Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sabbath

In Luke 6, Jesus tells us that he is "Lord of the Sabbath." Now the purpose of the Sabbath is given as two seemingly different reasons. First, because God worked six days and rested on the seventh, so should we rest on the Sabbath. The second reason is that YHWH had brought Israel out of Egypt - they had been saved and had now been released. The Sabbath then, pictured rest and release from oppression. It is not a large stretch to say then that the Sabbath means life, healing, release for the people of God.

Jesus tells us that he is Lord of the Sabbath. What did he mean? A number of meanings have been suggested but, in it's simplest form, it means that he as the Son of Man can best interpret it; that he can illustrate what it means to observe the Sabbath.

He has to say this because he has been just accosted by those who objected to his followers "working" on the Sabbath by "harvesting grain," and walking through the fields. The Sabbath, they knew was to be free of work of any kind.

After this story of grain harvesting, Luke will tell us of healing of the man's withered hand. This latter story is an interesting setting. Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and this man is present. Some of the folks there are wondering what Jesus is going to do and so they are watching. Jesus knows what they're thinking and he invites the man to stand up, and Jesus asks the assembly, "is it good to do good on the Sabbath, or to do harm?" This is a rhetorical question and it receives no reply. Jesus looks around one more time and tells the man to stretch out his hand and wouldn't you know it, the hand is healed.

The folks who were watching to see what would happen, after being put in a corner by his question, and having him defy the Sabbath rules by "working" and healing this man, are furious and their opposition is almost sealed. These folks had majored in the details of keeping the Law and couldn't grasp the healing and blessing being offered by God through Jesus.

This brings us back to our first story - the one of the grain. In response to the religious leaders' objections, Jesus reminds them of another "rule breaker," David. David didn't just work on a Sabbath, but he violated the food restrictions of the bread of the presence. Only priests could eat that bread, but David received it and shared it with his followers. The details of the story aren't as important as the reality that David "broke the rules."

Jesus uses this story to teach the very point he is going to make in the next story - is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or harm? While Jesus' interlocutors won't answer this question, we know the answer is that it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift of rest, of healing, of release and a reminder of God's work in the world and for Israel. The Sabbath isn't supposed to be a burden or a restriction, but one of refreshment for people. Because that is what it is to remember; because it is about life, healing, and release, it is logically and appropriately right to "bend the rules" to benefit people. As we are told other places, the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.

It is often said that in the Christian system there are no laws - the Law having been taken away. This is not however entirely true. There is at least one law required to be kept - the law of love. The details of that law are not spelled out in Scripture but they are illustrated by Jesus. There are other "rules," and we get some of them from Jesus, Paul, and John. Jesus will give us a set of rules in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Judgment Scene. Paul will give us directions about how to behave in the Christian community, and John will tell us that denying that Messiah came in the flesh is a problem for those who would be disciples.

There are rules but some are more important than others. The greatest? Love. If you have to break a rule, don't break this one. Rather, on the basis of this rule, it is acceptable to break the others. Love conquers everything else. Instructive here is that love itself cannot be seen; we only deduce it from someone's behavior toward others. If that's true, then each of us may express our love differently, based on how we perceive a situation, our relationship to it, and our own experiences. The measure is our motivation in doing what we do even if we might show it differently than someone else - even if we might get it wrong.

Love demands that if understand that about our behaviors, grounded in love, we must extend that same grace to others who seem to love is ways we might not; and even if we might consider their behavior "wrong," we bear with them in knowing that their motivation was love.

The Christian Sabbath is Jesus himself. When we come to God; when we enter Jesus, we enter his rest, his Sabbath. In Scripture though, the blessings we get from God are not for us exclusively. We are to pass on those blessings and in most cases we are to become those blessings. How might this apply to the Sabbath rest we enjoy and the reality that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. It is simply this: we are to become, and to extend life, healing, and release to others just as God does for us.

