Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Exchanging Our Cities for the City of God

49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Luke 12:49-56

"...peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled." Hark the Herald Angels Sing

I know it's August, but man o' man does the text of Hark the Herald Angels Sing come roaring back into my brain with texts like these! I'm confronted with the little baby in the manger on one hand with the Son of Man on clouds raining fire and death on the world! Well, which one is it? Is it God and sinner reconciled or is it Wagnerian death from above; chaos and imminent doom?

Well, let's take the text piece by piece shall we? And just to calm it all down a bit, let's take a look at the last verses first. "You know how to interpret the earth and the sky, but why don't you know how to interpret the present time?" The human inability to recognize situations for what they are as they are right in front of them is legendary. Think about the story of Marie Antoinette who in the face of colossal human suffering and starvation told her servants to let the starving people eat cake. Or what about Nero who as the Eternal City burned pulled out the old fiddle and played along to accompany the dancing flames? When confronted with ultimate realities like these, human beings tend to lose their bearings. We can't see the signs even when they're bright and burning.

And maybe that's what Jesus' lament here is all about. He hasn't come to bring peace, not because he doesn't want to bring peace, but because he understands that in the face of an ultimate reality some people will reject it no matter how patently obvious the situation becomes. And maybe this is the source of his great lament. When Jesus arrives some people hear angels and understand that the division of God and sinner is reconciled, on the other hand, some see his arrival as a portend of doom that must be rejected and even brought to an end.

Therein lies a major theme of all four gospels; the message and mission of Jesus are a new ultimate reality which some will embrace and others will reject. Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God, the true business of God, entering the world and being available to the whole of the creation, is a disruptive thing. When we've built our whole lives on certain 'truths' about the world and our fellow human beings is it any wonder that the people of Jesus' time couldn't see the signs for what they were? Is it any wonder that they were willing to reject him if the questions that he was asking put in jeopardy the worlds and lives they had created for themselves?

We've all built worlds for ourselves; their walls are made of values and the gates are made of rules and exceptions. And we build and expand these cities we've built for ourselves. Within them we raise children, maintain friendships, establish policies and procedures, and live our lives. We've invested time in building these cities, these worlds of ours. They are built on foundations of isolating self-interest and occasional altruism. Within the walls of these cities the world makes sense, chaos is cast out and relative tranquility reigns. But what happens when some great and grand reorganizing event strikes the walls of our city. Is it seen as an invading army or is it seen as the bright hope for our self-made city. No wonder Jesus believed his message and mission would divide, "...father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

What was that message then, and what was that mission? Nothing less that God with us...Emmanuel. That like the great hymn of Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus humbled himself, became one of us, and suffered the indignation of crucifixion, and enjoyed the resurrection of God. All of this because God desired to be the builder of our cities; the breaker of our walls. God desires now to break down the dividing walls of fear and hatred, and we can find in the death and resurrection of Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. In him a new model and more than that, a new ruler for the city that is the human heart. A ruler who desires our lives to grow more and more into his likeness everyday. A ruler who rules by selfless sacrifice of himself, and asks us to experience the new city of God.

Is it any wonder that this message and mission divide? Is it any wonder that the signs of its coming would go unheeded falling on deaf ears? Will we be like those first hearers? Will we fail to see the signs of God's coming or even worse fortify the walls and gates of our hearts from it?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Some Sermon Notes for Sunday, August 8 2010

"Be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." Luke 12:40"

Be ready...the Son of Man...an unexpected hour

These are the three notions from Sunday's gospel lesson that have stuck in my craw after thinking about it a bit. Be ready...Son of Man...unexpected hour. So without further ado let's jump right into some good ole fashioned commentary reading.

L.T. Johnson, Luke: Sacra Pagina

First things first. The Lectionary stinks. Yeah I said it...there. The Lectionary STINKS. Sure it's generally a great tool for reading the bible in the context of worship, but man the divisions that committee came up with are the pits. I didn't need Johnson to tell me that either.

Johnson takes the Lectionary text (Luke 12:32-40) and has it divided between two sections (Luke 12:13-34 and Luke 12:35-48). Why is this important? Well, basically it's because we read this week what we should have read last week, "Where your treasure is their your heart shall be." You see Jesus was trying to use that chestnut on the man who asks Jesus to arbitrate in the family inheritance dispute that started in Luke 12:13. SO that unfortunately, we have a great little retort from Jesus that feels more like a fortune cookie than a "get your act together buddy" smackdown. Our Sunday text really belongs in a section that's about...wait for it...wait for it...READINESS. Our text for this Sunday is really about what it means to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. Ready for what you may ask? Nothing really, JUST THE END OF THE WORLD! (Cue Dum-Dum-DUUUUM music)

You see that whole section before with the guy who wants Jesus to arbitrate in a disagreement over inheritance is a chance for Jesus to tell his disciples not to worry about the mundane stuff of human existence. This is proverbial chicken feed compared to what you should be worried about and that is the stuff that God is worried about namely the Kingdom of God. That's how Johnson sees it anyway; the mundane stuff isn't comparable to God stuff.

Here's the kicker: there are two kinds of servants; the ones who have faithfully tended the house while the master was away and the ones who acted like they were the master. But on Sunday we're only gonna hear about the first kind...so how do you preach a sermon about the coming of the Son of Man without the fuller context of the whole of the 12th chapter of Luke? I have no idea...darn lectionary and it's crazy editors!

