The Wine will Flow

The Wine will Flow

Still turning water into wine here…

Mary, despite not actually asking her son to fix the problem of the wine running out, clearly shows a trust in him to be able to do something.   So when Jesus says to her “What’s that for us?”, “His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   So Jesus looks around and notices there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. He notices these six stone jars, or water pots.   These water pots are empty, they are for the mikvahs.  They use these water pots to fill the mikvahs.  If we ever were to visit Jerusalem, you will see these around.  Mikvahs are dug into the ground, into the stone, with steps leading into him.  What they are is baptistries.   They are not bathtubs, they are not ancient hot tubs.  They are used for ritual purification.  Several times a week. an observant Jew would properly fill his mikvah with the proper kind of water blessed, by the rabbi.  Then he would go down into the water, repeat the prayers, dunk himself seven times, and observe the rituals that he might be ceremonially pure.

So at this wedding we had some of these stone water pots used for filling the mikvah.  They are empty.   Each one has between 20-30 gallons of capacity.  If you fill six of them it’s between 120 to 180 gallons of water, so let’s call it 150 gallons here.  So Jesus tells says to the servants Fill the jars with water.”    To which I can imagine these servants rolling their eyes.  “Oh brother.  Another super religious guy.  Instead of partying all night we’re all going to have to go down to the mikvah and get baptized again.”   But they do it.  It’s going to take a while.  Remember, they don’t have hoses or spigots to use and easily fill these things up.  This required drawing the water out of the well, it takes a lot of time and effort to draw 150 gallons of water.

“And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”   Ok Jesus.  Sounds a little strange.  But they do it anyway.  They take water out of the stone jar for ritual purification.  They put it in a wine cup and take it to the chief steward, but somewhere in transit, somewhere along the way, a miracle happens.  The water has turned to wine.

The steward doesn’t know anything that’s been going on.  He just knows the wine has run out.  But the servants come to him, “Here you go, try this out.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”    Think about the baffled bridegroom.  He has no idea what the steward is talking about.  All he knows is that he’s heard rumors that they are running out of wine, and all of a sudden now there’s tons of it.   The master of the feast is poking him in the side, grinning – “Oh, you’ve really fooled us!   You kept the very best wine until now!”   To which the bridegroom said what?   “Praise the Lord!!??

But Jesus has done it!!  The little wedding in Cana of Galilee, on the verge of catastrophe, suddenly is supplied with 1000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.  And Jesus gives a wink to his mom.   “This miraculous sign at Cana in Galilee was the first time Jesus revealed his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:11 NLT.  And John says Jesus revealed his glory.  Jesus revealed his glory, which means his beauty.    Imagine being one his 6 disciples there.   Imagine following this rabbi, just starting to follow, then you see the sign, you see the water turned to water.

And Jesus revealed his beauty.   This is a beautiful story.  There is something fun, something whimsical about this story.  Later, most of Jesus’ miracles are framed in a life and death scenario.  A leper, his life ebbing away.  Disciples in a boat, threatened with imminent death from a storm.   Here’s a little girl who’s in fact already died.  There’s a deep, dark frame around a lot of Jesus’ miracles.  But this one, there’s none of that.  Yes, we might want to save the family from social embarrassment, but there is no way this is crucial to anything.  This is just a whimsical miracle, where Jesus, in order to keep the wedding going, gives a sign.  It’s not just a party trick, it’s a sign.