As you go about your week, imagine yourself as a Sabbath bringer; someone who gives life, healing, and release to others. Make what you do and what you say communicate life, healing, and release for those you meet, those you work with, and even those who rub you the wrong way.

Be Sabbath.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Reconciliation

Paul discusses salvation in two parts. First, is the reversal of Adam's separation from God. The human race for Paul was reconciled to God by our having a representative who lived faithfully. This is the basis for all the Second Adam and related discussion. It is in this sense that Jesus destroyed sin in the flesh and the resultant Pauline "in Christ" argument.

The second is what God has done for you, as opposed to the human race. The answer to this is, let me be careful here, not much. At least not as is often trumpeted.

We are saved by two strokes. The first is God, desiring to have a people, has thrown open the doors to his kingdom, just as he has done before. The result is that if you want to join God, you can (stroke 2) because Jesus has reconciled the world to God and redeemed the human race. You don't need your sins forgiven specifically before you can join God, but joining God allows you to be "in Jesus," in whom there is no sin.

This is roughly parallel to being an Israelite. If you were part of Israel, you were with God, with the Pauline caveat that real Israel were and are those who are faithful to God. Perfection was not required, but as the psalmist says, blessed is the man whose sins God does not count. The same is true for you and me. Our sins don't go anywhere, they simply aren't counted as long as our God is YHWH, and we are conforming ourselves to his image.

Reconciliation is sometimes linked with redemption. Often involving paying a debt, the idea of redemption is most appropriately one of setting aright someone's life state and is often a family responsibility to heal and restore. Thus, Boaz goes looking for the person with the right of redemption for Ruth and company. Ruth didn't have to do anything to be redeemed, Boaz just did it. As a result, all that had gone before is forgotten, but faithfulness going forward is expected.

The world has been redeemed and the gospel call is to "come back home while the door is open." Salvation is life with God which God offers and which you are invited to enter.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Joy at the Sound of Good News


The third week of Advent is also known as the week of Joy. The images here are those reminiscent of the carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing! and similar hymns normally sang this time of year. Our sermon text this week is Isaiah 61.1-11, which is the text Jesus uses in Luke to describe why He has been sent into the world.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, the speaker says. This applies to both Isaiah who has been commissioned by God, and to Jesus who has been baptized, and upon whom the Spirit has descended. This is a different kind of commission. We have seen visions, tongs with burning coals, and even a mantel falling from the sky. Here it is no less than the very Spirit of God that evidences the charge of our speakers.
The charge Isaiah has been given is to give good tidings to the afflicted, and to bind up the brokenhearted. While we enter the second half of Advent, of waiting, and on this Sunday of Joy, we are reminded that there are those who are afflicted and brokenhearted. Among our friends here at Covenant there have been recent great loss and grief; of loved ones and health. These seem incompatible with joy this week. But they remind us that while we are in this life, we wait expectantly for the coming of God in the final deliverance and reconciliation when we together with our friends and loved ones, together in body and health. This is not a morose waiting; a hope of escape, but a trusting and a seeing of God’s work and purpose in the world—to build a planet of loving Lovers who live in and as his image.
To proclaim release to the captives and liberation to the imprisoned.  In Isaiah’s day prisons were not places one wanted to be, nor are they today. Physical abuse, threat to life and body from seemingly capricious and arbitrary violence at the hands of other prisoners and jailers alike are moment by moment possibilities. Being released might bring some freedom to move about, but it can’t restore what one has lost—including future economic security and wellbeing. Relationships, even intimate ones are gone forever. The release of our God is different though. When God releases us, he simultaneously restores and reconciles us to himself and to each other. He picks us up, washes us off, lifts are face to his and...smiles.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...to comfort all who mourn. The year or the moment of God’s favor, showering out his blessings and reconciliation for his people. Children often jostle to see who can become the apple of their parents’ eyes because it’s nice to have the tender attention of those with power. This might happen too at our work places where we sometimes hear someone labelled a Yes Man, indicating our view that he is currying favor with the boss. These favored places, sought by children and adults alike are manipulated for fleeting benefit from people who will themselves prove to be less than reliable in all cases. But, if we might have the favor of God! This God who says he’s rather bless than curse; that he would rather relent than punish; who is described as having everlasting love for people; and who John tells us, died for whoever might believe—yes this God. If we can have his favor, oh how wonderful that would be!
This is the promise made first here in Isaiah and later Jesus will tell us he is fulfilling this promise by bringing good news, healing, freedom, and comfort not just to Israel, but eventually to all people. No wonder Simeon and Hannah almost explode with joy when they meet the son of Mary in the Temple!
How do we live this reality? The promise of Joel last week is close to becoming reality and for us, it is reality. The Spirit has been poured out and disciples have it. While you and I are not prophets or Jesus, we have the same mission of reconciling people to God, to bring good news, healing, freedom, and comfort to those around us—and we have the Spirit to help. Who can you bless this week?


Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Election Was A Victory For...

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. It was a victory for the rule of law and the Constitution, for actual inclusion based on acceptance rather than hate, for valuing of human life, even up to birth, the reduction in federal over-reach into our lives. It was a victory for Liberty for all Americans.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. If you are a White Supremacist, a Gay-hater, a woman-hater, or race bigot, this election result says nothing about you or your quite disgusting self-love. You and your relatively small group of miscreants remain hateful and despicable misfits on the fringe of our great society.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. The people you love to hate are human beings and as such, the image of God enfleshed. You insult all of us by expressing your juvenile hate and you look as stupid as the people who are rioting in California and Oregon. Quit believing your own press; that press is only quoting the Democrat and Administration’s disinformation; they thrive on hate and racial division. Your petty little groups do not represent Republicans, conservatives, White people, men, or any valid religious group. Get over yourselves.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. If this is you, grow up. Quit acting like the juveniles being orchestrated and manipulated by the Left. Both they and you are embarrassments to America. Your isolated behaviors, enlarged and emotionally presented by the racists in the American government and Democrat party is what fueled half the country voting for a demonstrably corrupt, oppressive, and racist use of federal power and agencies, embodied in the Democrat candidate.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. The results of this election are a victory for rule of law and the Constitution, for actual inclusion of all people, for valuing human life even before birth, and the reduction of federal over-reach into our lives.

It was a victory for true Liberty for all Americans.

Forgiveness

The redemption of the world through Jesus of Nazareth is called a new covenant by Jesus, and most believe it is the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31. Even though it is called a new covenant, the text reads more like a re-newed covenant, rather than a new one entirely. God will forgive their iniquity and they will be His people; they will all know God and not need others to teach them the word of God because it will be written on their hearts. This, as has been observed by others does not describe a new covenant, but what God has always wanted for humans and those who would be his followers – that they would be His people, living most fully as the images of God they were made to be.

God has been so committed to the welfare of people that He has not allowed Man's faithlessness to frustrate the plan He has for a planet populated by those who would live as cosmic lovers, living as Jesus modelled. 

In God's pursuit of his desire to bless His images with a world of lovers, He has repeatedly sought His people to restore them to Himself. This effort of God's is reminiscent of a parent's desire for their children who have left home and lived similarly to the Prodigal Son. The parents let the child live as they wish for a while and then they go to find that child or reach out to the child through friends, family, and today, social media. All the parent wants is to find the child and bring them home. Images of reunions with running, hugs, and tears spring to mind. What doesn't come to mind is a listing of things the child has to do before they can come home; the parent just wants them home again. There are expectations - the child is expected to behave, to use more mature decision making, and to not be disrespectful, but these are not demanded before the hugs and tears. As we watch this unfolding scene, we understand that the parent has already forgiven the child – has let go of the hurt they may have felt before.  

