Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Perfect Job

We might work because we have bills to pay, a debt to owe. It’s a heavy burden to know that you have to work just to get out from under a huge debt. We might work because we aspire to earn a reward. But what if we had an occupation that we could do, not because we had bills to pay, or because we felt the need to get something more, but just because we loved it, lived and breathed to be able to do the ‘job’?

The story Jesus told in Matthew 18:21-35 describes the first situation. A man owed a huge debt, and begged the master for the mercy to not punish him, but just let him work to pay off the huge debt, which was so huge, a life time of work would not have paid it. In the story Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16 we see people who work for the reward they can earn, and bicker over how the master divvies up the purse. Neither picture is a happy life!

But contrasted to these two dismal pictures are two delightful ones. The man forgiven is expected to live remembering the mercy shown him, being mercy-minded to others, whose trespasses (debts) against him must be miniscule in comparison to his own eternal debts forgiven. And the people working for the master are expected to work because of their love for the master, not looking to compare their reward to others.

Working for the sheer love of life together with Christ and our sisters and brothers, unconcerned about debts (which are all paid, anyway,) or rewards (living in love has its own reward!) this sounds like life on earth as it is in heaven. It’s the perfect job.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sheep Smell

Luke 15:1-7

Jesus took the familiar images, of shepherd and sheep, to refresh the memory of the people. King David was once the unlikely choice to be king. The shepherd in the 23rd Psalm is a noble character. But the image of shepherd had become tarnished. Anyone who could afford to hire a shepherd (if they owned a dozen sheep or so) would have done so, or least relegated the job to a lesser family member . So when Jesus says, ‘which one of you owning 100 sheep, would not go after the one lost sheep’ there was sure to be an element of surprise or shock. For a people who cherish the fact that the great one has chosen and saved them, where is the same desire to go and bring even just one who is lost? Which one of our church budgets reflects more spent on evangelism than on nurture? Which of our service records show more emphasis on others than us? Does my checkbook show more entries for others than myself?

This radical love and mercy aggravated the entire religious establishment. After all, these revolutionary pictures of the kingdom of God, are images that, if taken to their obvious conlusion, will ‘mess up’ our entire lives. Jesus, mess us up so good that we’ll always smell like sheep carriers.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kingdom Secrets Broadcast

Matthew 13:31-35

Jesus uses familiar images to help introduce something unfamiliar or off the radar of current consciousness. His audience would have been familiar with the image of a tree being a sign of a Kingdom- described in Genesis. And when Jesus said that the Kingdom was like a mustard seed that grew to be the largest of trees, they must have wondered, or even laughed, because they knew that a mustard plant only grew to be about 2-6 feet tall. Surely this tree/kingdom was not as big as Jesus was thinking! They knew how big these things get, and it had never been that big a thing.

People knew that yeast, leavening, made things rise, grow beyond its size. Yeast was used elsewhere in scripture to represent evil, but using it here to symbolize the good Kingdom is a reversal of thought. The King James Version more correctly translates that a woman tries to hide (not ‘mixed with’ as in other translations) a small amount of yeast in 3 measures of flour – that’s around a hundred pounds! Enough bread was produced from this to feed a multitude! The Kingdom of God is not hidden for long!

And then Jesus intentionally makes further light of the irony of Psalm 78. He speaks of the ‘hidden things of God,’ the acts of God in this Psalm are: the mass exodus of God’s people from Egypt, the mass feeding of His people with bread raining down from heaven daily, the tons of birds landing in their camp for meat to eat. What is hidden about these great truths of God’s deliverance? All creation shouts with the awesome sufficiency of God. All throughout history, God has acted on our behalf, broadcasting these kingdom secrets, even when we live as if we don’t get that channel.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Mt. 7:24

A quick read of the stories of Jesus, like the parable about the wise builder who built on solid rock and the stupid builder who built on sand, appear to be harmless tales, no grounds for a capitol offense charge. But since the offense was taken, let’s not let the opportunity slip by while we seek to discover what precipitated the charge and launched a scandal.

‘Be wise about what you build your life upon’ Doesn’t that agree with the teaching of His day? Deuteronomy was well known to them, they knew that to follow the laws’ boundaries would keep them from trouble (Deut. 5:29) This is a good lesson, and surely this was nothing new or scandalous to the religious of His day. But when Jesus goes on to say to build upon a firm foundation, He is saying much more – listen and put my words into action. Now this gets scandalous for the established church. This is not a story of practicing good moral principles or biblical law. This is all about living in dialog with the creator of the universe. It’s beyond the commitment to read and follow a roadmap that directs your life in a legal or moral code. It’s about adding GPS – God’s Positioning System – and hearing His instructions as we go. God’s approach goes beyond a mechanized ‘turn right in 50 yards.” It’s a live conversation with the love of your life.

