Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rend the Heavens and Come Isaiah 64:1-9

Advent starts this year with the reading of a prophet's prayer,

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! Isaiah 64:1-2 (NRSV)

Isaiah's words reached out towards God with deep desire and passion. He wanted God's presence to be experienced in the world. Isaiah wanted God to send earthquakes shaking the mountains. He asked for fires to make the waters boil so that the Holy Name of God might be realized. Isaiah wasn't asking for God to come sometime in the maybe or could be future. He was asking for God to come manifest in glory right now, in his time and space.

Isaiah prayed for God to come right now. Martin Luther commented in his lectures,

This is a true prayer when the devils and the ungodly enemies have been accused and a strong desire bursts forth into prayer and into a longing for God.Luther's Works, Vol. 17 : Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Page 363

The prophet of God, who spoke God's Word in season and out of season yearned for the world to experience God's presence. As a prophet Isaiah knew God's presence in the Word; but he yearned for something more than words to communicate the power of God to the people of this world.

Isaiah yearned not only for his own experience of God but for others to experience God. He asked God to make himself seen. Isaiah wanted God to be realized by the other people he lived along side of every day. Modern day believers may share this same experience. Many among us to see God be real for the people around us just as he is real, by faith, for believers. We long for God to confront those who are indifferent to Him with his holy presence. But God chose not to come to earth with earthquakes and fire. He chose to come in flesh and blood. We yearn for his glory to be manifest in contrast to the apathy of this world.

7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Isaiah 64:7 (NRSV)

Isaiah may have exaggerated the situation as he wrote, about "...no one who calls on your name," but the experience of isolation in faith that he names is profound. Isaiah's prayer grew from the very heart of faith. He'd been driven to declare the Word in uncomfortable situations where many didn't believe a word that he spoke. Now he wanted God to be real and manifest not only for believers but for the scoffers. Isaiah wanted God to waked up the apathetic who believed God didn't care at all.

God's response to Isaiah was to come. He came to earth not with the fire and the earthquake, rather he came as a baby boy laid in a manger. We yearn for him to come and be real in our day, just like the prophet. We don't see the signs of his presence and miss him all the more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

King Jesus Matthew 25:31-46

Celebrating King Jesus.

I ask my girls the question, "Who is our King?" and I usually know their response will be, "Jesus is the King." This coming weekend is Christ the King Sunday. It's the day set aside in the church year, right before Advent and Christmas, to celebrate Jesus as King and Lord in all His majesty and authority.

Our brave Revised Common Lectionary has wisely chosen Jesus' parable about Judgment for this weeks Gospel reading. It's the very last parable in Matthew. Jesus teaching and preaching ministry are over his crown of thorns is coming quick. Now Matthew invites us, through Jesus' own words, to imagine ourselves in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The place of judgment will be huge. All the nations will stretch out before the King. The sheep and the goats will be sorted out. As you imagine the scene remember that the King has set a standard to select sheep from goats...

...the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
Those on the right will enter into paradise. The others on the left didn't meet the standard and they will be sent out of paradise, not out into the outer darkness reserved for the unprepared bridesmaids, but into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

The hard part of the story is that both groups seem surprisingly unaware of their own action or inaction on behalf of the King. The King replied to them telling them about the times they did or didn't care for the needs of his family members. Caring for the hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick, or imprisoned is caring for the king.

Maybe you'd do anything for your King. Now your king is inviting you to do just that right now in any time or place where you encounter him. There are lots of places where we have and will meet the king and we might be most surprised that it's him we are serving and not just the person in front of us. We remember Jesus as King incarnate and yet hidden to the world. He's the one who comes to judge the living and the dead as declared in the creed. And he's revealed the standard for judgment.


Maybe some would like to vote for a different king today. Maybe some would like a different standard. Jesus invites us to serve him in all kinds of places and times not always seeing him but serving him in the least of his family. My home state, Minnesota, is beginning a recount of ballots today; but there's no recount for Christ the king. He is the one to judge the living and the dead.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Using the Gifts Matthew 25:14-30

Is it possible for humans to underestimate the value of God's gifts? Absolutely; but just how much we undervalue God's gifts to us may be Jesus point in Matthew 25.

Jesus story of the 3 servants each given τάλαντα, commonly transliterated as talents (NIV, KJV and NRSV), but Translated as bags (NCV and NLT), of gold denarii invites us to imagine the generosity of God and the failure of people to appreciate God's gift.

Jesus speaks of a master going on a trip, and he invites us to imagine that very same master giving away his possessions in trust to his servants. The master is very trusting no different than God the Father. He gave away bags of gold to his servants just as God the Father has provided us with everything in creation. Each bag was worth perhaps a 180,000 silver denarrii or 180,000 days wages to his servants (see Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Some may say these numbers are ridiculous, that was probably Jesus point. He spoke outside the temple walls in the week before he died telling the story of a generous master who trusted his servents to handle vast wealth.

The master gave 10 bags to one servant, 5 to another, and 1 to a third servant. The first two used the bags of money to earn even more money for their master; but the third had no gain to show for the trust he'd been given. Instead he just returned the bag of money entrusted to his master after digging it up from the yard.

The first two servents found approval when they met their master. They'd been shrewd and had great returns to show for their investments. The third was kicked out; not for losing the master's property but for failing to take any risk with it at all. We are risk adverse; but God's gifts are given to us any way. We under estimate the value by us all the time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

the Groom's here there's no time left Matthew 25:1-13

Many fear a day of judgement. Jesus' words scare us in their specificity. We have had and will all again have this kind of experience Not just the day of God's jugement; but days of earthly judgement that we aren't ready to meet.
Our culture lives in fear today of accounting. The experience of being caught unprepared when an accounting has been asked of us is vivid and intesely real for many. Will we be ready? Will our lamps be filled and lit or will they be dark and empty?
The basic symbols in this reading speak of powers less than God that we fear. Darkness, judgement, want, need, and light are all powers that can and do overwhelm us; but the Living God of scripture is not now or ever over come by any of these powers.
The experience of faith is not an exemption from these earthly powers but an invitation from God to walk among them in the sure and certain hope that these lesser powers will not conquer us.