What Comes Forth

08.16.20

Have you ever been around someone that you never have to guess what they were thinking or feeling?  What they were thinking, their thoughts, dreams, hopes, excitement, emotions, always on display? It is a character trait that is both annoying and endearing? You can bask in who they are, or you dismiss them and try to avoid them.  I think Joseph was one of those people. 

Joseph is one of the most illuminating figures of the bible. We are given not only the historical accounts of his life, which are horrifying, but we also get to see the emotions, the fears, the disappointments, and the joy.

Joesph has multiple meetings with his brothers, were did the unthinkable to him, and are oblivious to his identity. Joesph comes to a point where he cannot hide his joy and excitement anymore.  He has all this joy and happiness inside of him that he can only keep pushed down for so long until he pops. 

For Joseph, faith was faith, and faith was life.  He didn’t have to force it.  His faith was what came forth from his life. The first time we see God even referenced by Joseph is in jail when he explains to other prisoners that dream interpretations come from God then, a second God reference is of the same substance, but for Pharaoh. While there is not much dialogue from Joesph proclaiming God,  his life serves as a megaphone abut God.  God comes forth in the life of Joseph. 

‘God coming forth’, is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the first part of our gospel reading Jesus says.…

As I mentioned in our passage primer this week, there are several aspects of Matthew 15 with which I struggle.  This statement from Jesus, ‘to eat with unwashed hands does not defile,’ is one of them, especially during our current pandemic.  However, what is seen and/or heard immediately from this statement is not what Jesus is saying.  He is not mounting an anti-hygiene protest, nor is he revealing that he has bought into an extremest conspiracy theory.

The earliest findings of any types of hygiene guidelines and laws date back to the Exodus when God, through Moses, gave the Israelites instructions on everything from washing their hands, to the disposal of human waste.  These hygienic practices were a religious responsibility. About half a century later, under King David, these practices were expanded from being religious to being a societal practice. 

More than any other people, personal hygiene was a founding principle of the Israelites, and Jesus was not contradicting this.  Jesus was talking about something much deeper, he was addressing what we allow to exist inside of us, that which influences and changes what we put into ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced our experience a decade ago with our daughter Grace spending 11 days in the hospital with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome, a severe, often fatal, reaction to medication.  What I did not mention was that she, along with our son Caleb, had been taking the same medicine for the same sickness, for the same amount of time.  Caleb had no problem with the medication and within a very short time was feeling better and back to normal.  However, something in Grace’s system influenced the otherwise ‘okay’ medicine rending it toxic.

This is what Jesus is saying.  Everything in our life is influenced by what is already at our core, what is inside of us.  We put relationships into our life – they can mix with our insides and come out as a healthy lasting relationship, or they can come out as adultery and fornication.  We put communication in, it mixes with our inside, comes out of our mouth as unifying and encouraging words, or it comes out as false witness, gossip,  and slander. Our heart, our core, takes the non defiling things we put into our life and determines if they come out beneficial or harmful. 

It all depends on what we allow to be inside of us.

Jesus is challenging the standard religious thought, especially as established by the institutional leaders.  He is telling them that transformation does not take place by our practices alone, or anything that we think we must, or must not, do to be right with God.  It is much deeper,  it is that which comes forth from us that identifies that our heart, our core, what is our center. 

 When we put someone on a pedestal, because of their religious or political position, or someone who sounds like they know God better than us, or even someone who seems to know the Bible better than us, and fully depend on them to tell us what to believe and how to have faith, how to have God as our center, then, Jesus says that we ‘Make Void the Word of God.’ Think about this, Jesus is saying when our examples, and truth, foundation becomes the examples and truth of man, we have dismissed God.

Let’s get into this a bit deeper by looking at one word, the word that provides the true challenge of Jesus’ message – the word ‘DEFILE.’  The greek, in this context is κοινοwhich means ‘to defile’. The root word, which gives  us clarity of the meaning of ‘defile’ is koinoó , which, in certain context can mean ‘to make unclean, pollute, desecrate’. Now, if we go deeper to the literal meaning of the root word, the word from which these all use in their  particular context, ‘to make common.’

