Practice Resurrection

Why does Jesus do this thing that he does, bringing back the dead??   Why did he go to the house of Jairus and bring his daughter back from the dead?  Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

A son, a young man, dead for a whole day, is about to be buried.  He is heading to the cemetery.  Jesus comes across the funeral procession.   He touches the coffin, they stop.  The body, the corpse in the coffin, comes alive, sits up, and begins to speak to them.   “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Luke 7:13-15 ESV.  Jesus gives a widow back her only son.

The greatest, most spectacular  of all Jesus’ miracles is the raising of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Lazarus is four days dead.  He’s  buried in a tomb.  But if you believe you will see the glory of the father revealed in the son“Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”” John 11:39-40 ESV.   Roll away the stone.  Lazarus come forth!!   That is the glory of the father revealed in son.  “”Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  John 5:25 ESV

To believe in Christ and be baptized in Christ, to be born of spirit and water, is to receive the promise (since we all like promises so much) that as Christ was raised from the dead, so shall we be raised from the dead.

Think about it.  On Good Friday Jesus is nailed to the cross and he dies.  He breathes his last,  he commits his spirit to god.  He’d already told the thief today you’ll be with me in paradise.   So Jesus breathes his last, commends his spirit to the father, and is with the father in paradise.   But he’s also dead.

His body is taken down from the cross, lifeless, and laid away in a tomb.  We do not celebrate Good Friday independent of Easter Sunday.  We commemorate Good Friday and recognize what was done there.  But what we celebrate is the victory of Jesus Christ over the grave when on Sunday morning he was physically raised to life again.  (Amen and amen)

The promise is that the we who have been baptized into Christ and believed  on Christ shall join Christ in a similar resurrection.  So no matter what we experience in the interim state, where we die and are absent from the body and present with the lord, the great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.    The Bible tells us very little about the interim state, where we die and we are absent from the body and present with the lord.  Paul refers  to those in that state as those who are asleep, but apparently not unconscious.   It’s blissful, it’s peaceful, it’s paradise, it’s with the lord, but it’s not the great promise.  The great promise is the resurrection that Jesus Christ accomplishes when he comes again.

But – we who believe in Christ are to live by faith according to the realities of the age to come.   For when Christ returns and the the dead are raised and Jesus reigns over the nations, things are going to change.  Some things will be abolished and done away with.  Other things will be inaugurated and will continue.  We who live by faith in Christ now are to as much as possible live out those resurrection realities now.

In the words of Eugene Peterson and Wendell Barry, we are to “practice resurrection”.   We are to practice resurrection by trying to imagine and understand, in the age to come, what will be abolished and what will be continued and inaugurated.  If it will be abolished, let’s abolish it now.  If it will continue, let’s continue it now.  If it will be inaugurated, let’s inaugurate it now.

Let’s be a preview of the age to come.  Let’s practice resurrection.

John Lewis

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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

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

A Prophet in His Hometown

prophet in his hometown.jpg

Back into Luke today.  After his baptism and testing in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee.   He begins to preach throughout Galilee, especially around Capernaum.  After a few weeks, he finally returns to his hometown of Nazareth.  On the sabbath day he stands in the synagogue to read.

JesSynagog

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

scripture fulfilled

This is very dramatic.  Luke presents it in a very dramatic way.  News about Jesus had been spreading.  News about Jesus had come to Nazareth well before his homecoming.  Rumor was that he might be the One, the Messiah, the liberating king.  This news was well received in Nazareth.   For the backwoods town of Nazareth to have its own hometown boy actually be the chosen king, how big would that be?

So the hometown boy they’ve heard so much about has finally returned.  As is his custom, he is in the synagogue.  He stands to read, is handed the scroll of Isaiah, and reads the passage about Messiah and the year of the lords favor.  It is a very familiar passage in that synagogue.

Jesus-in-Synagogue

And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth – yes, it’s what you’re thinking.  Yes, I am Messiah.  I am the one.  Jesus gives a thinly veiled acknowledgement that, yes, he is the Messiah.  This was very well received, they were all speaking well of him, there was much excitement in the air.

throw jesus from a cliff

But within an hour, before the day was over, the people of Jesus’ own hometown would try to throw him off a cliff.  These same people in the synagogue, who know Jesus and Jesus knows them, who are speaking so well of him and marveling at the gracious words he is saying, will turn on Jesus and try to throw him off a cliff.  Why the quick change??

spirit of the lord is upon me

There is a hint of why they change tone so quickly in how Jesus reads the passage from Isaiah 61.    The full passage reads “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…” Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV.  Jesus stopped mid sentence.  He didn’t finish the sentence.  Jesus omits the part of about the vengeance of our god.   They didn’t get that, they missed it, but it was a hint at what going to go wrong.

vengeanceof god

What was Jesus saying in not saying something?  He’s saying – I’m going to proclaim the favor of god, but not the vengeance of god.  Notice how Isaiah 61 says it-  the day of vengeance of our God…  The implication is clear.  God is on our side.  He’s going to take vengeance, but not on us. He’s going to take vengeance on those who don’t have our god.  The dominant vision of Messiah was that of a payback messiah. Messiah was to be an agent of God’s payback, God’s smack down, God’s vengeance.

