In God We Trust

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Looking at Mark 4 today, specifically the story of Jesus calming the storm.

a great windstorm

If you don’t know this story, then here it is.  It is the story of Jesus and his disciples getting into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee when a great storm comes upon them.  On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.   They took him just as he was…Jesus had been teaching the people all day from the boat, so they left without returning to shore, heading for the other side where He would heal a demon possessed man who had been living in the graveyards.   They wind up in a great storm, which is not unusual for the Sea of Galilee due to the presence of the mountains and the up and down currents of the winds there.   This storm must have been particularly powerful to have frightened these experienced fisherman.

Jesus storm

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”    The disciples may have been afraid, but apparently Jesus was not concerned.   He was in the back, sleeping like a baby.   Sleeping like he was unaware they were all about to die!!

do you not care...

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””    So Jesus wakes up, and calmly commands the storm to stop.  To which, the storm listens, the wind ceased, and all was calm.  And Jesus then does something that, maybe, seems a little strange, maybe even unfair.   It seems as though he rebuked his disciples here –  “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   

little-faith

Is it just me, or does it seem like Jesus is a little irritated or impatient here?   Why does he rebuke them?   Their boat was about to sink, was it not?   I would think that would be the perfect time to cry out to Jesus to save them!   What else were they supposed to do?   Didn’t the fact that they cried out in their panic, in their time of desperate need, show that they DID have faith?

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So here is my take here.  Mark says they went to Jesus and cried out  Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?   Matthew’s account of this event says “And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.””   Matthew 8:25 ESV. The disciples were terrified.   They were panicked.  This is why Jesus asks them “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”   Maybe the correct response for the disciples would have been to, calmly, wake Jesus and just say “Hey, we need you to calm this storm Jesus.”   And just expect that it will be done.   Because, what else were the disciples to do but to go to the Son of God in their time of need and ask for salvation?

north-korea-military-march

They were rebuked because of their fear.  Because if we are trusting in the Lord, we should not have fear.  These disciples are a little like us today.  We are freaking out in the world right now, are we not?  We have issues.  We have North Korea, The Donald, and nuclear weapons all around.  Not a good combination.  We have Russian investigation, hurricanes that keep coming, scientists are telling us the earth is boiling.  We have to do something, don’t we??!!

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The question is, do we trust God or not?  If we say we have faith in God, then at some point we have to trust God.  We do all that we can responsibly do, but that still won’t calm the fear in you heart, the anxieties that keep you up at night.

in guns we trust

Think about this – every time a human being kills another human being, whatever good reasons there may be, it comes down to not trusting God.  If you have a gun pointing at me, and I can kill you before you kill me, I can only obey Jesus’ command to love my enemies if I’m trusting in God.  There’s no other way.  Because if I die, I die.  It’s not the end of the world.  It’s not the end of me.  Do I believe that or do I not?  Our money has the inscription “In God we Trust.”  But, really, should it not say “In guns we trust”?  Because do we not trust FAR more in our guns than in our God?   When we take matters into our own hands because we are not trusting, and we act out of fear, we almost always turn to violence.

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What exactly are we trusting God for?  We are not trusting Him to get us out of our situation.  That’s not the point.  We are trusting that if this happens, and I die, I’m ok with that.  I’m trusting that God is going to work this out for good, make the best of this situation, and work it out ultimately for good.  Because I believe in life after death, I believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So, if you kill me…then what?  You got nothing else…

hope

The hope of the New Testament is always directed to that ultimate future.  We are not trusting God for a new car, or to pay the bills, or to buy a bigger house.  That is not our hope.  For believing Christians, the worst case scenario is not a bad scenario.  Christian leaders tell us to trust in God, but they don’t tell us what we are trusting for.  So, we think that God is supposed to get us out this our out of that.  But if he does, or if he doesn’t, either way that day is going to come.  It may seem dark, but we will all die eventually.  And if not, scientists tell us the universe is decaying, how are you getting out of that one?  What are you trusting God for?  He may not, he will not, get us out of every bad situation, but we trust that there is a good situation he’s getting us into, no matter what happens.

war zone

The New Testament says the here and now is a war zone.  Bad things can happen.  We might get fed to the lions or be burned at the stake.  But we trust in the character of God, who will ultimately win in the end.

guns

So they can kill us now, but so what???

