Friday, March 30, 2012

Hip deep in the mud and s**t!...some thoughts on Mark 11:1-11

It seems fitting to tell this story on April Fool’s day. The joke was certianly on these disciples. I am sure that their expectations of serving and following Jesus were quite different when compared with the realities they had faced and were now facing.

Mark spends over half his story of Jesus’ entry into the city occupied with mundane details about acquiring the donkey. Where to go to find it? What kind of colt to seek? What to do? What to say? And though we do not know what these two disciples were thinking, I am fairly confident that they had imagined for themselves a grander and nobler role on this day than being on donkey detail.

Throughout their time with Jesus the disciples had been jockeying for advantage, angling for glory, arguing about who was the greatest. So there is a real sense of irony in that on this very public and glorious day of Jesus’ ministry, a day when he will be welcomed into Jerusalem with joyous hosannas, these two find themselves engaged in a most unromantic form of ministry, mucking around a stable, looking suspiciously like horse thieves, and trying to wrestle an untamed and no doubt balky animal toward the olive groves. For this they left their fishing nets and families?

It is a perfect example of one of those thousands of routine and inglorious details of church work that are necessary but not the 'real action'. How often I remember my own grand and glorious visions of my pastoral 'career'. Now after 30+ years I have seen how that ministry of serving people with energy, imagination and love often boils down to stuff like printing bulletins, arranging chairs, throwing out the trash, changing light bulbs in the restrooms, visiting people in nursing homes who aren’t quite sure who you are, sitting through meetings in which you try to get a sense of where people are at and how you can lead them to a better place. It is listening to the pain and suffering and lost hopes of lives and families. It is being the receptor for their anger with God or the institutional church or the world in general. It is being gracious and biting your tongue until it bleeds because they need to be heard and not spoken to.

"Follow me," led these disciples into a ministry of handling the gritty details of everyday life. So too, the routine, often exhausting, seemingly mundane donkey-fetching details of our service are gathered into Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. "Preparing the way of the Lord" is speaking a quiet word in a committee meeting, spending time with someone who is suffering from extreme dementia, emptying the garbage and writing those word for a sermon that breaks your own heart or speaks from your pain. I like the picture one author used. Discipleship...following's like standing hip-deep in the mud and shit of some stable trying to corral a donkey for Jesus.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hebrews 5...Jesus and who???

Hebrews is most likely not a letter, but a sermon...and a long one at that, but within this writing there is so much of value that it is a shame how often we by-pass this particular portion of Scripture. Well, not I continue working through the Epistle readings from the lectionary, let's take a brief look at one aspect of Hebrews 5:1-10. Some lectionaries use only vvs 5-10, but I think it is important that vvs 1-10 be read as a unit since those early verses describe the role of the high priest that is later ascribed to Jesus. However, I am not going into that here. I want to take a look at the parallels/comparisons that the author of Hebrews makes between Jesus and Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is introduced to us in Genesis 14:17-20. He is referred to in other parts of Scripture, but this one is the key reference. The story goes like this...

Abram has just finished his rescue mission to regain the freedom of Lot from the warring kings that had invaded Sodom and Gomorrah. (Lot seemed to have a gift for being in the wrong place.) When Abram returns victorious, Melchizedek shows up univted. He brings Abram bread and wine, then blesses him and praises God.

That's it, but when you lay it alongside the story of Jesus...well he also shows up uninvited, brings bread and wine for us, and blesses us while praising God. Granted this lacks a bit of detail, but this undercurrent is there amongst all that is recorded about Jesus' life.

The author of Hebrews draws the same comparison.

But let's take all this a step further. As the people of God, the community of faith, the church, the body of Christ, aren't we suppose to follow in Christ's way. If so, then we are supposed to show up when people need us. We should show up, uninvited, but bringing bread and wine. Whether food for the body or food for the spirit in the Sacrament. Bringing the blessing of God. His peace. His compassion. His grace. Unasked...and unexpected. Not for our own sake, but for the sake of the one who sends us, the one who first sent His only Son. And so by our actions we show that we, too, are of the order of Melchizedek...and of Jesus...the ones who came bearing bread, wine and blessing.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Reflections on Ephesians 2:8-10...

v.8…by grace…a gift, undeserved, unearned

you have been saved…this is a completed action with effect in the present.

Through faith…faith as the only way…though not specifically defined in the context understood that ‘faith’ referred to here is faith in Christ.

