Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 36 through 39:
36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
"Give me that Old-time Religion,
Give me that Old-time Religion,
Give me that Old-time Religion,
Well, it's good enough for me"
A great tune, but I'm not so sure about the message. If it means, "Give me what is constant, universal, and essential throughout all ages," then yes. But if it means, "Don't tell me anything I don't already believe or introduce anything to me that I'm not already familiar with," then absolutely not.
Old-time religious ways can be very comforting, but they can also be fatally confining.
One day Jesus was confronted by Pharisees who were concerned that he was not conforming to their religious customs. Jesus answered with an analogy about wine and wineskins (you gotta love this guy). New wine, he said, must be put into fresh wineskins lest the new wine's unaged properties be too strong for the old wineskin. New wine in an old wine skin bursts the wineskin and the wineskin is lost and, even worse, so is the wine (like I said, you gotta love this guy). So, Jesus said, in order to keep using the old wineskin people close themselves to new wine. "The old will do," they say.
If our Old-time Religion leaves us closed to science in the classroom, music and video in worship, dance in the living room or even in the aisles, or anything else that is new and unfamiliar, then the wine we are drinking probably isn't very good -- it's just old.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 18 through 24:
18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
I once heard Brian McLaren say that the mainstream religion of Jesus' day had become a kind of giant spiritual protection racket. Protection rackets work like this: say you open up a shop in a rough area of town and before too long a guy comes to you and says, "This is a rough neighborhood with lots of robberies and you really can't trust the police to protect you. But for a thousand bucks a month me and some of my boys will make sure this store never gets robbed. We guarantee it. But if you don't let us help you I guarantee your store will get robbed and you may end up getting hurt - bad." Of course, it's a scam. Who you really need protection from is the guy who has come to see you.
Sometimes religion really can be like that. It can be coercive and abusive and vulnerable people can fall victim to exploitation. They will pay whatever it takes to their church or priest in order to feel secure and protected from God's wrath. And, of course, their church and their priest profess to be the only arbiter's of God's forgiveness.
Part of what made Jesus so many enemies among the religious caste was his rejection of the whole Temple religious cult protection racket. We see it in the story today. Men come bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus and seeing their faith Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven. The religious scribes and Pharisees are incredulous. "What right does he have to offer forgiveness?" they ask. "He is not authorized to so so." But then Jesus heals the man, showing that He does indeed have the right to forgive sins. "Rise," he says.
There are some reading this who may be suffering under the exploitation of a spiritual protection racket. You desire to have your sins let go but somebody has told you have to go to church, tithe, walk the aisle, pay the priest, sleep with the priest, kill a chicken, or do anything else in order for it to happen. If that's you, hear this: You don't have to live in fear of God. You do not need protection from God. Your sins are forgiven.
Now rise and walk -- away from that system of exploitation and all the fear-based thinking that goes with it.
Monday, September 29, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 5 verses 3 through 7:
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
Let's be honest -- when we good, Jesus-loving folks from one church think of the good, Jesus-loving folks at another church one word inevitably comes to mind: competition.
American Christianity has become a competitive business where churches are basically all fishing to beat out the church down the street in the quest to haul in the same folks -- every sea captain's and sailor's dream, those nymphlike beauties we call "young families".
And on a day when conditions are so unfavorable, and the pond, and the number of nymphs in it seem to get ever smaller, we good, Jesus-loving church folk will resort to whatever bait or hook we can think of to beat out the competition. We strip down the altar, we take off our coats, we dim the lights, we mass-market, we buy our own bouncy house -- whatever it takes to pull in the nymphs. But at some point, it happens to all us good, Jesus-loving folks and our good, Jesus-loving churches -- we realize that the nymphs have quit biting.
The great irony is this -- that's actually the best place to be. Ashore, washing nets, wondering if there's ever to be any fish caught again - I mean no longer dreaming of catching a sea nymph but wondering if you can catch anything. It's a point of exasperation and a point of desperation. And that is when we are ready -- when we are desperate enough to hear what this Jesus has to say and to listen to it: "Put out into the deep."
It seems that the future of the church in a season when the fish ain't biting and the nymphs have all moved on is to listen to Jesus again -- to push out, to unmoor ourselves and push way out beyond the shallows, out into the deep waters of study, and prayer, and deep, abiding friendship.
That's where the fish are, way out there. And if we dare to go out there, we will discover that it will be just as Jesus said, "The kingdom from heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea that gathered all kinds of fish."
So many in fact, there will be no competition. We will yell for other boats to come and help. And words will come out of our mouths we never thought we'd say, "You can have all the nymphs you guys want," we'll say, "because our boat is already overloaded."