What’s the sign pointing to?   In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine was often symbolic of God’s favor and blessing.  Likewise, ruined vineyards and a scarcity of wine was symbolic of the absence of God.  So as the prophets began to imagine the time when God would come through his Messiah, anticipating the day when messiah would come and bring the righteous reign of God with all of its blessing and abundance, they use language like this  – “…the vats shall overflow with wine…” Joel 2:24 ESV, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Amos 9:13 ESV, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” Isaiah 25:6 ESV.  It’s as if they are saying Oh, and the rivers will flow with wine…

That’s the anticipation, the prophetic vision.  So, in a beautiful and artistic way, Jesus, in turning the water to wine and providing an abundance of it, has announced that the reign of God at last has arrived.   Remember, in the story, the steward says to the bridegroom But you have kept the good wine until now.   John’s gospel is very sophisticated.  It’s as if he knows and trusts his readers will read this over and over in a thoughtful way, and he hides all these gems in it.  So, Jesus is also the bridegroom, is he not?   Jesus is the bridegroom…

So think of it like this – in previous days, in earlier times Israel had had some good wine.  In the days of Moses, when they are brought out of Egypt, and God is present in a cloud by day and fire by night, giving them the Torah, they had some good wine.  In the days of David, when the kingdom was coming and the sweet psalmist of Israel was reigning and ruling, they had some good wine.  But then, the exile.  For about 500 years, all you could say is, they have no wine.  The wine has run out.  The good days are gone, they have no wine.

But now…JESUS IS ON THE SCENE!!!   Not only is there wine, it’s the best wine!!!   We can say, We had some good times with Moses, we had some good times with David, but the BEST has been saved for now!!   AMEN!

When Jesus is on the scene, good things are about to happen.  Why was Jesus at this wedding?  Because he was invited!   Hey, remember that carpenter guy over in Nazareth?  He did some work for us, he’s a cool guy.  What’s his name?   Oh yeah, Yeshua of Nazareth, 101 Olive Street, Nazareth.   And just because they invited Jesus, they got the miracle.  So when you’re going through your struggle, your thing, your situation, your problem, and you’re going through it, invite Jesus.  JESUS, want to come to my party, my mess, my marriage, my addiction, my life, my business, my thing?   I got this thing going on Jesus, want to come?   And don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him.  Because you never know what Jesus is going to do.  Think about it, nobody would have thought I know what to do, we’ll invite Jesus and he’ll perform a miracle and turn all this water into wine.  Nobody would have ever dreamed that up.  Only Jesus.  So don’t tell Jesus what to do, just invite him to your thing.  Because where Jesus shows up good things are about to happen.  But Jesus tends to show up where he’s invited.

So invite him.

John Lewis

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What’s That For Us?

Back in John’s telling of the first recorded miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine…

So yes, On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   The third day as in Tuesday, as in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday…also as in the doubly blessed third day from Genesis, a doubly blessed day that must be the day the Jews in Israel would have to be married on.   But never forget…and John will not let you forget, the third day is also the day Christ himself rose from the dead…

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee.   Cana of Galilee.   Funny thing about Cana of Galilee is, we know exactly where this is.  You can still visit Cana today.   It’s only 5 miles from Nazareth.  Which probably tells us exactly why Jesus was invited to this wedding.  Because he was known in the community, he was local.  Yes, let’s invite Yeshua, the carpenter, remember him, he fixed our steps and built the gazebo a couple years ago.  Let’s invite him.    Jesus was invited, his mom was invited, his disciples were invited.   Not because they were Jesus’s disciples but also because they, too, were known.

But Jesus only has six disciples at this point.   This is the very beginning of his ministry.   He’s got Andrew, Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael.  Nathanael specifically has just joined the day before.   He has just become a disciple of Jesus, and Jesus had told him You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” John 1:50 NIV.   Better hold onto your hat, you’re going to see some awesome things.   And sure enough, the next day they are at the wedding in Cana, and Nathanael will something truly amazing.

It’s a Jewish wedding of the first century.  And we need to understand about Jewish weddings, or we might be confused.    When we think of a wedding, we think of a quick ceremony followed by a wedding reception.   But this is not a reception with mints and nuts and cake and punch in a plastic cup.  This is a feast that will go for days.  This is not a 20 minute ceremony followed by an hour long reception.    You would have the ceremony, the bride and groom would disappear for a short time (not for pictures), the happy, blushing couple would return and the feast would begin!

