They Wanted a Hero

Five days after the crowds waved their palms and cried their hosannas as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was on trial.  The Prince of Peace had come, but they didn’t want a prince of peace, they wanted a hero.

They wanted a hero.  Like Barrabas.  Mel Gibson misrepresented Barrabas.  He got Barrabas all wrong.  Barrabas was not just a bloodthirsty cutthroat criminal.  He was a national hero.  He was a freedom fighter.  He had led an insurrection against the Roman occupation.  Some Roman soldiers had been killed.  He had been arrested.  He was a political prisoner set to be executed.  And he was a hero among the Jews.

He had a first name.  Jesus.  Jesus Bar-Abbas.  Jesus, son of the father.  He was a false messiah.  Jesus Barabbas?   Or Jesus of Nazareth?  Pilate says which one do you want?   Do you want the violent freedom fighter hero??   Or do you want the peaceful, riding on a donkey too small for him messiah from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth?   Give us Barabbas.  As for Jesus, crucify him.

The Palm Sunday crowd said all the right things, but they said them in the wrong way.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus as king, we have to know what kind of king he is.   If we think that Jesus is a king after the model of the conquering pharaohs and Caesar’s, we actually are rejecting Jesus.   And refusing the Price of Peace always has terrible consequences.  That’s why Jesus says a generation from now Jerusalem will become a fiery Gehenna where the worm  never dies as it eats those corpses, and the fires are never quenched.

That’s what Jerusalem did to itself in rejecting Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace.  Jerusalem did not want the new Kingdom of God, they just wanted to win at the old game of payback, get even, and vengeance.  The old game is power enforced by violence.  They didn’t want God’s new kingdom, they just wanted God to help them win at the old game.  But God had already said through the prophet Zachariah that he was done playing the old game.  That when the messiah comes, god is done with the old game.   No more old game, behold I do a new thing.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 ESV.   And I send my son, the Prince of Peace to teach peace to the nations.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10 ESV

But Jerusalem did not want the new kingdom, they wanted to win the old game.  Their desire to play the old game led to their destruction.  The Prince of Peace had just ridden into town offering a new way of being Israel and they had missed it.   Their desire to beat their enemies at the old game had blinded them.   They got Jesus wrong, and it set them on a wrong path that ended in their destruction.

If you had asked the chief priests if they believed Zachariah’s prophecy will ever be fulfilled, if they believed that someday the son of David, the true king of Israel, would ever really come humble and lowly, riding on a foal of a donkey, that he will come and teach peace among the nations, do you believe that will ever happen??   They would have said yes, but not now.  Now is not the time for peace.  Now is the time to fight.  Now is the time for war.

This is not a history lesson.  This is a warning for every follower of Jesus.  Do we want Jesus and his new way of peace, or do we want Jesus to help us win the old game?   Are we making the same mistake?  Do we say that someday the prince of peace will come, we believe he will come someday, but not now!!   If we do, we play the same game the chief priests played when they led Jerusalem to hell.

But the Prince of Peace has come!!   The prince of peace HAS COME!   Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday HAVE HAPPENED.  The Prince of Peace has come.  But do we want the Prince of Peace?  Or do we want our heroes?    When we play the game of saying we believe the Bible, believing it’s all going to happen, but NOT NOW, that’s how we play the game of rejecting Christ but still believing the Bible…

The chief priests would have told you they believed in Christ.   They would have said they accept Christ, they believed in Messiah, they believed Messiah was coming, but NOT NOW.   NOT NOW.  Yes, we believe the Bible, but it’s not for NOW.  We believe all those verses, but they’re not for now.  Someday, but not now.  Now we fight.

And Jesus said there’ll be hell to pay, and he weeps over Jerusalem.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus.  We can do that and still get Jesus wrong.  We get Jesus right when we confess Jesus as Christ and King.  We get Jesus wrong when we see him as for us and against them.  We get Jesus right when wave the palms as if to welcome the worlds true king.  We get Jesus wrong when we wave the palms as national flags.  We get Jesus right when we acclaim him with the word Hosanna!!   Save now!   We get Jesus wrong when we say it’s hurray for our side

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

John Lewis

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Little Rich Man

I’ve been working my way through the gospel of Luke, now we are into chapter 19. Ever since chapter 9, Luke has been retracing the final journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. From right after the transfiguration in chapter 9 to the triumphal entry at the end of chapter 19, Jesus is on a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The story becomes more and more ominous as we go. There is a dark ominous cloud lingering over Jesus as he’s on his way ultimately to be crucified. He talks more and more about what is to happen once they get to Jerusalem…saying things like “”You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.””Matthew 26:2 ESV. And…“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””

Luke 9:22 ESV

But today we have the final event before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. What Luke is doing today is once more showing us that salvation and the kingdom of god are expressed as radical hospitality.

