Serving–Who or What Claims Your Time for Attention: a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 and Mark 5:21-43

Dennis, a young man from Ghana, was involved in my ministry when I served as Senior Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas (2006-2011). He returned to Ghana in 2009, to assist his good friend, John Atta Mills who was elected Ghana’s President (2009-2012). President Mills claimed time on fathers for their attention. In Ghana, many homes suffer from what is called “the father problem.” In some homes the father is absent. And in other homes, he is hardly there because he is so busy. The result of the father problem is thousands of children living on the streets.

Dennis received John Atta Mills’ claim on his time for attention. I remember Dennis describing to me how he saw the face of Jesus in his friend and knew his heart for the people of Ghana, particularly fathers. I was amazed listening to my brother. You see, Jesus’ face is inviting, for it reflects an enthusiasm for our wellbeing. Our lives as followers of Jesus are winsome and those whom we encounter will begin to ask why and how that difference came about. Paul admonishes us in 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 to be generous in all that we have. Dennis modelled such generosity in his return to Ghana; honoring President Mills’ claim on his time for attention.

When you respond to God’s regeneration of your soul and say “yes” to Jesus Christ, you have accepted God’s claim on your time for attention. Our text in Mark 5:21-43, retells the stories of two miracles. Both stories involve women, one twelve years old who had died and the other suffering with blood hemorrhages for twelve years. Both Jairus, on behalf of his daughter, and the woman suffering from blood hemorrhaging, displayed faith that God heals. These examples of individuals claiming Jesus’ time for attention force us to examine our own lives. How do you claim time on Jesus for attention? You believe God has your best interest in mind? And how do you encourage others to do the same?[1]Jairus would have lived a marginalized existence had he not come to Jesus believing that he was able to heal and restore his sick daughter. The ailing woman with the issue of blood would have continued living a marginalized existence had she not believed in Jesus, pursued him in the crowd, and touched his garment.

What we do in times of multi-tasking, when many voices are claiming time for our attention, and to be quite honest creating difficulty in decision making, depends on if we see the difficulty in the light of God, or God in the shadow of the difficulty. Who might be claiming your time for attention? That individual may need the healing touch of God the Father. Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes, “Jesus tells us that we are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus does not say that we are to become light. Jesus says, ‘You are light.’ So, we must begin reflecting who we really are and not try to hide it.”[2]If you love Jesus, in faith, reach out to him and live as you have been created. Demonstrate faith in God that you have the time to bring others to a face to face encounter with Jesus.

Who or what claims your time for attention? At Geneva, we aspire to be followers of Jesus who are about remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus. We want to be the best Jesus someone sees. Others claim your time for attention, because they hear the voice of Jesus in your words or see the deeds of Jesus in your actions. They warrant your time. Be salt and light. Be generous.

[1] Some ideas germinated after reading Beverly Zink-Sawyer in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 193.

[2]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 77.

Serving–Avoiding Captivity: a Reflection on Genesis 3:8-15 and Mark 3:20-35

The good news of Jesus is that we do not need to be held captive by “the powers and principalities” of darkness. My friends, we live in a wonderful time in history right now. Yes, you have good news to share with people who are held captive by the powers of race, patriarchy, materialism, and militarism. These powers are dark in they are not just. Think a moment about the chaos that exists around these issues.

While elaborating on loving one’s neighbor, apologist Michael Ramsden spoke of a colleague who while in Asia asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine peace. After a few seconds the audience was invited to share their mental pictures of peace. One person described a field with flowers and beautiful trees. Another person spoke of snow-capped mountains and an incredible alpine landscape. Still another described the scene of a beautiful, still lake. After everyone described their mental picture of peace there was one thing common in them all—there were no people in them. Ramsden commented, “Isn’t it interesting, when asked to imagine peace the first thing we do is to eliminate everyone else.”[1]

Like the audience imagining “peace,” we too see the locus of the chaos residing in others. We too shut people out in order to have peace, or at least divide people into those who cause chaos and those who are like ourselves.

