Archive for May 2018

Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6

Our society is getting obsessed by rules. I grew up in 1960s, we broke the rules. Go to Barnes &Noble and just note how many books have the word rules in the title. You’ll find 10 rules for dieting, dating, and getting your dog to behave. One of the best sellers on Amazon this year was  “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Why now?

I’m betting that it has to do with our current political polarization. Whether you are arguing about immigration or the Russia investigation, one or both sides will be running to the rulebook to make their case. The NFL just passed a rule regarding players kneeling during the anthem. Notice that they didn’t pass a rule to prevent hot dogs and beer from the being sold during the anthem, or the announcers speaking over the playing of the anthem, or the coaches using the 10 extra minutes they can get with all the players in the locker room to prep for the game.

All of this has something to do with Jesus. Mark begins his gospel by showing us Jesus breaking the rules. There was a lot of religious rules back then that most people ignored — But if you were a religious teacher, you were expected to keep all the rules, plus make up a few more, just to prove yourself more holy. Jesus didn’t play this game.

For Jesus, religion is not about the rules that we keep, religion is about the compassion that we show. Consider the rule about keeping a Sabbath (rule four of the big ten). Note that in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, the commandment states that the sabbath is meant to be applied by the government upon everyone. Migrants are not to be made to care for the fields. Slaves are not to cook your dinner. So, no one should work for you on the sabbath. If you are working in a business where someone has to mind the store on Sunday, if you are a nurse or an EMT, and everyone takes their turn working the sabbath; don’t use your religion to get out of taking your turn.

Jesus goes into a place of worship and notices that there is someone there who needs healed. So he works on the Sabbath. I believe that through the Holy Spirit, Jesus still comes into our places of worship. He still looks around and notes that someone here needs healed. And he heals on the Sabbath.

To repeat:

Religion is not about the rules that we keep, Religion is about the compassion that we show.

Watch out when white dudes in suits limit the free speech of people of color
Pentecost 3
John 3:1-17

I’m willing to bet that you weren’t born alone. When you came into this world, there was at least one other person in the room. None of us gets born alone. Your birth was work for your mother, that’s why we call it labor. You merely allowed yourself to be pushed. All of this doubly applies to our spiritual birth. God labors to bring us to new life. This may be why Jesus speaks about being born again, instead of using an eastern turn of phrase like, coming to enlightenment.

We often forget this mystery when speak about faith. Some people make a memorial out of the moment they came to believe. They remember the evangelists, music, scriptures, teachers, and books that influenced them. In all these little details, it is easy to forget the wind of God incompressible spirit. It blows where it wills without any dependence upon human communicators. We were not saved by being in that particular church on the night so and so spoke. We are saved by God, who in His prevenient grace stacks the dominoes so that they all fall in the right sequence for us and we get pushed into new life.

Consider Nicodemus. This man had become so thoroughly enmeshed in the brotherhood of the Pharisees that his thoughts rarely returned to the singular relationship he had with God. Ask him about his faith and he will speak for hours about his teachers and the respected elders of his religious order. Jesus silences him with one phrase, “You must be born again.”

This is not a command, but a statement of fact. Nicodemus isn’t being told to adopt a new set of beliefs. Instead, he is being called to return to the place where the only other person in the room is God. There is a purity and mystery to John 3:1-17. It deserves its place as one of the most quoted passages of the Bible.

Our tendency to speak of rebirth as a once in a lifetime decision, however, obfuscates this simple idea. In every spiritual transformation, God does the birthing. Whenever we need it, God will do it again.

If you could listen to the whole talk, would it make more sense?
Pentecost 2
Trinity Sunday
Acts 2

In every parish that I served, I encouraged people to think of Pentecost as one of the three great holidays of the church. There is Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. They are of equal importance and should be celebrated with the same degree of serious preparation. Christmas allows us to speak of the Trinity and the uniqueness of Jesus among men. Our systematic theology goes into high gear as we try to speak about God’s mission to save all of humanity. In Easter we rediscover the passion of God and the wretchedness of humanity. Our theology goes low, as we identify with the people who stood by his cross and then carried our Lord to the grave. Easter is a story filled with transition, the greatest example being the resurrection.

    In Pentecost, we realized that both Christmas and Easter occurred, not simply that individuals might be saved, but that a religious community might be formed. We push people towards the end of the second chapter of acts, when we realized that all this fire and wind resulted in the birth of the church as an organization. The spiritual birth of the church, I believe, was when Jesus gathered people on a hillside and told them that they were already blessed by God (Matthew 5:1-9). Three years later, the day of Pentecost takes this awareness that we are a blessed people, and empowers us to organize to share that blessing. On Pentecost, our theology goes wide.

  •     The Pentecost story begins by putting 120 people into a room built to hold 40. They were all of one accord. This doesn’t mean they were theologically unified. It means that were committed to being one community.
  •     The story goes on to tell of the diversity of people in Jerusalem that day. The church only grows when it honors diversity.
  •      The story heats up when Peter steps out on the porch and confronts the people on the street. In the Pentecost season, we beg the Holy Spirit to send the church out into our neighborhood.

​These are the three points that I will be sharing with the people at Verona and Rosedale. Let us pray that they catch the great significance of Pentecost.

Note the large crowd and presence of women
Pentecost Sunday
John 17

I have been thinking a lot about small groups lately. Jesus begins with a small group — twelve disciples. At the end of the Last Supper, before he leads his disciples out to the garden where he will be betrayed and taken to his passion, Jesus dedicates this small group to God. The way John remembers that prayer (John 17:1-26), it was filled with references to the importance of this small group. Jesus prays that the spiritual truths that has imparted in the course of his work with this little fellowship might be established. He presents these eleven before God (Judas had left), as if they were a trust, that he has been a steward responsible for. When we join a small group for Bible study today, we are entering into a spiritual trust. We pray for each other as Jesus prayed for his disciples and the Holy Spirit used the group to protect and nurture our souls.

I think that even today, Christians who participate in small groups for spiritual study and prayer, enter into a deeper covenant with God, than those who simply come to worship. Why? How about the following:

  • Character is not learned from lectures or sermons. Discipleship formation happens in small groups.
  • Real physical, psychological, and spiritual Healing happens in small groups
  • Small groups are often the incubators for leadership development and transforming change in the community.

Through small groups, Jesus continues to engage the world today. He says that we are to be in the world, even if we are not to be of it (John 17:15-18). How can we negotiate this narrow path without the support of other Christians who know us well and speak about faith in an intimate context.

Jesus is calling these folk to be in a small group with him
Easter 7