Throughout his gospel, Luke shows Jesus as moving from table to table, meal to meal, announcing and enacting the kingdom of god. He wants to show us one more time, with the story of Zacchaeus, what that kingdom looks like. They are nearing Jerusalem, arriving at Jericho. They are one days journey from Jerusalem. The very next day Jesus will arrive in Jerusalem. This is the final event recorded before we move into the actual passion week, the Holy Week of Jesus.

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

By now we are encountering what should be a familiar theme. Once again we have a tax collector, not just a regular tax collector but a chief tax collector. He is rich and he is despised. The Pharisees thought that land based wealth based on production of the land was a sign of being blessed by God. We saw before that Jesus didn’t agree with that. He didn’t agree with the assesment that you can determine God’s favor and blessing based upon wealth and riches. Nevertheless, the Pharisees thought that great wealth accrued through the production of the land was a sign of Gods favor, but wealth accrued by collecting taxes for the hated occupying gentile force of the Romans was seen as a great evil. Tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the consummate moral outcasts, excluded from the synagogue and temple life. A chief tax collector would be seen as completely excluded from the covenant of Abraham. You might as well think of Zachaeaus as the chief of sinners.

Zacchaeus is banished from the synagogue, he can not participate from synagogue life. Being banished from the synagogue, he’s also banished from the Kingdom of God. There was a great sense of anticipation at this time. There was a great Jewish anticipation something big was about to happen. The Kingdom of God really was going to come. They believed that God was about to act decisively and definitively very soon, and would establish his reign, rule, and government among men. They were equally convinced that people like Zacchaeus would be excluded from it. They would not be a part of what God was doing. They would be left out.

But – by this time I hope you have learned that we must not be so quick to dismiss those who appear to be outside of the kingdom of God just because they don’t presently participate in accepted forms of religious life.

This is Zacchaeus’ situation. He is an outsider, an outcast. He is banned from the synagogue. Everybody views him as a despised sinner, and he will not be a part of what God is doing.

But Zacchaeus has something going for him. He is fascinated by Jesus. He has heard that Jesus is coming. Word of Jesus had spread, this prophet from Galilee who works miracles, heals the sick, helps the lame walk, the blind see. I’m sure that had gotten Zacchaeus attention.

No doubt he’d also heard about his table practice. He’d heard how this miracle worker from Galilee would also share his table with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and the outcasts, those who’d been banned from the synagogue. This is very fascinating to Zacchaeus.

We are told that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but not just as a celebrity. He wanted to see who Jesus is. He was fascinated by Jesus. I want to see who this guy is. What is he about? What’s he really like?

That kind of sinner is far more common than you think. Our world is filled with people who have zero interest in going to a church, but they are fascinated by Jesus. And if they see some means by which they really might actually know what Jesus is actually about and like, the are interested in that. That’s Zacchaeus…

Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. All those people that we think are on the wrong side of God, that don’t do things just as we do, Jesus wants to sit down and share a meal with them. And they are far more willing to sit down with Jesus than we, or even they, might think. Trouble is, the body of Christ in the world is far too often putting up barriers, putting conditions in coming to the table. Instead of putting up barriers, maybe we just need to wash the dishes, set the table, prepare the meal, and have a seat.

Yes, these people are messed up. But do we trust Jesus enough to simply allow him to sit down those whom we think are lost? Of course there is more to say on this, I will be back…

“He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

John Lewis

Winners and Losers

Luke 9:51 is a very important demarcation point in the gospel of Luke.   It almost seems as though it should be the start of a new chapter.  It is from this point that Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem.   Luke 9:51 to the triumphal entry in the middle of Luke 19, 10 full chapters, takes place over 4-5 days, certainly no more than a week, then what follows is Jesus passion week and the resurrection. So From Luke 9:51 to Jesus resurrection is no more than a two week period.

“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 

To be received up, most translations now say to be taken up, is kind of a double entendre.  It is  referring to his death, being lifted up on the cross, but also refers to his resurrection.  He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem….why does it tell us this?  Think about it. He was determined, absolutely determined.  This took great courage.  How much courage??  He knew what would happen. He knew he would be killed.  Jesus knew he’d be put to death.   He could have avoided this by fleeing, or so many other ways.    But he doesn’t.  He had, indeed, steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

How did Jesus know this, that he would be killed when he went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival?  It was not necessarily divine revelation, a word from the Father.  It may have been, but not necessarily.   Jesus understood that Jerusalem was the center of the principalities and powers.  If he goes to the center of that power structure, where  Caiaphas,  Pontius Pilate, and King Herod hold their power,  and proclaims the alternative of the kingdom of God, he will be killed.  But he also knows it’s the will of the Father for him to be faithful in proclaiming the kingdom of God even if it leads to his death.  By the way, it is in his death that he reveals God’s love and overthrows those same principalities and powers.

