New Life

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One more quote from The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen.

[Jesus] goes around in dubious company; with drunkards, prostitutes, cheats.  That’s not forbidden.  We have respect for anyone who brings a sinner back on the right way.  We know that God’s mercy is extended to those who fail. We rejoice over the conversion of those who are wicked. But he eats with them without making sure that they have turned from their previous ways of life.  He makes no demands on them.  he hopes that they will come to repent of their own accord! I call that carelessness.  Perhaps he helps some people in that way, but what sort of effect will it have on many others?  Won’t they ask why they have to strive to do good? If Jesus is right, God is already happy with me as I am.”

(pg. 101-2)

We like Jesus, but gosh, we don’t like his methods.  We humans have a natural theology that runs our lives.  It’s an “if…then” theology.  If I behave, then I will be rewarded.  The focus of if…then is ourselves.  You see this in the quote above.  It screams out with the word “but” in the middle of the passage.

This passage could have been taken from nearly any time period since Jesus walked the earth.  We’ve all heard such statements haven’t we?

Yet, Jesus goes right on eating with drunkards, prostitutes, and cheats.  very unseemly company.  Maybe Jesus knows something that we don’t.  Maybe Jesus knows that if we go in to an interaction with someone else full of judgement, we’ll never get anywhere with that person.  And why should a person like that change when we approach them in judgement.  We’ve already determined they are guilty, so what’s the point – do we really believe that change is possible?

But Jesus approaches these people differently – with open arms and with a meal.  He welcomes them, invites them to eat with him, to hear him.  He invites them to a new life.

That’s far different than saying – you better change or else.

New life.  It’s a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning.  That’s what Jesus offers the drunkard, prostitute, and cheat.  It’s also what he offers each one of us.  How will we respond?

Overlooking things

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One of the things you can count on at Letchworth State Park are overlooks.  They seem to be everywhere along the gorge.  And with good reason.  They give great views of the gorge.

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And it doesn’t hurt that the overlooks are scenic themselves too.

Lesson for church: Church has the advantage of standing out and seeing things from a different perspective.  Like when Jesus says “You have heard it said to love your neighbors and hate your enemies, but I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  If we don’t speak these words, where else are they going to be spoken?

Jesus’ politics

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Yesterday I introduced you to The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen.  Here’s another snippet from the book.  It’s actually from the author writing to a friend who is reviewing his book, chapter by chapter.

Jesus expected radically changed political circumstances but did not expect that they would be brought about through political change. His aim was “political,” but it was to come about without politics.  God would realize this aim. And that meant that people were not to achieve this aim by treating others violently. Nor, however, were they to be completely passive.

(pg. 92)

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know that this paragraph caught my attention like a crazy man.  This may be, in my opinion, one of the best summations I have ever read on Jesus being political.

This is the separation between being political and being partisan.  Jesus was here to unfold the Kingdom of God, to bring out a new reality – a reality that has a new governance too.  He wasn’t here to do this through violence.  He wasn’t here to exchange one empire for another. He isn’t involved in our world to shift power between two faulty and failing political partisan forces who only care about power.

Jesus has a different aim.  And we are a part of it.  We participate in Jesus’ aim when we live out his call for us – to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute, to offer mercy, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, the visit the sick and imprisoned, to care for the widow and the orphan.  That’s Jesus’ political platform in a nutshell.

New Adventure – Letchworth Park

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In September, 2016, we took a trip up to visit my parents.  During the trip we stopped by Letchworth State Park in Letchworth, NY, USA.

It’s a beautiful park that stretches along a gorge for miles and miles.  There are some great paths along the gorge that give great views and you can get some serious steps in along the way.

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We took one of the trails and walked along the gorge.

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We’d be seeing more of these views.  But first, some steps.

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Lesson for church: the life of the church is a journey.  Enjoy the view.  Don’t get caught up in the specifics all the time.  Walk along where Christ leads you, pay attention to what is around you and expect there to be some climbing along the way.