It sounds crazy, but that’s how it was done.  Jesus is at one of these first century weddings.   They’ve had the vows, the happy couple has disappeared into the tent, now they’ve come back, and now it’s time to start several days of feasting.  But no sooner had they got started, a real catastrophe happened.  In a shame and honor based culture, which is typical of the east, including first century Israel, things like weddings have to come off right or it brings great shame upon the family.   What happened here was, they ran out of wine.   If you run out of wine, it is a catastrophe.  Because when you have a feast that’s supposed to run for three days, if you run out of wine, people go home.   Well, that’s that!!  People begin to drift away, and what’s supposed to be a several day feast is over by the afternoon.   It’s very embarrassing, the shame could linger within the family for generations – “That’s that family that tried to have a wedding!   That didn’t work out, they ran out of wine and everybody left!!  LOL

So they ran out of wine and are the verge of a social catastrophe.  Jesus’s mother is there with Jesus, her eldest son, and simply observes They have no wine.   Notice that she’s not requesting for Jesus to do anything.  This is not a request.  Mary is not saying “Jesus fix this.”   She’s simply making a whispered observation laden with pity.  “Oh my goodness. They’ve ran out of wine, I feel so sorry for them.  How embarrassing.  How did they let this happen?  They have no wine.”   In our English translations Jesus’ response is rendered like this – Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.   What is actually said here in the Greek is apparently at least a little enigmatic, obscure, and difficult to understand.  This comes across in our translations as a rebuff, but I don’t think that’s what happening at all.  It doesn’t fit, Mary has not asked Jesus to do anything, she has just observed that they were, in fact, out of wine.  NT Wright says we would benefit greatly from a simple punctuation change –  Woman? What! Has this to do with me?   Or how about this.  Jesus response is really, if we could understand, more like this – “What’s that for us?  I’ve got time.  I can take care of that.

Jesus says  My hour has not yet come.  Jesus knows that an hour will come when he can not work.  The hour of darkness.  The hour that he’s betrayed and turned over to the Romans.   The hour that he’s crucified.  But Jesus knows that’s a ways off.  So Mary says oh no They have no wineJesus responds and says “What’s that for us?   We can take care of that.  I’ve got the tine.  I’m not in a rush.  I can handle this.

Here’s an example so we can better understand.  Imagine you’re in the grocery store, heading home after church to get your true worship on and watch some football, and at the front of the line is a young mother buying groceries, formula and diapers for her baby.  Except she is coming up a couple of dollars short of being able to pay for what she has.  And now she’s embarrassed, because there is a line of people in line behind her.   She’s slowing the line down, and I mean, kickoff is in fifteen minutes!   The back of her neck is white hot from the glowering stares behind her.  This young mother is both embarrassed and a little desperate, because she needs those groceries.  At which point your spouse whispers “She has no money.”  So you  grab a couple of bucks out of your wallet, discreetly head to the front of the line and give it to the cashier.  “Here’s the rest of the money.  I’ve got this covered.”   Because, after all, what’s a couple of dollars?  What’s that for us?   We can take care of it.

That’s what’s happening here.  That’s exactly what Jesus is doing.  Mary says They have no wine.  Jesus says No big deal.  What’s that for us?   He’s not saying “That’s not my problem.”   What Jesus is saying here is “That’s no problem.”   It’s all in how you hear the idiom, and there’s all the difference in the world.

How many times do we see others in certain situations and walk away without helping, telling ourselves “That’s not my problem.  What’s that got to do with me?”   But really, “Whats that for us?”   It’s so easy for us to turn our backs and walk away.  I do it everyday.   But, again, “What’s that for us?  We can handle that.”    Can’t we?

“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”  John 2:1-11 ESV

John Lewis

Darkened Lamps

light_in_dark

“They tell me to be discreet, for all intended purposes,  they tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand I’m sure it is.  But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized.   All I feel are heat and flame, and all I see are dark eyes.”   Bob Dylan.

