Archive for May 2017

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

Idolatry is a big thing today. I visited Edmonton, Canada a few years back. They have this big silver thing in the middle of town. It’s a reproduction of the Stanley Cup that their hockey team has won a few times. Pittsburgh gets one of them things every once and a while. We try not to make an idol of it. How are we doing?

Ever since Mohamed Ali people have been saying, “I’m the greatest.” Most have been less deserving than Mr. Ali. You may have someone over you at your workplace who thinks that they are the greatest — it has a way of making them a lousy boss. Many people today work for a business that wants them to idolize the company — that is — to sacrifice your thoughts and your family time for its ends. No job should do that.

There are people both commoners and politicians today, who are making an idol out of their political party. They believe that any end that advances their agenda can be justified — whether it means gerrymandering voting districts, or spreading rumors about an opposing candidate, or giving their unqualified relatives and friends a position in office, ahead of those who know something about governing. Political crap and idolatry is ruining American democracy. If we want them to stop it, we best start calling it what it is, idolatry.

Face it, though, from the moment we are born, we are encouraged to worship false idols. As a child, I was taught that people who had lighter skin were superior — I had to unlearn, with great embarrassment and difficulty — the idolatry of racism. Some of us were led to the false idols of alcoholism and drugs. Some of us took on compulsive addictions like pornography and endless hours of computer gaming.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:2:

You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.

In Chapters 11, 12, and 13 of I Corinthians, Paul speaks about the role the Holy Spirit plays in the Church. While the 11th chapter doesn’t specifically mention the Spirit, Paul is concerned there about worship and he assumes that there is an ordering spirit that keeps what we do on track. Similarly, in the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul famously talks about Love. He is assuming, however, that there is a spirit within us that teaches us how to love. The Holy Spirit is real. In the 12th chapter, Paul speaks about three things that the Holy Spirit does in the life of every believer.

First, it guides our lives away from dumb idols. We must learn to test every spirit of this age against the true and Holy Spirit of God.

Second, it helps us to grow in our relationship with Jesus. As Paul says in verse three, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

Third, the Holy Spirit gifts each of us with special talents and spiritual capabilities. We are led by the spirit to use our gifts with others.

Pentecost 1
Day of Pentecost
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Edmonton's idol
John 17:1-13
Just before he was betrayed, captured, and crucified, Jesus warned his disciples that he would be leaving them. In his extended prayer (John 17) Jesus reveals a key concept: just as God was present in the world through Jesus, so also, Jesus will continue to be present in the world through his Church. In John 17:13-17, Jesus says that his Church will be in the world, but not of it. How do we understand Jesus? Simply, he was a man who was in the world, but not of it. He was fully human, but also fully divine. He was a citizen of heaven, yet also a resident of first century Palestine. Imagine three over lapping circles: The top circle represents Jesus’ divine nature (fully God). The bottom left, his life and physical presence among us (fully man). The third circle represents the world he came to save (John 3:16). Now that Jesus has gone back to heaven, his church takes over the bottom left circle — we are now the physical presence of Christ in our community. God is still on top, overlapping our circle. The world is still to our right, overlapping the church and, through the Holy Spirit, the divine circle. The soul of the church lies where the three circles over lap. Note that this Soul is not in the safe part of the circle with the majority of the church’s programs and concerns. It is out in the dangerous intersection of our holy God and the chaotic world. In Reality Check 101, I make a point of stating that churches have souls. By this I mean that each congregation has an intrinsic worth. There is a value to the local church that far exceeds its statistical strength or the value it may have for the denomination that holds the title to its building. Pastors come and go, but a church’s soul remains constant. Like the soul of a human being, the congregation’s soul represents more than the current state of the body.   Where is this soul located? Philosophers speak about the human soul being located at the intersection of the will of the mind and the reality of the flesh. The Bible says that when God breathed the inspiring breath of life into Adam, he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7 KJV). This implies that the soul is a crossroad, where physical context (the mud of the ground) limited by time and mortality intersects spiritual vocation and God’s promise of a continuing existence.   Your church’s soul is located at a similar intersection. It lies where the world of human affairs and aspirations (red circle) intersects with your congregation’s daily life (blue circle). These both intersect with the kingdom of God (green circle). A small triangle represents the common ground of God, Church, and Human Society. No congregation is entirely at one with God’s Kingdom -- I think we do well to overlap the will of God by 30%. The world is never so secular to be without an overlap with God and the church. Where we take the Kingdom of God into the world, there is our soul.
Eastertide 7
Ascension Sunday
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Your church's soul is here
Persig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair
One of the effects of the church growth movement and our current loss of membership is to bring to the fore experts who emphasize goal setting. I like the wisdom offered by Robert M. Persig, “To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.” As we look for shalom, we’ll keep coming back to this basic concept that inner peace can’t be located elsewhere. It’s not in a future goal, like a paid off mortgage. It’s not over on a Hawaiian beach or up in heaven. Have you ever hiked a wooded path with a friend and just talked and found the conversation to be satisfying? Shalom is in that moment. Churches find shalom by: honoring their past, practicing compassion in the present, and by being non-anxious as we plan for the future. Our religion sits on this tripod.
additional author: 
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (Bantam Books, 1975)
Acts 17:22-31
The Bible is a big book, but much of it is repetition. God speaks common sense in triplicate. But, real self-revelation from the divine is doled out very sparingly. To compensate for this, God has gifted people in every era and location to be storytellers, artists, musicians, and dancers. Wherever an inspired work helps people to live more wisely, to seek for healing in their relationships, and to grasp that there is something beyond this material world, there the voice of God is heard. By being both multicultural and multilingual, God does an end run around our tendency to associate religion with our pet dogmas. When the Apostle Paul paid to visit to Athens, he stood in very spot where Socrates had taught some four hundred years before. Paul made a point of complimenting the Greeks for their diligence in pursuing both philosophy and religion. In his mind the search for shalom was a universal activity something that both united and challenged all human beings. He said, “[God] is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” (Acts 17:27-28). In our world of polarization and religious fanaticism, we need to once more speak about the common grace that God gives to all nations.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Raphael's Vatican fresco "The School of Athens"