All-Inclusive

All-Inclusive

Did some reading aver my vacation, including Philip Yancey’s book What’s so Amazing About Grace?    In a world full of ungrace, grace is the one thing Christians have to offer that is found nowhere else.   As George MacDonald once said, “You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.”

At one point in the book, Yancey takes an interesting look at Peter’s encounter with God in Acts Chapter 10.  It is in Acts chapter 10 that the diet of the new church was greatly expanded.  As far as we are concerned, that is the point and the end of the story.  Before, Jews were not allowed to eat many foods, many things were just not “kosher” for them.  Know that “kosher” may best be translated into English, if we would, as “fit”.   So we would say that if something were not “kosher”, that means it is “unfit” for us to eat.   Or that dreaded term in the Old Testament, “unclean”.

So we see in Acts 10 Peter’s vision on a rooftop.   Peter has gone up onto the roof to pray in privacy, but he begins to get hungry.   His mind begins to wander, and he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”    This is not very specific about what the animals on the sheet were, but if we read Leviticus 11 we can get an idea.  Pigs, camels, rabbits, vultures, ravens, horned owls, screech owls, storks, bats, ants, beetles, bears, lizards, skinks, weasels, rats, snakes, all would have been on the do not eat list.   Being raised a Jew is Palestine, Peter would have been raised from his earliest memories that these foods were not just off the diet – they were an abomination to be detested.

If during the course of the day Peter had so much as touched the carcass of a dead insect, he would wash himself and his clothes and be unclean until evening, not allowed in the temple until he was clean of such errors.   If a lizard or a spider had fallen into one of the clay cooking pots, whatever was in the pot would have been thrown out, and the pot smashed along with it.

So now, all these unclean animals, birds, reptiles, and insects are all crawling around on a sheet falling from heaven with the instruction  “Rise, Peter; kill and eat”.   To which Peter reminded God of his own rules – “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  To which Peter is told “What God has made clean, do not call common.”   This is repeated a total of three times, followed by Peter immediately descending from the rooftop back downstairs to be confronted with a group of “unclean” Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus.

While this incident may have greatly expanded our diets (hurray for shrimp and bacon!!), why were all these foods banned in the first place?   What did God have against shrimp, lobster, bacon, sausage?   This is how God himself explains the ban – “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…” Leviticus 11:44 ESV.  Lots of room for interpretation here, and it’s been interpreted lots of different ways.

First, there were certain health benefits that could be cited as a reason.  The ban on pork would have protected the Israelites from trichinosis, the ban on shellfish kept them safe from viruses sometimes found in oysters and mussels.

Some of the banned animals were scavengers who would have fed on carrion.   Other portions would have insulated God’s people from participating in the customs of their pagan neighbors.   Specifically, the seemingly strange ban against boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk would have kept the Israelites from imitating a magic spell ritual of the Canaanites.

So, if we think about it many of these animals we can understand why it makes sense to declare them “unclean”.   But others just don’t.  What’s wrong with lobsters or shrimp?   Or rabbits, which have no health risk and eat grass, not carrion?   Or camels and donkeys?

Remember, maybe the best English translation for “kosher” would be “fit”.  The Levitical law judges some animals to be “fit”, or proper for the Jews to eat, others to be unfit.   If we look a little bit closer though, we can see that all of the animals on the “unfit” have done anomaly, maybe they are just aren’t all the way “normal”.   Fish are supposed to have fins and scales, shellfish are just a little bit weird.   Birds are supposed to fly, ostriches and emus don’t fit in.  Animals on the land are supposed to walk on four legs, not crawl on the ground.   The domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goats all eat grass (chew the cud) and have cloven hooves, shouldn’t therefore all edible animals be like that?   As Rabbi Jacob Neusner says, “If I had to say in a few words what makes something unclean, it is something that, for one reason or another, is abnormal.”

And as the author Phillip Yancey sums up in his book, you might say there is one phrase, one principle, that can sum up all the Old Testament laws on uncleanness – No Oddballs Allowed.  No oddball animals on the menu, and the same could be said about “clean” animals used in worship or for sacrifice in the temple.  No worshipper could bring a defective, injured or otherwise imperfect lamb into the temple, because God only wanted the unblemished lamb from the flock.  From the time of Cain forward, people followed precise instructions or risked having their offering rejected.  God demanded perfection, God deserved only the best, no oddballs allowed.