Now is the time…

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For one of my seminary classes, we are reading The Shadow of the Galilean, by Gerd Theissen.  It’s a fictional account of a man, Andreas, who lived during the same time as Jesus in Galilee.  Andreas has many things happen to him and in the course of his adventures, he comes across a range of people who all have various opinions about Jesus and his teachings.  In one such conversation, Andreas is talking with a friend of his who is a Zealot – someone committed to getting Rome out of Israel.  Here’s what Andreas’ friend had to say:

Without the pressure of force nothing will change in this land.  See how the Romans are more and more intent on incorporating our country into their empire. At first they still allowed us to be governed by our own rulers. Then they replaced our princes wiht the Herodians, who owed all their power to the Romans. Finally, in Judea and Samaria, they took over the government themselves.  They respected our religious traditions for twenty years.  But now they’re having pagan coins minted. They’re bringing effigies of the emperor to Jerusalem.  Step by step they’re blurring everything that separates us from other peoples.  Soon no one will be able to say, ‘Rulers are oppressing their peoples everywhere but mustn’t be like that among you.’ Rather, they’ll be saying, ‘The Romans rule everywhere as benefactors of the peoples. And it will be just the same for you.’ Then oppression will no longer be called oppression nor exploitation exploitation.  So now is the time for violent resistance. Now is not the time of Nehemiah.  Now is not the time for Jesus of Nazareth.”

(pg. 88)

The very end of the section is what caught my attention. “Now is the time for violent resistance. Now is not the time for Jesus of Nazareth.”

Sounds almost like it could have been said yesterday.  Then again, it is something that could have been said for most of human history.

We have this penchant towards violence to get our way.  Going the way of peace is never opportune.  There is never a good time to start walking the peaceful way.  We will always find a reason to fight.  Yet, hasn’t that path led to more violence in response?  Is that’s insane, yet we keep trying the path of violence. It’s crazy.

So, Christians, when is it the time of Jesus of Nazareth and his call to be peacemakers?   When is it time for us to love our enemies?  When is it time to pray for those who persecute others?  When is the time?

Now.  It starts with you and me.  Each one of us taking a step out in faith.  Will it be easy?  Nope.  It may even be extremely costly.  But that’s the call.  If the world is going to change, then it needs to start somewhere and with someone.  Why not you and I?

Now is the time.

Time to Head Home

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Our trip to Pittsburgh was over.  It was time to head home.  In order to get back to the van, we had to travel back up the incline one last time.

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We were tired and ready to head back.  The trip up was a short rest.

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We climbed and climbed.  Passing the other car as they journeyed down to the city.

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The trip was fun.  But it was time to come to an end.

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Farewell Pittsburgh!

Lesson for church:  There is a time and a season for everything – even at church.  It’s a good idea to examine what goes on at church.  Is it time for something to end?  Celebrate it and close the page on it.  God has other things up God’s sleeve, just waiting to happen.

 

Have you ever thought about a Communion Rail?

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Have you ever thought about a communion rail in church?  You know, one of these bad boys:

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I’ve thought about them for some time – ever since my year adventure in Finland.

Communion rails exist to show reverence for the Eucharist.  That’s a good thing.

Communion rails also create a physical barrier and separation between the lay people and the people leading the service.  I’m pretty convinced that this is not a good thing.

You can learn a great deal about a pastor based on how they deal with such a barrier.  How does a pastor maneuver around a communion rail?  Do they insist on staying on the altar side, always?  Do they come around to the lay side during the service at all?

I’ve observed many pastors who have to deal with a communion rail.  I don’t have any type of scientific results here, but I have observations followed-up with conversations.  Call these generalizations and observations.

Generally I have found that if a pastor insists on staying on the altar side of the communion rail at all costs, they aren’t interested in being approachable.  Forget about asking questions or expressing doubts.  And I’m willing to bet there is a belief that God isn’t approachable either.

Generally I have also found that pastors that maneuver around the communion rail, and don’t make a big deal about the rail, are more approachable.  They also see God as someone that people can approach with questions, doubt, and even anger.