If we can appreciate this dynamic, we can better understand God's approach to sinful people and the salvation "process." Forgiveness is already available; God has already made himself ready to simply accept you, if you want to come home. No begging, no justifying yourself, no wondering whether God will accept you. God stands ready for you to come home; all you have to do is come home. Are there things expected of you? Well yes there are, but God doesn't require them prior to opening the door for you. What are those things? Well, they are to submit to the goodness of God, to agree to live as the image of God on the earth, to acknowledge God as the provider of all good. 

These are not new things; these are not "new" but are the same things God has expected of people throughout history. The newness of the New Covenant are not Man's response, but the universality of the offer and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus as the final and most complete sacrifice. 

Want to come home? 

Come on! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Election

Eight years ago – actually for six or eight years before that – I had the same emotional reaction to that election as apparently some of you are experiencing to this one. That was painful, very painful and its affects have lingered, and at times returned over the better part of the past decade or more. 

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but I am not overjoyed.

What we have witnessed over the past twenty years or more is a direct assault on liberty in the form of expanded federal power, the extension of federal requirements into our lives, and the complete corruption of the federal government including the court system. It has been made blatant under the current President in almost every way imaginable.

·         He has used the IRS to oppress and intimidate political and religious opponents.

·         He has refused to enforce law and has used the intimidation of the FBI and the Justice Department to silence opposition and free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association.

·         He has used the tax code as a threat to those who don’t want to make their personal health decisions in accordance with federal preferences.

·         He has initiated, fanned, and failed to intervene against racial, sexual, and social unrest. Rather than bringing unity, he has repeatedly encouraged division, hate, and violence on our streets. 

The rhetoric and behavior of the President and federal agencies have never been about liberty, really. We have witnessed the greatest expansion of elitist federal power and at the same time, intentional attacks against any social system that might pose a threat to that federal power. We have witnessed ongoing separation of parents from their children, we have seen assaults against religious institutions, and individual privacy, we have seen the use of law made arbitrary and unpredictable.

We have seen the elevation of emotion as a primary driving force and the use of mob and violent action to oppress and delegitimize societal norms and even the application of law. We have degenerated from a society of free expression of ideas to one in which we now provide safe places for weak-minded college students. The country – or large enough segments of it – is simply emotionally unstable.

The intent of all this is to make the federal government not the servant of Liberty and a free people, but to remove every social support except the federal government. The intent is simply to create as much dependence – actual and emotional – on the federal government as possible.

But he hasn’t done this alone, and in fact he is simply the most recent symptom and result of what the Democrat party has engendered since the 1990’s. Have all the Democrat players been intentional in their complicit participation in this assault on the country? No and many of them are good people at heart. Even so, their behaviors and rhetoric have served to propel the destruction of liberty at a faster and faster pace. Whether it is Pelosi’s insipid “you have to pass it to see what’s in it,” or Reid’s complete ignorance of the world and political reality, they have simply served to facilitate in their own ignorant and yet dangerous ways, the further weakening of liberty.

They have repeatedly used personal attacks against their political opponents, ridiculing, name calling, and insulting as a form of statesmanship. In this way they have engendered the acceptability of emotion as a policy setting standard, and ridicule for government policy, rather than reason. And so we have college women demanding that others pay for their birth control because lord knows, it wouldn’t be fair to expect her to either pay for her own, or control the behavior of her own body. Emotion is used as a tool for distraction, blaming a video for the deaths of an entire diplomatic station even while knowing those deaths were preventable. Emotion has served as the vehicle to attack the fabric of society. The President doesn’t care about wedding cakes, birth control, Gay rights, the plight of migrants, or bathroom use; nor does the federal government have a legitimate interest in most of those. Rather, these are simply points of destabilization of society – against sexual norms, faith practice, social stability, and personal privacy.

It has been a classic destabilization assault on liberty, and one that has been very painful to experience on an almost daily basis – because it has been so plain.

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but not overjoyed.