And so this applies to people as well.  In the very temple of God, there were rules that applied as to whom, exactly, was “fit” to go into the ever constrictive circles.  There were the outer courts, where even the Gentiles were allowed.  A little farther in, and Jewish women were no longer allowed.   Beyond that, only the priests were fit to enter, all the way to the inner most holy-of-holies, where only the high priest was allowed once a year.  And when he went in, he had a rope tied to his ankle just in case he screwed it up somehow and got struck down by God, they could pull him out without having to enter.  Because, after all, they were unfit to enter the most holy meeting place of the most high God.

And now to what really is the whole point of writing this.   It’s one thing to label certain animals unfit to eat, unclean.  But the Old Testament does not stop there.   How can we forget the long list of people who were rendered “unclean”, unworthy, less than, unfit?  “”Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.”  Leviticus 21:17-20 ESV.   If you had a damaged body, or damaged family lines (bastard child), you don’t qualify, you’re not worthy.  Menstruating women, men who had just had a nocturnal emission, women who had recently given birth, people with any skin disease or open sores (lepers), anyone who had touched a corpse, all these people were unclean, unfit to be touched or associated with.   No wonder the religious leaders in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan ran to the other side of the street!!   They would be made unclean just by the potential  contact with that poor sap on the road.

To us, we don’t understand this blatant ranking of people based on gender, race, and bodily health, but this the exact system that defined Judaism.  Jewish men would begin each day with a prayer thanking God, “who has not made me a Gentile…has not made me a slave…and has not made me a woman…”

Acts 10 shows us the result of this attitude.  Peter, introducing himself upon visiting the house of a Roman centurion, says it well – “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.””  Acts 10:28-29 ESV.  God called Peter to go to the Gentiles.  Peter argued.  God won the argument.   The revolution of grace was underway, whether Peter understood or not.

The customs and traditions of Judaism ran deep in Peters blood.  Yet Peter had been there all along with Jesus as Jesus would systematically break down those barriers which separated Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean.  It seems in fact, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus always was much closer to the sinners than the saints, doesn’t it?   (Of course, our true saints never lost sight of the fact that they, too, were really just sinners who needed a savior). Jesus never avoided all those branded “unclean” or unfit by the law.   Yet, somehow, Jesus was never made “unclean” by his unsavory contacts.  Somehow, by meeting and coming into contact with Jesus, all those who were once unclean became  clean, the unfit became fit once and for all for the kingdom of God.

Today, we have a new holy-of-holies.  We have a meeting place with God where all are invited, no one is considered unclean.  In fact, the only way we can make ourselves unfit for this meeting place is by putting up barriers or otherwise making it hard for someone else to come to the meeting place of God.   Isn’t this what Paul is telling us in 1 Corinthians 11 (message translation being used.  I hear a lot of people don’t like this translation.  I think a lot of people also don’t much care for the Bible once they actually understand what it says!).    “And then I find that you bring your divisions to worship—you come together, and instead of eating the Lord’s Supper, you bring in a lot of food from the outside and make pigs of yourselves. Some are left out, and go home hungry. Others have to be carried out, too drunk to walk. I can’t believe it! Don’t you have your own homes to eat and drink in? Why would you stoop to desecrating God’s church? Why would you actually shame God’s poor? I never would have believed you would stoop to this. And I’m not going to stand by and say nothing.

Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me. After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me. What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.”   1 Corinthians 11:20-28 MSG.

So we come to the holy-of-holies.  No one is excluded.  All are invited.  Many of you like a good “altar call”, a call for all those who don’t know Jesus to come to the altar and meet him.  Isn’t every time we take communion the best and truest “altar call” there is??!!   Come to the table, meet Jesus Christ in his glory, all the glory of his shed blood and broken body!!  As he himself told us, Take, eat, do this in remembrance of me.   And just like those Emmaus Road disciples, we can know him best in the breaking of the bread.

Misfits and Oddballs are always welcome at the table of grace…

  “The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”   Acts 10:9-16 ESV.     

“Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses. Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”

Leviticus 11:4-8, 10-19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/lev.11.4-8,10-19.esv

John Lewis

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Getting Jesus Wrong

In celebrating Jesus as a warrior king who would lead Israel into battle against their enemies, the Palm Sunday crowd got Jesus wrong.   That’s why he’s riding the foal of a donkey.   It’s a triumphal entry, he’s supposed to be riding a war horse, but he won’t do it.  Here’s the ancient prophecy – “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 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 9:9-10 ESV.   He’s a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a ‘72 Pinto.   Because God says I’ve had it with war, no more chariotsno more tanks, in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears and bows and arrows.  He, this king, this messiah, this prince of peace, will offer peace to the nations, but will the nations accept it?   A peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.

The prince of peace has come.  But, does Jerusalem want a prince of peace?  They do not.  They want a warrior king.  Jerusalem turned the triumphal entry into triumphalism, that arrogant, boastful, attitude that says we’re number one!!   Triumphalism is a boastful arrogance, a crystallization of us vs them.  When you receive Jesus not simply saying He is Lord, but he is Lord for US and against them, that’s triumphalism.  When the triumphal entry turned into triumphalism, Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

In the triumphalism of Palm Sunday, Jesus knew Jerusalem had rejected peace, and rejected the Prince of Peace.   Jerusalem didn’t want Zachariah’s peaceful king, they wanted a Jewish warlord.  40 years later they got what they wanted, and there was hell to pay.  Beginning in the year 66, a generation after the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, false messiahs came, just as Jesus had predicted.  He said within a generation this will happen, there will be signs, one of the signs will be that there will be many false messiahs.    “And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” Luke 21:8 ESV.  Many rose up and said We are the true king, true anointed one, we’re the true messiah, we will deliver israel from their Roman oppressors.

The revolution really began.  Their bunker Hill was Caesarea in AD 66.  And the Romans had had it.  They sent the 10th Roman legion and marched on Jerusalem in AD 70.   Their standards were held high, their banners flying in the wind, their eagles perched atop their standards.   Jesus had prophecied Where the carcass is, there the eagles will gather…Jerusalem had become a bloated carcass of arrogance, pride, and triumphalism, and they had rejected Messiah.   And the Roman 10th legion came marching, Jesus had predicted these evens, all in Luke 21.  “”But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Luke 21:20-24 ESV.

Jesus warned them to flee, to get out of the city.   But they didn’t listen.  Instead, just the opposite happened.  People rushed into the city.  They thought we are the people of God, we will go to the holy city, God will fight for us!!   But God had already said in the ancient prophecy I’m done with war.   More than a million people packed into the city.  The Romans set siege and for seven months they waited them out.  Starvation broke out, disease, fighting among the Jews within the city.  Cannibalization, plague, disease came.   People began to try to escape, but the Romans said Too late!  Everyone that tried to escape was crucified until the city was encircled by thousands of rotting corpses upon crosses.  In August, the offensive came.  They broke down the city walls, some say 600,000, Josephus says over a million Jews were killed.   The rest, 100,000 or so, the survivors, were carried off as slaves to Rome to build the coliseum.

Jesus foresaw it all.  Still on Palm Sunday he wept over Jerusalem.  “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.””   Luke 19:41-44 ESV.  And Jesus wept.  It’s the climax of the covenant.   It’s the fulfillment of all the Hebrew prophecies.  Everything is reaching the pinnacle and now God has acted.  The true king that will preach  peace and bring the government and the reign and rule of God has arrived in Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem is rejecting him.  Yes they are confessing that he is the king, but they have it in their mind that he will be a violent war waging king.  He’s not the kind of Jesus they want.  Five days later, Jesus will be on trial.   The prince of peace has come, but they don’t want a prince of peace, they want a hero.

“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

Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come

Going back to the Gospel of Luke one more time.  Looking at the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.   It’s a day full of contradictions.  It’s confusing.  It’s hard for us to fully understand.  It’s rejoicing that leads the rejection.   It’s joy that turns into sorrow.  Celebration that turns to suffering.   It’s a triumphal entry that turns into carrying the cross to Calvary.   Palm Sunday is full of contradictions.

The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus because this was the true coming of the true King.   The crowd was right to celebrate the coming of Jesus, but they celebrated the coming of Jesus in a wrong way.  They misunderstood its meaning, and that’s how they got it wrong.  Sometimes we can get Jesus right, sometimes we can get Jesus wrong.

