Wait For It

Wait For It

The band Arcade Fire touched on something in their song “We Used to Wait”, from the 2010 Grammy winning album of the year “The Suburbs”.   It’s a song about how fast our pace of life has become, how complicated things have become, about how even though we tell ourselves everything will be alright, we just can’t sleep at night.  If everything is so alright, just why can’t we sleep at night??   Here is a partial lyric sheet from that song…

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name

I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain

Now our lives are changing fast.
Now our lives are changing fast.
Hope that something pure can last.
Hope that something pure can last.

Now it seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what’s stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

We used to wait.
We used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait.
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown

We used to wait.
We used to wait.
We used to wait.
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
Sometimes it never came
We used to wait
I’m still moving through the pain

Now we’re screaming “sing it again”

I used to wait for it

I used to wait for it

Hear my voice screaming “sing it again”

Wait for it

Wait for it

Wait for it

Now I’m going back 4000 years.    Going back to a time when we used to wait for it…

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….”

Genesis 18:1-2 ESV

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mare, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day….Do you have this image??   We can look at the Bedouin people in the Judea wilderness.  Arcade Fire sings that our lives are changing fast, but not for the Bedouins…Our lives may be changing fast, but theirs are not.  We can imagine what this scene is like, we can know what the tent looks like.  We can imagine old man Abraham sitting at the door of his tent.   We can imagine Sarah bringing to him a bowl of dates. Old man Abraham, it’s hot outside, just sitting in the door of his tent under his canopy.  Old man Abraham with his long beard, just sitting there.  Doing nothing more than occasionally eating dates, spitting out the pits, drinking from his jug of water.  He’s just being…alive in the heat of the day.  He can taste the sweetness of the date, see the blue sky, feel the heat of the day, hear the insects drone, he can smell the sheep….

Then in the shimmering distance on the horizon, he sees three men drawing near.  Three strangers, he doesn’t know them.  So Abraham does what Bedouins do to this day, offer their famous hospitality, he invites them to stay for a meal, and they do.  Abraham sits down in the heat of the day at the entrance to his tent with his three guests and they share a meal.  But over the course of the meal, and the conversation that ensues, Abraham slowly begins to understand that this more than three strangers, but this is in fact an encounter with God, the God that he worships, the God that he has followed out of Ur of the Chaldeans.

God begins to reveal more if his will and make more promises.  This time God makes promises to Sarah and Sarah laughs and thinks it’s funny.  Sarah says “I didn’t laugh”, God says “Yes you did.”   Because she did laught, because it’s funny.  God says that she, Sarah, at 90 years old will in a year give birth to a child by Abraham who is 99.  It’s funny stuff…

What is Abraham doing??  Ultimately he’s saving the world.  He’s establishing the line of Abraham that becomes the nation of Israel.  That becomes the people through whom Messiah comes and brings us salvation.  He’s living the most important life in history before Jesus Christ.  Not Moses, not David, not Solomon, not Elijah, but nobody is more important than father Abraham.

What does he do?  He doesn’t do much in life.  If you add up everthing he did in the Bible it wouldn’t take much more than a week.  Abraham spent most of his life waiting.  Just being, just waiting…

We used to wait for things.   That’s what Arcade Fire recognizes in their song as a change in our society.  We don’t wait much anymore.  Now our lives are changing fast, hope that something pure can last….

One of the biggest changes over the past century, the whole of the twentieth century but even more so now in the twenty first century is the speed of life.  It just keeps getting faster and faster and faster…the speed of life.  Much of our technology has been utilized to make things happen that much faster.  So fast that we don’t have to wait for it.  As a people, we have learned to dislike waiting.  We hate to wait

I am writing to myself far more than you.  This might be for you but I know it’s for me.  I’m writing out of my own need.  We have been cultured in speed and instant.  We have learned to hate the idea of waiting for anything.  I am the worst, and it’s a defect in my character I’m asking Jesus for help with.   So when a band like Arcade Fire tells us to wait for it, they are speaking to me.  I know  this is something I need to hear, probably we all need to hear…

The Bible really has almost nothing good to say about being in a hurry.  In fact, the Bible seems to view being in a hurry as a kind of temptation.  A kind of lust to have things in an inappropriate way.  When the Bible portrays people who won’t wait for it, It usually means they are heading in a wrong direction….

Adam and Eve.  Think about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Knowing good and evil, that in and if itself probably was not an evil thing.  What was evil was for Adam and Eve not to wait for it and let God in his way, in his time, teach them good from evil.  Instead, they listened to the serpent, couldn’t wait for it, and went and plucked from that tree and put the whole human race into trouble.