That really will be the Kingsom of God; but we've got to go a lot further out to get there.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Today's daily lesson is from Acts chapter 19:
24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing."
Stop and think for just a moment how many commercials you saw during last night's game. Do you remember any of them, or did they slip in the back way through your subconscious?
Or think about this, how many commercials did your kid see last night? I've seen reports that say a child sees on average 20,000 commercials a year. And we wonder why they keep asking us for more stuff.
There is a multi-billion dollar ad campaign aimed at keeping us all in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. Powerful interests are at work trying to figure out how to get us to buy their stuff, use their products, purchase their experience, and find our identity in their brand name.
Now, think for a minute how counter-cultural contentment really is. Think how radical it really is to worship and find happiness in a God not made with human hands. In other words, think how good it is to be free.
And think how hard it is to stay that way.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 4 verses 22 and 29:
"And all spoke well of him and marveled at jthe gracious words that were coming from his mouth . . . And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff."
Talk about whiplash.
Jesus went back to preach in his hometown synagogue and the congregation ate him up. He spoke about good news to the poor and release for captives and the congregation just ate him up.
But then in the second half of the sermon Jesus talked about how in the Scriptures there was a great famine and there were many widows throughout Israel but the prophet Elijah did not go to minister to any of them; instead Elijah went only to a widow from a foreign country. And then Jesus called attention to how though there were many lepers at a certain time in Israel none of them were cleansed; rather it was a leprous general from Israel's archenemy Syria who was healed.
After Jesus said these things the hometown crowd turned on Him, and those who had just been extolling Jesus' preaching were suddenly now leading him out of town to try to hurl him off a cliff.
It has often been said that the word of God comes to comfort the afflicted and also afflict the comfortable. That makes me think - if what we get on Sundays always comforts us and leaves us shaking our heads yes, but never steps on our toes and make us question our prejudices and predilections, then we may be hearing only the first half of Jesus' sermon.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Acts chapter 19:
3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.”
John the Baptist came baptizing on the banks of the Jordan with locusts in his teeth and hell, fire, and brimstone in his sermons. His was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But when Jesus was baptized something spectacular happened; the Holy Spirit came and descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
I don't know anybody whose baptism consisted of a bird swooping down upon them - definitely not in the inside the baptistery. But what happened to Jesus in a visible way needs to happen to all of us in a spiritual way. The Holy Spirit must be present and active in the new life our baptism signifies.
John's baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is a great first step. We must all be convicted of our sin and seek repentance (literally meaning to "think differently) which leads us to finding forgiveness. But that really is only the first step; and it can be an incredibly frustrating experience if the new life we seek, symbolized by baptism, stops there. Feeling guilty, and trying to think differently do lead us to find forgiveness, but it really isn't enough to begin living differently - to find a truly new life, free from the bondage of sin. That can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit.
AA is right; we are powerless without God. All the hell, fire, brimstone, and locust sermons, guilt-inducing altar calls, aisle walks, trying, trying again, never agains, and this time I mean its in the world won't get us there without the power of God. Repentance is good. It is a must. But it won't get us there. Only God's spirit can get us there.
If you feel like you are stuck in John's baptism ask God to send the Holy Spirit into your life.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 3 verse 17:
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to wgather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
John the Baptist compared what the coming of Christ does in us to the process of something called winnowing, which was the process of removing the dry, scaly protective casings of grain seeds.
In that time, after grains were harvested they were brought onto the threshing floor and a draught animal or sometimes children were used to tramp across the grain and thus dislodge it from its outer, protective husk. Afterward, the grain would be separated or "winnowed" from its husk by taking a pitchfork and throwing it up into the wind wherein the husks would be blown away from the heavier grain seed.
There is a natural, shell-like casing we all have around our souls which is designed to protect us from harm. This is what keeps us from being permanently damaged by rejection or abuse when young. It is what keeps children so resilient, even in the face of the cruelty of other children, the loss of a first love, and we constant parents' foibles. The outer husk protects their fragile souls. They are in a very real sense hidden inside a shell.
But the shell has a limitation. Hidden in the protective husk, the soul is safe, but it is also concealed. It cannot be fully known, nor can it be fully loved. Nor can it fully love. It is still in its shell. Many people - men and women - live their lives in the shell, hard and hardened to the world and unwilling to open themselves to truly love and be loved. Have you ever been around a crusty old person?
If it is to reach full maturation, the soul must at some point allow itself to be winnowed. In other words, it must open itself to the vulnerability required for knowing and loving others and being known and loved by them.
The chaff is blown away. What is left is the pure and unprotected soul - naked and vulnerable yes, but also pure and beautiful to behold.