Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Challenge of the Annunciation

Luke's telling of the Annunciation is a story too easy for us to simply read over, thinking we've heard it all before. We do ourselves a disservice if we don't slow down and read the exchange as though there is something there for us.

An angel appears in front of a young girl. No, not just an angel - an Archangel. Gabriel. He's been around but today he is entrusted with delivering a very important announcement. And so he appears.Usually in Scripture when an angel shows up, grown warriors fall to the ground and have to be coaxed to their feet. This girl doesn't do that though.

She is a bit confused. First, she isn't expecting an angel today and this one is telling her something about her having a baby and her baby being a king for Israel, a descendant of David on his throne. The angel has to repeat himself and expand his message a bit.He even tells her that her aunt who everyone thought to be barren was pregnant.

So we have two females who aren't supposed to have children. One a young girl, a virgin. Virgins don't have children. And an older woman, her aunt Lizzy. Barren Lizzy. Barren women don't have kids either. The pregnancy of her aunt is given to this girl as a sign that "nothing is impossible with God." Not even her own pregnancy which will be wrought by God Himself.

The girl's response to all this? "I am the servant of God. Whatever God wants, I'm in."

So, what about you? God stands before you every morning and says to you, "I've got a job for you today." We don't know what it is or all the details that might work out of it. Are we as accommodating as this girl? Is our answer, "I am the servant of God. Whatever God wants, I'm in?"

Now,don't make that job offer too big of a deal. It isn't usually save a life, convert a thousand souls, run a parachurch organization, or even rise to the top of our profession. No, usually this job is mundane. Be nice to the jerk at work. Smile at the passersby on the sidewalk. Engage the cashier as though she is the image of God.

It seems we are too eager to "go all in" for big jobs, but we often give ourselves a break when it comes to responding civilly to the run of the mill folks around us. But that latter is usually the job offer from God, and it is the one that we often overlook.

There is a game show called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" The question today is "are you as faithful as a fourteen year old girl?"

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

As Honest as the Pharisees

The parable of the tenants is one I don't remember hearing much as a kid. Maybe that is due to the presence of brutal murder as part and parcel of the story and our general aversion to exposing young children to sex and violence if we can avoid them. As an adult, this parable has usually been explained in the most obvious application, and that having to do with Israel rejecting Jesus, the Son of God. The fallout of that rejection of course, is the taking of the gospel to Gentiles.

So far, so good I suppose. Certainly that is one of the main purposes of the parable. The parable though, doesn't just appear in the text by itself. Rather, it comes as part of a story itself. In this case, Jesus' jousting with the Pharisees. I think it is this story from which we can best use this parable for the church. There are two often left unnoticed statements in the larger story which may have more to say to modern disciples than the actual parable.

The first appears to be the results of rejecting Jesus and this often stated as taking away of the kingdom and giving it to others. But that isn't the whole impact of this aspect of the story. The people who receive the kingdom do not receive it because they are not-Jews, but because they bear fruit. This gives us insight into what God has been after and which Israel was not seeing. The reason the kingdom is taken from Israel is not because they have killed the Son; indeed at this point they have not. The reason is because Israel has not born fruit. They will end up killing the Son but this is because they have neglected the things of the kingdom for some time. In response, the kingdom is made available to those who will produce fruit.

The second aspect, perhaps more often not mentioned is that the Pharisees were honest. Whoa! How can we get that from the story? They have started plotting to kill Jesus but are too afraid to make their plans known. Honest? How is their behavior honest? Simply, they acknowledge that Jesus is talking about them. This is the first step in fixing what needs to be fixed; it is imperative that we understand the message of God is talking to and about us. How many of us read Scripture and simply glide over the parts about "those bad people" without reflecting whether we might be the bad people? Do we read Scripture to let it shine a light into our lives where perhaps there is some shadow, some place we have not inspected, some place that has remained hidden from ourselves?

The question that comes to us is the same faced by the Pharisees. When we realize Jesus is talking about us; when we inspect ourselves in light of the Scripture and find we have been avoiding addressing some fault, or even excusing it, what do we do? What do you do?

It is a somewhat disturbing thought that the Pharisees may have been more honest than we often are. Are we challenged by that possibility to respond more appropriately than the Pharisees? Are we willing to grapple with our own imperfections and failures? 

Are you as honest as the Pharisees?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Jonah. Or, "Got Faith?"

Jonah, the guy with the big fish. Or the guy with the scorching heat and the shade problem. The guy directed to Nineveh by his God. The guy who does everything he can not to do what his God wants him to do. If we have read the story and paid attention, we know that it ends with God’s rhetorical question about caring for people - a stark contrast drawn between a God follower and his God.

Standard insights and details that most of us glean from this story.

But....

Have you noticed these details:

Once Jonah gets on the boat, in the middle of the storm we find the Pagans entreating their gods for safety and deliverance. 

Once they learn from Jonah that they’re going to have to throw Jonah overboard, these Pagans entreat Jonah’s God not to hate them for throwing him overboard.

Once we get Jonah to Nineveh and he delivers his speech, the Ninevites almost immediately – at the direction of their king – repent in “sackcloth and ashes.”

Jonah goes up on the hill to watch.

And he gets angry.

Angry at his God.

For the plant.

For the shade.

For being merciful.

Do you see this? Do you see that the only person without any real faith in his God is Jonah? 

The Pagans on the boat seek out their gods, they apologize to Jonah’s God. The Pagans in Nineveh repent posthaste.

Do we ever act this way? Do we, followers of the Only Real God, demonstrate less faith than our neighbors who seek other gods, other securities, other saviors?

Jonah is the only person in the story that runs from God. 

Everyone else draws closer.

How about us? How about you?

How do we live?

As though we have faith – as though we actually believe this stuff, or do we let our faith fade in face of the commitment and dedication of those who have no gods?

Where are you today?

Where would you like to be?

What’s it going to take to get you there?

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