The chaos others cause can make us angry. And anger can lead to rage. Truly, it is not just for one group to believe they are superior to another “simply because of skin color or cultural heritage;” to use the power of patriarchy stating that “men should dominate women;” to motivate through the power of materialism, “which roars at us that money gives us life;” or to flaunt the power of militarism which asserts that “weapons and war bring us peace and harmony.”[2]So much of the conflict in America now revolves around race, patriarchy, materialism, and militarism. And people on both sides are angry. When anger progresses to rage, we run the risk of committing blasphemy as followers of Jesus. What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is “Expressing through speech or writing that which is impious, mocking, or contemptuous toward God.”[3]Anger holds us captive and imprisons us in rage with an unforgiving disposition and behavior. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is “pardoning or remitting sinful offenses. It restores a good relationship with God, others, or self after sin or alienation.”[4]

Jesus entered a house, quite randomly, and a great crowd gathered outside. The scene must have been chaotic. Jesus’ family heard about the chaos, went to encourage and protect Jesus, but concluded that he was out of his mind. Out of his mind, is another way of saying, Jesus had an evil spirit. In Jesus’ time mental instability was generally attributed to demonic activity. The charges of the family and of the teachers of the law are designed to stop Jesus from continuing his activity. Jesus was charged with being demon possessed. They called him Beelzebub, which is a euphemism for the Devil.

In response, Jesus addresses the logic of the law of contradiction. He states what was self-evident: if Satan attacks himself, eventually there will be no more Satan left and he would become powerless. But this is not so, Jesus has power. The law of contradiction states that a person or institution cannot be divided against itself. Charged with possession by an evil spirit, Jesus claims to be working not with evil spirits, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”[5]So, what is the unforgiveable sin? Not believing in God.

At Geneva, we aspire to be followers of Jesus who are about remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus. We want to be the best Jesus someone sees. As followers of Jesus, we worship God not race; God not patriarchy; God not materialism; God not militarism. As followers of Jesus, we are to demonstrate Jesus Christ to the world. Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes,

Even we who know him need to be refreshed and reminded. I reread the Gospels a while back out of a desire to “rediscover Jesus.” I was a bit alarmed by several attitudes that I sensed increasingly among believers. One was that the Gospels are light reading for the spiritually young whereas the Epistles are the real meat and potatoes for the mature. Another was an attitude that focused only on the Gospels but manipulated Jesus into being the Lord of their particular cause—the environment, women’s rights, religious tolerance ort the like. These can all be valid causes, but they sometimes revealed more about the person advocating the cause than they did Jesus.[6]

The gospel reveals the strongholds and “strong men” that hold sway over our lives.

Our lives parallel life as it was in the Garden of Eden. We hide from God and are tempted to harm one another. Life is a fluid and dynamic interplay between man and woman, garden and wilderness, blessing and curse. We desperately want to understand and be enlightened.[7]There is something wrong in human nature that is only rectified in and through Jesus Christ. As John Rollefson notes, “It is not that the imago dei has been erased from our DNA but that deep within ourselves we are not fully what we are meant to be and, what is more, we know it.”[8]Christians share in word and deed the good news that Jesus has already broken the strongholds. Jesus is our “strong man” and he vanquishes all other “strong men.”

[1]Provided by Van Morris in Michael Ramsden’s article “Is Christianity a Matter of Convenience?” (July 29, 2015) as found on http://www.keswickministries.org.

[2]Nibs Stroupe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 119.

[3]Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 31.

[4]Ibid., 107.

[5]Mark 3:28-29

[6]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 32.

[7]Thank you, Bert Marshall, for your insights. They are found in in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 99, 101, and 103.

[8]John Rollefson in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 102.

 

Serving–The Incompatibility of Old Ways with the New: a Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and Mark 2:23-3:6

Samuel thought Eli was calling his name, but it was really God. So, the third time, when Samuel went to Eli and said, “Here I am for you called me,” Eli told him to go back and lie down so that when he heard his name called, he could simply stay in place and say to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And the Lord spoke to Samuel. He focused on knowing God and benefitting from that relationship.

In 1809, Hugh Wylie was removed from membership in his local Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania. What was his offence? Wylie opened the post office on Sunday and thus violated the fourth commandment.[1]“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lordyour God…”[2]

For the most part, keeping the sabbath has become a non-issue for Christians. Some have never considered the Lord’s Day as a different day; a day specially designed by God to shape our lives. It’s an old way. As followers of Jesus, we regularly violate the fourth commandment. I am not a legalist, yet, as your pastor I can say that disobedience is not good. Maybe if we considered the new way of experiencing sabbath, we’d relish obedience.