The Democrat party nominated a woman who is as corrupt and oppressively mean as the current President, dismissing her enabling of sexual predation, selling government access, directing mob violence, releasing highly classified information directly related to the security of the country, insulting and demeaning uniformed and protective staff who cannot respond to her. She lives, operates, and expects her staff to treat her as the clear tyrant she is. She had two selling points: she would continue the assault on liberty by continuing the extension of the federal government, taking more of your money, and the continuing destabilization of society. Except with her, the further destabilization would be through negligence because not only does she have no governing experience, she is and can only be interested in herself. Unlike the current President whose behavior has been an intentional assault on liberty, she just doesn’t care. Her second selling point: she’s a woman. Even in an atmosphere where being a woman is accepted as simply personal choice, this was her other main selling point as President.

The WikiLeaks emails revealed just how corrupt the Democrat party as a whole, the DNC and the candidate’s own campaign staff not was, is. They are disappointed, even emotionally hurt today, but that has not and will not change their character of ego-centered behavior fueled by emotional entitlement and vindictiveness.

The greatest evidence of the extent of the current President’s effectiveness in his attempts at destabilization is that most of the voters in this election voted for the Democrat candidate, and we have violent protests across the country because she wasn’t elected. Protests and violence prompted by and fueled not by reason, but emotion, in complete disregard for law or others.

We have lived with a President who is demonstrably a violent racist who is not above using the power of the federal government to intimidate and oppress anyone and everyone; destroying the liberty of an entire nation if at all possible. Even in the face of this, most of my neighbors voted for more of the same.

The cancer of emotionalism, growing dependence on the federal government, destabilization of society, and the destruction of liberty has not been excised. It has been slowed but it still festers and remains a palpable danger and threat. 

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but not overjoyed.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Jonah

Jonah. You know the story,
Jonah is called by YHWH
Jonah flees from that call
Jonah is in the depths
Jonah calls for mercy
Jonah is spit onto dry land

Now, the parallel
All people are called by YHWH
Nineveh abandons YHWH
Nineveh is ripe for destruction
Nineveh calls for mercy
Nineveh is spared

Jonah doesn’t get this parallel; he cannot see that the mercy he celebrated for himself is available to all. In fact, he doesn’t want it to be. YHWH explains the parallel using a vine, a worm, and Jonah’s anger. It is another parallel.
YHWH creates a vine
The vine is destroyed by the worm
Jonah is angry and ready to die.

The parallel
YHWH creates a people
The people are destroyed by the Destroyer
YHWH is angry and ready to give life.

The difference in the story that Jonah again does not understand is that while Jonah will remain angry, YHWH has shown mercy to him and the Ninevites based on their coming to their senses – or repenting and returning to YHWH.

We find then that Jonah, having sought the mercy of God and having received it, is confounded when his God extends the same sort of mercy to others.

It is curious that Jonah was retained in the Jewish canon seeing as it is, a somewhat embarrassing story. Being classified as a prophecy and appearing in the midst of the Book of the Twelve, it tells the story of a people who are not the people of God and yet who both listen to YHWH and are spared by his mercy from the destruction he had purposed on them.

The book of Jonah and the Ninevites then stand as witnesses against Israel in her impending destruction. YHWH has already heard from both Moses and Ezekiel that YHWH would relent if his people would repent and return to him. This, Israel has steadfastly refused to do even though as Paul says, she has been favored with the oracles of God. Israel refuses but this Pagan town listens and is spared. Will not Israel, if she were to repent and return to her God, be more readily shown mercy?
The answer must be a resounding yes!

And yet she will not.


Jonah then is the epitome of Israel’s stiff-necked and recalcitrant existence before YHWH. Having gotten herself in trouble, having cried for mercy and received it, she continues in her rebellion toward her God and her contempt toward others. While called to be like her God, she runs from him and cannot find either mercy or repentance in herself.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Am I In The Place of God?

