Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm Not Who You Think I Am

-Empire Records, the movie.

John 14:9, “Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?'...”

This is a small verse sandwiched in the middle of a rather lengthy discussion between Jesus and His disciples where He is giving encouragement and discusses upcoming changes but does so in hidden terms. His disciples, not catching on to the hidden terminology, are asking questions and so there is some back and forth.

Two particular statements are rather startling, Jesus is leaving and He is offering encouragement about what He will be doing so that they all understand that there's a plan behind all this.

“I go to prepare a place...”-vs. 2-3 and “in my Father's house are many dwelling places”, so Jesus is going to go back into the carpentry business that He learned (but with better tools) and maybe Joseph, his adopted dad, will help him out since he taught him the trade. Jesus is going to build some new apartment complexes and spiral staircases and other cool things in “His Father's house”. So He's going to be busy for awhile.

Thomas is confused, however, about all this talk and asks Jesus specifically where He is going, so they can continue to follow Him, Thomas is not ready for any transitions, changes or anything different. He wants things to stay the same and He is unsure what all this means…

The first startling statement is Jesus' response, which is both confusing and reassuring, here's the conversation from vs. 5 summarized…

vs. 5, Thomas: “Lord, we don't know where you are going, how can we know the way?”
vs. 6, Jesus: “Thomas, I am the Way”…

What a brilliant yet enigmatic response.

Jesus has given him the answer and he has given us the answer...when we get lost, when we have difficult questions with no easy answers. When quoting a Bible verse doesn't help, when our medicine cabinet has no options for us and we can't afford or understand yoga we can be sure that Jesus' answer is still true….I am the way.

But even more true than this is Jesus' rebuke to Thomas because it is a rebuke to us as well, it is the second startling statement:

“Have I been with you all this time...and you still do not know me?”

You can insert that response into a lot of complaints you have, concerns, issues, hot button issues that are sensitive and difficult to answer...insert this statement and drive on from there.

But that's not an answer you might say...ah...but it is and often times, complex questions, difficult issues, cannot be answered with a yes or no, a quote or a simple step by step procedure. It is often a nuanced, purposefully vague, answer that will make you think….how does this fit? That's the answer you are looking for.

John 14:31b, “...Rise, let us be on our way”  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Wine Speaks

“The conscious water saw its creator and blushed”---Richard Cranshaw

When we read the story of Jesus' first miracle we find him at a party. In John 2 there is a wedding party, Jesus and his friends and his mother are invited. During the party the wine runs out, and Jesus performs his first miracle by turning water into wine.

The amount of water turned into wine was large and many, many gallons of wine, good wine, were made by Jesus. There were, evidently, a lot of people at this wedding or Jesus wanted to go above and beyond in his demonstration and the result was an overkill of wine.

What I find interesting is that during this whole story the only dialogue that involves Jesus is his response to his mother and his command to the servants. He is seemingly unwilling to get involved in the matter initially and then he dives in full force by producing a massive amount of wine and having the servants take it to the master of the banquet.

Why is there no dialogue? There is certainly dialogue in other miracles. Jesus, in other miracles, commands faith, chastises people's lack of faith and blesses people because of their faith. But this story, this initial miracle has 2 components, seemingly at odds, Jesus initially not willing to involve himself and then involving himself in a powerful way that people noticed at once.

What was the conversation like after the wedding? Did people ask where the wine came from? Did people ask to take some home with them because it was so good? This is vintage wine from heaven, after all, there's none stored in any cellars today waiting for a special occasion to uncork.

Perhaps there was little dialogue because there was no need for words. Jesus' actions said everything there was to say. First there was no wine, now there was plenty. You can draw a lot out of that as far as principles go but maybe primarily we need to know that God is a god of plenty, God is a god of new wine and God is a god who acts.

May we be acting as God would act and remember that people are more inclined to open up in conversation when we are out in the community giving new wine to drink.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

gods and cats

No, I think I'll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up.... It always does in the end.”

-Luna Lovegood

And why shouldn’t I feel sorry for a great city like Nineveh with its 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness and all its cattle?”-Jonah 4:11

At the end of Jonah 4 we find this interesting snippet that concludes the book in a rather strange way. Jonah is angry that God saved Nineveh, Jonah never liked the Ninevites, he considered them a bunch of jerks who were better off dead.

Then while he's pouting and considering early retirement as a prophet (which is a tough gig), he finds a shade tree, small slender little thing out here in a hot, dry region and it lends him some relief from the heat.

But his shade is soon decimated by a hungry leaf eating worm and the shade plant dies. He is scorched by the sun and angry even more than he was in the first place.

He's angry, the text tells us, because he desperately wants something to happen to the city. He is secretly hoping that God will relent from his mercy and kill the city or rain down some sort of punishment. So he goes to get front row seats.