Seeking hearts were stirred to believe and code-conscious hearts got riled up in offense. This was no innoculous feel-good sermon. It was offensive to believe a message that traded mere dependency upon a religious institution for listening to the voice of God. It’s simple to do – just listen and follow GPS. But follow a voice that others may not hear? YOU hear the voice of the Great I AM, creator of the universe, speaker of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the voice of the prophets of old? People who are more comfortable with that voice staying in a leather-bound book on the coffee table may no longer be a part of your support system. But just chill, you’ve got GPS.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Timeless Treasure

Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus describes the kingdom as like treasure. One man finds it quite by accident. Another is searching diligently. But both are willing to give up all to purchase the treasure. In life, some are searching for life’s spiritual meaning diligently; some are just getting by doing their jobs, and quite unexpectedly stumble upon the true spiritual treasure. However it is found, it is worth diligence to make it our own. Jesus paints a vivid picture of the spiritual life, our salvation, though like a treasure beyond our capability to produce, is worth our diligence to secure through discipleship. And lest our picture be limited to what we experience in this short life, Jesus reminds us of the eternal effects of the coming heavenly sorting. He gives us this picture of both the free gift of salvation and the costly price of being a disciple. This paradoxically related duo has another: the treasure is both old and new. The old, the sacred truths of scripture and the new inspiration thru this prophet above all prophets: Jesus. We have both - a scriptural map and the GPS of the spirit. The kingdom is a paradox of such profound simplicity and depth, Jesus just keeps on giving us enough parable pictures to fill our heart and mind’s album. The kingdom is not only an heirloom, and it’s not just heir of future rewards, but it is a present reality connected to both. It is Timeless Treasure.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

God's Wine Cellar

Mt. 9:14-17

The church is a wine cellar, and each vintage is a faith story in process.

Jesus cautions us not to put the new wine into old wine skins. As wine ferments, it expands and the elasticity of a new wine skin can swell with the aging wine. At the end of this parable, in Matthew’s version, it says that when new wine is put into fresh wineskins, both are preserved. When wine has reached a maturity, it has a potency that doesn’t exist in the new wine. The wine at wedding feasts in Jesus’ day made some drunk. It was potent. In Luke’s telling of this parable, it is written that the people prefer the old wine. There are many vintages in the church. Some found the Lord decades ago. Some found the Lord more recently. The more time passes, our faith stories develop a depth, and character. There is a fresh and exuberant expression of faith in newer vintages of faith, for someone new in the Lord, which is exciting to us all. Each possesses a quality which is unique to its vintage. And I picture Jesus talking about a wine cellar of Christians all chosen to be in the cellar together. Now, John’s Disciples come to Jesus, practicing their faith differently than Jesus’ disciples. And John’s Disciples have a question which sounds like a request for ammunition in the war of superiority and religious correctness. ‘Now wait a minute! WE fast, and you don’t?!’ They want Jesus to take sides in the fight. Jesus never gives them any ammo. He gives validity to the various vintages. This is not to say that Jesus does not teach accountability. However, John’s Disciples were trying to do the very thing that Jesus addressed in another, related parable- the wheat and the tares. In a garden, the good seed sprouted right next to the weeds, and they looked alike. Jesus said don’t pull out the wheat with the tares. Don’t uproot the good with the bad. Wait and let the Father in heaven take care of it. Let the Lord do the sorting. This is not a replacement for group accountability, but humility to admit that only God knows the heart. Let God weed His own garden. The disciples of John are trying to weed out a brand – one kind of wine skin. Jesus could have critiqued John’s disciples, but He chose to teach them a lesson. We find today, faith practiced in many different ways. We pray, worship, and live out the faith in diverse ways- a variety of vintages. We live for Christ, and let the Lord weed his own garden. We focus our energy growing in Christ, serving and following. If you call upon the name of Jesus, then here’s my hand. I’ll walk with you, and I’ll talk with you – let’s be the church, and show the love of Jesus Christ. No matter what kind of vintage you are, you’re the right vintage for your faith - Whether you found the Lord 50 years ago, or today. Some of you have a lot more kick than others, some are fresh, and others are at points in-between. Vintage faith can tell you what it’s like to be happily married for 60 years, or, how tender love overcame abandonment. The wine steward was pleased to choose each of us as an irreplaceable vintage, in the fermenting process of growing in the spirit.