Consider this,We have the choice, we can be common, or we can represent HOLY.  We can stick with everyone else in being the same, having a status quo, common, faith, or, we can represent holy.

As we have witnessed in Matthew’s gospel, when it moves to another story or teaching, as we ‘move on’, ‘moving on’ is never ‘moving away’.  

Jesus now travels to the major Roman port cities of Tyre and Sidon, home to countless pagan temples, populated largely by gentiles but sizable Israelite population resides there as well.

Remember, there is an intentionality of the chronological order in Matthew’s gospel, teaching moments are often followed by an experiential lesson as well.

As Jesus, and his disciples, enter the area, they are immediately confronted by a Canaanite woman who is shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’  Jesus’ response is odd, it is very suspect, it is very ‘un-Jesus’ like. He dismissively ignores the woman, then, as she continues to make a spectacle of herself by screaming, the disciples join in suggesting that Jesus send ‘that shouting woman’ away. Jesus responds to the suggestion by pointing out that ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ She then gets in front of Jesus, kneels, and begs, ‘Lord, help me.’ Jesus responds with the seemingly racist and callous response of  ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ The woman replies to Jesus with, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Now, she has Jesus attention as indicated by his response, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ After this, we are informed that, at that moment, her daughter was healed instantly.

The change in Jesus posture with the woman, as well as a positive and affirming response, signals that something significant has just taken place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the disciples share a look of confusion with each other.

This interaction just seems to increase in the odd and bizarre factor as this conversation progresses.

Let’s dive in and break this engagement down.

We begin by looking at Jesus’ initial response to the woman – he ignores and dismisses her, while the disciples, thinking they have picked up on a subtle cue meant for them, join in by urging him to get rid of her.  This opening action, or inaction, on the part of Jesus was intentional, it was targeted, it is was a signal that this is going to be a teaching moment aimed at, not the woman, but the followers of Christ. He is using the moment to teach his followers, particularly his disciples, what he had just verbally taught about in the earlier verses. As the woman shouted, what was inside of the disciples, and probably inside the crowd as well, began to take hold, they thought the gate had been open to let their own attitudes come forward,  it could no longer be held back, it all came pouring out out of their mouths, ‘Just send her away, Jesus!’ 

In these brief four words, the disciples revealed a bigotry and a prejudice against the woman, as ‘all her kind.’ They, unconsciously formed a hostile attitude toward the woman because of her nationality, her color, her ancestors, basically ‘who she was.’ In the most blunt of terms, they were revealed that they were racists.  We know that because her requests, and methods, were  nothing new, thousands had come to Jesus doing the same thing for the same reason, probably, many who were also shouting – the disciples didn’t  suggest sending them home, well except for when there were too hungry, when they became a burden.  This time was different, this time it was a pushy Canannite, woman, a gentile.  Sure, the gentile centurion had come to Jesus on behalf of his servant for healing, maybe, the servant was even a gentile. The difference, though, in that gentile situation and this gentile situation was all about presentation (or so they would have claimed), that man, the Centurion, knew how to act, he was respectful, he knew the words to say, it knew how to act right.  He was following the unspoken rules that you follow as a gential and addresses a Israelite. This  Canannite gentile Woman either didn’t know how to act correctly, normally, or she did but just refused to do so. 

So, Jesus echoed the mind and heart bigotry of his disciples and followers, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ While this was true, the promise to Abraham and passed down to Jacob, did declar that all people would be blessed by the Israelites, Jesus coming to heal the  Israelites would, conceptually, enable them, the Jews  to go to the gentiles.  While accurate, it was not true to ‘who’ Jesus was, and they should have known this by now.  Sometimes, it is impossible to even realize what we have allowed to be hidden in the dark places of our heart and mind – especially racism and bigotry.

The disciples did not, and at this point could not, empathize with the woman, something in them did not want to.  So they hated and despised her – Jesus let them see this as he opened the gate for these things to come forth from out of their lives.  He echoed their thoughts, he mirrored their darkness. 