We have in American culture, mainly through cinema, the ingrained concept of hero justice.  Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon, and the rest.  They come riding onto the scene with payback, they turn the tables, they get vengeance, set things straight, and smack down those who need smacking down.  We get excited over this, we will pay good money to see this storyline time and again.  We believe in payback…

judah macabbee

Two hundred years before earlier, about 167 BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Greek Syrians.  They were forcing the Jewish people to become Hellenistic, to adopt Greek culture.  They were being forced to do things like sacrifice pigs, eat pork, etc.  There was at the time a righteous priest named Mattathias from Modi’in who resisted and was executed.   As he was being executed, he cries out You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people.  1 Maccabees 2:67

His son Judah was there, heard the cry of his father for vengeance, and led a revolution.   Judah brought the hammer down on those Greek Syrians, and earned the nickname “Judah the Hammer”, or as he’s known to history, Judah Maccabaeus.   “The  Hammer” brought the hammer, and in so doing became the prototype of Messiah.  This is what messiah would,  could, and should do, be another greater Judah Maccabaeus , and exact the vengeance of our god.
Judah-Maccabee

Judah Maccabaeus was a national hero.  They celebrated holidays in his name.  They felt about him much as we Americans feel about George Washington.

Fast forward again two hundred years.  The gentile Greek Syrians still lived about forty miles north of Nazareth.  The Jews still hated them.  And so these in Jesus’ hometown, how they longed for the day of the vengeance of our god against those Gentiles.

Jesus had grown up with these people, he knew the people in Nazareth. He really knew them.  He knew how they felt.  He knew they were good people, but he also knew how they hated.   He knew the nationalistic vision of their god.  He knew how they hated their enemies, and how they wanted messiah to once again bring the hammer down.

But Jesus was not just Messiah,  but also a  prophet.  He’s a prophet speaking to his own hometown, and that’s hard.

2nd temptation

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 

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Jesus knew they wanted to see miracles, to do tricks, to show them who he was.  But he’s already overcome that  second temptation, the temptation to spectacle.

Jesus didn’t want to do tricks or perform miracles on demand in his hometown.  He does want to speak as a prophet.  But he knows it’s almost impossible to be a prophet to his hometown.  Why?   Because the prophet always challenges us versus them thinking.  So when the hometown hears one of their own challenging the idea that god is on our side, they will turn.  Watch how Jesus speaks to them…

Elijah

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus rehashes and repeats two stories from the Old Testament, one from Elijah and one from Elisha.  These are two miracles by God from two of the most beloved prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Two miracles, not for Jews but for Gentiles.  Even a miracle for the general of Syrian army, the leader of those who had brought great harm upon the Jewish people.

Naaman the Syrian

Specifically, these two Gentiles were from the same people the great national hero Judah Maccabaeus had brought the hammer down upon, the Greek Syrians.   They are waiting for Jesus to do the same.  But in reading his job description this day in the synagogue, Jesus leaves out the vengeance

In their lust for revenge Jesus refuses to cooperate.  Jesus is revealing that God is not vengeful.  We think God is vengeful against people we want to be vengeful against.  But God doesn’t want to take the hammer to or take vengeance upon our enemies, he wants to bless them, he wants to heal them, he wants to show them favor…

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This is like telling crusaders, God is on the side of Muslims too.  Or telling 1950’s Americans that God on side of those Russians too.  Or telling Israeli’s that God on side of Palestinians, too.  Or telling 2018 Americans that God is in the side of all those immigrants, refugees, maybe even on the side of ISIS…

This is very radical, even dangerous.  How dangerous?  All are filled with wrath

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

After this episode, Jesus speaks in parables for the rest of his ministry.  Until, of course, he speaks openly again in the last week of his ministry and gets himself killed.

The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.

Why was Jesus attacked by his hometown?  Because he broke with solidarity of “us versus them”.  Their solidarity was that we are the people who hate those people up north.  We celebrate  holidays of the man who brought the hammer down.   We can’t wait for God to bring the hammer down again.  They believed in a just God, a God who would make all things right.   They believed that part of making things right had to include bringing the hammer down on those Gentiles up north.  They believed in a payback Messiah.  They believed in the vengeance of their God.