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?””

Mark 4:35-41 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.4.35-41.esv

John Lewis

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The Last Word

The Last Word

The Book of Revelation.  The last book of the canon of scripture.  Chapter 1, verse 1 begins “The revelation of Jesus Christ…“.  “Of” here carries a double meaning.  It is the revelation about Jesus Christ, and it is the revelation from Jesus Christ.   He is the content, the subject, of the revelation, and the agent of the revelation.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, “Jesus Christ is the way in which God reveals himself to us; Jesus Christ is also God himself being revealed to us.”

As such, we need to understand that revelation is not given to be information about the broken world we live in.  It is not a report about the persecution of the church in the first century, and it’s certainly, ABSOLUTELY, not chiming in about all the geopolitical events of the 21st century.  Anything regarding past and future evens in revelation are only given because they are useful in revealing Christ to us.  Because the Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther disagreed with this statement.  In fact, brother Luther wanted to remove Revelation from the Bible altogether.  Martin considered revelation to be “neither apostolic or prophetic…I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it…they are supposed to be blessed who keep what is written in this book; and yet no one seems to know what that is, to say nothing of keeping it…Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”

All of which did not prevent him from using the revelation to prove the pope was the antichrist.  The same pope who, in turn, used revelation to prove that Martin Luther was the antichrist.  The same antichrist who, by the way, is not mentioned in the book of revelation.  Anywhere.

But I digress.  Like I said, Revelation is nothing if not focused on Jesus Christ (despite the objections of Martin Luther).  It may be hard to maintain this focus through all the symbolism and topics flashing at us (especially for our ADHD, instant gratification minds), but it is the only way to read the Revelation with any degree of sanity.  In fact, the only way to read any scripture rightly is in subjugation to Jesus Christ.  If Christ is not the center of it all, then our Holy Bible is little more than an encyclopedia of religion, with no more plot than a phone book.

Without Christ as the center, all the individual stories and words of the Bible are just out there.   So we have a talking snake, floating axe heads, a snake on a pole, strange rules strangely repeated like the law not to boil a kid in its mothers milk.  We have seemingly pointless genealogies at random points, which we need for what??   We have the thundering “Thus saith the Lord!” moments.  We have some of the favorite sayings of Christ himself –  “you are salt of the earth…and the light of the world“, “Enter by the narrow gate“, or “Do unto others..“.  We have Paul’s paradoxes  – “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”   We have Paul’s stirring conclusions – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” or “For I am sure 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.”   AMEN!!

So, what does it all mean??  What do we make of the information, all the stories, this mass of material we call our bible??  By this time, we can be completely confused and bewildered.  This is where the revelation steps in.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.    We turn the page and find the magnificent Christ described in such a way that everything is imaginatively subordinated to him.  He was suggested, anticipated, prayed for and promised in the ancient Hebrew scriptures.  He’s been presented in the Gospels, taught and preached in the epistles.  If we are careful and maintain our focus, we could have held true to our awareness throughout of Jesus the Christ.  But we don’t read carefully and maintain our focus.  Instead, we argue about predestination, we theorize about atonement.  We count miracles and worry about grammar and style.  Then we come to Revelation and we are startled out of all our tangential arguments and diversions.  Everything that was said before is brought back into proportion.  Christ himself is the last word.  He was and is the word made flesh, John brings us back on track, brings Him back into focus.  We’ve been climbing the mountain but we’ve lost our way.  We are climbing, seeking after Christ, but we’ve lost sight of the guideposts along the way.  John brings the path back into focus, and clears the brush for us.  A mountain peak determines all the preparations and the path climbers take to reach it, even when it’s still out of sight.  The peak is always the goal toward which everything was aimed.  The Revelation gives us the last word on Christ, and this word is that Christ is the center and at the center.  He is the mountaintop we are seeking throughout the mountain of scripture.