While the disciples only saw a non-Jew, a non-Israelite, and a non-male; what they did not see was that this oppressed and desperate woman was a Canannite, she, like Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth, all shared ancestral connections with Jesus.

Next, we see the woman quickly move ahead of the still walking Jesus, and kneel in front of him, probably in deference bowing her head to the ground, blocking his way so that he has to stop.  The response of Jesus to the woman’s repeated cry for help is to say, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ These words too, are not the mean spirited words they sound to be. The gentiles held a much different attitude towards animals.  While the Israelites may have had animals around as a necessity, the gentiles endeared the animals they had as beloved family pets.  So, the phrase ‘dogs’ would not have been taken as the insult it sounds to us – it was a description of the immense difference in the faith and religion of the Israelites and the scattered and dysfunction of the faith practices of the gentiles. 

Her response is an unveiling of her unbridled faith, as well as of the expansiveness of God’s love and Jesus’ ministry. In saying, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,’ the woman exposed her understanding of God, God’s love, and of her own belovedness by God. 

She was saying, ‘yes, I know you came for the Israelites, but, I also know that you are enough, and have enough grace, for me and all peoples.’

Jesus is blown away by the heart and core of this woman as he sees what comes forth from her, as evidenced by his response to her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ He sees a faith that empowered by what is inside this woman.

This woman, who didn’t look like one that Jesus had come for, she didn’t wash her hands as part of a religious ritual, she didn’t observe the dietary laws or think certain foods were unclean, she didn’t have the right ‘pure’ bloodline, her nationality did not hold the power her oppressors held, she may have not been the acceptable color, she didn’t live in Jerusalem nor was she allowed in the temple, in all honesty, there are countless ways that she did not fit the proper mold of a faithful follower of Jesus…..unless you were able to see her heart, or if you were to be there, like Jesus was, when what was inside came forth.

Let’s look at this in a practical way, from a historical event, to see how what  is inside comes out, and what comes out positively or negatively impacts all that are in a part of our journey. 

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

On November 14, 1960, a US Marshall’s vehicle pulled up in front of the New Orleans home of Abon and Lucille Bridges to escort their 6 year old daughter to William Franz Elementary School. Little Ruby was wearing new dresses, socks, and shoes and ready for her first day of  school.  

As Ruby, and the Marshalls, arrived at the school, they were met by an angry mob. John Steinbeck, who was there to witness the moment, later wrote about what he had observed, specifically, he wrote  about a group of women at the protest whose picture had been seen nation wide, –  

“No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. [The newspapers] indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. On television the soundtrack was made to blur or had crowd noises cut in to cover. But, I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In [my] long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?” John Steinbeck

Ruby was one of three children that integrated the public school system in New Orleans in 1960, however, Ruby was by herself at William Franz Elementary School. She spent the year traveling to and from school  in the vehicle with the Marshalls, who in between would go back to her street to protect her house and parents.  Lucille and Abon, her parents, suffered that year as he lost his job as a gas station attendant because of Ruby; their grocery store  would no longer her family shop  there; her sharecropper grandparents in Mississippi were turned off their land. Most parents removed their children from the school the day that Ruby arrived. Ruby, walked in through the screaming mob every morning and every afternoon.  In between, she was alone in a classroom, just her and Barbara Henry, her teacher, brought in from Boston.

”If Charlie [the Marshall] had not done his job, had not answered the call and wasn’t there for me, if the teacher was a different person, I would have had a different life,” she said. “I would have seen [white people] in a different light.” Ruby Bridges

Now, as an adult 60 years later, Ruby shares life lessons she learned from that year, and her subsequent life, how those who didn’t join the hateful mobs made a huge difference in her life, ‘many others in the community, both black and white, showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz Elementary despite the protests and danger, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals’ car on the trips to school.’ It was not until Bridges was an adult that she learned that the immaculate clothing she wore to school were donated to her family by a white relative of Dr. Coles,  her volunteer psychiatrist.

