed in light, or sometimes there would be a light over the person.

As we look at this prayer of Jesus, we see that this word glory is used most often as a verb, an action word….something was done.

So, What are these glory actions?

Jesus explains the glory that he has already given the father by saying, 

‘I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do’ and ‘I have made your name known’

Also, in the context of this moment, in the shadow of the cross, we hear him say to the Father, ‘glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’

In making these three ‘glory’ comments, Jesus defines what it is to glorify God, it is to show God, it is to point to God, it is to speak the truth of God.  As we see in the apostle Paul’s statement, Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being – everything Jesus did, every embrace he gave, every acceptance that he offered, every truth he shared, every concern he addressed, every time he brought peace in the midst of chaos, in everything, he gave glory to God by revealing and showing, and living out, the truth of God.  In his very presence there was glory, not because of a light over his head or a voice coming down from heaven, but in the life he lived. In life he gave glory.

Now, as he prays, he asks God to continue to show and reveal God’s glory in Jesus through the cross and the return to his holy seat.

His disciples glorified Jesus, by seeking, and striving, to live as he lived.  To accept the challenge to show Jesus to the world.  In how they lived amongst people as well as how they lived when they were apart from people, the hospitality and love by which they encountered people, the compassion and mercy they showed in the moments with people, the truth they sought and shared with all people.

And us, the people that came after the prayer, those who were not with Jesus in the flesh but, nevertheless, have been blessed, thousands of years later by those who were with him.  To us, Jesus says that he has already given us his glory.

Jesus’ glory is that he has revealed God to us through the glory that he gave to God, the glory of living and showing God.  Through his life in the flesh, giving a exact portrayal of God, Jesus has now given that same glory to us.  He has shown us God and shown us how to reflect God in our life.

This understanding of glory, and therefore our mission, is of such importance that it is part of his final prayer prior to his arrest and death.

Our mission is to glorify Jesus, our mission is therefore to glorify God.  This is not usually done due to an emotional moment, it is not usually done with our hands lifted in the air, it is not even necessarily done when we are on our knees – Our glorification of God most usually happens when our hands are reaching out, when we cease to see the labels that keep us from embracing others, when we have spent the time seeking truth so living it flows naturally from our life.

It is of immense importance, also, in this prayer we see one other element that gabbed Jesus attention at this existential moment between Jesus and the Father.  That element is….

Unity

We see the correlation of glory and unity as we look at Jesus’ words after he said he had given us his glory…

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Our oneness, our unity, comes from our oneness and unity, with God.

Faith living and Faith practice are an individual journey and a community journey. When the followers returned to Jerusalem we see that ‘All the followers, men and women, were constantly devoting themselves to prayer,’

Oneness and unity, are not a passive, opinionless existence. Disagreement, disputes, and alternative views among any group of people who have free choice will always call for hard and difficult work, as well as personal humility, grace, mercy, sacrifice, and love.  

Unity and oneness cannot coexist together with selfishness and personal agendas.

If we look closely at Christ life, we see two surprises to Jesus, God in the flesh.  The first was the depth of the experience of the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, or probably any type of loss.  This revelation was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus.

The second surprise was the experience of anger that at the eye witness of abuse, especially spiritual abuse.  The human response of Jesus at witnessing individuals using the sincere faith of others in order for personal gain and advancement revealed the passionate perspective, and protectiveness of God for us (as a father). God was not a stranger to dealing with abusive people, or groups, but to see abuse from a human perspective was shocking.

Jesus, however, was not surprised by the human response to disagreement, division, arguments, and even contention – they were all  met with Love by Christ – multi sided love was always the answer and always the path to the solution – or at least the way to co-exist admit disagreement.

Disagreement was always an opportunity for love. 

Finally, the stated purpose for this prayer and the purpose of Jesus’ life, as he said…..

This is Eternal Life

In verse 3, even as Jesus had just begun the prayer that had the disciples’ ear, he interrupts his prayer for himself to speak for his current followers and us.  He states his reason for the plea to the Father, he states his mission of his relationships with humans.  He says,….

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent

As he closes the prayer he completes this thought as he adds,

‘I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves’

This is eternal life, now, Zoe.  Glory and Unity, Life lived and Oneness pursued, individuals who live lives reflecting God as taught through the life of Jesus and as community – seen through a true collective human oneness. 

Glory • Unity • Life

It is a purposeful and passionate prayer, a prayer that we are meant to eavesdrop on, a prayer that is an instruction for the lasting pursuit of life.

