Friday, July 29, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
"Certainly there is no freedom where there is self-complacency about the truth of one's own beliefs. There is no freedom where there is ignorant and fanatical rejection of foreign ideas and ways of life. There is not freedom but demonic bondage where one's own truth is called the ultimate truth. For this is an attempt to be like God, an attempt which is made in the name of God."
Paul Tillich, 1955 in The New Being
Friday, July 22, 2011
"God's kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it."
"God's kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises."
"God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field."
"Or, God's kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it."
"Or, God's kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That's how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won't do any good."
Jesus asked, "Are you starting to get a handle on all this?"
They answered, "Yes."
He said, "Then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it."
(Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; The Message)
Were the disciples lying to try to make Jesus happy? The first two parables talk about grace and abundance. The second two talk about a treasure beyond measure. The last separates the good from the bad. Did they see a commonality in these parables that eludes me? Are the first four all about patience, trust and faith; that all good things are worth waiting for? The first four all required works; is he saying that it takes both faith and works? And then there is the good fish and bad fish; what's with that? Is this a reminder of the separating of the sheep and the goats? So they claimed they understood. Only then does Jesus tell them that the theme of the pop-quiz was "preparation". It's the thief in the night story again - they won't know when so they are to live like there's no tomorrow. They're not how-to stories then, they're why-not-now stories!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
"I am the farmer.
My field is the world.
The good seed are the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are not.
The enemy is the devil.
The harvest is the end of this earthly age.
The harvesters are the heavenly host.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Monday, July 11, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
The desperate crowds were pressing in on him, so Jesus got into a boat and pushed off from the shore so more people could see him. he told them many stories that would lie fallow in their minds until later. One of these stories was about a grain farmer.
"A farmer went out into the field to plant seeds. As he went, some of the seeds fell from his bag to lie on the beaten path, where birds quickly found and ate them. Some of the seeds he spread fell onto rocky ground; the seeds sprouted quickly, but could not take deep root in the poor soil - they soon dried up and died when the hot sun hit them and the rain did not fall. Some of the seeds fell in among weeds, the soil was fine but the weeds outgrew the seedlings and they were choked out. But some of the seeds fell on rich fertile soil; they thrived and produced much grain. Let anyone who is not deaf listen!"
It was obvious that they did not get it. This soil had much potential, but was not yet fertile enough for this Word. He decided to explain the story to help it take root.
"Hear this story. When the Word falls on hardened ears, it will just lie there for the evil one to take away. When it falls on rockiness, it sprouts with great joy, but can not be sustained during hard times. When the Word falls into a weed patch, it can not compete with the promise for easy sunlight and fast growth. But some is sown in organic, manure-rich topsoil; that soil is those who both hear the Word and understand it. The Word is obeyed and together the soil and the Word are fruitful."
(Retelling of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)
Friday, July 8, 2011
I finally read Rob Bell's "controversial" book. As he says, there is nothing new in it - but he reminds us in an engaging manner that God doesn't want us to go to hell, and God always gets what He wants!
"And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody..."
Over time, we've re-adopted this idea that we are damned or saved by what we do and are; that St. Pete is guarding the pearly gates to keep out the riff-raff; that once we are assigned a seat on the eternal jet-liner there are no upgrades! While I was reading this, I was preparing for a sermon that I'm giving next week. One of the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary is the Runaway Rabbit Psalm (139):
"Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." (verses 7 and 8)
Why do we put a term limit on God's grace and mercy? Why do we try to geld an omnipotent God into an impotent idol that we can manage?
A concept that I had not thought about before is the possibility that "heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other." Pastor Bell uses the parable of the Prodigal Son and Father to suggest that our view of heaven and hell as universal polarities may be too simplistic; both brothers are in the same place. "It's not an image of separation, but one of integration." The younger brother is given a party in grace. The older brother too is at the party, but refuses to celebrate: "Hell is being at the party. That's what makes it so hellish."
Rob Bell's cadence from his Nooma videos shines through in his writing. The book is joyous, spunky, and fast paced. Its eight short chapters makes it good for daily devotional reading. And most of all, in the end God wins!
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
(Genesis 2:7; King James Version)
So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin. He did this so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness. People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.
But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.
(Romans 8:1-11; Common English Bible)
- Note that it says we are free of "the law of sin and death", not the laws. Does this mean that we are not free from sin and that we are not free from eternal death, but rather are free from the automatic relationship of the two?
- Compare these two stories of the Spirit of life. Are we born and reborn because we inhale, or because we have been breathed into?
- Is it selfish to follow the Law for the purpose of seeking salvation? If so, why should one follow the Law?
- How much of what we do is dictated by where our thoughts are?
- 8:9 implies that you can't be both flesh and spirit, but 8:10 implies you can; what do you think?
Monday, July 4, 2011
Rebekah could not have children. Did her husband Isaac blame her? Did he consider her a failure as a woman? In a patriarchical world, what were women for if not for creating and expanding the tribe? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendents, so Isaac went to Him to get Him to fulfill it. And the once barren became fruitful.
But as she moved into her second trimester, she knew something was wrong. The wise women could tell that she was bearing twins, but their movements inside her small frame felt like they were ripping her apart from the inside; like alien parasites trying to eat their way out of her. She wished to die. So she went alone to ask the Lord why it hurt so.
The Lord answered her tearful plea: "There lies within you the seed of two mighty peoples. Their rivalry shall fragment the tribe. One shall be stronger. The firstborn shall serve the second."
We do not hear that she shared this painful message with her husband. I can't imagine bearing such dire news alone! Your twins will hate each other and destroy your people! What can a mother do? It would be like learning that your fetus had a birth defect, and not being able to share the pain and fear with anyone. How much of this isolation and sense of pending doom shaped the events to follow?
As they were born, Esau came first red, screaming, lusty and hairy; a vigorous healthy newborn - the one who got most of the nourishment in the womb. His brother Jacob tenaciously held onto Esau with a death grip - he would not be left behind, he would grasp life and take it into his own hands.
Esau grew to be a man's man. A hunter and a farmer. But little Jacob was effeminate, and hung around the tents helping the women with their chores. Esau's virility reflected well upon his father, so Isaac understood and loved him best. Rebekah loved Jacob - the one Esau was always picking on, the quiet thoughtful one that she could share her hopes and dreams with.
One day, Esau came in from a hard day of laboring in the field to provide food for the tribe. Jacob was again with the women, cooking a red stew that smelled divine to the famished Esau. "Give me some stew" he said, speaking to his brother as he would a slave or a woman. Jacob teased him: "I'll give it to you, in exchange for your rights as the first-born!" How Esau must have laughed at such a ludicrous idea; was he playing along in a game when he relied: "Sure, why not? What good is it to me if I die right here and now from hunger?" Life seems like such a game at times, it is easy to goof around and make silly choices - only later realizing that we've thereby lost our birthrights.
Friday, July 1, 2011
I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me - that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.
So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body.
If you are trying to stop smoking, does telling yourself over and over again to not smoke help?
If you tell a child not to do something, does that make it less or more likely that they will do it?
As exiles awaiting return home, we are naturally torn between the needs and desires of the created flesh and the call of the creating spirit. So if it is natural, why do we beat ourselves (and others) up over our human weaknesses and think that neither God nor man can love or forgive us? Why do we embrace legalism over love and mercy?
This is the reading for July 3rd, the day before our Independence Day here in the US. According to this reading, what is independence?