Jesus wants to teach us a brand new way of looking at life with eyes of wonder, love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul.   I’ve used this quote before, but here it is again – “Christianity is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all” – Pastor and author Brian Zahnd.  The problem is that the people who are most explicit in our culture in identifying themselves as Christian are not famous for forgiveness.  If we are identifying ourselves with Christianity, which is about forgiveness or it’s about nothing at all, but we are not famous for our forgiveness, something has gone very wrong.  We say we care about Christianity in America.  We say we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live as Christians.   But we have a problem.

The dominant, most visible public expression of public Christianity in America, evangelicalism, is in deep trouble.   The us vs. them thing is killing us.  We have adopted a paradigm of self-identifying ourselves as we are the righteous and they (pick your group) are the unrighteous, and we are going to react toward them by protest, by clenched fist, by furrowed brow, and this attitude and paradigm is killing authentic Christianity in America.

I can’t paraphrase or otherwise say this any better, so this is directly from Pastor Zahnd’s 2010 book Unconditional?  The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.  So I’ll just quote from it.

“When we choose to forgive those who intentionally and maliciously harm us instead of perpetuating the cycle of revenge, we become a living imitation of Jesus Christ.  And as we do this, we flood a world hell-bent on paybacks with a forgiveness that washes away sin.  The world is all too full of the lust for vengeance.  This lust is ultimately demonic in nature and is what fuels all our wars – from petty personal conflicts to deadly world wars.  Christians are called to opt out of the game of getting even.  The saying is that “vengeance is sweet,” but vengeance is sweet only to the sick soul.  To those who have tasted the grace of God in Christ, vengeance is bitter as gall.  Bob Dylan talks about the perversity of calling revenge ‘sweet’ in his under-appreciated song ‘Dark Eyes.’

‘They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes,

They tell me revenge is sweet, and from where they stand, I’m sure it is.

But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized,

All I feel are heat and flame and all I feel are dark eyes.’

Revenge is not sweet.  It’s the heat and flame of hell and leads to the dark eyes of a lost soul.  Those who would aspire to imitate Christ must feel nothing for the game of paybacks.  The saying ‘paybacks are hell’ is true in more than one sense.  Paybacks are not only hell for the recipient of revenge; paybacks are also hell for the executioner of revenge.  It’s the lust for revenge that destroys our souls and keeps us chained in a devil’s  hell of exponential hatred and endless retribution.  The only way out is the imitation of Christ.”

Who are we imitating?   Are we imitating Christ?   Or are we dancing with the devil?   Just what kind of light is the lamp of your soul beaming?

 “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.

John Lewis

You Will Even Accuse Yourself

You Will Even Accuse Yourself

Last time I wrote, I finished by saying that Jesus had to react so strongly to Peter’s rebuke (accusation?) at Jesus’s telling to the disciples that  the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again because this rebuke/accusation from Peter (You’ve got the wrong idea of what it means to be Messiah Jesus!) had the potential to put self-doubt in the mind of Jesus.   And yes, Jesus could suffer from the temptation to self-doubt.  To doubt oneself is a very human thing to do, and Jesus was very human of very human….and therefore subject to all the temptations we humans suffer with.

Was Jesus tempted with self doubt?   I don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but it’s certainly possible.   And I do know this – everybody doubted Jesus.  And I do mean everybody.  Think about the struggle this would cause for you and I.

Think about the struggle Jesus must have had with this.  He was doubted by the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.   Did this affect him?   I don’t know, but they were the authorities, the scholars, the theologians, and they were saying Jesus, you’re vision is wrong.  Did this induce any self doubt?  I don’t know, maybe not.  We’ll say that no, it didn’t.