We’ve been allowing Luke, the physician, who addresses us as “Dear Theophilus”, dear lover of God, to reintroduce us to Jesus.  We’ve been allowing Luke to show us Jesus, and hopefully we are seeing Jesus in new ways.

Ever since Luke chapter 9, we’ve been following Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem.  We now are in chapter 19, last time I was in Luke we were in Jericho, where Jesus healed Blind Bartimaeus and saved Zacchaeus.   There is only one more leg on the journey, and today we arrive in Jerusalem.

So Jesus leaves Jericho, and it’s up, up up to Jerusalem.  Jericho is the lowest city of the world, right on the shores of the Dead Sea, 1200 feet below sea level.  It’s only 15 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but it’s uphill all the way.   From Jericho to Jerusalem, it’s 15 miles, but 3800 feet of an uphill climb.  When you arrive at Jerusalem from Jericho, coming from the east, you crest the Mount of Olives, today just as then, and it is quite the view with the whole city of Jerusalem stretched out before you.  So Jesus crests the Mount of Olives, and there is special excitement with his followers from Galilee this trip to Jerusalem.  They are there for the Passover, but they all believe something momentous is going to occur this year, that finally Israel’s true King is coming.  The excitement at this point is palpable.

They are reaching their destination, and finally the city is before them.  Jesus is on top of the Mount of Olives, but then he pauses.  He’s going to stage a prophetic enactment.  He must fulfill the prophecy.  Jesus knows the scriptures.  He has something very specific in mind, he must enter the city a certain way.   Because what Jesus is doing all through his ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   In his preaching, in his parables, in healing the sick, in casting out demons, in raising the dead, in who he receives at his table, Jesus is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.   So now, one more time, he wants to announce and enact the kingdom of God in a very powerful, prophetic way.  So he pauses at the top of the Mount of Olives.   “When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.'”” Luke 19:29-31 ESV.

They bring this foal of a donkey to Jesus.   Jesus sits on it.  It’s too small for him, it looks funny.  His feet are dragging on the ground.   And yet, this is how Jesus is going to enter Jerusalem.

Why??   Because it’s a parody of the military triumphs of Babylon, Rome, and Egypt.  Instead of riding a war horse (because that’s how the King enters the city, on a war house), here’s a man being hailed as king riding not only a donkey, but the colt of a donkey.  It would be like reducing the presidential motorcade to a 1972 Pinto.   It’s a parody, but it’s also a prophecy.  Jesus is deliberately and intentionally fulfilling a prophecy he knows shows what the true king will look like when he comes into his kingdom.  The prophecy is this – ““Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey. I’ve had it with war—no more chariots in Ephraim, no more war horses in Jerusalem, no more swords and spears, bows and arrows. He will offer peace to the nations, a peaceful rule worldwide, from the four winds to the seven seas.”  Zechariah 9:9-10 MSG.   In other words, everything that the prophets have foretold about God establishing his kingdom through his own Son, the seed of Abraham, The son of David, it’s all coming to pass right now.

The true King of Kings, the true Prince of Peace, the true seed of Abraham, the true son of David, the true Messiah, the true Christ has come!   He doesn’t come as a war waging conqueror like Caesar or Pharaoh, he comes in the way of God.  Because God says I’m done with war.   I’m going to, through my Son, preach peace to the nations….

So he comes humble and lowly, his feet dragging the ground on a colt too small for him.  He’s driving a ‘72 Pinto…

“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

Sent from my iPad

There is always There

The pace of the Bible is slow, and when you’re in a hurry you’re out of sync with God.   Modern man thinks everything can be better if we make it faster, but God disagrees.  God says wait for it.  For still the vision awaits its appointed time;….If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come…”  Habakkuk 2:3 ESV.   The vision awaits its appointed time;….If it seems slow, wait for it.   Does it seem slow right now?  The next verse tells us “”Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4 ESV.  If it seems slow, wait for it.  And live by faith.   Faith is waiting.   Faith is waiting for it.  When it seems slow, wait for it, that’s living by faith.   The apostle Paul tells us “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:25 ESV. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it’s through faith and patience (waiting for it) that we inherit the promises – And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV

John the Revelator exposes the beast of the Roman Empire.  The beast of our era is a combination of technology, consumerism, militarism and things like that that, which are all enemies of waiting.  Remember They have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast  Revelation 14:11.  We get formed by the corrupt values of a superpower culture and one of the things it does is steal your rest, it steals your peace, you can’t even sleep at night.   If we allow our souls to conformed to the beast of a superpower culture, we become the most impatient people in history and we can’t even sleep at night because the flashing lights settled deep in my brain…

The Bible says things like this – Be still and knowthe Bible says be at rest.  The Bible says have patience.  The Bible says wait for God.   The beast, the dominant culture, says just the opposite.  The Bible says be still, the beast says be loud.  The Bible says be at rest, the beast says be upset.   The Bible says have patience, the beast says demand it now.  The Bible says wait for God, the beast says wait for nothing.   And the flashing lights settled deep in my brain and you can’t even sleep at night…

Here’s the lie that impatience tells you – impatience says life isn’t worth living until you get everything you want.  That’s the lie.  The truth is almost all of life happens while you’re waiting.   Life happens in the waiting.  But if we buy into the modern lie that we can have everything we want right now, and that waiting is some form of malady, the what you have done is created a way of living that makes it impossible, for the most part, to be happy.

Most of life happens in the waiting.  But if you can’t be happy in the waiting, you have created an unhappiness for yourself.  A needless frustration with life.  If we don’t learn to live in the waiting, our lives are wasted in needless frustration.

So what was Abraham doing as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day (Genesis 18:1)?   Waiting.  Waiting for what?   You could say God.  Abraham might have said that.  But if asked ‘What are you doing Abraham?”, he might have said “Nothing, I’m just here.”   But what are you doing Abraham?   “Guess I’m waiting.”   Well, what are you waiting for?   “I don’t know. I’m waiting for what comes next.”   Does that bother Abraham?  A modern man, this would bother.  Abraham might just offer us a date (the fruit).   Abraham lives his life at the pace of a nomadic shepherd.

Another way of saying it would be like this – what was Abraham doing in the heat of the day?   Living.  He didn’t feel compelled to make something happen.  Yet he lived the most important life prior to Jesus Christ, most of it just waiting.   But living in the waiting.

For almost everyone reading this, thus says the Lord – God wants you to slow down!!   God wants us to slow down by learning to live now and stop being in a hurry for an imagined future.  We all think we’re going to be happy when I get there.   I’ll be happy when I get there.  We’re goal oriented, we read books on goal setting.  But the thing about there is you never get thereThere is always there. The only place you’re ever going to be is here.  You never get there.  

So many of us say I’m not really happy right now, I’m kind of frustrated, but when I get there I’m going to be happy.   Oh, dear one.  We will lay you down in the grave and say kind words over you before you’ll ever be happy, because you never get there.   If you’re going to be happy, be happy here.

Some of us need to sit at the entrance of our tent (or our house), we need to sit outdoors in the heat of the day, with a bowl of fruit, eat that fruit slow, and say I’m going to sit here until I’m happy.  I’m going to sit here until my blood pressure lowers, my heart rate comes down, and I understand I don’t have to  do something to be in the will of God.  All I have to do is wait, because that’s faith.  The vision is for an appointed time…if it seems slow, wait for it.  The just shall live by faith.

From Isaiah – “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV.  We used to wait for it.   The word of the Lord today is wait for it.  Slow down.  Wait for the Lord.  Learn to live in the waiting so you can sleep at night and be at peace.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:3-4 ESV

But we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV

And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.“” Revelation 14:11 ESV

John Lewis

Welcome at His Table

Welcome at His Table

Zacchaeus has something going for him.  Zacchaeus is fascinated by Jesus.  He’s heard of Jesus, he wants to just be able to see Jesus.  But Zacchaeus also has a problem.  The problem is the crowd.   And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.   Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.  Like the song says, he’s a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  But he is, despite this, a chief tax collector.   Now being short won’t keep you from a parade.  You just gotta get up front.  Problem is, this is the righteous crowd.  This crowd is full of the fans of Jesus.  The synagogue attendees.  They have their perfect attendance pins on.  And they’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus, wee little man or not.   They feel someone trying to push their way through, they say “Oh, it’s Zacchaeus,” they’re blocking him at every turn.  They’re not going to make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The crowd of Jesus fans.   “He’s our Jesus.”  They were the good people.  They have their bibles, they pay their tithes.  They go to church.  “He belongs to us.  We’re pro life, we vote the right way.  We’re not going to let any sinners in here.”