What happens at the start of his final journey to Jerusalem  is shocking,  if we will allow it to shock us.   He finds within his own disciples a remnant of that same spirit that will kill him in Jerusalem.   In the powers of Jerusalem, within Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, the  religious powers, government powers, and economic powers, there is a spirit present. It will cause them to kill Jesus.   It is the spirit of Satan.  The Unholy Spirit.  The spirit of accusation, of hate.  The Spirit of Us vs Them.   It is this same spirit he finds within his own disciples.

Let’s back up just a bit.  They are in Galilee.  Jesus is praying, he’s always praying, Luke brings this out especially.  “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”” Luke 9:18-20 ESV Who do the crowds say I am?  Maybe John the Baptist, maybe Elijah.  Remember, the guy who launched this movement (John the Baptist) is already dead, it’s a dangerous thing they are involved in.

Jesus responds to Peter affirming him as the Messiah, “And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.””  Luke 9:21-22 ESV

This is the first time (at least in Luke) that Jesus has told his disciples that he would be rejected and killed in Jerusalem.  They couldn’t understand this.  They just couldn’t get their minds around this.  It’s what we call cognitive dissonance.  They had a picture of messiah, an expectation of what was coming, and nowhere in that picture does Messiah get crucified.   Crucifixion would be massive failure.  A crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah.  Jesus told them plainly what would happen.  The language is not complicated.  But as plainly as he tells them, it just does not set in with them.

Move forward a few verses.  “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Luke 9:43-45 ESV.  Jesus breaks it down, again, that this journey to Jerusalem will not finish as his disciples expected….

And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.   Well, they were afraid to ask him any more about it. Maybe they did understand, and just preferred their own picture and expectation over the realities Jesus was explaining to them…

“An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest.” Luke 9:46 ESV.   The twelve disciples have signed up with Jesus.  They are learning his way, but the expectation remains the same.  The goal is for Jesus to become king.  When Jesus becomes king they will be right there with him.  So they are jockeying for position in the future government of Jesus.   They are arguing about cabinet positions, who will be the Secretary of State, who will be the Secretary of Defense.   They don’t do this in front of Jesus, but Jesus is aware of what’s happening.

“But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”” Luke 9:47-48 ESV.  Jesus flips the script on his disciples, turns things upside down.  Jesus is always turning things upside down, isn’t he?   This child is the least of all, but Jesus tells his disciples that in receiving this child, they will receive him.  And the one who sent him, because that’s what God is like.  Don’t forget who Jesus identifies with in Matthew 25 – “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’”  Matthew 25:35-36 ESV.  These disciples are arguing over who is the greatest, who deserves the greatest power at the right hand of the one they expect to emerge victorious in Jerusalem.  They don’t yet really understand the Kingdom of God Jesus is enacting.  Jesus grabs a young child, and sets the child down among them.  Most of our translations identify this child as “him”, but the Greek actually says Jesus took a child and put IT by his side and said to them.  So we don’t actually know if this child is a boy or a girl.  Let’s says today that this is a little six year old girl Jesus sets among them.   Jesus says to them, You guys are all wondering who’s going to be my Secretary of State in the Kingdom, I might just make this little girl Secretary of State.  

As we see in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies not only with the little children, but the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and the imprisoned among us.  Jesus identifies with everyone, but especially the least.  When you allow someone into your life, maybe someone beneath you,  maybe someone from the lower economic classes, maybe someone who doesn’t speak your language so well, maybe someone whose got a history we don’t like to talk about, when you allow someone into your life and don’t overlook them, Jesus says when you receive them you receive me, and you also receive my Father, because this is what God is like.

Jesus is breaking down all the ways we compare and compete.  We have our systems of comparing and competing with one another, our system of winners and losers.  Jesus is trying to subvert all of that.  We still completely believe in our system of winners and losers.  We have our place for Jesus in our life, our little shoebox we like to keep him in.  But the more we actually read the Gospels, the more we immerse ourselves in the story being told, the less he seems to fit into that shoebox.