Marshall – Charles Burks, Teacher – Barbara Henry, and Ruby Bridges

What is coming forth from us?

What is coming forth from  you?

Are you, are we, settling for ‘common’?

Let’s pray.

Hearing Silence

Hearing Silence 08.09.20

They should have known better, almost half of them were fishermen, for heaven’s sake.  They should have been able to glance at the sky and realize that it was not going to be safe, especially since it was going to be dark soon.  When the winds began to pick up it was like everyone had never seen a storm, everyone was yelling out instructions, most had a white knuckle grip on the sides of the boat, it was terrifying.  The waves were pounding the side of the boat, rain was hitting the disciples’ faces for the entire night.

In their defense, it is possible that the weather could have radically changed after they pushed the boat out into the deeper waters.  I asked our resident weather and climate expert this week if it was possible for a storm to come out of no where, a storm that even seasoned fishermen would not be anticipating.  Renee told me about the KAT-a-bat-ic winds that come down off the colder high mountains to the smaller mountains where the temperatures are warming and then to the shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee – stirring up the waves and wind with great veracity. 

So the scared men were mad and frustrated with each other and then at the same time  ashamed of themselves.  Truth was, they were mostly aggravated that they had jumped into the boat in the first place.  A carpenter telling a group of grown men, many who were at home on the water, a carpenter telling this group to jump in the boat, at dusk, and go on ahead. The entire situation was ludicrous!

Some would say this storm was all part of God’s plan to bring the men to a fuller recognition of who Jesus is; an orchestrated weather disaster. However, bad stuff happens –

– when people have a free choice that impacts other people and the creation –

– bad stuff is going to happen. Stuff, that often in the end, we can see how we have grown, and possibly even benefitted from the reality of bad stuff.

In many ways we have recreated God, gentrifying him, so that he is a Genie who pops out of a bottle and makes everything perfect in life – including suspending the given gift of free choice. 

That is not our reality though.  Ten years ago this month we sat in a hospital room for 11 nights with our daughter Grace who had a potentially fatal reaction to a common antibiotic, even in bringing her home we knew we weren’t out of the woods.  A couple of years later, we sat in the surgery waiting rooms four times, and then in doctor’s offices for over six procedures until the professionals were able to figure out the medical solution to a medical issue our son Isaiah had. 

We lose spouses, we watch loved ones slip away, relationships unravel, automobile accidents happen and auto parts break, brother and sister human beings are abused and oppressed, pandemics leave us living in limbo, and plumbing problems cause kitchen sinks to overflow. 

I say that because that was my struggle this week – not that it is in anyway is in the same level as the struggles mentioned before, but it is on the level of most of our struggles.  Our plumber was booked for four days.  I tried again to work the few plumbing miracles I had up my sleeve.  That is when I met Kris Reece.  Kris has a 13 minute Youtube tutorial on how to fix plumbing problems that cause sinks to overflow.  Kris’s plumbing problem was a result of putting cooked pasta in the garbage disposal, I realized that I had put cooked pasta in my garbage disposal. – it was like Kris and I were brothers.  Later, I was reprimanded by my daughter Hannah who reminded me that Duffy Musgrove had told us the dangers of pasta and disposals.  So, I watched Kris, for 13 minutes unclog his disposal, making sure that I would not get half way and realize this was out of my league.  It wasn’t, I unclogged the sink, well, with Kris’s help.  Now, I know how to unclog the kitchen sink, and I know that you don’t put cooked pasta in the disposal. Two lessons from one problem.  I was pretty proud of myself the rest of the day, consider getting a tool belt.  Plus, I learned how to use the plumber’s snake my plumber’s had insisted I purchase years before – Kris taught me how to use that as well. 

Good came out of bad.

I’m not sure Paul was thinking about plumbing problems when he said, 

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

Romans 8:28

…but it is the same dynamic.