05.17.20

Final Moments – Passage Basics

Today, we continue our look at the words of Jesus to his disciples hours before he was arrested and just days before he was crucified in what is called the Final Discourse.  

Our passage today takes us to a  revelation about the nature, character – a revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.  It will be in this revelation that Jesus begins to bring together the things we have heard him say in the past – illustrations he has given involving sheep, roads, connections, and voices.  It will be the how of the ties that bind us together as believers, as church. 

Today, our fifth essential lesson for the leaders of the first ‘church’ is Paraclete.

To better understand, let’s begin by breaking down our focus passage.

14:15 If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

  • This is a monumental challenge, possibly it could be called a ‘responsibility’ or even a ‘task’.  Maybe, it could even be the basics of the ‘job description’ of being a leader of the new church, or to give an even a more broad boundary, a ‘job description’ of followers of Jesus.
  • In this challenge, Christ uses two very specific words (as he usually does), they are the word ‘If’ and ‘Will.’  It is our nature to filter words, any words in the way we think they are said.  We may think that this challenge is said with our interpretation being – ‘keep my commandments so, you will love me.’  Reading it this way the emphasis, and entire point of this small verse becomes an order to act ‘obey my commandments.’  We then seek to do a ‘work,’ obey the commandments.
  • Christ’ words, is actually a statement, not an order.  The ‘love’ comes first and the ‘obey’ is a natural outflow. ‘Love me and you will obey me.’  Love brings trust, trust brings a desire to know, this naturally leads us to obey.
  • Christ statement here is to point out the ‘how’ of following Jesus as the ‘Way’, the ‘Life’, and the ‘Resurrection.’ Love God.

14:16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate/Helper (greek word – Paraclete), to be with you forever

  • Paraclete Defined – one along side of you, another (simply put – in place of Jesus in flesh with you as he has been for the past three years) he will be an advocate, helper, companion, comforter, intercessor, the one with you, (all these roles and all other roles that Jesus in flesh filled)
  • Paraclete Presentation  – Unseen and Unknown to world who does not know/follow Jesus (the way), is grasped/known by those who know/follow Jesus (the way). Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.
  • Paraclete Gifting – Paraclete, much like the dwelling abode, is an inclusive gift, not exclusive.  Paraclete lives with all who step onto the road that is the Way, that is Jesus.

14:18 I will not leave you orphaned (last week, previous verses, Jesus talks about leaving)

  • This was the disciples worst fear, to be abandoned. A fear that, after just have Jesus return following the crucifixion, that he will now leave again.  
  • Now, as the realization they have been given the task of teaching and doing as Jesus did; the task of forming the faith communities that will be the church – this assurance is of immense importance.  It will be a promise that returns to their minds and hearts in the face of trials and celebrations for the remainder of their lives.

Now let’s go to the  revelation about the nature, character – a   revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of/by God, 

by beginning with a Tiny/Huge  Greek Word

κἀγὼ, kagó

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask  the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Paraclete, to be with you forever.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Paraclete, to be with you forever. 

And I

Definition: and, even so, me also

Usage: I also, I too, but I 

This is not a reprimand of their inability to keep God’s commandments, nor is is a concession to their unfaithful love, it is a revelation about the nature and character – a revelation of  the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.

God gives even though Jesus has just stated that if we love him we will obey him.

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Father

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Son

Reveals the Character and Nature of the Spirit (Paraclete)

Reveals the Character and Nature of GodA Very Wordy Paraphrase of John 14:15-16 

As you love me, and grow in that love for me, you will naturally find yourself doing all that I taught you and and all the ways you saw me be love to all those I came in contact with – with no judgement, with no condemnation.  This will just be natural response because you cannot help but do, and live, this way. It will come automatically from you just like the healing of the lady that pushed her way through the crowd even though she had to be unbelievably weak after bleeding for a decade.  This doing, and living, will be as natural as breathing.  You will become the embodiment of love more and more as you love me.  Oh, by the way, I am asking the Father to send you the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, a companion like I have been to you in the flesh for the past three years, the Paraclete help you on The Way.

The revelation about the nature, character – a revelation of the merciful and compassionate outflow of love and acceptance of God.

Enlightenment of God in the flesh to the Human Experience through God in the Flesh experience 

Jesus understood, after living this life, that it is difficult.  He understood that to simply say Love will lead to Obedience was a denial of the human experience.  He personally understood the temptation of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the allure of the toxic things instilled into the world through the choices of humans.

The nature of God, of the Father, Son, and Spirit is for all humans to experience a full life – God is our biggest fan 

God will give more than is foundational needed for us to succeed.