Yet, we will continue to keep Jesus locked away in that shoebox.  Because while we believe in Jesus, we believe in our system of winners and losers more.  We believe we need more, we know we want more, and to take Jesus out of that shoebox might get in the way of what we want.  Because we believe all these things that we want. If we could just get them, might, finally, make us happy.

So we will continue in our own systems.  Jesus comes to us.  He comes to us in ways and through people which we simply do not see.  “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:10-11 ESV.  If you met Jesus yesterday, did you know it?   If you meet Jesus today, will you receive Him?   If he comes to you tomorrow, will you walk right past him?  Will you even look Him in the eyes and acknowledge that he’s there?   ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ Matthew 25:45 ESV

Funny thing.  I never did get to the point I thought I was getting to today.  We will have to look at the spirit of Satan within Jesus own disciples tomorrow I suppose…

John Lewis

Who???

Who???

mary

Strolling through Gospel of Luke during this season of advent as we wait for the coming of Messiah, the Christ.   I want to meet Jesus, and I mean really meet Jesus, beginning right now in this season of advent.   I want to be reintroduced to this story that saves the world, I want to meet Jesus all over again, as it were, maybe really meet him for the very first time.   I want strip the varnish of our politicized faith and cultural assumptions and meet Jesus as much as I possibly can as he actually is.

elijah

My last three messages were meeting the parents of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist properly would belong to the Old Testament, even though he appears in the New.  He’s the bridge that brings the two together.   The last prophecy of the Old Testament, at the end of Malachi, is that god would send Elijah the prophet to prepare the way.  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6 ESV. John comes in the power and spirit of Elijah as the fore runner preparing the way for Messiah.

mary and jesus

So we’ve met John’s parents and looked at his birth.  Today we look at Mary, the mother of Jesus.  That’s right, I’m writing about Mary.   She is quite the mystery.  Protestants have been allergic to Mary for about 500 years, I know.  And there were clearly some abuses that needed to be corrected, but maybe we need to get over our allergy and meet Mary in the New Testament, as she is, and learn what we should learn from her.   Mary is the human, the woman through whom God enters his own creation and gains humanity.   Mary is a mystery because she is intimately connected with the greatest mystery of all, the incarnation.  By incarnation I mean that god, in Christ, became human.  I mean that the eternal logos, the eternal word of god, god’s self reflection upon himself that was eternally existent,  the second person of the trinity, becomes human flesh.

god incarnate

Jesus Christ is God becoming as human as you.  Many (most) of us still don’t believe this.  We know what it is to be human.  We know that God can’t be like us, because we are a mess, amen!   But if we don’t believe this, then it means we are kind of a cute little heretic.  Quit being a cute little heretic, and accept that Jesus is fully human, just as human as you.  He was and is fully human, like you.  It’s stunning, it’s shocking, it’s hard to get our minds around, but Jesus was and is fully human, even like me.  It’s hard to get our minds around, but we have to work at it.

1

Let’s get started looking at how this happens.  Let’s look at how Jesus becomes fully human, Emmanuel, God with us.   How does Jesus fully join with us in life, joins us in birth, in struggles, in sorrows, even joins us in death, that we might join him in resurrection.

mothergabriel

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”

Luke 1:26-38 ESV

enunciation icon

So the story of Jesus begins in earnest with the enunciation, the angelic announcement to a young virgin that she will bear a son named Jesus who will be called the Son of God.

two pigeons

The young virgin is Mary, the most common female Jewish name.  She is named after Moses’ sister Miriam.  She is Jewish.  Mary was probably very young.  She’s betrothed, which in her culture means she is in fact married, which is why Joseph considers divorcing her upon hearing of her pregnancy.  They are married, but she has not yet left her home to live with her husband, they have not consummated their union.  There’s been a betrothal and exchanging of gifts, they are legally married but have not come together because Mary is so young.  She is probably about thirteen or fourteen, which is almost shocking, quite scandalous to us.  She is Jewish and she is poor.  We know she is poor because when she and Joseph take Jesus to be dedicated at the temple, they offer two pigeons for the sacrifice instead of a lamb, which is the provision made under the law for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Nazareth_Village_houses,_tb052704199

This all takes place in Nazareth.  The significance of Nazareth is its insignificance.  Nazareth is Nowhere, it’s not on the map, it’s Hicktown.  Mary is poor, obscure, living in the nowhere, nothing town of Nazareth.  She doesn’t come from wealth or privilege or prestige.  She’s not among the upper class.  If God is going to act, wouldn’t he act among those whom we would think would be prepared to act with Him?  She will become most famous woman in history, but here in the story, she is an insignificant young teenager in a nothing town who has nothing.  Augustus Caesar is in his lavish palace in Rome.  King Herod is in his probably even more lavish palace in Jerusalem. But the angel Gabriel (which means “strength of god”) comes to this humble (poor) house with a dirt floor and thatch roof in the backwater of Galilee to tell a fourteen year old virgin she has found favor with God will soon give birth to Israel’s messiah.