Keeping Christ at the center can be difficult.  We get lost along the way, and other things find their way to the front.  The golden rule, our doctrines of atonement, the Ten Commandments,  justification, diagrams and explanations of the trinity, denouncing the wicked.  We know all along that Christ is one to be reckoned with, but we forget that he at the center of all, filling all things with himself.

So what is Christ, who is he, and how will he be presented to hold onto this centrality?  John is commanded by the trumpet voice and describes him as one like a son of man.  This phrase originates in the vision of Daniel – I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.   Jesus, the Son of Man, is a commanding, all powerful, redeeming, glorious figure! We want to manage him, keep him in his box, but he will not be managed.  We go along with, we believe in, we teach Jesus as a piece of the puzzle for our own private lives, a private decision to be kept out of the public space.  We believe in a secularized, managed-for-our-own-purposes Jesus.  But he will not be managed.  He does not fit nice and tidy into our little shoebox.

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.  The word from the word, coming forth like a sharp two edged sword, searching hearts, judging rebels, and slaying sinners.  BUT, the word tells us Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.   He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.  He is the word, slaying sinners with a spoken word like a two edged sword so they can then be resurrected into newness of life with Him.  He died, yet he is alive forevermore, and he holds the keys to death and Hades.   He is “...the firstborn of the dead…” Revelation 1:5 ESV.   Because he went ahead of us we can Fear noteven death, because He has conquered it forever.

He does not live in our acrostics.  He’s not a part of our self help plans, he’s not contained by our 12 step programs.  He migh meet you on a Roman road, but he does not live there.  We can’t keep sinners from his table, because no matter how hard we try he just keeps calling out and inviting them.  He is the one who sits, eats, and drinks with sinners.  He doesn’t care about atonement theories, He just forgives sins and sinners.  He doesn’t argue about justification, He justifies.

He is the Son of Man, to him is given dominion and glory and a kingdom.  He is the beginning and the end, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn of the dead.  He is the first word of creation, and the last word of Revelation.  He made all things, all things were made through Him.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and no, the darkness has not overcome it.  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Revelation 1:12-20 ESV

http://bible.com/59/rev.1.12-20.esv

“”I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 ESV

http://bible.com/59/dan.7.13-14.esv

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

mlk

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

What Will You Do??

What Will You Do??

good-samaritan

The parable of the Good Samaritan, a story so powerful the we still us the term “Good Samaritan” to describe someone who goes out of their way to help another, expecting nothing in return.   2000 years later, this story still inspires to us to become better people.

love-your-enemies

But, as with so many if Jesus teachings, there is another level, another dimension that is not apparent to us at first glance.  We read this and see it only as a challenge to us to do good to others, regardless of our opinions and thoughts about that person.  We are to do good for others even if we don’t like them.  Even if they are our “enemies”.   But this may be even more challenging than Jesus’ call to “love your enemies“?

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And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”    Of course, it’s a lawyer trying trap Jesus and see how he can tear him down (I know, lawyers are my neighbors too).   But this lawyer defines pretty well for us our own conditions, even to this day.  We know we are supposed to love our neighbor.  But we are much more interested in defining who is our neighbor (or more to our point, who is not our neighbor).  We are far more interested in defining our neighbor than in loving our neighbor.

a-man-fell-among-thieves

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.    So, to the point, the man going down from Jerusalem would have been a Jew.   Jesus is speaking to Jews here, the lawyer asking the question was a Jew, this man going down from the city of God was meant, clearly, to be a Jew.