Jesus was doubted by his own disciples.   That’s got to hurt.  He was doubted by his own brothers – For not even his brothers believed in him.”  John 7:5 ESV.  Even worse than that, Jesus’ own mother doubted him.   And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.””  Mark 3:21 ESV.   We read this and chuckle, but there’s nothing funny going on.   This is a family intervention.  Mary gets James and Joses and Judas and Simon, Jesus’ four brothers, maybe some of his sisters, and says to them “Jesus is mentally unstable.  Your older brother is mentally unstable.  He’s got these ideas and they’re just going to get him killed.   We’ve got to intervene.”   And they go to seize him because they think Jesus is suffering a mental breakdown.

Think I’m reading too much into this?   Maybe.   But let’s skip 10 verses later, and what does it say?   “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.“” Mark 3:31-35 ESV.   We like to spiritualize this, I would say we over-spiritualize it.  This is a serious family situation.  Jesus is with a group of disciples, they had just tried a family intervention and they are coming to try again.  Mom and the brothers send word in to Jesus that they are looking for him, and Jesus says what?  Who are my mother and my brothers?”   Hmmmmpht.   My brothers and my mother??!!  These people that are hearing the word of God and doing it, these are my mother and brothers!   Ok, when your mom calls you, just say “Who is my mother”, and let me know how that works out for you.   This is a very tense family situation.

They don’t believe in him.  They love him, but they don’t believe in him.  They don’t believe he can go about being Messiah and live the Sermon on the Mount at the same time.   He has this idea, somehow, that he’s going to liberate Israel and bring about the kingdom of God, yet not kill anybody!!   Turn the other cheek and bring the kingdom of God? That’ll never work.  That’ll just get you killed Jesus….and that’ll be the end of that.

Know what’s really heartbreaking, when you think about it??   Jesus went to the cross with NOBODY believing in him.  They loved him, yes, but they did not believe in him.  James loved him, John loved him, Peter loved him.  Other disciples loved him.  Judas, maybe not.  Mary Magdalene loved him, his mother loved him.   Yes they loved him.  But they did not believe in him.  They believed Jesus had missed it.  He’d had the potential to be Messiah, he coulda been Messiah.  But he clung to his lofty ideals, and now the whole thing is falling apart, and just like they said he went and got himself killed.   And in the eyes of those whom Jesus most cared about, he was dying as a failure.   Please try to imagine how hard that must have been…to go through all that with nobody believing in him.   That’s why in the Garden of Gethsemane an angel had to come and strengthen him.  He had to have a direct message from the father.  You’re doing the right thing.  Don’t give way to self doubt now.  Don’t let those negative people and comments get through to your psyche and cripple you.  Stay the course.

When people get into their head that messiah, Christ, is to be a certain way, it’s almost impossible to change it.  If you try to change their idea of Christ, you will be subject to accusation.   Even Jesus did not succeed in changing people’s understanding of what it means to be Christ until after his resurrection.  They just could not accept, and their response was to do what Peter did, and accuse him of making a mistake.

When we begin to discover Christ in a deeper way, when we begin talk about Jesus in a different way, when we take the American varnish off of Jesus and show people that Jesus is not an American committed to the American dream and our superpower status, and that in fact the American way and the Jesus way are not the same way but  are often at odds with one another, people might say all kinds of things about you.   Just like his own countrymen said all kinds of thing about Jesus for showing that God was not just God for the Jews, but for Gentiles and the whole world as well.

But it was true.  It’s still true.  We need to come to see Jesus as he is, Christ for all, not just a nationalized Christ, the American Jesus.  But this messes with peoples understanding of Christ and who Christ is.   When we begin to rub that red white and blue varnish off of Jesus, people will not like it.  People are very comfortable with that red white and blue varnish, start rubbing that off and people will accuse you of all kinds of things.   Start rubbing that off, there will be star spangled trouble.

If you get accused, though, you can’t lash out.  If you lash out, it just fuels the Satan, It gets worse and worse and turns into a hurricane.  You forgive.  You absorb the blow and forgive.  Father forgive them because they don’t know what they do.  If possible, you try to help them see what they are doing.  But what you cannot do is let the accusation get into your head and become self doubt.  Because what happens is you take the accusation up and begin to practice self accusation.    You become your own Satan in your own head, and you go to hell inside your own head.  Anybody else know about this?   You become subject to unjust accusation, but you begin to take it up against yourself.  You begin to accuse yourself.  You idiot, you’re stupid. What in the world are you doing?   Am I the only one?