So why do I tell you about this?  It’s just something to think about, something I’ve been thinking about for some time now.  I wonder what your experience is with the communion rail.  Do you see you it as a barrier?  A symbol of reverence?  Something else?  Please share your thoughts on this.  Don’t worry, there isn’t a wrong answer on this – I’m asking for your observations and thoughts.  Thanks.

Pittsburgh views

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When you get down the Monongahela incline, you can go across the street to Station Square.

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Station Square is a nice place to wander through, see some unique shops and experience touristy Pittsburgh at its finest.

And when you step a little bit past Station Square, you see this:

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Pretty cool.

Lesson for church: Don’t just follow the crowd.  Go off the beaten track from time to time.  You might be surprised by what God has in store for you.

What do you do when Jesus says to love your enemies?

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What do you do when Jesus says to love your enemies?  Here’s what I preached yesterday:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

This is not an easy passage of Scripture.  It’s not easy to read and it’s certainly not easy to preach about.  Especially in light of all the things that go on in the world around us.

I’m going to make you uncomfortable here.  I want you to think about someone who you could classify as your enemy.  You know, someone you really don’t like.  Maybe that guy that cut you off in traffic.  Or worse – someone who has hurt you, shamed you, or wronged you in some way.  Get their face in your head.

Now let me ask you – what do they deserve?  What should happen to them?  If it’s that guy who cut you off in traffic, does he deserve a one finger salute?  Of a few choice words?  Or at least a honking of the horn?  You’d be justified wouldn’t you?

How about someone who has hurt you?  Or wronged you?  What do they deserve?  I bet your imagination can go wild with that one.

Let’s get a bit a more controversial.  Who are our national enemies?  I guess it depends on what time period you ask about.  The British were our enemies early on.  What about today?  Iran, North Korea.  Does Russia fit into that category?  Here’s one that definitely fits – ISIS.  They have stated that they want to kill us.  That classifies as an enemy, doesn’t it.

But what this passage of Scripture where Jesus tells us to love our enemies?  What do we do with that?  If we are followers of Christ, we can’t just ignore it, or push it aside because we don’t like it.  We have to deal with it.  So what do we do with it?

The passage sounds crazy doesn’t it?  It sound like Jesus doesn’t understand the world at all.  Yet I think Jesus understands the world very well.  He’s someone who grew up in a country that was occupied by the Roman empire, whose people had been in exile in Babylon, conquered by Persia and Assyria, and were slaves in Egypt.  He knows the history.

Most of human history has been the story of humanity killing each other.  If this isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t what is.  And yet we claim that Jesus saying something different of how we should relate is crazy.

Here’s some more bad news.  Sin is more than just the things that we do – it goes deeper than that.  Sin is a broken relationship – a broken relationship with God.  And because of sin, we are enemies of God.  That sounds pretty harsh doesn’t it?  What do we deserve?  The wages of sin are death.  Damnation.  That doesn’t sound so good does it.

Yet, here’s the good news – there’s this thing called Grace.  I heard a wonderful definition of grace this week that fits perfectly with this whole discussion.  Grace is not getting what you deserve.  Rather Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.  Let that sink in for a moment.

Because of Grace, we don’t get what we deserve – eternal death and damnation.  Because of Grace, we get what we don’t deserve – God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.  We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism.  We receive God’s Good News in the Word.  We receive Jesus in the palm of our hands each week, and consume him into our lives.  We get what we don’t deserve.

And in our Gospel lesson today, what we hear is Jesus telling us that because we receive grace – not getting what we deserve and getting what we don’t deserve – Jesus is calling on us to go and treat others in this same manner.  Even those who are our enemies.  Even those who would kill us.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

Amen.

Incredible views on a sharp slope

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When in Pittsburgh, you travel on the inclines.  Our incline of choice for this trip was:

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The incline is pleasant and offers some incredible views of the city.

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Even on a rainy day.

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And an added benefit is the view back towards the top of the incline.

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Lesson for church: Pay attention to what you see around you.  There are people hurting and people experiencing great joy.  Pay attention to the people who enter the doors of the church and when you go outside the doors, pay attention to the people around you.  You might find some incredible things and people.