Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 12, 2009 "Right here, right now!"

Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lent is over, and this is the last of my lenten blog. This is mostly adapted from this mornings sermon.

After seminary, my wife Anne, and my children, Colin and Suzanna, and I moved to Virginia just a few miles from the Manassas / Bull Run battlefield.

A few weeks after settling in we went to visit the battlefield. Suzanna had was not quite 4 years old. In the visitor center, we’d seen an interactive presentation, with sound, and video clips, and loud recordings of rifle and cannon fire.

That night she wouldn’t go to sleep. Finally when I asked her what was the matter she told me she was afraid, because that war we’d visited earlier in the day was scary and very close to her house.

I explained to her that the war was over, and that the fighting we’d seen was a story about something long ago.

In fact there were annual re-enactments of both of the battles at that place, sort of a historical "memorial service."

There is a tendency to think about Easter that way too.

Sometimes we act as though our Easter services are a sort of memorial service. A service to commemorate something that happened a long time ago.

But Easter is much more like something else I saw when we lived in Virginia. Living as close as we did to Washington, D.C. for 6 years, I had many opportunities to go to the city and many opportunities to play tour guide.

If you’ve been, you know it’s a city full of memorials. You can walk past the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial.

And when you go past these memorials you hear snippets of conversations. And there are three kinds of people you hear.

You hear the tourist, for whom the memorial is just that, a memorial.

Then you hear the "second generation" conversations. The memorial holds some meaning because a grandfather, father, son, uncle, brother, mother, sister, grandmother, or other relative was in the war.

But the third group of visitors are the veterans. When they get to the memorial, it is not just a memorial. They are often transported to a very real and still very present reality that shapes their lives to this day. For them, the memorial brings something that happened in the past right into the present.

And that is why Christians celebrate Easter. Not to memorialize something that happened a long time ago.

Easter is more like a party being given for a special guest. And our guest is Jesus. Because what happened on Easter is still happening. The one who rose on Easter is not far away, a long time ago, but here, right now by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love the Narnia books, have very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and have read some of the Twilight series books.

And what I enjoy most about those books is that there is another world, living right beside us in what seems to be our so humdrum world.

Easter means that the Risen Jesus is right here, right now, and we can ask him to enter our lives just as he entered the lives of the disciples that Easter morning.

Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April 11, 2009 "Holy Waiting"

From the office of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer, page 134

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus
Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we
sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound
in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

In Easter Season, add Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10, 2009 "A Good Friday Meditation"

In August of 1973, I was faced with a life changing choice. I’d just been through a couple of life-changing events.

First, I’d left Guatemala in October of 1971. We were evicted due to something my father and other pastors had written and published in the paper. It was a document that said it was wrong for Christians to kill one another for political power, and a call for warring factions to come to a peace process and end a guerilla war. After it hit the press we had three days to leave the country or suffer more serious consequences.

Next, a few months later, I’d become a committed Christian and was leaving behind a world of drug addiction.

Now, I was faced with choosing one of the colleges I’d been accepted to, or going off to live in near an Episcopal Church, that had a huge ministry of a residential Christian Community gathered around Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas. I’d visited this Church earlier in the summer and wondered if God might not want me to move there.

After some soul searching I chose the Christian Community. It undoubtedly saved my life. My addiction to drugs was a strong power, and I needed support and accountability. Moving in to a residential Christian community I got both.

I suspect that I would have had a lot of support to remain addicted to drugs had I chosen any of the college I was contemplating.

It would take too long to explain this community. But briefly, it was Christians who committed to living together. A few single adults might live with a family, or a few single adults or single parents might live together.

But beyond living in the same residence, we committed ourselves to daily prayer, at least one meal a day together, to sharing resources and to working to support the ministry of our local Episcopal Church. It was a life changing experience, and I discovered that Christians really are a new kind of family.

Earlier this Friday I spoke at an ecumenical 7 Last Words service. I was to speak on the seventh word. I could not help but reflect on the reality that God in his mercy creates a family of the church, that includes and redeems our “natural” family.