So the disciples had strong winds, a shallow sea, scary waves, pelting wind, and were consumed with fear  – it was a rough night.  Interestingly, the experience prior to the storm had been positively amazing, the kind of day you talk about for the rest of your life. They had just fed around 10,000 hurting and hungry people, with almost nothing to work with.  One moment the men thought it was time to send the crowd home and the next moment they were collecting baskets of leftovers!

Jesus was exhausted, and still helping the people that delayed leaving, the disciples were on an adrenaline rush, so hopping into a boat was not as outlandish as it sounds.  But still, everyone was disappointed in themselves and each other.

It must be said though, the men were a little frustrated with Jesus – although no one was going to say that. One moment he is conquering hunger and disease, oppression and misery, the next minute he abandoned the disciples sending them to their death in the middle of the sea.

Then, in the punishing storm, just as the fear, anger and frustration were about to hit a boiling point, the disciples were distracted by something even more startling than the storm.  Between the flashes of lightening and the crushing waves, something, or someone, could be seen in the distance – on the water.  Every time the waves would crash the unidentified object or person was visible.  So, as the scared men continued to hold on to the tattered sails and the sides of the water logged boat, screaming in fear, they heard the voice.

“Take heart, it’s me, don’t be afraid.”

“Jesus?”

Then, of course, Peter, yells to Jesus,

“If it is really you, tell me to walk out to you”

Peter was audacious and, most often, annoyingly eager, however, he was the only one thought about walking out to Jesus. The storm was so loud you could only faintly hear Jesus’ response,

“Come.”

We all heard that word, ‘Come’,  everyone looked at Peter, he swallowed hard and stepped out of the boat. From the rocking boat the men watched as Peter navigated the waves.  He was knocked down a couple of times, but he would just get up.  After about three knock downs, he began to look out over the never ending waves often blocking his view of Jesus – his determination and confidence was visibly waning.  He was looking back at the boat and ahead at Jesus trying to decide which would be the most rational direction to go.  No way could he swim in this turbulence. Jesus picked up his pace to get to Peter, pulling him up out to the water.  Jesus grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him up just as Peter’s head was going under.  As the two men made it to the boat, the waves and wind remained unforgiving – the disciples struggled to pull them in.

Jesus and Peter crashed onto the floor of the boat, Peter looking wet, scared, and humiliated. Jesus looked wet and strangely peaceful.  A few seconds later, the rain stopped, the wind calmed, and the waves disappeared. It was quiet, eerily silent.  The men all looked at each other, they looked at Peter, then all eyes turned to Jesus.  No one said anything – there was really nothing to say, but you could tell that everyone was thinking the same thing, you could see it in their eyes. Everyone released their grip and fell to their knees. No one spoke because there were no words to describe this moment.  In the silence, they all began to understand that this was not an ordinary human; it didn’t make sense but Jesus was holy.  They were in the presence of God.

Silence.

That was how the men knew that the boat had become a holy place, God was there, God was present.  How odd that it came in silence.  Everywhere Jesus went there had been thousands of loud voices screaming for his attention and now, in the boat, on the calm seas and the peaceful sky, there was silence – that is where the disciples saw God. In the middle of the chaos and fear, in the middle of dire circumstances, there was Jesus, first walking on the deadly waves in the brutal wind, then, in the boat, in the silence, there was peace. God was there.

No one expected silence to be the place where they would see God but this silence had pierced the deafening waves and the unforgiving wind.

It is interesting – the different places that people see God.  For Jacob it was in a multiple overtimes wrestling match, for Moses it was in a burning bush, for Isaiah it was at a funeral, for John, the Baptizer, it happened while he was still in the womb, for the centurion it was at the feet of the bloody cross, for Stephen it was as he was looking up, while being brutally stoned, for Paul it was in blindness on a public highway, for the disciples it was in a boat…and, for the prophet Elijah it was on the side of a mountain just outside the cave where he was scared and in hiding.

Nine hundred years earlier, Elijah was walking on eggshells rather than water, he, too, had seen a miracle in an awe inspiring act of proving God to be God, but now, he had a Jezebel problem.  A Jezebel problem was pretty much the worst problem you could face.  It was the seal of death to anyone that angered Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab.  Jezebel’s anger had no mercy, her power had no boundaries, the fear of Jezebel was the one shared fear in the hearts and minds of everyone, including her husband, the King.  