Like the Pharisees, we struggle in our religious identity and practice. Judaism is not just a set of beliefs about God, human, and the universe. It is a comprehensive way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life: what to do when you wake up in the morning; what you can and cannot eat; what you can and cannot wear; how to groom yourself; how to conduct business; who you can marry; how to observe the high holy days and sabbath; and perhaps most important, how to behave towards God, other people, and animals. The Pharisees were strict.

The Pharisees had witnessed Jesus’ disciples working and Jesus healing on the sabbath. Jesus does not deny that his disciples broke the sabbath by picking grain or he by healing. But, Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”.[3]That is to say that the sabbath was instituted to benefit, not burden us. The Pharisees had shackled themselves and others with a strict system of sabbath observance that completely blurred the original intentions of the day. The sabbath is concerned with humanity’s welfare. Our allegiance then, is not to a legalistic observance of a particular day; rather, our allegiance is to Jesus, “the lord of the sabbath.”

The goal of sabbath observance is to bring us into closer fellowship with God. Jesus was showing with his service to the man with the withered hand, how to do evangelism. Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes,

…we live in a culture so saturated with self, in which humans have placed themselves in the center so long, that our natural tendency, even as Christians, is to focus on the human aspects of evangelism and not the divine. Yet it is God who takes the initiative to pursue seekers; it his Spirit that converts; it is his good news that saves. Evangelism is God’s business from start to finish. We get to listen to God and participate in the relationships that God sends our way.[4]

How do you hear God speak and discern the various aspects of God’s call on your life? What should be your response when you hear God say go, love, serve, all the while sharing the good news of Jesus in word and deed?

The way we live in 2018 is certainly different than1809, and that of Samuel’s day. The changes in our culture make sabbath observance more necessary, not less. What do we learn about the importance of sabbath from Jesus? The purpose of sabbath is to love and worship God. Sabbath is not just about a day; it is about balance in your life. Making space for and with God makes sense. Sabbath is for our benefit.

Embrace the new way of understanding and practicing sabbath. Sabbath was not intended to be a rigorous legalistic view of a day of rest, but one where the human spirit can be renewed by enjoying and resting in the goodness of God. As Christians, we are new creations. Sabbath is to reconnect us with that truth. Present the whole of your life before God in gratitude and take great delight. The gift of sabbath, “The Lord’s Day,” is to allow the contemplative side of our humanity to flourish. Because of sabbath, we can say that there is life available. That is, life is far greater than we imagined when we tap into the great abundance of our Creator.[5]My friends, the old way of understanding sabbath is incompatible with the new.

[1]Robert J. Allison, “The Communications Revolution” in Reviews in American History– Volume 24, Number 4, December 1996, 596-600.

[2]Exodus 20:8-10

[3]Mark 2:27

[4]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 11.

[5]Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Don E. Saliers and Nibs Stroupe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 92-97

Connecting–True North: a Reflection on John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-8

True north differs from magnetic north, which varies from place to place due to local magnetic anomalies. A magnetic compass almost never shows true north. To find true north from a magnetic compass you have to know the local magnetic variation and how it is varying over time. Finding true north is essential for accurate navigation. Hence the metaphor. In life’s journey we are often uncertain where we stand, where we are going and what is the right path for us personally. Knowing our true north would enable us to follow the right path.[1]

In the winter of 1968, Brennan Manning lived in a cave in the Zaragosa Desert in Spain. The cave was six thousand feet above the sea and he never saw another human face or heard a human voice apart from Sunday mornings when a Franciscan brother would bring him food, water, and kerosene for his lamp. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes, “On the night of December 13, 1968, I heard Jesus say, ‘For love of you I left my Father’s side. I came to you who ran from me, who fled me, who did want to hear my name. For love of you I was covered with spit, punched and beaten, and fixed to the wood of the cross.’”[2]What a statement of God’s love for us and how resting in that love gives us true north direction for our lives.

Isaiah saw God and heard the seraphs cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORDAlmighty.” God had a vision for humanity…for Isaiah. King Uzziah had been a godly man until the latter years of his reign. He lost direction for his life and that of the kingdom. Following King Uzziah’s death, God gave Isaiah a vision for his life and the lives of the people of God. Isaiah cried out to God, “Woe to me!” Isaiah confessed his sin to God. Self-awareness is not negative. A seraph came to him, touched his lips with a burning coal, declared to Isaiah that his guilt had been taken away, and that atonement had been made for his sin. God then asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I; send me!”