mark-9-35

Let us not fail to be surprised at this.  Enter enough into the story that we can find it almost shocking that this is the way God operates.  There were plenty of people, plenty of Jews, who had been waiting, praying, hoping, preparing for the Messiah.  But when God breaks into human history, He does not go to those with power, He does not go to those who appear to be greatest and most prepared.  He does not go to the Hasmoneans in the big city of Jerusalem, the wealthy power brokers of the time.   As one of the most famous sayings of Jesus goes, “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Luke 13:30 ESV.

advent2

We know this, we can talk about this, but do not fail to be shocked by this. It is not cliche, it’s not kitsch, it’s not sentimentality, it’s not Precious Moments.  Mary, a lowly, poor, nobody from nowhere, is how God enters into humanity to save the world.

John Lewis

So, You think you Love God?

So, You think you Love God?

all saints day.jpg

Happy All Saints day!!   A  message today about coming out of the darkness and into the light.  How do we know it is no longer night, but the new day has finally dawned?  When we can look into the face of any other person, and know that we seeing our own sister or brother…

ten-commandments-1

Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.   We’ve had this command from the beginning.  What beginning?   The beginning of our being human, the beginning of our living together in civilization, the beginning of our trying to get along with one another and not kill one another.

dark-and-light

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

am-i-my-brothers-keeper

We are to love and care for our brother.  But the question we always have is – who is my brother?   “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”” Genesis 4:9 ESV.   “Am I my brothers keeper?  Isn’t this supposed to be about rugged individualism, God?  Aren’t we supposed to pull our own selves up by our bootstraps?  What is this, some kind of welfare state?  Am I my brothers keeper?”   As a matter of fact Cain, yes you are.

cross-light

How do we know if we’ve left the dark night and entered the new day of Christ?  We love our brother.  The light of Christ is love.  Love is the new light.  Love is the Royal Law.  It’s not a sentimental feeling, but compassionate action.  It is very clear in Christ that we are to love our brothers and sisters.

neighbor

But our question is always the same – who are our brothers and sisters??   Are we trying to get out of something?   It’s like we are constantly asking this question – “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” Luke 10:29 ESV.   To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  A parable whose question really is “How do you react when you find out your enemy loves you?”   Jesus gives us this parable to deconstruct our walls and our boundaries, to break us free from those chains of “I can love these but not those…“.    We want to put up walls and strengthen our boundaries, Jesus comes in with his sledgehammer and tears them down.

heart bible

Some would say that it’s only our Christian brothers and sisters that John is telling us we need to love.  You can make that argument if you want to.  There is a very real , very particular sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among Christian believers.  But to say that we are NOT obligated to love those who are not Christians, that is dangerous territory.   We CAN make that argument.  But do we WANT to make that argument.  SHOULD we make that argument?   Do we want to make the case that any others, non-Christians, aren’t our brothers and sisters?

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Both Paul and John have references in their writings that all of humanity are the children of God.   Because we are.  So, do we really want to say that no one else is our brother?   Do we say that  Jews are not our brothers and sisters?  Muslims – not our brothers?   Hindus, Buddhists, maybe the guy down the block who’s not particularly Christian, all not our brothers?

brothers

St Francis of Assisi, for one, looked at every person as his brother or sister.  He would even refer to the mountains as Brother Mountain, the moon as Sister Moon.  He had a real sense of everything and everyone in creation being connected.  Which we really are.   We even share 1/2 our DNA with the banana you had for breakfast.

children of god

So when we want to ask “Who is our brother?“, the one we should be asking is Jesus.   The moment we entertain the idea that some other group of people does not bear the image of God, are not the children of God, we are opening a very dangerous door.  It’s the door to hate.  It’s the door to racism.  It’s the door to torture, to war, to apartheid, to Hiroshima, to Nagasaki.  It’s the door to genocide, to Auschwitz, to Treblinka.  It’s the door that gets opened when WE say some are not the children of God.   Refusing to acknowledge others as brothers is the deadly door opened by Cain.