But HOW?

The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, was never meant to take us over, to fix us, it is a cooperative effort. The very name ‘Paraclete’ is one that comes along side of us, a helper. It is still up to us to do the work, to know God, to increasingly grasp the love of God so we can respond with love back.

Start Where You Are, Grow from there 

Start with what you know – Love God, Love Others

Illustration: Love God, Love those that God loves (all others). Love your neighbor as yourself…. I shared last week that the ‘as yourself’ has always bothered me. I know too may people who loathe themself. This pandemic has brought me to an understanding of this love, it is a love that holds others in the same regard we hold ourself. During this crisis we have seen countless individuals proclaiming their ‘right’ to not wear a mask, to gather as they want, to be able to work regardless of the dangers to a community. Sadly, this has often been from self proclaimed followers of Christ. This is saying I love me first, my wants trump your needs. This is not loving your neighbor, it is not loving God. It is not permitting the Paraclete to bring us back to truth.

Guide you and seek to know God, Love God, more & more

How do I grow in my love for others, put that into action w/God.

Connectedness

Growing up, there was one thing you could always bank on, that was that on the hottest and most humid day of the summer, my mother’s side of the family would gather for a family reunion at Couch Park in Stillwater. A rented pavilion would always be the place for all the food that was brought, which would be eaten through out the hot and humid day.  Upon arrival food would be placed in the pavilion, lawn chairs would be set up under the best shade trees, hand held fans were pulled out of purses, and the ‘catching up’ would begin. 

As soon as possible, the cousins, the kids, would begin itching to get away and head to the creek to explore, to the ball field for a game of kick ball, or anywhere that the adults were not.

One element of every reunion on every record breaking hot and humid day was the presence of Billy.  Although I cannot remember what Billy did to gain our sighs and groans when we would see him appear, but his presence always warranted an ‘Oh no, Billy is here.’  

At the close of every day, we would load up our vehicles and head home until the record breaking hot and humid day the next summer. Before we were even settled into our car seats we would begin asking mom to explain how we were related to such and such individual. Her response always began with, ‘Well, let me see…’. Her explanations were seldom grasped as we were waiting to bring up the delicate matter of Billy.  ‘How are we connected to Billy?!’  This was always a difficult explanation that usually began with a great grandparent and got more confusing from there.

Us cousins, however, had our own theory.  Billy was not actually a part of the Miller family, but instead, he lived near Couch park and his mother would keep a schedule of all the reunions and would send Billy away each day to eat and annoy whatever unsuspecting family reunion he could join.  It made sense, we never saw Billy with any adults, he just always appeared.  We were convinced that we were not related to Billy except for the fact that he lived within walking distance of the park.

That theory was destroyed one summer when the reunion was moved to a neighboring town.  Billy showed up.

It wasn’t until a summer visit with Lily to Oklahoma State University in the summer of 2017. We were speaking with the department chair of one of the majors she was considering.  As I looked at the man, I couldn’t help but think I knew him, his name was very familiar.  Finally, after I inquired if perhaps we were related he immediately began to explain our connection.  He had beat me to this realization.  His explanation was as confusing as my mother’s had always been, a fact that he could tell by the expression on my face, finally, he paused and said, ‘I’m Billy’s brother.’ 

Everything was now clear, Billy was connected.

The Tie That Binds

This is our fourth week of looking at those things that Christ taught the apostles between the resurrection and the ascension.  The things that they would be essential to understand as they led the beginning of the church, essential for their own faith and perseverance, as well as essential for the new believers to understand. He took those forty days to take his followers back through his teachings and his actions to help them grow in their understanding.  So far the lessons have been:

Peace

Presence

Life

Today, the fourth lesson is this the same quest we, as children, were on at our  family reunions:

Connectedness

Connectedness defines our relationships. 

By Existence We Are Irrevocably Connected To God

Just before the crucifixion, just before the arrest, Jesus sat at a  supper table with his group of followers, friends, with whom he had spent the last three years.  With a sense of urgency Jesus began to teach the disciples to provide them strength for the coming days.  He had already confronted Judas regarding his betrayal, and for Peter for his approaching denial, and now he shared with the eleven.  

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

The men were surely confused and bewildered.  They had just celebrated the Passover meal together and now Jesus was so solemn and very confusing.  Where was he going? Why was he going?

Thomas spoke the question they were all thinking, ‘Where are you going?’ And ‘How do we know the way?’

The disciples, now even more confused as they processed this unexpected and mysteriously announced departure of Jesus, was it to another geographical location, another city, or worse, another group of followers? ‘Was Jesus leaving them for others?’