To participate in God’s vision for humanity, loving God and loving others, like Isaiah, we must confess our sin and say, “Here am I; send me!”On this Trinity Sunday, let us not forget that God dwells within us. God is fully engaged as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of our lives…all of life…in all ways and at all times. Again, Manning writes,

How long have you been a Christian? How long have you been living in the Spirit? Do you know what it is to love Jesus Christ? Do you know what it is to have your love unsatisfied, endured in loneliness, and ready to burst your restless, ravenous heart? Do you know what it is to have the pain taken away, the hole filled up, to reach out and embrace this sacred Man and say sincerely, “I cannot let you go. In good times and bad, victory and defeat, my life has no meaning without you.” If this experience has not illuminated your life with its brilliance, then regardless of age, disposition, or state of life, you do not understand what it means to be a Christian.[3]

God’s eternal being as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is present in the world bringing about salvation. Wherever we see works of love, peace, and justice, we know God is at work. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn, but to save.[4]

It is true that we are sinners. Self-awareness is the beginning of clarifying true north for our lives. Living in the Spirit, you are connected to God and others. Jesus loves you. Know God’s love for you. Rest in it. Therein you discern true north direction for your life. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Webster’s Online

[2]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus (New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 173.

[3]Ibid., 173-174.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Donald K. McKim and Kristen Emery Saldine in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 26-31.

Connecting–Belief and Disbelief: a Reflection on Acts 2:17, 21, an excerpt from Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus (New York City, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 166-167, and John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

The better you know yourself, you will make better choices.[1] There’s a story about choices and it goes like this:

A burglar broke into a house one night. He shined his flashlight around, looking for valuables when a voice in the dark said, “Jesus knows you’re here.” He nearly jumped out of his skin, clicked his flashlight off, and froze. When he heard nothing more, he shook his head and continued. Just as he pulled the stereo out, so he could disconnect the wires, clear as a bell he heard “Jesus is watching you.” Startled, he shined his light around frantically, looking for the source of the voice. Finally, in the corner of the room, his flashlight beam came to rest on a parrot. “Did you say that?” he hissed at the parrot. “Yes”, the parrot confessed, then squawked, “I’m just trying to warn you that he’s watching you.” The burglar relaxed. “Warn me, huh? Who in the world are you?” “Moses,” replied the bird. “Moses?” the burglar laughed. “What kind of people would name a bird Moses?” “The kind of people who would name a Rottweiler Jesus.”[2]

Being known by God and knowing God is the key to knowing yourself. And thus, better decision making when presented with a choice.

At the time of our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a celebration was upon Jerusalem, one which took place every year, fifty days after Passover, the “Feast of Weeks.” The “Feast of Weeks” was the offering of barley sheaf. The people would gather at the temple to thank God for the harvest. During the “Feast of Weeks” the disciples were gathered along with all devout Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on all humanity just as Jesus promised. All who were gathered were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Peter preached the good news. Many began to follow Jesus. The Church began.As Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, notes, “The community of Christ’s faithful people will be connected to God and one another by the Spirit’s work of guiding, leading, revealing, and reminding…Through the enabling presence of the Spirit, every need for care and support we have in all of life’s difficult and painful circumstances can be met.”[3]

Christians renamed the “Feast of Weeks,” Pentecost. Pentecost occurs fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. The Church observes Pentecost, because of the miracle of God’s Spirit being poured out upon all humanity. The Spirit leads us into all the truth. The way we know truth is through the miracle of the Spirit called forgiveness. Through the forgiveness we receive from God, in and through Jesus Christ, and others…the forgiveness we give others and ourselves…truth sets us free. Brennan Manning inThe Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

We cannot possess the mind of Christ until we recognize ourselves as forgiven enemies of God and in like manner extend forgiveness and reconciliation to our own enemies. Jesus Christ crucified is not merely a heroic example to the church; he is the power of God, a living force transforming our lives through his Word: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).[4]

Receive forgiveness. Forgive others.

Choose belief not disbelief. You are known by God and can know God. The Holy Spirit is God living with us.Believe that the Holy Spirit is before you, above you, behind you, beneath you, beside you, and inside you. Call on Jesus and be saved. Believe and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

[1]Idea gleaned from Gregg Braden, The Turning Point (Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc., 2014), 15.

[2]Taken from “Timeline Photos”on Facebook, April 27, 2013.

[3]Emmanuel Y. Lartey in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 24.

[4]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 166-167.