cain

Let’s read more of what John said.  “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother…” 1 John 3:11-12 ESV.   Again, who is my brother?   Your brother is the one you should not kill!!    Well, who should we kill?   I’ll let you and Jesus think about that one for a while…

i love god

Meanwhile…“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 ESV.   He who says he loves God but does not love his brother is a liar.  These are not my words, but the apostle Johns’ words.   The one who does not love his brother is lying mostly to himself.   We all, always, think that we are the ones who love God.  But we are lying to ourselves.  If we don’t love our brother, and by brother I mean the jackass around the corner, the jerk at work, the one who cut you off in traffic this morning, if you don’t love that brother whom you can see, then how can you say you love God whom you can’t see??   John knows that we are always in danger of crafting and following our own invisible God in our own image, who looks and thinks and acts just like me, and that is idolatry.   And it is idolatry which is the root of just about every sin there is…

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So why, exactly, does not loving my brother mean that I don’t love God?  What is John’s logic here?  Of course I love God!!  I’ve never seen him, but I know I love Him!!  So what if I don’t love that guy up the street, he’s a jerk!!  So what if I hate my boss??   What does that have to do with loving God?   BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER, WHOM YOU CAN SEE, WHOM YOU HATE, BEARS THE IMAGE OF GOD.  It may be distorted, it may be marred (just as it is distorted and marred in all of us), it may be hard to recognize.  But understand this – even ISIS believes that they love God.  They believe that all they do is done for the love of God.  But something has gone terribly wrong.  They have lied to themselves because they have failed to recognize the image of God in every person.   You can not wantonly harm other people who bear the image of God and then turn around and say you love God.   We both bear the family resemblance, the image of God, no matter how distorted it is.

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Here is a Jesus truth that will set you free – we do not love God any more than we love our neighbor.  Jesus says the two great commandments are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV.  John further explains this to let us know that it’s the latter that proves the former.  We only know that we love God by our love for our neighbor.

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Of course, Jesus stretches this definition of brother all the way to loving our enemies, extinguishing all doubt.  We ask the question “Who is my neighbor?”   To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which he simply makes explicit “Love your enemies.”   We prefer to define our neighbor over loving him.  Jesus says any way we might find to define our neighbor, love your enemy.

“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

1 John 2:7-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.2.7-11.esv

John Lewis

Reading Out Loud

Reading Out Loud

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I’m doing something a little different today.  I’m going to try to make a point about reading words on a page versus having a spoken conversation.   I’ve begun reading a book by Eugene Peterson (he of “The Message” Bible translation) called “Reversed Thunder – The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination“, and many of the points I am making here mirror points he makes in this book.

god speaks

A major point of the second chapter of this book revolves around the spoken word as opposed to words written on a page.  As Christians, we believe that God speaks, do we not?   God speaks, and all things are brought into being.  God speaks, and a creation comes into existence that is still expanding at the speed if light 13 billion years later.  God speaks, and a covenant is made.  God speaks, and eventually we have the holy scriptures to record the Word of God.

jesus speaks

So here is the point – the word of God was, is and will be spoken long before it was ever written down.  John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ was the word made flesh.  If you read that gospel, it is unmistakable that the coming of Christ was not just ink on paper or some philosophical thought, but an historical occurrence, a moment in time.  In John’s letters, we see the physical, historical nature of what had happened.  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—” 1 John 1:1 ESV.  Jesus was not reduced to words on paper.  They walked with him, talked with him, ate with him, prayed with him, touched him, probable slept with him (in the purely sleeping sense of that word!).  The word of God was always spoken before it was written.  Jesus was seen, touched, heard, before he was ever written about.

conversation with god

Spoken words are personal in a way written words can never be.  I try my hardest to write every day as though I am speaking to you. I attempt to write as though we are actually having a conversation.  Sometimes I might break the “rules” of written grammar, that is because very often I am writing, deliberately, as though I were speaking.  I want you to be able to hear my voice as you read.  Because there is a huge difference between hearing and reading.

writing in dust

Jesus Himself never wrote anything down, except that which he wrote in the dust to blow in the breeze a few minutes later.  We still wonder aloud what it might have been he was writing 2000 years later.  But Jesus did not communicate with his disciples by writing, he spoke his message to his disciples.

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Which, I believe, is the point of this verse from the opening stanza of the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.   The Revelation of John demands that it be read aloud, and heard.   Why?  What is the significance?