Elijah received the threatening message from Jezebel and could imagine the veins popping out on her face, he only needed to hear her name to know that she was livid.  Elijah had humiliated her false prophets, he had negated the power of her false gods, and to make matters worse, he had the audacity to do it in such a public way, – it was humiliating, Jezebel didn’t do humility or fear, instead, she was the source of everyone’s fear and humility.

Elijah had run away, he was now hiding in the back of a dark damp cave.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah, in no uncertain terms, outlined his complaints to God. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.

“Go stand outside the cave, I am going to come by.”

God said in a tone that expressed love for, and frustration with, his prophet Elijah.

Elijah was still standing with his arms crossed, and his brow squinted tight, his disappointment and aggravation were on full display. He stood up defiantly, like a child who is angrily and resentifully obeying his parents, positioned half way to the entrance of the cave and not a step closer, Elijah stood his ground. 

A strong wind

began to blow outside of the cave, it even whipped around inside the cave, Elijah took a few small steps back as he began to hear and feel the force of the wind that was actually moving and cracking the mountain.  God was not in the wind.  

Then the ground began to shake,

the walls of the cave began to vibrate, the sound of the earth moving beneath his feet was deafening. Elijah didn’t know if he should retreat further into the cave or if it would be wiser to run outside.  God was not in the earthquake. 

Then, Elijah recognized a burning smell,

the heat began to be unbearable, the flames began to approach the entrance of the cave.  God was not in the fire.

Here, on the mountain where God had appeared in a burning bush to Moses – God, on this day, was not in the fire, the earthquake, or even the wind.  Now, however, there was a new phenomena, there was silence

Not just silence but a ‘sheer silence.’

The kind of silence that demands your attention much like the still silence on the calmed waters of the sea, a silence that drowns out the sound of the water slapping against the sides of the boat, a silence that you actually hear.

There was God, in the silence, it was deafening.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Again, Elijah outlined his complaints. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.

God didn’t reprimand, he didn’t correct, he didn’t try to comfort or encourage, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t forget that he had been the one that called Elijah to be a prophet, he just remained there, in the sheer silence.  

God was present, he was there.

Elijah went outside of the cave and stood in the silence, he stood before God.  Elijah remembered God’s calling, he was reminded of God’s mission, he returned to God’s leading, he rested in God’s loud silent presence. 

The silence was all that Elijah could hear. The silence cleared up Elijah’s vision and strengthened his hearing.

Then, God began to speak. In a very ‘matter of fact’ manner God returned to Elijah’s calling.  God never wavered from the selection of Elijah, he never turned from his confidence in Elijah the prophet.  As Elijah stood in God’s presence, he was ready to return to God’s mission.

As God began to speak, Elijah realized that his previous Jezebel problem was nothing compared to the Jezebel problem he was about to have.  Even here, enveloped in God’s presence, he could see reality, and it was frightening.

Bad stuff was definitely going to happen.

Now, however, he remembered that he wasn’t alone, in fact God reminded him of those who had not turned from God, those he was to continue to encourage and lead.

Oh, bad stuff was bound to happen, Jezebel was going to be angry, she had no idea how audacious Elijah could be.  God told Elijah to anoint new Kings and to begin training his own replacement. Elijah could already see the bulging veins popping on Jezebel’s face, she was going to be livid.  There would be no silence in the palace.

Metaphorically, Elijah was now in the boat with Jesus. He, along with the disciples, would all face other frightening storms, there was sure to be other Jezebels, but now there was peace, there was calm, there was silence.

What is your storm, who is your Jezebel?

Are you gripping the sides of the boat holding on, sure that you will not survive, are you cowering at the thought of a livid Jezebel?  Or, do you realize that Jesus is in the boat, God is outside your hiding place?  What is your focus? How are you listening?