At the end of the story we don't really hear if anything happens to the city, we assume that it doesn't. But we hear God argue his case to Jonah, which seems odd but that's exactly what He does. He talks about how important it was to save the city of so many people and then he mentions one more thing.

He mentions the animals. Hence the odd phrase, “and many cattle as well”. Some translations simply say, “animals” instead of “cattle” So God is not only set on saving the city of people, he is also invested in saving the animals! Why does he mention the animals last of all? Why does this mention of animals close out this short book?

I am sure that there are many answers and no answers. That is to say, there are probably many good guesses and no solid answers, maybe there doesn't need to be. But in my thinking if you look earlier in the story we find something interesting, God punished Jonah with animal, “a big fish”-1:17 which swallowed him, and it also provided him transportation-2:10. There was an animal involved in changing Jonah's mind, and why shouldn't the animals in the city God was aiming to save also be redeemed along with the people?

It's a small connection but it is there if you look. Sometimes when you feel small, when you feel nobody knows how discouraged, lonely and frustrated you are, remember the animals at the end of Jonah and how God saved them too.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

“Arguing with Angels” ---thoughts on Luke 1:5-66

You must choose wisely...”-Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Some people are good at winning arguments. Some people argue so much that you let them win because you tire of hearing them go on and on.

But arguing with angels is different. We have a passage here with 2 people. One old priest and one young girl.

The old priest is mentioned first and he is married, his name is Zechariah and his wife is Elizabeth. The text tells us that he is well past the age of having children and so is his wife. It does not give us their specific ages. But with his reaction to the angel we can safely assume he is advanced in age to the degree that it would be a ridiculous notion to father a child and a silly announcement to declare his wife a new mother.

It tells us that this couple was a good couple, they weren't corrupting the priesthood, they had a solid bloodline, good relatives. They simply had no children, which was not a small thing in those times, it was viewed as a sign that God was displeased with you, this is especially troubling for a priest. But Zechariah had apparently not ceased to pray for a child, regardless of their age, we see that in the passage, because vs. 13 tells us, “your prayer has been heard”.

Zechariah is at work, offering prayers to God on behalf of the people, maybe making some more prayers of his own and he is interrupted with an answer, via messenger. The angel Gabriel. Zechariah asks what appears to be a legitimate question, “How can I be sure?”. He isn't discounting the idea entirely but he would like a sign of some sort. Sure an angel just appeared to give him a direct message from God but Zechariah wants some other surety to be convinced. This is not the first time people have argued with God in some form or fashion. Gideon, Moses, Peter, the list is long but those 3 are good examples. Some wanted some proof, some wanted some extra help, others wanted a different plan because the current plan didn't seem very good.

So poor Zechariah is struck mute. That's the punishment. His punishment, we are told, is because, “you did not believe my words”, meaning the words of God sent to him, via angelic messenger. But I am unsure that Zechariah had zero faith in this matter as we already stated he had been praying for a child, that's why the angel came. But when he asked for more confirmation, more assurance, more clarity, since this was an odd time for them to have children, he is punished.

Mary has a similar encounter in this same chapter. She is “troubled by the angelic visitor” and when she is given this news that she will have a child, is equally perplexed as to how this could happen. Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah were shocked because of their age Mary is shocked because she is a virgin. There are a few things it takes to make a baby and Mary knows what they are so she is confused as to what this means. She even asks the question after the angel has told her God will give her a baby! So let's not pretend that Mary isn't asking the exact same question as Zechariah because she is, look at vs. 34, “How will this be?” This seems to be the same sort of thing Zechariah says when he asks, “How can I be sure?”

Before you jump off and say that Mary's heart was more believing than Zechariah's let's not forget that the beginning of the passage has already established that Zechariah is a priest and a good one at that, it explicitly let's us know that this man is a godly man. This has nothing to do with his heart.

Both of these characters ask how they will have children when they should not be having children. Mary knows and worships God and so she should know that all things are possible with God. Zechariah knows the same thing.

The answer to the question, why was Zechariah punished and Mary not is not answered by the passage.
The only hint we are given is perhaps in vs. 62 when he writes the child's name on a tablet, and in obedience he names the boy John. It seems his obedience to the commands given in his angelic visitation confirmed his faith.

Perhaps Mary's response in vs. 38 is her obedience confirming her faith in the God who can do all things.

What is clear from this passage is that arguing with angels can lead to more information, as in Mary's case, or with an irritated angel, as in Zechariah's case.

Perhaps we can take away from this encounter the prayer of the man who brought his sick son to Jesus and his response to Jesus' question of belief is found in Mark 9:24, “I believe, help my unbelief!”