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.