It will begin to flood you with self doubt, you will be paralyzed, things will spiral out of control.  We can’t lash out, but we also cannot afford to allow these accusations to lodge in our head and fill us with self doubt.  How many if you have ever been the victim of unjust accusation?   Might go all the way back to when you were five years old.  Maybe your dad or your mom told you you idiot.  You’re no good,  you’ll never amount to anything.   That was unjust.  Nobody should ever say that to anybody, especially a child.  Rationally you know it was unjust, not right, yet forty years later it’s still lodged in you.  So now you take up against yourself.  You say to yourself, you’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything.   Maybe it was a parent, a brother, a friend, maybe it was an enemy.  Maybe a boss, could be anybody.  You’ve begun to be victimized by unjust accusation but it’s gotten into your head.  And you need to pray like this – “Lord, give me the strength to be strong and true, because lord when the devil gets in my head I’m so blue…”.  (From an Irish folk song…)

Never forget that the spirit of accusation is the spirit of Satan.  It’s the un-holy spirit.  The opposite of this is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of advocacy.   God says “I love you.  I’m for you.  I’m on your side.  You’re going to make it.”   You’re ok, and when you’re not ok it’s ok not to be ok.  Bring it to the Holy Spirit, to your brothers and sisters who do the will of God and lift you up.

John Lewis

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

Sometimes We Cry

Sometimes We Cry

My first message in about a week and a half, went on family vacation, and I unplugged and recharged.  Actually started this last Friday, I’m finally ready to share it with you…

“Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But I said, “Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.””

Jeremiah 10:19 ESV

http://bible.com/59/jer.10.19.esv

Pain in the great equalizer in life.  Pain comes to us all, unwanted and uninvited.  It puts us on an even playing field.   It comes to us all.  It comes to the rich and the poor.  Black and white.  Educated and uneducated.  Powerful and weak.  Religious and irreligious.  In a broken world, pain is inevitable.

Jeremiah’s pain, Woe is me because of my hurt!was the pain of watching his country be invaded and fall to the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom called Judah.  At the time they were being ransacked by the Babylonians.  His pain was the pain of watching his countrymen captured and carried off to Babylon.  The pain of watching his city, the holy city of Jerusalem, being burned and ransacked, with the holy temple of Jewish worship being destroyed by a pagan army.

Jeremiah was able to put to words the pain we have all felt.  We’ve all felt pain, but sometimes in those painful moments we just can’t find the words to express the hurt you feel.  Maybe the wound is more than you can bear.

Jeremiah’s pain was the pain of a nation falling.  Maybe your pain is the physical pain from some disease or malady.  Maybe you feel the emotional pain of someone you have loved who has hurt you.  Maybe it’s the hidden pain of abuse.  Maybe it’s the stinging pain of loss through death.  Maybe you know the shameful pain of personal failure.

For many of us, it’s the pain and regret and sorrow of lifelong struggles with with addictions that cause us to hurt other people.  How many examples have we seen of the saying hurt people hurt people.  We who have been wounded and have been hurt, end up hurting others.  How many deep wounds have we seen and felt that we have tried to self medicate with sex, alcohol, gambling, drugs, but we just can’t.  We end up, out of our hurt and wounded-ness, hurting the people we love.  We tell our stories, we tell of our lies, we tell of stealing from those we love, we abandon them, we break our relationships apart.   Truly this is an affliction, and I must bear it.   