My family at Church of the Redeemer in Houston continues to be a source of grace and strength even after moving away in 1983. God taught me to love the church, and to allow my heart to grow in my understanding of family.

My meditation from the service this afternoon follows.

John 19:25 ....But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26* When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

This is one of those gut wrenching scenes. Jesus is dying in a public execution. He looks down and sees his mother. We have no description of Mary. We do not know if she was standing there stoically, weeping hysterically, silently mourning.

We know that Jesus is near the end of his life, and seeing her he gasps out those two quick phrases.

Woman, see your son.
Son, see your mother.

Mary is losing her son.
But it is not the first time.

Jesus as a young boy is somehow left behing in Jerusalem. Here is a child missing for three days, with parents frantically searching for him. When they find him his response is this: In Luke 2:49 we read “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

And his response must have stung Mary and Joseph that day. This temple, here is my house.

And as a young man near the beginning of Jesus ministry, Mark tells us that his family comes looking for him.

Mark 3:32 And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." 33* And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

Again, imagine how Mary felt. In public he says, "Look around at all these women sitting here following me. Here is my real mother and my real brothers!" Again ouch!

Jesus is not against family, But he is clearly going to say that his family will never be defined in purely human terms.

And now at the foot of the cross, he is saying, "Here is the nucleus of my new family. Woman behold your son, Son behold your mother."

At this moment what we call the church begins. A new family is created, that shares a new bloodline.

Not a human bloodline.

Here at the foot of the cross, we hear the echo of the words from the first part of this book.

Here we hear the words of that this beloved disciple penned earlier. (John 1:11,12)

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born, not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Look around you today. Behold your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your son, your daughter.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009, "Unsolvable Mysteries"

One of the “unsolvable mysteries” of the Gospels is the mystery of exactly when and how Passover was celebrated in first century Jerusalem. Was the last supper a Passover meal? Was it a pre-passover meal? Did people from out of town celebrate Passover a day before the residents of Jerusalem to accommodate the huge crowds that gathered?

In the three synoptic Gospel’s the last supper on Thursday seems to be the Passover meal. But in John’s gospel, the lambs being sacrificed for the Passover meal are being killed in the temple prior to the evening feast on Friday, at the same time that Jesus, the Lamb of God is being killed on the cross.

And the oldest mention of the last supper is extremely brief and raises some very interesting questions too.

1st Corinthians 11: 23 "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

Paul’s description of the Lord’s supper is written no more than 30 to 35 years following the event described. Paul claimed to have seen Jesus in his conversion vision, (see Acts 9:1ff). Here he seems to be claiming another direct revelation from Christ: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…”

It’s possible that he received it from the other Apostles and is passing it on and simply relaying that he believed their witness that it came from the Lord. But he seems to say that Jesus himself told him about the Last Supper.

These questions help us realize that we are dealing with very old documents. We see that we still have a limited grasp of first century history, and the customs of the second temple period. We don’t know as much as we would like about Paul.

I love the technical questions, and they are important. But beyond them is something even more important. The Gospel differences and seeming inconsistencies tells us that these accounts were not just a dry historical record. Each of the evangelists is taking what happened but emphasizing certain events, and things Jesus said to make a theological case.

In the three synoptics and 1st Corinthians we see Jesus who takes bread and wine, and calls it his body and blood. In John’s gospel Jesus actual body and blood are poured out on the cross as the Passover.

We have Luke who seems to say the Jesus did not drink the fourth cup, the last cup of the Passover, and John who portrays Jesus as drinking sour wine from a sponge moments before he proclaims “It is finished.”, perhaps implying that Jesus was drinking the final Passover cup as he transforms it forever.

All four gospels, and Paul’s account in 1st Corinthians, tell us in no uncertain terms that a New Covenant has begun.

For those of us who are not Jewish the word covenant may not carry any great weight.

For first century Jews it was a slap in the face, a punch to the solar plexus, a statement of unbelievable audacity or outright heresy. It was a statement that deserved a death sentence. Jesus is saying that he is God, and that as God he is now making another agreement in the line of covenants he has made with his people. Wow!!

In the middle of the supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus gets up, goes to get water, strips down, and washes the disciples feet.

When I juxtapose Jesus claim of divinity, and his act of absolute servanthood, I am unable to say anything but “Thank you for your love.”

When I hear his words from John 13:34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." I say, “Lord, save me, help me, give me grace.”

May this night be for us a night where the technical mysteries, and the much greater mystery of the God of the universe showing his unending love for the world, bring us back to his table to receive all that he has for us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8, 2009 "It's a draw"

John 12: 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

So much about Christianity is offensive. Start with the claims of Jesus divinity. Nowadays, it has become popular to assume that Jesus never claimed divinity. Many say the “divine” and “miracle” part of the Gospel was added by the disciples after Jesus death.

The argument goes that the early Christians took a radical rabbi’s teaching and added elements of divinity and miracles to gain approval for their dearly departed leader.

I meet with a rabbi and a Baptist minister for lunch pretty regularly. And the rabbi is happy to confirm that idea that a human might be divine is a pretty strongly repudiated idea in Judaism.

And the idea that a bunch of first century Jewish fishermen would try to promote a their rabbi by adding divinity to his claims just seems ridiculous. If anything, those guys would have taken any of those claims out!

Of course there are other possibilities. The whole story could be made up. There may have never been a Jesus.

There is the possibility that Jesus was a more “new age” figure along the lines of the Gospel of Thomas, Peter, Judas, etc. But a great deal of evidence suggests that most if not all of those works were written even later than the four canonical gospels.

There is the possibility I started with: that Jesus was a first century radical religious teacher, but that all the other ideas, divinity, miracles, resurrection were later accretions.

Then of course there is an even more challenging and disturbing possibility: that the Gospels are faithful records of Jesus teaching, action, and miracles.

In which case as C.S. Lewis pointed out, Jesus is a) Who he claims to be, the Son of God, b) A deluded lunatic, or c) A misleading charlatan.

This week while walking on the treadmill in the gym, the Discovery Channel was running a show purporting to show the real Jesus.

Of course he was not the divine savior, but just a radical reformer. Yet most of their information was simply selectively taken from the Gospels, doing what Thomas Jefferson did a few hundred years earlier. Take out the miracles and all that talk about being the Son of God.

But, while I acknowledge that the other ideas might be true, I remain convinced that Jesus is who the Gospels say he claims to be. I don’t always like that answer because it commands an allegiance that I often do not want to give. But after lots of thought and examination I cannot bring myself to any other conclusions.

A few days ago, a friend sent me a quote from a novel during a Facebook discussion. She wrote: “There is a sentence in one of my all-time favorite books, "The Shack": Mack, the main character, after talking about people of different faiths, etc., is asking Jesus, "Does that mean that all roads lead to you? 'Not at all', smiled Jesus...'Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.' (p. 182).

John 12: 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

No one but Jesus seems to be able to meet my innermost desires. May we all be drawn to him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April 6, 2009 "Following in the faith"

Phiippians 3:16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

The old picture is my great grandfather, the Rev. Louis E. Ripley. He was a Methodist Minister, who served in Iowa in from about 1900 to 1943 when he passed away.

I've got a few of his old sermons. They are not bad. I also have his old Hymnal and Service book. It's kind of fun to look at his notes, and sometimes I am deeply moved to hold a book that has passed down several generations.

When I look at the religious history in my family, I have a family tree that has been Christian for a long time, was Roman Catholic, became Protestant and Puritan, with folks who attended and served Congregationalist and Presbyterian Churches, then some became Methodist.

Then my grandmother on my mother's side, (Mr. Ripley's daughter), became a Roman Catholic when she married, and an Episcopalian after she divorced!

On my father's side they seem to have been Episcopalian for a good while, and we're not sure exactly how far back.

But regardless of denomination, all of them were Christians. When my great-grandfather passed away, his wife continued to serve as a lay preacher in the congregations they were serving.

These ancestors on both sides were hardy people. They crossed the continent, (and like their contemporaries probably stealing land from the Native people), and founded what is now this country. They were flawed, and probably shared many of the prejudices and societal sins of their day.

Yet I do not judge them. From a distance I am grateful to them for persevering in the faith. I don't doubt that many of them had serious sins, problems, doubts, trials, and crisis's of faith. But they persevered and tried to pass the gospel message down to their children.

Yesterday I mused about what it means to be the church in the 21st century. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that one part means to continue to pass on what we have received. And another part is to see the church as much larger than any one denomination or "brand". And a third is to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit for wisdom to be faithful in our own day and time.

As we move through this Holy Week, may we seek charity with all those who share our faith, and seek to love those who do not with the love of the one who commands love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April 6, 2009 "Meta-Narrative"

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Church. What precipitated it have been comments like, “Well, your busy week is coming up.”, “Are you ready for Holy Week?” and other similar comments.

What struck me was the difference between my perception from the “inside” of the parish office preparation for Holy Week, and the outside.

Yes, Holy Week is busy, but it is much harder on the parish secretary and the parish custodian than the parish priest! I get everything ready, but Connie, our faithful secretary, and Fina, our faithful custodian have lots to do.

The busier times for me are times when the unexpected, a death, a serious pastoral situation, or other crisis interrupt in the middle of our normal preparations. That is when I have a busy week.

But in thinking about that I returned to something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal for the last ten years.

What does it mean to “be” the church in the 21st century? I’m not alone in thinking about this. For 1500 years, the Western world was defined by Christendom. To be European was to be Christian.

But for the last 200 years, that understanding has been undergoing a great change. The best articulation of some the issues surrounding how to be church continues to be Reinhold Neihbur’s “Christ and Culture.”

Neihbur observed that throughout history the church or at least parts of the Church tend to try different approaches to dealing with the society in which it finds itself.

There is the radical, Christ against Culture model, where the Church is seen as a haven of safety against the world.

Then the Christ of Culture model, where the Church engages in kingdom work and recognizes Jesus in the world.

There is the Christ above Culture model, where the Church sees that some of what is in the culture is God given and can be accepted as good, but where other things in the culture are fallen and must be transformed or rejected.

There is the Christ and Culture in Paradox model, where the Church recognizes that in a fallen world, we cannot hope to reconcile cultural demands and the radical ethical demands of the New Testament and so we live in faith and hope with our present imperfections.

Finally he postulated the Christ transforming Culture model, where the Church through conversion converts the members and institutions of society.

Why bother restating this?

Because we now live in a world of where the very thing we call culture is increasingly fragmented and constantly scrutinized and redefined, sometimes by members of a culture and sometimes from without. We live in a time where some sub-cultures are media driven or commerce driven.

We live in a time when there is competition between and suspicion of what some have called “Meta-narratives.” A simplified definition of a Meta-narrative is a worldview that explains nature, humanity, and culture in a relatively coherent whole.

But in a world where people see the differences and sometimes oversimplifications of the Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Communist, etc., etc. meta-narratives, some have become increasingly suspicious that there could be such a thing. (Of course skepticism in meta-narrative might be it's own meta-narrative!)

Now, I do believe in the broad Christian meta-narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and final Consumation. I think that it makes the best sense out of the universe in which we find ourselves and I believe it is true.

But it still leaves the question. How do we "be" or "become" church in a world of increasing competition between and distrust of meta-narratives?

How does the church engage culture in a time where you have to ask “which culture” sometimes within the same neighborhood, or even within the same church?

And perhaps more importantly, why ask the question?

I believe that God is the author of the great meta-narrative. That each person, whether they lived a few hours, or more than 100 years, is part of that great opus. And I believe that each person is not just a passive participant. It is as though an artist painted a painting where the elements in the painting took on life and the painting changed on it’s own, or a film maker made a movie where the characters took on their own life apart from the film.

And so, it is important to ask, how can we participate in this great work of God, not passively, or antagonistically, but faithfully.

Peace and blessed holy week.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009 "Domingo de Ramos"

Domingo de Ramos

It was life in Guatemala that brought the passion to life for me. I was a young teenager, living in a country where guerilla warfare kept the country on edge. Bombs would go off on buses, or in a marketplace. There were drive by assasinations, bodies that were tortured dropped by the roadside, or in front of the family home.

Holy week was full of street processions, where the Roman Catholic churches would bring forth their most gruesome statues of the passion, or sometimes hand carried floats with people portraying the stations of the cross.

These floats would parade throught the streets. In some cities families or neighborhoods would craft elaborate carpets in the streets formed of flowers and leaves. They were works of art, beautiful, yet ephemeral, soon to be trampled by the tread of marchers carrying the crucified Christ.

It was one such Holy Week, when during a procession there was a large armed presence of soldiers, each carrying a rifle or a submachine gun. At one intersection, a young man stood in the back of a jeep with his hands on a 50 caliber machine gun, with one belt loaded, and 3 ammo boxes open ready to load.

It was then that the impact of the original crucifixion hit me. Suddenly I could see the Roman army, surrounded by a hostile crowd. Some of the crowd wanted them to kill Jesus, but they were no friends of Romans. I could sense the tension in the air, the confusion.

And I could see Jesus, dragged down the street, the Lord of Glory. This was just how the world has always worked. One more troublemaker tortured, put on display as a warning to anyone who might pose a threat to Rome. All glory extinguished. Horror and beauty are slammed into one another in a groteque cosmic conflict.

I watched the soldiers and the marchers, stunned that after 2000 years we were still at it. Still torturing, still killing, still intimidating.

A few years later, after my family was thrown out of Guatemala, I found myself working with Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees. It was then that I realized that the powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and my own sinful desires and rebellion against God are no match for the power of the cross.

Every act of hate meets its match when confronted with matchless love.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 4, 2009 "Easter's coming!"

It was one of those warm days that happen sometimes in spring in Denver. The sky was a robin egg blue, and the breeze felt warm and fresh. The snow of two weeks earlier was gone.

I worked for the St. Francis Center, a ministry to homeless people. In the mid-morning, “Danny” came in, and said to me “I think there’s a dead guy in an old building down the block. I was picking up cans in the alley to sell, and I saw what looked like a guy sitting on an old couch, but he didn’t move when I yelled and then I saw some flies.”

By the time I arrived at the old, abandoned house, and opened the door, the warm spring day gave clear evidence that indeed someone had died, and it had been a few days back. Even if I had not seen the body I would have been quite sure. Death stinks.

Over the last several days readings, John’s Gospel tells the story of Lazarus of Bethany, a man whom Jesus knew well, and part of a family he loved. His two sisters tried to get him to come heal Lazarus who was quite sick. But Jesus doesn’t arrive until four days after Lazarus burial in an above ground cave or rock tomb.

When he arrives he tells the people with him to remove the stone. Martha, the sister, ever practical says “You might not want to do that, it stinks out here and he’s been dead for four days.”

Dying can be a relief, sometimes full of peace, even when the circumstances around the death are hard. But here in the gospel we are confronted with the blunt fact. Even in a “good death”, death stinks. Death stinks, literally and figuratively.

Death stinks. There is something wrong with living breathing creatures having the life taken out of them. And here is Jesus standing in that stink.

He gently reminds Martha. “Didn’t I just tell you that if you believe you would see the glory of God?”

And so they roll back the stone. Surely the odor increased. But Jesus stands there and prays. And then dramatically, perhaps ordering death to be undone, yells: “Lazarus come out!!”

In a scene made for Hollywood, the (formerly) dead man comes out, still wrapped in burial cloth. The accusations of the previous verses, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” are suddenly meaningless. Jesus who called Lazarus back to life, could have prevented him from dying whether he was near Bethany or not.

Some new change is happening. Some new order is coming into being. Death’s stink is reversed. Decomposition is recomposed! The impossible is happening.

If we follow John’ account of the next few weeks, another will die. But this one, when he comes out of the tomb, will be a the new man, not just the old man renewed.
And now let me finish the story.

It took a few days, but once the medical examiners did their work, we discovered who the fellow in the old house was. Bill Webb had been a regular among the many Denver “wino’s” in the downtown area. No family came to claim him, and he had no close friends. We knew him from his many visits to St. Francis for coffee or a shower.

After the legally required few days, we at St. Francis petitioned the city to allow us to have Bill’s body and give him a burial. We put fliers out at all the other shelters, and put the word on the street that there would be a funeral for Bill Webb.

And we ordered a brass plaque to place on our wall in the worship space so that somewhere, Bill’s name would be remembered.

The afternoon of the funeral St. Francis center was standing room only. Except for a few policemen who’d known him for years from the drunk tank, and we shelter workers, it was a great crowd of his fellow homeless.

We sang Easter hymns, and said the burial office. We celebrated Holy Communion. And we remembered that we are the people who know the Risen Lord. We are those who proclaim: Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2009

April 3, 2009, "Long term planning"

Long term planning

In October of 2006, the last Rabbi left Iraq. It was a sad day. There had been a Jewish population in that part of the world since at least 605 B.C., (or B.C.E. if you prefer!), when Nebuchadnezzer first invaded Judah, and took captives back to Babylon. That is a span of more than 2,500 years!

In today’s lesson, Jeremiah writes a letter. The Kingdom of Judah has been taken over by the Babylonians. Huge numbers of citizens have been sent as slaves or indentured servants. And apparently some were predicting that this migration would be a short-term event.

But Jeremiah writes on behalf of God and says, “don’t believe these people who says this will be a short term event. Build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, and plan for the long haul. Be good citizens of the city where I have sent you.”

Obviously Jeremiah’s interpretation of what God was saying was right. It was a long haul. We know from the book of Daniel, that 70 years passed before the Jews living in that part of the world were given freedom to travel and some returned to Judah.

Amazingly, God seemed to say that good would come of this tragic and painful exile. Jeremiah continues speaking for God and in these verses which are a favorite of many, including me he writes: “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”

Yet it was the Babylonian captivity where the seeds of scholarship developed, where the what became synagogue worship was instituted, and where the seeds of belief in the resurrection began to take root.

The world that shaped Jesus and his disciples, the synagogue, the reading, studying, and interpreting of the scriptures began in Babylon. God knew that this would all precede Jesus coming, and was essential to the spread of the Gospel.

God knew that the Jewish presence in that part of the world would last far beyond what the Jews of Jeremiah’s day could imagine. And because they obeyed, they remained a vital part of that part of the world through many changes and upheavals.

That longevity gives me great confidence in the end of today’s passage from Jeremiah. God’s words about his people proved to be true. How much more must his words about his own character be trustworthy?

12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”

The God who told Jeremiah the truth about the captivity speaks truth about his desire to be found by, and known by us. “Call on me, pray to me. I will hear you. Search for me, you will find me if you put your whole heart into it.”

If that sounds familiar it may be because Jesus says this: Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8* For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The God who loves his creatures, longs to be prayed to, to be sought, and to be found. Amen.

P.S. – And though it is terribly sad that the Jewish people are almost all gone from Iraq, due to persecution, I am confident that in God’s everlasting plans and economy some great good will someday come of this sad tragedy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2, 2009 "Debate Team"

Debate team

Jesus is the kind of guy you want on your debate team. He’s very quick on his feet. We don’t know if he mastered Aristotle’s rhetoric, but he certainly understood how to use it. Of course he was Jewish, and lived in culture that valued education, study, argument, and thinking.

In the lesson today from John’s Gospel we see that while Jesus was persuasive to many he was not persuasive to all.

And of course what he has to say is outrageous.

First, when asked if he is the Messiah, he essentially says yes. And then he goes on to say that he is not just the Messiah, but that he and God are one and the same.
It is an in your face kind of claim. I am God. It sounds presumptous because it is.

Of course if the Gospels are trustworthy he backed up that extraordinary claim by miraculous signs. We get a hint of that in the opening verses of today’s reading.

John 10:19 Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?" 21 Others were saying, "These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"

“Listen, this guy healed the guy who was blind for years, there is no way he is possessed.”

Two things strike me about today’s reading. First, if Jesus is God, he shows the limitations that God places on God’s self when it comes to persuading people that he is who he says he is.

Jesus uses reasoning, cleverness, word play, and even miracles to try to convince people of who he is and what he has to say. Yet, while he debates and says clearly what he believes, he doesn’t use his divine power to force people to believe.

Two, it shows the amazing respect that God has for his creatures. People are never coerced or forced into belief.

Years ago someone told me, “ I’ve read the New Testament and I’m not persuaded that Jesus was God or that any of the miraculous events in it really took place.”

“Good for you” I replied. “I know lots of Christians who have never read the New Testment. It’s awesome that you made the effort. Can I ask you one question?”

“Sure” he said.

I asked, “ Are you not persuaded because you are sure it’s not true, or are you not persuaded because if it is true, you know you would have to change your life.”

“Ouch!” he said, “I have to confess that it is because I don’t really want to change.”

“Can I ask one more question?” I said.

“Maybe” he said tentively.

“OK, here it is. Would you be willing to let me pray for Jesus to persuade you, even if you don’t believe he exists, and are hoping he doesn’t?”

“That would be Ok”

About two years later that man let me know that he had done a 180 degree turn around and become a Christian.

I don’t fully understand how free will, and God’s power to convert us work. But I do know that if God respects his creatures enough to give them free will, he expects those who follow him to do the same.

God make me a witness to Jesus. Help me to be persuasive, but never demeaning or demanding. Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1, 2009 "Inside and Outside"

Inside and Outside

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer pg.100)

Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, is highly critical of religious belief in God. He sees it, (often rightly I'm afraid), as the source of many of our current problems. He argues that there might at one time have been an evolutionary, genetic advantage to a belief in a transcendent being, even though no such being exists. But he says that now that we know better, we should discard this belief that no longer is helpful. Rather faith in God is a delusion.

Of course the truth is that faith is part of any human life. Faith in God, or faith in no God are simply two faiths. Both often use the same evidence to support their claims.

Those who hold the no-God faith look at the scope, magnificence, complexity, and seeming indifference of the universe and say, it is obvious that there is no transcendent being that created this.

Those who hold to the God faith look at the scope, magnificence, complexity, and seeming indifference of the universe and say, it is obvious that there is a transcendent being that created this.

I often find people arguing with atheists saying things like “There must be a God, the Bible says so.”

Of course the problem is that to believe that anything in the Bible is true, you must be on the “inside” of faith. For many of us, a belief in God must precede a belief that God actually spoke through the complex and messy books that make up the Bible.

Those who try to speak to those on the “outside” of faith, using the Bible to support their claims are wasting their breath. Those “outside” do not see the Bible as having any special authority or relevance. To them, faith in what the Bible says seems just as irrational as faith in God.

I never worry about those who do not believe. If there is a transcendent, all knowing, all powerful, God who created the Universe, then he is quite capable of reaching those who do not believe in him.

I know, because I was one of them. In today’s lesson from Romans Paul declares that: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, God is able to let people hear his voice. It may be that they will hear by the words of a preacher, or reading the words of the Bible. It can happen in numerous ways. When it does, then the scripture will come alive with the power and presence of God.

I said I do not worry about those who do not believe. I do not worry, but I do pray. Like Paul who is desperate that his Jewish family comes to know Jesus, I am desperate for many to be touched by Christ. I want them to know what a great gift awaits them when Jesus becomes the object of their faith. And I will preach as persuasively as I know how.

But in the end I trust all those who believe and those who do not to the great shepherd. (Jesus said) John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."