Abraham and Sarah, most of the time they did pretty good.  But then they had a hard time waiting for it.  So they wanted to speed things up, make it happen faster.  They got tired of waiting for it.  So Sarah gives Haggar to Abraham.  Let’s just say that created some tension in the home…brought some trouble about.

Maybe you remember the story about King Saul was waiting for the prophet Samuel to come preside over the offering of the sacrifice.   Samuel was delayed, Saul was waiting.   He had to wait for it. He didn’t want to wait any longer, so he offered up the sacrifice himself, something he was not authorized to do.   It got Saul in trouble, and it began his whole downward spiral until finally he would be rejected by the Lord from being King.  Because he wouldn’t wait for it.

Or the Prodigal Son.  He wouldn’t wait for it, he wanted his inheritance NOW!  It’s a defect in out soul when we won’t wait for it.

We need to realize that the pace of the Bible is slow.  The Bible is very pre-modern in that sense.  We, as modern people, have decided that there is nothing that can not be improved by making it faster.   But the Bible resists all of that.  The pace of the Bible is deliberately slow.  You will find that God makes a promise and then fulfills it…maybe 700 years later.   That happens with Isaiah.  Isaiah brings forth a promise from God that God is going to do a certain thing, and then seven centuries roll by before God gets around to doing it.

Who would like to be used of God to bring forth a great promise of God that will be fulfilled about 2718????

Wait for it

John Lewis

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Saving Zacchaeus

Saving Zacchaeus

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.

Zacchaeus has a role to play in Jericho. He has a role to play in their religious framework. They do it unconsciously, the crowd. They don’t know what they are doing, this is what Jesus prays from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 ESV. They don’t know what they are doing, but they need Zacchaeus, because they’re whole religious system needs a scapegoat.

The word religion, in its origin, means “to bind together.” It’s what gives us cohesion and binds us together in culture and religious similarity. But from the dawn of religion, it works like this – we’re all afraid. We’re all afraid that we won’t belong, we’re all afraid that we’ll be the outcast. We’re all afraid that we don’t measure up. We’re all haunted by this lurking fear that we’re not good enough. So what we do collectively, and largely unconsciously, is we take that fear and insecurity and we project it on someone that we have determined is really bad

So we see one like Zacchaeus, chief tax collector, chief of sinners. What we are saying is I don’t know if I’m good enough, but I’m not as bad as that one!! We all agree that we can be included, because we’re not as bad as that one!!! This is really the origin of religion. Throughout the world, that’s primarily how religion works. It’s very sophisticated, it can be done in much more elaborate ways, in fact that’s where sacrifice comes from.

The only problem is Jesus comes along and will not play the game!!! You can get the feeling they all want to take Jesus aside and say “Don’t you know how this works? The only reason we feel good and secure is because we are able to take our fear and insecurity and project it on someone ekse. But you go and keep having lunch with those guys! It’s messing up our who system.” To which Jesus says ‘Yeah, Pretty much…”

This is the radical hospitable of Jesus that Luke desperately wants us to see. It’s why Luke shows Jesus going from table to table, from meal to meal, eating and drinking with all the wrong people, as if Jesus is constantly saying to those who have been excluded “You belong here. I know you’ve been told that you don’t belong. That you are forbidden, that you cannot come here. But I am saying that you belong here, you tax collector, you sinner, you prostitute, you leper, you unclean, I say you belong here.” Some of us may applaud Jesus for that, but not everyone did. Jesus practiced a boundary pushing, kosher-challenging, line crossing, Pharisee infuriating radical hospitality. The question is, do we?

If we’re not careful, what we like to do is draw the lines, put up the velvet rope, and make sure it’s very clear who’s in and who’s out. We do this lest we be found guilty of going soft on sin. Can’t be seen as soft on sin, can we? Gotta draw the lines, put up the ropes, put up the barriers, because we don’t want to go soft on sin…

But does it work? Does this exclusionary practice actually produce holy people. Or is this more of the real story? – In general, aren’t we just as filled with lust, just as greedy, just as angry, just as self centered, just as broken, just as addicted, but we have with it the added pressure of keeping it hidden. At least in the bar you can say “I’m really messed up. I’m probably an alcoholic. I’m cheating on my wife. I’m really a bad sinner.” And they will put their arm around you and say “Well, you know, maybe things will get better..

But you can’t do that in church, because you will be then excluded. So maybe our exclusionary practice has served only to make us very competent in the practice of hypocrisy. It doesn’t produce holiness, it just teaches us how to hide our problems. All the while, Jexus says this – “Just come to my table. Be honest. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming to the table.”

You can really sum it up like this. Jesus says “Come to my table. Be honest. Don’t pretend, I already know everything. I know you’re a sinner. I know who you are Zacchaeus. I know who you are Bob, Fred, Susie, Nancy, Sally, Ted. I know who you are. I know what your issues are, and I accept you. Just come to my table. But be honest about who you are. And don’t stop anyone else from coming. That’s all I ask.” I think that’s pretty close to what Jesus is asking of people.