Because of the crowd, Zacchaeus can’t see Jesus.  The sanctimonious crowd won’t make room for someone like Zacchaeus.  The sanctimonious, belligerent  crowd turned out to be very inhospitable ti sinners.   If we’re not careful, we can become a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we fans of Jesus.   Instead of helping people discover Jesus we become an impediment to them.  When we are a sanctimonious, belligerent crowd, we become an impediment.  They can’t see Jesus because of the crowd.

This is what happened to the American church when we started fighting for political power.  A politicized Church became a belligerent crowd preventing outsiders from seeing Jesus.  That’s a problem.

Fortunately Zacchaeus was not one to be easily deterred.  He was chief tax collector after all.   He was resourceful, a determined man, used to getting his way.  He was going to see Jesus.

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.  So he goes ahead in his Armani suit, his Gucci shoes (he is the richest man in town), he knows the route Jesus going to take.  He goes ahead and climbs that sycamore tree.  He’s got a perfect view of Jesus.  His expectations were modest, he only wanted to see Jesus.   And something wonderful happens.  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.”  If you set your heart on seeing Jesus, you will usually get more than you bargained for.. not only does he see Jesus, Jesus sees him.   Not only does Jesus see him, he invites himself over for dinner.  He says I must stay at your house today.

No doubt the president of the synagogue had planned a meal, a dinner.  But Jesus must have dinner at Zacchaeus house today.  Why MUST Jesus have stayed with Zacchaeus.

Because tomorrow Jesus goes to Jerusalem and the deal is about to go down.  And ONE MORE TIME he wanted to enact the kingdom of god.  One more time he wants to show what it’s all about.  Maybe this time they’ll get it.  One more timr he wants to show them the Kingdom of God.   Who is the last person in Jericho people think will be a part of God’s new thing?

Zacchaeus.   He’s a tax collector.  He’s excommunicated.  He’s banished.  He’s outcast.   He’s a chief tax collector for crying out loud.   If you were to ask people is God on the move???   “Oh yes, yes.”   Do you feel the kingdom of god is on the verge?   Do you feel like God is about to break through as do a new thing??  Of course, yes, yes!!!

And who is not going to be a part of it??   Sinners!!!   Tax collectors, prostitutes.  CHIEF tax collectors!   We got one right in this town!!   He’s the richest man in town and he’s very wicked, very evil, and he will be totally outside of it.   Zacchaeus will not be a part of what God is doing.

That’s why Jesus says  I must share the table with that man, because I need to show the people what the kingdom of God is like.   I must share this table with the outcast for one more enactment of the kingdom of God.

As soon as Jesus says “Come on Zacchaeus, I want to go to your house,” the crowd began to grumble.  And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”   They don’t like it.   He’s our jesus, what’s he doing going with one of them?

Luke’s gospel is all about the radical hospitality of Jesus in his table practice.    This just keeps coming up.  Jesus will share his table with anyone who will share it with him.  He lives in a culture that is very sensitive to these things.  It’s a taboo culture.  It’s a kosher culture.  It’s a culture where some are permissible, some are clean.  But some are impermissible, some cannot be allowed at the table, they are unkosher, unclean.  Jesus is crashing through all those boundaries.  Jesus will share the table with anyone who will share it with him, and this is radical.

Hear this – Pharisees, Sadduccees, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, prodigal sons, elder brothers, secularists, believers, skeptics, church goers, conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Jesus doesn’t care!!   If you’re  willing to sit with Jesus, Jesus is willing to sit with you.

Jesus touches the untouchable.  The leper and the unclean, Jesus touches them.  Jesus loves the unlovable, the tax collector and the prostitute.  Jesus includes the excluded, the Samaritan and the prostitute.  Jesus welcomes the banished, the prodigal and the scapegoat.

He even welcomes you. But – are you willing to sit down with them?

“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

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.1-10.esv

John Lewis

What is Hell??

What is Hell??

The Pharisees theology always had the danger of causing them to be unkind to the poor and sick.  When they mocked Jesus for saying they could not serve God and money, Jesus gives them the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  Or, we might say, a story of hell and how to get there.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every dayThis rich man is straight from lifestyles of the rich and famous.  He’s a one percenter.  A billionaire maybe.   He’s very wealthy.