Jesus response was equally troubling, ‘I am the way to where I am going,’ 

While Thomas, and the others, were processing this answer, Jesus adds, ‘If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

It was Philip that made the next statement, his was a request, ‘Show us the Father.’

Then Jesus reveals their, and our, connectedness to God.  Earlier in John we see that no man has ever seen God, that is then repeated after Jesus in I John.  Now Jesus says that they have seen the the Father since they have seen Jesus.  Jesus is speaking of a much larger ‘seeing’ than to merely see a face or body.  Jesus is speaking of the nature, and very being, of God.  As the men has heard Jesus teach and explain, even more, as they have witnessed the actions and responses of his life – they have now seen God.  They intimately know his truth and they have a first hand eyewitness understanding of this life.

They now have the ability to differentiate, to know, to recognize God. 

First, Let’s go back to his initial words of comfort – ‘I go to prepare a place for you in my father’s house where there are many dwelling places (mansions, houses, rooms, etc.).  This term ‘dwelling places’ is the greek word ‘moné’ which is only used twice in the New Testament, both times are in this chapter.   There is the use of the word in another form in chapter 15 as Jesus leads us to ‘abide in him’ however this use in 14 is different.  There is a permanence in the specific use of ‘moné’ here as this is not just a dwelling place but a dwelling abode, a home – a forever home.

Second, let’s look at Christ’ use of the terminology of ‘the way.’  This is a passage frequently used in the modern evangelism movement to point  humans to heaven.  This term, however, is much more specific, and yet at the same time, much broader than the narrow use of evangelists.  First, it is not necessarily a salvific statement, it is an answer to Thomas’ question when he says ‘we don’t know the way.’  Jesus answer is ‘yes you do, you know me, I am the way.’ Knowing Jesus is how we know the way, it is how we know what is truth, it is how we know what is life.

Third, there are ‘many’ dwelling abodes for us.  The Father’s house, whatever it may look like, whatever it may feel like, wherever it may be, it is already our home, it is where we are meant to be, there is an intentional and permanent dwelling place waiting for us. 

Much like the prodigal son, we are always welcomed to take the road home to ‘our’ abode.  The road that is Jesus.

By Choice We Are Connected to Each Other

Our connection to each other takes place on two levels of our choice. First it is our choice to take the road that is Jesus.  Second, it is our choice to choose to be a part of community of  believers, of humans who are taking the same road.  We partner to learn, to support and encourage each other, and to serve others with each other.

Peter spoke with the believers who were far away in a place where there were very few that were taking the road of Jesus, very few other believers. As we have seen, they were considered exiles by those in their physical community who shunned their beliefs and lives.  Their second layer of choice in regard to the connection of other believers was very limited, they couldn’t go about trying to find the right ‘group’.  Their choice was to connect or not to connect – they knew a connection was essential to their survival.

Peter explained to them that they had to find a way to make this connection work, and it would be a lot of work.

Much like us today, as we have had to find different ways to connect and gather, as we have been forced out of our normal, out of the ordinary, they had to discover how they could learn and teach, how they could encourage and support, how they could love a community in which they were shunned and exiled.

God using extraordinary circumstances and situations to bring us to a new normal, learning how to do ‘church’ in an adapted manner that will be the new  norm.

Observance of Lord’s Supper – partaking and remembering together while being apart.

By Creation We Are Connected to All Created, and All of Creation

Our connectedness to God brings us to recognize our connectedness to all of God’s created and all of his creation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

To all peoples, past, present and future, to all of creation…..

kosmos -the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and  first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor (everyone else) as yourself.

The ‘as yourself’ has always stumped me.  I have encountered countless individuals who obviously did not appear to love themselves.  However, the experience of this pandemic, coupled with so partisan divisions we now allow to affect even our churches and those hurting loved of God, has revealed this is not about ‘liking self’ it is about what is most important.  It is about living selfishly or lovingly in the midst of God’s creation and among his created.

Story of border shelters and banners and political abandonment. 

Our connectedness calls us to love and to strive to live in, and with, an eternal mindset now.  Christ said pray this way, in saying this he gave us a definition of our connectedness to Him, Other believers, and the entire world – a call that confronts our heartless prayers, pronouncing that our prayers must have feet, legs, hands, hearts, and mind to be a true and sincere prayer to God.  Prayer are a call to action to act, and live, out of our connectedness. 

Jesus said, ‘Pray (If we have learned anything lately, it is that prayer can never be just words, it must also be our hands, feet, legs, our selfishness, our lives) then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.