N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone

Bah! Same divisions of the text for Wright and L.T. Johnson!?!?!! You're no help Tom! No help at all! (Just kidding Professor Wright. Yes, I would love to come to Aberdeen or wherever and study New Testament with you. You're paying for my full tuition and giving me a stipend of 20,000 pounds a year? That's fantastic!)

Wright focuses his commentary on preparedness of the disciples and the inherit failure of those who have tended the religious life of Israel. The disciples are the good servants and the Temple tenders are the bad servants. But that would be too easy for Wright and far too easy for Luke. Wright goes on to say that the issue is that whoever is tending the Temple and the religious life of Israel holds the remarkable responsibility of caring for the Kingdom of God while the King is away. (Those in the gender neutral camp and the post-colonial liberation theology camp will give me just a bit of linguistic wiggle room here I'll be happy...and thanks.) Those responsible for God's work in the world are tasked with a great and mighty work that requires the reordering of their priorities and a deep sense of the weight of office. No matter if you're a disciple, one of the twelve, called to represent the New Israel for the life of the world, or the keeper of the keys of the Temple and her precincts YOU BETTER BE READY AND FAITHFUL STEWARDS. (Man I'm using a lot of caps aren't I?)

Jesus is Coming...Look Busy

Next to the "I've Found Jesus...He was behind the Sofa the Whole Time" bumper sticker the "Jesus is Coming...Look Busy" works better here. Our text is a text of promise and warning all tied together. God brings judgement against those who claim to be God's servants. This judgement is sometimes a happy thing (when you're a prepared and faithful servant) and other times its a terrifying one (if despite your servant status you decided to act like the master).

(Whether you are a disciple or a pharisee you're going to get what's coming to you.)

I think Sunday's passage means that God's call is to be ever vigilant that the work we are doing on God's behalf is motivated properly, carried out properly and constantly under review regarding motivation and activity. We don't just get to look busy and say we're about God's business. Our business isn't always God's business and God will bring God's business into being whether we are properly involved or not. In order to be a part of God's business, we need to lay hold of Christ and his work. He makes it possible to take part in God's business through the power of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time calls us to keep tabs on our motivations and activities by patterning our motivations and activities on his. We don't get to look busy and worst of all we don't get to think we're untouchable because we're the Church (especially because we're the church). Instead we're called to trust the Holy Spirit sent to guide and comfort, and look to the example of Christ's life, death and resurrection for the reality of God's business.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good Leaven and Bad Leaven

So, today at our Wednesday Bible Study we were looking at the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Now, there are a couple of really great stories in this chapter of Luke, but there's an interesting moment after the feeding of the four thousand when Jesus fresh off of making enough bread for the crowd tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Beware of leaven? Beware of yeast? Really? Yeast makes bread rise right? Why in the world would yeast be a bad thing? Doesn't it all make bread rise? This is one of those moments when our modern notions of food and Jesus's notion of metaphor don't connect. As was said by the guard in Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Now I'm not an avid baker, but I am/was an avid homebrewer. Bread and beer share most of the same ingredients. So...while I'm not a 100% sure of what I'm about to write, let me say that I'm pretty sure that I have a good hold on Jesus' leaven metaphor. So here goes.

In the modern world laboratory science has made accessing yeast easy. Go to the store, head to the baking aisle, and pick up three sealed foil packets of dry yeast from teh good people of Fleischmann's for a relatively small amount of money. The same is true for homebrewing. BEer yeasts are produced in small sealed containers that hold millions of tiny critters waiting to turn sugar into alcohol and CO2. In bread the CO2 makes bubbles and the alcohol...well that makes us happy.

In the ancient world yeast was a random act of God. In fact before Louis Pasteur, the German government created the Reinheitsgebot (German beer purity law of 1516) that said beer is water, barley, and hops. There's no mention of yeast until the 19th Century! Pre-industrial peoples literally relied on wild airborn yeast to make the magic of fermentation possible. The Vikings used to pass down disgusting unwashed mead stirring sticks from generation to generation because those "magical" sticks contained colonies of good yeast that made mead magic possible. Yeast lives in the air. To get it to work, significant numbers of "good" yeast need to outnumber and out grow "bad" yeasts in order for humans to benefit from beer or bread.

So what does this have to do with Jesus and the leaven of the Pharisees? Well, (and again this is my conjecture) leaven bread in the ancient world was probably a bit of a proverbial crapshoot. Ancient leaven methods relied on the wild airborn yeast to make bread rise. In competition with these good airborn yeasts were also the bad wild yeasts that would make the dough rancid and useless for human consumption. And that I think is the point of the "bad" leaven. The leaven of the religious leaders was destroying the souls of the people in Jesus' mind. Their "bad" leaven might make the dough rise, but it also imparted nasty off flavors and potentially harmful critters. Bad leaven makes bad bread. And that's the point. Jesus is offering the people good bread made from good leaven; the leaven of God. What Jesus is offering is healthy and life giving, not to mention tasty. Just as good and bad yeasts are battling for supremacy in a lump of dough (or vessel of wort) so Jesus is in a battle for the souls of the people of God. He's offering us his vision of God, his knowledge of God's love, and God's hope for the world.

Lots of leavens are fighting for our attention...the leaven of "success," materialism and a myriad of other "isms" and distractions. If we're honest those leavens may already have a foothold in our souls. What Jesus hopes for is that we'll see those leavens for what they are, and take on the leaven of God. It's a leaven that looks to the work and love of Christ as the source and model for a new way of living. Empowered by the Holy Spirit this good leaven can make its way into every part of our life and make us into the "loaves" we are meant to be. Our lives can be the proverbial loaves that feed the world the Bread of Life that is Christ.