For Jesus, salvation is radical hospitality and the redemptive consequences that come from it. For Jesus, salvation is having a seat at the table of grace and the transformation that happens there. Remember, Jesus virtually never uses the word salvation. In fact, he uses it exactly twice in all the gospels. None in Mark, none in Matthew, once in John, once in Luke.

But what Jesus does talk about is the Kingdom of God, and that’s what he talked about all the time. Over and over, Kingdom, kingdom, kingdom. Every sermon, every parable, Jesus constantly talks about the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, the apostle Paul almost never talks about the Kingdom of God, but he talks about salvation all the time. But we must get this, Jesus and Paul are talking about the same thing. What Jesus calls the Kingdom of God, what Paul calls salvation, they are not talking about two different things.

But here’s one of those times where Jesus uses the noun salvation. 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.We put up the velvet rope, we draw the lines, we engage in exclusionary practices and tactics because we’re afraid sin will run rampant. All we’re really doing is showing our own lack of faith in Jesus. We need to have a little more faith in Jesus. We need to believe that if people will encounter Jesus, something good will happen.

We like to say love the sinner, hate the sin. That way we can feel extra special pious as we lovingly point out everybody else’s sin. But where do you find Jesus telling us to hate other people’s sin? Nowhere. Jesus says hate your own sin. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?Matthew 7:4 ESV. Jesus says that while we’re busy worrying about someone else’s sin, we have logs in our own eyes. Jesus says to us love the sinner…always. But he says love the sinner, hate your own sin.

So Jesus says he must eat with the worst sinner in town. People said that was Zacchaeus was the worst sinner in town, Jesus says Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today. But to be with Jesus is to be changed. So Zacchaeus says Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold. Zacchaeus didn’t know his Torah. The Torah only required twenty percent restitution. But Zacchaeus declares he will restore it fourfold. And Jesus jumps and says salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.This is what Jesus came to do, seek and save the lost. He came to find those on the outside, excluded, told they don’t belong, and bring them in…

Jesus finds this new commitment of Zacchaeus to economic justice and calls it salvation. It’s not that Zacchaeus earns forgiveness by what he now does with his money. Zacchaeus is saved by the radical hospitality of Jesus, by the fact that he comes to his house and shared a meal with him. But this is what salvation looks like in the life of someone like Zacchaeus. And we should see that to be with Jesus is to be transformed.

Grace is being offered a seat at the table no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Salvation is the forgiveness and transformation that happens as a result. It’s not Zacchaeus eternal destiny that needs to be saved. Jesus never says “I need to save your eternal destiny.” What needs saving is Zacchaeus. If Zacchaeus is saved, his eternal destiny will be fine.

Jesus is not wanting to save your eternal destiny, he wants to save you. Zacchaeus was a messed up man. He was malformed, misshapen, twisted up. He twisted out of shape by societies pliers, he valued money more that people. But one meal with Jesus and his transformation has begun. He says wait a minute…people are way more important than money.I’m going to give half my money to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them four times as much. And Jesus says Today salvation has come to this house….Jesus says that looks like salvation to him. It looks like Zacchaeus is getting it, Zacchaeus is being transformed, he is becoming a new creation.

As surely as Jesus called Zacchaeus down from that tree by name, he calls you by name. He says “come to my table.” Eat the bread, drink from the cup. Just come. If you’re willing to come, Jesus will receive you. Be honest, don’t come to the table and pretend. Don’t come and pretend to be more righteous than you are. Jesus knows you. Come honestly about who you are. And don’t prevent anyone else from coming. Take down your barricades, take down your velvet ropes. If anyone will come, let them come to the table of the lord…

“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

Little Rich Man

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

Luke 9:22 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 19:1-10 ESV

John Lewis

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

Come to the Party. Please.

So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages.   I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general.  That question is this – What is Jesus doing?   What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality,  his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing?   JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.

This is so important, do not miss this.  Please don’t miss this.  This question has haunted humanity for millennia.   We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon.  But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us.  Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God?   All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close.   But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “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.  Can I get an Amen??!!   The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like.  Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology.  Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God.  Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father.  Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father.   Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another.  Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like.  Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.

What is God like?  He is like Jesus. What does God do?  He does what Jesus does.   “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV.    Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does.  I’m only showing you what the Father is like.  You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you.  On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV.  Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!!   If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father.  That’s the message.  Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.

Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity.  Don’t get this twisted.  Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.”   No, Jesus came to change our mind about God.  As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.

In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment.  The Prodigal has already been punished.  His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen.  Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins.  Sin is taking its toll.  He doesn’t like it.  The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen.  So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.