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I believe it is for the same reason I attempt to write as though I’m having a conversation.  The writer of revelation wants to be heard, not read.  Because to be read is impersonal, to be heard affirms and confirms a personal relationship between two parties, an interactive conversation between two people.

hearing

Peterson says that the scriptures, as God’s word, “are a great, but mixed, blessing.”  They are a blessing because it is preserved from generation to generation that God speaks, what he speaks, how he speaks, and what happens when he speaks.  “The scriptures are a mixed blessing because the moment the words are written they are in danger of losing the living resonance of the spoken word and reduced to something that is looked at, studied, interpreted, but not heard personally.”   Words, “word”, is personal.  But the moment they are written, they begin to be cold and impersonal.  They are separated from the voice which spoke them and depersonalized.  If all we do is read the word of God, the words on that paper no longer do what they were designed to do – “create and maintain personal relationships of intelligence and love.”

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When a word is spoken and heard, it brings the speaker and hearer into a relationship with one another.  Written and read – it has to rely on the imagination of the reader to do its work.  The senses of seeing and hearing are no longer involved.  Without these senses actuated, the written word becomes abstract.  Words on paper, separated from their speaker, can be beautiful, interesting, they can be studied.  But if we are not listening and responding, those words are not functioning according to the intent of the speaker.   In the case of Revelation, the intent of the speaker, St. John, is not to inform us about God, but to involve us in God.

the way

Peterson makes the point that very often, words after being written are analyzed, admired, parsed, discussed, but not not listened to, nor heard, not put into action.  Jesus’ sharpest disagreements were with the scribes and the Pharisees, people of his own day who knew their scriptures very well, knew the stories, could recite them backwards and forwards.   But they did not hear the voice of God.   They knew their Torah.  They loved the Torah.  They memorized it.  They used their Bible to regulate every part of their life.  Yet Jesus was at odds with them at almost every turn, every chapter of his gospels, because for them, the Torah was studied and known, but not heard.  The scriptures had become a book to use, not a way of hearing from God.   They separated the book and the knowledge from the divine act of God’s speaking.  They separated the book, and themselves, from the human act of hearing which would become believing, following and loving.

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So, if you ever do actually open the book if Revelation, do as it’s author commands and read it aloud.  In fact, read aloud all the books of the Bible, especially those red letters in the Gospels.  Hear what the book is telling you, don’t just read.   Hear Jesus telling you, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV.    Listen as He says “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” Luke 22:19 ESV.   Can you hear Him?  Then do as He is saying.  “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44-45 ESV

Read out loud the words of your bible.  Pray out loud.  Speak the words, don’t just think them.  Hear Him speak, don’t just read ink on a paper.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.1-3.esv

John Lewis

Written in the Dust

Written in the Dust

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600 years BC, before Christ, Jeremiah was a preacher and prophet in the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  Jeremiah was specifically prophesying, through his prophetic poetry, to the backslidden people of Judah.  It is from this poetry that we get these two prophetic verses – ““For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me— the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

“LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” Jeremiah 17:13 NIV

living-water

Jeremiah uses the picture of living water to depict Yahweh.  To be connected to God is to be connected to a stream of living water.   But instead of trusting in God, being connected to the fountain of living water that is Yahweh, the people of Judah were trusting in the things of man, in what they could do for themselves, especially their political alliance with Egypt.  They had abandoned God, rejected his living water, trusting instead in their own cracked cisterns which would not hold water at all.   Later, Jeremiah prophecies Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.   His people of Judah have turned away from the Lord, of and they will wind up written in the dust…

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Six centuries later, Jesus, like Jeremiah, is preaching to wayward people in Jerusalem.  This is during the festival of Sukkot, also known as the feast of Tabernacles.   Jesus doesn’t live in Jerusalem, but is in there for the festival.  This would have been approximately 6 months before the Passover, so it would have been about 6 months before his crucifixion.

living water

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”” John 7:37-38 ESV.

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Jesus is extending an audacious invitation – the invitation to festival goers to come Him for living water.  The invitation to believe in Him.  Jesus and Jeremiah are the only 2 figures of the Bible to talk about living water.  Those who heard him give this invitation would have known exactly what Jesus was talking about.  Jesus is connecting himself to Yahweh, the God of Israel.  Some might even think he was claiming to be the God of Israel…”come to me, believe in me.

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The crowd there was divided about Jesus.  “So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.” John 7:43-44 ESV.  In fact, the chief priests and Pharisees had sent the temple police to arrest Jesus, but when they heard him speak, they seem to have forgotten what they came for.    “The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!””John 7:45-46 ESV.   Many were beginning to believe in Jesus.  They might not have been able to connect all the dots, but after all, look at his miracles.  He was able to cast out demons, heal the sick, even raise the dead!!  Now he was openly associating himself with Yahweh, the God of Israel.  No wonder the Sanhedrin wanted him arrested.