good-samaritan-clipart-4

Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.    So we see a Jewish man left bloody, stripped, robbed and near death.  And we see the priest, from the Jewish temple, can’t stop and help the man.  Maybe he feared being made unclean and therefore unable to serve in the temple for a time.  Or maybe not, since he was leaving Jerusalem and the temple, not on the way up to Jerusalem. indicating his temple service may have already been finished.  Maybe he just figured no one was looking and he just didn’t feel like it.  After all, he had just served in the temple, he is good, right?  Either way, we have our command to love our neighbors, but we do also have our priorities…

cropped-bigcross

 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.   Another prescribed to the service of the Lord.  He loves God.  His neighbor, not so much.  So the two Jews in the story, both closely associated with the service of the Lord in the temple, can’t be bothered to help their fellow Jew, their brother, whom they see possibly dying in the street.  It’s no skin off their backs, is it?

good samaritan

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.   The Samaritan, the one who is formally excommunicated from the temple and all worship associated with it, the one hated by all 3 others in the story.  Hated by the priest.  Hated by the Levite.  Hated by the beaten man.  Hated by all Jews.  Remember what John told us about Jews and Samaritans –  “The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9 ESV.   Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.  But the priest, he would have no dealings with bloodied, beaten brother.  The Levite, he walked by as if his fellow Jew was just another dirty Samaritan.  But this Samaritan, the one hated by all Jews, he had compassion.  He didn’t walk by thinking “It’s not safe for me to stop.  I’ll be beaten too.”   He didn’t give himself the excuse “He’s already too far gone, I can’t do anything for him.”   He didn’t shake his fist and say to himself “He’s a Jew who would have no dealings with me!”   No, he had compassion on the man and wanted to help.

scene of samaritan

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.    He doesn’t just stop to help, he takes personal responsibility for this man’s well being.   He became personally invested in the healing of this beaten, broken man.  You might even say he loved him.

jesus-compassion-4-638

And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’    Now he’s spending his own money on him!!  He’s promising to the innkeeper he’s willing to go beyond this if need be, just to see this Jew, who would have had no dealings with him, healthy again.   Do you see what Jesus is doing here?   He is speaking to a group of Jews, responding particularly to a “smart” lawyer (smart enough to figure out all kinds of way to get out of loving his neighbor).  His response is a story that does not just show us how we should love our neighbor.  He’s not just showing this man what it means to love his neighbor.  No, Jesus is cutting much deeper into the innermost being of this smart lawyer.  He could have crafted a story showing a good Jew stopping to love a hated Samaritan, but he didn’t.  He gave a story of the one the Jews hated most having compassion on a man most of them would have avoided contact with themselves.

cats and dogs together 3

So here’s how Jesus really turns their world upside down with this parable – What do you do when your enemy, the one you hate the most, loves you?   How will you react when the one you hate, someone you would under no circumstances have dealings with, is the one to step up unmistakably in love to help you or save you when everyone else, including all those you expected to be there for you, crosses the street to get away??   When those you thought were your friends leave you for dead, but that one is the one who has compassion?

mercy

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.

mercy not sacrifice

What will you do?   “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Matthew 12:7 ESV

guiltless

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

What We Need


So, last week, I asked the question, “Does God bring the famine?” You may not agree with me, but my answer to this question, again, is an emphatic NO! In fact, as we see with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ the Son of God, wherever he is, nobody goes hungry, everyone gets what they need.

What, exactly, is famine? Famine is nature out of balance. The necessities are scarce, hard to come by, while luxuries are ironically and mockingly in abundance.  


I’m going to contrast the picture of famine in revelation with the picture of Christ as he feeds the 5000. “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”” Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. This is the back horse of…famine! It’s rider has a pair of scales in his hand. We hear a voice crying out – “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” A denarius is a days wage. If we remember Jesus’ story of the laborers in the vineyard, all the laborers, whether they worked one hour or 12 hours, received a denarius, a day’s wage (I know…that’s not FAIR!! I thought Jesus made everything FAIR???!!!). A quart of wheat would be considered starvation (famine) for a family, all for a days wage. What is necessary for minimal everyday living here is unavailable (or barely available) while the luxuries (oil and wine) are plentiful, abundant. This is what greed does. We exploit the earth, leaving it depleted and poor, in order to make ourselves rich. We glorify our greed as a “higher standard of living“. We use this sacred phrase to excuse our own everyday insanity. We work by the millions in inane jobs we don’t like, making machines and products which pollute the air we breathe, we jet around from one place to another in projectiles traveling at lethal speeds (killing and maiming millions btw – I’ve read that this number is higher than all the wars fought on the earth), so that then we can sit before our electronic gods that instill in us all forms of flesh fantasies in an attempt (almost always successfully) to convince us that we must have these oil and wine luxuries and therefore have no choice but to go back to the jobs we hate to make our “products” and keep the circle going round and round.