Jeremiah, living in a time when the southern kingdom and Jerusalem itself were being laid bare, had in mind the words of Isaiah.  Jeremiah became the weeping prophet, carrying the wound of the fallen Jerusalem.    But one hundred years before Jeremiah, God had sent to Israel the prophet Isaiah both with a warning and a message of hope.   Isaiah opens the second half his book of prophecy with these words –  “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord ‘s hand double for all her sins.”  Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV.  One hundred years before Jeremiah and his wounds and his hurt, Isaiah prophesied that a day of new creation was coming to Israel.  There would come a day when Israel would flourish, where they would build houses and plant vineyards, and have babies and lots of babies and grand-babies and have big kosher BBQs and the family would all be together.  One hundred years before Jeremiah’s pain there was this great prophecy that there would be a time of flourishing and this time of new creation when God would come and dwell with his people again.

Then there was this promise that Isaiah gave – “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” Isaiah 65:25 ESV.  The hurt Jeremiah felt compelled to hold onto (ever been there?), he would not have to hold onto any longer.  There was coming a time of new creation where in God’s rule and reign they would not hurt or destroy anymore.  Isaiah prophecies this yet one hundred years later there was the fall of Jerusalem and the people watched as the wolves and lions from Babylon came devouring…

Yet a promise remained from Isaiah.  Even at this point in Israel’s history, God had not forsaken them, he had not given up.  There was coming one called the anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah.  There was one coming who would come to bring God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign, to the earth.   Remember, when we speak of the kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place but a power.   The church is not the kingdom of God, but rather the witness to the kingdom of God.  We are the servants of the kingdom of God.   But the Kingdom of God is God’s rule and reign on the earth.  So there was this prophecy that even through the destruction of the temple there would be a day of new creation and that Messiah would come.

Isaiah tells us that when Messiah would come he would be a suffering King, that he would take all the hurt, pain and sorrow of Israel away.   In Isaiah 53 it tells us “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  Isaiah 53:4 ESV. Jeremiah is carrying this wound, this hurt, this pain, yet he has the promise that Messiah would come and be a suffering king.

Five hundred years (God does move slowly, doesn’t he?) after Isaiah’s prophecy a virgin girl gives birth to her first born son, and they would call his name Jesus, for he would save God’s people from their sins.  Jesus came to bring God’s kingdom, his rule and reign, to bring God’s holy mountain to the earth.   Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God and show us what God is like.

So what do we see in the gospels that Jesus was doing?   He was proclaiming and preaching that God’s kingdom is a peaceable kingdom.  There’s not going to be eye for an eye, tooth for tooth anymore (even though sometimes we argue with him over this!).   No more hating, destroying and killing of your enemies, that’s done away with.  We see Jesus proclaiming a kingdom of peace and we see Jesus healing the sick.  And as he was healing the sick, he was demonstrating what God is like, what life lived in the kingdom of God is like.

What do we see about God through the preaching and ministry of Jesus?  We see that God is good, full of compassion and mercy, that he’s a God who wants to mend what is broken and heal what is diseased.  We see in the ministry of Jesus the promise of Isaiah coming to pass, that there will be a time when people will come under the rule and reign of God.  In that place, They shall not hurt or destroy.

So Jesus has come.  He has proclaimed the kingdom.   And you know how the story ends.   At the end of his life, Jesus dies.  He goes to the cross, gets executed, and dies.  One of his closest followers, Peter, says this about Jesus in his death.    “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24 ESV.  Amen.

Jesus came not just to demonstrate what life looks like in the kingdom of God, but Jesus came and he collected, he carried our griefs and sorrows, he carried all sorts of human pain into himself, took it into death, and overcame it in his resurrection that he might offer healing to all.  (Amen!)  So in his suffering, Jesus was suffering for us, but also with us.  Jesus experienced all sorts of human pain.  He experienced your pain.   He experienced it for you so that he can take it in himself, overcome it, then rise again to offer healing for your wounds.  He took your pain and your brokenness so that you don’t have to carry it anymore.  So that if you choose to live under the rule and reign of god, then you shall not hurt or destroy anymore.