And any Messiah not interested in their bringing their vengeance was no Messiah at all.  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

Luke 4:16-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.16-30.esv

John Lewis

Into the Waters

Into the Waters

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“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””  We come this morning to the baptism of Jesus.  You could also say this is the formal anointing of Jesus as Messiah.  The messiah is the anointed one.  The Messiah, in the scriptures, is anointed with oil instead of a crown.  Here, though, Jesus is anointed not with oil but with the Holy Spirit.   He comes out of the waters of baptism, he’s praying, and a dove lands upon him.   God the Father announces from the heavens You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

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Luke is screaming out,  LOOK! LOOK!  We finally have the messiah.  We’ve waited so long, but it’s finally happening.  The king is on the scene, He, Jesus, in the waters being baptized by John, is the true king of Israel.  What follows next is Jesus going out into wilderness to be tested, tempted, and tried before actually launching his ministry and announcing kingdom of God.

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Meantime, let’s think about something here –  John the Baptist is announcing to Israel, you need to repent, change your lives, change your ways, you need to come be baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins!!  The people come, Jesus comes with them and he gets baptized by John.  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance and forgiveness of sins.  So, question is, is Jesus repenting of sin??  Why else would he need to be baptized by John??  He is baptized with a baptism for repentance…is Jesus repenting of sin??

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The answer, i would say, is yes and no.  Jesus is without sin, therefore Jesus can not repent for personal sin.   But here’s the key – Jesus has joined us, he belongs to a sinful people,  he can say, to us and with us,  we need to repent, let me lead the way.   Jesus is God with us, he is Emmanuel.   He is not God separate from us, he is one of us.  He could never say father forgive me of my sin, but can teach us and lead us to pray, with him leading us, saying, Father “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

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This is hard to get for we modern people.  Repenting for sins for which we are not individually responsible for is foreign to us.  But the hyper individualism of the modern era is foreign to biblical thought.  It is a very modern, liberal creation to think like this –  I’m an individual responsible only for myself…it’s as if we believe in the ways of Cain, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?””   To which we say all too often, no, I’m an individual responsible for no one else, just myself.  That’s foreign to the thought of the Bible, and it’s not how Jesus thought.

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Jesus did not stand aloof from us, as a holy individual, saying look at all those sinners are getting baptized, but I am without sin so I will not join them.  Instead Jesus says I belong to a sinful people, a sinful race, I am one if you, I am with you, I will lead the way, together we need to repent.  Even though he wasn’t individually responsible he’s willing to say we together need to come back to God.

baptism

Jesus leads us into the waters of baptism and calls us to follow.  Baptism remains formal introduction into the Jesus Way.  There is no excuse for not being baptized.  Jesus was baptized.  Then he tells us to be baptized. If you’re not baptized, there is only one thing to do.  Go, and be baptized.

Jesus doesn’t come up with some reason not to be baptized.  John tried to stop him.  “John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?””  Matthew 3:14 ESV.   But Jesus says no, we must fulfill all covenant faithfulness, all righteousness, I’m part of this so baptized me as well.  “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”  Matthew 3:15 ESV

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Jesus leads the way and calls us into baptism, he institutes communion, these are both formal religious practices.   Jesus followed a sacred calendar, He gave us a prayer to pray, He founded a church and calls us into it.

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Don’t accept modern liberal idea that Jesus was opposed to formal religious practices.  Noting could be farther from the truth.  Again, Jesus is baptized and calls us to be baptized.  Jesus instituted communion, observed a sacred calendar, Jesus gives us a prayer to pray, he founds a church calls us to be part of it.   We don’t get to make Christianity up.  It’s a received faith.  We can’t have an a la carte Christianity.  I like to sing the songs in worship, say Amen!  But i don’t need to be baptized, really.  It’s cold outside, it might mess my hair up.  And we really don’t need communion, besides, i have places to be and that takes time….

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Ok, you might be able to pull off following Jesus as an individual, but then what are you going to pass to your kinds and grandkids?    What about the generations to come?   If we are interested in passing our faith to the next generation, we need to be interested in the things that make Christianity multi-generational.   Things like churches, communion, calendar, and prayers that are passed on from generation to generation.  This is how the faith gets passed on through generations instead of just a lone, boutique experience.

Christianity is impossible as a solo project.  In the beginning of his ministry, the first thing Jesus did was to be baptized with us, showing us we are all in this together.  We don’t all have to  figure out how to be saved by ourselves.  One way of understanding Salvation might be as a kind of belonging where we, corporately,  belong to the People of God.

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I’ve heard it said that a lone Christian is a paralyzed Christian.  I would say a lone Christian is no Christian.   We are called follow Jesus into the waters of baptism, we are called into church, we are called to worship, we are called to communion, we are called to prayer.   If you’re not following Jesus into these things, then what are you following him into?

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.””

Luke 3:21-22 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.3.21-22.esv

John Lewis

Who???

Who???