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“[[They went each to his own house,” John 7:53 ESV. but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.    Do you notice here how chapter 7 doesn’t actually end, but rolls straight into chapter 8?   Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 

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Jesus is getting quite a following at this festival.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”   The Pharisees have found a woman here whom they can condemn using the Torah, as we know it the Bible.  They have found a woman caught in the act of adultery (somehow the man got away.  Maybe he was a Pharisee). This is what Pharisees use the Bible for (then and now).  They claim all the promises, all the salvation for themselves, and then use it to condemn everyone else they don’t like.   Notice I said “use the Bible”.   That is what these Pharisees do, use the Bible for their own purposes.  They use the Bible to condemn others.  They are not using the Bible to be transformed by God’s truth…

stone such women

They are attempting to use the Bible here for manipulation and intimidation.  They are using it as a device for their own control and power.  They know Jesus is not going to preside over the stoning of a sinner.  They have remarked many times that he is a friend of sinners (amen!), that he sits and eats and drinks with sinners.

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They are using the Bible to trap Jesus.  They are setting him up.  They want to be able to accuse Jesus of not believing the Bible.  The Bible says, in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that such women (and the men they are caught with) are to be stoned to death.  These Pharisees are right, the Bible is on their side!!  But they are not submitted themselves to the scriptures, they simply want to use it as a weapon against Jesus.   And Jesus can quote scripture to, and he had already twice quoted Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” Hosea 6:6 NIV.   Jesus was not going to sacrifice this sinner to the Torah.

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Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.   Jesus sees this for exactly what it is – another rejection of the God of Israel.  Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.   Written in the dust…Yesterday –  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”   Today,  Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.  Jesus is completing Jeremiah’s prophecy, and this would not be lost on those Pharisees.  These guys knew their Torah, could quote from it forwards and backwards.  They knew what Jesus was doing.

DustWriting

What was he writing?  Who knows??!!   Maybe “Jerusalem“.  Maybe he was writing some of the names of those men standing there.  If he was particularly feisty that day, maybe he wrote the high priest “Joseph Caiaphas“.   Whatever he wrote, his point was clear.  These Pharisees, the scribes, Jerusalem, Caiaphas, they had all turned away from God, rejected the living water, were more interested in using the Bible to trap, control and intimidate than being transformed themselves by the truth of God’s word found inside.  So even though they get what Jesus is doing, they keep pressing the issue – “Well. What are you going to do Jesus? Do you believe the Torah, are you going to follow the Bible or not??”   And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.

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These Pharisees thought they were trapping Jesus, but they’d been had.   They wound up trapped themselves.  BUT THAT WASN’T IN THEIR BIBLES!!!   Let him who is without sin wasn’t in the Torah.  Here’s the thing – Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was the word made flesh.  Everything he ever did, everything Jesus ever said, was and is the Word of God.  Jesus is what God has to say…

But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”   Here’s a question – was anyone here without sin??  Jesus was!!  Jesus was without sin.  He was qualified to throw those stones.  All those Pharisees, those accusers, they knew they’d been had.   One by one, they put down those stones.  There was a nice little pile sitting there for Jesus.  If Jesus had wanted to “do the Bible“, then he could have picked up those stones and given that woman what she deserved.  She was guilty.  It would have just been too bad for her.

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But Jesus doesn’t pick up those stones.  Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”    Go and sin no more!!    That’s what salvation looks like!!  This woman is guilty, the man she was sleeping with is guilty, I am guilty, you are guilty!!   Jesus has the right to throw those stones, the power to condemn.  But does he??   No!!!   Go, and from now on sin no more.  Guess what – that’s in your Bible!!   Amen and hallelujah, I like that one a lot more than stoning adulterers.

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Go and sin no more is what salvation looks like in a single moment.   Jesus could condemn that woman, but instead offers grace and mercy.  Because, after all, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 ESV.  Jesus doesn’t condemn us, he’s the one who saves us!!  Jesus is greater than the law.  He is the word made flesh.

Fountain

These Pharisees had rejected the living waters of God and were written in the dust.  Within a generation, the whole city of Jerusalem would be written in the dust.  If we choose to use our bibles as weapons to condemn sinners, we will wind up written in the dust.

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Leviticus and Deuteronomy both condemned this woman to die.  Jesus, the word made flesh, says go and sin no more.  Christ does not condemn, Jesus Saves, amen!!   “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17 ESV.

no-condemnation

Yet we who call ourselves Christians, “little Christs“, spend so much time and energy condemning people.  The more we do, the more we ourselves wind up written in the dust.

“but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” ]]”

John 8:1-11 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jhn.8.1-11.esv

John Lewis