Have you experienced the pain of rejection?   Jesus was abandoned and rejected by all of his disciples at his arrest and execution.  Experienced the pain of injustice?  Jesus was unjustly tried and sentenced to death.  Experienced the pain of bondage and addiction?  Jesus was bound and held against his will at his arrest.  Experienced the pain of physical abuse?   Jesus was slapped, spat upon and beaten before his death.  Experienced the emotional pain of harsh words spoken to you in anger?  Jesus was mocked, ridiculed, laughed at and scolded as he died.  Experienced the shame of sexual abuse?   Jesus at the cross was stripped naked, exposed for all to see.  Experienced physical pain from disease or malady or sickness?   Jesus experienced real human physical pain at his crucifixion.  Experienced profound disappointment with God?  Jesus at the cross cried out…“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” Mark 15:34 ESV. Experienced the stinging pain of the death of a loved one?  Jesus experienced real human death.  Jesus cried out at the end from the cross “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.”   Luke 23:46 ESV.  He breathed his last and went into death.

Jesus took into death with him all amounts human suffering and pain, and he overcame it in his resurrection to offer healing and solace.  So when people ask, and they will, why suffering??   Or for those who make it really personal, and when they are hurting or in that moment of pain, ask where is God, why am I hurting??   God thunders back from heaven, saying I entered into that kind of pain, I took it for you, I overcame, so that you may be healed.  Jesus Christ became a co-sufferer with humanity.

Where does all this come from?  God does not give us the answer, scripture does not give us the answer of why suffering?   But God does give us the remedy.  He becomes human, suffers with us, and takes all of our suffering within himself so that our wounds may be healed.

Healing for you can begin today.  Offer your brokenness to the one who was broken for you.  Exchange your empire of dirt for life in the kingdom of God.  Enter into the kingdom of God, that place where Isaiah promises that we will not hurt or destroy anymore.  Let healing begin…

Something Good is Coming

There’s something good coming.  We all go through hard times.  We all have struggles.  But we don’t give up hope.  Even in the midst of our trouble and hard times, we hang onto our hope.  We hope that something good is coming, for you and for me. There has to be something good coming.

Because we believe life to be good.   I know I believe life is good.  I mean, life, in its essence, is good.    Despite the fact that trouble comes and is present and is real, no matter how frequent and no matter how at times it may be horrible, we still believe this because trouble, no matter how frequent or horrible, is an anomaly.  Because life is created to be good.

Think about looking upon the face of a newborn child.  We might say “welcome to God’s good world”.   There will be trouble, there will be hard times, but it’s good…

Why do we believe this?   Why do we believe life is good?   We believe this because it’s what is told us in scripture about this God whom we worship and build our life around.   That in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.   He’s working the first day, he said it’s good.  The second day it’s good.  The third day he said it’s good twice.   Then the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, he says it’s good.  Then at the very end he says ahhh….it’s very good.

So the even though we have trouble and hard times, we believe that somehow that is an anomaly, and that is not how life is ultimately meant to be.  And what we really believe is that God is going to be true to his declaration and God is going to intervene and break into our lives, and where it’s wrong he’s going to make it right, so we can say the something good is coming.

When God does this, when God breaks through and intervenes in the world to set what is wrong right, we call that the kingdom of God.  It’s the reign and rule of God, the government and policy of God, it’s the intervention of God.   It’s God coming among us to make things good again because that’s what he intends.

God accomplishes this chiefly and primarily through Christ.   The firstborn of all creation, the center of the cosmos creation and salvation.  “…. Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”” Mark 1:14-15 NIV.  When the human heart is aching for something better, when we have that hope, Jesus responds and says yes, that’s right!

So I want to say to everyone reading this today…something good is coming.   I want to say to myself, something good is coming.   It’s an announcement.  If you think it’s for you, it is.  If you don’t think that’s for you, it’s not.  But if you don’t think it’s for you, I want to say something to you – something good is coming!   Repent, rethink your life, and believe this good news that something good is coming.

For you.

John Lewis