Eugene Peterson defines famine as “the condition in which we have most of what we don’t need and almost nothing of what we do need.” Paul Goodman says this. “What do we need? We don’t need constant stimulation, poisoned food, carcinogenic air, or useless work for which we are highly paid.” Very few of us believe there is a famine in the land, but there is. In certain places, we see the pictures that come from the imbalance of greed which conspires to make the famine obvious to all. But those bloated bellies and spindly limbs which are literal fact for some are a gruesome parody of the lives of most of us.


But the rider of the white horse also does his work. “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.” Revelation‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬. The same Lord who teaches us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” is at work, right now, restoring balance to the earth and the people living on it to sanity. He brings us by the tens of millions to his table of bread and wine each week to teach us to live by grace and not by greed. He is the conquering white horse rider who overcomes the red, black and green horse, but he does not change his methods. His white horse is a symbol, a product of our believing imagination. The ways Christ conquers are still the Palm Sunday donkey, the sacrificial lamb, and the mocked and crucified Messiah. His means have not changed. Christ has not given up on donkeys, lambs and crosses, he is NOT replacing them with horses, spears, swords OR bombs. No, this picture in Revelation is a validation that the the means Christ has chosen to accomplish his will and work out his salvation are in fact, against all appearances, victorious.


And what does he do when there is seemingly not enough food for 5 men, let alone 5000? He blesses the bread, breaks the bread, and gives them not only what they need, but above and beyond until their cups overflow and they are sending the excesses back!! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Our cups are always overflowing, nobody is going hungry in the presence of Christ.  


And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” It’s getting late Lord, I say it’s every man for himself, send these people out of here so we can find something for ourselves to eat!! But no, we are to feed them. It’s not every man, woman, and child for himself. We say we trust him, but do we trust him? Do we believe that our “not enough” is really more than we need? Do we believe that what starts as five loaves and two fish can really feed 5000 men plus women and children, and somehow we will have more when we finish than when we started? And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.


“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.”

‭‭Mark‬ ‭6:30-44‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.6.30-44.esv

“When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!””

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭6:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

Desiring mercy, not sacrifice


In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)


So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?


Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mat.9.12-13.esv

John Lewis

Hail Caesar!

Cäsar

Looking at Romans 13, which is really a continuation of Romans chapter 12 with a very unfortunate chapter break thrown in. Very unfortunate because it leaves Romans 13 on an island by itself, with no context, when clearly the context for chapter 13 is chapter 12, which we looked at the other day, Paul distilling for us Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount.

MLK-Love-enemies
Paul goes directly from giving us Jesus teachings in his great sermon, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”, into what we know as chapter 13, but is really a continuation of Paul’s take on the sermon on the mount.

love of enemy

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

caesars sword
Paul here in Romans 13 is writing about Caesar, and this passage is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied passages in all of scripture, very often with tragic consequences. Beginning a little after the Emperor Constantine, all the way through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, and even, unfortunately, to this very day, Christians have been using (misusing) this passage, which in the writing of Paul is an extension of the Sermon in the Mount.  Many have used this not as an extension of the sermon but instead as a rebuttal to the Sermon on the Mount. Whenever we want to disagree and rebut someone using the teachings Sermon on the Mount to argue for peace and love of enemies, we turn to this writing of Paul for our rebuttal, claiming our New Testament sanction for the war and violence we so firmly believe in. But the question is, who are we rebutting when we do this? Are we rebutting the one using Jesus’ teaching, or are we rebutting Jesus?

st paul.jpg
Why do we interpret Jesus in light of what Paul has written? If we are Christians, who believe in Christ, should we not then be interpreting the writings of Paul through the lens of Jesus? After all, isn’t Jesus the one who was resurrected and vindicated by God on the third day? I am reminded here of what God himself had to say at the transfiguration of Christ. “And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:4‬ ‭ESV‬‬. To which God the Father had something to say. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. And when the disciples could open their eyes, the only one before them was Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus, not Paul, is the beloved son with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to Him. Paul does not get a tent.