It is all about our vision – what are we looking at? It’s all about hearing – what are we listening for.  Are you looking at the rocking boat and the crashing waves? Are you looking at a furious Jezebel? Or, are you listening for the reminders that Jesus sat in the boat earlier, when he calmed the waters? Are you focused on Jesus’ pulling you up out of the rough waters?

Our hope is an eternal hope – the ways it takes action in the midst of an unpredictable reality are not always what we image or expect.  Hope is the catalyst of faith, it is the affirmation of assurance, it is our power in our struggles, it is the tie that binds, it is Jesus in the boat, it is God outside the cave. 

God is there, when words do not need to be said, God is there.

God is there, when reality unnerves & unsettles us, God is there.

God is there, when we are sinking & the boat is too far, God is there.

God is there, when the rain, & the winds are blinding us, God is there.

God is there, when furor & vengeance waits at our door, God is there.

God is there, when we are exhausted & isolated, God is there.

God is there, when grief & mourning are all we can see, God is there.

God is there, when chaos & turmoil seem in control, God is there.

God is there, when we can no longer see him, God is there.

God is there.

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.

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.

Pastures and Pens

 The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, best known for his statement that ‘God is dead,  from my perspective, seems to exhibit a loathing of of two things,  women and religion, specifically Christianity.  In regard to his view was of religion, primarily Christianity,  he said that it seeks to keep people down, to control the masses

Nietzsche’s basic premise about religion is that it was invented by weak men who wanted to make even weaker the strong, the warriors, this was done by adapting morals so the warriors, those who had power, could be made weak primarily through guilt and fear.

Karl Marx, another German Philosopher, also found religion deplorable, in his case his vitriol was aimed at all religion, as well as the very idea of religion.  He is famous for saying, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of social conditions in which the spirit is excluded. It is the opium of the people.

Quite frankly, much of the time, I would have to agree with both of these men. It is often true that religion, actually the institutions of religion and not faith itself, work in conjunction with rulers and politicians, that can be guilty of controlling the masses and demeaning the individual.   

This is the setting in which our focus passage for today takes place.  It is the setting in which we see Jesus teach about life…..life that begins with the now and goes forever.  TheZoé, the life, that Jesus soon calls himself.

During Jesus’ day, the religious institution was in cahoots with the Roman government in order to keep control.  Even though both sides despised each other, they recognized the value of working together, at least until they achieved their own goals. They recognized the value of partnering and using each other. With a little, sometimes a lot, of compromise of beliefs and principals, the religious establishment was, and often still is, able to work with earthly powers to achieve, often misguided agendas and goals.  With a similar release of certain held values, the government was, and is, able to work with the religious institutions to use them as well.  

So, on this day, the day in which Jesus healed a blind man, a day that ordinarily would have been a day of celebration for the formerly blind man and his family, a day that just happened to be the Sabbath, a designated day of rest, a day that religious leaders strictly defined the boundaries of work and rest for each man and woman, a day that the politicians relinquished economic gain in order to maintain control, became a day that greatly threatened the delicate and fragile collusion that was holding on by a thread between the religious institution and the political system. 

The institutional establishment began its work and undertook a quick investigation. First questioning the validity of the blindness of the man, did he have any weaknesses that could be leveraged against him.  Then, after an initial questioning of the man, they moved on to harassing his parents.  When this did not help, they returned to the man. 

This second interaction with the man elicited a classic response from the leaders and an honest, yet gutsy, response from the man

So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 

“I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 

“But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 

“Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you  listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 

Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”  

“Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he  couldn’t have done it.” 

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

The leaders tried to discredit him, they attempted to intimidate him, they sought to harass his family, they attacked his spirituality, and finally, where there was nothing left to do, they just threw him out.  The indisputable fact remained – the man was blind before and now he was not.

This blind man, who had been rejected and dismissed all of his life due to his blindness, was now being rejected in a new way because he could now see.  Life was different, he could see, it wasn’t about seeing with his eyes, it was now about  seeing life with his heart. He was blind, now he could see.  Even with his eyes closed, he could now see life because he had met life.