Connecting–Lack of Renown is Wondrous: a Reflection on Psalm 1, John 17:6-19, and Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

In my life, I’ve struggled with ambition. Oh, ambition is important, but when it controls one’s every move, it’s dangerous. Until October 2010, who I knew, what church I served, and how successful I was in my career was an inner drive that truly was destructive. My self-importance became controlling, pride was deeply rooted, and “image management” ruled the day. Although I could not keep all the balls in the air, I tried. I was determined to be self-sufficient. And then I was fired for plagiarism in three columns I wrote for the monthly church magazine. Coming up on my eighth anniversary, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Should I say that my “renown” as a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister caught up to me?

The Hebrew word “Torah” is translated “law” in Psalm 1. The word “law,” however, does not capture the full meaning of Torah. Torah comes from the verb “to teach.” With that etymology, Torah implies the practice of instruction. Instruction captures a relationship between teacher and pupil. To be happy, one must be in relationship with the instruction of God. God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. As trees are in relationship with “streams of water” and prosper, so will the people of God prosper as they are in relationship with God. According to Psalm 1, the wicked have yet to experience their salvation. Therein lays the urgency of our relationship with the instruction of God. We are to love others. Why? “…the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”[1]Loving others, then, provides an opportunity for those who are not happy, the wicked, to be encountered by God and just perhaps turn away from “wickedness” and turn to righteousness.

In Acts 1, the disciples are regrouping after Jesus’ ascension. They are still fearful, yet a bit more confident and “down one.” Judas had hanged himself. And so, they tended to their organization from a leadership perspective. They were mindful of their ancestral roots…the twelve tribes of Israel…the twelve sons of Jacob. After hearing Peter’s sermon, the 120 members of the community of faith recommended Matthias and Justus. They cast lots. Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and by Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God. Lots could be sticks with markings or stones with symbols that were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted.[2]Matthias was selected. He was not well-known. We do not hear anything else about Matthias, this new disciple, in the New Testament. As Barbara K. Lindblad notes, “…we can be grateful for the witness of those who are so little known.”[3]

How easy it is to have disdain for the seeming “nobody’s” in our midst. How arrogant of us. Richard Lischer in his book Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church, writes about his coming to terms with having a PhD in theology and being bitter about being assigned to a small rural church in the middle of no-where. Lischer notes that in his first sermon he quoted James Joyce, Heidegger, Camus, and Walker Percy. Looking back on that first sermon and over the course of his tenure, Rev. Lischer realized that he failed to honor the ordinary people of faith who sat in the pews. There were the times they helped one another put up hay before the rains came, grieved when a neighbor lost his farm, and together, walked the fields every April, blessing the seeds before planting them. These are all signs of “church” that were worthy of mention in the Sunday homily.[4]Our everyday life occurrences are opportunities to be “church.” In the gospel reading, Jesus says when praying to his Father, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctifymyself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”[5] 

Often, we lose the roll of the dice, just like Justus. I imagine, Justus continued to love Jesus and share his testimony with others. Often when I lose the roll of the dice, I stew in self-pity. How could I be overlooked, as if the rolling of the dice had any objective reality? Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

The heart of God is Jesus’s hiding place, a strong protective space where God is near, where connection is renewed, where trust, love, and self-awareness never die but are continually rekindled. In times of opposition, rejection, hatred, and danger, Jesus retreats to that hiding place where he is loved. So essential is this connection that Jesus encourages his disciples to take up the same practice of rest and respite.[6]

Yes, we must go to that “hiding place” but only for a season. And then reengage the world with the good news of Jesus for eternal and abundant life. Stuff happens my friends, but the testimony of God’s love for us and others goes on. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Psalm 1:6

[2]This definition of “casting lots” was adapted from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry website, carm.org.

[3]Barbara K. Lundblad in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 529.

[4]Some ideas in this paragraph adapted from Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 75.

[5]John 17:15, 18-19

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 123-124.