And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.   At the gate of the rich man is Lazarus.  A poor man, sick, covered in sores.  Maybe crippled, certainly hungry and homeless.  He would love to have the crumbs from the rich mans table.

 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  They both die.  They both are in Hades, the place of the dead, the underworld.  The poor man is with Abraham, the rich man is in torment.  From view of the rich man, the poor man and Abraham are way off in the distance.

And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’  The rich man still had not learned to love and see Lazarus as a person.  He still immediately sees him as an inferior whose purpose in life was to serve him.

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’   You might find it interesting that up to this part of the parable was an existing folk tale,  everybody had heard this before.  This was a common story.  It shows up in at least 7 different versions in rabbinic writings of the time.  Sometimes it was maybe a rich man or merchant, sometimes a poor beggar, poor slave or a servant.  They interact in life, but not really.  But in death, the roles are reversed.  It’s a very common story.

But Jesus adds this next part about the five brothers.  And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’   This is Jesus’ way of bringing the story from the afterlife to the here and now.  Jesus refocuses and says I want to talk about right now.

The original point of the story was that there would come a day when there will be a great reversal.  Here, in this life, some are rich, some are poor, but don’t expect things to stay that way once we are taken down to Sheol, to Hades, to the place of the dead.  In that place, a great reversal is going to come, some of the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus point is that that day has arrived.   That time day is now..  That’s what I’m announcing with the Kingdom of God.  Now is the time for the poor on the ash heap to be lifted up  and be seated with the princes of his people.  If the rich don’t believe it, if they stand in the way, if they don’t get on board, they will find themselves tumbling down,   Many who are last shall be first.  You know that story you’ve been telling about how the day will come, that day of a great reversal, that day is now.  That’s what Jesus is announcing with the Kingdom of God.

The  Pharisees, who Jesus is addressing this to, are the five brothers.  They’re not dead yet, they are not in Hades, but they have a belief system that causes them to overlook people like Lazarus.   The rich man knows they’re in danger, he’s worried what will happen to them…

The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers – the Pharisees.  He asks Father Abraham to send him to my father’s house— Jesus has used that phrase before in a parable…for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ It’s too late for me, but send Lazarus to my brothers to save them….

But Jesus has Abraham say this – But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  They don’t need Lazarus to go back.  They just need to listen to the law and the prophets.   How does Jesus sum up the law and the prophets??   “And he said to him, “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.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love Lazarus, your neighbor sitting at you gate, as yourself.

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’   And Jesus, through Abraham in the parable, says this…He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

The rich man thinks that if someone would rise from the dead, that might change his brothers mind.   Jesus says he’s wrong.  Think about this.  Did the dead Prodigal Son coming home to the Fathers house change the self righteous older brother?   It did not.  That is exactly how the father describes the brother, remember?   “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”” Luke 15:32 ESV.   You have to put these two parables together.  Jesus is creating both these parables for the same group of people, the Pharisees.  In the parable of the prodigal, we have a dead brother who comes to life again, and it doesn’t change the older brother.  So here we have Abraham saying that if those brothers are not listening to the message of the law and the prophets to love god with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as themselves, then they’re not going to be changed when a dead prodigal comes to life again.

Or even when a crucified Messiah is raised to life again on the third day.  

The fact is that if you do not love God and you do not love your neighbor, the resurrection of Jesus is probably not going to mean much to you.  You will do whatever you must to find a way to wiggle yourself out of the implications.

So, about Hell and how to get there.  Refuse to love.  Refuse to love God, refuse to love your neighbor, and you’ll find your way there.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a means by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and still have everything turn out alright.  Be careful that you don’t create a theological system by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and have everything turn out alright.  Seriously…

Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets.  He came to fulfill them.  He said that, didn’t he?  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 ESV.  What is Jesus summary of the law and the prophets?  Again, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you have created a theological system where you don’t have to love God or love your neighbor and think everything will still be ok, what have you done?  What kind of madness is that?

Whatever you think about what salvation is, know that Jesus did not come to save you from loving God and loving your neighbor.  That’s not what he’s saving you from, that’s what he’s saving you to.  Jesus has come to make that thoroughly possible.   He’s come to form a people who will actually live out the intent of all the law and the prophets.