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

elijah

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 1:26-38 ESV

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

two pigeons

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

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

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

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

John Lewis

The Waiting

The Waiting

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“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught”

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This past Sunday was the first day of Advent.   Advent is the New Years Day of the church calendar.  The church calendar, a Christ formed calendar brought to you by the same people who gave you the Bible!!  The church calendar is a  creative way of subverting secularism by marking time according to the Christian story.  The Hebrew people have been doing this for millennia, marking time according to the feasts, festivals and holy days according to their story of being delivered out of Egypt, the Exodus.   We have our own story centered in Jesus Christ.  We mark the year telling the story of Jesus Christ.  The church year begins first Sunday of advent, so Happy New Year!!!   We are no longer in “ordinary time”, but a special time.  We are in the season of advent.   Advent means “the coming” or the “appearing”.   So in this season of advent, we are patiently waiting for the birth of Christ, but we are also waiting for his coming again.

luke

Looking today at the gospel of Luke, which begins 15 months before birth of Jesus.  Luke was a physician, which in those days meant he was trained in both medicine and philosophy.   Luke was also a Gentile, which is very significant because he is the only Gentile contributor to the holy canon of scripture.  Every other book in our bible was written by a Hebrew writer, but Luke is one of us, a gentile.   He was an associate and traveling companion of the apostle Paul, and wrote both the gospel which bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.

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The Gospel of Luke was written about AD 70, give or take a couple of years either way.  Luke was very painstaking in his research for his Gospel.  He used the writings of both  Mark, Matthew, and some other sources we don’t know about anymore.

love and the cross metaphor

Luke dedicated both his gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts, to a man named Theophilus, which means “Lover of God” or “God lover”.  He addresses him here as most excellent Theophilusso it’s possible this man was a high Roman official or someone else of some distinction.  But probably Luke here is simply using a literary device.  You could say his Gospel is written to “Mr. Love God”.  Do you love god?  Then This story is for you.

god saves the world

This is the story of how god saves the world.  The story of how god was born as a baby, lived as a man, died as a mortal, and was raised Lord of all.  We tell the story beginning in advent.  The annual re-enactment of  waiting for god to act in history and do what only god can do.  The story begins with a birth.  Not the birth of the savior, but the fore runner.  Not Jesus the Christ but John the Baptist.   We begin with an elderly righteous couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth.

zechariah and elizabeth

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years. 

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It begins during the time of King Herod, Herod the great.  Cruel,  maniacal, megalomaniac, and a genius architect.  Herod was rewarded for faithful service to the Roman Empire, he was also a military genius and had won many great battles on behalf of Caesar.  He was given the official title “King of the Jews”.   Upon receiving this  title, Herod proceed directly to offer his sacrifice at temple of Mars, the great god of War.

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Herod has been king for about 30 years.  He is 70 years old, coming near the end of his life.  Brutal and barbarous, Herod was most definitely not the king the Jews had been looking for.

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There is a great juxtaposition in Luke’s story – we have brutal, powerful king in Herod on one hand, and a pious, elderly, humble, righteous old couple, a priest and his wife living in hill country on the other hand.   They’ve been faithful to god, had wanted children, prayed for children, waited for children, but have reached a ripe old age and alas, no children.  Advent is about waiting.  Waiting for God to do whatever God will do.  We have our own expectations, our own demands, our own timetable for what we want God to do, Amen!  But Advent is about abandoning  that and saying “God, you will do what you will do when you want to do it.  I trust you.”  But do it soon please…

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That’s advent,  that’s Zachariah and Elizabeth   They had prayed, were pious, righteous, a priest and his wife entering old age childless.    It’s a picture of Israel itself.  Israel has been waiting through a long season of disappointment.   They’ve been for 600 years with no real king.  Wasn’t there a promise?  Wasn’t there a promise that there would always be a son of David upon the throne…yet there hasn’t been a king for 600 years.   Now they have this imposter Herod?  Living that that whole time under gentile domination.  Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now Rome.  They’ve been an oppressed people without the promises of God seeming to come to pass.  How long???   They’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting…how long will they have to wait???

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How long have we been waiting for Christ to come again?   I guess we are coming up on 2000 years now, aren’t we?   How long, O Lord, will we have to wait??   How long before you do something Lord?

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How long have you been waiting?   How long have you waited for Christ to do something in your life?   What are you waiting for, what are you praying for?   Advent is the season of waiting.  We patiently (or not) wait for Christmas morning, for that feast and that celebration and the gifts and the joy and the love.  It always seems to come, doesn’t it?

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But we also wait for Christ to come again.  This we are not so patient for.  This, it seems, may never come.  By never, we mean not in our lifetimes.  This is the hardest wait.  There is no date on the calendar (and no, it’s not next Tuesday.  Or whatever the next date the apocalypse “experts” try to tell us).  We want God to come, we expect Him to come…but we want it to be now.  It should be now.   We want to know, we want to see.  Faith is just so hard.

But wait we must.

John Lewis