PP-JesusTransfiguration_JS_0037
So when we think we see Paul overruling something we know Jesus taught us, we need to try to figure out where it is we are getting it wrong with Paul. In other words, we need to default to Jesus until we understand how and why are we misinterpreting Paul.
First of all, notice the pronoun change from chapter 12 into 13. Chapter 12 is all about “you”, chapter 13 Paul is writing about “he”. Put simply, chapter 12 is written for “you”, it’s an admonition for you. Chapter 13 is an observation upon “he”, Caesar. It is not an admonition to you as a follower of Christ. Followers of Jesus are called renounce vengeance and love their enemies ALWAYS, as taught by Jesus in his great sermon and explained by Paul in Romans 12.
Paul is, I believe, doing two things here in Romans 13. Number 1, he is endorsing the police function of the pagan empire of Rome to maintain a civil society. Make no mistake, Rome was a pagan empire, but even a pagan empire in rebellion to Christ can arrest bank robbers and keep the streets safe.

violent revolution
Number 2, more importantly, Paul is calling these Christians in Rome away from violent revolution. Violence is off the table. Violent revolution against the empire had long been a temptation of the Jewish people, don’t forget that this the time between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Paul here is giving the new Christians in Rome basically the same warning Jesus gave to his disciples in his Olivet discourse. The very warning against violent insurrection most of the Jews in Jerusalem did not take heed of, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and deaths of 600,000+.

nazi-germany
As Paul said, But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Caesar does not carry that sword in vain. If we embrace violence because we feel our cause is right and “just”, Caesar just may use that sword and you will suffer. Then you will be talking about the wrath of God which comes upon us, inevitably, for not following the Jesus way and instead seeking vengeance on those who have harmed us. The wrath of God which is the divine consent to our own choice to follow or not follow the path laid out for us, and the consequences thereof. Sin always carries its own punishment.

moses-and-rameses-were-raised-as-brothers-but-took-different-paths-to-become-great-leaders
Why do we hold up Romans 13 as the only place in the Bible that talks about the government? The Bible talks about the principalities and powers all the time, and it’s almost always in a dark light. Pharaoh during the Exodus. Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah. The parade of beastly empires in Daniel. Most clearly, Babylon, aka the Roman Empire, in the book of Revelation. These governments and empires are most often depicted as agents of the satan, not agents of God.

beheading-of-paul
And we need a little context here for what Paul is writing to these Roman Christians. Never, ever forget that Paul, the man who wrote Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God to the Romans, was himself executed by the government, in Rome, for not submitting to Roman authorities out of fidelity to Jesus Christ.

Kingdom-Not-World-AD
Jesus himself was subject to the governing authority of Pontius Pilate, but that does not mean Pilate acted justly. On Good Friday the Roman government was not acting as a servant of God but a servant of Satan. Jesus even explains to Pilate – “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”” John‬ ‭18:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus was subject to the governing authorities in that he did not violently resist them, which is exactly what Peter and the other disciples wanted him to do. BUT – in being subject to the governing authorities Jesus shamed these principalities and powers in his crucifixion and was vindicated by God in his resurrection. This is the posture towards evil that followers of Christ are called to imitate.

easterwallpaper1
To pit Paul against Jesus, and Romans 13 against the sermon on the mount, is bad interpretation and worse Christianity. We are followers of the slaughtered and victorious lamb called (by Jesus AND Paul) to overcome evil with good.

 

John Lewis