Both Lazarus and the rich man are in the same place.  They are both in Sheol, Hades, the place of the dead.  But one is comforted, one is in torment.  So, what is hell?  The suffering of no longer being able to love.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov.

“”There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'””

Luke 16:19-31 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.19-31.esv

John Lewis

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

It’s Got to Be Somebody’s Fault…

Going to be looking at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus,  but before that I’m going to look at what comes right before that parable.  In other words,  I’m going to set up the context in which we find that third of the most famous parables of Jesus.  We’ve already looked at the story of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the third of these most famous parable of Christ is, indeed, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t just give his parables in a vacuum, and the rich man and Lazarus is no different.  The parable is given in the context of a particular debate and it’s given to a particular people.  As was almost the case with Jesus parables, his target was….the Pharisees.

So Luke 16:13 says “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”   Did you hear that?   I hope so.  Jesus is speaking pretty plainly on this point.   You can not serve both God and money.  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it[or ‘everyone is trying to attack it.’  I’ve read this may be a better translation here.]. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.”   

This is the setting for the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  I’m going to say again, Jesus’ entire ministry is announcing and enacting the kingdom of God.  He is announcing that kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving, and he is enacting the kingdom, showing us by action what the kingdom of God looks like.   This is the ministry of Jesus, to announce and enact god’s new government, God’s new arrangement for human society.

Jesus knows that the greatest obstacle to entering into and living in the kingdom of God instead of under the reign and rule of man is our own economic self interest.   When we are dominated by economic self interest it’s like squeezing a camel through the eye of the needle, and it’s hard.   In fact, we need Jesus help to do so, because as Jesus says, with God all things are possible.

He also says that the law and the prophets were doing their work of preparing a people who would love god and love neighbor, anticipating the coming of the kingdom of God.  But then he says The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone [is trying to attack it] (again, this may be a better translation).   The law and the prophets were anticipating the kingdom of god, but with the arrival of John the Baptist and now Jesus the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world, it’s being announced, it’s on the scene, but everyone is not happy about it.  Many are trying to attack it, because many do not like what Jesus is announcing and enacting about the kingdom of god.

So when Jesus says You cannot serve God and money,  what happens?   The Pharisees attack that – The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed himThe Pharisees were unabashedly lovers of money.   They would say they loved God as well, but they would also say “we love money too, and there’s no problem, you can do both.”    They had a theological foundation, a particular theology that endorsed that way of thinking.   Their theology came mostly from the way they read and interpreted the book of book of Deuteronomy.

The Pharisees believed that if you obeyed God he would bless you in both war and commerce.   You can read the book of Deuteronomy that way, and that’s what they believed.    If you obeyed God, you would be blessed in war and commerce, you would be successful and prosperous (sound familiar?).

The Pharisees therefore believed that success and prosperity were in fact a sign of god’s blessing.  On the other hand, poverty and failure were a sign of God’s disfavor.

Jesus disagreed.  Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees theology that success and wealth equals blessing.  Now, Jesus does not see wealth as inherently evil.   Just one example, we’ve seen the parable of the Prodigal Son, and in that parable the father, who is a wealthy man, is in fact a good man.  So Jesus does not see wealth and money as inherently evil.  In fact wealth, all things being equal, is a good thing.  But Jesus does see our economic self interest as the greatest single hindrance to our entrance and participation in the Kingdom of God.

This is why In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus begins his kingdom announcing sermon on the Plain with “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 ESV.   When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.   That little eye of the needle for the rich man, is a wide open gate for the poor man.  He’s got nothing to lose, it’s easy to get in.

The Pharisees also viewed sickness and suffering as punishment for personal sin. Human suffering would be seen as divine punishment.  Don’t we still have some who work from thus theological system?   Don’t we hear from those to this day who twist earthquakes and tsunamis and epidemics into divine punishment for some great sin “those” people have been guilty of?!

Jesus’ disciples were working from a very similar paradigm on this as the Pharisees.  Again, Jesus disagrees.  And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 ESV.  Who are we going to blame here?   The man or his parents?   Jesus says “neither”.  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.   So, for us, when we see episodes of human suffering, we are not called to assign blame, but to relieve the suffering…

So, such is the context and background of the rich man and Lazarus…

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Luke 16:13-17 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.13-17.esv

John Lewis