Connecting–Hard Rock Traditions: a Reflection on John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48

In the late 1940s, Charles Templeton was a close friend and preaching associate of BillyGraham. Over time, however, Templeton developed intellectual doubts. He questioned the authority of Scripture and other core Christian beliefs. Templeton abandoned his faith and even attempted to dissuade Billy Graham. He resigned from the ministry and became a novelist and news commentator. Templeton also wrote a critique of the Christian faith, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Lee Strobel interviewed Charles Templeton for his book, The Case for Faith. Templeton was 83. In the interview, Templeton revealed some of the reasons he left the faith: “I started considering the plagues that sweep across parts of the planet and indiscriminately kill, more often than not, painfully, all kinds of people, the ordinary, the decent, and the rotten…it is not possible for an intelligent person to believe that there is a deity who loves.” Strobel then asked Templeton about Jesus. Templeton remarked: “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique… Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss Him.”[1]

Do you have doubts and questions about Jesus? Relating to and not isolating ourselves from others and challenging situations creates testimony, telling God’s story, in your story, through everyday encounters. God joins us in our condition. God does not hold back. God testifies through those who are simply willing to love others, particularly the difficult and unlovable. God’s testimony in and through our brokenness is greater than our brokenness. The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s preaching. The message was going to break out of its singular focus on the Jews and go to the Gentile world. Noel Leo Erskine writes, “The new revelation made possible by the inbreaking of the Holy One was clear: The Gentile believers belong as much to the household of God as Jewish believers. Gentiles do not have to become Jews. God accepts them as they are.”[2]Peter was confronted with the hard rock tradition of exclusivism. That is, really wanting to reach the Jews, and if he had to, make Gentiles as much like faithful Jews as possible, by enforcing upon them specific Jewish traditions.

Some traditions are helpful. Others are not. Gathering family together for birthdays and other celebrations is important. Hazing in fraternities not so much. Tailgate parties for our favorite college football games is a favorable tradition. But deciding who is the “right kind” of person for the group not so much. The Masters. Misguided bachelor and bachelorette parties, not so much. Many of you are aware of the name, Daryl Davis. Daryl attracts attention because he is a regular at political demonstrations. Listen to this account of Daryl’s presence in Charlottesville, Virginia to meet Billy Snuffer, an Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights, a sect of the Ku Klux Klan:

According to CNN, in early December [2017], Davis traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to meet with Snuffer who was there with other Klansmen attending a hearing of an associate facing a gun charge during the infamous “Unite the Right” rally from last August, where a woman was killed by a driver who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Davis wasn’t exactly there to support Snuffer and his friends, but he did want to engage them in conversation in order to understand them. But his attempts to do that tended to elicit strong reactions from onlookers, because Daryl Davis is African-American. As it turns out, Davis has been at this for a while. As a bluesman dabbling in country and western music, Davis has traveled across the south, east and Midwest, playing music and meeting people. Playing at a bar in 1983, he was once complimented by a patron who compared his playing to Jerry Lee Lewis. After explaining to the man that Lewis learned his craft from black blues and boogie-woogie players, they eventually became friends—despite the fact that the man revealed his membership with the KKK. Since then, Daryl Davis has been dubbed “the Klan Whisperer” as he soldiers on in a mission to challenge the beliefs of Klansmen through friendship and conversation… Racism in America is a complex problem with a myriad of systemic, interconnected causes and consequences. Nevertheless, Davis’ example serves as a gentle reminder that the path toward progress requires a measure of humility and a willingness to listen.[3]

We need to break out of traditions which exclude and have eyes for “the other,” those who at first glance, just don’t fit in. In Peter’s case, as one biblical commentator notes, “The Holy Spirit was working a powerful transformation among the early Christians. Their perspective of who was “in” and who was “out” was being changed not by their own doing, but by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. The boundaries of the “inner circle” kept widening to the point that the assumed boundaries were no longer legitimate.”[4]

Should we not be for all people? The church is, at least on paper, to be a community “of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.”[5]God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. We are “wired” to love God and others. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

Compassion for others and joy over their repentance reign in the mind of Christ…Jesus’s gentleness with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts and to detect the sincerity and essential goodness there. Behind people’s grumpiest poses or most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their dignified airs, coarseness, or sneers, behind their silence or their curses, Jesus saw a little child who had ceased growing because those around him had ceased believing in him.[6]

Let’s love others as God loves them. As we are being the best neighbors, evidence of God at work overflows. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Much in this paragraph has been adapted from Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 7-23. 

[2]Noel Leo Erskine in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 482.

[3]The source of this story is Mallory Simon and Sara Sidner, “What happened when a Klansman met a black man in Charlottesville” CNN (12-16-17). Jelani Greenridge posted this story on PreachingToday.com.

[4]Jeffrey D. Peterson-Davis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 480.

[5]N.T. Wright, Simply Christian (New York City, New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2006), 123.

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 100-101.