Late in Genesis chapter 50, there is an exchange between Joseph and his brothers. Before we can get the impact of this exchange, we need to grasp what has gone before. Joseph was Israel's favorite kid because we're told, he was a child of Israel's old age. Israel it seems dotes on the kid to the apparent exclusion of the older brothers. He even gives him a coat (of many colors, or one with long sleeves, although the many colors version is much more picturesque). It seems Joe can't leave well enough alone - we're told that his brothers can't even speak peaceably to him. Joseph gets a reputation for dreams and he has one about sheafs being gathered. You know the story, all the brothers' sheaves bow down around Joe's upright sheaf. Joseph volunteers the interpretation - his brothers will be subject to him.

You can imagine the response this receives from the brothers.

Some time later, Joseph is sent out to his brothers and they see "this dreamer" coming toward them. At first, they want to kill him and blame it on a wild animal. Reuben doesn't want to kill him and comes up with the idea of putting Joe into a pit rather than kill him - with the intent of Reuben coming back later to rescue Joe from the pit. Everybody's happy with that until Judah speaks up and says essentially, "what's in it for us?" Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and make a little profit. We might still put blood on the famous coat and keep with our story about the wild animal devouring Joe.

So this is what they do - they sell Joseph to a passing caravan of traders of sorts, and stay with putting blood on the coat and the wild animal story. 

Israel is distraught and the brothers try to console him.

As we can tell, not only are these brothers considerably mean - they have taken the prized coat off of Joseph, thrown him into a pit, and finally sold him off into slavery; and then took the coat as evidence for their father that his favorite child was dead - but then they play at consolation. They know Joseph's not dead and yet they let Israel go through the torment of believing he is. These are not stellar fellows.

Then follows some famous stories about Joseph. There are Potiphar's wife, the dream interpretation in jail, and the interpretation of the coming famine. Joseph is promoted to second in the kingdom and responsible for preparing for the coming famine. He will end up storing a considerable amount of food to carry the nation over the seven years of famine. He does this well.

Eventually, Israel dies and the brothers return to Joseph to tell him. They like the Prodigal Son, want some mercy, and like that son they label themselves Joe's servants. They don't dare now claim superiority over this younger brother. They are afraid of what Joseph might do to them and so they carry a message presumed from Israel that Joseph should be gracious to his brothers.

This brings us to the last few lines of chapter 50. Joseph essentially says, don't worry, I'm not God and I forgive you. I'll take care of you and yours because while you meant to harm me, God has worked your deeds to the benefit of many people; many people have been saved.

We get reflections of the Prodigal Son story in the brothers who come and rather than presume a familial tie with this most powerful man, call themselves his servants. Joseph forgives them and in this sense, and despite what he has said, he does stand in the place of God. He can forgive their sin against him, and he does. Who has benefitted from God's working of good from evil? Many people.

Who are these many people? Not just Joseph's family, not just the Jews in captivity, but the entire Egyptian nation and any others who like Joseph's family have come to him for famine relief. God has not just worked good for Joseph through all this, but for people from all over.

We have in this story a shadow of the work of Christ. Christ is rejected and killed by his people. God is in that evil work and draws good from it. As a result of Jesus' willing death, he is elevated to the right hand of God, and people from all over the globe benefit from it. Not just Jews, not just Christians, but all people are welcome to come for rest, for relief, for life. Joseph's story has a myriad of parallels with that of Jesus, it's hard to miss them. Joseph turns out to be type of Christ.

What about you? Are you a type of Christ? Do you want to be? If you have or are going through difficult times of any sort, are you looking to see the good God is working through it? Not just for you, or even primarily for you, but for others? Do you allow God to work through your life and trials to bless other people - even those you don't know or who don't share your faith?

One last observation. That "Am I in the place of God" retort? That sounds like Jesus, doesn't it? But even though both Joseph and Jesus deny being in the place of God as judge, they both have the ability to forgive those who have wronged them. Joseph flatly says he does; Jesus asks forgiveness for us while he hangs on the cross. 

Want to reflect Christ? Forgive those who hurt you.
,
Who do you need no, who do you want to forgive as Christ forgave you this week?

Do it.

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