This not from yourselves…no human effort can contribute to salvation…again the emphasis on ‘gift of God’…there is that grace again.

v.9…not by works…re-emphasizing salvation cannot be earned even by strict obedience to God’s Law/Word/Will

‘no one can boast…nobody can take credit for their salvation…the work is totally and completely God’s

v.10…God’s workmanship…a work of art…we are not ‘self-made’…we are God’s handiwork…God’s creation

created in Christ Jesus…the formation takes place in Christ…the idea of ‘new creation’…not a brushing up of the ‘old’

to do good works…the purpose of grace, faith, and recreation…to enact ‘good’ works…the expression of God’s will in physical form…

God prepared in advance for us to do…God’s purpose …God’s planning…God’s will. The direction and development of these works is also God’s. We learn from him through reading of the word, prayer, worship, service, etc.

So Paul gives us the flow…grace through faith for works.

Not to navel gaze…not to sit back and seek further spiritual experience…not to just sit back and think about, reflect on, meditate on…

Grace through faith enables, empowers, enacts, encourages …us to a life of ‘grace-filled’ faith-full service.

Friday, March 09, 2012

No need for Superman...

Some thoughts on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25...

Reading the letters to churches that are included in the Bible is reading someone else’s mail. The main difference is that though this letter was originally written to a church community almost 2000 years ago, the message of the letter still speaks to our church community today.

Now Paul was writing to the church at Corinth. Corinth was in Greece. The church there was predominately Greek and with them came a corresponding love of knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom were part and parcel of Greek culture in that time. In our day and time we also put a great deal of importance on knowledge. We can see it in our science, technology, politics, the military, and everyday news reporting. Our society today has this thing about Do-it-yourself and self-help. We emphasize individual rights and pressure people to be top performers and independent. According to Paul, then it should be no surprise that the good news of Jesus, the Gospel, should seem like so much foolishness.

For the message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God’s power. (v.18)

Only if you are personally experiencing the gracious power of God in your life are you able to truly see past the ‘nonsense’ and get at the heart of what is true. The truth is that we need a savior. We need help. Our own reason and strength is not enough to combat the powers of sin, death and the devil that we face in this life. This shouldn’t be surprising to us because if coming to God or growing in God was simply achieved through the acquisition of wisdom and knowledge, then of what need is there for God himself or of a Christ. To become like God simply becomes knowing the right things. Making the right choices. Climbing the spiritual ladder of success. All by my own reason and strength. It is against this error that Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, remind us that God would “destroy the wisdom of the wise” and “Set aside the understanding of the scholar”. God’s way is not ours. God’s wisdom is not ours. It is different. It is difficult for us to get our heads around this. The key is ‘faith’.

“God decided to save those who believe.” Is the way Paul puts it in verse 20. It is not dependent on human ability to understand or learn. As one author put it, “It is not about what you know or about whom you know, but about who knows you.” It is about faith. Believing. Acceptance of the ‘foolish’ message of grace. That’s why it is a message that can reach the whole world. No one is excluded. There are no under-achievers in God’s eyes...just sinners...just the need of a Saviour and a Shepherd.

Yet, Paul highlights how different groups look for different things. Jews and miracles. Greeks and wisdom. Lutherans and what?...organization....committees...theology...catechisms...good order. It’s all the same in God’s eyes. All this stuff is useless foolishness. Faith is the key. Believing that the grace is there for you as a free gift, waiting only for you to freely accept the gift and allow it to work in you and in your life.

The grace that is shown as we “proclaim the crucified Christ”. But this is offensive and nonsense to the world which discounts the spiritual and downplays or ignores sin. The brutality of the sacrifice is too much. The whole sin and God thing too impractical and unrealistic. Again is the reminder that only to those who have heard the call of God, this message is “Christ...power of God... wisdom of God”. No need to apologize. Paul seems to be saying that we need to accept the reality of the situation. What we say and preach and teach as Christians will not make sense to those outside the church and the Christian community. Your life and attitude as a Christian will continually see odd or strange to anyone who lives without the knowledge of the grace of God.

But this “foolishness” and “weakness” is divine wisdom and strength. Comparatively speaking…whatever God does is greater than anything man can offer or do…hence…God’s negatives are greater than man’s positives. God’s grace versus our good works. God’s peace compared to the world’s peace.

So what’s the point? As always...grace.

God chooses the ordinary and the everyday. Normal people living normal lives. God did not make a superhuman…nor does he ask you to be superhuman. He chooses that which appears neither wise nor strong to demonstrate the foolishness of thinking that somehow or in some way strength and wisdom give someone greater value or importance and enable them to enter some special relationship with God. Rather God wants us to understand that each person…regardless of strength, power, wisdom etc…is to be valued and is of value…has something meaningful to contribute…and has place in the kingdom of God through God’s grace, through the sacrifice of Christ, through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

And just in case you missed it...this means you, too!