The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment.  He’s just pardoned by a kiss.  That’s all that is going on.  The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.

The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment.  But – you can’t pay it.  It’s gone.  He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song.  Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that.  He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone.  You can’t pay it back.  It’s gone.

But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!!   So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff!  All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!!  It’s the relationship that can be recovered!!  That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship,  because that’s what matters.

There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration.   Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!”   The Father says “Yes, I know.  He broke the rules.  But I pardoned him with a kiss.  NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!”   He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss.  He is forgiven.  He’s pardoned.

Come to the party.  But the older brother refuses.  What, exactly, is the older brother doing here?  He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…

They’ve both been in hell.  The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen.  “This is hell.  I’m going back to my fathers house.  Even though I’m not worthy.”  He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy.  Worthy, not worthy, you’re  my son!   Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”

The older brothers been sweating in the field all day.  They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork).  There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing.  It’s a party!   The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?”   He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.

The older brother is angry, he won’t go in.  He argues with his father when his father comes out to him.  So what do we have?   We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?).   “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!”    So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.

If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god.  What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy.  If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god).  Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself.  You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not.  We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited.  I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party.  But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.

Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.”   Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness.  You see how this works?   That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!”   It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.

We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news.  The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.”   The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!

How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news?   You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.    Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors?   The get F – minuses at being spiritual.  Jesus says “Come to the table anyway!  This is for you too!”  REALLY?  “Yes, really.”   Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!”  Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.”  All those things Pharisees say.

We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news.  Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you.  But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.

There are two kinds of Christianity in America.  There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  Both of the these have great energy.  Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this.  Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.

You find both kinds in this story.  The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way.  The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.

In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in.  “I will point be a part of that!  That’s not fair, that’s not justice.  That’s not right, I won’t go.”

Two kinds of Christianity.  Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong.  Let’s kiss the leper,  forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God.  Let’s have a party.

The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them.  Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.

One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation.  The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest.  Both can use the Bible.  Both have their bible verses.

There are a lot of energy in both kinds.  But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God.  So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.

Amen

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

Welcome Home

More on the Prodigal Son…

It’s very easy to reduce the parable of the Prodigal Son to a two act play, but it’s a three act play, and the third act is the most important.  The first two acts, the Prodigal Son and the Compassionate Father, are really just setting up the real point Jesus is making.   So we can’t stop after the second act, we must go on to the third act, the Angry Brother.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

This is a three act play because there are three characters, and there are three characters because in the whole problem that necessitated Jesus telling this story, there were three actors.  There were the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus.  There is Jesus who is receiving them and eating with them.  And there are the Pharisees who were upset, offended and angry about it.

The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are the prodigal son.  Jesus is the one enacting the will of the father, he’s playing the role of the father.   It’s the Pharisees who are acting out the role of the angry brother.

In the parable, the elder, angry brother sees the extravagant hospitality of the father as an injustice.  For the elder brother justice must involve punishment or it’s not fair.  In his estimation it’s not fair, he won’t come to the party, and because of this he will not experience the kingdom of god.

The Pharisees talked about the Kingdom of God all the time.  It’s what they were waiting for, they wanted the Kingdom of God to come.  But because they didn’t understand how the Kingdom of God would come, when it actually was coming through what Jesus was announcing and enacting they missed it.  They didn’t enter into it.  This is why Jesus says to them …“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31 ESV

But look at what the story tells.  We have an ungrateful, profligate sinner younger son who insults the father in many ways, squanders his resources, comes back home, and is graciously, extravagantly received as if he’s coming home a hero.  A robe, a ring, shoes,  a fatted calf, a big party.  We look at this, but what is it?  Is it reconciliation to be celebrated? Or is it injustice to be protested?

This story can be told in such a way that you will be sympathetic with the angry older brother.  Some might already be.  Seriously – all he ever did was think about himself.  He brought shame and disgrace upon the family, sold off part of the estate, and wasted it on drink, prostitutes and partying!!   He was just living recklessly, having a good time, then when things get bad he comes crawling back home, and we treat him like he’s a hero??!!

How many, when we read it like that, think “Hey, that older brother has a point!”  That’s the little Pharisee in each one of us. And yes,   “He’s got a point!

The Pharisees thought of justice as punishment instead of reconciliation, and that was their undoing.  The Pharisees missed the Kingdom of God because when it actually arrived it looked like a welcome home party instead of mandatory sentencing.  Their idea of the Kingdom of God is when people get what’s coming to them!!  It’s about time!   Getting their just desserts!!!   That’s what the Pharisees are looking for…

But instead of mandatory sentencing, it’s a welcome home party, and they just could not recognize it as the kingdom of god…

More to come.

John Lewis

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis