Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hope for Babel Genesis 11 and Acts 2

There's a story in the Bible about Babel that's just a few paragraphs long. Modern day folks would call Babel an industrious city. They had a goal, to make their city great. They wanted to claim a name and a place for themselves in all the world. And at first I wondered, What could God have against this city?.

At first glance their goal of greatness and the unity they needed to work together doesn't seem all that bad. Many people aspire, just like the people of Babel, to prestige. The city kept growing with a common purpose and language holding them together. They decided to build a tower to reach up to heaven. Their tower would put them on par with God. Scripture says God watched and decided to bring confusion. A people united with one language and one goal splintered as new languages just appeared.

A whole civilization oriented to it's own greatness came to a stop as God confused the people by bringing in new languages. Many people think the goal of human life is to make a name for yourself. Others think the goal is to be united for common purpose--but it's completely possible to be united for the wrong reason. Babel's quest for greatness was not innocuous. And God stepped in to stop Babel.

Other groups in history found strength in the wrong kind of unity. Germans in the late 1930's were unifying. Slogans spoke to the uniformity the Nazi's aspired to force on others. They aspired to be an empire. Their slogans spoke of uniformity and unity, but to what end?
ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer
one People, one Nation/empire, one Leader
Historic propoganda teaches us that Germany had united. But hind sight clearly teaches that the nation had united for the wrong reason; if we are honest they were united in a quest of greatness at the price both of their national soul and the dignity of other human beings who they relegated to a lesser status. So unity clearly itself isn't always good.

There's another story in the Bible that seems to go in the exact opposite direction of Babel's confusion. It's often called Pentecost. It happened at a festival in Jerusalem. Jesus first followers had gathered together. As the Jesus people gather they mixed in with people from all over the world. Luke, the writer of Acts, names all kinds people from a variety of places, languages, and ethnicities who had gathered together. In one moment they all understood one man, a fisherman from Galilee. They all heard him speaking and they each understood him in their own language. It was the reverse of what happened at Babel. Where confusion had reigned now there was understanding.

The promise of Pentecost is that God is up to something new in our divided world. God is bringing new life and new hope sending God's very real Spirit into our hearts and lives. May we hear the wind of the Spirit blowing in our lives. May the fire of God's love burn in us. May we be part of the kingdom of God breaking in and hope returning to all the world.
AMEN.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spirit and Peace John 14:23-29

Jesus said a lot the night before he died. What he said has given hope and purpose to his followers ever after. In one evening he called his friends to find greatness in serving. A few moments later Jesus promised to be with his people in the bread and wine of communion. As the evening went on Jesus said he would give his followers a kind of peace that this world can't give. Jesus was naming the deep needs of every human soul—acceptance and companionship—and he promised his friends that they would not be alone. He was promising God's ongoing presence-no matter what. He said that God would be there through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that he goes with his people even though they can't see him face to face or hear his voice like they did at supper that night.


Sometimes it feels like we can get lost in this world. At home we started the week worried about stuff, packing, transporting, unpacking, rearranging. I do feel just a little lost right now. And when I got back into the office, all I can say is wow. There were phone calls for help, concerns about the church, and one of my old roommates from 25 years ago sent a message. His beloved has had heart issues since childhood, and now she's been shifted to hospice care. He's 46 and loosing the woman he wanted to grow old with.

We've had calls at church this week from families in crisis and people dealing with grief and loss. There's so much that people are dealing with and it makes my worries about stuff and where to put it seem really pretty trivial. And it reminds me again of the truth that deep down we are all fragile and deep down we all need God's presence every day.

Walking with Jesus doesn't end our fragility—but he promises to go with us in our weakness. Yes you are fragile, yes you can have struggles in this world with people, and money, and time. Yes you are mortal and your body will not last for ever. And Jesus says he will give you a kind of peace that this world can never give. Jesus promises God's loving presence as the Holy Spirit to go with you through your trials and fears. God doesn't cause the trials or the struggles—but the God of love promises to be with you right in the middle of it all.

Down deep every person needs relationships and Jesus is promising to be in relationship with us even when we can't see him. Jesus spoke to the deep needs that his people had the night before he died. Jesus knew his friends would be plunded into deep grief and loss. And his words still speak today of the hope that every person needs still today.

We aren't meant to be here alone. And Jesus talked, that night after supper, about going away. He talked about the days to come when he wouldn't be seen anymore like they saw him that night. He said that he wouldn't speak with his friends like he was speaking with them that night. Jesus' followers know well what he meant. Believers don't see him face to face over supper. But in faith Jesus' followers somehow know that Jesus is still here present and active. The life of faith is all about living in Jesus' promise. He made it clear that while his friends wouldn't see him they wouldn't be alone either. That night he pledged them that the Spirit would come and that they would find a peace this world can never give.

May the peace of Christ and the hope of the Spirit go with you wherever you go.
Peace and thanks for reading, John

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What is it good for? Luke 24:1-12

There's a line from a song and if I say it just right some people know exactly what words come next.

What is it good for...
I heard that old song by Edwin Starr called War. He asked out loud,
“War. What is it good for?”
And his response was simple—
absolutely nothin'.
He asked the question again.
War—what is it good for?
And then I started to wonder what people in our world today think about Easter, and I asked that same question about Easter, what is it good for? And the best answer I could find is absolutely everything. Easter is good news if you don't have it all together today. Easter is good news if you have troubles today. See the real story of Easter starts not the world being bright and perfect—no the real story of Easter starts with disappointment and despair. In a world where nothing is right that's when Easter matters.

Luke writes about women who got up early to go grieve at the grave of their beloved Jesus. He was the one who taught them all about the transforming love of God. When they were with him everything made sense—the world was about to turn for the better. And in half a day he was gone. And that morning they were going to go and cry. But God had other plans for them and for all the world. They were about to learn that for God even the grave is not end.

When they got to the tomb the situation was far from what they had expected.
The stone that blocked the tomb had been rolled away. They stepped in and didn't find the body. In their confusion two men dressed in white just showed up and they stood next to them. The women looked down at the ground in terror.
And the men spoke.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here, but has risen
I love that question that the angels asked as they looked at these women whose heads and hearts were so full of sorrow and confusion.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?.”
There are times when every person I know could be asked this very same question. Why are you looking for life in places of death? And the promise of Easter is that Jesus has risen--and after all our functional saviors have failed to give us peace and joy--that's when the Good News of Easter matters most. After all our attempts to save ourselves have failed we hear this news--in God death doesn't win, despair, sin, shame, evil--it all stops with Easter. And that's when the new life begins.

peace and thanks for reading,
John

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

doing onto others Luke 6

Jesus spoke out loud about the dark-places that people don't usually talk about in polite conversation. He had the audacity to tell his followers not only how to interact with people who were easy to like. He told his follower how to deal with their enemies. Jesus said,

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27-28 (NRSV)
Jesus didn't say his followers were to hurt their enemies he said love them.
Jesus didn't say hate those who hate. He said do good to them.
Jesus didn't say to pray for hell fire and brimstone to come down on those who curse and abuse. He said to bless them and pray for them.

Now hang on—some people will say, Jesus just meant that for people's private relationships. Some people will say that this kind of advice is only about family, friends, or other members of the church. But Jesus didn't include any such limits in his preaching. Jesus didn't mince words because he understands how deep the need for healing goes into the space of every human soul. He didn't mince words because he understood how human connections can be broken and relationships can be shattered.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Luke 6:29-20 NRSV
I have a hard time understanding these words. It's clear that Jesus is naming the complexity of human relationships out loud. But now he was boldly challenging his followers to give up their rights, their possessions even their own bodies. It's one thing to say that Jesus boldly stepped into the mess of human relationships by telling his friends to love their enemies and to do good for those who hate them.
But this one verse keeps troubling me.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also... Luke 6:29 NRSV
What if this was act of turning the other cheek was an act of defiance or resistance to power as some commentators have suggested. Its been argued that Jesus was speaking here in terms that his audience would have clearly understood. They knew what it meant to live with the violence of Roman oppression and the humiliation they had endured at the hands of such a powerful empire. To turn the other cheek meant to stand with dignity and look in eyes of the person who struck you.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NRSV
Here's the most basic part of Jesus' ethics. He's telling his followers the standard for how they live and work in the world. Treat others the same as you would be treated. Show honor to the person and the dignity of other. In a few words Jesus is flipping everything over and inviting his followers to start with themselves if they want to live in a different world.

Peace and thanks for reading, John

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Unwelcome Good News Luke 4:14-30

Not every prophet is welcomed—especially when they have to speak to the people who assume they know the prophet already. When Jesus went home—to Nazareth he met rage and the deepest hurt of the people.

Luke tells the story of his moment in Nazareth, his hometown up in the hills. He was maybe a days walk west of Lake Galilee. He went into the synagogue, just like he did every week. Luke says it was his custom. It was a religious act—a ritual that meant something to him and others in his generation in Nazareth. Jesus stood up and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. These words from an ancient prophet proclaimed hope and the coming of God's anointing Spirit. Isaiah promised good news – good news for the poor, release for the captives and sight returning for the blind.

Jesus rolled up the scroll. He handed it back to the person who served as leader in the synagogue. And what he had to say next spoke to the people's deepest hopes and expectations.

σήμερον πεπλήρωται ἡ γραφὴ αὕτη ἐν τοι̂ς ὠσὶν ὑμω̂ν
at this hour these word are fulfilled in your hearing
Luke 4:21
Imagine the smiles and the looks of satisfaction in the eyes of the hometown crowd as Jesus spoke. He was reading some to the sweetest words of a beloved old book. What he read it was like a healing balm for hurting souls. God knows we need to hear these words of hope.

The people had heard about miracles in other cities. And in that moment they waited wondering what Jesus could do in their town. He spoke directly to their expectation. And his words had bite,
λέγω ὑμι̂ν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῃ̂ πατρίδι αὐτο
I say to you that no prophets is acceptable in their parents land/town
Luke 4:24
Quickly he was naming miracles that came for foreigners and even the enemies of his people.

He spoke of help coming for a foreign woman and child while the people of Israel suffered The people knew the story. Elijah, a great man of God, came to this widow in Zarapheth and her to share food with him. She was planning to cook a last meal for her and her son. But the prophet convinced her—a foreigner—to help him. She took her last meal and last oil and cooked him a little cake. And her jug of oil and jar of meal never ran out. It was a miracle but a huge question was left—why would God help her and her son when the people of Israel knew suffering (1 Kings 17).

Now Jesus spoke of even more troublesome miracle. Naaman—the general of the neighboring super power Syria came looking for help and Elisha healed him. Sure there were others in Israel with skin diseases—but God's servant Elisha was the one who gave Naaman directions how he could healed (2 Kings 5).

Jesus named the truth: God had done great things for people beyond one nation. His words pushed his own hometown crowd too far. The truth of his words brought out deep seated anger And the enraged crowd pushed him to the edge of town. They were ready to push him of the brow of hill—and Jesus slipped through the crowd.

Preaching the Good News often means speaking of God's love that is greater than human love. Some will not want to hear that their is good news for all the worlds hurting. Some don't understand the breadth and depth of God's love. Some think God is like them because they are so limited by the sin of racism, classicism, anti-semitism, and all other kinds of hate and ism. To be like Jesus means boldly prolcaiming good news. Preaching the power of God means announcing hope not just for those I like or love—but for all the hurting of the world.

May we have courage to speak so boldly to the world,
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, January 14, 2019

saving the best John 2:1-11

Jesus first followers knew first hand what it was like to just be with Jesus. They walked with him and ate with him. They heard him teach with power and authority. But there was a first time they saw his power and believed.

John's gospel tells the story about the first sign--the first miracle that made it so clear that God is up to something, something good, in Jesus.

Jesus mother was attending a wedding. Jesus and his first followers were there too. As the day went on the wine ran out. Mary, Jesus mother, told him the news. His response seems terse.

τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μοu.
What it that to me and you, woman; it is not my time/hour
Mary seemed to know what he could do, even if Jesus said his time/hour had not already come. There's something about their relationship that we start to see here. Mary had faith in her son. Even if Jesus said it was none of his business or hers Mary believed that Jesus could change this situation.

God is God with or without our faith. But Mary's insistance, that Jesus is able, tells us that she had a sense of the possible not just when the time has come. Jesus, Mary believed, could act in that moment. She turned to one of the servants saying,
ὅ τι ἂν λέγῃ ὑμι̂ν ποιήσατε.
Whatever he says to you do it.
His directions were simple, fill up the big jugs, the ones used for washing water. These 6 pottery crocks held 20 or 30 gallons each. The servant filled them and Jesus told them to draw some water out and bring it to the chief servant. When he tasted it he was surprised.
πα̂ς ἄνθρωπος πρω̂τον τὸν καλὸν οἰ̂νον τίθησιν καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθω̂σιν τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἰ̂νον ἕως ἄρτι.
Every one, first sets out the good wine, and when they have drunk a few, then the inferior; you kept the good wine till now.
The crocks held 120-180 gallons of water. That would be well more than 600 or even 800 bottles of wine. It was a sign--but Jesus wasn't announcing his presence with words. His actions revealed the truth. And his disciples believed in him that day.

May we be filled with faith and hope too.
May we like Mary believe in Jesus ability to move. AMEN
Peace, and thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

God's Christmas Gift Luke 2

I'm thinking about Christmas as much as I can (as a human being) from Jesus' point of view. As a child we set up a manger every year. My Dad kept adding a new figurine to the setting every few years when he found one at an after Christmas sale during his lunch hour. We unpacked and set up the manger under the Christmas tree every year. The little statue of Jesus was left out until Christmas Eve. The heart of the story was there--and we waited every year to put the little figurine into the hay.

This year as I come towards Christmas it's more clear than ever before that real gift isn't under the tree--the real gift is Jesus.


I don't know that I have words to explain what that means to say that Jesus is the real gift. I just trust, more and more as the years go by, that Jesus is the Good News. Jesus, at least for me, is the only reason that Christmas matters. A few cruddy Christmas times have convinced me all the more that Jesus matters these days above all. It's clear that the Good News is that Jesus didn't just come to Bethlehem. It's good news to know his teaching and miracles--but that's not all. It's good news to know of his suffering, death, and resurrection. But that's not all. For me the hope is know that Jesus is at work in the world today just like he was from the first moments of creation. Some days Jesus is a promise--and other days Jesus is a hope--but Christmas reminds me again this year that he's already here. Whether our days take us to work or to the bedside of a dying loved one the promise is still real--Jesus is here with us and for us. He's the Good News.

Over the years I've tried to find ideas and words to describe my faith. But the more I try the more clear it gets that all I have is Jesus. I've found something very helpful in a presentation given by an old teacher of mine. He said that the Gospel is not an idea--he offered apologies to Greek thinkers--here who look for ideas to debate. Instead the Gospel, he said clearly, is a person.

My favorite line in the Christmas story is the one that the angels shared with shepherd and Linus shared with Charlie Brown--
And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 RSV
And Christmas at it's best is a reminder that the Good News is here for all the world and his name is Jesus.
Peace and thanks for reading,
John