Jesus found the man, and speaks of sheep, sheep pens, sheep in the pasture, shepherds, gates, gate keepers, thieves, and bandits, and finally, about recognizing a voice.

The listeners, those who followed Jesus expressed that they still did not understand his figurative language, so, Jesus clarified.  It was now that he taught lesson number three – Peace, Presence, and Now Life Jesus is Life. Zoe, life that is now and life that is eternal – all the same life.

Let’s look at the nuts and bolts of Jesus’ explanation.

First, let’s look at who Jesus was speaking to?

Jesus was not speaking to those who are entrenched in sin nor was he addressing the religious leaders – he was speaking to his followers.   Jesus is talking to us, over 2,000 years later.

Second, what is Jesus basic message?

Jesus was a speaking of life, Zoe.  He says that he came because there would be judgement and he came to save us from that judgement.  He came to give us life and is full and abundant. 

Jesus’ word ‘saved’, is sózó in the greek, goes beyond our limited understanding of ‘being saved’.  Sózó is much larger meaning healing, to be made whole, to be delivered or protected, to preserve, and even ‘to merely do well’.  It is referring to now and then.  For Jesus, and his followers, everyday is the new day of beginning of eternity.  He desired that our life would be interpreted differently than the earthly values but instead through those things that do not fade or lose their value.  He was leading us to live beyond what we have and do not have.

Eugene Petersen described the words of Jesus in this way, ‘ I came so you can have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.”

Jesus said, Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

This imagery of the pasture and the pen is that abundance.  An existence of peace, in the protection of the pen, and an abundance as in the pasture.  We are free to come and go as both, pasture and pen, are the abundant life

We have a tornado shelter that we have opened up to our neighbors.  We have non Oklahoman neighbors who are petrified of tornadoes and are the first to show up.  We also have a lady next door who is a life long Okie and a life long healthy respecter of the tornadoes.  She will bake brownies earlier in the day of a tornado and then bring them to the shelter when it is time.  We will then join in the protection of the shelter, our pen, with the fear, brownies, and abundance.  It is a choice, it is a protection, and it is all part of the abundance.

This is the pen, no guarantees that it will be how or what we want but it is what  we need.

Third, who are the thieves and bandits?

Jesus is using this teaching time to warn the people of their greatest danger.  An institution that was originally formed from sincere faith.  A faith that taught the most important thing is to love God and to love everyone else.  A faith that led Jesus to reveal his distaste for the collusion of the politicians and the religious leaders when he entered the temple.  A faith that was true and sincere as opposed to institution who used people in order to achieve their own agenda.

Jesus was not speaking about the adulterers or the prostitutes, not about those who may take our possession, those who abuse us or dismiss us, not the heathen, not the worshippers of idols and false god, not the racists, not the haters, not any of the people, vocations, cultures, religions, or any of the others that we point to as dangerous and suspicious.  The thieves and bandits were the  very institutions that we are taught to trust.

Nietzsche has another interesting quote, ‘in truth there was only one Christian, and he died on a cross.”

It is our responsibility to always realize that religious leaders, politicians, or any institution can never be given carte blanche, we must alway be honest in our critique of them. Our full trust can only be on the Christian – Christ. 

Lastly, how are we to respond?

The interesting thing about this explanation of Jesus’ figurative speech is that is is a message to us.  It is not really a warning to beware, but, instead, we are called to very real and concrete response.  

Know the voice of God.

The onus is on us.  It is our responsibility to be able to differentiate between truth and lies, between the shepherd and the bandits, between love and abuse.  We must know the difference between the things of life and the things of death. Know God. Know Life

Following the ascension of Jesus, and after Pentecost, the church began.  The people were not set on starting an institution but they had an intense passion to Know the Voice of God.  They broke bread with each other, spent time learning from the eyewitnesses, the apostles, about Christ, Giving what they had, and providing for those that had need.  This was a natural reaction to the desire to Know God’s Voice. To know what was about life and what was about life. 

What are you doing to Know the Voice of God?